By Eddie Chisham
Profiling InIrie – a three-piece band from St. Paul
Aaron Ohnsorg was late enough to practice that if it were a job interview he wouldn’t be considered, but if it were a party – it was perfect timing. Greg Siganos and Erik Christianson were eager, yet not quite foaming at the mouth when he arrived, but they were excited enough to turn their usual slow strolls into bolting up the stairs.
InIrie is (2011-)…
InIrie is a three-piece alternative band from St. Paul, Min. who came together in 2011 at McNally Smith College of Music. The three rely on each other to make complementary music based on minimal conceptual lyrics and long musical breaks. They are never the band that worries about forgetting a hair straightener at a show – they show up with the clothes they wore that day that they found at the bottom of the hamper.
“We are really into it and we really like it,” Siganos said. “This is our child, it’s an animal, it’s something that’s living so we are trying to take care of it. It doesn’t matter what we look like – it matters what it comes out as.”
If the songs from Brand New’s first two albums, “Your Favorite Weapon,” and “Deja Entendu,” had less lyrics and more music breaks, and those breaks were like a syncopated jazz band hitting off-beat notes on cue, you would find something like the sound of InIrie.
InIrie is currently not signed to a record label. Siganos, comparing his life to Caddy Shack, spends most of his time working grounds maintenance at the golf course in Brooklyn Park. Ohnsorg builds truck bodies for moving vans. Christianson does everything drum-related for Klash Drums. Being unsigned does not seem to be too big of a road block as Ohnsorg, with the use of Pro Tools (recording software), has found the sweet spot of their sound for recording.
InIrie has recorded four EPs and one album. Most recently, they worked with Zach Johnson at Not Quite Music in St. Louis Park, Min. to create their full length album, “Words That Start With In.”
Almost every club in Minnesota has hosted InIrie. Primarily bouncing around the Twin Cities area, InIrie has played a wide variety of shows – big and small; including opening for Frankie Muniz’s band, Kingsfoil. In 2013, InIrie embarked on their first cross-country tour that took them through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa.
In the basement, 2015…
Christianson’s long brown hair rested on his shoulders which were warmed by a black zip-up hoodie. Siganos wore glasses and a beanie with a North Face hoodie and casual five o’clock shadow. Ohnsorg had a messy red mane matched with a thick red beard and a zip-up red hoodie (with black glasses).
Downstairs was a basement clearly playing host to multiple people as each writing surface seemed to present a variety of handwriting. Next to the refrigerator stocked with drinks was a map on the wall featuring pins scattered, yet close, as if to say, “I was there,” or in this case, “We were there.”
The basement of Klash Drums, a Northeast Minneapolis drum shop, was both a practice facility for a variety of bands, and the place where Christianson lived. Two adjacent walls featured white boards filled with practice times, lesson times, and the setlists through which the variety of bands who practiced there intended to play.
McNally Smith College of Music, 2011…
In their early days, it wasn’t easy to find the members of InIrie in the halls of McNally Smith College of Music. You couldn’t even find Siganos’ name in the student directory. To find them, you’d have to find a practice room with an old antique lamp providing the only source of somber light. There, students would line the walls to hear “The Lamp” practice. This was the name given to the three-piece band consisting of performance major, Christianson, and production major, Ohnsorg. Those two actually went to McNally, but “The Lamp” would not be complete without the friend who was just there for the party, Siganos.
If you found the warmly-lit practice room and took a seat against the wall, you would hear agnsty words spill out of Siganos’ mouth while he rhythmically strummed the six-string, pulsing heart of “The Lamp.” The brilliance of the sound accompanying the lamp’s warm light was not, however, created by a lone guitar. Christianson somehow managed to concoct a formula to provide a jumpy, steady, moving beat while seamlessly matching the creative, abstract rhythms pumping out of Siganos’ amp. Ohnsorg drives the sound by melting into the music with thumping bass grooves. While the lamp was turned on in that practice room, there were not only four walls – a fifth wall of sound pulsated from the triangle of musicians who, despite being dubbed a name, called themselves InIrie.
When the lamp wasn’t turned on, it was in Siganos’ mom’s house in Coon Rapids, Min. When InIrie wasn’t practicing, Christianson was working on his performance degree while Ohnsorg was working on his degree in production. “You could usually find me in a piano room that I am not supposed to be in,” Siganos said proudly with a slight dip of his posture.
Back in the basement, 2015…
After a couple of minutes I heard a six-footed monster stomping down the stairs quickly. The monster revealed itself to be three normal guys carrying equipment.
Then, there was movement and commotion everywhere. On one side of the room three “Check”s followed by one big “Check!” boomed through the hard wood floor until it was absorbed by the carpeted area, on another side Ohnsorg was twisting and turning knobs on a miniature sound board perched up behind an amplifier, then Christianson came out of a room to hand me a copy of their new album while, almost simultaneously, Siganos showed me the setlist.
“Sharing is caring,” Christianson said which quickly turned into, “I know Sharon and Karen,” Siganos said. “Karen is Plankton’s wife in Spongebob.”
That got an enthusiastic group laugh and was promptly followed by a not-so-subtle Slim Shady reference as Siganos pulled out an old, beautifully beaten up and faded Telecaster and sang, “Guess who’s back, back again.”
Amidst the amp checks, the drum checks and the do-I-have-the-perfect-pedal-to-new-amp-ratio checks (followed by “First time using this amp Eddie!”), there were giddy eyes. Christianson had a wide smile that would come out after chill jokes and banter. Siganos had more of a lip curl, showing just the side of his teeth. Ohnsorg’s was so subtle that you’d have to be up close unless he was in full laughter – then he shyly smiled usually accompanied by leaning back with his right shoulder.
When the feedback slowly came to a stop, Siganos, whose glazed eyes slowly turned toward me, said with a sideways crank of the neck, “Before we Jam can we do two questions?”
The early days, 2011…
“It was ‘Irie’ but that was taken,” Christianson said reverberating his past disappointment “Irie is a Rastafarian term meaning you are completely in content – you are one with your conscience. You are completely zeroed out,” he continued with his best Jamaican accent, “Down there they go ‘How ya feelin man?’ ‘I’m feeling Irie.’”
“So then when you listen to the music you are In Irie,” Siganos explained. Of course, Irie was taken by a Rastafarian band. Despite “irie” being a Rastafarian term, InIrie’s music is by no means reggae – and it doesn’t have to be. To them it is much more about what the term means, and the way their music makes them feel.
With their new name, on their way to a show, Ohnsorg drew their new logo (The I between the n and the r of InIrie in cursive) on a foggy window of a car.
The guys were on their way to playing at Battle of the Bands-type show for up-and-coming bands in Minnesota.
“We were going to the meeting for The Next Big Thing show – where everyone is trying to be cooler than everyone else,” Ohnsorg said. “Nobody talks to each other because they’re too proud of each other.”
Despite the unfriendly competition taking things way too seriously, InIrie walked out of The Next Big Thing show with second place and 250 dollars – partly because some of the bands were just playing Weezer covers, “and botching it.” They had the option of five hours of recording instead, but they were at McNally with a production and a performance major, so they already had the best of both worlds in terms of recording time.
“The only way we were able to do that show was because we went to Blink 182 concert in 2011,” Christianson said. Then Siganos showed his true fandom by enthusiastically pulling up his pant leg to reveal the Blink 182 logo in the form of ink on his ankle.
“Yeah so we got 250 bucks cash and we put it toward merch and stuff and that is actually what jump-started us,” Ohnsorg said. Christianson added, “Totally! it was like WOW!”
Returning to the basement, 2015…
I asked my two questions and as the last mumbled words faded out, feedback and light symbol hits faded in. It all seemed a bit improvised – maybe it was, maybe they just are in sync to that degree – but then they all simultaneously started playing a song.
“I think being a three piece really forces us to dial in and be more creative, make cooler parts, and try to make this full wall,” Siganos said. Ohnsorg added, “And we are really just bouncing off each other.”
Siganos admits to being more of a drummer than a guitar player – so his guitar parts by nature are more rhythmic. Whether strumming or picking at his ax, Siganos lays the rhythmic baseline that Christianson ultimately matches creating a hard, precise groove for each note; driven by Ohnsorg’s steady, yet moving (in an ever-so-groovy manner), bass lines.
“How bout that huh? She(his guitar)’s pretty. She’s pretty,” Siganos said as another song from their practice came to a halt.
“I think if our band was a person and it was going through puberty at one point – when we met it was like puberty,”
Siganos said slowly as the impromptu thought traveled from brain to mouth while his arms rested on the top of his guitar as though it were a desk. “And I think at this point now we’ve hit like age 21 instead of 18.”
The band certainly has matured as they now practice in Northeast Minneapolis instead of Siganos’ mom’s living room. They play with bands with whom they want to play. They play at venues where they used to go to shows.
“And now instead of taking two steps forward and one step back, it’s like we took three steps forward and one step back,” Siganos said. “We went out on a tour for two and a half weeks – out to Pennsylvania and back, and that was really big for us. Then we came home and we took a step back and it’s not that big of a deal, but we need to learn how to do that more often.”
The Twin Cities harbor an incredible amount of great local bands and musicians, and InIrie is a unique, important corner piece to that puzzle. They are not interested in having the look, signing the big contract, or touring in a jet. InIrie wants three things: 1) To tour six months out of the year. 2) For you to listen to their music and be in irie. 3) For you to go to their show and go just as hard as they are.
InIrie bandcamp: http://inirie.bandcamp.com/
InIrie Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InIrie