L-R: Jess Abbott, Cacie Dalager, Bradley Hale (Credit: Mike Vorrasi)
The Minnesota winter is long and harsh, enveloping the region in a lingering stupor.
“It feels like you have three months of summer, and the rest of the year is like a tundra,” said Cacie Dalager, singer and guitarist of emerging indie pop band Now, Now, which formed in Minneapolis.
The cold provided an incubator for the young band, spurring a focus on writing.
A gradual rise in the local scene culminated Tuesday with the release of Now, Now's second full-length album, Threads. The band, currently the trio of Dalager, drummer Bradley Hale and guitarist and backup vocalist Jess Abbott, have gone from recording in basements to playing arenas (albeit as support), but the greatest challenges -- and opportunities -- are ahead.
Next week, they will play four shows at Austin's SXSW music festival, and embark on a tour in the spring with New Zealand's the Naked and the Famous as they attempt to seize 2012.
Dalager's early influences were Death Cab for Cutie's The Photo Album and Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American. She borrowed an old acoustic guitar from her dad, and met Hale in marching band camp during high school. They gravitated towards a shared passion in music, and the two began writing what Dalager describes as really horrible acoustic songs, recording in Hale's basement studio.
Occasionally, they dig up old recordings. It's so painful to listen to, she said.
The band's sound evolved to be more nuanced, Dalager's voice -- sometimes melancholic, sometimes defiant -- would be flecked with synth riffs and the satisfying crunch of drums and guitar.
The breakout came after Hale met Ian Anderson, head of Afternoon Records, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. The band, originally known as Now, Now Every Children, uploaded some songs onto MySpace and were signed by Afternoon. They released their debut album Cars in 2008, followed by some EPs.
In their late teens, the duo began playing live shows. Over the years, their lineup would swell to a quartet, and at one point a quintet, incorporating three keyboards. But after Abbott joined the band, moving from Maine to Minnesota, Now, Now established itself as a trio.
Perfoming remains intimidating. All of us are pretty nervous people, said Dalager, who still begins the touring cycle with apprehension. But the band has survived European arenas with Paramore and played its share of dive bars.
Recently, Now, Now has incorporated a laptop running Reason, a music software with an array of instrument samples into the live setup -- an unusual choice for a rock band, but another step in the band's embrace of technology.
Starting as teenagers, Now, Now began posting video updates on YouTube. The footage reveals a comfortable and playful dynamic, a montage of absurdities and laughter between updates on touring and album releases.
Last summer, they drove to Vancouver to work with Howard Redekopp, producer of the New Pornographers and Tegan and Sara, to record Threads.
Although they knew his work, the band was apprehensive about introducing a new element.
We didn't want to be molded in any specific way, said Dalager.
But it was a productive collaboration. She credits Redekopp for perfecting the details: tweaking guitar tones, changing tempos by one beat and expanding measures. Threads is an intricate work of intimate songs about love, but not necessarily lovers.
Now, Now was briefly signed to No Sleep Records, but at the end of last year, the band signed to Trans Records, an offshoot of the major label Atlantic Records helmed by Chris Walla, the guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie, who became a fan.
Being signed to a major imprint is still surreal for the group, and while the ful implications still haven't hit, the stakes feel higher.
The pressure that we feel now is way more intense than what we've ever felt before, said Dalager. It's a motivating factor.