This weekend I invited Troy Gion of Disappear Forever, Supercruiser, and Gals to talk about the upcoming Halloween show at the Aquarium. For years the Aquarium has played host to a unique event each Halloween wherein local bands play covers of one specific artist, sometimes even dressing up as that band to complete the illusion. For longtime Aquarium goers, this is a night to look forward to each year; a night where we get to see our favorite locals do something different; a night where we can hear artists’ influences; and a night to have some rocking fun.
Here’s what Troy had to say about this year’s lineup, the history of the event, and the Fargo music scene:
Nik: So Troy, you’ve been the organizer of the Aquarium Halloween shindig for a bit now. Tell me about how that got started and how you became involved.
Troy: It’s always been a tradition there that pre-dates my involvement, but about four years ago no one was going to book it. I talked to Diane Miller and she said there weren’t plans to do it, so I volunteered. Every year since, it’s been something I do and I always look forward to it. It’s a means to break up the norm of a band. It’s refreshing to have a project to focus on for a bit with a band, and then move on to other things. I really appreciate what the Aquarium has done in this town and this event showcases local bands in a unique way.
Nik: So it’s been a thing kind of forever.
Troy: Ever since I turned 21 anyway ,it’s always been a thing there.
Nik: And you took up the mantle to keep the tradition alive?
Troy: Yep, I missed one year because I was in Florida, but I’ve done three of the last four Halloween shows. I love dressing up for Halloween, so it’s a natural progression to have one big party a year. I don’t consider it my party, I’m just here to facilitate. It’s always about the Aquarium.
Nik: Tell me about this year’s lineup.
Troy: The Electric Blankets are playing Smashing Pumpkins, Gneil is playing AJJ (Andrew Jackson Jihad), Disappear Forever is covering Modest Mouse, Products (from Minneapolis) is covering The Talking Heads, and I’m doing an 80s tribute again. We’re just calling that Bueller this year.
Nik: Like the Yacht Rock set last year?
Troy: Yeah, total 80s homage.
Nik: That was awesome last year.
Troy: Not without its hairy moments, but…
Nik: As long as you bust out some Baker Street or something, nobody’s going to care how hairy it is.
Troy: This year we’re going to do “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now” by Starship, “Danger Zone,” “Hungry Eyes.” Some really nice mid-tempo stuff. I’m excited for that, too.
Nik: What made you take on Modest Mouse with Disappear Forever this time around?
Troy: Ultimately, it was adoration for the band. Diving deep into one artist is what it’s all about and we all wanted to learn more Modest Mouse. It’s not super Halloween-y but at the same time it’s just a band that we all appreciate. It’s cool to take what we do for original music and compare it and see how we pull from different musicians. You can really learn from that band and become their hands or their voice.
Nik: It’s rewarding to learn another musician’s music and be able to apply that to your own writing. Maybe borrow a few tricks even?
Nik: If Modest Mouse isn’t Halloween-y, what is?
Troy: I guess more goth or dark bands. Even surfy. I think of Treehouse of Horror on The Simpsons. There would be like Theremin and other spooky sounds. We thought about doing Interpol tunes instead, but Modest Mouse won out.
Nik: So maybe bands that already do costumes and makeup lend themselves to this event?
Troy: Yeah, last year we did The Cure and it was maybe more appropriate.
Nik: So less makeup this year? It does make a difference. People are dressing up for Halloween anyway. Having several Robert Smith’s on stage last year was magical.
Troy: It was so silly. We could dress like the whole band, or just the most iconic guy in the band. We did the latter.
Nik: How do you find original bands that want to do a whole tribute set?
Troy: It’s first come, first serve. I put out a call on social media. Sometimes I’ll ask certain people because I know they have an idea they’ve been crafting. It’s very natural and organic. Sometimes members from multiple bands get together or one person knows a lot of songs by so-and-so. Then people organize around that.
Nik: It’s fun to see original bands do covers. It shows influences and depth. I would never have guessed that Electric Blankets are into Smashing Pumpkins, but here they are doing that, and I can’t wait to see it. I remember there was a mash up year, too.
Troy: Yeah, we did Fleetwood Mac and Iron Maiden as one band. Fleetwood Maiden.
Nik: I don’t even know what to think except, yes! Show me that! If nothing else I’ll laugh my ass off.
Troy: It worked out well. We were all surprised by how the songs fit together. The end of “Go Your Own Way” lines up with “The Number of the Beast” so well. “Little Lies” as a speed metal tune was my favorite. I wish we could do even more of that, but I hate repeating a costume and stuff. There isn’t a hard rule, like, “Oh you did that four years ago so you can’t again.” So maybe in the future.
Nik: I like that it’s organic and doesn’t need rules like that. Rules tend toward exclusivity and it seems that you don’t want that.
Troy: Yeah I’d much rather have openness. Ultimately, it’s for fun and to celebrate my favorite holiday. It’s a cool night of imagination. Inhibitions are a little different. People take on new personalities as they ‘become’ a character for the night.
Nik: Halloween is interesting because it is really liminal. It’s the opportunity to be someone else. You’re not yourself. You’re outside of the usual and people act differently.
Troy: Like a mandatory full moon for everybody.
Nik: So the Aquarium is one of the mainstays of the Fargo music scene. Talk to me about the scene now, and how it’s changed in your time here.
Troy: It’s interesting how it ebbs and flows. There isn’t one specific scene that anyone can say is Fargo. I can go to Youngblood right now and talk to the guys from Phobophilic and have a great conversation and then come over here and talk to you about something else. I feel like the scene is just based around good people. Solid folks. It’s a scene of natural friendships. It’s not even like, “They’re a great band so I will follow them,” for me. It’s easy to like a lot of bands because they’re good people. I’m going to support them because they’re super sweet and genuine regardless of the genre.
Nik: I wonder if it’s different other places. We’re small enough that we know a lot of musicians personally. I have one of the Phobophilic guitars in the shop right now, coincidentally. I don’t know if that idea would occur elsewhere: we’re people first and the music thing is secondary.
Troy: It’s a connection of course, playing music. But as long as no one’s a meathead about it, we’re all hanging out doing what we do. If others take it more seriously that’s cool. I don’t want to tour, but this is a great place for a lot of bands to start off doing that because it’s not oversaturated. I feel like people who come here are surprised by the caliber of some of the bands in Fargo. “Whoa I’d never expect this band from Fargo to write this style or play so well!” Out-of-town touring bands are pleasantly surprised when they play a show here.
Nik: Yeah, every time I open for someone I want to bring it! And I also want to show people how cool Fargo is. They should know there’s something cool happening in Fargo on a Tuesday.
Troy: That’s the beauty of it. The Tuesday Sidestreet jam is so cool and while it’s not a genre that I’m super comfortable in I still love to go see them and they’re all great dudes.
Nik: Right? Pat and Travis and the gang are approachable and genre is an interesting thought in this scene. There is so much crossover by necessity. A guy like Max Johnk plays jazz all the time and then harder stuff with Wild Amphora and super hard stuff with Errorist and Benefactor. Maybe in a bigger city you can just go see your favorite genre and there are like 50 clubs for that, but I feel like musicians here are more open to a variety of genres, both in playing and listening.
Troy: Yeah I mean you could go to Seagrave and see a noise show, too. It’s amazing how it works out and I’m very grateful for that. I feel that I can talk to most people about what they do and I can appreciate their art more and learn about it.
Nik: Tell me about Disappear Forever. I just saw you all last week with Heart Bones and Gully Boys. How long have you been doing that?
Troy: Just about a year. Charlie has been doing it for six years and we used to play shows with them when I was in Gals. They eventually broke up a few years ago and Charlie wasn’t playing. Again it was an organic, simple thing where I saw him and I asked him to send his songs to me because I wanted to hear them again. He asked if I wanted to jam. He happened to be on an upcoming bill and I offered to fill the band out and there it is. I did my homework and showed up to the first jam knowing his tunes and that made it click.
Nik: Is it easier to have a writer/bandleader/person in charge?
Troy: I would say so if you’re after a style or want to progress logically. We can appreciate and support that and help write for it. Charlie has always said it’s our music. He writes most of the songs, but we’re here to create together.
Nik: Do you prefer fulfilling some else’s vision or making your own music?
Troy: Collaboration. I always find that working in a group is more fulfilling because it’s this entire idea that’s bigger than me. When I write, it’s with no intention. Just to let things out. Pure catharsis. I feel fulfilled in playing something and letting it go or writing with friends. If I can’t collaborate on a project I’d struggle to be into it. Like if someone wants me to just play a part, that’s not for me.
Nik: Is it easier to make art without that pressure or goal, like this is the next great American novel or album?
Troy: I don’t think anyone goes into the studio to write the next big thing. Whatever I create I’m biased and I obviously love it and am a part of it. Where it goes from there is not really up to you as the artist.
Nik: Yeah, I guess critical reception is up to the audience.
Troy: It’s like Mozart. He wrote music for a lot of reasons, but none of them were probably so we would sit here and talk about it hundreds of years later.
Nik: There are so many people in that category like Nick Drake or someone who no one cared about, but then they find an audience even posthumously.
Troy: Like Penny and the Quarters. They were this sixties family band that recorded and broke up. Then someone found the master tapes and published them. All of a sudden it’s 2019 and people are listening to them and they may not even know that they have that ‘fame.’
Nik: They had no intention or imagining of the series of circumstances that would make them ‘famous.’ I think when I was younger I had a desire to make music that I thought people would like. As I’ve gotten older I prefer the idea of making art I like and if someone latches onto that, awesome. If not, I almost don’t care. I didn’t do this for you. I didn’t study jazz guitar for you. Coming from art school it’s been a shift from thinking of art as a commodity. Now I make music for fun but still struggle with high expectations. Making art for art’s sake is a totally different mentality.
Troy: I agree. There is a certain amount of stress prepping the Halloween show. There are moments where even as friends making music together we’re going to struggle. But I try to put in as much work as early as I can so we can just rehearse it. But everyone learns differently and we’re all adults doing our own things. I don’t dog people too much like, “why aren’t you more prepared?” When it comes to a cover show at a bar, the music is almost second to the party. It’s an excuse to do something fun. Last year with The Cure act we each had a song we didn’t want to play. But eventually, we all came around to enjoying each one.
Nik: Do you find silver linings in tunes that way? “I don’t dig this… but that bass line, though….”
Troy: Absolutely. Like there’s a Cure tune where Robert Smith says something like, “I love to see you eat in the middle of the night.” Bob has a feeder/gainer thing going on there or something.
Nik: So there’s an interest in food play or…?
Troy: Who knows? Or maybe the song is about someone he knew who had an eating disorder. I don’t know. It just seems like he enjoyed the idea of watching someone eat…
Nik: …in the middle of the night. I think I enjoy that, too. It’s not a fetish for me.
Troy: Just watching? I mean, I definitely like eating in the middle of the night.
Nik: Yeah, some of my favorite hangs of all time are those meals after gigs. It’s enjoyable to eat with people in the middle of the night. It’s a liminal thing again. We’re not supposed to be having dinner at 2am, but here we are, separated from the norm.
Troy: Sometimes with lyrics, it’s like, “what does that even mean?” In “Danger Zone,” Kenny Loggins is like, “when you say hello to you.” What does that mean? Is it like in the context of Top Gun? You’re flying so fast you catch back up with yourself? I don’t know.
Nik: It might just not make sense.
And you can stop making sense, too, Halloween night at the Aquarium. Catch Bueller, Disappear Forever, Gneil, Electric Blankets, and Products this Thursday, October 31st. Doors at 8pm, show at 9pm. $5 cover with costume, $10 without. Costume contest winners picked at midnight!