Artist to Watch: Hunting Club

Photo by Ryan Taylor and Josh Thacker

Minneapolis has long been home to a vibrant music scene—dating back to legends like Prince and the Replacements as well as more recent acts including Atmosphere, Free Energy, The Hold Steady and Low. Emerging groups from a diverse range of genres have been a defining aspect of Twin Cities’ music to say the least. Although the indie-rock quintet Hunting Club may be relative newcomers to the scene, they have continued to uphold this tradition as one of the most promising bands hailing from Minneapolis today.

Forming in 2008, Hunting Club aptly describe their style simply as ‘plaid rock’—citing their penchant for layering each of their musical components on top of one another, weaving together their intersecting sounds into precise arrangements, recalling the likes of Built To Spill, My Bloody Valentine and Grizzly Bear. The group also claims to draws influence from Radiohead, not just from a musical standpoint, but through their distribution of their first full-length album Hunting Club (The Plaid Album) released this past June, in which they used Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want model (which can be found here or streamed via the embed below).

During this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, we sat down with frontman Eric Pasi and bassist Nate Dykstra—both of whom were in attendance. While we took a break from Union Park’s blistering heat, we chatted about their beginnings, Prince, Radiohead’s distribution model and their dynamic live performances.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where Hunting Club started and how long you have been together.

Eric Pasi: We’ve been together for two years. Nate joined last fall. Nate plays bass. I’m Eric, I play guitar and keys and sing.

So you were originally a four piece?

EP: We were a five piece and then the other bassist decided to split off and do his own thing.

Nate Dykstra: I happened to be moving back to Minneapolis at the same time they were looking for someone and I knew them through friends of friends so I joined up then.

The name Hunting Club—How did you find that name?

EP: You know with five people it’s kind of tough to figure out something or all agree on one thing. In the words of our former bassist, “it didn’t want to make him puke.” So we decided on that one. We thought it was cool though, the Midwest is ripe with a lot of hunting and fishing experiences.

ND: From what I remember, Justin and Kyle [Steen], the two brothers in the band who play guitar and drums, switching back and forth on some songs—they were driving through their home state Wisconsin and they saw a sign that said Hunting Club, and that was one of the ideas they threw out that they ended up picking.

EP: The idea of hunting—it’s primal, but also in today’s culture a little archaic in that nobody actually kills their own food or does any of that stuff. One of my dad’s friends is huge into hunting, and [has] all the heads and shit on the wall. Kind of doing it more for sport than anything else, you know. That’s kind of an interesting subculture.

“The idea of hunting—it’s primal, but also in today’s culture a little archaic in that nobody actually kills their own food or does any of that stuff…”

Going back, you’ve been playing together for two years, with four of you originally together. Are you the primary songwriter? How does the process work in the band?

EP: Justin and Kyle [Steen], the brothers, they get a first draft on the concept going. They like to switch up instruments, and so we all switch up instruments in the same vein and that’s what gives each song its own unique little twist to it.

ND: The song is started by the brothers Kyle and Justin making a shell of it. Then we get together and hash the rest out. There’s been a song or two that Eric has brought to the table too. But a shell comes from one or two individuals, but as a band we form it into what it ends up being.

EP: And we probably play a song maybe five or six different ways—switching up tempos and switching up the instrumentation and the arrangements.

In terms of influences: I hear Built to Spill all over your voice especially—you sound a lot like Doug Martsch [of Built To Spill]. But what do you consider your biggest influences as a band? And if you’re describing yourself to someone who’s never listened to you before, how would you do so in one or two phrases?

EP: I would say we are plaid rock. We do a lot of layering and stuff and so you can hear in some songs that we use a lot of delay or droning-type instrumentation, especially with the guitars. That adds cross-patterns that layer on top of each other kind of like plaid.

Did that description inspire your album cover?

EP: Yeah, I think so. You know it kind of fit in with our whole motif. As a singer, it’s kind of funny a lot of people reference the way that I sing to Built to Spill, but I’m not really a big fan of them, in that I don’t really know them. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that I don’t know them that well. But in terms of my influences, my mom was a huge Prince fan. Just the attitude, the delivery of that era—the 80’s, late 80’s, early 90’s—I hated it at the time, but I love it now.

Favorite Prince album?

EP: I have to say it’s probably Purple Rain. Although I have Around the World in a Day on vinyl and there’s a song on their called “Tambourine”—it’s awesome! It’s awesome. But Bowie, Prince. I love the early Weezer stuff—that’s when I really started getting into guitar and that era. But it’s a little bit across the board. Beach Boys were huge when I was young too; my grandma was huge on the Beach Boys.

ND: We’re all huge Radiohead fans. We’re all huge Walkmen fans. We’re all huge Elliott Smith fans. I think we take a little piece from all of those. That’s what has influenced us.

But in terms of my influences, my mom was a huge Prince fan. Just the attitude, the delivery of that era—the 80’s, late 80’s, early 90’s—I hated it at the time, but I love it now…I have Around the World in a Day on vinyl and there’s a song on their called “Tambourine”—it’s awesome! It’s awesome.

I can hear a little bit of the Radiohead influence for sure. But also, you were previously telling about your decision to release your debut album in the pay-what-you-want “Radiohead” model. Why did you choose that route? How has it worked out?

EP: It’s worked out really well…I think. The reason we settled on that was because we’re a young band, first full length and wanted to get the music out there to people. We thought that would be the best way. People don’t have to make the big commitment to spending 10 bucks on an album. We decided to put it out there and see if people liked it, using it to sort of build a relationship with people.

ND: I don’t think we’re in it to make a ton of money at this point. We all have our own full time jobs that support us. I wouldn’t say this is a hobby, because we’re really into it…we all threw in our own money to press the album and do it since we don’t have label support right now. Most importantly, we just wanted to get it out there to as many people as possible. We’ve had close to 200 unpaid downloads at this point from all over the world. I would say at least 75% of those people probably wouldn’t have gotten the album otherwise.

In terms of touring and supporting the album further, what are your plans?

EP: Midwest for sure is our plan. And then we want to make it out to the coasts at some point. November is our target for getting out on the road.

ND: I think we’ve played a lot in Minneapolis in the last year and a half. It’s a great city with an awesome music scene that’s helped us to get where we are. But we’re limiting our shows to once a month so people still want to come out and see us. So November hopefully a Midwest tour and then next Spring east coast and possibly to the west coast as well.

EP: We’re also in the middle right now of recording and working on some new material. We hope to get something out in the form of digital tracks this winter. We might do an EP.

ND: Probably a three or four-song EP. If we don’t press it, we’ll probably have download cards with us on the road. Another thing we’d like to do is have a vinyl release of our album.

Tell me about your live performance. What makes you stand out live?

EP: We like to do a lot of transitions and we switch up instruments too. It’s kind of a different landscape onstage from song to song. That and we just got a slide projector, so we have some nature scenes that we play behind us. We don’t do somersaults or anything like that.

ND: To add on what Eric just said, the big thing we’ve gotten feedback on is that people enjoy like Eric going from guitar and singing to keys and singing, and the brothers Justin and Kyle switching on drums and guitar. There’s a couple of songs where we have our other guitar player Bob [Dubois] go and join the other drummer so we have two guys going on the drums at the same time.

For me, playing bass to glockenspiel on some songs and other auxiliary percussion instruments we have going on. People seem to enjoy that and it’s what sets us apart. You don’t see a lot of bands live switching that diversely, which I think is cool.

We like to do a lot of transitions and we switch up instruments …We don’t do somersaults or anything like that.

What’s your favorite song to play live? Or not live. Just what’s your favorite song to play that you’ve released so far?

EP: The newest one (Just kidding). That’s probably what everyone would say. I have to say it’s either “Cactai” or “The Coast” because I was brought up on guitar, although I probably played keys before I learned guitar. But I just like not being tied down to a station like on keys. You get to move around, rock it out. “The Coast” is also probably our most upbeat song.

ND: I’m with him. I think he obviously likes them because he gets to play guitar on those two songs. But those are the more fun ones. “The Coast” for sure. “Cactai” is more of a mellow song until the end, but the end gets rockin’ and it’s fun to jump around and play that song. Otherwise, like [Eric] said, I’m really stoked about some of the new stuff, we can’t wait to play that stuff live so they can move into the category of ‘my favorite songs to play.’

Well that’s all I have. Do you have any other last thoughts or anything you would like for people to hear?

EP: Go download our album for free.

ND: Or give us a couple bucks! If you want. Or order a physical copy online too.

EP: I’m just really happy with how things have gone so far. I think we’re on an upward route and hopefully that continues and that we’re able to tour soon.