Is / Is are three young women from a heated up music scene in Minneapolis, signed to Guilt Ridden Pop. Quite how they found their way into my consciousness all the way over here in the UK is a long story, but I’m pretty darned glad that they did. They’ve become a constant on the stereo, their music simply demanding that the volume is turned up to LOUD. I’m sorry to even mention their youth or their sex, but they play with the self-assurance of pros with 25 years in the business. Their sound is crashing cymbal heavy with fuzzy vocals that just some of the time sound like they’re sliding over the back of the stage. They’ve currently got just an EP and a single to their name but are part way to getting their first album in the can. Judging by what they’ve done so far, and a sneaky listen to another unfinished track, I can hardly wait to see what they come up with. Singer / guitar player Sarah Rose answered a few questions for me:
Mike Hughes - How's it going?
Sarah Rose - Hey Mike! Geeezzzz it’s been a pretty busy summer for us so far!
MH - Do you want to introduce the band?
SR - I'm Sarah Rose, guitarist & vocalist of Is/Is. Sarah Nienaber plays bass & we are currently in between drummers for the third time this year so I'm not exactly sure how to introduce our drummer. Mara Appel is our original drummer who relocated to Portland but she was around to record on both the EP & 7" we have released so far.
MH - Just to explain, I'm a Brit, living in London. From where I'm sitting, and knowing nothing about it, Minnesota looks to have a hugely active music scene. There seem to be lots of inter-connections between bands, with perhaps one of the interstices being your label, Guilt Ridden Pop. Any comment on what it's like to be part of?
SR - The Minneapolis music scene has always been good to us! It's very supportive & I feel that all bands get a chance to be recognized & heard. There is definitely some inter-connections between bands, I think because of the fact that new bands are constantly being noticed the musicians in the scene are sort of eager to start new bands with each other to see what it can turn into. Is/Is started as a "just for fun" band, with the idea that we would play a few basement shows every now & then but the response after our first few shows was so positive I was immediately motivated to see how far we could take it.
MH - I understand you've all got musical pedigree if I can say that - in fact it was Gospel Gossip (Sarah Nienaber’s ‘other’ band) that got me here, so do you want to tell us about where you've come from? Is Is/Is where it's at right now, or do you all have other projects running at the same time?
SR - I started out playing bass in the band First Communion Afterparty around six years ago which just recently called it quits. I just started working on a new project solely because I miss playing bass but it is really a side project so far, Is/Is is definitely my main focus. Gospel Gossip is pretty busy right now & is actually doing a lot of the same things Is/Is is working on. New albums, tours & we've been getting a lot of the same show offers lately which surprisingly hasn't happened at all so far.
MH - I'm sorry if I've got this wrong, but I read somewhere that you started the project as possibly light hearted and were surprised by how it took off? It sounds like you've had pretty amazing reactions.
SR - Yea, Sarah Nienaber & I had been sort of talking about playing music together for a while. She got asked to do a solo show & asked me if I'd do it with her. I showed her some songs that I'd been sitting on for years & they were sounding pretty cool with the two of us but we knew a drummer would tie it all together which is where Mara came in. So really Sarah N's first solo show turned into Is/Is's debut show.
MH - It could be just because I'm an old fart, but I was knocked sideways by you all being youngsters, girls to boot, and yet your sound is so drenched. Don't get me wrong, you're a long way from retro, but the first thing it put me in mind of was early 70's British bands like the Groundhogs, who used to regularly blow out their amps and speakers. I can only describe it as h-e-a-v-y. Where did that noise emanate from? Was it a deliberate thing or did it come about organically?
SR - We've never had a specific sound in mind. I write all the songs on my acoustic & when we all get together it just ends up being heavy & loud. A few of the songs on "This Happening" I wrote when I was 14 & never imagined they would end up sounding how they do now. Is/Is has helped me grow as a song writer & lately I can sit down with my guitar & work on something with more of a sound in mind but it's all very natural the way things turn out, I never try to force the songs to be anything that they're not.
MH - The new record - 'Vowel Movements / Blackest Beats' goes even further in that direction. What do you think it is about that fuzzy wall of squalling loudness that makes it so comforting to our ears and souls?
SR - Hahaha… it just feels good right? It creates a huge wall of sound, feels kind of warm & inviting don't you think?
I then wanted to check out my theory about Sarah Nienaber being the lead guitarist in her other band and playing bass in Is / Is – whether she thought this made her a different kind of bassist. Sarah Rose texted her to find out the answer
SR – She doesn't know how haha.. Can I chime in? I think watching her learn to play bass & then go play a Gospel Gossip show the opposite has happened, playing bass lines has helped her become a better lead guitarist.
MH - Was it putting two fingers up to the internet to call yourselves Is / Is? Even your MySpace address is virtually indecipherable.
SR - I think I was just trying to be annoying, its fun to hear people say
"Is/Is is…" but it slightly backfired on me haha, it's really hard to direct people to find us online.
MH - Where are you up to as a band? Releases? Gigging? And what plans do you have?
SR - I'm actually listening to our rough mixes right now! We are working on a full length & are pretty close to being done with it! It's been hard to keep up with ourselves because I’ve had so many ideas & when we have to step back & teach new drummers old songs it puts things on hold. We've got a handful of shows coming up in Minneapolis & I'm really trying to get another tour together for this fall & hopefully have our new album out by then!
MH - Is there any band at the moment you'd point to at the moment and say "yup, they're doing it right"? Anyone you'd recommend me to listen to, either from Minneapolis or elsewhere?
SR - Our friends Brute Heart from Minneapolis are doing a really good job right now; they just got back from a tour with their new album which is really killer. We are getting the violist Jackie to come in & record on some of the new Is/Is songs next week!
MH - I'm certain you don't want to answer questions like 'where did you get your name' and 'what's it like being in all girl trio' - what should I be asking to find out what makes you tick?
SR - I think we enjoy talking about our friendship with each other, especially when Mara is in the mix. We really challenge each other & work so well together, the friendship aspect is nearly as important as the music. Even with the drummer changes it’s hard to say Mara isn’t in the band because she is so important to us. We've got our own language the three of us, its been really hard to replace her in Minneapolis.
MH - What the most ridiculous rock'n'roll thing you've done so far?
SR - Almost everything we do on tour is ridiculous but I don't know how much of it qualifies as "rock & roll". We are just doing our best to make this our life even if that means sleeping in the van & eating condiments. This is all we want to do & that is never going to change. We just gotta keep on keeping on & hopefully someday it will be more sustainable & less of a struggle. I’m thankful for the support we've had so far & can't wait to show everyone what else we've got!
To save you hours of fruitless googling, here’s a couple of links. They’ve got dates coming up, although sadly only in the Mpls area for the moment. Here’s hoping!