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Products Band balance playfulness and sincerity on new release

Products Band, left to right: Konner Johnson, Alex Hanson, Jack Woolsey, and Jo Kellen
Products Band, left to right: Konner Johnson, Alex Hanson, Jack Woolsey, and Jo KellenJuliet Farmer

by Macie Rasmussen

October 05, 2023

In the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, a group of students meet in detention. By sharing intimate details of life experiences, the characters discover they are more alike than they had imagined. Alex Hanson (they/he), vocalist and guitarist in Products Band, considers the group a “memeable” version of the film’s cast, with each musician embracing unique musical influences and personal interests. 

“It’s not groupthink, where we all kind of just are in the same headspace, or on the same idea all the time,” they say, during a recent conversation with The Current at a table on the 331 Club’s patio in northeast Minneapolis. Vocalist and guitarist Jo Kellen (they/them) goes on, “Even if we might not understand an idea at its outset, then we can accept that, like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna trust you and let you lead me somewhere.’” This trust has allowed the Minneapsolis-based band to foster an environment of friendship and accountability that satisfies their musically experimental indulgences.

This has been a packed year for Products Band. The group headlined a tour around the Midwest and East Coast in the spring and opened a couple summer shows for Deerhoof – a long-time musical inspiration. They also signed with the Los Angeles-based label Solid Brass Records and will release their sophomore album, Some Sudden Weather, on Friday, Oct. 20. 

Products Band’s origins are woven from tight-knit, intersecting strings across the Twin Cities DIY community. Hanson, Kellen, drummer Konner Johnson (he/him), and bassist Jack Woolsey (she/they) began playing together in 2017. After hearing Bandcamp demos of Hanson’s solo music created with a loop pedal, Johnson wanted to actualize the tracks together. Soon, they needed to fill a full band line-up. Johnson enlisted Woolsey, a former bandmate in the now-defunct group Frankie Teardrop. Kellen closely orbited the others while playing at the same shows with the noise-pop group the Florists.

Four members of Products Band pose for a photo
Products Band, left to right: Jo Kellen, Konner Johnson, Alex Hanson, and Jack Woolsey
Juliet Farmer

The conversation at the 331 evolves into recollections of playing free shows on the stage inside. They saw it as an opportunity for bands in their early stages to win over an audience. People often show up just for drinks and intend to head past the stage to the back door. “You see people trying to get back to the patio zone, but then they stick and just kind of will watch. It's like a captive audience,” Johnson says. “And then they become like a Stockholm syndrome audience,” Kellen adds. “They learned to love their captors, which is the rock music.”

Someone who Products Band once captured at a show was Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich, which led to him recruiting the quartet to open shows on their Chicago and St. Paul tour stops in July. Dieterich was at 7th St. Entry in January 2022 to see long-time friends Palm and caught Products Band’s opening set. Dieterich instantly fell in love with their music and distinct stage personas. “I think their music is very catchy. It just feels like there's something in it for everyone,” Dieterich shares during a phone call. “They have these very interesting sculpted sounds that are very perfect.” He finds beauty in the dissonance and loud, thin guitar sounds. While it’s difficult for the artist to pinpoint exactly what makes the band special in his mind, he sums it up to “some magic combination of personalities and sensibilities on their instruments and songwriting.”

Kellen calls the experience of opening two sold-out gigs for Deerhoof one of the coolest experiences of their life. “I've idolized Deerhoof since I was 14 years old,” they say. Dieterich remembers watching the band play while he stood on Lincoln Hall’s balcony in Chicago: “It was palpable that the audience was just completely falling in love with this band on site.” he says. “I feel like they present a very welcoming and friendly environment in their concerts, and I think their personalities offstage really kind of bear that out.” 

Listening to Some Sudden Weather is another way to gain insight into the band members' personalities. Just as their 2018 EP, On the Dotted Line, and 2021 debut album, Pink Puma, toyed with tongue-in-cheek lyrical montages, Some Sudden Weather merges the bandmates’ increasing sincerity of recent years with the playfulness of their younger selves. “I think that it's a record that encapsulates a lot of personal struggles and [tries] to apply those personal struggles to a greater cultural milieu,” Kellen says. “Hopefully, people will relate to [the album] and will feel like they can find parts of themselves in the sort of grand ellipsis of all of our experiences consolidated in this 12-track, compact 44-minute record.”

Tracks on the album began to manifest when the group isolated for four days in Wooley’s family cabin outside of Grand Marais during the pandemic’s lockdown. They hadn’t seen each other for a few months and began riffing on ideas Kellen and Hanson had come up with during the time of separation. By the winter of 2022-2023,  they had a batch of songs fleshed out enough to hop into Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis.

Some Sudden Weather contains inward perspectives. Each member plays a role in lyricism, and vocalists Hanson and Kellen tend to bring the initial ideas. However, Woolsey wrote the verses on “Reclined Derealized 2022" — a song she describes as a comment on “aging and simultaneously not growing up” — so the band thought she should sing them. “It's kind of a song about realizing you're at a point where you either need to start turning stuff around, or you're just gonna be stuck. So yeah, definitely coming from a bit of a darker place,” she says. 

The candid lines include: “Shirt soaked with gin / It’s getting colder as the liquor is sinking in / I’m losing sense of time / I'm 22 in an hour I'm 29.” Hanson cites the vulnerable verses as evidence that the band has become more comfortable with themselves. “And confident in ourselves to not have to hide behind esoteric lyrics or try to be coy or cheeky,” Woolsey adds. 

When not looking inward, the band members share perspectives on others. “I Can’t Praise Your Head Trip” — a simply funny song with the verse, “I think I’ll pass on the Flamin’ Hots / You lick your fingers constantly / You do your shadow work / On off nights and holidays” — may be the best example. 

“I just really hate disingenuous New Age people who use that aesthetic to get laid,” Kellen explains. “These people who like to use vocabulary from Carl Jung, [who] would want to invoke that thinker in a casual conversation, but only insofar as it can get them closer towards you know, social capital, or also just f*cking.” Kellen embraces their own self-consciousness, but admits they occasionally envy those who lack self-awareness. They ask, “What would it be like to just be a f*cking asshole?” Hanson jumps in to turn their head and ask, “Yeah, Konner, what’s it like”? Everyone laughs. 

Products Band don’t have many definitive words to describe their sound, but they know it’s not background music. “We’re definitely not a vibey band. Like, we're not really a vibes-based production,” Hanson says. I ask what they mean by that. “We don't have a lot of music that could be called ‘sexy,’ or would like, sit on a barbecue playlist with a bunch of other stuff,” they explain. “But I'm happy to not sound like it could be an AI-made band.” 

To the group’s surprise and excitement, their image appeared on the cover of Tidal’s “Rock: Rising” playlist in September, which featured “The Matter,” a single from Some Sudden Weather. The vocalists’ repeated incantations make for a post-punk track, but harmonizing background vocals pull it into sweet pop-rock territory. 

Each artist has memories of how listeners have attempted to classify their music, which they meet with curiosity. “Sometimes people throw weird combinations at us, like, ‘Oh, you remind me of Duran Duran and Green Day,’” Hanson recalls. “When people come up to me, and they're like, ‘You guys are so eclectic.’ I'm just like, ‘What the f*ck are you talking about, we're a rock band,’” Kellen says.

Dieterich wouldn’t use the word “eclectic” to describe Products Band’s music, preferring the phrase “adventurous-sounding” instead. “They didn't read some book on how you're supposed to make a song,” he says. “It feels like there's incongruent elements happening at the same time as other things, and that’s one of my favorite things in music. And I feel like that's a lot of how music grows and changes over time — it's through people sort of finding organic ways to combine different personalities and different kinds of ideas.

Four members of Products Band pose for a photo
Products Band, left to right: Jo Kellen, Jack Woolsey, Konner Johnson, and Alex Hanson
Juliet Farmer

Sitting around a table with their beers, the group members show clear platonic affection for each other. Others have noticed the intimacy as well: Johnson has heard listeners say, “‘You’re this band [in which] each one of you is very much your own person. And yet, there's this like indescribable, cohesiveness within the nucleus of it.’” Kellen jokes, “I think that that's just kind of an articulate way to say that we're weird to look at.” “Visually, we’re not that vibey either,” Hanson adds, laughing.

Products Band’s music may seem silly at times, but there’s a difference between silliness and playfulness, and their work can be described as the latter. The four-person club makes music with meaningful humor that leaves no juvenile impression. There are serious ideas dispersed throughout Some Sudden Weather — like what Kellen refers to as the “mass media culture that is all comprised on our phones” — but darker topics float smoothly past the album’s lighthearted moments. “We're playful people, and we love joking around with each other,” Kellen says. “And also, that's a great way to cope with the conditions of your reality.”

Some Sudden Weather is out Oct. 20 via Solid Brass Records. Products Band play a release show at Green Room on Friday, Oct. 6. Tickets here

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.