Shouting Matches: We'd get hammered and see what happened

Categories: Q&A
Photo by Graham Tolbert

It was only a matter of time before a project like the Shouting Matches -- featuring decade-plus pals Justin Vernon, Phil Cook of Megafaun and Brian Moen of Peter Wolf Crier - came to fruition. Initially born of boozy jam sessions in the mid-'00s, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-bred band purposely gigged just a handful of times a year. Performance rules were put in place to ensure maximum fun and minimum fuss -- including only practicing for a total amount of time equivalent to the length of their set.

Things have grown only marginally more serious on the Shouting Matches' debut, Grownass Man. As loose-limbed and cocksure as its name suggests, the record showcases three talented friends blowing off steam and living it up. Purposefully setting the stakes lower than on their carefully labored-over primary projects, the Shouting Matches nevertheless remain highly enjoyable on their own frivolous- but-oh-so-fun terms. Going back to the lower-register singing voice he employed in his pre-Bon Iver bands, Vernon proves just as charismatic in the role of barrel-chested bar-band singer. Grownass Man darts deftly between bluesy boogie ("Three Dollar Bill"), loping Neil-Young-inspired balladry (the outright gorgeous "Gallup, NM") and even reggae-tinged mid-tempo pop ("I'll Be True").

Ahead of Friday's show at First Avenue, drummer Brian Moen took time out from his new home base of Oakland to talk with Gimme Noise about the Shouting Matches casual evolution into a full-fledged band.

See Also:
Justin Vernon unveils the Shouting Matches debut, Grownass Man

City Pages: A lot of national press has mislabeled the Shouting Matches as Justin Vernon's "new band." When did you guys actually form?

Brian Moen:
It was really just something we used to screw around with as kind of a side-project to DeYarmond Edison when we were all in that band together. I think we played just one real show with the three of us in June of 2006 at the House of Rock in Eau Claire. Then that was it because they moved to Raleigh. Then when Justin moved back we started doing it again as a two-piece just for fun. We had a rule that we could never practice for longer than our set time. Most shows we'd just get pretty hammered and see what happened. Justin and I did that as a two-piece maybe twice a year whenever it was convenient. A lot of those early shows were just testing how much we could drink while still being able to play, so I don't remember them all that well. We were pretty loud and ridiculous most of the time [laughs]. We decided last year to really make a proper record and get Phil back in the mix and see what could happen.

CP: The record feels like a striking contrast to the other albums you've all worked on recently, which were heavily layered and meticulously recorded. Was that lean and live approach part of the appeal of the project?

That was exactly the appeal. It came at the perfect time for all of us because it felt like the natural flip side to all the work we had been doing in our other bands. We all went into it agreeing not to over-think things. We just wanted to feel it. Other records we've all worked on start that way, but then there's usually months and months of thinking and tweaking. We purposely wanted to keep this a very visceral record. The whole record came together over two seven-day sessions and pretty much everything you're hearing is just our first takes of the songs.

CP: The Shouting Matches first "official" gig after regrouping was at Coachella. Were you freaking out considering all of your previous shows had been informal hometown gigs?

BM: We all did a good job of keeping each other relaxed. Justin has played so many huge shows with Bon Iver at this point in his career that I'm sure he doesn't really get nervous at this point. But those shows were easily the biggest I've ever played. There was definitely potential for that on my end. That's where having such a long history together really helps, there was a level of familiarity with how we play together that I knew I could just go out there and focus on the two other people on stage and I would make it through all right.

CP: For using a fairly limited range of instrumentation Grownass Man manages to traverse a lot of genres. Was that intentional?

BM: We weren't really going for anything specific, which is why I think it turned out to be so wide-ranging. Nothing was rooted in the desire to fit a certain genre. A lot of it came down to wanting to explore different instrumental combinations. It's a trio album, there's nothing on there we can't recreate live with just the three of us, but other than that we didn't place limitations on ourselves. It was sort of like, 'Well what can we come up with if it's Phil on harmonica, Justin on bass and me on drums?' Then all of the sudden it's three hours later and you've got a song like "Three Dollar Bill" in the can.

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