Like many of us, Alien Book Club went into spring 2020 with aspirations and excitement. The band was recording songs for a new album and bringing their energetic, interstellar punk to basements and stages across the Twin Cities. But of course, many of those plans were thwarted by mid-March as Minnesota’s stay at home order went into effect.
Now, the St. Paul-based band has funneled their energy into the playfully titled EP, …And I’m Not Even Having Fun Anymore. While the sentiment is one many of us can probably relate to, but the EP isn’t all doom and gloom. The album artwork, designed by Alexis Politz, shows each of the band’s six members smiling and pulling faces with a face mask or space helmet sketched around their heads.
The six-piece band is composed of Anita (guitar/vocals, she/her), Andrea (bass/vocals, she/her), Thomas (drums, he/him), Meek (keyboards/synths, he/him), Amber (guitar, she/her), and Allison (saxophones/maraca/flute/trumpet, she/her). It’s hard to pin down the band’s sound, and between its six members Alien Book Club’s influences range from Frank Zappa to Snarky Puppy to John Carpenter and Stravinzky.
…And I’m Not Even Having Fun Anymore delivers narrative lyrics, fluctuating time signatures, saxophone shredding, and punk-inspired guitar riffs. While it’s only three songs long, the EP takes its listeners on a colorful voyage from New York to outer space to a raucous house party in Fargo, ND.
Alien Book Club originally planned to release the EP on May 26, but they ran into a roadblock when they realized that their digital distributor doesn’t allow albums to begin with an ellipses (talk about “not even having fun anymore”). The EP is still slated to release ASAP, but in the meantime, you can check out Alien Book Club’s new music video for “Pathetic,” which pays homage to campy horror films and memories from tour.
I wanted to learn more about Alien Book Club and their new EP, so I hopped on a Zoom call with the band. I chatted with Andrea, Anita, and Allison from Alien Book Club’s home base/home studio. The three of them quipped playfully at each other between questions, and Amber popped into frame occasionally to answer a question. We talked about the band’s recording process, their favorite fictional rodents, their love for Minnesota’s music scene, and more.
Let’s get started with some introductions. If you all want to go around and say your name, your pronouns, and the instrument that you play?
Andrea: I’m Andrea. I play bass. And I sing vocals. My pronouns are she/her.
Anita: I’m Anita. I use she/her pronouns. I play vocals [laughs] and sing guitar.
Allison: I’m Allison. I use she/her pronouns. I play all the saxophones and flute and sort of trumpet.
Anita: And maraca briefly.
Allison: And maraca. Until I broke it.
Amber: I’m Amber. She/her. I play guitar.
So how have you been doing these past couple months? Have you picked up any quarantine hobbies or anything that’s been helping you get by?
Anita: We’ve been working really hard on recording. But other than that, we’re all doing different activities. Drinking Jeopardy! has been my thing. If I don’t get an episode an episode of Jeopardy! in every night, I’m not going to have a very fun quarantine time.
Allison: My hobbies have really been taking off. I’ve been selling a lot of shrinky dink earrings. And trying to skateboard. And learning how to play bass.
Anita: How’s the skateboarding going?
Allison: I can do an ollie.
It seems like you all are kind of like one big family at Alien Book Club. How did you all start playing music together and become a band?
Anita: All of the members kind of joined one at a time. We had another band — this goes back to like 2014 — we had another band and it kind of fell apart before a gig. So Andrea and I practiced for two weeks and got the drummer of that other band to play a show. So that’s how the three of us started playing. I reached out to someone online about playing keyboard and I got Meek. I got Amber — we were working at a record store and the record store closed and I knew she played guitar, and eventually she joined the band. A jam session between these two [Andrea and Allison] resulted in us asking Allison to join our band. So we’ve only been playing the six of us since…
Allison: The end of October.
Anita: It wasn’t until then that we were a tight-knit, living together ordeal. It was more like a side project.
How did the three of you start playing music, and when did you start playing your instruments?
Andrea: I have been playing music for a really long time, but I started with singing and piano and then I played violin for a long time. I was starting to want to play bass a couple of years ago so that we could just play together at home for fun. And then when that other band fell through and that gig needed to be played, I practiced a shit ton [laughs]. And then knew how to really play the bass. So I’ve just been playing a couple years.
Allison: I started taking piano lessons when I was in fourth grade and then in fifth grade I joined band and started playing bari sax in band. I did that through high school and did a lot of jazz and marching band and all of that stuff. Then in college I went for music education and jazz studies. So I got a music degree. And I was in a previous band before this called Paper Parlor that I played in and toured with for a year before I joined Alien Book Club that was based out of Duluth. I went to school at UMD. And then I moved to the [Twin] Cities. I didn’t really play much for four months or so. And then I joined [Alien Book Club].
Anita: You might have the most musical pedigree out of all of us. Not probably, you definitely do. Allison is the most well-trained.
Allison: I mean I’m a classically trained musician.
Anita: You have a degree that says “I’m good at music.”
If that’s not serious I don’t know what is.
Anita: My sister was taking piano lessons when I was growing up and I just started dicking around on the piano, trying to write stuff and my parents were like, “Oh, they should be in piano lessons. Of course.” I hated piano lessons and kind of gave up on that. Then I did choir in high school which is where I met Andrea. And then I joined a band in high school playing drums and did that for a year or two. Also really wasn’t good at drums. That band broke up and I moved away and I started making music on my own, and found that that was really what I wanted to do — write.
Andrea: How long have you been playing guitar though — the instrument that you play.
Anita: I don’t know. Five years?
Andrea: A lot longer than that. You were playing guitar in high school.
Anita: Six years? Seven? Oh god, no — like ten years!
Listening to Alien Book Club, there are so many different influences in your music. That’s one of the things that I love about your sound; if someone asked me, “What genre is Alien Book Club?” I’d be like, “I don’t exactly know,” but I like that. Would you say that you all have pretty different tastes in music, or are there certain things that you all agree on?
Anita: Definitely in our free time we listen to wildly different things. I listen to a lot of Zappa, I’ve been listening to a lot of Johnny Paycheck. Been listening to some Stravinsky.
Allison: In quarantine I’ve been listening to a lot more emo stuff and also Snarky Puppy has been cool. Kamasi Washington, lately. And then just some random other acoustic stuff.
Anita: I think the big common thing between all of us, even though we listen to different music, is that all of us have really diverse tastes. None of us really like just one genre.
I wanted to learn a little bit more about this new EP, …And I’m Not Even Having Fun Anymore. When did that project come together?
Anita: We had an album planned — a full-length album that we were doing and had started recording for it. And then the beginning of quarantine happened in early March. We were like, “There’s no way we’re going to finish all of these songs, we need to do an EP.” We just picked these three — I’d like to say because they go really well together, but it’s really just because they were the only three that were close to being done. So we kind of just slapped it all together and gave it a stupid title.
So you had already recorded these three before quarantine happened?
Anita: We had recorded about half of them. For this EP, we recorded here. So I had drums and some basic guitars recorded for it. We were trying to get all the drums for everything else and then shit hit the fan. So we were like, “Ok, let’s just record everything on top of these three songs.”
Do you record most of your stuff at home, or have you worked in other places before?
Anita: It used to be that I recorded everything at home and mixed it all, but then the last two EPs that we’ve done, we went to Jack Daily from his band Fox Theory — we went to his studio and recorded there. But this EP, we went back to recording at home. Although we did send it out to Abe Anderson to mix it. He did an incredible job. I’ll never mix my own stuff again because he does it so much better.
What are some of the things that you like about recording from home?
Anita: You don’t have to pay for session time, which I love. So you don’t have to feel like, “I have to get it in this amount of time.” You just get it when you get it. Which can be bad, because then you can end up procrastinating. But being able to look for the right take and let go of all of the stress. It’s just so much easier to get what you want when you’re in the comfort of your own home.
Yeah I feel like that environment probably makes a big difference in how these songs sound. Do you usually track parts individually, or live as a band?
Anita: We track individually. We usually do drums, bass, guitar, sax, keys, all the extra stuff. It would be nice to record live someday — to have the capabilities to do that. That is the dream, I guess. Record at home, but live.
But I know that probably poses its own set of challenges.
Anita: Yeah. Just turning my house into a studio, at that point.
It seems like a lot of songs on the EP are pretty story-driven. Is there a certain way that you usually write; lyrics first, vs. music?
Anita: I almost always write music first, and then I’ll put off lyrics until the very last minute. And then something will strike me and I’ll be like, “It has to be this.” Even [the song] “John Carpenter’s Escape from New York,” I wrote that the day before we sent it off to get mixed. I was just like, “I need some lyrics, let’s watch a John Carpenter movie.” I felt like “Escape from New York” had a lot of current theme tie-ins and references [our] past material as well so it has continuity. Sometimes the idea just strikes and you have to take advantage of that.
Anita: “Pathetic” is a real story — well, semi-real. It’s about a guy whose house we stayed at in Fargo, North Dakota when we played a show out there. We stayed the night at his house and he was kind enough to let him do that. We returned the favor by getting really rowdy. We were with another band.
Allison: There were ten of us in this house.
Anita: Yeah, ten of us in this house. We kind of just immediately started a party.
Allison: It doesn’t usually happen. They encouraged it, too.
Anita: They did. Willie was kind of just an obnoxious guy. He kept going on about how he was a piercer, and how cool that was. We went to go shotgun a beer and I was like, “Oh, Shotgun Willie” [for the 1973 Willie Nelson song and album] because I had been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson. And it just made him really, really upset. It’s such a “you had to be there” story, but I had to put in in a song. When I say it like that, we were assholes to a guy and then wrote a song about it. Doesn’t paint us in the best light. But if you were there, you would have been like, “Write this song.”
Are there any other places that you look for for inspiration?
Anita: Local music I think is the biggest other inspiration. Every time we came to a road block, more often than not we found ourselves turning to what some of our peers had been doing. There’s a part in “Pathetic” that has this chugga-chugga punk thing that has this chromatic [downward movement] that instantly reminds me of VIAL. For the outro on “Escape from New York,” we were like, “How do we make this how it needs to be?” And we were like, “Marmalade. Let’s make it sound like Marmalade.” Another part on “Pathetic,” we tried to rip of Lapdogs.
Allison: We didn’t rip them off [laughs].
Anita: We rip them off in a very tasteful way. I just turn to local music. We have a really amazing scene in the Twin Cities. I got my start playing drums in Las Vegas. And Las Vegas is a totally different scene, and doesn’t have half of what the Twin Cities has. It really makes me appreciate what we do have. And playing more shows has made me appreciate these other bands.
I know that one of the main ways as a band that you connect with the local music scene is playing shows, and you obviously haven’t been able to do that for a while. Are there any other ways that you’ve been able to find that community while in quarantine?
Anita: The ways that we’ve been interacting with people have been through Instagram and Twitter. Allison does our Twitter.
Allison: I tweet random things sometimes. I made a fictional rodent bracket.
Did you fill out the rodent bracket, and if so, who was your winning rodent?
Anita: Mine, I think I said was Despereaux, but it’s definitely Pikachu.
Allison: I said either Maisie, or Angelina Ballerina.
Anita: Amber says Chuck E. Cheese, which is a garbage choice. But I’ll take it for the meme.
I know you all also have a music video that’s going to come out before the EP release. Is there anything that you can tell me about the video?
Anita: The music video was made by Luke [Michaels] from the Florists and Tessa [Loeffler]. Luke and Tessa were really hard at work finishing this music video. It’s essentially five really bad B-horror movies crammed into one. One of the horror shorts is Amber is giving Andrea an eyebrow piercing with a needle pin and accidentally stabs Andrea’s eye. So we have all this fake blood and gore, and we have an egg that we drew a little eye on and stabbed the egg. Lots of just dumb props and fake blood. It’s gross, but really, really entertaining.
You all also contributed a song to the Brace Cove Records quarantine compilation. How did you get involved with that project and what song did you contribute?
Anita: Allison, being the savvy social media person that she is, noticed that Brace Cove tweeted that they were looking for submissions, and immediately sent it to us. I was like, I have this song on the back burner, I don’t really think it would be good on an album, so let’s record it in a couple days. So we did, and honestly it’s one of my favorite songs that we’ve ever done.
You meet a lot of really weird people going to punk shows and going to punk houses. There’s this guy, I don’t know if you’ve met him at shows. He doesn’t have a name. He has no shoes and he goes to all of these punk shows without shoes. He’s an interesting fellow. And there are also other interesting fellows who, what really gets them off is to be eaten alive. That’s interesting! That’s fascinating! People like that need a song! It’s kind of cute in a way, if someone’s eating you.
Allison: “Baby won’t you eat my face!”
Anita: It is cute! You know?
Anita: It is! Don’t judge. If that’s what really they need to do, then they should do it with someone they love. And that’s all they have to say.
One thing that I’ve been trying to do a lot more these days is read. Since you’re Alien Book Club, I was hoping that you would have some quarantine book recommendations for me?
Anita: I’m going to be real — I haven’t read a book in like — I might have been like six years old the last time I read a book.
Andrea: No, you read for a brief time in college.
Anita: Yeah, it’s been a few years. We’re a sham.
Allison: Over quarantine I read “The Secret Garden.” It was pretty good. I really like classic literature a lot. I would recommend it.
Andrea: I haven’t read any books in quarantine either. But a recent book that I read was really relevant and I really like it — it’s called “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s about people dying of disease, and kind of apocalyptic. They talk about what life is like before and after and during the collapse of society, and it was really good.
Amber: I’ve been reading a lot of different books. Right now I’m reading a book called “Heavy[: An American Memoir]” which is a memoir by Kiese Laymon. It’s sort of about his growing up as an African American man in this country, and how that has not been amazing. That’s what I’ve been reading.
Is there anything else you’re looking forward to?
Anita: I can’t wait until people can go out to shows again. I hope this EP helps people get through a day or something.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.