El Paso Music Scene

20 Minute Loop Interview


From left: Joe Ostrowski: electric guitars, Greg Giles: vocals and guitar, Mike Romano: drums, Kelly Atkins: vocals and keyboards, Nils Erickson: bass

The Band:
Joe Ostrowski - electric guitars
Greg Giles - vocals and guitar
Mike Romano - drums
Kelly Atkins - vocals and keyboards
Nils Erickson - bass

EPMS Note: When I reached 20 Minute Loop by phone, the five members were traveling in their van to their next stop, Iowa City, Iowa. My interview was with Kelly Atkins, vocalist and keyboard player for the group, but some contributions were made by other members of the band. These came about as Kelly would yell some of my questions to them for their input, then relay their answers back to me.

EPMS: Describe the music of 20 Minute Loop:

Kelly: We do pretty alternative, quirky, indie rock, it's kind of geek-pop, which we call "freak-pop". We do lots of harmonies, interesting arrangements. We have a vintage keyboard, 2 guitars, drums, bass, boy and girl singers, and our music does rock.

We have quite a pop foundation, it's catchy, arty, but still poppy.

EPMS: Define freak-pop:

Kelly: Dynamic start-stop arrangements, off-time arrangements, close attention to dynamics, occasional dissonance. Somewhat surreal lyrics. (Someone else in the band) says you can chicken dance to it, whatever that means.

EPMS: What kind of off-time arrangements?

Kelly: For instance, in It's Time to Honor Ghouls, we switch from 7/8 to 4/4. It gets tricky.

EPMS: When it's in 7/8, which notes get the downbeat?

Kelly: Just on the first note.

EPMS: Have you ever been to El Paso?

Kelly: No, this is our first time. Another band from San Francisco recommended we go to El Paso.

EPMS: What other band was that?

Kelly: Griddle.

EPMS: Could the Dictionary Story thing
(EPMS Note: defined at the bottom of this page)
be used to solve earth's problems?

Nils: If you came across the right combination of words, probably yes. Like the Kabbalah.

EPMS: How long has 20 Minute Loop been using the Dictionary Story to write lyrics?

Kelly: A couple of months... This album, Yawn + House = Explosion, came from a dictionary story by an eleven-year-old. Maybe one and a half or two months. This album concept was from a little girl we know, a very creative girl. She writes surrealist stories, she also did art for the record. Her stuff is also on the album cover.

EPMS: So, could she solve earth's problems?

Kelly: Probably. Yes, we think she could, she's quite a unique little girl. She creates problems for her mom, but she should be able to solve the earth's problems at same time.

EPMS: What kind of van are you traveling in?

Kelly: It's a small van, a twelve-seater, with one seat removed for equipment, so we're kind of squeezed in. We have five people in the van, and we're a little over three thousand miles into the tour. Right now we're leaving Chicago, where we played last night, on our way to Iowa city. Then we'll hit Oklahoma City, Austin, El Paso... We've been to Oregon, Salt Lake City, Denver ...

EPMS: You only spent one night in Chicago?

Kelly: Yeah, just one night. Chicago is cool. There was a lot of thunder and lightning.

EPMS: Most road bands don't make money on the tour. How has 20 Minute Loop done, financially, on the tours you've done?

Kelly: We're basically covering expenses. Touring is hard. When you're in a big band, things change. At our level, it's a DIY kind of thing. We're not making big money at this point. It's more about promoting the band.

EPMS: How high up the food chain does a band have to be to make money touring?

Kelly: Pretty high. I have friends that have deals with major labels, which is everybody's goal, but then the label gets purchased, everything changes, and they don't actually get anywhere. Few bands actually make money. I'd say the top 3% of bands have power. Music is pretty much the worst business to make money in, in entertainment. One good thing about being at our level, we have complete control, we just aren't making any money.

(another member shouts something to Kelly) Especially in alternative music.

EPMS: So, how many American bands actually make money touring?

Kelly: That's a hard question. I know lots of musicians, at our level, and they all still have day jobs, except cover bands. Our drummer (Mike Romano) says seven (total bands making money). LOL.

EPMS: Who does makes money in music? Must be somebody.

Kelly: Oh, cover bands, DJs, wedding bands, which are mostly cover bands, producers, promoters, people that aren't actually performing. If we were really smart, we'd be a soul cover band. No, I don't think we could do that.

EPMS: What kinds of day jobs do you have?

Kelly: Nils teaches guitar, I do legal work, negotiating contracts. Our other singer (Greg Giles) is a grad student in English lit...

EPMS: There's lots of money in that!

Kelly: LOL. Our drummer is a national foods manager. We all toil during the day to play music at night. Adam is a scientist.

EPMS: What kind of scientist?

Kelly: Biotech.

EPMS: He should be sponsoring the tour, then.

Kelly: LOL. (to rest of band) He says Adam should be paying for the tour! (to me) He didn't say anything.

EPMS: What has touring the country taught you?

Kelly: Umm, to be a closer, tighter unit. We play every night, so we have to be close.

EPMS: It seems to me that, here in El Paso, the musicians are less egotistical than the people that aren't musicians.

Kelly: Egos work against you, definitely. Touring also teaches humility. When you leave your home town, where you have a following and play big shows, to go on the road, where people don't know you. It's great, though, because you meet interesting people.

EPMS: Who is the most interesting person you've met?

Kelly: There's an owner of a diner called Zell's in Portland, Oregon. She was just like the mom on the road we were looking for, super-supportive and nice. All the club owners are really supportive and sweet. Maybe the waitresses at Hineys will be the most interesting people.

EPMS: How long has 20 Minute Loop been touring?

Kelly: The band has been around seven years, and has toured the southwest and the northwest before. This is the band's sixth or seventh tour. This is our longest, and farthest east.

EPMS: How many months out of year do you tour?

Kelly: Probably one or two. We play most of the time around California, sometimes we go up north to Oregon and Washington. We're trying to tour more, but we all have day jobs.

EPMS: El Paso is quite a bilingual city. Do any of your band members speak a foreign language?

Kelly: Greg and I dabble in French. Evidently Nils speaks Spanish. (He calls out something in crude Spanish). I lived in France a year, and I spoke French pretty well then, but don't speak it like I could then.

EPMS: What advice do you have for bands on the verge of touring?

Kelly: (Getting answers from multiple band members) Plan well in advance. Eat your vegetables on tour. Bring pillows and towels. Getting shows is quite difficult, you need to start calling venues several months ahead of time. Be outgoing.

EPMS: Does 20 Minute Limit like Mexican food?

Kelly: We love it. There is a large latino community in California, too. I eat Mexican food four or five times a week .

EPMS: Why do you pick on Tony Danza so much in your lyrics?

Kelly: He's a constant inspiration. Our drummer is lying, he says Tony Danza is a good friend of the band. It's amazing how he's so uncool yet popular.

Greg Giles: Because Tony Danza is the boss..

EPMS Note: 20 Minute Loop will be at Hiney's on Monday, May 16.

- Charles Hurley

This description of The Dictionary Story was stolen from www.20minuteloop.com:
The Dictionary Story, originally called the arbilexicon, is a kind of reverse Mad Libs, in which a conventional number of words randomly selected from a dictionary (usually ten) serve as the springboard for a short story; that is to say, the words chosen at random must be used in the body of the story. I-Ching and tarot advocates often use the same principle of random selection in order to prognosticate or characterize some aspect of themselves or their future. The only difference is that the tyranny of random selection is partly overcome by the arbilexicographer, because this kind of writer can choose to reject a word and attempt to find one more pleasing; constraint is loosely enforced, in other words, but the writer can only reject ten words before the next one must be chosen. Arbitrary originally meant nearly the opposite of what it means today: It referred to the preference of the subject for the objects chosen, the subject's mediation; it still retains this sense more strongly in its legal meaning (think of the verb arbitrate), whereas more commonly we think of the word as a synonym for random. It was the arbilexicon that caused the etymological confusion, because of the limit put upon the writer to reject only ten words, and more importantly, the fact that the words could only be randomly selected. As often happens, and as Jacques Derrida expresses again and again, a single word inhabits opposite meanings, because everything is meaningless without opposites, without play.

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