I want to preface this by saying that The Florists are honestly just really great people and I love them and what they stand for. Also this interview was originally done for the December 2016 issue of Gamma Prince, where I also write words sometimes. Thanks to Jo, Jared, and Luke for their time and talent, this was a lot of fun.
Maia Jacobson: So, I know you [Jo Kellen] because you went to school in New Prague [MN] .
Jo Kellen: I did, that’s where I’m from.
MJ: yeah, but you didn’t graduate from New Prague High School, did you?
JK: No, I didn’t I went to an art school in St. Paul.
MJ: The Conservatory [St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Artists]
MJ: so, how did you meet the rest of these guys?
JK: Well, Jared and I did stand-up comedy together. He still does stand-up, I don’t really do stand-up anymore. Um but yeah, Jared and I met and I thought Jared was really cool and was afraid of him for a while and …
Jared Hemming: Our first conversation was about punk rock!
JK: *laughs* that’s true! I was sitting at galactic pizza in uptown where they have this really wonderful, horrible open mic. I was there with my friend Max and was very scared cause it was my first time doing stand-up, and Jared was joking about The Ramones and was like “yeah, Shhhh, Eena is a punk rocker!” and it was like about her trying to sleep. It was like some ridiculous bit and I was like “wow! Jared’s so cool!”
JH: I think that’s why we decided to become a punk band
JK: *laughs* just because “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”!
Luke Michaels: Me and Jared met at Radio K [U of M Twin Cities radio station] we were both DJs at the same time, we had shifts that butt ended each other and would talk music
JH: and butt heads
LM: Yeah and butt heads! And we got over butting heads and became friends
JK: were you really arch enemies before?
LM: yes. Arch enemies. But Jared always came in after so he always got the last word.
JK: that should happen more on radio K, there should be more rivalries of people openly bad talking others.
JH: “the previous dj played a lot of crap…”
LM: NO, but that’s not true, we were all fast friends
JK: So Jared and I decided that we were gonna play some music together because I found out through a mutual friend of ours that Jared played drums, and I played guitar and sung and had songs. So I asked him to come hang out at my house, and we jammed and then Jared was like, “Hey, I know this guy named Luke who is really great and who really wants to be in a band and is an awesome bassist and he’s just gonna come over to practice with us one day!” And then Luke came and practiced with us and it was really fun, and we gelled, and now we’re a band.
MJ: And this was how long ago?
LM: Last March, so about a year and a half ago
JH: nononononono it was march of 2014
JK: No it wasn’t!?
JH: no, it was 2015, but that’s not last march, that the march prior.
LM: oh, yeah! Isn’t that what I said?
JK: *laughs* Whatever. Time, linearity, I don’t care about it.
MJ: Did ya’ll have any specific intent or purpose when you created what is now The Florists?
JH: We wanted to be curators of beautiful things, like a true florist
JK: I think the real answer to that question is that Jared and I were like, “wow, we really like Pavement” and then we were like, “yeah, this is cool. Let’s play shows” …
LM: you, you excluded me…
JH: Yeah, Luke also loves Pavement!
*loud, jumbly commotion*
JK: well to be fair, when you started, I didn’t know for a fact that you loved Pavement. But then it became very clear. In a good way, that’s a great thing!
MJ: What are some of your influences, besides Pavement?
JH: yeah, so we’ve actually made a band pact to never listen to anybody but Pavement.
JK: Favorite band forever is the mountain goats, I very much just want to be a big, queer, John Darnell.
MJ: how would you describe your sound?
JH: When I talk to old people at my work, like people who grew up listening to music in the eighties and haven’t really branched out beyond that, I usually describe our sound as “Encyclopedic Punk”
JK: *laughs* that’s funny! I don’t know, I’ve described us as Funk Punk, Noise pop…I don’t I think noise pop is specific enough but still just as vague as post punk
MJ: So tell me about your song writing process and writing Can You Feel The Stasis?
JK: Oh man,
JH: We just thought, “Hey can we feel the stasis?!”
JK: And then we did! No, but for the songwriting I think we all contribute very equally, but I usually come up in with lyrics, a vocal melody, and a guitar part. Then we get together in the rehearsal space and just jam. I’m like alright, here you guys, here’s this thing” and the I just loop the guitar part over and over again, and Jared and Luke are pretty remarkably adept and usually develop something that is really mind-blowing right away, or at least it is to me. But eah, I don’t know…what uh, how did we put the record together? How would you guys describe that process?
JH: Well, I feel like the more important thing for us was to start playing shows in the twin cities area so we could sort of feel like a part of that scene before we did anything really serious. I feel like it really just started by playing shows and our first shows were house shows, we played a lot of Kitty Kat Club to start, and we still do…
LM: Yeah and we recorded the demos, and I think after we got sick of that being the only recorded version of our band….
JH: yeah, and we were also really big fans of Ali Jafar, the engineer we worked with who recorded, mixed, and mastered Can You Feel the Stasis? We were really big fans of his because he’s done a lot of really big, really awesome albums in the local scene
JK: Yeah he did Lunch Duchess, Strange Relations, just fantastic. He helped create a lot of the really cool sounds on Can You Feel the Stasis? Like literally, and also cool suggestions to tweak even just a couple musical phrases within a song and he was really fantastic.
MJ: Going back to the MPLS scene, what has been getting into that been like, and what are your thoughts on Minneapolis’ DIY scene?
JK: people like gin and tonic a lot. *laughter* A lot of people, myself included!
LM: I feel like if you just give someone your drink ticket *laughter* like I gave someone a drink ticket of mine once and I feel like ever since then, we’ve been tight.
JK: I’m sorry I interrupted, what were you gonna say, Jared?
JH: oh it’s okay, I was just going to say that now that we’ve been a part of the community for a while I feel like we are recognized by our peers and we recognize our peers and it’s just kinda cool to be a part of a wave of local bands who are doing things that are really exciting right now. And one of our favorite bands to play with right now is this band called Tony Peachka,
MJ: I love Tony Peachka
JK: She wrote the review, she knows what’s up
JH: And just what Melissa Jones does as a singer and a songwriter is just spectacular
JK: Yeah, how about Wetter [Melissa’s other band] right?!
JH: Wetter is soooo good. And all three of us are just really excited about that, and we pretty much just latch ourselves onto that like a parasite.
JK: I don’t know if that’s true
JH: I don’t know, I just feel like, recognizing the other super awesome, talented bands here and getting to play shows with them feels like the most extraordinary privilege.
JK: My friend Noah, is a trumpet player who makes really cool, Avant Garde jazz music, and he’s in this group of musicians who are in a bunch or different bands and also themselves are called six families. I was talking to him at this thing he was DJing at the other week and he was like “Dude, there are so many post punk bands in Minneapolis” and I thought this was so strange because there is a weird proliferation of weird rock, and I love that. What I think is really fun is that a lot of the bands that I encounter and that we play with, are also a lot of people we hang out with and have fun with and I feel like I have a lot of friendships within the community; it’s where the majority of my friendships are right now. What I think is advantageous about that, in an artistic sense, is that there’s a weird, I wouldn’t even call it competition, there’s not a careerism to it, at least I hope not always, but there’s something kind of fun about seeing if you can get your friend to be like “what the fuck?!” in the audience. I think there’s something really fun about that, and really satisfying to see how you can fool people or how you can take expectations about your band and subvert them in some fun way. And that at least fuels me.
LM: I feel like we strive to do that on more of our songs now in a way that didn’t necessarily happen on the demos. I think we’re trying to be, well not trying to be necessarily, but becoming smarter.
JH: yeah and we really make an effort to challenge ourselves as musicians and performers, and I think that lends itself to doing really crazy shit like giving away a dvd of Casper at our show [alluding to their 11/5 show where they did, indeed, give away a dvd of Casper in the middle of their set].
MJ: yeah I brought my friend, and it was their first time seeing you and they were like, “what the fuck?!” and I was like “exactly!!”
JK: Oh really! In a good way?
JH: that seems to be a common reaction and I don’t know how to take that all the time.
JK: I don’t know, I just like surrealism, and I know I definitely like to try to push that just because I think it’s a very interesting aesthetic choice. I just think there’s so much opportunity in it frankly. And it’s honestly indiscernible from reality a lot of the times, especially these days…
MJ: Were any of ya’ll involved in the DIY scene before you started making music, is that something you were into before all this? And how was it then, versus not being a physical part of it now?
JK: oh yeah, I very much was, and Jared was as well. We became good friends because we both worked at this school’s [U of M Twin Cities] newspaper, Minnesota Daily, I was the editor for arts and entertainment and Jared was a reporter and then assistant editor. I mean, I was going to house shows as a reporter, I was going to them very much as an outsider, deliberately. I think I was like pals with those people, but I also did theater and was going to other shows and hanging out with my friends bands and stuff but would never feel like a participant.
JH: Yeah, I certainly always felt like a student to the local scene, I always kept a lot of tabs on it, even as a freshman. I caught a Hollow Boys show once, and it just totally blew my mind. And It’s just cool to think that that was my impression as just a dweeby 18 year old and ten like by the time I was 22 I was working with those guys
LM: you two had an extra year to become acquainted with the Minneapolis scene because when we were stating The Florists, I was a sophomore. I felt like my beginning in The Florists happened coincided with my self-discovery of the Minneapolis music scene, whereas you were already well acquainted with it, but it helped me feel more personally connected to it.
MJ: tell me about how the internet has helped you all in your successes and how you think it influences the Minneapolis music scene.
JK: oh I think it’s just how everyone finds out about shows now. And it’s also this hilarious point of anxiety about what to write, it’s like, “alright, should I use an asterisk, and now a tilde, and all caps. Will we have a little joke here about music, and we’ll have some self-deprecating thing and a funny image and then everybody is like ‘Herrrrr, reaction!’”
JK: I mean really if anything, it’s just a lot of circulation, I mean that’s how you get info out.
JH: I would say a really big thing, and it’s worked really well to our advantage, but I think it goes for the entirety of Minneapolis’ music scene. I’m sure you’re familiar with the YouTube page, Undercurrents MPLS. They do stellar work, and I think that when your own band gets one of those videos, it feels like a little, nice little, I don’t know… like a nice little pat on the back. It’s validating. It’s just really easy now for people to get a sense of who are band is without a lot of effort, but then they come to our shows and I think it’s a lot more intense than what they were expecting.
MJ: How has The Florists, or even just Minneapolis’s music scene, allowed you all to explore your own personal identities?
JH: I think we all kinda look to Jo….
JK: *laughter* I came out in the middle of this band! Uh before our release show [July 2016], right before we went on stage, I came out to both my parents which was very exciting and that went great! And I think for me that Identity is a fickle thing, and also people often try to make it some kind of – there’s some kind of general rule to legislating identity or talking about identity. I think that in my opinion, it’s a very personal thing and I think the fluidity is at the heart of the concept of identity. With The Florists, I think that has allowed me to go on stage and work those things out. I don’t think there’s any kind of complete Jo on stage when The Florists are happening. I think what is really exciting is that we get to have that sort of human collage moment where-and that comes out in the weird genre bending too, is that like different parts of us are being expressed simultaneously on stage and that’s what makes it so weird to look at when I like lean back and I’m like drenched and have my mouth wide open. You know what I mean, like it’s not really something I feel I can articulate, but having a space on a stage, with people who are supportive, getting to make and share art that I’ve worked on with people that really mean a lot to me, is a just part of my identity. Now, The Florists have become a place where I expand and contract.
JH: Yeah, and to speak for my own sake, I feel like one thing that’s been really exciting about Jo’s fluidity is I think it has really freed up me and Luke to play with gender roles as well, and I feel like neither of us step into traditionally masculine roles. Especially in the way we present on stage – and you know not to say, I mean I identify as a male, but I think there’s something to be said for being open to expressing yourself in a different way. And then just intersectionality wise, we’re just bringing a bunch of different identities to the plate here, I mean I’m a person of color and there aren’t that many POC in the Minneapolis post punk scene especially and that’s pretty difficult, but it feels good to give some voice to that, putting a spotlight on that and bringing that perspective to the stage.
LM: I think challenging masculinity is something that we’ve all sort of done, even before shows, and maybe that skews the way that people will interpret our version of challenging masculinity, but I think that that was always something that was very important to us, and interesting to us as the very least.
JK: Yeah. I hate— Nobody like macho shit. Actually Danielle from Tony Peachka and Bruise Violet shared a video, uh Screaming Females were just in town at Triple Rock, I wasn’t there but Undercurrent had taken a video of her [Marissa Paternoster] on stage, and they’re a rockin rock band and of course as rollicking rock bands go, there’s a bunch of macho shit that comes along with that and people want to like windmill their arms around all these people. I mean, moshing is wonderful and can be a friendly unifying thing, but it can also be a violent, powerful thing; and expression of power and domination. What’s really exciting is that rock in 2016 is becoming more and more welcoming to women, it’s getting gayer and gayer, which is really exciting. There’s sort of this overwhelming queerness and pacifism to it even though the music is aggressive. And she on the stage just did this like really amazing speech for like three minutes, just very articulately requesting these people to calm down, essentially expressing the same kind of idea that moshing can be cool, but not when you’re an asshole about it. And I love that. I love that! Some of the best rock bands right now are fronted by queer folks and really fierce fucking women.
JH: I think it’s really important to us that people go crazy at our shows, but that they also stay safe.
JK: Exactly. What I don’t get is that people are like, “well what do you expect, it’s rock music” and it’s just stupid because it’s so easy to have fun and not hurt people, it’s so easy! And I’m like 6’5” and I could very easily hurt people, but I don’t…And there are opportunities as a band to be proactive about it. The example that immediately comes to mind is Speedy Ortiz, they have a hotline that you can call or text at their shows and that’s fucking great.
LM: We all like love, love, G.L.O.S.S. They’ve been extremely influential to us and they’re a band that really vocally criticized that and that’s really inspiring to us.
MJ: Where do you find courage?
JH: The three of us, the three of us together always gives me courage
JK: I totally agree with that.
JH: I feel like it’s really easy to not feel confident about your life and it’s really easy when you go through life and you’ve got so many endeavors to do alone, and it’s really hard to feel truly confident and it may always feel like you’re competing with someone else, or anything. Since day one, The Florists have always been the three of us together and that has always filled me with courage, and it also gives me confidence because I believe in these two more than anybody and that also makes me believe in myself more than anybody.
JK: I think what Jared said is exactly the response that I would give and I think to be an artist we all have in our heart of hearts think that we each have, as individuals, interesting things to say. And you have this, I wouldn’t call it arrogance, just this confidence in that you have an interesting expression whether somebody gave us at whatever age some kind of praise, that stuck with us maybe? I feel like, Jared and Luke obviously, but I am lucky to have a lot of people who are vocally supportive in my life that has helped me, even though my psychology would love to stomp that down, has helped me feel comfortable expressing myself.
MJ: alright so that’s the last question I had, is there anything you want to add?
JH: Alright, so here’s a list of people we hate.
JK: yeah, here’s a list of people who rock, and these are the people who suck!
JH: Yeah so I don’t even know how to make this like relevant, but Bric-A-Brac records is awesome.
JK: Yeah, Bric-A-Brac is so cool, we played an in store there and it was so fun! We had a blast. You can include this as an audio clip, this is out shout out section: Uh, I also really like Ought and Deerhoof. Deerhoof has the best drummer in rock. It’s true, I’ll say it.
LM: We all love Death Grips
JK: Oh yeah, we all love Death Grips, so much. We really do.
JH: Is there a good story we could give her to really hook people in? Is there anything that has happened to us recently?
JK: We took a band trip to Chicago for Lollapalooza to see LCD Soundsystem, and Luke got-
LM: This is the hook!
JK: Luke got glow stick fluid in his eye!
JK: So we make this sonic pilgrimage to see LCD Soundsystem, this band we all love a lot. And this woman behind us was cracking open glow sticks and rubbing them all over her body and she was glowing and we were like, “That’s so cool!” And so, she gives us glow sticks
JH: No, she was like just pouring them all over, like regardless of our choice!
JK: So we were like alright, got to accept it, this is fun.
LM: Baptized in glow sticks. So, I have one in my hand, and I literally so excited abou this show with glow sticks in either had and go like this *makes wild, dancing, arm movement* and shoot glow stick goo into my eye. I was so embarrassed, I really didn’t want anybody to see that anything was wrong, but literally could not physically open my eye and could see purple glow inside my eye. And I had to watch the rest of the show with one eye.
Stay tuned for more updates on new music from The Florists, they tell me they’re getting to work on a full-length album due out sometime early 2017!