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Twin Personas: Local Bloggers Greg Swan & Toby Cryns

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Twin Personas Interview

As an outsider looking in on the local Twin Cities music scene one may be left with a simplistic look as to what it is that The Cities and their modern artists have to offer. But aside from conversations surrounding Hüsker Dü, The Replacements or even Tapes ‘n Tapes what does the rest of the nation honestly know about the music and the musicians of Minneapolis and St. Paul? As an outsider myself it is overwhelming when attempting to step into The Cities and figure out just where to being when attempting to find the best music that they have to offer. In this edition local bloggers Greg Swan and Toby Cryns attempt to identify what it is about living in the Twin Cities that gives music fans something consistently new and exciting to look forward to.

Have you always lived in Minnesota? If not – were you as closely interested in music as you are now before you lived in Minnesota?

Greg Swan: I grew up in Central Iowa in what I like to call “an area of musical desolation” overshadowed by Slipknot’s international success (yes, I went to high school with one of them – pretty much everybody did). In turn, the local music scene propagated scores of metal and modern rock garage bands, of which only a few are worth checking out (ONLY; On a Pale Horse).

Because none of my favorite bands gigged on their way through the Hawkeye State, a group of friends and I spent just about every college weekend roadtripping to see shows in Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City and Moline. Minneapolis was a favorite destination – not only because of the solid venues like First Avenue and Triple Rock, but it was also only a speedy three hour drive home at 1 a.m.

Toby Cryns: I grew up in Richmond, IL, the “Village of Antiques” – seriously. That was our town slogan, and it was an accurate description of what our town was about. Our whole economy – antiques. There are probably more antique stores per square foot than anyplace else in the world.

My oldest brother, Nate, was probably the catalyst for me getting into mainstream music. He used to force me to listen to Metallica before it was cool to listen to them. I hated them. My first concert was Metallica’s “…and Justice For All” tour back in 1988 or so – my dad took my brothers and me. I fell asleep on the grass during the show, and my dad took us all home early. Nate still hasn’t forgiven me for that.

Has living in and around the Twin Cities helped expand your musical taste?

Greg Swan: After graduating college, my wife and I moved to Minneapolis largely because of the vibrant music and arts scene here. Whether a fan of indie rock, singer/songwriter folk, industrial electronica or latin salsa, you’ll find a good portion of everything on a given weekend.

Toby Cryns: Prior to living in the Twin Cities, I lived in Los Angeles, which has a really weird scene, because all of the bands there are SUPER tight and polished and mostly pretty damn good. However, there is no scene in Los Angeles worth checking out. It’s weird, because you have all of this great talent there, yet nobody gives a damn, because it’s all business. Since moving to the Twin Cities, I have met a bunch of folks who are simply playing in bands because they love it. I could really give a damn if Cryns #3 ever sells another record, but I would be really sad if we couldn’t play shows anymore. It’s really something special to play a show and see my friends in the crowd cheering and singing and dancing along to my music. Sometimes I want to cry onstage, because I feel so blessed. I know that sounds cheesy and lame, but that’s how I feel sometimes.

To answer your question more directly, I think I have gained an appreciation for dirty and loose indie rock. I used to think that bands needed to be polished to be good, but now I have a great appreciation for the rough edges that come from caring about building musical relationships rather than polishing up songs for the radio.

What lead you to start your blog?

Greg Swan: I started writing music reviews for Des Moines’ alternative newspaper and then co-founded Art Scene, Iowa’s only statewide independent arts and music tabloid. I was meeting a lot of artists and musicians and started receiving advance albums from labels. After I left Art Scene, I needed an outlet for my relentless passion for listening to and expounding about new music. I was writing reviews over at Monkeycube.com (run by the guy who sold his soul on eBay), but I finally decided to take the plunge and start something I could control 100 percent.

Toby Cryns: Great question, Chris! Thanks for asking! I started Lunch of Champions in April of last year, shortly after we released our first record (”…if Howard Roark Could Dance”), in response to the lack of responses we were getting for our music. I was rather disappointed by the fact that almost none of the local press wrote about our album in a timely fashion (we only got 3 write-ups). So, I took action. I decided to start Lunch of Champions for all those little guys like us who didn’t grow up here and/or don’t have any powerful connections in the local scene. I hope that Lunch of Champions has provided some of the little guys with some quotes to share with their adoring fans.

Have any interesting opportunities arisen as a result of the work you’ve done with your sites?

Greg Swan: I’ve gotten to meet some of my favorite national and international bands – Sigur Ros was an all time honor. I just got back from SXSW where I didn’t buy a badge or wristband and could still get into shows (guestlists rock). However, I will say picking up 23 packages from the post office in one day can be a little intimidating for one dude who writes music reviews as a hobby.

Toby Cryns: One of the coolest things that came about as a result of starting Lunch of Champions is that I was able to commandeer a copy of Mason Jennings‘ Boneclouds album from his press agent a couple of weeks before it was released. I bragged about that for, well, two weeks. Additionally, the blog has given me an excuse to meet many local rockers that I might be too shy to talk with otherwise, not to mention the opportunity to meet you and other bloggers such as Greg at Perfect Porridge (probably the best local music blog next to Culture Bully). Seriously, I am amazed at what you two guys are able to do with your blogs. Mine is like small potatoes or something next to yours.

Through the website, which opportunities have most enriched your experience with local music?

Greg Swan: Up until about a year ago, I was hitting a show 4-5 times a week and knew exactly who was who in the local scene. But it’s amazing how much a newborn baby will nix your night life. Luckily, the site helps me keep in touch with local music and musicians, so even though I haven’t been present at as many shows, I still have a good handle on the up and coming artists.

Toby Cryns: The main thing Lunch of Champions does for me is provide me motivation to go and check out local music. I like being able to do my little part to help other guys and gals like me who play music and like seeing our names in lights.

What voice do you believe your sites cater to within the Twin Cities?

Greg Swan: I think Steve McPherson touched on it perfectly. We get so many new releases from across the country, we tend to lump in Minnesota bands with everyone else. That means the new Wannabe Hasbeens record will be reviewed next to the new Electric Soft Parade disc.

Toby Cryns: Lunch of Champions is the Rocky Balboa of Twin Cities blogs. We work and work and work and we still have trouble competing with the Apollo Creed’s of the world. At the end of the day, even if we lose, we rest easy knowing that we put our hearts into it. Speaking of Rocky, did you see the new Rocky movie? I took a date to see that movie, and needless to say, the girl wasn’t too impressed. But I LOVED it, and the girl earned major points with me.

Yeah – it was surprisingly not bad. Who knew that Rocky could still bring tears to a young boy’s heart at the ripe old age of 83? Getting back on track though – who are your favorite local music journalists?

Greg Swan: I don’t pay special attention to traditional local music journalists, although I do read Chris Riemenschneider and Ross Raihala’s blogs. The future is online media, baby. I particularly recommend the local writing at How Was The Show, Minneapolitan Music and More Cowbell. Neither of our local newspapers do a good job at consistently covering local music (of course, they are owned by giant corporations), our alternative newspaper tries hard, too. Pulse and Rift do a great job, but at the end of the day, the printed word is 24 hours old. That’s old news to me.

Toby Cryns: Besides the legendary Chris DeLine and the formidable Greg Swan, I love to read David Brusie’s articles for the Rift and Music for Robots as well as anything Mark Mallman writes up – he cracks me up! Ross Raihala over at the Pioneer Press writes some great stuff as well.

Greg, which are your three favorite local music blogs?

Greg Swan: How Was The Show is the essential music read for local music, including live reviews, a robust calendar and a music forum where the scenesters hang out. More Cowbell: Solace has heard every single album in the new release pipeline, and at a moment’s notice, can rattle off at least two reasons why each of them don’t measure up. The Rock N Roll Star: Steve (Engelmayer) has an infectious excitement about witnessing live music. I don’t know how this guy functions at work the next day after all of these shows. Plus, he winds up on stage and/or in photos with practically every band.

Who released your favorite Twin Cities album in 2006?

Greg Swan: You can’t ask for just one. STOOK!, of course. Gotta love STOOK! Lovelife from Thosquanta; A Vision of Stone from Tasha’s Laughter; Cougars from Huge Rat Attacks…and Avenpitch have this great song called “Jack the Idiot Dance” that I love telling people about.

Toby Cryns: My favorite record of 2006 (which was actually released in 2005, I am told by an angry comment on my blog) is Hockey Night’s Keep Guessin’. I also loved Tapes n’ Tapes‘ Loon, but I’d like to add a disclaimer that I liked them about two weeks before everyone else did (haha). I also really liked the Heise Brothers‘ new record, Arben Angstrom’s Planets by Bike, and the new Stook record.

Thus far this year which have most excited you amongst Twin Cities’ releases?

Greg Swan: Dragons Power Up!’s This Way to Gunshire was a fun surprise. And I wasn’t familiar with Charley Dush before I got his Breakdown Union disc. Definitely worth buying.

Toby Cryns: I have been a fan of Seymore Saves the World for a while and just received their new disc in the mail yesterday, which I am quite looking forward to hearing. Also local bluegrass addicts Pocahontas County released a fantastic record in March. As a side note, those guys in Pocahontas County put on the best live show I have seen in a while – raw energy.

Are there any upcoming local music releases that you are anticipating?

Greg Swan: David Krejci (Cleophone, Reverend Strychn Trio) has a new album coming out from his Lester project. Krejci grew up in the heyday of the Minneapolis scene, played around with RST and has been doing solo Cleophone stuff the past few years. Plus, he listens to some weird stuff. Throw the Fight should be releasing the first full-length in July, too.

Toby Cryns: I’m looking forward to hearing Jenny Dalton’s forthcoming release as well as David Brusie’s new record, Flyover State.

Which are your favorite local record shops?

Greg Swan: Although many of the local indie shops have closed, you just can’t beat Electric Fetus. The Twin Cities are so spoiled with that place. If you’re ever traveling through Des Moines, you must stop downtown (just off I-235) and check out ZZZ Records. That place always has one or two gems nobody else has.

Toby Cryns: Treehouse Records has a great vibe going on. I feel like I’m in the movie, High Fidelity, every time I step in there. Like John Cusack and Jack Black are going to get into an argument at any moment.

Do you believe that the coming year of local music will continue to shroud itself in indie rock or are there any other scenes or genres that you see on the rise?

Greg Swan: Indie rock will continue to be king this year. Minneapolis prides itself as a Shins-loving city. I don’t know if we should embrace that or be ashamed. We’re definitely not a Portland, Oregon, though. I think the national trend towards blues-based rock (White Stripes, Wolfmother, Earl Greyhound) will assuredly influence some of the younger Twin Cities bands. Little Man is doing a great job at putting their own stamp on an evolving sound.

TC: Indie rock will be the Twin Cities sound for some time coming, but there will continue to be great releases in other genres as well.Rhymesayers releases hordes of amazing material every year. In fact, Eyedea and Abilities are probably two of the most talented gents on the planet. And let’s not even get started with Atmosphere, who continues to make fab records. Much to my dismay, I’ve seen what seems to be a rise of straight-up radio rock (read my interview with Perfect Porridge for more on that topic…haha), and there’s not a critical mass of bluegrass folk to make that much of a viable scene right now.

Finally, who are your current favorite local acts?

Greg Swan: Avant-garde psychedelic jazz quartet Electropolis just got a grant to put on their performance of Electropolis Plays Metropolis – complete with dancers, installation sculpture/videography, and aerialists. I simply cannot wait.

Toby Cryns: The best band to see live right now is Dance Band. They will make even the most straight-laced business man drop his guard for a moment and bust a move. The guys in that band are so ridiculous that us dorky dancers don’t feel so scared about letting our guards drop. Mark Mallman is simply the best performer I have ever seen – period. Hockey Night puts on great shows, and Lazer Forever is making some of the best music around today.