Every Minnesota music fan knows the Suburbs. Revamped and revitalized, the new wave pioneers who helped jumpstart the local scene in the '70s return to First Avenue tonight for the Star Tribune’s Are You Local? competition. We caught up with the ‘Burbs leader and long-time local luminary, Chan Poling, who had a few things to say about the future of his band.
City Pages: Last I heard, from a couple of years back, you were selling your home in Prior Lake. Did that happen?
Poling: I ended moving up to St. Paul. I am liking it up here. I was really loving the country life, but after my wife passed away [Eleanor Mondale, in 2011], I lived there for two more years, you know, just me and the dogs, but without her it just wasn’t the same. I lost my interest in it. I found that I was staying up in town, and all my friends…
Dogs: [barking insanely]
CP: What are the dogs’ names?
Poling: I still have Dotty, from the farm days, who is a big ol’ English Mastiff, and the other yippy ones are my daughter’s dogs.
CP: I don’t want to rehash things you have had to deal with in public, but is there anything new that you want to say about all the shit that you had to go through?
Poling: I think the thing I have taken away from loss, and seeing your loved ones go through it, is that this is our life right now, that we’re living. Right now. It’s happening, and you’d better have a good time. You’d better enjoy it. It’s a good perspective once you get over the hurt. I’m in a good place. I’m having a lot of fun.
CP: How does it feel to have your name, and the Suburbs, with words like “most influential” along with names like Westerberg and Prince? Is that odd?
Poling: No, it feels totally normal [laughs]. I’m just so proud to be part of that team. Talk about life happening. That’s what we grew up in. We’d bump into Prince at parties, and obviously Replacements and all of those guys would travel with us and do gigs together. That’s our legacy, and that’s our scene.
CP: You’ve called The New Standards [with Semisonic’s John Munson and Steve Roehm] your “age appropriate band.” What does that make the Suburbs?
Poling: The Suburbs started when I was 19 years old, and I am in my 50s now, so that band started in a different era of my life. I am doing a lot more stuff in my life now. I love working in theater, and with The New Standards, but the Suburbs is in my blood, my skeletal system. It’s who I am, it feels effortless, and super-fun to get up and play. I don’t feel that rock and roll is only for the youth, but that being said I think that rock and roll and pop music is definitely for kids. It’s what you do. You band together, and you rock out. It’s part of my DNA.
CP: There’s a new Suburbs album coming out in April. Will there be a Kickstarter campaign for this one like Si Sauvage?
Poling: Well, the thing about making an album is it isn’t cheap to make. It’s not easy. Put aside the hard work, your soul, artistry, it costs physical money to rent a studio, pay musicians, and manufacture CDs and vinyl, photographs, artwork. We’ve invested ten to maybe a hundred thousand dollars already. I remember talking to Dave Pirner after Grave Dancers Union and he said they spend a million dollars on it. They had to recoup that. Even today, making a DIY album is quite expensive. The problem is that no one buys them anymore, so you have to find alternative ways of funding these things, and getting paid for your work. This is a long answer, but there will be some sort of presale. It won’t be released to the streaming services until as many people as possible buy it. We’re not Lady Gaga or something. It’ll be a short process. We will put it up for a presale in the coming weeks, through our website , and it will be our own sort of Kickstarter. You can get some perks.
CP: When will this be on your site?
Poling: It will be up as soon as possible. We’re working on it. We are shooting for dropping a vinyl single for Record Store Day [April 22].
CP: Is it the same band as on Si Sauvage?
Poling: We have Jeremy Ylvisaker [from Gramma’s Boyfriend] on guitar now.
CP: I’m not sure if this is a touchy subject, but I understand there is no Beej [Blaine John Chaney, the original Suburbs guitarist] on this album.
Poling: No, Beej has lost interest in playing with us. He can’t get it together, or whatever his reasons are. We tried, and tried to get him integrated back into the band, but he is dealing with his own issues. And we lost Bruce [Allen – original ‘Burbs guitarist] to illness many years ago. And original bassist, Michael Halliday, is sidelined with arthritis. So, it is the spirit! I wish I had Beej with me, but these new guys are kicking ass.
CP: Once the new music is out there, will there be a lot of activity in Suburbs land? Is touring a priority anymore?
Poling: There will be more activity. The band is rehearsed, the band is solid. Everything from “Love is the Law” and “Rattle My Bones” to the new songs are in top-notch shape. We will be more active, but we’re not going to get in a van to play a road-side bar. We’ll show up at festivals, and definitely get out more.
CP: Do you have any advice for Nick Jordan, the winner of this year’s Are You Local competition?
Poling: Kids want to be famous. Get out there and play. All I did was practice and play high schools, colleges, and bars. We did get in our van, and drove to California to play punk rock clubs. Then, we could play bigger clubs because we built our audience. You have to get out there and schlep it. Have fun, and don’t take it too seriously. I mean, do take your art seriously, but don’t kill yourself over it.
CP: Last question: “Love is the Law” became something more in 2013. In our current climate in 2017, is it even more more?
Poling: Oh yeah, it just gets more and more vital that people understand… It’s been that way since Roman times, not to equate myself with Jesus in any way, but it is a message that we need to hear every single year, and especially now.
Are You Local? Showcase Featuring the Suburbs
With: Gramma's Boyfriend, Shannon Blowtorch, Nick Jordan
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17
Where: First Avenue
Tickets: $15/$17; more info here
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