CHARN'd life: Worthington natives form nucleus of indie band performing tonightWORTHINGTON — Their musical roots are firmly planted in Worthington, but members of the indie rock group CHARN have never played in their hometown. That will change tonight, when CHARN takes the stage during the Unvarnished Music Festival.
WORTHINGTON — Their musical roots are firmly planted in Worthington, but members of the indie rock group CHARN have never played in their hometown.
That will change tonight, when CHARN takes the stage during the Unvarnished Music Festival.
“We’re very excited to come home and play,” said Alex Hicks. “We understand there’s kind of a homecoming theme with some other local artists. We love Worthington. We recruit people to come down for Turkey Day every year, because we tell people about it and they don’t believe it’s real. Hopefully, we can make the Regatta something we come down to every year, too.”
Alex is one of two Hicks in CHARN, joined by brother Phil. They grew up in Worthington, sons of Jeff and Angie Hicks. Dad Jeff was pastor at the Worthington Christian Church and now works at a church in Omaha, Neb.
Phil graduated from Worthington High in 2004, followed by Alex in 2005.
“Me and Phil were in choir and band, and Phil played in the orchestra, too,” noted Alex. “We were both very interested in music outside of school, too, but Worthington was so small that there were just a few people to play with. We played with Seth Blundell for a number of years. … I think the best you could do was call it a garage band. We just liked to play together.”
“I think it was always a different band, a different show,” added Phil.
Shortly after his graduation from WHS, Alex pursued his musical interests by moving to Nashville, Tenn., where he was employed as an assistant engineer for a producer. His brother soon followed, and they found employment as musicians.
“And then Levi Stugelmeyer — he was born in Worthington and grew up in New Ulm — he came down to play, too,” continued Alex, explaining that they were childhood friends. “We just played around Nashville. That lasted about a year and a half to two years. Then we moved back to the Twin Cities and started our own band.”
Thus, CHARN was born. Despite its capitalization, Alex disputes the theory that the name is an acronym of any sort.
“All the good names were taken,” he explained. “CHARN was just a working band name while we were writing songs and figured out what we wanted to do, but we never changed it. We gained enough traction, and it didn’t make sense to change. So we get a good laugh out of the name. It’s from a joke from many years ago.”
Alex plays the guitar and sings. Phil plays bass and sings. Levi is CHARN’s drummer. The only member without Worthington ties is guitarist Steve Bosmans, who is from the Twin Cities.
“He joined the band real early on in the process,” Alex said.
There is no familiarity of cover tunes in a CHARN set. The members pride themselves on playing completely original material, most of it penned by Alex.
“We collaborate on everything, for sure, but I’m the genius — you can put that in the paper,” he said with a laugh.
“He’ll come up with something, and then we’ll all write the song around what he brought,” injected brother Phil.
The Hicks classify their band as an Indie rock group with influences that stem from Wilco, Nirvana, The Pixies and The Jayhawks.
“We were big into Nirvana,” said Phil.
“We’re not embarrassed to say we were children of the ’90s — Third Eye Blind, Foo Fighters, Everclear,” continued Alex. “The thing is we are an Indie rock band that plays Indie rock-pop-type music, but being from Minnesota, from the Midwest, there’s going to be a little bit of twang in there, a little bit of country influences, but not enough to be labeled that.”
“We all come to the table with different influences,” added Phil.
While the material is original, there’s a good chance that people may have heard some of their tunes before — on television. Alex and Phil sheepishly admit that their songs have been featured on some cable programming.
“We scored a really nice publishing deal, and our music has been a lot on TV, in 2010-11, especially, on some really silly shows,” explained Alex. “About half of our first album has been on many different MTV shows, some that none of us would watch. We figure that ‘Jersey Shore’ paid for our second album. ‘House, M.D.’ bought us a couple cases of beer. ‘Bad Girls Club’ paid for gas down to Omaha.’
“You don’t get to pick who plays your stuff,” Alex continued. “I was on my honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, and somehow I got a Facebook message from somebody saying ‘You’re on “Jersey Shore,”’ and I thought it was somebody being cruel and joking around. But I am proud to say that we had good placement on one of the highest-rated episodes of all time. It’s a crap show, but it had something like 15 or 20 million viewers for one of the episodes we were on. It was a viral thing. The show is completely worthless, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing our name in the credits.”
The TV song placement has also garnered CHARN substantial hits for YouTube videos.
“All of a sudden, we’ll get like 10,000 hits because people from MTV are looking up the song they heard on ‘Jersey Shore,’” said Alex. “The demographics aren’t necessarily what we’re looking for, though.”
CHARN has tasted some success, playing regular gigs in the Twin Cities area and also developing a following in the Omaha area.
“But one thing people should know, whatever they’ve heard about us, is we have jobs, too,” stressed Alex. “It’s not full-time, definitely not full-time for any of us. That being said, three of the guys in the band are full-time musicians with CHARN being a big part of this. I was the only one who had a career job, but it started to get in the way. I was an account executive for Crowne Plaza hotels, but no longer.
Both Phil and Alex are married — Alex to a Worthington girl, Elizabeth Erstad — but they continue to live in the same vicinity.
“We all live in northeast Minneapolis, more of a middle-class artistic community with a lot of independent things in the area,” Alex continued. “I was thinking it was time to do something a little more close to home, so I am a consultant for a creative sign and design shop. I definitely enjoyed being in hotels, but we want to finish up our second album, get things rolling with that, so it’s good to have more time for myself and the band.”
The band’s first album, “These Sins of Mine,” was recorded in Omaha. For the second album, they took a road trip a bit closer to home.
“We don’t pay ourselves,” said Alex. “We just put the money we made and went in and recorded our second album ourselves in New Ulm. We paid ourselves to take a week off work and brought in some really good friends and went to Leon and Sandy Stugelmeyer’s house in New Ulm, a 100-year-old house right near downtown New Ulm. We set up a studio there and recorded our next album pretty much live.”
The recording is done, but the album isn’t quite ready for release.
“We’ve got to finish up a few things,” Alex said. “We’re hoping in the fall. We’ve got a working title, and we think it will stick. When we were in New Ulm, we did more than just play. We went and toured the Schell factory, spent a lot of time downtown. So we’re calling it ‘Sommer von Traume’ —‘Summer of Dreams’ in German. Levi has an orange boat from the 1970s, and we pretty much terrorized the lake in it, so there’s a bit of the cheesiness of the ‘Summer of Dreams.’”
The members of CHARN may be living their rock ’n’ roll dreams, but the Hicks brothers also caution that sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.
“I think if our dream was to make $25 a day and sleep on the floor, then we’re living the dream,” laughed Alex.
But they’re also proud of what they’ve achieved so far and the inroads they have made in a very difficult industry. They have their own recording studio — Cat Mansion — in the basement of their house, where other bands come to work, and CHARN itself is getting more and more recognition. And maybe most amazingly, the members are all still really good friends.
“The important part, if anybody was going to ask us — and we’ve been with a lot of friends in bands over the years — is don’t be in a band with someone you wouldn’t go to a baseball game with,” said Alex. “We’ve lived together, see each other every day.”
“That gets in the way with a lot of bands. You get a lot of expectations,” agreed Phil.
The members of CHARN genuinely enjoy making music together, and they hope that translates into a good time for their audience.
“We hope with our friends and fans that what they take from our music is that we don’t take ourselves super seriously, but we take the music seriously,” said Alex. “Everything else about being in a band — playing in front of people, having a certain look or certain style — when people get caught up in all that, it stops being fun.”
CHARN is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. today on the Unvarnished Music Festival stage on Sailboard Beach.
On the Net:
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327