Minus Six has huge plus side

BY MELEA ANDRYS | APRIL 30, 2009 7:27 AM

mp3 samples: Minus Six

"Lost at Sea"


Somewhere in Peoria, there’s a man with “Minus Six” tattooed on his arm.

Not too far away, baby Elise lives in the Quad Cities, named for her parents’ favorite Minus Six song.
“We had a proposal on stage once,” said Rob Baner, drummer for the band that inspires such avid fan devotion. “This guy wanted to propose before one of our songs, ‘Jane,’ and now we’ll play for their wedding this summer.”

On Saturday, Minus Six (and its die-hard concert attendees) will invade the Industry’s downstairs stage, 211 Iowa Ave. The set (and any ensuing proposals) will kick off at 8 p.m.

It’s true that Minus Six has certainly cultivated its fair share of admirers. Known for its “high energy” live acts, the piano-fronted pop-rock band has released three albums since its 2003 inception, and it has a growing Iowa City fanbase. The group lacks something central to most bands: a guitar — hence the “minus six,” the usual number of strings on a guitar. But what really sets the Quad Cities quartet (which comprises bass, piano, drums, and a saxophone) apart are the lengths its fans venture to demonstrate their affections, ultimately proving that Minus Six has made its imprint — both figuratively and literally.

“It’s those kinds of things that mark the success of the band,” said lead vocalist and pianist Kevin Carton. “It’s not how many CDs we’ve sold or how many times we’ve been on the radio. It’s about how many people’s lives have we touched through our music.”

“Iowa City is fantastic because every time we come here, everyone in the audience is there to just have a great time,” Baner said. “We really feed off of what the audience members do — when they’re dancing and singing along and telling us something they want to hear. I think Iowa City is really special in that regard. People are just looking to have fun with us.”

Principal songwriter Carton said creating an euphoric atmosphere is one of his chief aims in crafting Minus Six’s lyrically and melodically driven tunes à la Ben Folds or Billy Joel.

“My piano playing is an eclectic mix between rock and ragtime,” Carton said. “We want our music to inspire thoughts or visions in your head. We want to create a dream state for you to follow.”

It’s easy to appreciate Minus Six’s tightly crafted revelations. Three of its members — Baner, bassist and vocalist Kameron Rummans, and saxophonist Matt Sivertsen — are all formally trained musicians. Baner, a UI graduate student, is heavily active in the UI School of Music.

“I find myself using all my jazz training and different percussion techniques in how I’ll approach the rock track that we play,” he said. “It gives me a different outlook.”

Lately, Carton said, he has been toying with more mature lyrics to support the group’s evolving fondness for musical experimentation and complexity.

“I try to keep away from writing songs about love, because I feel as though there are enough love songs in the world,” he said. “But you know, every once in a while, you get those cheesy feelings where you start falling for someone and you can’t help it. I’ve been trying to expand as far as the writing goes and to write about cultural relations, politics, and the end of the world; the guys [in Minus Six] know there’s meaning behind the lyrics. It’s not just a bullshit song. I believe what I’m saying, I believe what I’m writing, and we have a message. There’s a bigger meaning behind the music.”

For Baner, part of this bigger picture includes the intimate relationship Minus Six has formed with its fans.

“It really means a lot to me that people appreciate what we do,” he said. “We’ve got this interaction with people who really dig our stuff, and it’s good to see them be able to party at the shows.”

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