Rochester is a “wonderful little home away from home,” says Joe Gamble, guitarist of Enemy Planes, the Minneapolis-based band that closes out this summer’s Thursdays on First & Third festivities with a 7 o’clock set on the First Avenue stage.
The sole practitioners of their own “tripnotic” genre, an ethereal, dreamlike mixture of indie rock and electronica, the band has developed a deepening relationship with Rochester audiences from their first performance here, at the 10th and final St. John’s Block Party in 2013.
The rest of the world is also taking notice. Enemy Planes won this year’s Hard Rock Rising Barcelona Festival’s battle of the bands contest, besting 13,000 other bands and playing in front of celebrity judges including Steven Van Zandt of E Street Band and “The Sopranos” fame. The win may place Enemy Plans on stadium stages from now on, but the band says it will always come back to Rochester.
“There are all these pockets throughout the country that you end up being really comfortable in, and where the community really kind of takes you on as a local,” Gamble said. “It’s nice to have that relationship in Rochester.”
Others in the band with Gamble are Casey Call on vocals, keys, and guitar, David LeDuc on bass, Kristine Stresman on keys, vocals, and percussion, Shön Troth on lap steel guitar, and Joe Call on drums.
In 2012, much of the band’s current membership was playing together in another band, Pictures of Then. While working on an album for that band, the musicians found themselves writing and playing two distinctly different, un-meshable styles of music. Their producer advised them to devote energy to one sound or the other, so Call and others formed Enemy Planes.
Ever since, the band’s guiding principle is to play the music they want and while disregarding outside influences that might dilute their style.
“That’s partly where the inspiration for the name Enemy Planes came from,” said Call, “the notion that you have to shoot down all those negative things.”
Shortly after its formation, the band played a show at the Cabooze in Minneapolis, where they met Dennis Pelowski, a Rochester native who would become their manager. As the band matured and began touring around the country, Pelowski encouraged them to explore regional opportunities like Rochester, where they already had some friends, like Dan and Jordan VanHook at Spectrum Pro Audio and Miles Pheneger.
Pelowski linked them up with Kurt Augustine, and the band secured a set at the final St. John’s Block party in 2013, playing before legends like the Meat Puppets and the Hold Steady.
“That St. John’s Block party rivaled anything going on in the Cities,” Gamble said. “Not many towns outside of Minneapolis are able to pull off such a big music scene.”
Jerry Kvasnicka, a fan of the band, first encountered them while helping to organize the Block Party and remembers thinking, “Wow, these guys are different but yet very rock ‘n’ roll.”
Kvasnicka has hosted two Enemy Planes concerts at his home. The first one took place in February in his living room with an audience limited to 50 people. Even with that limit, the house could barely contain all the fans.
“We didn’t really know what to expect … the amount of people that came to this house out in the country kind of floored us. We were like, wow, people down here know who we are,” Call said.
Hard work pays
For Call, it was a rare moment of confirmation that the time his band had spent winning fans in the area had panned out.
“I just remember looking up and being like, this is so cool. We’ve played festivals and stuff like that but we’ve never really done a house show like that where it was just packed. People were up on the balcony looking down at us and there was just such a sense of community,” says Call.
The band returned to Kvasnicka’s home earlier this month for an outdoor show in front of an audience of roughly 160 people.
“It was like we were seeing old friends again,” Call said, “and meeting and making new friends that now we’re seeing pop up at other shows up here that are driving up from Rochester and coming out to support us. It’s really awesome to have that community experience, even though it’s not technically where we’re from.”
Both Casey and Joe them grew up in a small town in northwestern Iowa. Their families took weekend family trips into Rochester, though not all visits were for fun; Call remembers spending time at the Mayo Clinic with a sick relative.
“To be back there in a totally different light has been kind of surreal. When you have something like that happen in your life, where it’s a very tragic thing, you tend to kind of separate yourself from it, almost to the point where it doesn’t even feel like you were really at that place,” he says, “Now it’s a happy place. That’s a good thing.”
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Fans like Kvasnicka worry that the band’s recent win at the Hard Rock Rising contest may jeopardize chances of getting Enemy Planes back into an intimate venue.
“I don’t think I’ll be getting them for a home concert anymore, after all that that they’ve won,” Kvasnicka said.
“We’re pretty much forgetting about all the small people as we speak. We’re going down our list of who didn’t make the cut and we’re trimming it down,” jokes Call.
Gamble says that the band’s win in Barcelona, which gave them a spot on the festival’s main stage alongside international stars like Avicii, Lenny Kravitz, and Kings of Leon, has opened the door to new opportunities.
“When we got back in town, no less than a week later, we got a phone call and were thrown on a festival at Target Field. Here we go, two stadium shows literally back to back,” says Gamble.
“We still are going to play house shows in Rochester. I just know we will. We do that stuff because we love to do it. That’s the whole reason that we started doing this in the first place,” says Call.
“In Rochester, every time we come down there, it seems to be that the weirder we are as far as the music we put on them, the more they like it. That’s the kind of crowd you want. It helps you to expand as a band when you have fans that are willing to let you go as far as you want to go,” Gamble said.