Cars and trucks: Trio's self-titled CD hard to explain, easy to listen to

What is it about Cars and Trucks that makes them so different, so appealing, when their music is not self-consciously "different" at all? It has a classicist take, and evokes pop bands from the Beatles to the Who.

What is it about Cars and Trucks that makes them so different, so appealing, when their music is not self-consciously "different" at all? It has a classicist take, and evokes pop bands from the Beatles to the Who.

The trio's first self-titled CD has been popular, sitting at No. 3 in sales last month at the Electric Fetus in Duluth behind Atmosphere and the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant project, "Raising Sand."

Tony Bennett and Mat Milinkovich had recorded together as the Dames back in 2002. Soon after, they headed south to the Twin Cities to make the career. They had a fair amount of success, opening for their heroes the Melvins and other heavy rockers, such as Queens of the Stone Age. But the Dames broke up in January 2005. "We opened for Atmosphere at 7th Street Entry, and that was the last date," Bennett said.

They came back home and eventually Bennett talked to Milinkovich about a new project. Matt Osterlund joined them on bass and the new band was born in 2007. They've been playing around town.

"I didn't want to do another rock band. I had tons of material I'd been writing that didn't fit in with the Dames thing." Bennett recalled. "I was listening to Elliot Smith and like that, musicians who are pop craftsmen."


"I've always had a real love for all kinds of music, and the Dames was the outlet for the aggressive screaming rock part. Cars and Trucks is where the Beatles and Kinks come out."

Bennett analogizes the two bands to dogs: If the Dames was a Rottweiler, he says, Cars and Trucks is a golden retriever, bounding into the room, happy to see everyone. "Our parents are less angry with us for making this record," he said.

Courting ambient sound

The CD liner says "Cars and Trucks" was recorded at "the old HDC," which Bennett explains is short for the "Hog Damage Collective," an old dance studio that's become a practice space for a loose affiliation of musicians. It's on the second floor of the former Music and Arts Collective (MAC) at 22 N. First Ave. W.

"The goal was to get a lot of ambient sound," Bennett says of the recording by Nic Patullo, who brought his own recording equipment. (Patullo is a musician as well, formerly of Mayfly, among other bands.)

Bennett wanted a kind of analog esthetic, sound through the air.

"I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin, they have really good ambient drum sound, and that comes from placing the mikes farther from the instruments," he explained. "We were welcoming of happy accidents, and we recorded the sound of the room, a really huge old dance studio. Most songs we did in one take. There's a balance to be struck between perfectionism and laziness."

"I was into, like, Robert Johnson, in the 1920s or 1930s, where it sounds like someone sitting in a corner, that's more interesting to me than Fallout Boy or something," Bennett said, "or Nickelback," (this last pronounced with arch incredulity).


Bennett said he thinks of the first album "like an AC-DC or Ramones thing, where the sound is all in the same mode, kind of dry."

Planning the second album

Bennett already is planning the second album.

"Our next album will be a concept album, grandiose and obnoxious, like our Pink Floyd, 'Dark Side of the Moon,' 'Physical Graffiti' thing," he said. "Children's choirs, sound effects, but not all polished to heck. ... Sometimes I lie. Because it seems like now bands need a story, some kind of concept, and we're not that way. We're just guys who play music."

But there will be a next album. Cars and Trucks plans to start work on it this spring and hopes to release it this fall.

"I have a loose concept around 'Row Row Row Your Boat,' combined with a kind of River Styx thing. A metaphysical crisis," Bennett said. "... I had kind of a breakdown a few years ago, and these songs date from then."

"It'll be the poppiest, catchiest album about death you ever heard. There's a song called 'We're all going to die' that's very cheerful. I want to make the album I've always wanted to make."

Of course, this all might have something to do with the musician's own age.


Bennett is 31, "which is 56 in rock years," he said, dryly. "I'm obsessed with mortality. I have a real recognition that time is speeding up, I want to do something that's right. It's kind of a natural progression."

ANN KLEFSTAD covers arts and entertainment for the Duluth News Tribune. Read her blog, Makers, at, and at Area Voices on Reach her at (218) 279-5536 or .

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