The world might end with a Brushstrokes reunion

So here's the first thing Dan Dresser told me about the Brushstrokes' "This is How the World Will End": "We've been working on this album for three years and it's finally done. It's been quite a journey, and I think what we ended up with is a pre...

The Brushstrokes
The Brushstrokes are Steph Dykema, George Ellsworth, Chris Eddy, Dave Mehling, Jeramie Olson and Dan Dresser. Image courtesy Jason Wussow

So here's the first thing Dan Dresser told me about the Brushstrokes' "This is How the World Will End": "We've been working on this album for three years and it's finally done. It's been quite a journey, and I think what we ended up with is a pretty interesting ... CD."

Boy, was he right.

I interviewed Dresser alongside Stephanie Dykema earlier this summer, but, for whatever reason, I sat on the story. I can't say exactly why it was shelved for so long.

It's not as if what the two former Brushstrokes (who now make music under the Three Song Sunday moniker) said was uninteresting -- in fact, it was one of the most spirited conversations to ever go down in the Budgeteer's offices.

Perhaps it was the fact that the two harnessed mixed feelings about the lengthy recording process (and subsequent "breakup" of the band) that went into "This is How the World Will End."


Or, perhaps, I was just subconsciously emulating the group members by taking my sweet time to get something out there for public consumption.

Either way, with an upcoming reunion scheduled for Sept. 23 at Beaner's -- which could, quite literally, be the end of everything -- I figured that whatever Brushstrokes baggage mentioned during our talks had perhaps been swept under the proverbial rug.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some highlights from my freewheeling talk with the kids from Three Song Sunday:

First of all, are the Brushstrokes actually broken up?

"Why do you ask that question?" Dresser responded with a laugh.

"We did have a 'last show,' but it was the last show until hell freezes over," Dykema added.

She was kidding ... I think.

Perhaps sensing the high level of uncomfortable drama, Dresser was quick to put the interviewer at ease: "The band is still on speaking terms. We all get along."


He conceded that they're still friends, and that he and fellow Brushstroke Dave Mehling (now living in the Twin Cities area and playing with his new group, the Fontanelles) still hang out whenever he's back in town.

On the other hand, the group wasn't known for making "precisely collaborative dysfunctional pop" for no reason.

While the group's debut release is chock full of energetic gypsy rock -- which never quite spirals out of control, but comes awfully close on occasion -- Dresser hinted that keeping the four main songwriters' aspirations in check was more work than the average listener might surmise.

"We got together, traditionally, on Sunday nights at 5 o'clock for years," he said. "We'd practice right at Beaner's. [Owner Jason Wussow] is so cool; we owe him everything.

"So that was like a traditional thing: Every Sunday we got together. Some Sundays were a blast, others were just tense."

"Tense" is a word that Dresser would use time and again to describe the highly combustible Brushstrokes.

"Well, the thing about doing a CD release is that we would have to practice three, four times," he said, "and that'd be the toughest part about it: It'd be tense. I mean, it could be tense."

Another stressor working against the already sporadic Brushstrokes performances was scheduling.


"I think everybody wants [a Brushstrokes reunion] except for me," Dresser said, addressing Dykema more than anyone else. "Well, you know, it's a lot of work, and it's always me. You know?"

"I can start calling people," she offered politely.

But before you think the interview with the Three Song Sunday principals only consisted of "Behind the Music"-worthy soundbites, I was able to glean a considerable amount of Brushstrokes trivia.

For instance: Not only was Beaner's the Brushstrokes' HQ (where they practiced, recorded and played -- and, perhaps, will still play), but it also served as an incubator. One of the first things Dresser did upon moving to the Twin Ports about seven years ago was frequent the West Duluth coffeeshop.

It was where he met Dykema and, a couple pages down the tale, formed the Brushstrokes.

"It was the last hour chunk of open mic night, and we'd invite whoever up on the stage and we'd just collaborate and do whatever ... make silly music," Dykema said.

The two seemed to enjoy reminiscing about their old group's early days.

"We were just standing around casually one day and you go, 'You wanna be in a band?' -- because Homegrown was coming up," Dresser said. "So we kind of threw this band together."


All of the core members outside of drummer Jeramie Olson were there from Day 1.

"We didn't have a bassist, so we just called George (Ellsworth)," Dykema said. "He was just like, 'Sure, I'll do it.'"

"It just sort of started from an accident," Dresser said.

While the group didn't release its "posthumous" debut until this year, the group managed to amass nearly 50 songs in its five-year run.

According to Dresser: "We could do a country album, we could do a ... I'm not kidding when I say we might actually do another CD someday, because there are so many songs, when you think about it."

Again, it all goes back to Wussow's establishment. The Brushstrokes had already been doing board recordings up on Beaner's main level before they sort of settled in for good down in the basement.

"He pretty much just let us build the studio," Dresser said of Sub Central. "He was off on tour and I was just like, 'I'm going to build a studio while you're gone' -- and we kind of did.

"The Brushstrokes pretty much financed the thing ... that's one reason I wanted to finish this damn album: The whole aim was to build studio and take our time with recording it."


Take their time they did. Dresser said "This is How the World Will End" was almost shelved after the Brushstrokes officially broke up two Januaries ago.

"Things did blow up ... [and so] the album was shelved," he said. "It was like, oh, that's a bummer; we had three years into this CD."

But he and drummer Jeramie Olson took it upon themselves to revisit the piles of tapes and edit down the group's wealth of material into a cohesive package.

"It was just little things that needed to be done. But it kind of came together. People pitched in to produce it," Dresser said, mentioning that Mehling recorded some vocal overdubs for the album down in Minneapolis.

Dresser and Dykema even spruced up the project a little.

"There were things added, like the intro," Dykema said. "That was done after the Brushstrokes were, quote-unquote, not together anymore."

Another 11th-hour addition: the bizarre untitled track that closes out the listening experience -- something Dykema blames on having too much to drink.

"I just started playing the keys, which I never play, and just started singing whatever," she recalled with a laugh. "I pretty much just repeated 'I will wait for this.' It was our first Sunday not having all the Brushstrokes together.


"It was just Dan and I down in the studio. We ended up spending that entire session messing around."

It appeared to have been a cathartic experience for the two Brushstrokes stewards.

"It's amazing we stayed together as long as we did," Dresser said, "because there were so many egos in the band, in a way. Everybody's really good, though -- it's like, people are always patting me on the back and saying, 'Great job on the album.' Well ... some of those songs I hardly played anything on.

"They're just great musicians. I just had to push the record button once in a while."

The Brushstrokes are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Beaner's Central for the West Duluth coffeeshop's annual "One Week Live" concert series. Yeltzi, Tony Furtado and Steve Isakson are also on the bill. Cost is $8.

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