Vicious Aloysius: 1998 WHS grads pursue dream through music project
Fishes, suspicious, delicious, pernicious ... there are many words that could potentially rhyme with Aloysius (al-low-ish-us), but none seemed quite right when it came to naming a musical group.
Aloysius was the working name for a project created by Noah Hoehn and Keith Nystrom. They liked the quirkiness, but wanted something that would rhyme with the old-fashioned moniker and add a rock 'n' roll flavor.
"Aloysius is my father's middle name," explained Noah, the son of Joe and Carol Hoehn of Worthington. "It's a German name that kind of runs in the family, but when people see it, they go, 'Alloy-see-us?' We thought it would be easier to pronounce if we had something to rhyme with it."
Keith posed the challenge to a friend, who began listing various sound-alike words. When he unwittingly said "Vicious Aloysius," they knew they had a name.
Which came first?
Vicious Aloysius has been playing gigs recently in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud areas.
But before Vicious -- as the members now refer to the group -- was a band, it had a project and an album. The band itself came last.
Keith, the son of Charles and Myrna Nystrom of Worthington, and Noah had begun their musical explorations in high school as members of bands called Seclyptic Fridge ("We made up a word because there wasn't one to describe us," said Noah.) and Honey Brupper (derived from a discussion of what the meal would be called if you ate breakfast food for supper).
The 1998 Worthington High School graduates went their separate ways for a while. Noah earned degrees in music and business at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was granted a prestigious McKnight Foundation Fellowship in musical performance two years ago but pays the bills by working part-time in data entry and customer service at North American Membership Group in the Twin Cities.
Keith attended several institutions of higher learning, studying studio art at Bethel College, guitar construction in Red Wing and graduated as an audio engineer from Ridgewater College in Hutchinson.
"Last year, I was a chef," he said. "Over the last three years, I've had like 10 jobs and six careers. I'd always say, 'I'll do this until I get the music going.'"
When they both landed in the Twin Cities area, Keith and Noah determined to "get the music going," but had trouble recruiting other serious musicians without a solid premise for a band. They realized that between the two of them they could contribute all the necessary elements: Noah -- vocals, drums, harmonica and percussion; Keith -- guitar, bass and engineering expertise. The songs themselves were true collaborations with each contributing sections of lyrics, melody and arrangements.
"We just started writing together again," Noah said. "All of a sudden, we had these songs."
"There's not a single tune that would have happened without both of us working on it," said Keith.
Noah utilized his McKnight funds to commission custom-tuned harmonicas from an instrument maker in England and also purchased recording equipment. He and Keith found a house to rent in Bloomington and turned the basement into a recording studio.
Nothing but time
The recording process was unconventional as the songs were built layer by layer. Electronic drums were sequenced first, then Keith laid scratch guitar on top of that. Noah recorded drums over the sequenced drums and scratch guitars. Keith added bass tracks and most of the guitar tracks. Vocals came next, followed by final guitar work and harmonica tracks.
With a recording studio on premises, Noah and Keith had the luxury of time in composing a final product.
"So many parts of the music, the intricacies changed as we started recording," said Noah. "There was no way we would have been able to make this album any other way -- if something wasn't working, to get to sit and incubate and come back to it later."
"If we were having a bad day, it was just a bad day," added Keith. "If you are paying for a studio, a bad day costs you $500."
While that was a distinct advantage, there were also some disadvantages and inevitable frustrations.
"It was a luxury, but it was also kind of frustrating. If it was not perfect, there was no reason for it not to be perfect," Noah said.
"We're both perfectionists," Keith said. "It got to the point where we were bargaining: If you get to redo this, I get to redo this."
An album is born
Throughout the process, Noah and Keith felt strongly that they were creating an album -- a concept they say is becoming lost in a music industry that is now driven by the ability to download single songs at the listener's whim. Although there's no overriding theme, they wanted to conjure influences from '70s hard rock, such as Led Zeppelin and The Who, as well as the alternative music scene of the 1990s. The resulting tracks have melodies and lyrics that are memorable, insightful and appealing to a broad audience.
"I could just go around playing with groups and get paid on a gig basis," said Noah, who lends his talents on the harmonica to several other groups. "But I want to write music. I want people to come out and hear what I have to say, what Keith has to say, what Vicious has to say."
When Noah and Keith pondered a name for the album they'd created, they looked no farther than the street on which they lived.
Since the CD was created in the house they share, the musicians considered giving it the street's name -- Cavell -- although they wanted to determine the name's origin first.
"It turns out it's named after Edith Cavell, a nurse from England who's credited with developing the modern form of nursing," explained Keith.
Although Noah and Keith have no idea how a street in Bloomington came to be named after an English nurse, they became intrigued by her story. Cavell was assigned to a hospital in Belgium during World War I and is alleged to have helped hundreds of soldiers escape from the occupied country. In 1915, she was arrested, court-martialed and executed by a German firing squad, becoming a martyr of the war effort. The night before her execution, she said, "I realize that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone."
"We just felt that statement is powerful," related Keith. "It went with what we were trying to do with the album."
Picture worth a thousand words
Many recording artists choose to print their lyrics on the CD jacket. Noah and Keith added a new twist to this convention, commissioning an artist to illustrate the lyrics. Keith had worked on a project with Twin Cities singer-songwriter Julia Bloom and had admired her album's artwork. The artist was her brother-in-law, Micah Bloom, also a musician. Once they sold Bloom on the concept, he took the rough symbolism that Noah and Keith outlined and ran with it. The cover and the individual scenes that represent the songs are done in an iconic style. The cover depicts a blindfolded Cavell holding a laurel wreath.
"Each song is a supportive scene of what the album is," said Noah. "Each picture is like the truth of the song."
"Cavell" was completed and released in February. Toward the end of the recording process, WHS classmate Zach Miller, a guitarist, began petitioning for a spot in the group, and he also brought in bass player Micah Barrett. This fleshed-out version of Vicious Aloysius played a gig earlier this week at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis and will play tonight at St. Cloud State University. Noah and Keith are hopeful that the band will continue to get more exposure.
"We don't want to wake up in 10 years and say, 'What if we had tried?'" Keith reflected. "It's a lot of hard work, but no one makes it by sitting at home. It is a bit of a pipe dream, but it always is."
"Cavell" is available through the Web site www.viciousaloysius.com and at the three Cheapo locations in the Twin Cities. Noah Hoehn will play with Boyd Lee and Joe Cruz as well as some other featured performers during the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival June 9-11 at Sailboard Beach in Worthington and will have the CD available at that time.