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The reader's companion to Saint Anyway's 'Paper Town'

What started as an informal two-man band formed to play a few shows has sure blossomed into something noteworthy. When we first met aspiring Cloquet singer/songwriters Jamie Kallestad and Tony Petersen, they were only six months into Saint Anyway...

Saint Anyway
Cloquet exports Jamie Kallestad (left) and Tony Petersen, despite going to colleges three hours apart on the East Coast, have managed to write, record and release an album, "Paper Town," and go on three multi-state tours. Submitted photo

What started as an informal two-man band formed to play a few shows has sure blossomed into something noteworthy.

When we first met aspiring Cloquet singer/songwriters Jamie Kallestad and Tony Petersen, they were only six months into Saint Anyway, the aforementioned casual little project which, we soon found out, was a lot more permanent and meaningful than originally indicated.

In other words, its members' collective thirst to conquer the modern-folk scene has propelled just another regional coffee-shop act into something much more ambitious. As soon as they started writing songs, they wanted as many people as possible to hear them.

"Why waste time?" Jamie asked back then.

Indeed: The two friends, despite going to different East Coast schools (Jamie at Yale in New Haven, Conn., and Tony at Boston's Berklee College of Music), have already put together a debut album, visited more places in their tour van Emmylou than the Donner Party ever got to and, through some random pinhole in the galaxy, had Switchfoot's lead singer open up for them in Minneapolis.

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With the boys back in the area this summer to play some shows (locally and on two admirable jaunts across the country), we took the opportunity to make them tell us, track by track, about "Paper Town" -- which they recorded themselves over a couple 48-hour sessions at a small Yale studio:

1. "Christmas Lullaby"

Although he probably never imagined it at the time of its writing, Tony's "Christmas Lullaby" is the first Saint Anyway song most people will hear. Not only is it the leadoff track on their first album, of late they've been opening most shows with it.

"This is one of the very first songs I ever wrote," Tony said, mentioning that his creation made its debut at an informal jam session at his house. "Showing it to Jamie, it was the very first time I had ever sung in front of, like, anybody...."

"When we were in bands in high school, Tony would never sing," Jamie butted in, saying he pretty much had to coax a preview out of his friend and bandmate. "He finally agreed to sing it, and I was so impressed -- I was so blown away -- I said, 'You can actually sing. Dude, why have you been hiding this from me?'"

Lyrically, Tony played the modesty card. (He did admit to liking the imagery his song evokes, however.)

"It's inspired by artists like Marah and Bruce Springsteen," he offered sheepishly. "The lyrics are kind of semi-thoughtful, but there's not too much of a plot behind them."

2. "York Street, 2 a.m."

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On the flipside, this track is all about time and place. Its subject matter is so personal, in fact, that its author, Jamie, kept mum about any juicy particulars.

"A lot of people ask me what this song is about -- I don't know, I guess I'm kind of secretive about things," he said, respectfully enough, though he did admit that the street in question is in fact in New Haven, where he attends university.

"I don't even know what this song is about," Tony cut in, laughing and saving his friend all at once. "So it's a mystery to me -- I was hoping today that he'd be able to tell me."

Formerly known as "Everything You Know is Gone," Jamie said the song's new title is more appropriate because of the real-life circumstances that inspired it.

"It's about having loved and lost," he offered cryptically, "and things not turning out the way you wanted them to."

Despite its highly personal nature, Jamie said he hears a lot of people singing this one after Saint Anyway concerts. The song also won the group some new fans at the Highway 61 Folks Festival, where they entered it into the Mahtowa gathering's songwriting competition last summer and took home the second-place prize.

3. "Devil's Downtrottin' Blues"

Unlike the other Saint Anyway originals -- in concert, they do a handful of covers and traditional folk anthems, like "Tell It to Me" -- "Devil's Downtrottin' Blues" is the only song Tony and Jamie wrote together for "Paper Town."

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"Once we get a few free days, we'll pop out a song, but we don't really work together all that often," Tony said. "We just had three days off and Jamie turned around and said, 'I have three new songs.' I'm like, 'What? I didn't do anything! I was just hanging out with family.'"

This one was different, though. Heading west in their van (named in honor of country great Emmylou Harris, by the way), they decided to camp out at the Pawnee State Recreation Area in Nebraska, where their tent was almost blown over by the tornadoes that surrounded them. And that, my friends, is where their pens first hit the paper for "Devil's Downtrottin' Blues." (In case you're wondering, they said they finished writing the song at Curt Gowdy State Park near Cheyenne, Wyo.)

Speaking of that first fateful tour, before they ventured out they kept asking their friends what they needed to accomplish on the road.

"'Well, we gotta meet the devil at the crossroads and sell our souls for musical genius,'" Jamie remembers joking. "... So, that never actually happened, but we wrote a song about it, imagining what might've happened."

4. "I Won't Be Lonely for Long"

Inspired by "High Fidelity," Tony wrote this one about finding comfort in music -- you know, never being really alone because he'll always have the Boss' records, or some Neil Young to turn up when times grow sour.

"My girlfriend isn't thrilled with the idea that I wrote a song like this, but I tell her, 'It's not about our relationship, honey,'" he joked.

The track is also interesting for the way it came out: slow.

"We recorded this song in one of the late-night sessions down in the studio at Yale," Jamie said. "It was like 2 a.m., we were getting tired and it was crunch time -- as in, 'We gotta finish this record before we leave school and don't have this nice recording studio to work in.'"

Well, things weren't exactly going to plan -- to say the least. Tony did about 30 vocal takes before exhaustion set in. (Couches in studios? Nine out of 10 rockers agree: a good thing.)

"We came back to it the next morning and realized, 'Wow, we recorded that really slow,' because we were so tired," he said. "But I couldn't redo that vocal take, because I had done it so many times. It was so slow, but we decided to keep it."

Though they had intended "I Won't Be Lonely for Long" to be a lot faster than the version that appears on "Paper Town," its newfound glacial pace grew on the duo. Jamie guessed they probably heard it differently after he found out that Neil Young had recorded his Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classic "Helpless" around the same time in the morning because, at that hour, everyone was tired enough to play it as his pace.

"So, when we listened back, we thought, This is pretty perfect -- it works really well this way," Tony said. "It was just meant to be, I guess; the tempo's perfect."

5. "Turtle on a Fencepost"

While its structure was influenced by the Duluth group Trampled by Turtles and Saint Anyway's time on the road, this song's title stems from a playfully bizarre conversation Tony had with his brother Dan.

"He said, 'What do you know, Tony?' And I had never heard that phrase before, so I said, 'I'm not sure, what do you know?'" Tony recalled, laughing.

Well, his sibling came back with something along the lines of: "I know if you see a turtle on a fencepost, somebody probably put it there."

"Whoa, OK, so I wrote a song about that crazy bit of info I learned from him," Tony joked. "That's pretty much just it ... the rest of it just rhymes."

6. "Wishing Well"

Far more serious is Jamie's "Wishing Well," which he wrote about small towns' tendencies to brush aside any problems they might have, instead of dealing with them directly.

"I think it's kind of a universal thing: sweeping your problems under the rug," he said. "But, then, someday they might come back to haunt you."

Cryptic? A little. About Cloquet? Not a clue; as we've already learned, Jamie keeps his songs' true meanings close to his chest.

7. "Tell It to Me"

Taking a break from their own creations, "Tell It to Me" (aka "Cocaine Blues") is a traditional song Jamie and Tony have always loved -- though the version they're most familiar with is Old Crow Medicine Show's. (Another OCMS song, "Wagon Wheel," itself based on a Bob Dylan creation, they also like to cover live.)

"It's fun to play," Jamie said, "though we usually like to give the disclaimer 'We didn't write this song -- it's an old traditional' during our concerts, because we look far too innocent to be writing songs about cocaine. [Laughs]

"It turns people's heads, like, What are these two kids doing singing about cocaine?"

On the other hand, Tony said the inclusion of this song might prove beneficial in the long run.

"All the time we get, 'Oh, you guys are so cute' -- even when we're playing in bars," he said with a smile. "It's like, come on, what do I need to do to not be cute? Sing songs about cocaine?"

After saying that, Tony mentioned that his grandmother and all of her friends absolutely love the new album.

"All ages seem to enjoy it, which is really nice ... apparently they don't care that we have these songs about cocaine," he joked.

8. "Paper Town"

Like Jamie's affinity toward "York Street," Tony feels really strongly about this one, which Jamie wrote about his hometown while away in New Haven.

"It's not the sunniest picture of growing up, but it's not necessarily sad ... there's sort of a longing, a feeling of melancholy, that I was trying to capture -- always thinking about something bigger and not sure if that was ever going to happen," Jamie, ever the modest one, said. "I think it seemed like a much more romantic idea to me when I was out at school.

"... But I'm glad I wrote it; it feels good to say something about where I came from, especially during concerts, when we're far away from the Northland. It is something I know about, and I can sing honestly about, and that is a really good feeling."

NEWS TO USE
Saint Anyway's debut album, "Paper Town," is available now. Visit www.myspace.com/saintanyway to find out how to get your hands on it.

Related Topics: CLOQUETMUSIC
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