Minneapolis has a well-earned reputation for pumping out some quality music. Legendary acts like Prince or the Replacements are the most obvious examples, but as The Usual Things prove, there's plenty more where that came from. One of the benefits of being situated where we are is that, in addition to our own talented scene, we're able to check out talent from markets like the Twin Cities on a fairly regular basis, as they make their way through town.
Your next chance to do so comes this week, when The Usual Things, a Minneapolis five-piece created by front man Aaron Shekey, make their way down.
“My drummer and I have been playing shows together for 15 years,” Shekey said of the band's origin during a phone interview. “We played in a project based in Madison called “Apparently Nothing,” which is a terrible band name. We played together until 2006 under that band name, and that was all just childhood friends playing in the basement and learning to play together.”
But bands change as people grow, and Shekey's developing tastes and desires caused a shift in style and direction.
“We were all about 23 at the time, and that's kind of a weird age for bands,” he explained. “At that age, a lot of people start to figure out who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. So we found a Craigslist guitar player, and changed our name to The Usual Things.”
From that core, the band continued to develop its sound, occasionally altering its lineup along the way, until the current roster was established in 2013. Now consisting of Shekey, drummer Layne Knutson, guitarist Dan Braak, bassist Will Caesar and keyboardist Andriana Lehr, the act feels ready to take the next step. Knock on wood.
“It always take a little bit to form a final lineup, but this feels like it,” Shekey said. “The joke at practices is 'man, we sound really good. OK, which one of you is gonna quit?'.”
The Usual Things released their album, called “Home Sweet Alone,” in 2013. They're working on new material, but Shekey still considers “Home Sweet Alone” and its deeply personal, emotionally raw subject matter to be the band's best work.
“I had just ended a ten year relationship that was two weeks shy of a marriage,” he said of the album's creation. “It was the record I had to make. It was a breaking up record. Not a breakup record, because “a breakup record” implies that everyone has moved on.”
“I was of the mind that, if I'm writing something that I can maybe be embarrassed by in two years, that maybe I'm touching on something good as a songwriter. I wanted the songs to be an accurate representation of their time.”
True to form, Shekey admits that some of the lyrics on “Home Sweet Alone” give him the flush of embarrassment now. But he remains proud of the end result, and how honestly the album continues to feel, so far along after the fact.
“Breakups are universal,” he said. “But at the time, when you're in them, you're the only person who's ever done this. It's such a singular experience, and for a songwriter like me, that's how you get through that experience. We've all been through it, I just happened to release it.”
Originally appeared in Cityview February 4, 2015