It's a downpour day outside the hidden downtown alley space where Skin Flowers are blasting through their set, with occasional breaks for swigs of Olympia and drawn-out cigarettes. Some songs linger like the smoke in the air, while others give a solid 3:15 punch. There is a whirlwind of influences present, giving off the feel of a found mixtape from 1979. You're fairly positive you woke up to one of these songs not too long ago.
"It's classic rock in quotation marks," guitarist and singer Colin Johnson says. "It's the weird song that comes on the classic station and people are like, 'What the hell band is this? Who are these people?'"
Skin Flowers consists of a catchy bass, two drum sets and two guitars that seem to switch between blues rock and psychedelic rock. It's the kind of rock 'n' roll Mick Jagger convinced you was possible but that you eventually found on weird B-sides, too.
"We draw that inspiration from bands that we're having a laugh at or being goofy about, but still having a sincere love of," Johnson says.
Johnson, drummer Tom Helgerson (of the band Shahs) and guitarist/vocalist Nick Ryan are all Minneapolis transplants. Last year, over Christmas break, they returned home and played a show, but they didn't really push the project for two months afterward. Back in Missoula, they picked up bassist John Fleming of Secret Powers and another drummer, Dave Turley, to fill out the sound, and here they are, living the dream.
"John and I had talked about starting a band for over a year now," Johnson says.
"A scuzzy pop band, that was my emphasis," Fleming adds.
"Emphasis on the scuzz," says Johnson.
"It turned into something more rootsy, but there's nothing wrong with that," Helgerson says. "Roots can still be scuzz!"
The roots part came from Ryan, whose songwriting takes on familiar blues and country rock patternsreally uptempo and sometimes dirty. Johnson packs more psychedelic sounds into his guitar work and lets the endings linger a little longer into instrumental jams. The set's sequencing disguises the different styles and gives it a cohesive feel.
"Nick and I, when writing stuff, kind of go for something like lost gemsthe songs that are overlooked because they're not immediately poppy," Johnson says. "This is what happens if you make a band out of that."
It began with Johnson as musical architect and Ryan as engineer, the songs getting hashed out and the rest of the band catching up. By now, it's a collaborative process and nobody is anybody's boss.
Johnson says the original plan was to take it slow, play a show every month until there was a good base of songs to cycle through. That turned into a show every week for seven weeks straight. Now they're thinking of recording by July, and Johnson has high hopes for where the first Skin Flowers record is headed.
"All of us being pop nerds, when you think about that record you think, 'We're just going to make something as good as Out of the Blue. We're just going to make an ELO record.' Which, of course, is impossible."
Ryan has a different idea.
"Everyone will be like, 'This Steely Dan record is awesome. They're Stealing Dan!'"
Later this summer comes the possibility of a tour, maybe just across the Northwest. It depends on if Fleming can take time off from his Osprey baseball addiction. And if everyone shores up some funds.
"We all need to play shake-a-day," Helgerson suggests. "VFW pots are at $1,000 right now!"
"We'll probably get electrocuted right after winning shake-a-day, survive it and get chased down like in Final Destination," Ryan laughs.
Skin Flowers plays Thu., June 14, at Zoo City Apparel at 8 PM. $5, all-ages.