“When I listen to records, I want to be taken by surprise and challenged to reconsider what I think a band is capable of creating”
Minneapolis post-punkers the Florists are not writing the same song over and over. Rather, they are trying to make each song they write as different and strange as possible. Since 2016, they’ve been releasing EPs and singles of very effective, emotional, and earnest punk, power pop, and everything in between.
Their first full length, Prayer Starter, is out March 1st (look for it here). It is a celebration of unexpected moments. Rather than allowing your mind to ease into a listening experience, the Florists intend to challenge you – to make you wonder how a record can hold so many vastly different but equally fantastic songs. That’s not to say that there isn’t a vibe or coherent style to these tracks. The songs feel like a dysfunctional family; shouty and messy, but they still go together somehow. I had the privilege of talking with the Florists’ vocalist and guitarist Jo Kellen. They provided a number of insights into the band’s creative process, the new record, and more! Read the interview below:
These songs are pretty weird structurally. You’ll establish a groove, then change it moments later. It’s an exhilarating ride! What is it like to write songs like that? Is the process pretty collaborative?
A lot of it comes from intuition. We’re often interested in disrupting each other while we jam and write. Folks have told us that our collaboration is like a wrestling match at times — we’re all trying to pin each other and gleefully interrupt grooves to push forward into territories that are new and exciting. We’re all bored by predictable genre expectations, so we try to challenge each other to zag when it might be easier to zig. It’s good to hear that you find it exhilarating. Often, I (jo) will come in with some type of hook on guitar and we’ll work together from there. Lately, we jam together without any defined starting point and play through until we surprise ourselves enough to shape a compelling song that’s different than what we’ve previously written. I pen most of the lyrics and write vocal melodies after we’re satisfied with a particular structure.
There’s a lot of really weird, angular guitar playing, especially on songs like “Prayer Starter,” “Churches,” or “Lips.” Who are some guitar players that influenced the playing on this record?
I think and have been told the way I play guitar is strange, and it’s probably because I’m influenced by players who do wacky things. Mary Halvorson is my favorite guitarist of all time. I think she’s truly a visionary — her songs create whole, detailed environments. I love Thao Nguyen. Eleanor Friedberger. Anyone who has played guitar in Deerhoof. Stephen Malkmus is huge for myself as well as Luke and Jared. I think Guerilla Toss inspires me a lot as a guitarist too.
Songs like “Bury Your Heart” have sort of a 60s pop feel in some moments. What’s it like to switch from songs like that to something more aggressive and weird like “Churches?” It definitely makes for a very interesting listening experience!
I think the sound of the record as a whole is pretty markedly us. It sounds to me like one band traveling a path through several genres while approaching each new sound with the same intensity/worldview/dynamic style. I’m not a huge fan of records that establish a sound and rarely deviate from it. When I listen to records, I want to be taken by surprise and challenged to reconsider what I think a band is capable of creating. We tried to sequence the album in a way that milks the dynamic arc of every song — I like to think the album gets stranger and stranger as it steams ahead. All of our heads are filled with different sounds, preferences, and ideas about what music ought to sound like. The three of us have wildly different tastes in music and we like to represent that in our collaboration by eschewing genre and focusing more on offering folks a varied-yet-coherent experience.
Any interesting gear used to make this record?
We don’t have a lot of money and none of us are collectors of gear, so we keep it fairly bare bones. I play a Telecaster through a Deluxe Reverb, Luke plays through a Rumble 150, and Jared didn’t end up even using his drum pad on this album. We like to use samples and make strange sound collages live with sample pads and computers, but this record mainly features the gear I mentioned, a Microkorg, and some AM radio samples.
Y’all have been around since 2016. How do you feel the sound or the band has changed over the past 3 years?
I essentially learned how to play guitar to be in this band. I didn’t own an electric guitar or an amp before the Florists started. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to create music as a team, put together an intense, cogent live show, and communicate a message that feels meaningful to us through art. I think we started out as a straight-ahead noise pop band with a little bit of a grungy influence, and now I don’t really know what to call our music. We’ve let ourselves get comfortable with focusing on what it means for us to let ourselves make whatever feels right. We’re dealing with more complicated parts, layering different sounds, and switching instruments. In our new set and on our upcoming follow up to this record, we all take turns on each instrument. We’re starting to get into the groove of understanding our particular styles, messages, and ideals when it comes to music and letting them come through no matter what genre the song is. I value this project most of all because it taught me how to accept and lean into being myself. It’s a lesson I’m still learning three years in.
Any upcoming shows? What’s next?
Yes! We’ll release the album on March 2nd at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. We’ll also be appearing at SXSW March 15-17 at Big Easy, Highland House, and Electric Church (a few other venues might get added on by the time the fest comes!). We’d love to say hello to folks if they’ll be down there!