MUSIC | “We vote on almost everything”: The Poor Nobodys’ democratic circus


The Poor Nobodys anchor their roots in the rustic, from there waxing eclectic with forays into jazz, blues, honky tonk, pretty much whatever happens to strike their fancy for a given song, always returning to folk. To intriguing effect. The result has been two splendid CDs, The Poor Nobodys and the recent release Until I Uproot and Walk Again.

“Witch of Agnesi” and “Ghosts and “Ghosts and Shadows” off The Poor Nobodys bring to mind legendary British outfits Fairport Convention and Pentangle, forerunners of traditional-sounding fare brought up to date with electric instruments. On Until I Uproot and Walk Again, the reflective ballad “Dekr” and the instrumental “Mr. Shade, The North” are characteristic of the ensemble’s gift for arrangements that fascinate the listener with eerie, haunting grace. The cryptic lyrics to “Dekr” are a perfect match to the music: “Wind-fed nerve ends/ Breaking all her brittle bones/ Little pills lend to/ Feeling ill when she arose/ Don’t act, react/ Fight the fervor with a fuse/ The slant, the ash/ Dance with all the vital news.” The personel are Chris Hepola (piano, accordion, melodica), Eric Struve (bass), Chris Becknell (violin), Aaron Cantine (banjo, guitar), Chris Duba (mandolin), and Brandon Hepola (guitar) with uniquely expressive vocalist Jenna Wyse up front.

Wyse answered questions by e-mail, with input from the boys in the band. The Poor Nobodys are at the Red Stag Supperclub on Sunday, October 17th at 9 p.m.

How did the band get together, when?
In 2006, two of the Poor Nobodys started playing together at a loft in Northeast Minneapolis. They’d throw together small shows and invite other musicians to go jam with them. The band grew and they started playing at art galleries and a few clubs around Northeast. They were entirely instrumental until 2008 when I joined the band.

The entire band takes credit for the songwriting. Who actually does how much of what? Lyrics, melody, like that.
The band really is collaborative when it comes to writing songs, though Chris Hepola, our pianist and percussionist, brings in most of our compositions. From there, each member develops his/her own part around the rough sketch that Hepola provides and we all work together to come up with the form and arrangement. During that process, I contribute my lyrics and vocal melody. We vote on almost everything.

What is your personal musical background.
Some of us studied music (classical, jazz) and some of us are self-taught. I originally went to college for classical voice, but never really knew how to make it my career. Now, with the band, I can still use what I learned but make it my own. I think it works really well with the variety of styles we come up with for each song.

Any creative influences you’d care to name?

We’ve got quite a few people in the band, so everyone brings their own influences to the music. Rather than trying to fit into a genre, we really focus on blending everyone’s interests. Some artists we all draw from would be Yann Tierson, Tin Hat Trio, Tom Waits, and Duke Ellington.

You notice any growth by the band between first and second CDs? Chops get any tighter? Any shift in direction?
Yes, definitely. Personally, I feel that the voice has been integrated into the music. As I said before, the band was entirely instrumental for two years, and trying to work vocal parts into those songs was challenging. Now we write music, keeping the vocal line in mind. In fact, I think everyone has found a much more defined role within the group, especially when it comes to collaborating on new pieces of music. We used to base our songs off of simple chord charts, but Chris Hepola has been bringing in much more detailed ideas. It challenges us all a little more, but allows for us to better build our individual parts and really delve into each piece.