Minneapolis quartet Tapes 'N Tapes garnered appreciation from the local music press when they self-released their terrific CD The Loon last November. But their fortunes took a sharp turn upward when several influential music bloggers championed them, catapulting them from a local up-and-comer to a national player. The Loon gets a nationwide re-release on XL Records this month, and the band appears on The Late Show With David Letterman July 25 before touring with The Futureheads through early August. The A.V. Club sat down with guitarist and frontman Josh Grier, keyboardist Matt Kretzmann, and bassist Erik Appelwick to talk about Tapes 'N Tapes' music and future, and how sometimes leaving your job for two months works wonders for your career.
The A.V. Club: One of the jokes you made in the early days was that the three band members were actually named, respectively, Tapes, N, and Tapes. Has that joke started to wear thin, especially now that you're a four-piece band?
Erik Appelwick: I'm actually the apostrophe now.
Josh Grier: For the most part, it's run its course. [It came from our] website, where there used to be kind of a web of lies [instead of a bio].
Matt Kretzmann: Mythologies. Mythologies.
JG: We'd tell stories.
MK: People would get annoyed with it, because we do so many interviews now. At the time, we were on [Minneapolis college station] Radio K for our first time ever, and we thought "Wouldn't it be funny if we kept this up?" But you can't really do that a hundred times.
JG: You get confused, and then people get annoyed, if you're making up stories on your website. People ask, "So, what happened when you guys played that show in Antarctica?" And we [have to say], "Oh, that was just a joke." [Laughs.]
AVC: When you put out The Loon last year, did you have any idea that it would pick up the kind of buzz it did?
JG: No, we didn't. We had hopes that people would like it. But we didn't expect that we'd play two shows at the Bowery, or have gone to the UK, or even be on a label. All that was pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff. Basically, we recorded The Loon in two weeks about this time last year. Ten days, 70 hours in the studio.
EA: That includes mixing.
JG: Two days where me and Eric didn't see the light of day.
EA: Right, in a basement.
JG: But it definitely wasn't like "We're going to make a record that's going to put us on the map." It was like "We've got some songs; let's record as best we can." And it's really taken on a life of its own. You don't expect to go on tour and sell out half your shows.
AVC: The New York Times called your music "humble, as if they aren't quite sure if they deserve to be liked." That seemed like a strange thing to say. Do you deserve to be liked?
JG: You can't really ever expect anything from anybody. As long as we're making music that we like, we'll be happy with it, and if other people like it, that's like icing on the cake. The opportunities we've gotten are pretty amazing, but I don't think anyone ever deserves to be liked. [Laughs.] If you make a terrible record, or… Just because Michael Jackson made some great records doesn't mean now he deserves to be liked by everybody.
AVC: Tapes 'N Tapes became popular so quickly, it seems inevitable that there'll be at least some backlash. Does that worry you?
JG: I think we know it's coming.
EA: That's inherent.
MK: We're braced for it. There's already some rumblings. It stings a little.
JG: People who genuinely like the band will continue to like it. People who like it because they just think they should like it—if then they hate it [later], that's fine.
MK: Or hate it because everybody else likes it.
JG: You can't really worry too much about things you can't control. Every band that has some sort of success will inherently have some backlash follow that success, and we've been doing way better than we could have imagined. We're all waiting.
MK: Especially a new band. It's just inevitable.
EA: Music fandom is so complicated now. It [should be] either you like the songs or you don't, but there's so much more to it now—is that band cool enough, are they hip enough? That stuff shouldn't really matter.
JG: We can't all be Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
AVC: You're a data analyst, right?
JG: Yes. I actually just got promoted! [Laughs.] I now manage people too.
EA: It was halfway into the tour: "By the way, glad your tour is going well—you just got a promotion." Ka-ching!
JG: I hadn't been there in two months.
MK: To your credit, you've made yourself invaluable [at your company].
JG: I've worked there almost four years now. I do enjoy my job when I'm there, and I enjoy the people I work with. If it gets to the point where it's not working out for either me or them, I'm sure it'll dissolve. But at the same time, you never know when all this band shit's going to implode. People could not give two shits about us tomorrow—some people probably don't give two shits about us today.
EA: I'll be begging for change in two months.
JG: So it's like, since I've got a good thing going, I'll keep it going as long as I can. I'm not banking on anything.
EA: I'll be begging for change from you in two months.
JG: Exactly. I'll still have a job, and we'll be saying "Remember six months ago?"
AVC: What are you planning for the second record? That's going to be pretty important in proving that the band has a long-term future.
EA: We're going to make the best record ever. [Laughs.] Ever!
JG: In all honesty, we've started working on some new songs, but with all the touring, it's been a little more difficult. In the past, I would lock myself up and write some songs or have some pretty good ideas of what the songs were going to be like, and come in and say "Hey, guys, here's kind of an outline of the song, let's work it up and finish it off." But in the past six months, I think there have only been two days where I've been home with nothing to do, so I've been able to write very little. We have one new song that's getting close to done. We'll have more time. This winter, we'll have a break from touring and we'll go into the studio and start working on the next record. I have no idea what it's going to sound like. I have a feeling it's just going to be more Tapes 'N Tapes songs.
MK: The thing about Tapes is, there's never an agenda or a manifesto. If it's interesting to listen to, then it cuts the mustard.
JG: Try not to have any two songs sound too much alike, and you see what you get. That's how we try to make a song.
MK: It won't be an electronic record.
JG: No, no dance. There might be some more droney moments, just because I like that. But you never know. If I knew, I'd tell you. [Laughs.] Hopefully we'll have it all written, and can start recording it. I don't think we're going to be one of those bands that goes in and says, "Well, guys, we've got four handles of Jack Daniels and two ounces of weed, and we've got three weeks to get the record done." [Laughs.]
AVC: It's worked for people before.
JG: Yeah, but we aren't really Mötley Crüe.