Interview: The Florists Talk Creative Urgency and Messy Demos in Campus Basements

TESSA LOEFFLER| Photo Courtesy

When it comes to stories of band formation, you never quite know what to expect. Did I ever think I’d meet a band where stand-up comedy was involved? No, but I am glad I did.

The Florists first formed three years ago when lead singer and guitarist Jo Kellen and drummer Jared Hemming realized they were both fans of a lot of the same music. The pair met through their stints as stand-up comedians during their undergraduate years at the University of Minnesota. After jamming at Jo’s place a few times, they recorded a demo in the basement of Stanford Hall on campus. They toured around as a two-piece until Hemming met bassist Luke Michaels working at the campus radio station, Radio K.

All three bonded over a shared love for the band Pavement. Kellen admitted it was a big part of their bonding in the beginning, but added there are many other varied bands that influence their sound. “There’s a lot of influences on our sound,” Kellen said. “I think it’s kinda drastic. We love all kinds of different stuff. I’d say Unwound is a pretty big one. We love the Pixies, Dismemberment Plan, Parquet Courts (Parkay Quarts), LCD Soundsystem and Blondie. We like a lot of new wave.” They added, “Essentially, anything that is kinda noisy and maybe a little lyrical and trying to warp that pop formula that we all love and are excited to experiment with and totally ruin it.” Hemming summarized, “I think the best way to describe us as a band is that we’re like The Flaming Lips except we won’t turn into assholes one day.”

In the three short years the band has been together, the Florists have released two EPs and currently have an LP in the works. Recording music is no doubt a time consuming process.

When asked how they find the time, Kellen answered, “I think it’s just sheer creative urgency that is a feeling we all share. We all just love playing. I think that with how much of our lives that we have committed to just doing this, it is fair to say that we privilege it above other more traditional career ambitions that our peers might follow. I also think an unfortunate consequence of the society we live in is that productivity is kind of a cult. It’s like something you have to continue producing and making and showcasing your ambitions in order to stay relevant. I think we sometimes feel that pressure like I am sure anyone in other lines of work could relate to.”

The band wouldn’t divulge any secrets regarding the LP or its anticipated release date, but they did share their plans for another tour starting in September.

Also, quick shout-out to Jo for setting up this interview even though they were in the middle of driving at the time. They are a rock star in both a figurative and literal sense.

Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): This isn’t unique to the Florists. Many regional bands do this as well, but why do you opt for cassette as your physical copy instead of say a 7-inch vinyl?

Jo Kellen (JK): You know, I know there’s all these rumors. I know everyone talks about how rich we are, but we are not. I love tapes, but I’m not super drawn to them. I wasn’t deliberately like, “We must put this record on tape. It’s the way it was meant to be heard.” The primary objective there is just that they are cost effective. They are easy to get large runs of for an affordable price, and it’s a great way to distribute our music.

With vinyl, even a 7-inch run is very expensive and time consuming. As much as I would love to, we don’t have the kind of money. However, cassettes are great. We did sell out of both runs of our albums. I mean if there are any record labels out there that want to do a vinyl repressing, we should talk.

LEB: I have three random questions to end on. They aren’t about you specifically as a band, more just as music lovers and musicians. The first one is if you were trapped on a desert island all alone for the rest of your life and you could pick one record to keep you company, what would you choose? 

JK: Oh, that is an impossible question, and I have an answer for it: “The Coroner’s Gambit” by The Mountain Goats, my favorite album. It would be kind of depressing after a while, but I mean I am trapped on a desert island.

Luke Michaels (LM): We’ve already talked so much about Pavement, so I won’t say “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain,” but I think I’d say Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring For My Halo” would be my other one.

Jared Hemming (JH): “DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamar. I just feel like that’s the most bang for your buck. I mean if this is what you are gong to be listening ’til the end of time, you might as well have something with a lot going on.

LEB: Dream Gear?  

JK: I don’t know. A Strymon Timeline. It’s a digital delay pedal that’s also really f—ing expensive too. I love it.

LM: I would say I’ve been using the same bass amp since I was a teenager, so any bass amp that has tubes in it instead of my solid-state amp. Something a little warmer, something a little nicer.

JH: Ooh, dream gear. Probably a gong.

LEB: A job you would never do no matter how badly you needed the cash or how well it paid?

JK: You know it’s not out of any disrespect or disgust of the gig itself. I mean if anyone wants to do that, that’s fine. But I’d never go on one of those big industrial fishing rigs like off the coast of Alaska. I wouldn’t do that. It looks horrible.

LM: I feel like something like accounting. Something requiring monotonous focus. I need a kind of job where I don’t have to think one kind of way for too long.

JH: So you remember “Napoleon Dynamite,” right? That scene where he goes and is harvesting all of the eggs from the corporate chickens, and at the end the farmer gives him like 55 cents and like orange juice with an egg in it and like a disgusting mayo sandwich? Anyway, I would never do that. Whatever job that is, a farmhand, I guess? If I’m working on a farm I better be the farm-er, the farm-brain not the farm-hand.

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