There is a moment during every gig when they all just let go. They stop fretting about the couple standing near the stage and how much the pair is—or isn’t—dancing and singing along. They forget about their pitch, their earpieces and the droplets of sweat that keep slithering down their brows, past their nose or down their eye sockets. The 2 AM drive back home and the morning responsibilities that follow don’t register. It’s that moment, when the necessary everyday elements required of all of us fade out of impending reality for them, and the anxious agonizing they feel over the crowd’s level of enjoyment disappears, that makes it worth it and defines their moment. The moment is not about escaping or forgetting, but instead, about achieving a sense of fulfillment that only comes when you know that the thing you are doing right then and there is the one thing (or at least one of the few) you would have chosen if given a choice.
Paint The Town is a six-person band that has little league baseball practice, school assignments and mortgages to worry about before, during and after the music plays. Made-up of educated and undeniably talented musicians that found a rookie lead singer that can flat-out belt, the group’s relevance to the region isn’t about their out-of-the-ordinary technical skills or their challenging modern-meets-classics set-list (including songs that most bands only wish they could play but never attempt). Paint The Town is a group that reminds us that despite the immediate realities we all face, there is always time, and it is always possible, for any of us to achieve that same type of moment and fulfillment every member of the group says they play for. It may not be a stage at a hip bar or big event like it is for them, but the more you listen, or spend time with the band, and you hear the reasons they play, and what they go through to make it happen, it all makes sense and comes across as clear as your favorite line in your favorite song. We all have a choice, as Paint The Town reminds us, to seek out our moments and just let go.
You Have To Hear It To Believe It
Anna Larson, the band’s rookie all-star lead singer, (that is how the group describes her), says they love it when audience members confuse their live sounds for recorded music from the speaker system. They also enjoy it when people tell them they can't believe the band is playing such unique and recent songs. The compliments speak directly to the bands aspirations. Danny Moffitt, guitar player, teaches music. Steve Carriere, bass, teaches music. John Nelson, drums, has a minor in music and once owned and operated his own recording studio in Denver. Matt Strand, keys, and Larson, are also experienced in playing or being involved with music since they were kids. Strand was five when he started playing and Larson sang at talent shows, in church worship bands and the anthem for every volleyball game she played in during college. “We all want to be challenged from a music standpoint,” Nelson says. “Because of that, the music we choose to play is like putting together a puzzle, it’s stylistically complicated but we love it.” The band’s ability to play layered music has helped them grow a strong following and big future-gig demand less than a year after forming.
The group can certainly play the classics like “Jessie’s Girl” or “I Want You To Want Me,” but they can also offer the audience a closer link to their modern-day playlists. At a show in downtown Grand Forks this winter, the group played, “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” by Justin Timberlake, “24K Magic,” by Bruno Mars and, “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore. All of those songs are layered tunes with synthetic sounds that are created through in-studio production. They are not songs typically performed by most cover groups and they are always difficult to pull-off live. But as Strand and Moffitt say, they aren’t typical cover-band musicians.
“There are songs you don’t play and songs everybody plays,” Moffitt says. “We want to take our own approach.”
The songs they’ve mastered thus far in their short existence are what Strand has always wanted to play, he says. “We feed off the energy of the songs as much as the audience does.”
According to Strand, the group uses a variety of pedals and synthesizers that allows the group to emulate the sounds from the original recording. “However, instead of using pre-recorded tracks and a lot of samples like you might hear from a major touring pop group, we play everything live, which is much more challenging,” Strand says, “but it gives us a more organic feel.”
The group’s stage set-up relies on all electrical instruments fed directly into a mixer. On the stage, there is barely any sound. The band can talk to each other during a song. The electronic make-up allows Cory "CJ" Johnson, the skilled and trusted audio engineer of the band, to give the audience only the sounds the group wants them to hear. As a benefit to the band, the set-up doesn’t leave their ears ringing post-gig.
Playing For Today’s Audience
The quick success of Paint The Town (Carriere came up with the name and it was the hardest task the band has completed to date) isn’t just connected to their ability to offer a unique setlist. Strand and Carriere both believe the band is now playing to listeners who each have their own radio-esque playlist and those listeners want to hear elements from their lists. The goal of the group is to unite the individual listeners in a group setting in a memorable way. “We try to figure out how to get individual listeners to figure out the social experience,” he says.
The task can be a challenge. Larson says fronting the band isn’t always natural despite the praise she receives from her experienced bandmates. Strand’s worst fear is when the audience doesn’t appear to care (a situation that hasn’t happened with his current bandmates). With full-time day-jobs, kids and the weekly duties that come for everyone living in the greater Grand Forks region, the team doesn’t have the luxury to practice nightly or weekly and perfect their style. “We are still finding our way,” Nelson says.
Their competitive nature helps, Moffitt believes. “We self-criticize and take this very serious,” he adds.
Despite the challenges of leaving after a day-job for a gig that night located hours away, leaving loved ones at home or agonizing over the mood of a crowd consisting of people they’ll most likely never talk with in-person, there is no hesitancy amongst any in the band when you ask them why they do what they do, or, if it is worth it. “When you can feel your actions engaging people in a positive way,” Nelson says, “that is why we do this.”
Strand feels the same. “It is the best, just letting go.”
“I love that people want to spend their Friday or Saturday nights with us,” Larson says. “We don’t take that for granted because we understand that everything you want to do requires sacrifice.”
The group doesn’t grind, as Nelson says, for the money. “There is just a piece of me that isn’t fulfilled if I’m not in a band and playing,” he says. This summer, they are scheduled to headline multiple events within a short drive through town or just out of town. They are also lined-up to lead line-ups in far-away locations in every direction. They know there will be issues because there always are. Sometimes earpieces click, instruments get out of tune or kids get sick. Sometimes more serious things happen. But, if you get a chance to sit with the band over some food and a beverage or two, the reason they do it all comes out and make so much sense. You can see it in their eyes when they talk about adding new songs. Excitement fills their faces. When they talk about the future of their group and why they want to play more together, it is all so clear and inspiring, sort of like that moment when you are listening to your favorite song, and you start to sing along, and you just let go. G
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PHOTOS BY: MELQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY