erasing clouds

Subtle Crusher: An interview with Kid Dakota

by John Wenzel

A bruised, bloodied face stares at me from the CD cover. The subject's arm is in a sling and his eyes have that drugged, half-conscious look of someone recovering from a serious accident. In the accompanying press sheet some allusion is made to the reason for this photograph, but never fully explained.

Reading Kid Dakota's bio sheet, one can only assume that the injured kid in the picture is Darren Jackson, leader of the Minneapolis-based duo. Jackson's songwriting, vocal harmonies, and fluid, even guitar work define Kid Dakota's sound. Underpinning this are beats from former 12Rod drummer Christopher McGuire.

Another guitar and drums indie duo? Yes, but read on.

The bio sheet tells me that McGuire has an impressive eight years of drumming experience to his credit, while Jackson is a relative newcomer. This I never would have guessed. Confidence and precision permeate Kid Dakota's five-song So Pretty E.P. (Negative Kid Records). Wailing, textured guitar riffs in the vein of Built to Spill or Quasi race along Jackson's mournful vocals. There are hints of twang (vocally and instrumentally) from song to song, implying an affection for that brand of oblique, indie-folk/country that's emerged in the last decade. The lyrics are literary-minded and raw, highlighting absurdity or post-industrial decay in the same line. The beautiful acoustic ballad "Pairin' Off" is clever yet honest, offering a multitude of images that anyone could relate to but few could express.

"Why aren't these guys on Secretly Canadian?" I ask myself. They'd be great on tour with Swearing at Motorists (another excellent Midwestern duo dripping with harmony and mournful themes). As the E.P. plays I find myself comparing Jackon's vocals to Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia) or Neil Cleary (Stupid Club). They're delicate, but assured. Soundscapes worthy of the inimitable Low are formed from stop-start, turn-on-a-dime rhythms and furiously belted riffs. A delicious hum swells into a blistering, overdriven fuzz lead. Ice cube trays (yes, ice cube trays) click rhythmically and synchronously over the din.

Who recorded this EP?

Alex Oana, it says.

This thing is tight, I think to myself. I've gotta talk to these Kids.

The following interview was conducted in December via email with Darren Jackson and Alex Oana.

I sense a kind of Neutral Milk Hotel, Sebadoh vibe from a lot of your guitar work. Could you elaborate on some of your likes/dislikes?

I really enjoy the music of Neutral Milk Hotel, Will Oldham (in his many incarnations), The Silver Jews, The Black Heart Procession, Songs:Ohia, Sparklehorse, Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted, Westing By Musket and Sextant), Smog (The Forgotten Foundation, and Julius Caesar), and Elliott Smith.

The production is exceedingly tight throughout. Was there a particular sound you were going for?

Aside from the second guitar parts and vocal harmonies, Christopher and I wanted the E.P. to be an accurate representation of our live show. The 'sound' of the E.P., however, is largely due to Alex's sonic sensibilities. He spent weeks mixing it so he's probably more familiar with the music than we are.

Along with that: tell me about Alex Oana. What did he use to record this? There's some wicked analog guitar crunch on a few songs, but I'm thinking most of it was rendered digitally?

Darren: Alex and I went to college together and have known each other for a long time. He's an amazing engineer/producer. His input was substantial; it's almost as if he's a member of the band.

Alex: Crunchy guitar sounds were rendered by overdriving a tube preamp. Sometimes this was applied "in the mix" to an existing track on tape, sometimes "live" as it was going down to tape. Nothing was "rendered" digitally. The microphones were recorded to 16 tracks of 16 bit ADAT to capture the performances. I mixed through an old-school Mackie to a vintage Tascam DAT. I used four cheap compressors in the mix and a couple guitar pedals. We mastered by doing a real-time bounce to 1/2" analogue, but that did not create the sound, it merely sweetened it.

The tone of your album art and bio sheet imply a similar anti-aesthetic as a lot of other Midwest indie groups. Do you feel any affinity with that loosely-comprised scene?

No, not really.

What's up with the ice cube trays? Do you use them live?

I started using ice cube trays as percussive instruments when I was demo-ing songs at my parent's house in South Dakota. I was recording in the basement and the ice cube trays were in the basement, so I never had to take my headphones off (the other percussive stuff was upstairs). We do use them live. We also distribute them at the door so members of the audience can play along. We've had as many as thirty people simultaneously playing ice cube trays. Although I haven't researched it, I wouldn't be surprised if that's a world record.

The title track almost has an epic feel to it. Do you think of it that way?

I've never thought of it that way, but I can see how it might come across like that.

Have you guys been playing out lately?

Not really. We're playing a show with Brick Layer Cake in January.

Are you planning a full-length anytime soon?

We're going to start recording our first LP in 1/01 (to be recorded again by Alex Oana). It should be out by late spring. The member lineup will be the same. We're going to shop it around.

Were you in any bands before this?

No, but I play two other bands, Cellophane and John Hermanson.

What can you tell me about the cover photo and its relationship to the first couple paragraphs of your press bio?

(For the reader's convenience, those paragraphs are as follows: "It was October, 1999. I had come from South Dakota with bad ideas, but unfortunately, no one realized that I had brought them with me. It was assumed that I had left them, viral and contagious, infectious and deadly, behind with the bags and the cottons, with the teeth and the blood. If only they had known. I came to Minnesota, not for the duck hunting or for the ice fishing, not even to see the Vikings or Paul Bunyan, as do most. No, I came for the taper. I came for the tapeworm. I came to get better. I remember walking the grounds of the state hospital, the thought of 10,000 lakes always intruding, making me feel smaller, weaker.")

Well, the cover photo was taken in Providence, RI. Those were dark days. It was out on the East Coast that I started writing the song "So Pretty," which, in many ways, is a testament to darkness. It was in Minnesota, the home of ten-thousand treatment centers, that I eventually got clean. I now lead a rigidly ascetic lifestyle and abstain from all impurities (drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sex, etc.). My body has become a temple.

"Pairin' Off" is perhaps the best song I've heard in the last 6 months. Did you write it with someone in mind, or is it more of a general statement?

Thanks. It's more of a general statement. The song produces very diverse reactions. Some people think it's sad while others find it liberating and funny. When we play it, the audience always laughs so it must be funny. My brother, Derek, and I made a video for it one night, so maybe it will be on MTV someday.

There's this lovely little post-rock bit at the end of "Summer Cold." Would you ever consider doing an instrumental album?

I would love to do one, but I've never seriously considered it. In the future, after I've used up all the words, I'll probably give it a try.

What's your favorite record released this year?

Black Heart Procession 2

What's your favorite mixed drink?

Soy milk-orange juice-banana-blueberry-kiwi-peach-strawberry smoothie. Sometimes I use apples and raspberries and when I'm feeling particularly daring, I sprinkle in a few grape nuts.

So Pretty E.P. (Negative Kid Records)

Track listing: 1. Smokestack 2. So Pretty 3. Coalminer 4. Pairin' Off 5. Summer Cold

Contact Kid Dakota: Darren Jackson, 606 13th Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414, 612.676.0429,

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