Minnows make a massive sound on ‘Foreign Moon’

The hard-hitting Columbus five-piece will bring their ‘J Mascis dreams’ to life in a release show at Rumba Cafe on Friday, March 22.
MinnowsAshley Mercer

In the months before the pandemic, when Sean Gardner and Ben Schreiber first kicked around the idea of making music together in Minnows, they knew they wanted the band to be heavier than previous projects. 

The additions of Adam Lowe and Alex Weinhardt – longtime collaborators in the thrash metal crew Black Antler – helped solidify this idea. Rounded out by Philip Cogley, the five-piece gradually began amassing harder-hitting songs fueled by massive riffs that finally allowed Garnder to live out his “J Mascis dreams,” as he described them. 

At this point, we all know what happened next. The coronavirus quickly moved from rumor to reality beginning in March 2020, and Gardner and Co. placed Minnows on hold, along with most everything else. Some months later, prior to the arrival of a vaccine, the musicians attempted to gather for distanced jam sessions, using dozens of shower curtains to construct self-contained “pods” in the basement of Gardner’s home before realizing the impracticality of the approach.

“It kind of looked like [that scene] from ‘E.T.’,” Gardner said, and laughed. “Ben bought a special, medical-grade furnace filter for my house, and we were all wearing N95 masks, and there were headphone extension cables and shower curtains blocking off the whole basement. And I think we did that once. It took so much time to set up, and it just didn’t feel the same. It wasn’t great.”

At the time, the caution felt particularly warranted, owing both to the unknowns of the disease and the lack of a vaccine, as well as Gardner’s experiences having fought off an early case of Covid he contracted in one of the initial waves. “And it hit me really hard, and I was very sick, and it was scary,” said Gardner, whose anxieties were heightened by reading about relatively young, healthy people who died from complications related to the virus. “I was totally stuck in my bedroom for two weeks, and I had the ability to write lyrics, and so a lot of this record … is very introspective and thinking about not being able to do anything.”

In the wake of these experiences, the Minnows mates began to write and record remotely. Schreiber would come up with a riff and send it to Gardner, who would then add a vocal melody and pass the track along to Weinhardt, who would layer on drums. Circulating the tracks in this way, an album gradually started to take shape, with Gardner eventually adding vocals, the bulk of which were informed by the pandemic, the resurgent Black lives matter movement and the political chaos of the Trump presidency, which combined to give that stretch a distinctly dystopian feel.

“It’s undeniable. The reason [the album’s] called ‘Foreign Moon’ is because it felt like at that time we were in another world,” said Garnder, who will join his bandmates in celebrating the release of the new full-length with a concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, March 22. “What I’ve always loved about music is it’s such a great outlet, and I think the energy of this record shows that. I think it reflects what was going on – the chaos and the struggle – and then just that constant bombardment from the news media, where you couldn’t turn on the TV or put on NPR … without getting pulled into it.”

This idea surfaces most cleanly on “Two Truths,” on which Gardner sings about being hypnotized, unable to look away from the horrific images taking place onscreen. “I’m mesmerized,” he sings. “Unfolding scenes of civil war/I turn it on and look for more.”

Elsewhere, the musicians explore the dizzying feeling of watching the Jan. 6 insurrection unfold across social media (“Make Us Soldiers”), struggle with lockdown boredom (“I’ve got nothing but time,” Gardner offers amid the dreamy churn of “Passion Thief”) and wonder what if anything might be left whenever the flames finally subside (“Future Ruins”).

Though shot through with confusion and desperation, the music moves with a consistent forward momentum to which the words eventually catch up, crystallizing on the album-closing “Fists Unite.” “There’s a movement on the street,” Gardner sings, the lure of which manages to pull the musicians from their retreat, the five balling together like fingers into a fist as the song builds to a thunderous instrumental close.

“We tried to write parts that were basically at the end of our ability to perform them, and I wanted that,” Gardner said of songs such as “Fists Unite” and lead single “Future Ruins.” “I like to set my microphone a little out of reach at times, because I like that struggle of trying to get it, and I want the songs to feel that way. We’re creating this music that is directly linked to everything that’s happening, and you begin to feed off of that and feed off of each other. … And I think that’s where that need for those heavy riffs comes in. I even bought a full stack, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had a full Marshall stack up there, which is ridiculous. ... But I think it’s from being starved from being able to play music with other people for a while. You just want to come out banging away, basically.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
Matter News