Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sincerity, Minnesota: Halloween, Alaska frontman James Diers talks irony and music

by Max Ross

Halloween, Alaska is back. After an accidental hiatus that involved several of the band members beginning families, switching locales, and embarking upon time-consuming side projects, their new album Champagne Downtown came out this week, and on Friday they play First Ave’s Mainroom. It’s an ambitious album, spanning many different styles and sounds, yet remaining cohesive.

At first glance one gets a sense that Champagne Downtown might be a jaded, irony-heavy release. The songs have titles like “Hot Pink,” “Un-American,” “Gone With The Wind,” and even the title track – “Champagne Downtown” – seems to imply a snarky disillusionment with all that was once glamorous. Thankfully such is not the case.

When a certain amateurish music writer asked H,A lead singer James Diers about the possible ironic content of the new album, he was quick to set said hack journalist straight. The following is Diers’s uncut response. (Said writer had to restrain his narcissistic impulse to turn this into a narrative article – that is, something of his own invention – as Diers’s unbroken words are better, more entertaining, and more illuminating than any fake context they might have been assembled into.)

James Diers:

Irony is something we’re all pretty dubious about, actually. If you’ll allow me a backward tangent: We did a cover of the LL Cool J song “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” which I think a lot of people read as ironic, maybe simply because, like, here’s this dude taking a totally brash hip-hop anthem and he’s singing it like a Thompson Twins ballad or whatever. But the truth is that it came from a really sincere place.

I grew up listening to hip-hop records, and that track was an early favorite, and I’d sort of rediscovered it and started thinking of it more as kind of a poignant thing. Like, the idea that having a huge fucking radio and just blasting your favorite music wherever you went was this totally revelatory, empowering experience, and then twenty years later it’s totally about iPods and everybody just having their own personalized playlists and preferences.

There’s really no risk in loving anything because you can go online anytime, any day, and find someone who’ll instantly validate you. Not that it’s all some horrible cultural backslide – that’s just been the evolution of things. I’m not disillusioned by that, per se. It just struck me as a little poignant. And so the idea for the LL cover was to treat it as kind of a wistful little tribute to the ghost of some bygone B-boy who might still be blasting his radio even if everyone was too occupied by their earbuds or Bluetooths or whatever to notice.

SO, that’s a long digression, but an extreme example of how I think irony can be unduly applied. I like to think we actually err on the side of sincerity, even if it’s not always totally direct.

See Halloween, Alaska live with Chris Koza and Aby Wolf this Friday, April 10th at First Avenue. 8 p.m., 18+, $8 adv/$10 door. Click HERE for tickets.

Max Ross is a blah blah blah writer based in Minneapolis. For more blah blah visit


Hannah said...

Photos from the The Halloween Alaska show at House of Rock with Meridene, Kill the Vultures, and Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapels are now up on the Volume One site. Check them out here:

Hannah said...

Photos from the Halloween Alaska show at House of Rock are up on Volume One's site. Check them out here: