The Glad Version
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The Glad Version

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The best kept secret in music

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The day I spoke to Adam Svec and Chris Salter of The Glad Version, they were preparing to drive to Omaha to play a show the next night on Omaha’s sort-of-famed Saddle Creek Drive. Looking back, this appears to have been some sort of cosmic sign blinking at me; after a couple of months of listening to their album Smile Pretty Make Nice, it’s become more clear that in their youthful earnestness, their polished recording, and their pervading wistful mood, The Glad Version would fit right in with Conor Oberst’s stable of Saddle Creek bands.

Adam Svec, Chris Salter, Michael McGregor and Shawn Neary started out in the rock ’n’ roll fortress that is Decorah, Iowa. Undergrads at Luther College, Svec says they stood out by being “the only band in Luther that wasn’t a jam band.” After graduation, the four of them lived out one of the stock rock ’n’ roll dreams of moving to the (relatively) big city and living in a house in South Minneapolis together while they devoted themselves to rocking out. And while they found themselves picking up momentum in the scene fairly quickly, the physical situation of the whole band sharing a house wasn’t a nonstop David Lee Roth video.

“If we had it to do over again,” Svec says, “I think it may have been cool to have a place to practice but not necessarily live together. I think that made it a little weird for everybody involved.”

“There’s always something weird about coming home from a show, all sweaty and a little drunk, and just all look at each other and be like ‘good night,’” Salter adds.

The other defining feature of their transition from Iowa to Minneapolis was the difference in how the respective scenes worked. The Glad Version quickly found that it took more than not being a jam band to get anywhere in a city teeming with groups.

As Svec explains, “In Iowa, if you’re playing clubs that don’t have a lot of bands to pick from, it’s mostly based on merit. Who they pick to play is mostly based on merit. Whereas in bigger cities, I would say that they have such a wide variety of options to pick from—all these bands that are about as good as each other—why should they pick this band over this band, you know? It all boils down to who goes to hipster parties, who talks to who, who schmoozes. I mean, not all the time. That was a weird transition, to come up here and figure out that you couldn’t really make things happen if you weren’t trying to be in the scene. Which is a little obnoxious. It sucks that this is a necessity if you want to keep playing and try to be somewhat successful.”

I found it very interesting that Svec was so attuned to the dark side of the Twin Cities music scene; in a way, the idea that things aren’t as nice as they appear to be on the surface seems to be the unifying artistic idea of The Glad Version. Their very name implies some sort of whitewash—if there’s a glad version, there must be some other versions out there that aren’t so happy. Their debut disc’s title, Smile Pretty Make Nice follows right along with the theme.

And, most importantly, so does their music. The songs all speak of problems, either openly or between the lines. Even the disc’s best song, a rollicking, upbeat number called “Hit and Miss,” blares out the angst with a chorus that shouts “Something’s wrong/I can feel the blood pound through my wrist.” It works quite well, as does most of the album, with Svec’s earnest, velvety voice riding on top of a fairly standard guitar-pop chassis.

The biggest diversion from the guitar-pop formula on Smile Pretty Make Nice is the album’s last, and most sonicly adventurous track. An emotions-on-the-sleeve callout of God himself, “Sand” is centered around a spartan recording of Svec with an acoustic guitar. Behind him, though, is a wall of craziness. As Svec tells it, “that was the first one we recorded. We just tried a bunch of stuff, and fortunately it all was pretty cool. It ended up mostly in the background. We first recorded just a voice and a guitar, and then some voices in the hall outside of the studio for some background chorus stuff. And then we recorded a bunch of tracks in the sound room with the mics really far away—hitting stuff, playing the accordion, whatever. We had Michael play a drum track where he wasn’t listening to anything, he was just playing as fast as he could. And then when we layer it all together, it sounds like a train was going past a party.” The result is haunting and effective, and leaves you with the feeling that you’ve really gotten somewhere after listening to Smile Pretty Make Nice’s 10 tracks.

As someone who cut his musical teeth in the so-ironic-I-don’t-know-what-I-feel period of the early nineties, I have to admit that I sometimes don’t know how to handle the wave of sincerity that’s rolling through music now. But in the case of The Glad Version, I think it works just fine. The world is beautiful but flawed, and they want to tell you about it, and they rock out while doing so. What’s not - The Pulse of the Twin Cities


One night, just over two years ago, Shawn Neary finally succumbed to the pressure. He came home from school, made sure he was alone in his apartment, and headed straight for the kitchen. There, Neary did the unthinkable: He ate salsa.

"I didn't eat vegetables till I was in college," says Neary, bassist in the Minneapolis band the Glad Version; he's eyeing his bandmates' meaty pizza slices at Fat Lorenzo's in Minneapolis. "Salsa represented everything I hated about eating when I was a kid. It wasn't some sort of ritual thing where there were candles and I slathered it all over my body or anything. But it was like a big first step."

For a group of nine-to-fivers from Luther College who pay their rent on time and go to bed by 10:00 p.m. every night, even Neary's dinner choice seems like a risky move. But for lead singer Adam Svec, life has been a series of big steps. During high school, Svec became involved with the nondenominational Assemblies of God Church, a Christian organization based on what it calls 16 Fundamental Truths, one of which is that those who reject Christ will be eternally punished in a lake of fire. Svec began questioning the AGC during his sophomore year of college, partly because of its views on homosexuality and partly because of the white evangelical church's involvement in slavery. "There was never an apology for that from any of these officials in the church," he says. "It just seemed that the absolutes the church had laid down were not as absolute as I had thought."

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Svec continued to struggle with his faith while he was a counselor for an inner-city youth camp in 2000 and saw girls as young as 11 become bulimic. On the Glad Version's dreamlike track "Sand," from their self-released debut, Smile Pretty Nice, he attacks God for letting this happen. Plucking at an acoustic guitar, he plaintively croons over a sample of hushed voices and clinking glasses: "That young girl finally fit into her dress/She's six feet under and two years dead/Is this part of your plan?/Because if it is, I'm not impressed."

The song had more meaning for Svec when, a week after it was written, a friend he met at the camp was killed in a car crash. "He was a very strong person and very gentle," Svec says. His friend had just turned 22 and was two months away from volunteering with AmeriCorps. "I couldn't think of any other reason that he would've died other than that everything is random and there is no plan."

Svec catches himself waxing poetic and switches to a less weighty explanation of the song. "I was listening to a lot of Haley Bonar and Kid Dakota at the time I wrote it," he says, "so I was in kind of a down mood anyway."

These days, the Glad Version are most likely to sing the praises of Minnesota rock legends, or, as known in some circles, false idols for bar-hopping heathens. When the band first moved to Minneapolis in 2002, Svec began working as a temp at the call center for the law firm of Wagner, Falconer & Wagner where he trained in singer-guitarist Erik Appelwick (of the local bands Vicious Vicious, Kid Dakota, and Alva Star).

"I felt sorta lame because I already knew who he was, but I didn't want to let on," Svec says. "I mean, I'd only been going to Alva Star and Kid Dakota shows for the longest time." It was through Appelwick that the Glad Version met John Hermanson of the folk-rock group Storyhill, who agreed to produce Smile Pretty Make Nice and add eerie flourishes such as theremin and accordion.

"I'd been into John and Storyhill since junior high," guitarist Chris Salter says. "So it was a total dorkfest."

Smile Pretty Make Nice is an exploration of the two competing sides of the Iowa transplants: their pensive version and their feel-good-party, well, glad version. On sparsely arranged songs like "Taking Stock," "Your Ghost Tonight," and "Sand," the group mourns the loss of post-collegiate idealism, the loss of a girl, and the loss of God. But for these good boys from Luther, there's also a brighter side. "Options and Absolutes" is a jangly college-rock anthem, while the poppy "Cruelty of Modern Life" treads the emo terrain without resorting to shout-answer-shout screamo or navel-gazing mawkishness. The songs are layered with warm vocals, sprightly melodies, and bouncy rhythms; they sound like the Minneapolis group Love-cars struggling with the ghosts of youth more than combating the unglamorous realities of adulthood.

"I'm a pretty upbeat guy most of the time," Svec says, despite his melancholy lyrics. "I'm painfully normal. We're all painfully normal," he laughs. For the most part, they're the kind of guys who have to come to terms with the fact that their love of alt-country makes them feel old, that Andrea Bocelli's "Con Te Partiró" makes them cry, and that loving Harry Potter makes them uncool.

"We're not terribly hip," Svec says. "But we've all come to terms with that; it's just how we're always going to be."

- City Pages


The Glad Version’s debut full length CD Smile Pretty Make Nice could be described as the acoustic-electric mix of Toad the Wet Sprocket, the biting lyrics and moodiness of Pedro the Lion and vocal styling of the Eels. In one standout track, “Cruelty of Modern Life,” a bouncy verse in 7/8 time transitions seamlessly into a catchy, smoothed out chorus. Adam Svec melds effortlessly with fellow guitarist Chris Salter singing, “When it comes down to it, are you helpless to fight all this emptiness filling your life?” Salter pulls off a number of impressive guitar solos and interludes, displaying skill without endangering the feel or momentum or the song. Another highlight, “Options and Absolutes,” creates a shivering winter landscape of flubbery acoustic guitar strings. This song describes a welfare office sending poor people away, a subject that hits all too close to home in Minnesota in November. Many other songs deal with relationship heartbreak without becoming whiny or pitiful. The album closes with a stomach-wrenching song called “Sand,” in which sounds of toys lay a backdrop for lyrics of problematic childhood leading to tragic adult life.

Smile Pretty Make Nice was recorded and produced by John Hermanson (Story Hill, Alva Star, Olympic Hopefuls) who was nominated for 2004 producer of the year at the Minnesota Music Awards. Together with Hermanson, The Glad Version was able to make an album that ranges from catchy to dark while maintaining an eerie feel all the way through. In addition to the two-guitars and bass and drums, instruments such as lap steel, accordion, trombone, synthesizer and even a theremin are used to create ambient layers behind a dynamic rock sound. Songs like “Taking Stock” end with rung-out guitar chords that fade into sounds of monks, angels, or ghosts that transition from one song to the next like walking through boxcars on a haunted train ride. Combined with Adam Svec’s hushed, yet strong vocals Smile Pretty Make Nice creates a sound that will keep it returning to your CD player, if it ever leaves. - howwastheshow.com


Though I’d heard of The Glad Version before, I hadn’t heard their music until last week when I began listening to the MP3’s on their website (http://www.thegladversion.com.) My first instinct was they reminded me of a band I loved in the mid 90’s from Texas, the now defunct band, Crumb.

When the trio took the stage at the 400 Bar Saturday night opening for Deathray Davies, lead singer/rhythm guitarist, Adam Svec, lead guitarist, Chris Salter and drummer, Tor Johnson looked professional and poised. Something I noticed right away was there was no bass player, an arrangement I hadn’t seen since the last time I saw JSBX. [Jon Spencer Blues Explosion].

Svec, whom resembles a younger Dan Wilson of Semisonic, thanked the crowd for coming early and lifted his guitar strap over his shoulder. The band opened up with a new song called “Tin Soldier.” I wasn’t prepared to hear songs even newer than the ones I’d just became acquainted with early in the week from their 2004 CD, Smile Pretty Make Nice. “Tin Soldier” struck me as astute, captivating and well-crafted, with a delicate verse that shifted into a frantic chorus. The song set the ideal tone for their set.

Playing only one song off Smile Pretty Make Nice (“Your Ghost Tonight”) Saturday night, I was impressed by the Glad Version’s nine “newer” songs--the writing seemed to be even stronger. Svec’s lyrics were earnest and poignant, yet never “cheesy” or “emo-ish”. Some of the other newer titles were, ‘Calendars & Coffee Cups,” “Lipstick Hip,” and “Beautiful Skeleton.” The first couple songs were good, but it wasn’t until they played, “Nineteen Eighty,” with its chorus worthy of a rock anthem, that I was swept away. This song alone was worth the price of admission, and hearing Svec sink into a smooth falsetto was impressive too. “South Dakota kids, having South Dakota kids, I know?” After the song was over Svec told the audience, “That’s a song about North Dakota.”

The set was terrific until Svec did actually did reach for a bass guitar. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought when the bass was added to the mix it overshadowed Salter’s guitar licks. And Johnson’s defined beats and even Svec’s vocals were different when they played the last two songs. I don’t know if this is how the songs were originally written (with a bass in mind,) but I thought the two guitars were stronger and could’ve done without the bass entirely.

After their set, I kept replaying the “South Dakota.” phrase in my head over and over well into the wee hours of Saturday night and well into Sunday.

What’s in the Glad Version’s future? Svec said after their set that they’re in the process of recording four new tracks that should be done at the end of March. Then they hope to do at least another EP with [producer] John Hermanson before the year’s end. I hope the Glad Version remember this review when deciding what four songs to put on that EP.

- howwastheshow.com


Discography

2004 release - "Smile Pretty Make Nice"
*charted at 111 in the CMJ top 200 in April '04
*the singles: "Proximity", "Taking Stock", and "Elizabeth" are streaming tracks @ www.thegladversion.com
*two new songs are available at www.myspace.com/thegladversion:
"Calendars and Coffee Cups" & "Nineteen Eighty"

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Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Influences: Dinosaur Jr, Karate, Randy Newman
*The main thing that sets us apart from the bands we've played with over the years is songwriting. I think we write solid songs with good lyrics and good hooks (when necessary).