37 Years Ago: The Day ‘The Suburbs’ Hit the Shelves
There are a number of historical music scenes throughout the United States. Athens, Seattle, New York City, New Orleans ... they’ve all left their impact on the music we hear today, and they’ve each generated extraordinary bands and albums.
Few cities, though, rival the output of Minneapolis. Yes, it's easy (and important) to focus on Prince when discussing music and Minnesota, but the musical foundation of the city goes deeper than just the iconic rock star.
Enter Twin/Tone Records.
In 1978, though, it all started with just three 7" records: Fingerprints' self-titled five-track EP, Spooks' six-track 1980-1990 and the Suburbs' self-titled nine-song debut. All three were recorded at Blackberry Way in Minneapolis and pressed on red vinyl, and each perfectly captured the city's local scene, but the Suburbs' tiny little punk rock disc stood out among the pack.
Within the span of nine tracks and 16 minutes, Chan Poling, Blaine John Chaney, Hugo Klaers, Michael Halliday and the late Bruce B.C. Allen crafted an unforgettable album that, nearly 40 years later, still sounds as fresh as ever.
“There was one band that was doing the music that I wanted to do, and that was the Suicide Commandos,” Poling recalls. “Chris Osgood was the leader of the Commandos. This was the kind of music I was into ... I played him some songs I had been writing that later ended up on that little red record.”
After hearing Poling’s demos, Osgood introduced him to Allen and Halliday. They then auditioned some drummers and found Klaers in San Diego, who jumped on a bus and came right back to Minnesota and started playing with the band.
From Osgood to the formation of the Suburbs, the band’s eventual landing with Twin/Tone came, in part, thanks to Poling’s relationship with label co-founder Paul Stark (who also produced their debut). “I worked in his studio making demo tapes,” Poling says. “He was always a supporter of mine and interested in what I was doing, so when he heard the new recordings, he asked if we wanted to be part of this new label.”
Stark wasn’t acting alone. With the help of Peter Jesperson and Charley Hallman (the latter, Poling said, was a writer and more of a silent partner, but also a “sweetheart and really supportive”), the three launched Twin/Tone in the late ‘70s.
“I quit radio in '74 and started managing [record store] Oar Folkjokeopus," Jesperson tells me. "Then in 1977, Chris Osgood said he and a guy named Paul Stark and a guy named Charley Hallman were talking about starting a record label. Osgood had to bow out because the Commandos were taking off ... so that's how that happened."
Jesperson felt like he was a good fit for the indie label because of his involvement at Oar Folk -- a legendary record store that was the epicenter for Minneapolis bands -- as well as the fact that he was DJing at "the local underground club that just sprung up," otherwise known as the Longhorn.
Needless to say, Jesperson had his finger on the local music scene's pulse.
"We wanted to do three EPs by three local bands to launch the label," he remembers. "I was already following around this band, Thumbs Up, led by this fantastic singer, one of the best to ever come out of Minneapolis, Curtiss Almsted -- he goes by Curtiss A [and led the band Spooks]. Then Fingerprints, they actually started Blackberry Way, they had all the recording equipment. They were a logical choice."
'The Suburbs were brand new, but when they hit the scene, they just made a huge dent.'
So with two easy picks for the EPs, who would fill the third slot? "The Suburbs were brand new, but when they hit the scene, they just made a huge dent," Jesperson says. "They were so exciting and so much fun."
While Poling was (and still is) an amazing musician, Jesperson says the band's overall inexperience led to some skepticism: "The guy who owned the Longhorn told me, 'The Suburbs? They sound like they just stepped right off the playground and onto the stage.' [Laughs] I thought that would make for a great advertising campaign and slogan!"
From 1978 on, the Suburbs released nine discs with Twin/Tone (and one with Polygram Records), and Poling put out his first solo effort, Children of Paradise, with the label. Save for their debut full-length, 1980's In Combo, The Suburbs remains one of the band's most distinct albums, packed with raw, blistering energy; while it sounds like it could explode at any given moment, Poling and company are clearly in charge as they roll through each track.
Although it might be hard to get your hands on the Suburbs' debut 7" -- the first pressing consisted of 2,500 copies on red wax while rounds two and three, 2,500 and 1,000 copies respectively, were on black -- you may be lucky enough to come across a copy on eBay or at your local record store. (As you hunt for the disc, though, you can download the EP from iTunes.)
With the help of three up-and-coming local acts, the staggeringly impressive history of Twin/Tone Records began on April 17, 1978, and the impact made on that day (and the years that followed) still reverberates throughout Minnesota and the rest of the country.
"Personally, I think there is something quite special about Minneapolis," Poling proudly declares. "I’m biased, of course, but you know, we went to Cleveland and Akron. New York is always an interesting hotbed -- it’s a little petri dish. You can talk about Seattle, what happened there. But I bet if you got a sheet of paper and wrote down the amount of bands that came out of the Twin Cities versus these other so-called music centers, I bet we’d come out on top."