John Maus: The Sound of the North

John Maus is a Minnesota boy. Hailing from Austin, MN, Maus is best known in the local music scene for… nothing. When talking to a John Maus fan in Minneapolis and you mention that he’s actually from the area, more often than not you will be met with bewildered looks and comments such as “Woah, I had no idea.”. Though as a musician Maus is more likely to be associated with Ariel Pink, who he has worked with in the past, and artists such as Gary War and current tour mates Puro Instinct and Geneva Jacuzzi, when you imagine yourself driving through Minnesota, headed to some point unknown, Maus makes perfect sense as a Minnesotan musician.

As I sit in a bathroom outside of the MPLS.TV office space in Northeast Minneapolis preparing to call John, the thing I’m wondering about is if he feels like a “Minnesota artist”? Does he have that close connection to the state and that pride of place that so many artists loudly proclaim? When I reach Maus he is stopped at a gas station somewhere along his tour route (which makes me feel much more comfortable about conducting an interview perched on a window sill in a bathroom). Within a few minutes of talking to him it becomes quite clear that his connection to Minnesota is strong, as is the influence that our state has had on him. “It feels like I begin from here. The landscape informs my work, especially the prairie of Southern Minnesota”, he states. When asked about how his work fits into the sound of Minnesota’s music, Maus tells me, “People think of a more folk, acoustic sound palette. I reject that. The sound of the North is more mysterious, brilliant and important. The work should have a solitude about it.”. His work does indeed have a solitude about it. The lo-fi quality of the music and the monotonous, deadpan, but no less powerful vocals, John’s music feels very removed. Although in the current landscape of music this a somewhat common trend, it is sound he has been working with well before it came into vogue. From his debut album, Songs (2006) to Love is Real (2007) to his upcoming release We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (available this Tuesday, June 28th, from Ribbon Music), John’s music reflects the rural atmosphere of his home in southern MN. “It’s not the Great Plains, it’s not the river valley. It’s a middle space. A strange, dull in between.”, as John describes the area.

When further discussing his music and it’s connection to MN, John states, “It’s the idea of the North. It makes perfect sense. The winter opens up something else… there’s a coldness and expansiveness that cannot be put into a tightly controlled flow”. This sentiment is perfectly expressed in his new video for “Head for the Country”. Filmed in Austin, MN, the video, directed by Jennifer Juniper Stratford, captures the desolateness of his home, while also drawing parallels to the ultimate rural location: the void of outer space.

For all those who feel a connection to Minnesota, for all those who sometimes feel isolated in the often barren no mans land of Minnesota, John Maus is for you. He’s been here. He is here. He is Minnesota music. “I claim the sound of the North; the vikings, the tundra. I answer to that. That’s what I remember. The sound of a car on the highway, the shift change horn, the night-like openness. Even in the summer it’s electric, thick with humidity. You can’t capture that with the sound of an acoustic guitar”.

While his music might reflect the more somber tones of Minnesota’s presence, his live performances are filled with the powerful energy that we all know Minnesota contains. John’s performances are noted for his wild, erratic, hair pulling, shirt grabbing, fist pumping enthusiasm. Having seen him perform in some odd locations in the past (above a paintball shop in the U of M area and at a dark warehouse in the middle of the afternoon at SXSW) I’m interested to see him at the 7th St. Entry tomorrow night. This show will not disappoint, and we here at MPLS.TV encourage you all to come out to see and hear a different take on the sound of our great state.

Check out John’s new album, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, now streaming on NPR and pick it up in stores this Tuesday, June 28th.