After 2014’s full-length effort, Voir Dire, the Chicago, IL-born and-based members of Minor Characters, a trio of long-time friends and schoolmates Andrew Pelletier (guitar, vocals), Shelby Pollard (guitar) and Thomas Benko (drums) felt a collective sense profound angst and confusion that almost broke the band up. “Getting that out was such a stressful moment in all of our lives that I think the band kind of imploded and deflated because of it,” the band’s Andrew Pelletier recalls in press notes. “We weren’t playing anymore and we decided to take a number of months off. In that interim, I did a little bit of traveling.”
Pelletier’s traveling took place primarily during 2016, arguably one of the most politically contentious years in at least 50 years of American history, and naturally those trips criss-crossing the States (and eventually to Asia) wound up influencing the Chicago-based band’s frontman, who eventually wrote a series of deeply personal vignettes focusing on his observations on the sociopolitical moment paired with sardonic reflections on the band’s health; but reportedly underneath it all, is a desire that many of us have felt — a desire to pack up your shit and leave for a while, despite the fact that American culture is inescapable.
With a few hours to kill before I could check into my hotel room in Dordrecht, The Netherlands, I once sat in a cafe in Amsterdam, scribbling thoughts in a beaten up journal, while listening to a Dutch waitress sing along to Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Although the radio station was also in Dutch, the format was familiar — American style morning drive, FM radio. Another time, while sitting in a hotel room in Bad Soden, Germany, I randomly caught part of an early episode of Law & Order dubbed in what I think was Italian. Adding to the surreal sense of confusion and frustration, there’s literally a McDonald’s, Burger King or a Starbucks on every single corner.
As Pelletier says in press notes, “The insanity of the current government would be…I wouldn’t call it a source of inspiration, but certainly a source of disillusionment turned into inspiration. There are many things in my life that I put off,” the band’s frontman adds on a more personal note, “one of them being travel, especially to Asia because I’ve always wanted to go to Asia, and then also being in a relationship I put off for many, may years.” After his travels, Pelletier reconvened with his bandmates Pollard and Benko, along with Joe Meland (piano, string arrangements) and a series of collaborators at SHIRK Studios, where instead of a breakneck recording sessions, the band allowed the songs to morph with every recorded iteration, giving each individual version a unique life. As the band’s Pollard says, “We’re doing string arrangements on this record, horn arrangements, there’s organ. There’s all of these components that, because we gave ourselves such unlimited amount of time to focus on, ‘Is this song ready?’ we were really able to figure out what each track needed individually and then it just so happens that it fits together.”The end result is the band’s forthcoming album We Can’t Be Wrong, which is slated for an April 6, 2018 release — and while the album’s latest single “Pimps of Freedom (Whores of D.C.)” will remind some listeners of The Bends-era Radiohead and JOVM mainstays Husky, possesses a breathless and bristling sense of outrage, as the song thematically focuses on the crony capitalists in DC deregulating then dismantling the government and handing it over to make money.
The album’s latest single is the shimmering, arena rock friendly “Nola,” a song inspired by Pelletier’s experience of heading down to New Orleans, as a wide-eyed, college kid to help in hurricane assistance relief post-Hurricane Katrina. As Pelletier explained to the folks at Glide Magazine “When I arrived, I was shocked to be met with such death and destruction, yet a city undyingly full of hope. I fell head over heels for the place, it’s people, the Eden of American music. When I got home from the trip I wanted to go back immediately, so I wrote a song about it. I actually did go back, like three times in the next two years. Nola was originally a Nick Drake-ian folk tune but my bandmates wanted it to be roaring and bombastic and lead off the album.” Sonically speaking, the rousingly arena rock hook song continues in a similar vein of its predecessor, as it owes a debt to 90s alt rock — i.e., The Bends-era Radiohead and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam; but at its core the song thematically focuses on the need for hope and redemption, in the face of the horrors of death, destruction and even political instability. Ultimately, the song suggests that sometimes clinging to hope of hope may be the only thing you have to sustain you.