Bratwurst became Bratwurst out of necessity. In the beginning, Tyler Scouton and Ben Tryon were friends with a shared interest in industrial bands — an interest seemingly not shared by their audiences, who found the duo’s sets to be a perfect time to take a smoke break outside the venues.
In an attempt to keep them rooted, Scouton incorporated theatrics: he took a circular saw to books, a hammer to a glass-top stove. He taped raw liver to his stomach, which dripped and flopped out during shows.
Cut to nearly 20 years later: Scouton wears a white lab coat with a headlamp on stage while vintage video footage plays on a screen behind him. A Velveeta commercial, then macaroni and cheese mixed with chili. Clips from horror flicks. He rips into a package of raw meat, squeezes the cut and rubs it into his face and chest. He smokes a cigarette. He bloodies a teddy bear and rips apart a duck floaty. He sends sparks from his saw flying toward bandmate Jason Ratajek.
Brennan Atchinson plays drum-drums, actual drums, and the rest of the band alternately beats the ever-living whatever out of pipes.
Bratwurst doesn’t play often — the cleanup alone is a lot to ask of anyone. But the band typically finds a stage around Halloween and, in the spring, Homegrown Music Festival. The band plays at 11:45 p.m. Nov .1 at Blush.
Q: What’s the origin story on Bratwurst?
Scouton: I guess a million moons ago, probably 1990-2000, during that window, my friend Ben (Tryon) and I were like “Let’s start a band.” We were messing around with electronics and synths. He and I came from a poor background. We didn’t have things at our disposal. One of our first shows was in someone’s house, their parents were gone. We set up two full desktop computers and some monitors. We played this really annoying electronic set. Everybody left. There wasn’t a soul left in the house even. So we made a sandwich and left. It was really weird.
Around the same time I was working at Grand Slam Adventure World in Canal Park fixing arcade games. They had raves back in the day. We played a bunch of shows there. Then other places started asking us to play, the NorShor Theatre, Roundabout Records — that’s one of the shows I learned that I could do things that would make people feel weird.
I had a white sheet and I spray-painted “Bratwurst” on it and a stuffed animal filled with meat. I beat the hell out of it until the meat came out. Usually when we played, people would leave and take a smoke break. Every show we had to do something else that was goofy and bizarre to pique their interests and keep them inside.
Q: Where does the name Bratwurst come from?
The name Bratwurst went through some changes. Ben worked at KFC, and he electrocuted himself and he just instinctively crammed his hand into a thing of coleslaw. We were Electric Coleslaw for a while and decided “let’s go back to Bratwurst.”
Around the same time we did the teddy bear, we were asked to play a show at the last minute — “Hey, can you come down and play a show in an hour?” We loaded everything up in a pickup truck. We got down there and set everything up fast. I didn’t have meat or anything to throw around. Carlson Books was across the street and in the entryway; they had a rack of free books. During the show, I sawed up books with a circular saw. Afterward, this woman came up weeping. She picked up the books. She said I was destroying knowledge.
I was like, “I can find anything — something that makes people feel different.” I had no purpose behind what I did.
Q: Are you working in metaphors or are you being random?
I’m going to say, yes. That’s what makes it interesting. There are things I do purposefully. The meat thing started by accident. I’m a liver donor — I donated (part of my liver) to my uncle. Usually during shows I duct tape bags of liver to my belly and during the show, livers will fall out. I have a large scar across my stomach. It constantly feels like it’s going to open up and my guts are going to fall out. We used to buy random meat, but livers are cheap. I’m a liver donor and I’m throwing liver at people.
Q: Why isn’t anyone else doing this?
I’ll never say I made it up. It’s a mix of music and performance art for sure. There’s a German industrial band, Einsturze Nubauten — they’ve been around — they play found instruments and garbage cans. They were in East Berlin, they had no money, just started playing shows and doing weird stuff like we do. It was the early days of industrial shows. We keep that going — the wild old industrial bands.
There’s not a lot of money in it. If we were a Styx cover band, we might do a little better.
Q: How much prep goes into a performance?
We’ve never practiced. We joke about it. Band practice is us sitting on the Owls Club deck and me saying “You know what would be funny? If I ordered a copy of the Constitution from Amazon and ate it on stage.”
The paper had this weird taste, so I just ripped it up.
Me, Ben and Jason Ratajek — we all have our stuff. The pre-recorded synth music, Ben made the majority of that. Ratajek, he’s the guy who goes out and finds the metal stuff and the scaffolding. Hours before the show, he’ll run through the alleyways and find stuff.
We played a show in St. Cloud. … The only thing we could find was a giant stove. I was young at the time, I didn’t realize that glass-top stoves are glass. I took a hammer to it, and it exploded and cut up my hands. We didn’t even throw meat, it was my own blood. There wasn’t anyone there. The owner loved it. He gave us a bunch of money.
Q: How much goes into cleanup?
It’s the Minnesota nice of me. I’m going to cause a mess, but I’m going to clean it up. One time we played the Main Club, and they told us not to clean it up. They thought it would be funny. It smelled like smelt for three weeks.
Q: Do people ever listen to Bratwurst in their car?
I made a CD. A long time ago, after the early shows, I started getting really into synthesizers. Bringing them to shows and, in turn, smashing them. They’re expensive. When I play, I kind of typically don’t drink before a show, but I don’t really remember it. I block it out. I don’t remember what happens. I play a show, and I’m done. That’s why I like to videotape them.
It’s a therapeutic event, smashing all these musical instruments.
We decided “let’s pre-record all that synth stuff.” It saves me a lot of money. So that was the CD I ended up making.
I think I made 40-50 of them. We sold them all within 5 minutes of the show. We sold them for $5 a piece, $20 with all the band members’ hair in them. It was the grossest thing. We had blood all over them. I have a video of us putting them together and laughing.
Q: Are you the same guy on stage and off stage?
I wouldn’t say it’s an act. It’s definitely not. But it’s not how people perceive me outside of that. I worked downtown a couple years ago. For my lunch, I was able to go to Minnesota Power’s cafeteria. I got in line to get a hamburger and this guy said, “Are you Tyler from Bratwurst? What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m here getting lunch.”
He didn’t realize I had a career. He thought I was a guy throwing meat around. I’m a guy with a career, a family, an education, I’m well-traveled. A jovial, normal guy.
It’s definitely cathartic. All this stuff, I wouldn’t say anger … emotions. I can do stuff I want to do during the day. I can go up there and throw things and smash stuff. The day-to-day frustrations, let it all go. That’s part of the brain block of even remembering what I did.
Q: What does it actually feel like to do what you do?
I’m a big guy, and when I’m playing, it shows. I have 2-3 shirts on and there are lights. I’m doing activities and getting sweaty. (The meat) is like a cold, wet sponge. They’re usually half frozen. The downside, two days later, I’m finding pieces in my hair.
Q: Can you eat meat?
I love it. I would say with beef livers, it’s more difficult. I’ll have something with liver in it, or pate, and it brings me into playing a show. There’s a specific metal taste. I’ll be like, it’s kind of gross, but I love it.
If you go
When: 11:45 p.m. Nov. 1
Where: Blush, 18 N. First Ave. W.