5Q :: Catching up with the ‘real’ George KaplanUp-and-coming Saint Paul troubadour George Kaplan is back with a new EP, “Putting Nowhere on the Map,” and he’s here to talk about it. PLUS: A “reprint” of the Budgeteer’s conversation with Kaplan last January.
George Kaplan is everywhere and nowhere all at once. The name first appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 masterpiece “North by Northwest,” then again some years later on the CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
But the one we’ve always concentrated on is George Kaplan, St. Paul musician.
The connection between all three? They’re all fakes. The “Kaplan” in Hitch’s film was more or less a government invention (which the plot nevertheless revolved around); the second “Kaplan” was a character on the daytime drama who didn’t want anyone to know his true identity — so, at least according to Wikipedia, he assumed the identity of a dead friend; and the “Kaplan” we recently spoke to is actually über-talented University of Minnesota singer/songwriter Soren Larson.
Stage name or no, we dig what we’ve been hearing:
Budgeteer: Despite only containing four tracks, there’s a lot of diversity on “Putting Nowhere on the Map.” Have you been listening to anything in particular that perhaps inspired these broad brushstrokes?
Kaplan: The music on this album isn’t exactly inspired by any one thing as much as it’s a collection of little ideas that I’ve amassed over time in my notes and in my head. The lyrics and the skeletons of the songs were put together without much thought to the final sound, since the lyrics and the overall song are my first priority. After the writing was done, I tried out little things on the songs while recording, mostly just for fun. Each song on the EP has at least one thing I’ve always wanted to do on it: “Life in the Friday Night Death Slot” has time-signature changes, and its main track is made up of two bass tracks put together; “Jerusalem, Illinois” was my first chance to record harmonica; “Travel Writing for People Who Go Nowhere” has a horn section and a more prominent drum part; and “Stepstone” is a duet.
How did this album’s “conflict” theme of escaping a small town and calling someplace home come about? Where are you from, and what kind of relationship do you have with your hometown?
The first thing I had down for this record was the title “Travel Writing for People Who Go Nowhere,” though that was ultimately the last song I wrote for it. I used the title as a jumping-off point and tried to figure out why someone would want to go nowhere. The main reason that I could think of was that nowhere was home, and the main reason for leaving was that being nowhere sometimes feels like waiting to die.
I chose small towns as the setting for these songs because they magnify both ends of that spectrum: Small towns are kind of like the roots of the family tree, but it also has to be a little bit suffocating to not be able to go anywhere without seeing someone you know.
I’m from Saint Paul, and I really do like it here a lot. The city is big enough that I can go somewhere new and unexplored anytime I want to, but small enough that I have plenty of familiar places where I can feel at home. That being said, I decided to stay here and record my first album — rather than go somewhere else for college like most of my high school friends — and, at times, I feel like I missed out a bit. Even though none of these songs are autobiographical, I did superimpose some of my regrets onto them.
I’m still amazed at how you sound at least twice your age ... is this your natural singing voice, or have you abused it to attain a certain sound?
I’m kind of unsure how to answer that. My “natural” singing voice, in the technical sense at least, is the one I use on “Stepstone,” but I consider the growling voice to be my real singing voice. I first started to sing with the growl, and I feel the most comfortable using it. I haven’t done anything to abuse my voice at all — that’s just the way it comes out — but I am learning to control it a little bit better.
I instantly fell in love with your Berit Goetz duet “Stepstone” — what can you tell us about this lovely lady?
Berit is a friend from high school who asked me about recording some of her songs shortly after I put out my first album (“Reinvented Wilderness”). I offered to record some of her songs for her, and she was nice enough to loan me her voice for the song in exchange. She’s a pretty gifted songwriter too, but she’s probably too polite to tell anyone that herself.
Finally, on a somewhat-selfish note, when can the good people of Duluth expect another George Kaplan performance?
As soon as I can scrape together some time and some gas money.
Listen to tracks off “Putting Nowhere on the Map” at www.myspace.com/georgekaplan2.
Note: The following story, also written by Matthew R. Perrine, originally appeared in the Budgeteer Jan. 18, 2009.
Rabble-Rouser George Kaplan Returns to Beaner’s
Soren Larson may be an English major at the University of Minnesota, but, at least when he becomes George Kaplan, this is one folkie who isn’t afraid to raise a little hell.
Considering that his stage name comes from Alfred Hitchcock’s sprawling masterpiece “North by Northwest,” it’s natural to feel a sense of urgency when you listen to the rambunctious ramblings of this Saint Paul musician. Listen a little closer, though, and you’ll find that the characters in his songs are just as legendary and larger-than-life as the one Cary Grant brought to life back in 1959.
This was just one of the reasons we felt it prudent to introduce this young artist, who, planned teaching career notwithstanding, has a bright career as one of the state’s most exciting singer/songwriters ahead of him.
Budgeteer: Have you lived in Saint Paul your whole life?
Kaplan: I lived in Saint Paul for my entire childhood, but I’ve actually been living in Minneapolis for the last few years for school. I still consider Saint Paul my home though — my jobs are there; my family’s there; I do all of my recording there; and I just feel much more at home there.
Growing up, what did you listen to? Were there any local artists who inspired you to become a musician?
I didn’t really have any of my own music until junior high; I just listened to my dad’s stuff, mainly Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The album that I really consider my first CD was “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” by R.E.M. I didn’t get it until about seventh or eighth grade, but I listened to almost nothing but that CD for a long time.
I can’t honestly say that there were any local artists that inspired me to be a musician, although there are certainly a lot of them that inspired me to work harder and to listen to new things after I started playing music though.
The first time I knew that I really wanted to play rock music was when I heard Nils Lofgren’s solo on the “Live in New York City” version of Springsteen’s “Youngstown.” That sound just blew my mind.
Are you a big Hitchcock fan?
I would never call myself a rabid fan or anything like that, but I do like his films. It’s amazing how well some of them — “North by Northwest” in particular — stand up to the sensory overload of newer movies. But, at the same time, I think films like “Rear Window” don’t play out as well because the pacing is so much slower.
How old were you when you were in Generator? What kind of music did you guys play together?
I started Generator with my friends Karl Brueggemann and Peder Garnaas-Halvorson when I was 15 or 16. What we played was kind of all over the board: Karl was really into reggae and rap, Peder was a jazz bass player and I was really into trying to sound like Keith Richards at that point. The sound really depended on the song, but I think, ultimately, any genre that you would attach to it would have the “-rock” tag on it: “reggae-rock” “rap-rock” “Rolling Stones knockoff-rock” or what have you.
Was it an easy decision to go it alone once that group disbanded?
The group didn’t actually disband when I left; they went on to put out a CD. … Ironically, I left because I wanted to record a full CD and had some different ideas about how to go about doing that. We’re all still on good terms, though, and they were nice enough to leave the songs I’d written off of their release.
You pull in a lot of different sounds on “Reinvented Wilderness” — how would you describe your eclectic sound to someone you just met?
It’s like storytime with a laryngitis patient. When I was recording it, I was thinking that I wanted to stylistically do some sort of condensed version of those records take all of these different kinds of music and play them their own way, like “London Calling” and “Exile on Main Street." I’d lean toward referencing folk in general, though; despite the instrumentation I have on record, the lyrics seem very “folk” to me.
Speaking of “Reinvented Wilderness,” what is the significance of the Harold Rosenberg quote printed inside, and does the album’s title somehow stem from that?
The album’s title was around before the album — or most of the songs on it — existed. It was just something I’d tossed around in my head a little. The quote came after most of the recording actually, but you could certainly say that a lot of the characters in the songs die in the wilderness because they collapse under the weight of their decisions or burdens. The quote, for me, really contrasted the world that the songs take place in and the world as it is now: there’s a burden of change assigned to both times, but the burdens are completely different.
The wilderness has changed now too. It’s less of a literal thing now, [as] we make ourselves fear so many aspects of everyday life because there’s no tangible place for us to really be afraid of — no unknown dark woods or unlit path through the fields. So many things have changed, but the rule is the same: We have a shared responsibility to our time.
I saw you had two releases coming out soon — can you give us any details? Will there be any surprises for fans of “Reinvented Wilderness”? That is, are you exploring any new genres?
The first release is an EP called “Someone Else’s November,” which is due out in late January or early February. It’s been kind of a nice break from working on an album, and it’s also a chance to collaborate a little bit with some friends. The EP is split between me and a local artist named Berit Goetz — two songs apiece and one together — and the cover is a sketch done by an artist named Josie Keifenheim.
The other release is going to be my second full-length album, which will be titled “400 Miles of Hostile Land” and should be out in the spring. Things are a little more rock and roll at times on the new album, and the settings of a few of the songs are more modern too. I think the biggest difference will be in my voice: I’ve got a lot more range now than I did with the first album, and I’ll be doing some of the songs with a “clean” voice that’s much lower than my growl and might offend less parents — though that is definitely not a goal.
I calm down on a few songs and make up for the calm on others, so there’s also a lot more dynamic contrast. One song is going to be just me, a choir and some found instruments, and another is just a bass, guitar and my voice. I recently picked up the harmonica, which will be on at least one track, and my wah-wah pedal makes its first appearance in about six years.
What are you studying at the U of M?
I’m an English major with a minor in coaching. When I’m done I’m going to take some time off and then go into a teaching program somewhere.