Roger Whittet: Bass, Harmony Vocals (Lino Lakes, MN)
Tony Petersen: Guitar, Banjo, Harmony Vocals (Cloquet, MN)
Dedric Clark: Lead Vocals, Guitar (Cloquet, MN)
Boyd Smith: Drums, Heartthrob (Esko, MN)
As I strolled down Woodward Ave. the roar of the crowd could be heard from Comerica Park as the Detroit Tigers took the field. Across the street, a collection of fans were prepping their emotions and livers for a night with Dashboard Confessional and All-American Rejects, that night I was strolling to the latter. As I twisted and turned my way through the crowd of 30 somethings still rocking Chuck Taylor’s and crispy denim, I picked up a ticket from will call, stood in line, alone, eager to get in. I was sweatin’, the doors were at 6:30pm and it was now 6:58 – 2 minutes until show time! 6:59pm – ID and wristband, 7:05 I make it to the metal detectors… beeeeep… damn it. 7:10 – stand in line for a beer. 7:11 – no time for beer. I began a high paced walk into the theater. As I entered the ballroom doors at the Fillmore Theater, music filled the air, the smile hit my face, I made it… and there they were on stage, in the flesh… finally, I am seeing The Social Animals live on stage for the first time.
While much of the crowd prepared for Chris Carrabba (lead singer of Dashboard and big fan of The Social Animals), I was preparing for my time with Dedric, Tony, Boyd and Roger to learn more about how a group of boys from Minnesota had made it to this stage. As the last chord of “Knock Me Out” rang through the cheers of the crowd, the boys rushed off stage. Not long after, the door next to my corner of the floor swings open, Tony Petersen greets me with a smile as he pulls a Miller Lite out his back-pocket (colder and cheaper than the $10 16oz Bud-Light in my hand… I was envious). That night, I entered the world of The Social Animals and this is their story.
To begin, I wanted to start from the beginning, the really beginning. I learned that musical inclinations for each member of the group started early. For Tony Petersen it was those oh so familiar car rides with his old man. “He would just blast classic rock…” Tony says, “It was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ that made me say, yep I want to play guitar.” For Dedric Clark and Roger Whittet, it was the spectacle. Dedric notes “I watched somebody perform “Somebody to Love” by Queen with a whole choir behind them and I was like, alright, I gotta do this.” Roger’s spark came from witnessing Alkaline Trio on stage, he says “… going to your first concert and you see the lights and the big stage, it’s something you never forget.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Queen, Alkaline Trio – all made an early impression. Add Trampled By Turtles, Bob Dylan, Bon Iver and a heavy dose of The Replacements and you have the influential formula that makes up The Social Animals. “The Replacements are a very big one for us” Dedric says. Growing up and living in The Midwest has also helped them musically. In regards to what about the Midwest has had an impact on them musically, Dedric points out, “For me I would say, First would be the freezing weather and second would be alcohol.” “I second that.” Boyd chimes in. Tony adds, “Yea, I would say the seasons. You know, because you’re so pumped when the Spring comes around, finally, cause you think you’re going to die every winter. So there’s that emotional roller coaster that’s good for songwriting fodder.” Which I want to give bonus points to Tony for use of the word “fodder” in an interview. While many of our Midwestern agro-brethren will know, for those not privy to agriculture speak… “fodder” is food, for livestock.
Last summer saw the release of their first EP, Formative Years, a fitting title that lays the foundation for them musically. “We had a bunch of music before this and whittled it down to the ones we liked the best and what others seemed to like best” Dedric says about the title. “We put them together as a first EP, as an introduction to our music, we called it Formative Years because they literally came about during the formation of the band. Some of those songs I wrote when I was 18 or 19 and they are essentially what built us into where we are going.” Tony notes, “Lyrically too, A lot of them seem to be about that growing process.”
That growth period also has involved a lot of miles. As the band has toured the country on a steady diet of gas station hard-boiled eggs, Jack Links KC Masterpiece Beef Jerky and Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, their time away from the Midwest allowed them to appreciate the scene in which they came from. On the Midwest scene, Tony says, “It’s vibrant! There is a crazy music scene we didn’t really know until we came back… I read that First Avenue is like the 5th best selling venue in the country!” Dedric adds, “Everyone is so supportive, everyone wants their hometown band to be cool, to help them out as much as possible and we are super grateful for that.”
Even with the grueling tour schedule, their energy for the art is never wavering and it shows in their music and their stage presence. When I ask what they do to re-charge when not doing music, there was confusion in the air, as if I just asked a question in Mandarin. The easy answer is, music and the creative process is constant in their lives both personally and professionally. Dedric says with a laugh “I don’t know, I don’t really unplug from it that much, I am constantly thinking about it.” “Yea, even when we are off, we are in a group chat tossing ideas around.” Roger says.
That energy and unwavering dedication to their craft is apparent on Formative Years and building upon that will be the release of an LP this fall. A bulk of which is being recorded at the studio operated by Modest Mouse. Dedric says, “It’s getting completed actually on this tour. The final touches will be recorded on to it and we are hoping the Fall. We are shopping labels right now, so, it will be soon!”
If Formative Years is any indication of what is to come, expect The Social Animals to be here for a long time to come. Add in the modesty, humbleness and work ethic that is inherent in their Midwestern roots and the sky is the limit for these guys. They are holding their own on the road with major acts, gaining more and more fans each day and have the energy, talent and determination to become a major player in the music scene. If we are witnessing the formative years of The Social Animals, then it won’t be long until the roars of the crowd are from fans prepping their emotions and livers for The Social Animals in the future.
A big thank you to Dedric, Tony, Boyd and Roger for letting me tag along with them. To get some more of The Social Animals in your life, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Look for a show near you, pick up some merch and most of all… spread the Midwestern gospel, Formative Years is available now.
MWG asks The Social Animals the hard hitting questions:
When you hear the term “Midwestern Gentleman” what comes to mind?
“I think of beards and suits.” – Dedric Clark
“I think of the term “Minnesota Nice” and how it kind of applies to the Midwest as well” – Roger Whittet
“What comes to mind for me is a working class character and kindness of Midwestern people…” – Tony Petersen
Photo/Video: (c) Brian K. Vaughan by way of The Social Animals.