TAPES 'N TAPES with the FUTUREHEADS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (July 26), doors 8 pm. $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Minneapolis indie rockers Tapes'n Tapes were optimistic that their latest disc, The Loon, could outsell 2004's self-released debut EP, The Tapes'N Tapes, and possibly expand their reach beyond the Twin Cities.
After all, since Carleton College math student Josh Grier and his pal Matt Kretzmann formed the group back in 2003, the Tapes boys had played some exploratory out-of-state gigs, and although not every show was a resounding success, people seemed to enjoy their Pavement-bent new tunes almost as much as the Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer covers they used to play for kicks at house parties.
"When we released our first EP," recalls Grier from his Minneapolis pad, "we booked a 10-day East Coast tour ourselves, and there wasn't much interest. There was one show in Boston. My cousin and his wife, who we were staying with, were there with the members of one opening band and the guitarist from the other band that was supposed to play - nobody else. So we played to, like, eight people that night. It's definitely rough being out on the road when no one knows who you are."
Everything changed for Tapes 'n Tapes, however, when they became the darlings of the blogosphere, where frequent comparisons to the Pixies, Arcade Fire and My Bloody Valentine inevitably led to a glowing review of The Loon on the Pitchfork site, followed by a triumphant showcase at South By Southwest 2006.
Soon after that, the Tapes were signed to XL Recordings, which wisely decided to re-release The Loon with the mixes, sequencing and sleeve art intact.
In a couple of weeks, the Tapes will be one of the main attractions at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, playing alongside their heroes in the reunited Os Mutantes for the massive sunburned horde - quite a difference from eight people on a weeknight.
"The whole thing has been kind of strange. Back in November when we were releasing the record initially, our manager, Kerri, sent three MP3s of our songs to about five blogs that we regularly read and enjoyed. Within two days they were posted on the sites and we were responding to people wanting to buy copies right away. There was no big promotional campaign involving massive advance CD shipments to publications all across the country - it was a much more grassroots or word-of-mouth kinda thing.
"When the positive Pitchfork review came out, it tipped the scales and moved us into the mainstream very quickly. It's weird to go from nobody knowing who we were one day to selling out big shows in New York the next."
The great thing about their "overnight" success is that the Tapes 'n Tapes can finally visit many of the places they sing about on The Loon, including Houston, Omaha and, yes, even exotic Manitoba.
"The song Manitoba was inspired by a large Come Visit Manitoba billboard in my neighborhood in Minneapolis that depicted a bunch of people lounging on a sunny beach. Coming home one night last winter I looked at it and thought, 'Manitoba is north of Minneapolis, and we sure don't have any tropical beaches here, so what the fuck?' That's when I wrote the song.
"It occurred to me later that I hadn't actually been to any of the places mentioned in our songs before writing them. We had a show in Houston just before getting to Austin and opened with the song In Houston, and people seemed to like it - at least nothing was thrown. And we went through Omaha on the last tour and Omaha went over really well.
"The general impression I get is that people love having their town mentioned in a song - no matter what it's about. As long as you don't say it's a shit-hole or something you're fine."