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Melancholy Melodies from Halloween, Alaska


Halloween, Alaska, isn't really a place. Maybe it's more of a state of mind, a mood. At any rate, it's the name of a pop group from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their new CD caught our attention, particularly now in mid-October. As pumpkins start cropping up on suburban porches and the leaves start to take on color, somehow their evocative sound fits the bittersweet change of the seasons.

(Soundbite of song)

HALLOWEEN, ALASKA: (Singing) Don't give the end away. I haven't seen it. I haven't seen a thing all winter.

NAYLOR: "Too Tall To Hide" is the name of the CD by Halloween, Alaska. James Diers sings and plays guitar with the group and a gentleman who simply calls himself Ev plays keyboards. They join us now from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.

James, welcome.

Mr. JAMES DIERS (Halloween, Alaska): Thank you, Brian.

NAYLOR: And, Ev, nice to talk with you.

EV (Halloween, Alaska): It's good to be here. Thank you.

NAYLOR: Let me start out by asking the obvious question, James. What is the name of your group all about? It's--Halloween, Alaska, is not on the map, is it?

Mr. DIERS: It is not. And we've, I guess, maybe looked at a couple of maps to make sure, but, no. David King, our drummer, came up with the name, just as something that was sort of evocative of sort of the palette that he had in mind for the group.

NAYLOR: Now you did spend some time in Alaska as a child, I understand. You have some deep-rooted memories that come out in this music?

Mr. DIERS: I guess maybe in a very indirect way. I was quite young, five or six years old. Spent a couple summers there. As a landlocked Midwesterner for most of my life, it was kind of my first chance to sort of interface with the ocean and very remote places. So, yeah, in that regard it was influential.

(Soundbite of song)

NAYLOR: Ev, you are the keyboard player for the group and you're described, in the press material at least, as the sound architect who provides the glue. There isn't a producer listed on the CD, so do you fill that function as well?

EV: I would be hesitant to say that, though in probably the strictest old school sense of the word producer, you could say so. I make sure every note is exactly right during all the editing of the songs and all that kind of stuff. But that's just as much an engineer, I think, in the role of this band. I think the band's gestalt is actually the producer more than anything else.

NAYLOR: And so you don't get paid extra then?

EV: I wish I did.

Mr. DIERS: Hey, wait a minute. So that's what that was. You said you were reimbursing yourself with some lunch but now...

(Soundbite of song)

NAYLOR: The band has released two CDs so far and on each you've done an interesting cover. On the first CD, you did a version of Bruce Springsteen's song "State Trooper." Let's hear a little bit of that original and then let's hear what you did with it.

(Soundbite of song "State Trooper")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) New Jersey Turnpike ridin' on a wet night 'neath the refinery's glow, out where the great black rivers flow.

NAYLOR: OK, now let's hear the Halloween, Alaska version of that song.

(Soundbite of song "State Trooper")

HALLOWEEN, ALASKA: (Singing) Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife. The only thing that I got's been both'rin' me my whole life. Mister state trooper...

NAYLOR: So how did you get at the essence of the Springsteen song and put your own stamp on it? James, let me toss that to you.

Mr. DIERS: David and I had had some conversations about that album, you know, being just fans of it. "Nebraska" is the name of the Springsteen record that that track comes from. It's all really sparse, just him doing these solo acoustic songs that come off, you know, kind of like folk songs.

NAYLOR: Right. Woody Guthrie, I guess, is one of his inspirations for that.

Mr. DIERS: Sure. Yeah, yeah. And among those songs on that album, that one in particular has the sort of solitary motif and the Springsteen version is kind of monochromatic in a way. I mean, it totally--it works and it's great. What we did with it is a little bit more of kind of a building, kind of a crescendoing arc to it.

(Soundbite of song "State Trooper")

HALLOWEEN, ALASKA: (Singing) In the wee, wee hours your mind gets hazy. Radio relay towers lead me to my baby.

Mr. DIERS: People have seemed to respond to it whether they had any real allegiance to the original or not. You know, we're not trying to like correct anybody's work, of course, and you know...

EV: I think one of the...

Mr. DIERS: He is The Boss, after all.

NAYLOR: All right. Let me move on to the next--the other interpretation I wanted to talk about. On the new CD, you cover a song from L.L. Cool J, "I Can't Live Without My Radio." Here's the original.

(Soundbite of song "I Can't Live Without My Radio")

Mr. L.L. COOL J: (Singing) My radio, believe me, I like it loud. I'm the man with the box that can rock the crowd. Walking down the street to the hard-core beat while my JVC vibrates the concrete. I'm sorry if you can't understand...

Mr. DIERS: That particular album, L.L. Cool J's first album--you know, this phenomenon of guys, you know, in 1985 or whatever with the huge boom box, you know, the size of a suitcase and this public aspect to some of that music, how, you know, a big part of the allure, I think, for a lot of kids and people when that music was first breaking big that there was this aspect to it where you might run into somebody on the street just saying, you know, `Hey, this is my F-ing music and, you know, check it out.'

(Soundbite of song "I Can't Live Without My Radio")

HALLOWEEN, ALASKA: (Singing) My radio, believe me, I like it loud. I'm the man with the box that can rock the crowd.

Mr. DIERS: This cover came about sort of sideways. I was revisiting the song, and it's such a different culture now. It's more an iPod generation, where things have become a little bit more insular. You know, you can sort of tailor these customized bubbles for yourself, you know, where you just kind of have your play lists and your thing. You just kind of go about your business.

(Soundbite "I Can't Live Without My Radio")

HALLOWEEN, ALASKA: (Singing) My story is rough. My neighborhood is tough. But I still sport gold, and I'm out to crush. My name is Cool J, I devastate the show, but I couldn't survive without my radio.

NAYLOR: On this CD, "Too Tall To Hide," actually it's an enhanced CD. You can put it into your computer. There's a little video that pops up that talks about the group and the song lyrics. And you've also put instrumental MP3s of the songs such as--without the lyrics. How do you think fans will actually make use of all of those elements?

EV: Karaoke Halloween, Alaska would be hilarious. Actually I'd love to see a video of that.

Mr. DIERS: I mean, my attitude about it, I mean, I ask myself the same question about certain songs, like why would they bother? But I mean, I think any number of things come out of it. I think certain pieces of music, if you listen without the vocal, you might hear some stuff that you didn't notice somehow, just instruments or how the band's relating to each other. I think also too, just--and, again, this is keying off of, like, what has gone on in hip hop for a long time, you know, having the ability to, you know, put alternate vocals over this, you know, music or to use it in sort of a mash-up or kind of remixing context. I think it's just, you know, repurposing it or tweaking it with a different vocal, or it's, you know, a cool bonus I guess.

EV: Yeah, but for real, what we need to do is yank that guitar. This tune is so--he's doing a great acoustic guitar and we're going to use that forever.

NAYLOR: There's also a little behind-the-scenes look of the making of the CD, and apparently you had some climate control problems in the studio. How did that affect the mood of what actually turned out?

Mr. DIERS: Have you been to a sauna, Brian? I hope that's not a personal question.


EV: I mean, yeah, it was very--I was used to it so it didn't really bother me so much.

Mr. DIERS: His body chemistry actually changed. He became sort of like a lizard.

EV: That was my life for four years pretty much in that very, very, very hot space. We did get into some pretty constructive arguments as a result of that, but...

Mr. DIERS: I would invite any band, you know, in their studio or wherever they're working, just put a few space heaters around, just keep it at an uncomfortable 92 or so and...

EV: Yeah.

Mr. DIERS: ...work for a while and...

NAYLOR: Make you work faster, a little, though, huh?

Mr. DIERS: Maybe.

NAYLOR: James Diers and Ev from the group Halloween, Alaska. Their new CD, "Too Tall To Hide" is on East Side Digital Records. They joined us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.

Thanks very much to both.

Mr. DIERS: Thanks a lot.

EV: Thank you very much.

NAYLOR: There are full audio cuts and more on our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Brian Naylor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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