Lot Lizard is a post-punk band from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’ve not been to South Dakota maybe you only think of the Badlands or Mount Rushmore and that scene from North By Northwest and not a place from which interesting music hails but it’s long been a fact that relatively isolated areas is where you find a good deal of spark and originality as creative people there have to be more or less self-inspirational. Also, one of America’s great record stores is located in Sioux Falls: Total Drag. The latter has been the regional stop for touring bands on the underground/DIY circuit since opening its doors around half a decade ago.
Lot Lizard’s sound is haunted, ethereal yet brooding and urgent. Like a goth-y Pere Ubu or resonant with the eclectic roots of newer bands like later period Iceage and Protomartyr. Currently the group is on a tour with Frankie and the Witch Fingers with dates in Colorado listed below before the interview. The band is nearly finished with its debut full length with an anticipated release on vinyl through both Different Folk Records and Total Drag Records. Patrick Nelson, the group’s bassist, recently answered some questions for Queen City Sounds illuminating some of the band’s history and how he got into post-punk.
Queen City Sounds: Sioux Falls, South Dakota is not the first place people think of when it comes to post-punk. What brought your band together and what kinds of places did you play locally before branching beyond?
Patrick Nelson: It’s true, South Dakota is not a place know for its post-punk (or insert any genre) bands or for its boundary pushing culture in general. This band was brought together essentially by our drummer Brogan who basically reached out to all of us separately about the idea of starting a new band. All of us, at the very least, knew of each other and had seen each other around at shows and/or in other bands. We started playing the typical places available to bands: small clubs/bars, basement shows, and most importantly our local record store that doubles as an all ages DIY space.
How did you get into post-punk and noise rock (referencing Lord Bronc’s mention of Jesus Lizard on your Bandcamp page)?
That’s a good question.. I’m sure the answer would vary greatly per member. Post-punk was a weird one for me as it took me quite a while to “grow into.” An acquired taste if you will. To a 15-year-old me it was just kind of weird boring music that I didn’t get at the time. When you’re that age and full of youthful insanity blasting, I don’t know, classic early punk from NY, LA and the UK or early hardcore stuff like Minor Threat or Black Flag, bands like The Fall or Joy Division are just kind of weird and out there sounding. Not energetic or shocking enough. Of course you grow up a little bit and figure it out and realize you were totally wrong.
Noise rock on the other hand was something that grabbed me right away and was part of my musical experience at a young age. I think that has to do with that it was having a sort of heyday in my formative years. Like that whole Amphetamine Reptile scene or bands like Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth or Jesus Lizard. All super abrasive in their own way but were getting press, major label contracts etc.. I was lucky enough to see Jesus Lizard AND Sonic Youth at Lollapalooza in 1995. It’s always interesting to see what other bands people link your band to. I don’t really see the Jesus Lizard but we’ve gotten it more than once. Although I won’t deny the influence of that rhythm section on my playing and I can see a connection with Ben’s guitar work as well.
Did you play different kinds of music before starting this band? What bands? What kind of music?
Oh yeah. I’ve played in plenty. In addition to this project I’m currently involved in a moody post-hardcore project called Roman Ships. Prior to that I’ve played quite a bit of guitar and a little bass in projects that range from street-punk/power-pop to new-wave/space rock, to even a ska band back in the 90s. I can honestly say I’ve been a fan of at least one band every one of the other guys has been in. Lindy had this killer Goth/death-rock project called Angie Hosh. Ben fronted a cool noisy post-rock band called Talk Rock. Brogan’s been involved in a ton of bands (as drummers in this town, and presumably most towns, are known to do). Most recently a garage project called Weathers Rest and in the early 2000’s a chaotic screamo band called Sinking Steps…Rising Eyes.
What made what you do now more interesting for you initially? I know, it’s not as cut and dry and by the numbers like that. That live video you sent and your demos reminded me a little of another band whose post-punk and other musical roots come from a little different direction as well and that is Protomartyr. Did you start out sounding sort of like that? Did you evolve into that sort of sound?
This has been an interesting ride so far for many reasons including the fact that song writing has been very organic. We didn’t go into this with the idea that we would create something that sounds like band A crossed with band B sprinkled with layers of C and D. Of course we talked a bit about bands we liked and such… but that can be an exhaustive conversation with this crew as we all like a huge variety of music and have a lot of respect for different styles. The Protomartyr connection is interesting to me in the fact that I think most of this first record was created without everyone in the band really knowing about that band and their records…. That being said I can see some similarities particularly the idea that much of the music is rhythmically driven via the bass and drums while the guitar often textures in these tasteful atmospheric licks. I think at this point I can speak for everyone and say we are indeed fans of that band now though. Recently saw them live, they killed.
Is there an active local music world that you connect to right now? What is life like for a band like yours in South Dakota in terms of playing shows and connecting with other artists to share bills? How did you get hooked up with those shows in Colorado?
The Sioux Falls music scene is doing pretty well currently. In terms of venues/spaces hosting live original music I think we’re thriving, the best we’ve been in over a decade! Whether people realize that and get out to support live music as much as they should is certainly up for debate. We’re a small city and so it’s tight knit and for the most part I think we try to support each other. The city is growing fast, and has been for [many] years now, so I’m very interested to see where we end up in 5 or 10 years.
As for connecting with other artists and how we got connected to the Colorado shows, we played a gig with Frankie and the Witch Fingers in Sioux Falls a little over a year ago. They dug our band and on top of that had the next day off so we became friends and were lucky enough to connect with them in Denver and Ft. Collins.
Like-minded or at least adjacently-minded bands we should know about or hear that maybe no one outside of South Dakota or regionally?
There’s plenty of talented musicians here that’s for sure. Two I’m particularly excited about are Bodega Sushi and Velcro Ultrasound (both are in the middle of full length albums). Rifflord and Green Alter are some other friends, both in the heavier realm of things, that are working hard and deserve a shout.
“Lot Lizard” is a term I grew up knowing (as a child of the 70s and 80s), is there a story behind why you chose that name or a significance to the name that has come to fit your band and its music?
Ha, yeah there’s a bit of a story. So I had written this bass line and had an idea in mind for how I wanted the song to sound sonically. I was describing it to the guys at practice and tried to put them into this landscape, this frame of mind. I believe it went, “Like some lot lizard out of gas and stranded in the middle of nowhere on some desert highway.” To which Brogan said, “What did you say? What’s a lot lizard?” And after a laugh and an explanation on my end he responded, “That’s it, that’s the band name.” There was definitely a little apprehension as we weren’t trying to be overtly offensive or whatever. We asked for outside opinions, including those of our girlfriends/wives. It stuck. And I think it fits. It’s also fun to forget about the social term and just use it as more literal in terms of reptiles. And the alliteration. I mean heck, it might just be the perfect band name.
How did you get connected with Total Drag and why is that a significant place for your band and maybe for the local underground music world?
Brogan [Costa], our drummer, actually helped open and is a part owner of Total Drag. On top of that I’ve know Dan and Liz [Nissen] for as long as I can remember. We’ve attended and played a lot of gigs together over the years. Total Drag is an integral part of what is happening in Sioux Falls. Lot Lizard played our first gig there and it continues to be the place we most often play locally.
In any city the importance of a space that hosts all ages shows cannot be stressed enough. At a most primal level, a music scene will have a hard time surviving without it. Music is evolved by the youth. A scene being engaged by youthful energy and ideas will hopefully foster growth and longevity.