Interview – Nick Leet – Pasadena ’68 & Dakota Shakedown


By Rebecca Marx, Photo Credit Karyn Hjelden

Sometimes a social media post is so thought provoking, or utterly honest that it sticks with you and doesn’t let go. That was my reaction when I read a Facebook post last year by local musician Nick Leet of Dakota Shakedown and Pasadena ’68. I even messaged him about it. I won’t share the original post to protect the innocent, but it stripped down WHY he will continue to make music even when it seems like the odds are all stacked against it. Even in an era when an artist as successful as Mason Jennings is questioning its feasibility.

So Nick, I think we talked about this before but can you clarify just what the difference is between Pasadena ’68 and Dakota Shakedown? For my part I was confused because of the band line ups.

Everyone is confused!

In the mid-90s Mike Hjelden and I started a band called Standard Thompson. We played around North Dakota and opened up for Dogstar (featuring actor Keanu Reeves). In 1999, we moved to MPLS where the band lived together, played together, worked together and hung out with Davy Jones (the Monkees) in a hotel room together. Due to some of those circumstances, plus being emotionally charged early twentysomethings, we had an epic dust up that resulted in naughty language, inbred cats and slammed doors. Mike continued Standard Thompson with a new guitar player and enjoyed some MTV Teen Mom soundtrack spots, a song played during the Super Bowl broadcast as well as videos played on Fuse and a weird night opening for the 2 Live Crew. I started High on Stress where I was the frontman for the first time. I met and opened for my heroes (Slim Dunlap, Tommy Stinson, Jackson Browne, Tommy Keene) and played multiple times at First Avenue. In the end we both won. BUT both bands broke up around the same time AND Davy Jones died. Mike emailed me to commiserate. We found ourselves friends again. The friend abyss was over. We started writing songs again but now we were both frontmen so we decided to start two bands with the same people. I play guitar for him and he plays drums for me. The rest of the band(s) are rounded out by the boy wonder/keystone kid, Chad Wheeling (High on Stress) and the epically talented Elliot Hilton (Hart Lake Mystery). The rest as they say is super confusing.

Thanks for the clarification! Your upcoming show at Lee’s Liquor Lounge is on Saturday, the 18th of March with both bands, kind of a double hitter! You are kindly sharing a song from each band with Rift, can you tell our audience what distinguishes the two bands from one another sound-wise?

Pasadena ’68 is the band that I front. I feel like it’s a bit rawer and moodier whereas Dakota Shakedown (Mike fronts) is catchier and more polished. He sings pretty. I sing like a guy that has had too many shots of Dr Pepper and Twizzlers.

Nick I know you from the Mad Ripple Hootenanny originally, and first saw you play a tribute show for ex-Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap some years ago at Hifi Hair & Records. I am a fan of The Replacements, and when I listen to your music I would guess that they have been an influence on your style–true?

Wow! I didn’t know that bit of history. I have been rightfully accused.

What is it about The Replacements that still inspires you after all these years?

The songs first and foremost. They are anthems that can hit you on a deep level. No pretense of perfection. Raw, powerful and beautiful. Not to mention Slim is a fantastic human being and Tommy is a damn good guy as well. Haven’t met Paul or Chris. This is an open invitation for Paul and Chris to come to a BBQ at my house and watch Faces videos.

That sounds like a good time! Another musician that found influence in the music of The Replacements is Mason Jennings–I know that we talked about his interview that came out last December in the Star Tribune. In the article by Erica Rivera, Jennings talks about how social media and being an artist can be a difficult pairing, the challenge of streaming music, and how though he can afford to be a full time musician, the touring life is essentially no life at all for him. It is a compelling article, one that clearly stuck with you as I read your Facebook posts that referenced it. I found your observations really well thought out, could you talk about what emotions the article brought up for you?

Musicians are all very temperamental people. We tend to think that what we do holds a lot of value but the next day we think we completely suck. Couple that with a dying industry where people quit buying records and are distracted by squirrels and we have a problem. The general public doesn’t care about music like they used to. They certainly listen to it but they don’t buy it which makes it very difficult for people to release new music. People always give me the advice to do it out of love. That is exactly why I do it. BUT, it costs money to do this. Most clubs don’t pay much and records don’t sell like they used to. That makes me wonder if it’s better to record songs and stick them in a drawer. Who knows? It’s the struggle most of us deal with anyway. Nothing better than getting together with your friends and playing loud (or quiet) music but think of all the musician “Go Fund Me” pages that are out there and tell me there isn’t an issue.

I work with a lot of local struggling artists who will play when they can, and release music as they can afford to. I absolutely have empathy for Jennings–there is a reason why so many artists who tour end up with various addictions–it can be a very challenging job with difficult hours, low pay, not to mention that a lot of time is spent in bars, bored and alone–apart from friends and family. My quandary is that most of the musicians that I know only dream of being able to do music full time and to play large well attended show with appreciative audiences. So few artists reach that level, as a musician who has a day job and a family, what are your thoughts on that?

It’s a weird boomerang of emotions. I know that I’ve been fortunate in what I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m very happy about that. Of course I’m still going to bitch about what I haven’t accomplished as well. That’s the nature of being alive I think. I’ve played shows in front of a thousand people and then 25 the next week. It’s a roller coaster. That’s where things get tricky. The bands that can’t get a show at Jim’s Fish, Chips and Ripping Off Local Bands Bar don’t want to hear from someone on a national level complain about their struggles or even those on a local level that have accomplished something modest but cool. Why would they? The truth is we all struggle in our own shoes and we need to talk through these things, but it’s important to know your audience I guess.

Being a long time musician has your idea of what it is to “make it” evolved as your life has changed?

At 20 I wanted what 20 year old’s want. I wanted to play on national television and all that crap. Sure, I’d still take it but not at the cost that comes with it. I’m a homebody. I want to play in front of an appreciative audience who cares about what I’m doing and I want people to buy my records. I think at the end of the day we all just want to be remembered. I want people to talk about the songs I wrote in High on Stress & Pasadena ’68 years from now. The chances of that happening are pretty slim. I’ll probably be remembered as a pretty good dad and husband and a guy who got thrown out of North Dakota for being worthless with a tool belt and bad at fishing.

That is a pretty good legacy. What makes you keep making music?

Too dumb to quit. Plus I love getting together with my friends and making noise.

Do you have advice for those who are struggling with the theoretical nature of “making it” in the music business?

Don’t try to make it. Make memories cuz that’s all you’ll have in the end. Pessimistic but true at least for the 95% of us.

See Dakota Shakedown & Pasadena ’68 this Saturday March 18th at Lee’s Liquor Lounge show details: