Minnesota music luminaries The Suburbs take the stage Sunday at Riverside
One of the pioneers of the unmistakable Minneapolis sound — which berthed artists like Prince and The Replacements — will be taking their talents south on Highway 52 this Sunday as part of the Think Bank Down by the Riverside free outdoor concert series.
After making music in the Twin Cities for the better part of 40 years, The Suburbs will headline week two of the six-part concert series.
Their most recent album Hey Muse! is a well-crafted alternative-rock record that also manages to stay close to the Minneapolis sound that the band helped create in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The album, released last June, was recorded and released entirely independent from a record label, just like 2013’s Si Sauvage.
Chan Poling, lead singer of The Suburbs and one of two remaining original members, sat down with us to talk about modern music, the new album, and how Rochester can find their own sound — just like Minneapolis did.
Q: This new album Hey Muse, what makes it special in your eyes?
A: It’s special because we’re still making music — it still feels fresh and we’re still inspired. I’m a songwriter and those songs just came to me and I’m able to get them out with this great rock band, and I’m so blessed to be able to keep making music.
Q: To make this new album, you guys did a “fun-raiser” and raised over $50,000. What, in your eyes, does that say about your fans, and also about the music industry?
A: We had to put things in perspective. One-hundred years ago, no one was making money off music. There was this boom in pop music from the mid-20th century to the beginning of the 21st century, and that’s a quick bubble to burst. Think about this — salt used to be the greatest commodity in the world. People would kill for salt. Now it’s on everyone’s table. Songwriters have become salt sellers because it’s a dime a dozen. You can sell a lot of records, but royalties have diminished greatly … but crowdfunding works and it’s very heartening to see. I’ll go to my fans and say ‘hey, we’re making a new album’ and they give us more than a record label would.
Q: It seems like the industry is shifting. Before, records brought people to the live show. Now, it seems like the other way around, and live shows are the main money-maker for bands.
A: Well, your music still gets people to the show — or at least it should. Physical CDs are definitely becoming a thing of the past, though. We might not even make physical copies of our next record. The industry’s definitely changing; we all know what’s going on. And it’s the greatest puzzle we have now — how to get paid like we used to get paid. Some have figured it out, like the guy who actually owns Spotify. If he was a songwriter, we’d be all patting him on the back. But as artists, we have to figure out what’s best for us. There was exploitation before, as well, by smarter and more capitalistic brains. Artists aren’t necessarily businessmen.
Q: Personally, how do you get your ideas from your head onto a record? What’s your writing process?
A: It’s always been just getting people together in a room and jamming it out, that’s what’s worked for me and what still works for me. I’ve messed around with laptop composing, with Pro Tools and GarageBand and stuff like that, but it’s just not for me. The best songs are the ones that go through trial by fire. Playing with other musicians is absolutely the way to go.
Q: When’s the last time you played in Rochester?
A: I played in Rochester a few years ago with my other project, The New Standards. We did a holiday show and that group’s been there a few times, but I don’t even remember if The Suburbs have played a show in Rochester before. We’re making a little road trip out of this show, so we’re all really excited to be coming down to play this weekend.
Q: Rochester’s beginning to grow and become an artistic center for the first time. What can this town’s artists learn from a scene that already found its sound, one that you helped create?
A: You need to find spaces that support artists and have shows all the time. We were lucky to have great spaces right away — the Longhorn, First Avenue, 7th Street — that supported us and acted as a foundation. Places to gather are essential, and it’s really hard to make a record — so please support your local musicians!
What: The Suburbs with opener DENNIS
When: Sunday, July 15 at 7 p.m.
Where: Mayo Park (behind the Mayo Civic Center)
Isaac Jahns is a 2015 graduate of Mayo High School and a current journalism student at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories. Follow Isaac on Twitter.
Story produced with support from Riverside Concerts