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12 rods

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The best kept secret in music


12 Rods
Lost Time
[12 Rods; 2002]
Rating: 8.1

A quick, tangentially related diss from our sponsors: In what twisted mockery of a universe does a label like V2 give Moby the green light to crap out opportunistic schlock like 18, while simultaneously cutting loose a band as talented and unique as 12 Rods? I mean, okay, the Rods' last product for V2, the ass-Rundgren'd Separation Anxieties, was a complete disaster from any angle, failing to satisfy the band's devoted fanbase and completely tanking on a commercial level. But isn't there something to be said for sticking behind bands with artistic merit, bands with the potential for greatness?

Sad, but true: In the end, the age-old struggle of quantity versus quality (or lack thereof) is the simplest explanation for this seeming judgmental error, and 12 Rods had to take the fall. Fortunately, the karmic scales are being righted even now. Though this band no longer has the resources and backing necessary to move the kind of volume an operation like V2 could provide, Lost Time is rich in quality, and if self-releasing the record is what it takes to get the boys back on track, so be it.

Bear in mind now that unlike some people, I wouldn't have you believe that Gay? was the sound of God's orgasm, nor did I find Separation Anxieties quite as terrible as it's sometimes made out to be. It seems to me that, on their previous outings, 12 Rods have served as a balancing act of sorts, combining a bewildering array of desultory styles and influences, sometimes successful and sometimes not. Their full-length debut, Split Personalities, nailed the ratio of spacy, synth-driven lounge jazz to sharp-toothed arena-pop, and when it was on, it was both incredibly original and stunningly catchy. Lost Time is that record's proper follow-up.

Here, 12 Rods juggle slow grooves, killer hooks, and stop/start changes with the same practiced ease that endeared them to so many in the first place. The manic, metallic sheen of Anxieties has been subdued and replaced with more of the organic production that marked Gay?, albeit of much higher fidelity. But most importantly, the band has rebounded from the uneasiness of Separation Anxieties to actually sound comfortable with their material again.

The tempo and mood of Lost Time change with virtually every song. The glitchy, slow-burning harmonies of "Fake Magic 8-Ball" dissolve seamlessly into a tower of guitar and complex rhythmic shifts to open "Twenty-Four Hours Ago"; trilling keyboards segue the bouncing power-punk of "Terrible Hands" into the laidback stadium rocker, "The Time Is Right (To Be Wrong)". 12 Rods can't seem to sit still long enough to commit themselves to any one monolithic sound, so they simply bend every atmosphere they create to their own inventive aesthetic. The result is entirely natural; nothing is out of place, nothing is overdone.

A significant portion of the credit for Lost Time's paradoxical feeling of simultaneous unity and diversity can be attributed to Ryan Olcott's vocals; his slickly treated delivery shows chameleon-like adaptability across all of this album's varied terrain. He croons, shouts and wails with equal proficiency, maintaining the record's remarkable pace without losing so much as a step. In fact, in many ways, Lost Time's consistency even gives it an edge over Split Personalities.

Now, admittedly, consistency often amounts to little more than a critical consolation prize in the art of album-building, something to be trotted out when other defenses fail to justify quality ("But, at least it's consistent!"). Not this time. Lost Time is an exceptional start-to-finish listening experience, and on top of that, it hits as high as, or higher than, any Rods album to come before, minus any of the awkwardness that occasionally accompanied earlier releases. In short, Lost Time brings 12 Rods back from the brink of irrelevance to thrive outside the corporate clutches of V2, and shows them poised to finally deliver on the promise of the early material they built their name on.

-Eric Carr, February 11th, 2003

- Eric Carr

What Has Happened to 12 Rods?

Minneapolis' 12 Rods get over their anxieties on second album

Eminem's wife may have threatened to sue him for $10 million for his violent lyrical fantasies of her, but in retrospect he got off relatively easy. He could have been standing in the shoes of Ryan Olcott, singer/guitarist for the alt-pop quartet 12 Rods.

The song at issue was Olcott's "What Has Happened," the first single from 12 Rod's new album, Separation Anxieties. There was nothing particularly violent in the song, though it did concern a real-life nasty breakup and happened to dismiss the ex-girlfriend in question's new flame as "not too impressive."

"I kind of crossed the line a little bit," recalls Olcott. "I was still pretty close to this girl, and she was dating him and she played him the demo and he came to the coffee house that I was hanging out at and starts ramming his belly into my back. He had to be carried out."

Olcott says he doesn't really think about the consequences of his lyrics, which sometimes get painfully personal. "If it does [come back to me], I honestly have nothing to hide," he says. "It's all a drop in the pan in my emotional scheme of things. It's in the name of telling it like it is. It was such a fresh breakup that it just flowed out . . . and it was nice to have the last laugh."

Or so he thought. As it turns out, Olcott says the boyfriend's band has since signed a "massive record deal" with Rick Rubin.

"He's going to dwarf our fame, so what does he have to worry about anyway?" jokes drummer Dave King. "Think about it: He's got the girl. He's got the huge record contract. We're out with a broken down van, playing on a Thursday night. We'll be lucky if there's ten people here. We haven't had any dinner. We're doing our laundry next door. He's going to be huge, and what do we get?"

Ah, the glorious life of a fledgling indie rock band. All joking aside, though, 12 Rods really aren't off to such a bad start. Over the course of two albums, they've produced quirky, melodic post-New Wavey rock that ranges from aggressive, guitar-driven rants to spacey, atmospheric ballads. The group was originally formed in 1992, but it began to take real shape after Olcott, his brother, keyboardist/guitarist Ev and original drummer Christopher McGuire, moved from Oxford, Ohio to Minneapolis in the mid-Nineties.

"Minneapolis embraced us really quickly and we were able to start over," Olcott enthuses. "It has a very strong, powerful, art friendly community."

Shortly after moving to the city, the band released an EP, Gay?, and became the first American act signed to V2 Records. Their major-label debut, Split Personalities, followed in 1998. Bassist and Minneapolis native William Shaw IV was recruited shortly afterwards.

After producing Split Personalities themselves, they worked with producer Todd Rundgren on Separation Anxieties at his home studio in Kauai, Hawaii. "It was a very un-rock environment," says Olcott. "But that kind of brought out the rock inside. There's no nightlife. 'Tiny Bubbles' was about as rocking as it got."

Working with the legendary producer proved to be a bit of a surprise. "We thought we were going to get drilled," says Ev, "and, you know, doing the songs over and over and over again, making sure that we got everything exactly right, and it really wasn't like that. I think that we realized that we were too hard on ourselves."

"He probably made it more of a relaxing situation that it would have been otherwise," Shaw agrees. "I think that we had a different work ethic than he did and he chilled us out a little bit."

Separation Anxieties also shows a distinct shift away from the extended, post-prog rock songs on Split Personalities. "It's definitely more of a pop record," says Olcott, the band's principal songwriter. "The whole writing process was way different, because the first record you have twenty-four years of your life to write and the next record you only have six months. You tend to cut to the chase a little quicker and write songs that are a little stronger and to the point."

As laid back as the Hawaii experience was for the band in the studio, outside the studio the tension between McGuire and the rest of the band had come to a head.

"He just wasn't ready to play the role of a pop drummer," says Olcott. "The songs definitely were gravitating toward that direction, and he's a progressive player and was disturbed by the fact that he had to play poppier drums. Dave was an obvious replacement. I was afraid to ask him to be in the group because he had so many other things going on. But Dave demanded that he play with us."

With King firmly in place behind the kit, the quartet will spend most of the rest of the year on the road. There will inevitably be many more nights like tonight and too many future headaches involving their van to comprehend, but despite it all, Olcott says it's easy to find the inspiration to continue making music. Call it a mission.

"There's so much shit out there," he says, "that we're always trying to prove to ourselves that we can rise above the lowest common denominator of crap."

(September 12, 2000)

- Joe Hauler

Progressive pop combo 12 Rods is one of the latest bands to be making noise out of Minneapolis, and this time around they've done it with the help of '70s pop-rock icon and studio wizard Todd Rundgren.

Due out on June 20 from V2, the group's second full-length, "Separation Anxieties," was produced by the legendary Rundgren, and as vocalist-guitarist-bassist Ryan Olcott told MTV News, getting him interested in producing 12 Rods was easier than expected.

"Our previous record [1998's 'Split Personalities'] was self-produced," Olcott began. "We needed someone to kind of point us in the right direction [on the new LP], show us some of the studio ropes and other pop songwriting ropes. So I wrote a big wish list and gave it to [our A&R person], and Todd was the first one to call us back and say he was really interested in working with us."

Olcott speculated that Rundgren's interest came from the strength of the demos for "Separation Anxieties."

"He thought that the songs were pretty well in order," Olcott said. "This batch of songs, compared to the last record, had a lot of the fat trimmed. The songs are little more cut-to-the-chase and straight-to-the-point, rather than a lot of seven-minute songs with 20 different parts.

"I kind of realized that I was writing songs that had too much stuff going on in them for people to really latch on to," Olcott recalled. "So I figured I'd write some three-minute pop songs, and Todd heard those."

After signing on as producer, Rundgren paid Olcott a songwriting compliment by not suggesting many changes to his work... though Rundgren did display some impressive language skills.

"He didn't really do too much to the songs, arrangement-wise," Olcott explained. "He just fixed up some my lyrics when it came to tenses and more grammatical stuff. I'm not exactly a literary major."

In contrast to Rundgren's reputation for intense production and his own trademark sound, Olcott said his approach to recording 12 Rods was very straightforward.

"We went in there assuming that [Rundgren] would put the stamp on us," said Olcott. "But to our surprise, he just decided that it's better to capture what we do live and use that as a framework. To him, the songs kind of wrote themselves.

"He kept it the standard bass, guitar, drums, and some samples," he added. "Everything was done in a couple of takes."

According to pop legend, Rundgren has been known to play many of the instruments on the records he produces, as well as provide backing vocals. With 12 Rods, that wasn't the case.

"It was quite the opposite with us," said Olcott. "He didn't play a single instrument or sing a single note. He just engineered and enjoyed.

"We had a really good time in the studio," he continued. "He was really easy going. You just have to work at his level and we have good work ethics when it comes to working in the studio."

That solid relationship carried over to the stage recently, when Rundgren joined the band at the Metro in Chicago during a concert to celebrate the completion of the album.

"We world-premiered one of his songs," Olcott said. "The song is called 'I Hate My ISP.' Then he did two of our songs with us afterward."

Rundgren went out of his way to avoid stealing the limelight at the show. "He knew that it wasn't really about him," Olcott said, "but there were a lot of his fans in the audience yelling, 'Where's Todd?' and stuff.

"We did interviews with him afterward," Olcott continued. "And of course many of the interviewers were big 'Toddheads,' and they'd ask him a bunch of questions, and he would just say, 'Look, you have to schedule a different interview to ask me those questions. This interview is about 12 Rods.' He would only talk about 12 Rods, which is pretty commendable. The interview was for us, and he was just there representing the production side."

Now that "Separation Anxieties" is about to be released, 12 Rods is preparing to promote the album with a tried and true approach.

"Excessive touring," Olcott said of the group's future plans. "A sick amount of touring. V2 is working on a single called 'What Has Happened?' which is being spun on 20 or 25 radio stations right now. Starting in July, we will be on the road indefinitely. As far as I am concerned, that's the only way to break us... endless touring."

—Steve Hurley
- Steve Hurley

12 Rods : Separation Anxieties
by Geoffrey Woolf

If you pay any attention at all to Recovery Culture, which I do not, you know that the first step to overcoming whatever disease it is that one has is admitting that you have a problem. It sounds something like this:

Hi, we’re 12 Rods. . . and we’re a progressive rock band.

It started early and was as much a product of our heredity as anything else. We were encouraged in our self-destructive behaviors by a wide range of enablers.

The core of our band, multi-instrumentalists, Ryan and Ev (who writes the songs) grew up as faculty brats in the tight-assed, preppie-hell community of Oxford Ohio (Miami University) where dad was a music professor, teaching courses in jazz and classical and Mom was the musical director for the local community theater. We were children abused by years of formal musical training. Strike one against us being a great rock band was simply our vast talent, training and lineage.

Strike two was that Oxford, Ohio encouraged us by its teeny narrow-mindedness to get weirder and weirder as the years passed. Oxford is about two-thirds, uber-greek college haircut town and one-third rural locals. No one understood us, our bohemian uprbringings, or our music. We had a choice: To grow up playing Steve Miller covers at frat parties or grow up to flaunt our oddness, to rub their noses in our brilliance. We chose the latter, and got the hell out of Southwestern Ohio at the first opportunity.

To be sick is bad enough, but to make matters worse, we started reaping the rewards of our illness. When we made our EP Gay? largely about the tribulations of growing up odd in a place like Oxford, by all rights, it should have flopped, and we should have toiled in obscurity. But instead V2 Records signed us as their first American act ever. The EP was a sprawling noisy wash of moody synthesizer, jazz-bent-post-rock guitaring, mathy drums, treated vocals, and impentrable lyrics. To be completely honest, it was a very sound record, something like Ghost in the Machine-era Police playing all of My Bloody Valentine’s songs at once. It was one of those that should have elicited press along the lines of, “an very solid EP that promises great things from this American band.” But then came the most damaging of all enablements.

British music weekly NME (New Musical Express to you square Yank-types) hailed the record as a sort of landmark EP assigning it a score of 8/10, a number reserved in that publication for British bands like The Verve, Radiohead, and Oasis. We felt validated and continued on to make an LP in much the same vein.

Money on their minds, V2 shelled out bigtime to allow us to enlist the heavy hands of Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade to help us put together our debut LP Split Personalities. When we insisted that we were a “serious” band not interested in popping they acceded easily, helping us to bury some amazing hooks deep deep deep into the mix. The album as a result was a great artistic statement, a 90’s space-rock Ars Poetica, from a band with its finger on the pulse of a great new theoretical sound, and as a result people close to us fawned over us, the critics swooned, but very few people actually bought the album.

Had we failed or succeeded with our first LP? That depends whether you’re sick or well, prog or non-prog. The album was equal parts beautiful and impenetrable. On balance, a successful progressive-rock effort, but nothing else.

Relationships can put funny spin on the artistic process, and Ev’s was no exception. Through the recording of Split Personalities, he was in the worst sort. It was a relationship with someone incapable of looking upon the work without love. He was encouraged in his impenetrability by an unconditionally loving voice that heard it all, and all was good. The truth never became known until that relationship ended, Ev dumped in the words of our new song “What has Happened” for a guy “Who's in a band that sounds like Korn/But pretentiously aggressive/Not too impressive.” Impressive aesthetic and all, we had hit bottom.

And that’s how we ended up here, at Progressives Anonymous.

The first step on our road to recovery was to find a “sponsor” who, like us, had fallen into the pits of prog and pulled himself out. That, of course, was Todd [Rundgren] over there with whose struggles we are all familiar (if you’re not, see Doug Powell). Todd has fought the prog urges throughout his career, and while things have been rocky in his own recovery, he can see honestly, as can all good sponsors, our problems in the mirror of his experience.

With Todd’s help in the studio, we have re-found hook, and managed to bury our inner ELP’s. Todd was firm with us, and refused to let us build inverted melodies to plow the earth below our sound and turned them into glorious towers standing over the foundation of, what we understand now, can be a self destructive wash of cleverness. Todd has taught us to embrace the listener. Todd has taught us to re-embrace punk, power-pop, alt. Todd has shown us exactly how destructive a force jazz can be in one’s pop life. We are not afraid to face the truth anymore.

We have learned to overcome our shortcomings by attacking our problems head-on. At one point during the production of this record, it became apparent that we were creating one of the finest, most immediate pop songs of the year, one of those tunes that should be put on mix-tapes for the next five years or so, one of those tunes that Gap corporate interns will be sneaking into the stores’ in-house rotation for a couple of years. For the first time in our careers, we were able to look a tune like this in the face, to stand proud beside what we created. We were able to go so far as to cal the song “Repeat” because we know full well that this is exactly what the listener will do with this song. There is nothing inherently wrong with recording a compulsively listenable song. We know that now.

As we look out across this room, we see many people like us. People too smart and talented to be anything but self-destructive. We see people dissatisfied with their own record sales, dissatisfied with the sorts of dorks who buy their records. We have been there, and we understand. Our future is anything but certain, but here’s what we know: We will take things one song at a time, and with the grace of Todd we will be strong enough to overcome our own helplessness in the face of this horrible disease, progressive rock, over which we are powerless.

- Geoffrey Woolf

suppose it's better eight years late than never, but Tuesday's CD release party at First Avenue was my first live 12 Rods experience. I'm not ashamed to admit this, though perhaps I should be. What is perhaps most surprising is that I didn't get out to see them a few years back when my friend (my best friend Andrew, no less) was swearing up and down by them, saying they were the best damn band in town, up down or all around. I haven't heard Andrew mention them lately these past couple of years that he's been living in virtual seclusion in St. Paul with his young fiance, so I am thrilled to get the honor of preaching to him that the 12 Rods are not only still alive and well, they actually seem poised for another stab at world domination, albeit this time around, on their own terms.

In the late 1990's I was figuratively asleep under a rock (literally I was actually drinking whiskey on the porch of my old Uptown Minneapolis apartment right next door to Flowers Studios) and missed out on a quite a bit of what was going on in local music. However, virtually every review I've read about 12 Rods live performances in the late 90's simply gushes with praise about what was clearly the same jaw-dropping sonic experience that it is today and was on Tuesday night at First Ave. In this review I won't belabor the excellent point made by so many before me that, indeed, Minneapolis was lucky when Ryan and Ev Olcott moved from Ohio in 1994 and decided to form their band here. But that doesn't make it any less true.

With this month's self-release of their brilliant new CD, "Lost Time," recorded at Integral Studios in St. Paul, now couldn't be a better time to get off your own porch figuratively or literally and get out and see these guys again. There's no doubt that they are still plunging ferociously forward with their immense talent and continuing to perfect their sound, this forward progress coming despite (and perhaps even because of) being dropped by their former major label, V2 after the release of 2000's "Separation Anxieties." In fact, from the sound of the new album, being dropped by V2 may turn out to be the best thing that's ever happened to 12 Rods. (Trivia: 12 Rods was the first American band ever signed to Richard Branson's V2 Label. Welsh band Stereophonics was the first band signed to that label period. The Charlatans, Stereophonics and 12 Rods shared a bill at the Quest April 3rd, 2000. That show would have been a treat to see, I'm sure.)

Tuesday's CD Release party at First Avenue seemed as much about the "party" part as the CD part, or at least as much of a party as you could expect on a Tuesday night in late fall in Minneapolis. The club was packed full of zealous fans, scenesters and local musicians who had all come to help celebrate the new CD and support this band that has been so integral to the music scene and has developed many close relationships with other local artists over the past several years, playing with them live or working with them in the studio. Seeing 12 Rods live, or chatting with Ryan or Ev, there's just something about them that just makes you want them to succeed. And it's more than just the maverick spirit they seem to embody, basically thumbing their proverbial noses at those supposedly "in the know" because they are perfectly capable of doing everything themselves: studio production, management, CD release and all. The new album is proof that they can. Better produced, in my opinion than the Todd Rundgren-produced previous album, the songwriting here is as good as it's ever been since day one, and their showmanship continues to be simply top notch.

12 Rods played 12 songs and 2 encores at Tuesday's show drawing heavily on cuts from the new album. (This was a CD release party after all.) By the time they were a few minutes into their second song of the evening, "24 Hours Ago" from the new CD, I was already overcome by their bright, slick, passionate, rock that has the immediate sonic affect of just plain making you feel good. What I witnessed onstage also made make perfect sense, from Ev's trademark keyboard tipped toward the audience, to Ryan's pullover sweater (looked like the same outfit from the publicity photo that appeared in the STrib last week), to newly-added guitar player Jake Hanson casually chewing gum and blowing bubbles, to bassist Bill Shaw's "Tonight I'm Yours" t-shirt. They moved from "24 Hours" through the next few songs on the album, the bouncy, power rocker "One Thing Does Not Belong," to the "Boy in the Woods," which starts out weird and slow and seemed to feature weird vocorder-like effects and of course a sliding guitar solo that must have been written by an angel and delivered straight to the Rods through some sort of special agreement with the man upstairs.

Ryan Olcott introduced the keyboard-laced "Accidents Waiting to Happen" by saying "this one's gonna get us for sure." (Though I'm not quite sure what he meant by that.) Each band member had a keyboard for this song except Shaw and drummer Dave King. Ryan Olcott played the main keyboard hook with a tiny keyboard that he was practically dancing around with on stage when not actually using it.

"I hope you guys like this next song. If you don't you get the wrath," Olcott said as he introduced the dreamy yet ironic "Radioaction" from their previous over-Rundgren-ized "Separation Anxieties." Then moving straight back to the new CD came "The Time is Right (To be Wrong)" a sweet, semi-melancholy and bouncing do-what-thou-wilt-anything-goes anthem with a rocking start and absolutely joyous sound through the middle. (The album version features background shouts of "Right" from 12 Rods cohorts Jeanne Park, Tracy Tabery, Bec Smith, James Diers and Matthew Foust.)

They slowed it down a bit with "Lost/Found." Then "Summertime Vertigo" was a definite set highpoint with the striking start/finish "I read 17 magazines in 24 hours" after which the song's pounding drums crush everything in their path.

A friend of mine complained that the bass, in fact the whole set, was too loud Tuesday night. Maybe so. Someone else pointed out that it was not quite so overpowering toward the middle of the room. True, front and center was a little trebly and stage left a little bassy. But hey, what can you do (outside yelling at the soundman) except try to find the place in the room where you like the sound the best and can see well enough and just hang out there. There is no question that this was an "earplug show." And even my friend who complained about the sound admitted these guys are so good the songs still came through.

A couple more songs from "Separation Anxiety" followed. First the slow ballad "Rock N' Roll Band" with the great self-commentary at its end that both anticipates and comprehensively covers all the various labels the critics have (and still do) lazily stick into reviews of this band:

future rock band
modern rock band
space rock band
alterna-rock band
progressive rock band
confusing rock band

(Except for the last one, of course.)

Another song from "Separation Anxiety,"' "You Gotta Go" received cheers of recognition. Ryan Olcott spent about half of "You Gotta Go" writhing face down on the floor of the stage and the other half dancing with his keyboard which he had torn from its stand.

Then came the final song of the set, and a another set highlight, the new (and my new favorite 12 Rods song) "Terrible Hands." Primal drumming started out this song. Ryan Olcott had by this point wrapped the microphone around his neck once or twice, literally seeming to be winding himself up in it. I'm hating to think what might have happened if he'd fallen off the stage tied up like that. The microphone shorted out on his lead vocals maybe halfway through this song. Keyboardist and brother Ev covered for him so well it might have been hard to tell if you weren't really paying attention.

The band left the stage for a few moments during which time a tech checked and then took Olcott's mike. When Olcott returned to the stage for the encore he grabbed a mike stand devoid of microphone and looked understandably confused for a moment. He stepped over to bass player Bill Shaw's mike to introduce the first encore and say thanks again. I didn't recognize the first of the two encores, but the final song of the night "Glad it's Over" from "Separation Anxieties"was another set highlight.

All tales told, this was a great show, and a verifiable success if judged by the long lines that immediately formed afterwards in a near stampede to the CD and merch table. And I should know because I was standing right there and nearly got run over. My buying advice to those of you who are still Rod-less after all this time is to buy the new CD first, then step backwards through this great band's collection. Don't be fooled by the mis-guided thinking that because these guys are a local band so they can't be that great. They are that great. At their best, they're even better than that.

- sk

Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune

Published October 11, 2002 MUS11

Integral Studios is in the basement of an office building along a rundown stretch of University Avenue in St. Paul. Paisley Park, it is not. In fact, its blood-orange walls might make you think purple is not such a bad color scheme.

Down in these depths lies an epicenter of local indie-rockdom. There's no name for the group of musicians who hang here, not like with hip-hop crews such as the Rhyme Sayers, SPStyle or N.E. Time -- not even like record-label rock operations such as the Polara-affiliated Susstone Records, Low's Chairkickers Union or the Ashtray Hearts' Free Election stable.

In a music scene riddled with cliques, though, the group that works around Integral might be the most intertwined, incestuous and inventive in town -- most inventive, that is, when it comes to starting new projects.

A quick who's who, or rather, who's in who's bands: The studio owners are Ev Olcott and Matthew Foust. Ev plays in 12 Rods. Matthew is in Love-cars. Matthew also used to be in 12 Rods. Ev produced Love-cars' last CD. Ev recently formed a group called Halloween, Alaska with Love-cars frontman James Diers. Halloween, Alaska features drummer Dave King. Dave also plays in 12 Rods. Dave also plays in Love-cars. Dave also plays in Happy Apple and the Bad Plus, two jazz bands with major-label deals.

The list goes on, too, from now-defunct acts such as Ether Bunny and Dot Dot Dot to new ones like Joggrrz and Red Dawn, both featuring 12 Rods frontman Ryan Olcott.

"Short attention spans," is how Diers puts it, when asked what spawns these offshoots.

Ev Olcott describes it a little more seriously:

"Most of us are just really passionate about playing music, especially different kinds of music than what we're already playing," he said.

Up for 'Lost Time'

Even with all the musical chairs, the members of 12 Rods were able to sit still enough over the past year to make a new, self-released CD. In fact, "Lost Time" -- the group's fourth album, which they're promoting with a release party Tuesday at First Avenue -- was its most arduous to make. But the band is happiest with the results.

"It became really hard to separate ourselves from the music; we were so invested in it," said Ryan Olcott, who sings and writes all of 12 Rods' songs.

He formed the group in 1994 with Ev and drummer Christopher McGuire (now in Kid Dakota), who all moved to the Twin Cities from Ohio.

In 1998, the group signed with the minor major label V2 Records, home to acts such as Moby and the Black Crowes. A national underground buzz surrounded its V2 debut, "Split Personalities," but things went awry when the band went to make the follow-up at Todd Rundgren's studio in Kauai, Hawaii. Ryan said neither the record label nor the producer ever understood the band's "weird prog-rock," which he admits "doesn't really fit the times."

"We were basically just a paycheck to Todd," Ryan said. "He'd be working with a Foster's beer can in hand and a joint tucked behind his ear and seemed determined to do as little work as possible. The only good thing was, it inspired us to do it ourselves next time."

Remarkably, "Lost Time" has more sonic flair than the Rundgren job -- proof that the orange basement studio is actually a hi-fi wonderland. Droning, frayed guitars bleed into whirring organ and synthesizer parts. King's drumming alternates between techno-derived precision on "Accidents Waiting to Happen" to undulated bashing in "Twenty-Four Hours Ago."

Also, the whimpering qualities of the last record -- which grew out of Ryan's breakup with an ex -- have been replaced with more angry tones, from pent-up attitude in the disc opener, "Fake Magic 8-Ball," to sheer destructiveness in "The Time Is Right (To Be Wrong)."

Said Ryan, "A lot of it was career frustration. And some of it was sticking with the lonely bachelor theme, also a frustrating part of my life."

Integral integration

James Diers sees no more lonely nights in his future. The singer-guitarist announced at Integral last week that he's officially engaged, earning varying reactions from his various bandmates. Matt Friesen, his new partner in the electronically dressed Halloween, Alaska (and a happily married papa), gave him the biggest congratulations.

"I'm sort of the odd man in," said Friesen, a childhood jamming partner of King's.

While it might seem impossible getting King to join a new band at this point in his busy career, the truth is that Halloween, Alaska was his idea. The group is based heavily on technology. The members often dabble in different studio effects and electronic equipment to create songs. Diers emphasized that it's not an improv and/or jam band.

"A lot of what we do is planned and thought out," he said.

One thing the band has not mapped out yet is a schedule. They plan to record soon and perform more, but when? Diers, for one, is still rightfully pushing Love-cars' CD from early in the year, "Thank You for Telling Me What I Already Know," a seesaw of guitar fireworks and moody ambience.

There are other projects to save room for, too. Some are still formulating. Some might be dead in the water.

"I'm starting a Stryper cover band," said Foust, referring to the '80s Christian metal band that wore all yellow and black. "We're going with orange and black, though."

The color certainly fits the room. And, who knows, the idea might, too.

- Chris Riemenschneider

Lost Time
Artist: 12 Rods
Genre: Pop
Publisher: self-released
Released: October 2002

12 Rods: Back and Strong as Ever
A Review by Aly Walansky

A picture can indeed tell a thousand words.

If you look at the cover art of Lost Time, the latest album by 12 Rods, you will see a selection of cartoon-like animal heads blindfolded. Is this a reflection of a band with a fetish for bestial bondage? Um, no...at least, not as far as I know...but it does reflect a very strong sense of the anonymity that the band is existing in. Of course, you would have to know the legacy of 12 Rods to truly understand the significance.

After receiving a great deal of attention for their EP, Gay?, 12 Rods went on to release their debut album, Split Personalities, through V2 Records—home of hit acts that run the gamut from Moby to The White Stripes. Split Personalities received much acclaim, and the band went on to garner a major coup—Todd Rundgren would produce their third album, Separation Anxieties. Some loved this album, some said it was over-produced and lacked any of the creative quality the band was loved for. In any event, shortly after the album's release, 12 Rods was dropped from V2 Records.

And thus, Lost Time is completely self-produced, self-financed, and self-created, with absolutely no label support or corporate backing. However—and I say this while admitting I am at a distinct disadvantage, having never experienced their earlier albums—this spiral into anonymity has not served to have a detrimental effect on the band's creativity, substance, sound, or originality.

In short, I wouldn't go as far as saying they are the best I've ever heard, but I will say that they are creators of quite possibly the most original-sounding music I've heard. I've honestly never heard anything quite like them before.

One of the best things about geek-pop is that you get catchy songs you can sing-a-long to at the same time as being confronted with cerebrally challenging lyrics. And while 12 Rods isn't “traditional” geek-pop in the vein of, say, They Might Be Giants (I'd say they actually fall much closer to the progressive pop realm), with track titles like "Twenty-Four Hours Ago From Right Now" and "Fake Magic 8-Ball," you know you will be in for a treat. But beyond cool titles and great lyrics, this album simply has an awesome sound. Every taste is touched—whether it's the pulsating keyboards of "Twenty-Four Hours Ago" or the power-punk of "The Time Is Right To Be Wrong," it's hard not to fall in love with the ingenuity of these guys. I love a band that can penetrate your soul one minute and be unabashedly silly the next. This is one of those bands.

You might notice that in the progression of this review, I've ranged from referrring to this band as pop, punk-pop, new-wave pop, progressive-pop, etc. The truth is, in different tracks, they are all these things—they are an act that refuses to be pigeonholed to a genre. In a time when corporate labeling exists at an obscene level, it's really refreshing to still have indie groups around to turn to who create music—not cookie-cutter presentations. After all, if music was a set recipe, then it wouldn't be an art, and creativity would have no value.

In “Summertime Vertigo” the lyrics reflect the frustration that comes with inherent helplessness—knowing that it's time to do something meaningful with your life, yet at the same time knowing that you will continue to do nothing and let disappointment gnaw away at you. It's so sad, and so real all at the same time.

I read 17 magazines in 24 hours
death wish daydreamer, I slip in the shower

Cuz when I sit alone, touch the devil's hand
summertime vertigo, fall I can't stand

Now at 26 I'm tired, my white flag's on fire
gonna burn your bad house down
burn it with a smile

Cuz in the shapes of our lives we're cornered by size
guided by choices that keep me in at night
Admittedly, their brand of genius is one that commercial radio will not understand, let alone support. So, who cares if this is a great band. Like many other great bands, they will probably remain a little-known gem. Still, they rock. Buy their CD. With that whole descent into obscurity thing they have going on, they can use the support.

Besides, it's kind of cool to be free from the grasp of corporate greed and free to be as bizarre as you want. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

- A Review by Aly Walansky


Lost Time- October 2002 (self release)
Seperation Anxiety- released July 2000 V2 Records
Split Personalities- released June 1998 V2 records
Gay?- released January 1996 V2 records


Feeling a bit camera shy


Since departing as the first American band signed by V2 Records (The White Stripes, Moby, Stereophonics), The Minneapolis based band, 12 Rods, have continued to receive worldwide recognition for their high energized stage performances. As a collective, these eye capturing performers with beautiful techno/punk hooks that drips with soul-it’s no wonder 12 rods has sustained a Worldwide underground fan base, even though they have done so independently.

In October 2002, 12 Rods released their first bold post V2 independent album “Lost Time”, which has received rave reviews by critics worldwide.

“A significant portion of the credit for Lost Time's paradoxical feeling of simultaneous unity and diversity can be attributed to Ryan Olcott's vocals; his slickly treated delivery shows chameleon-like adaptability across all of this album's varied terrain. He croons, shouts and wails with equal proficiency, maintaining the record's remarkable pace without losing so much as a step. In fact, in many ways, Lost Time's consistency even gives it an edge over Split Personalities.

Now, admittedly, consistency often amounts to little more than a critical consolation prize in the art of album-building, something to be trotted out when other defenses fail to justify quality ("But, at least it's consistent!"). Not this time. Lost Time is an exceptional start-to-finish listening experience, and on top of that, it hits as high as, or higher than, any Rods album to come before, minus any of the awkwardness that occasionally accompanied earlier releases. In short, Lost Time brings 12 Rods back from the brink of irrelevance to thrive outside the corporate clutches of V2, and shows them poised to finally deliver on the promise of the early material they built their name on.”

-Eric Carr Pitchforkmedia.com

The 12 Rods continue their commitment to their music and widespread fan base by providing the most recognized talent the music industry has to offer.

Singer/Songwriter/Guitar- Ryan Olcott, brilliantly transcends subjective depth through his punk/techno intuition with his vocals, style and substance. His power and range of emotions are undeniable both vocally and musically. As all great performers, he has an amazing ability to communicate these emotions in a live setting.

Drummer- Dave King, is high energy personified. When he picks up a stick, no one sits still, King's ability is unequaled. His wizardly jazzy influences perfectly juxtaposes with Olcott's punk/”Devo” -so to speak.

Bass Guitar- Bill Shaw, has great dynamics through combining warm groove bass lines with a punk edge. His well rounded, laid back sense is a perfect balance to 12 rods.

Guitar- Jake Hanson, the newcomer to the 12 Rods, unique emotional guitar playing, combines a fast sound with a corky style of showmanship.

Keyboards/Guitar/VOX- Ev Olcott, as the analytical brain of 12 rods, his splashy ear candy techno surrealism gives 12 Rods the uniqueness and richness that keeps them on the cutting edge.