Editor's Note: Rachel Hauser and Rah Riley, two Northrop marketing interns, sat down for burgers at Bulldog Northeast with two members of local dance funk band, The Premiums. The Premiums are performing Tuesday, July 31 at noon (rescheduled from July 18 due to weather) as part of the Summer Music Festival at Northrop. Check out what they had to say about moving to Minneapolis, their beloved “Groove Thang” RV, and the challenges and inspirations of their music:
Alex "Berger" Hamberger (Bass)
Best way to spend a Friday:
“I would probably be serving coffee at Starbucks 5 - 11. Then would head over to Stone Arch Bridge to enjoy the weather and explore the bike paths. It’s the most useable non-musical creative time – your mind is free. Then I go to catch a show or play music.”
Kevin "Bounce" Israel (Lead Guitar, Vox)
Best way to spend a Friday:
“I, too, would like to get a bike ride. Not only do you feel good afterwards – I usually go with Alex – and we have band talks, and talk about other bands. It’s just a lot of free flowing talk about music. You know, we live across the street from each other, we all have the same friends, there’s a lot to talk about and rattle off. I do like to go out and see music whenever I can. Besides that, if I was on the computer mixing or recording, that would be a good Friday as well. I’m pretty simple.”
Northrop: How did you all meet and what inspired you to make music together?
Alex: Oh my goodness, it’s kind of a long story. Brett and I knew each other in high school, and when he graduated, we kind of promised each other that one day we were going to make it – we’re actually going to make music together and do it on a higher level as our jobs. That’s what we really want to be doing in the world, so let’s do that. He [Brett] went to Oshkosh and I went up here after that. We were always in touch, and would jam out on occasion when I was home for break. And he was consequently in a different band up in Oshkosh with Kevin.
Kevin: I did not know Alex at the time. We had a different band at the time, called Groovitational Pull - and it was [made up of] Brett, the drummer we still have; Caleb, the singer that we still have; and then me; and a different bass player. And we did that for, like, three years at Oshkosh, and not everything was working out.
A: And he’s probably going to sell the band short, but these guys had Oshkosh locked down. Oshkosh isn’t a huge town, but they were the hottest sh*t for those couple years. They rocked.
K: So [we started] having talks; we weren’t happy with the bass player, styles were clashing. We kind of kicked him out with the intention of having Alex – he was our only choice – and it was very like, if we’re going to do this, we want you to play music with us. That’s kind of how it all went.
A: We had a jam again over break, they came over to my parents’ house and we set up in the basement. My parents were thrilled; they [said], “Oh Brett, you’re back playing music again with Alex!”
K: “Are you going to be in a band again?!”
K: [laughs] Yeah, and at the time we all were like, “Pffft. Yeah, whatever.” And low and behold, that kind of sealed the deal. So we kicked the other guy out and it happened to be spring break the next weekend, and Alex came down.
A: We were probably practicing 8-10 hours a day at that point. Over that whole week of spring break – these guys were supposed to be in class but they were like, “No, dude, we should practice instead.” And I was like, “I’m on spring break, I can make music all day – why not?” But we were all intertwined, so it was just a matter of time. And it took [Kevin] 6 or 7 months to move up here. I was living here – Kevin moved up in August and the other two moved up in September.
N: You are all from Wisconsin; what were the factors that led your group decision to move to Minneapolis and what has been your experience like here since?
K: The tackles were that Brett wasn’t sure if he wanted to finish school – he had 2 or 3 years left with switching majors a few times. So it was either that we put this on hold for a few years – which just means you’re killing the band at that point –
A: – We’re not going to be 22 years old for the next three years –
K: – So once he decided he wasn’t going to school, Caleb and I were already out of school and it was just a “Let’s just do it. No turning back.” We came up here to practice one time and we went home with a signed lease.
A: It’s the place across from where I was living. The rent sign went up one day, they were up here the next day, and they signed the lease the next day – it was exciting.
K: But for Alex – for him to realize, it all happened really quickly From March to August, from no band to us moving up here to pursue music. So for him, I know he expressed, “Whoa, I’m in another band, I’m in school, I’m a radio DJ, I’m going to be having an internship in a semester, and now a second band.”
A: At the time, my plan was to go to grad school. I was going to graduate with a music degree, go to grad school, and travel the world and spend time in different cultures, learn their music, and live my life that way, then come back and teach. But all of a sudden, music became not a singularly fruitful thing in my life; it became the essence of what I was doing. And I realized I don’t really need to go somewhere else to do that, it’s already right here. And they’re my best friends in the world – which is insane.
N: We heard something about an RV?
A: Ohhh yeah. [laughs] It’s The Groove Thang. Beat Machine.
K: [laughs] She runs like…
A: Like something… It’s a beautiful machine.
K: She’s delicate.
A: It’s a seventy-five. It’s basically a large van.
K: Basically a box.
A: It sleeps five uncomfortably, four comfortably with all our gear, and it does have AC if you can get it plugged in. You can drive 55 but if you go any faster, it’s going to overheat or spring a leak. So it’s delicate, very delicate, but it’s a work-horse and it’s beautiful.
K: And Caleb would make sure to mention this – he rebuilt the engine with his uncle.
K: From scratch.
A: Will the RV make an appearance on Wednesday, you ask? I don’t know…I don’t know.
K: And we painted it as well.
A: And then they surprised me with it.
N: Can you talk about what your song-writing to music-making to recording process is like?
K: In the simplest form, it’s very, very piece driven. We work section to section.
A: What we do is, we close our eyes and we hold onto our instruments as tight as we possibly can and we just let it go.
K: Is that what we do?
A: That’s what I do [laughs]. And then what happens is that these parts come out and we sit on these parts – it might be a four-measure thing that just repeats and repeats – and we’ll sit on that for like 10 minutes until something develops from that.
K: Like a secondary theme.
A: And just sharpening it up until you can see through it.
K: But for the most part, the writing is very collaborative. Alex writes parts, I write parts, Caleb writes most of words for the most part and a lot of the melody. [Caleb’s] been singing all of his life – he’s church trained and was in choir in high school.
A: He’s got the harmony thing down where he can be like, “Okay, Berger, you sing this note; Bounce, you sing this note, I’m going to sing this.“ Chord.
K: He creates a lot of that. For the songs he writes – or starts – he kind of writes the whole thing, then we attack the song. It’s a good attack – we take it on.
A: We’re like hyenas.
K: Some of the more recent songs, we’ve been sitting on parts for months even. We’re just starting to work out parts and make them flow.
A: And that sort of thing takes time. On a good day, we could just sit down and work on a song for 4 or 5 hours and just go for it. One of our songs – “Collection Time” – that’s how we wrote that one. We literally just spent the afternoon at the practice space and tried different stuff.
K: And while that song is not a radio hit or anything, for us, it’s a good rock song. It’s very intricate, sections are very precise.
N: How has your music evolved, or song topics evolved, since you first began playing music together?
K: It’s a lot harder. I think the first couple songs we did still had influences of the previous band, because we were still three of us. I think there was still a lot of that getting carried over. The last three songs we’ve written have had a clear definition – all these ideas started when we started playing with Alex. And all those ideas are clearly more funky, in your face – just harder. We like to play loud…you’ll see.
N: What has been your biggest challenge as a group?
K & A: Time
K: Finding time to practice. We all work 40 hours, we all have other things we want to do. And then we still play our shows on the weekend. So if you work 40 hours, that’s five days a week, you have two shows on the weekend –
A: – That’s seven days.
K: You can’t ask for a day off to practice.
A: So one way we’ve gotten around that is maintaining what I call “ridiculous hours.” So you work eight hours in the day, then we might go practice for four hours after that, and that might not be until all of us are off of work which might not be until 11:00 pm, and then we practice until 3:00 am.
K: For the record, those practices never go as well as the other ones.
A: [laughs] Of course not, those are burnt-out practices.
K: But at the same time, they accomplish a lot as well.
A: But I’ll look at the clock and be like, “Sh*t, I have to go to work in two hours...I’m going to go…take a nap.” It comes from a crazy energy I guess, a love for music that keeps me from getting tired.
N: Is there an ultimate direction - 1 year or 5 year plan - for The Premiums?
K: To be playing music in as many cities as possible. I mean, as a band, you can’t really ask for more than that. To go city to city, make your tour, and then go back a second time and see your crowd build.
A: And seeing friends, too, and making friends in these new places. Maybe crashing on someone’s couch one time and seeing them at the next show and giving them a CD or something. Wherever you’re at – seeing the people you like to know because you like the same things. It’s being part of the scene.
K: A good goal would be to have a couple CDs out. You know, we need to play every facet of the business – live shows, recorded music, and being active online promoting ourselves. Just keeping fans interested is always the goal.
N: What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
K: Focus on the music.
A: Yeah, play music.
K: I think one thing that we lost sight of when we first started playing [was that] there were three of us from the old band and we had our system, and we tried to get Alex into the system. We rehearsed for months and forced our first show – which was a total flop. There’s not a set system – you have to find your own. But we sat down and talked about it afterwards and decided we were glad we did it, but that we didn’t want to force trying to be ready for something like that again and lose sight of the making music process.
A: For that brief time, we really felt like a cover band. And there are a lot of people in the world that just want to be in cover bands and get the same creative relief from just playing music as I do from playing written and rehearsed songs. Who am I to say don’t do that? My advice is stay happy. Be honest with your music, whatever it is. It’s really easy to write contrived lyrics about a love story that you never had but you thought was cute – it’s going to sound cheesy, unless it’s a hilarious joke.
N: Is there anything you want current listeners or new listeners to understand about your music?
K: Come see us live a couple times. I guess that’s what every band would want to say. But it all depends on the day and our moods and the venue – if it’s really small, we pull back a little; if the venue is huge, we go as hard as we can.
A: If the venue is really small, we go even harder.
K: So yes, come see us live.
A: And then hang out with us afterwards – way more fun.
N: You will be playing tomorrow outside on the Northrop Plaza as part of the Summer Music Festival at Northrop; how does the venue affect your performance? Does playing outdoors change the atmosphere, or the way you play?
A: Okay so we decided Wednesday’s show is going to be the weirdest show we’ve ever played. Because I work 7:00 am to 11:00 am; Kevin works 11:00 pm to 7:00 am; Brett is taking an overnight Greyhound from Milwaukee and getting in at 5:00 am… Caleb just has a normal schedule. But we’re all going to be in such interesting places.
K: But it is outdoors, in the sunshine.
A: Exactly, playing outside when it’s so open – there will be such great energy from the people and the Earth.