500 Million Society will be the last band standingThough only one member separates trYke from 500 Million Society, the two trios’ sounds couldn’t be more distinct. PLUS: A "reprint" of Perrine's story on the band when they were known as 550 Million Society.
Though only one member separates trYke from 500 Million Society, the two trios’ sounds couldn’t be more distinct. Where former Gild members Dicky Brooks and Tim Nelson produce serene, mind-warping instrumentals in the former with drummer Johnny Rensink, it’s skyscraper-leveling rock ‘n’ roll they produce with Jim Hagstrom (another former Gild member) in the latter.
“It’s the mindset going in,” Nelson explained when the Budgeteer interviewed him and Brooks about the Society, a more-traditional rock band. “Actually, the drummer, Jim, he said, ‘I want to hit my drums hard. We gotta form a rock band.’ ‘OK, that sounds like a good idea: a rock band.’
“He was the impetus of the three of us getting back together and forming this act.”
It would be a long road between the formation of the Society and the recording of the just-released debut album (handily titled “500 Million Society”), however.
“This band’s been around for about four years,” Nelson said. “This is a four-year-old band.”
Why the wait for the album, you ask? For starters, the threesome took the road less traveled when it comes to new bands making names for themselves.
“Our whole intention was to get together and just work really slow and just jam out the tunes,” Brooks said, “and not to be in a rush to get out onstage.”
In fact, the group’s first show wasn’t until the 2007 incarnation of Homegrown, Duluth’s esteemed weeklong music festival.
“And then our next show was Homegrown ’08,” Nelson joked. “And the next one after that? Homegrown ’09.
“Almost, anyway — we only play like every six months.”
There are a couple reasons for this: Nelson — even though he’s a co-owner of the almost-always-booked Brewhouse — said he’s “bad at booking,” and Brooks said there aren’t that many places to play in town.
“You can only play here so much — especially a band without a record,” Nelson added. “Maybe something will happen now (‘500 Million Society’ was released late last month).”
It’s not like these guys hate performing for all you good, good people out there reading this, however.
“When we were in Gild, we played all the time. We were on the road a lot,” Brooks said. “I was in a cover band then too, and we were playing a lot.
“So this project was, let’s go slow and steady and not push the stage so hard upfront.”
These days, Nelson said, it’s a matter of working smarter and not harder.
“It’s gotta be a real thing for us to pull it together. We’ve tried it. We’ve done it,” he said. “You end up playing small rooms to nobody a lot of nights. We’re aware of that.
“We’re not too proud to do it — it’s just, where’s the line?”
He explained that all three members of the Society are just self-employed guys piecing things together so they can chase their passions.
“We still have to support ourselves, so we can’t go out there and play for 50 bucks a night and lose money on a tour,” Nelson added. “We just can’t do that.”
‘If You’re Hungry’
What the three members of the Society lack in number of gigs together they more than make up for it with the amount of energy and time they poured into the recording of “500 Million Society.”
Not only did Spinout Records’ Bernie Larsen fly in from L.A. on a number of occasions to work with the trio — “Bernie’s the master,” Brooks advised me — but the disc also sports a nostalgic blast from the past. Following the catchy-as-can-be “The Quest,” the album’s second track, “Big Brother,” features guest vocals from none other than former Gild frontwoman Jennifer Jones (who traveled all the way from the Windy City to record her part).
“It was fun working with her again,” Nelson said. “I called her up and said we were recording ‘Big Brother’ — because ‘Big Brother’ is an old Gild song, and she wrote that song back then with me.
“We were all in Gild together, so we thought it was an appropriate one to cover. She just flew in that one night, and we ran some vocal overdubs.”
As far as the group’s sound goes, when asked about influences, Brooks simply replied, “Umm … rock music?”
Joking aside, that’s about as fair an assessment as they come.
“We wanted to hit hard,” Nelson offered.
“Yeah,” Brooks jumped in, “two amps for the guitar, two amps for the bass and hit the drums really hard — I think that was our influence.”
But when it came time to input genre classifications into iTunes, Nelson was stumped. So he turned to Google: “What are we?”
He immediately thought of the Buzzcocks and other ’70s post-punk outfits with a pop edge: “Everything from that to ‘Highway Star’-era rock ‘n’ roll, with the organ,” Nelson said.
But that doesn’t necessarily convey the epic nature of the trio’s recordings — which, again, can be attributed to the unavoidable sound of Brooks’ keyboard.
“We wondered what some of the tracks would sound like with organ on them,” Nelson said, “so we started to layer his playing on a few tracks. We thought, ‘Ooh, this sounds too cool,’ so we just had to put it on everything.”
‘You’re Going Down’
As Brooks pointed out, the mix on the album — which Nelson describes as “a wee voice in a lot of chaos” — meshes thematically with the Society’s image.
“Well, our friend Simon was telling us, ‘Yeah, there’s this secret society, the 550 Million Society, that wants to cull out the population and trim it down’ — like going into this deep conspiracy.”
Nelson liked it for the new group’s moniker — though, to be fair, the group was only hypothetical at the time Simon relayed this information to them, as the Society only existed insomuch as Hagstrom wanted to form a heavy rock band.
But that’s really inconsequential: The group, then a real working unit, swapped 550 for 500 after its members discovered just what the heck their pal Simon was talking about.
Perhaps you’ve heard about them, but in the deep South (Brooks’ old stomping grounds, for the record) exists a set of stone engravings — an alternative Ten Commandments, if you will — called the Georgia Guidestones.
Though no one is quite sure who is responsible for their construction, they advise (among other things) that the population of the planet should remain under 500 million in order for mankind to stay in balance with nature.
“That’s a big influence on us now,” Brooks, the son of a preacher man, said of the Guidestones.
Nelson, probably just glad his friend wasn’t “full of crap,” said the Society has latched onto these mysterious stone structures.
“It just fed into the whole story of what we were doing,” he added, mentioning that the “500 Million Society” song cycle is practically a rock opera based on a day in the life of a pre- or post-apocalyptic scenario (the Guidestones pretty much state that humans are “a cancer on the earth”).
One highlight from the album, lyrically speaking, is a song named in honor of PBS newswoman Gwen Ifill.
“I was totally addicted to watching the news at the time,” explained Nelson, who penned the tune. “It was starting to freak me out. I had to quit watching the news. I had to just turn it off, like I was thinking, ‘We’re screwed.’”
Catch 500 Million Society live at 10 p.m. April 17 at R.T. Quinlan’s. The Little Black Books and the Boomchucks are also on the bill. Cost is $5. Until then, hear songs from the group’s self-titled debut at www.myspace.com/500millionsociety. And, for more on trYke, click on the accompanying article.
The secret delights of Tim Nelson’s ‘sub-underground’ 550 Million Society
Note: This article, also written by Perrine, originally appeared on www.duluthbudgeteer.com Sept. 18, 2008.
First there was the Apollo Rockers. Then the Defective Infants. And who can forget Gild? Or how about Boy Girl Boy Girl, 4321 and trYke?
Yes, Tim Nelson’s been in a lot of bands — and still is — but today we’re going to concentrate on one of his most underappreciated ones: 550 Million Society.
The group, which also features former Gild members Jim Hagstrom and Dicky Brooks (also a member of trYke), recently recorded a podcast for LocalM.com at Subterranean Productions in Superior. With the soul of a ’70s hard rock outfit, they shook down that basement studio like it was the last time they would ever get to pick up their instruments.
I sat in on the group’s interview with Local M’s Craig Rhode Jr. to gather some intel about this decidedly “sub-underground” band. Some highlights:
• Tim Nelson doesn’t sleep. Consider the following: In addition to all the above bands — and I’m sure I forgot at least 12… — Nelson is a key player in Spinout Records, the Fitger’s Brewhouse family of establishments, Sacred Heart Recording Studio and the ain’t-dead-yet Greenman Festival (read on). You probably know all that, but, really, it’s quite amazing, no?
• Cool name, but I don’t quite follow. According to some conspiracy show Nelson saw on late-night TV, the world can only sustain 550 million people. Considering that Earth’s population now sits at nearly 7 billion, sounds like “Gonzo Science” to me…. Regardless, to paraphrase Rhode, these guys rock; you won’t be thinking about their name (much) when you’re rocking out to “If You’re Hungry.”
• Not enough shows, not enough/any albums. If you’ve never seen 550 Million Society live, it’s probably because they’re “bad at booking” — Nelson’s words. And, as Brooks explained, you haven’t been able to buy a 550 Million Society album because they need to write more songs — though their site has a few demos recorded in Hagstrom’s basement.
• On that, if you want 550 Million Society to play Chicago, they might do it for $500. “We’re not looking to make money, we just don’t want to go broke,” Nelson reasoned.
• The return of Greenman? While chances are slim, Nelson said if the festival were to be resurrected, he’d like to go back to basics — maybe do it in a farmfield and keep it low-key, eschewing national acts in favor of his friends’ bands. “It could happen,” he offered. “Greenman’s alive … he’s just in hiding.”
• Like Neko Case, Hagstrom was into the Monkees as a child. It’s OK, though; he quickly got into prog rock, and he was drumming by the age of 12. “I’ll always be playing,” said the Duluth native.
• Famous last words/let’s get political. “I watch a lot of news,” Nelson said about the inspiration for most of his songs. “I’m a news guy.” He’s not kidding: The 550 Million Society song “Gwen” isn’t about a long-lost love or anything, it’s about PBS news correspondent Gwen Ifill.
Tags: budge a and e, arts and entertainment, 500 million society, 550 million society, tim nelson, jennifer jones, dicky brooks, jim hagstrom, superior and lake, bernie larsen, spinout records, duluth, budgeteer, gild, tryke, music, rock, epic