Shapeshifter's Tim Ritter: I love the indie scene here like my own kids
|Courtesy of Tim Ritter|
One of the best bands of that time was Shapeshifter, an ethereal quartet started by a bunch of high school friends in St. Paul. The group is set to play a rare reunion show tonight at Cause, along with their old friends in BNLX, Two Harbors, and Fury Things, giving Twin Cities music fans a clear idea of where the sound of the Cities has come from, as well as where it's going in the future.
Gimme Noise caught up with one of the founding members of Shapeshifter, Tim Ritter, and he shared his recollections about what the scene was like for his band back in the day.
Gimme Noise: So, you and Terry Haanen and Paul Horn formed Shapeshifter in '92, correct? What led to the formation of the band, and what was the Twin Cities music scene like for you back then?
Tim Ritter: Terry, Jason, and I all went to HS together in South St. Paul. Paul was my sister's fiancee. At first we formed as an instrumental project in 1991 with just Paul (guitar) Terry (drums) and I (bass guitar), and after auditioning a few vocalists we asked our old friend Jason to see if he was up to the task. We were all into the same music for the most part, so we all meshed influences really well.
The scene in St. Paul was getting more and more interesting. There was a lot of punk and metal for a long time, but people were making more psychedelic and passionate music after we formed. Especially in West St. Paul with bands like Railwave and Nectar. We were still outsiders to the TC music scene at large, but that didn't take too long to change, since we were so different from the norm at that time.
It seemed like that '90s scene spawned so many lifelong friendships and musical partnerships, sort of like what's happening today with so many different artists starting side projects with other musicians. How important and inspiring was that sense of camaraderie that permeated the scene back then?
It wasn't quite like that at first. The early '90s was a very "band-centric" time with people trying to be better and louder than each other, or writing the perfect melody, etc. But we all loved each other and went on to help each other out along the way.
I met Christian Erickson (Astronaut Wife) while I was in Shapeshifter and we were both moving on from previous bands, so we ended up having a long musical relationship that has involved a lot of experimentation and genre shifts over the years.
Obviously, grunge was dominating the charts throughout the early '90s, but your ethereal, shoegaze sound presented local music fans with a musical style that was far more prevalent across the pond in the U.K. Where did you draw your inspiration from, musically, and who were the bands that you looked up to when you started recording?
I listened to a lot of pre-Nevermind grunge and was always a big fan of the louder, heavier side of the Midwest. Seeing bands like Black Spot and Breaking Circus was a big thing for me in my teens and I was a huge fan of all the Amphetamine Reptile bands, you really couldn't ignore it at the time, they were so good. There was a lot of that influence in Shapeshifter early on and may have got missed for the emphasis on our "dreampop" sound as it emerged, but it was definitely there.
I think hearing the U.K. band Pale Saints' LP, The Comforts of Madness, was a major tipping point for me -- that record still floors me with its mix of sonic mayhem and breathless beauty, and I wanted to emulate that as much as possible. It was as important to me as Pixies' Doolittle or Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, if not more so... Of course we loved Telescopes, Ride, MBV, and all those amazing UK Creation bands. They really made that time crystallize since it was so brief.
You've stayed quite active in the Twin Cities scene over the years after the dissolution of Shapeshifter, playing in Big Daddy, JR, and Astronaut Wife, amongst others, as well as Blue Sky Blackout and Still Pacific today. How have you witnessed the Twin Cities music scene change over the years, for both the good and the bad?
I managed to keep my foot in the local music scene mainly because the scene is so low-stress. I managed to gain respect by being respectful in turn -- being a professional, and keeping long-term relationships with people I admire. I consider myself blessed. The music scene is different now in so many ways and mainly due to technology. From setting up gigs, promoting, communicating with bandmates, and most importantly creating and recording music. When we started Shapeshifter the internet was still being developed, and cell phones were expensive and useless... unless you were a doctor or something. So we did it all with snail mail, land lines, print, and radio.
I was talking to Terry (drummer in Shapeshifter) about how when we were playing in the '90s, you were lucky to see any photos of your band playing, and sometimes you had to pay the photographer for good quality ones (you still should, but we don't) and you would wait weeks for prints. Now you just go on Facebook or Instagram and there you are! When I was in the band Bella Koshka we had so many pictures of us on the net, I was starting to get a vanity complex!