Sometimes it feels like the English language is running low on good band names, and even if—let’s say by sheer dumb luck—you do stumble on a really a good one, odds are high it’s already been taken by some other dork with a dicey Bandcamp project.
Or perhaps, as happened to Minneapolis rock trio Gully Boys, your chosen name might turn out to already be taken by a long-running band of “some dads,” as drummer Nadirah McGill put it, out in Vermont.
The Gully Boys’ Green Mountain State dopplegangers didn’t pick a fight over the shared name. A member reached out to Minnesota’s Gully Boys—not with a cease-and-desist letter, but with an offer. See, the Vermont Gully Boys have been playing together for roughly 25 years, which means naturally they own just about every logical domain name for a band called Gully Boys online, so he just wanted to tell McGill and her bandmates to get in touch if they needed to work something out to put up a website.
“They were super nice,” McGill says. “He was like, ‘Let me know if you ever want to come out to Vermont, we could do a double Gully Boy bill.’”
Anyway, our Gully Boys—the ones from Minneapolis—play a style that blends grunge, a little bit of emo, and some of the guileless instrumental rush of early punk. Guitarist Kathy Callahan’s alternately clear and gritty voice predominates, but they often break into pristine two- and three-part harmonies.
Gully Boys recorded their debut album, Not So Brave, at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, one of the most famous studio complexes in the state, frequented by folks like Hippo Campus, Low, and PJ Harvey. The booking manager at Mortimer’s, one of their favorite local venues, connected them with Nick Tveitbakk at Pachyderm, who engineered the album.
Artists will often hole up at Pachyderm for weeks at a time, but the sessions for Not So Brave lasted one weekend.
“We got there on Friday night and recorded from right when we got there until early morning hours on Sunday,” says bassist Natalie Klemond.
Recording ran on a whirlwind timeline: They got to the studio at 7 p.m. on Friday, spent some time taking levels and getting things set, and started recording around 9. They recorded until midnight, doing about three songs. Then they started recording again at about 10:30 the next morning and went until 1 or 2 a.m. They listened back and got rough mixes on Sunday morning.
Gully Boys’ only previous release is a three-song self-titled EP from about a year ago, and the group had built up a stockpile of songs since then that either required or enabled them (depending on your outlook) to be picky about what they recorded.
“We went in with one that we weren’t going to do, that we ended up being like, ‘We really wanna do this,’ and we happened to have an extra half hour, and we were like, ‘We can do it in one take, we promise,’” says Klemond.
They got the take.
The recording might sound like a scramble, but all of it—the tight deadline, recording live and fast, was in line with the band’s desired aesthetic.
“He [Tveitbakk] asked, ‘Do you guys want to sound pretty produced?’ And we were like, ‘No,’” Klemond says.
“I feel like that’s lying,” McGill says. “That’s not what we sound like when you come see us live. We’re not a very polished, clean band.”
Although each Gully Boy separately harbored the desire to play music, they characterize this as their first serious project. Klemond and Callahan have known each other since middle school, and McGill and Callahan worked at Ragstock together. “We used to talk about music all the time, and how we aspired to be musicians,” McGill says. “We were like, ‘Oh, we can all half-ass play an instrument, let’s try to play together.’”
“We literally jammed and were like, ‘OK, we’re in a band now,’” McGill says.
It’d be going a little too far to characterize Gully Boys as novices, however. McGill recalls playing in orchestra as a kid and starting college with an intended major in vocal performance. Klemond says she tried a number of instruments when she was younger and played in jazz band through school.
“I’d always wanted to play the drums, because my mom wouldn’t let me,” McGill says. When she got a place of her own, she started practicing on her now-ex’s kit.
The band found a sound for themselves the old-fashioned way—through covers, of Hole, Metric, No Doubt, and Best Coast. Then they figured out how to copy what they liked, and eventually how to move past copying entirely. In fact, after they covered Best Coast, they learned they didn’t want to sound like Bethany Cosentino’s band.
“We had decided, ‘Okay, this is a sound we don’t want to make,’ but, subconsciously, our first song we wrote was super surf-y, like ’50s,” McGill says.
“You cover stuff and then you immediately write stuff that is very similar to it,” Klemond says.
The Gullies remember the first good song they wrote, in part because they literally named it “The Good One.”
“We loved it,” McGill says. “We were all like, ‘Oh my God, it’s so gritty and percussive.... We added this slow, three-part harmony breakdown, and we were like ‘This is cool.’ And then we played it a few times, and we were like, ‘Actually, this song sucks.’”
Not So Brave features material both new and old, including re-recordings of two of the tracks from their previous EP, showing the group’s progression.
“There’s this cool thing where we have songs from two years ago on it, and then we have songs that we wrote several weeks ago, two weeks before recording,” Klemond says. “We used to be very ’90s grunge, Hole covers, and now we’re more melodic.”
“You can hear our confidence growing as musicians,” McGill says.
After their album release show at the 7th St. Entry on August 12, Gully Boys will embark on their first major tour—11 dates, taking them first to Wisconsin and Illinois, and then down a big curve across the south, ending in Austin, Texas. They have a lot to look forward to. At the time of our interview, the Gullies were still choosing the name for their album—I learned the final title via email a few days later—and they sounded a little sheepish.
“We work best when there’s an incredible amount of stress,” McGill said.
“It’s gonna have a really good name, whatever it is,” Klemond said.
With: Beasthead, Sass, Niiice.
When: Sun. Aug. 12
Where: 7th St. Entry
Tickets: 18+; $10; more info here