The German Art Students
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The German Art Students

Madison, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE

Madison, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Pop

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Discography

2000 What Did You Expect, Heartland Rock?
2002 Kissing By the Superconductor
2004 Different for Girls - A Tribute to Joe Jackson (Happy Loving Couples)
2005 Name Droppers
2008 Gigantic - A Tribute to Kim Deal (Bragging Party)
2008 79 AD 7" Single
2011 The Power & the Trust 4 Song EP

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Bio

The quartet of Randy Ballwahn, Annelies Howell, Andy Larson and Kirk Wall has been together as the German Art Students for 12 years. How in the heck does a band stay together that long? "We've always kept what we're doing fun," says Larson, "and I know that none of us would be involved if that wasn't the case." A decade is a long time in life (and in rock and roll) and that kind of commitment means taking time to strike a balance in your life. Somehow the GAS have outlasted all of their contemporaries and are still going strong.

The band has its roots in Larson and Wall, who played together in the mid-90's in Danger Prone Daphne. A few years after that band split, the pair decided to jam in Wall's basement. "We were really comfortable with just hanging out and putting silly songs together," says Larson, “and never felt the urge or pressure to play out." Early sessions yielded several compositions including one called "Brian Warner" (about rocker Marilyn Manson) and another about the joys of doing community service. The pair hooked up with drummer Jonathon Argue and got out of the basement to do a pair of shows at O'Cayz Corral. Howell auditioned for the band in early 1998 by playing one of her 4 track recordings of a capella music. Having never been in a rock band before, she "thought for sure that these guys wouldn't be interested in my 'campfire music.'"

"These guys" apparently liked what they heard and when Ballwahn took over the drum duties a few months later the group knew they had found a perfect match. The GAS played their debut at a friend's apartment in May of 1998. Wall reflects on the show: "It was one of those situations where their neighbors played music really loud late at night and so it seemed like having a band play would fit in perfectly."

At early shows the quartet dressed in black turtlenecks and talked with German accents. "We were doing it as a joke, to separate ourselves from other bands," says Larson. But the gimmick worked (and fooled plenty of audience members) and the band kept the shtick as part of their act for "at least the first couple of years" says Wall. They played out in Madison and throughout southern Wisconsin, gaining notoriety for their high energy shows. Being sort of an oddity in the rock world, the band found themselves on the bill with some strange acts. A show at Quarter's in Milwaukee with Edgar Allen Cash proved to be one of the strangest. "They were, if you can imagine, the cross of Johnny Cash and Edgar Allen Poe," recalls Howell, "and they had this giant on stage with them. Definitely straight out of a David Lynch movie." The band has played out mostly in Madison, doing several stints on the Capitol Square.

While lyrically more akin to acts like Devo or Johnathan Richman, the German Art Students' sound has always been more reminiscent of the pure power pop of the Buzzcocks and the heavy drive of X and the Undertones. Their live shows have always packed a wallop which helps them rise above the "novelty band" that their lyrics suggest. And the intensity of Larson's onstage glare is a perfect foil to Howell's big smile and high kicks. While many bands have a "leader", the GAS pride themselves on taking a group approach to everything, which includes recording, booking shows and songwriting. "Many of our best songs started as an idea that someone brought to practice," says Wall, "and we would all pitch in on lyrics and chord changes." And this approach has worked and has kept the group close not just as bandmates but as friends as well.

Aaron Scholz Dane 101 Feb 2010