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ACL Fest 2010 preview: Gayngs

Minnesota collective Gayngs got the purple stamp of approval

Patrick Caldwell

‘When you live in Minneapolis, there is always a rumor that Prince is going to show up somewhere,' explains Ryan Olson, the lead visionary behind Midwestern soft rock collective Gayngs. ‘You'll have people tell you, "Oh, he's going to be in Target at 2 this afternoon!" all the time. It's not something you pay attention to. It's folklore.'

So when Olson heard rumblings that his purpleness might show up to the live debut of his Minneapolis supergroup, a flamboyant prom-inspired May show at downtown club First Avenue, he was deeply cynical. Imagine his surprise when Olson, surrounded by the 24 musicians he'd roped into Gayngs — from Twin Cities hip-hop favorites P.O.S. and Dessa to indie rockers the Rosebuds to Justin Vernon, the folk genius behind Bon Iver — looked just off-stage to see the man himself. Prince was ‘just standing there,' guitar unplugged but in hand, silently playing along. A brief nod, and he wandered off, disappearing just as mysteriously as he'd arrived.

Accounts conflict — some say Prince left in a huff, fully intending to play with the band but departing after he wasn't introduced. Others say he arrived merely to enjoy the show, mumbled that the band had it under control, and left happy. Either way, Olson's content.

‘For a Minneapolis band, it's the most ridiculous stamp of approval for sure,' says Olson. ‘It was so great to have him back that show up with his presence. Hell, it's an honor just to have Prince exist in general.'

Prince's unlikely cameo at Gayngs' first show was the ultimate culmination of a process that began humbly — with Olson, a Minneapolis-based producer and musician, waking up to an alarm clock blaring the slow-grooving atmospheric 1975 hit ‘I'm Not In Love' by 10cc. Inspired, he spent a solid year voraciously gobbling up '70s and '80s soft rock before approaching friends Zach Coulter and Adam Hurlburt of electrofunk trio Solid Gold. His idea: a modern-day soft rock project, recorded entirely at 69 beats a minute — a nice, slow-burning pace that doubled as a sexy joke.

‘10cc got me listening to soft rock differently, and taught me to see all sorts of things in the music that I enjoyed... None of it was in my record collection, so I just drove around in the car listening to the radio for hours at a time,' Olson says.

Olson and Solid Gold began tapping friends and associates from the Twin Cities music scene, as well as players Olson knew from his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis. Olson and Solid Gold would brew up the skeleton of a song — a beat, a hook, a melody — and bring in friends to flesh the tunes out and lay down lyrics. Before long, and unexpectedly, Gayngs had grown into a multi-headed monstrosity of Midwestern indie and hip-hop talent.

‘It basically involved friends coming over to my house and drinking and smoking weed and getting free pizza and messing around with the idea. That was the entirety of the process,' says Olson. ‘We didn't have an incredibly specific vision on how it needed to go down, just those broad strokes of '70s, '80s-influenced soft rock zone. So it turned out to be this Ouija board of songwriting that revealed things about everybody.'

What they concocted was this year's ‘Relayted,' a bizarrely seductive record woven out of interlocking, building grooves, ever-present saxophone courtesy of lauded Minneapolis jazz player Michael Lewis, cavernous synths and hushed vocals. It's the kind of jam Crockett and Tubbs would have pumped at 1 a.m. from the speakers of a Ferrari Daytona Spyder.

Some critics and fans were confused. Was it ironic? Was it sincere? Was it a joke?

‘I think it's been a pretty fascinating record to watch people react to, to see how angry people can get when they get confused by something. Like, if we're making fun of soft rock and they enjoy it, is it making fun of them? Is anyone being made fun of?' says Olson. ‘And the answer is no. Irony is a huge part of enjoying it to some people, but to us it's not really a part of it at all. For us, it's an homage to all the parts of this music that we like, to this kind of experimental breed of pop that works really well. It's fun but not funny.'

Gayngs' substantial population of musicians means the touring lineup is necessarily slimmer; only 10 contributors will be along for the ride at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, including Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce of Bon Iver, Ivan Rosebud of the Rosebuds and Mike Lewis of Andrew Bird. But Olson has plans to keep Gayngs going — even if the next round of songs might bear scarce resemblance to ‘Relayted.'

‘I want to do more things in this zone. It probably won't be soft rock, because I don't necessarily want to stay in the same style of music, but I do want to stay in the same style of how we make that music,' said Olson. ‘Keep the same cluster of people, because it was just such a productive, fun way to make music. But who knows what it'll sound like? Maybe next time I'll base the whole thing off of Kool and the Gang.'