A Minneapolis punk rock trio formed in 1975, the Suicide Commandos was in rare company in its early days. The group — comprised of bassist Steve Almaas, drummer Dave Ahl, and guitarist Chris Osgood — inked a deal with Mercury Records subsidiary Blank Records in 1977, releasing Make a Record. Ultimately, the Suicide Commandos disbanded within four years of forming, before the Minneapolis music scene had noticeably produced acclaimed talents like the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Husker Du, and Prince.
Activity within the Suicide Commandos camp slowly resumed in the 1990s as a cult following for the band was steadily growing. Ultimately, Commandos song “Complicated Fun” was licensed for commercials in 2003 and 2004, while “Burn It Down” became part of a Chuck Statler retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Minneapolis radio station the Current asked the Suicide Commandos to be a co-headlining act at its 7th Birthday Party in 2013. 2015 brought a limited-edition vinyl EP release featuring Commandos recordings from 1978, which the group supported with a January 2015 show at St. Paul’s Turf Club.
In 2016, the Suicide Commandos recorded its first full-length studio album in 38 years, Time Bomb. Twin/Tone Records — especially known for its work with the Replacements — was revived to release Time Bomb, its first new title since 1998. Showing how far punk rock has come in terms of acceptability from “the man,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges declared May 5, 2017, as “Commando Day” in the Twin Cities, leading vinyl copies of Time Bomb to sell out immediately.
To learn more about Time Bomb, I had the pleasure of speaking with not only Almaas, Ahl, and Osgood, but also with Twin/Tone co-founder (and former Replacements manager) Peter Jesperson. More on the Suicide Commandos can be found on the Twin/Tone website at www.twintone.com/commandos.
Your only previous studio album was released in 1978. Why did you decide to make a new record now?
Dave Ahl: The Commandos try to play one to three shows a year in our hometown, Minneapolis. We always have fun and our crowd seems to dig it, so we wanted to offer something new to our loyal following that we could be proud of.
Steve Almaas: We’ve been getting together most every year to play reunion shows for quite some time. It occurred to us a couple of years ago as some of our contemporaries started to leave this mortal coil, that maybe we should do something while we’re all still here.
How long did it take to record Time Bomb?
Steve Almaas: Including the demo process, which was done long distance between Minneapolis and New York, the album took a leisurely paced year to put together. The bass and drums were recorded in three days after a week of rehearsal and two gigs with Bob Mould. We were warmed up. Guitars and vocals were overdubbed over the next few months.
Chris Osgood: The initial tracking was done at Master Mix in Minneapolis in three days in late April 2016 after the Bob Mould shows at First Avenue; notably, the weekend after Prince died.
How many songs were written for the album?
Steve Almaas: We didn’t record anything that wasn’t included on the album. I’m sure everyone had more songs, but we struck a good balance with these.
Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Chris Osgood: Yes!
Dave Ahl: I particularly like “Milk of Human Kindness,” it’s punk rock and funny.
Steve Almaas: There are too many I like to pick just one, but I will say a particular favorite is “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” because everyone contributed to the writing process. I find the rave-up in the middle very pleasing as well.
Peter Jesperson: Tough question ‘cos I really do love them all but, if I had to call out just one, I’d say “For Such a Mean Time” is my fave. It’s catchy and topical.
— Slicing Up Eyeballs (@slicingeyeballs) March 1, 2017
Do you have any goals for Time Bomb?
Dave Ahl: To go national!
Chris Osgood: I would like the album to become as ubiquitous as blue jeans. I think once people realize that Twin/Tone Records came alive to release the record we failed to deliver in 1977 when we got scooped up by Phonogram/Polydor, everyone will simply have to have one. Right?
Steve Almaas: To have as many people hear it as possible.
Peter, does the new Suicide Commandos album mean that Twin/Tone is back?
Peter Jesperson: Another tough question! We’re exploring the parameters of making new records with new artists, as well as doing some archival Twin/Tone releases. If we can come up with the funding to do so, great. If not, resurrecting the label just for this Suicide Commandos album would be pretty poetic, too.
Was a Suicide Commandos reunion in the studio the impetus for the Twin/Tone relaunch?
Peter Jesperson: As a matter of fact, yes!
How did the band first come together in 1975?
Chris Osgood: Dave and I had been in bands together in high school. I went off to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I was in a big hurry to get in a band with Dave again, so I graduated in three years and rushed back into his arms. Steve was our friend and had been to parties at Utopia House where we lived. We decided to be a three-piece so we might be able to survive on band income, and Steve fit right in.
Dave Ahl: I started playing with Chris in seventh grade. When Chris came back from college, we put the Commandos together with Steve as a like-minded compatriot.
What were your collective musical influences?
Steve Almaas: ZZ Top, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, Roxy Music, John Cale, Eddie Cochran, David Bowie, the Modern Lovers, the Nuggets compilation, etc. Hearing the first Ramones album in the spring of 1976 showed us the way forward.
Chris Osgood: Like Steve said, lots of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, English “pub rock” as it was called, as well as Bowie, Roxy, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band… and in my case specifically, power trios: Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and ZZ Top.
Dave Ahl: Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Who, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Arthur Brown, the Litter.
You were known for doing original material at a time when most bands in your hometown of Minneapolis were doing cover songs. What made you so determined to do your own stuff?
Chris Osgood: We liked our own songs, which early on we had to introduce as “by Aerosmith” or someone else the audience knew and liked.
Steve Almaas: When I got together with Chris and Dave, Chris was already writing some very good songs. I was impressed and followed his lead. It was very satisfying.
The band started traveling nationally in 1976. What was touring like then?
Chris Osgood: It was rattling around in the back of a van that Dave owned. Nothing new. We had been doing it around Minnesota and the upper Midwest for years before we did it coast to coast. Sleeping on floors and couches usually, with a motel room we all shared from time to time. That was luxurious!
Steve Almaas: There were very few places we could play. Cleveland, New York, Boston, and then later Denver, L.A., and San Francisco. The scene was very small and very intense. Someone pointed out to me that we made punk rock records when you could own all the punk rock records that had been made through 1978. I like that.
Dave Ahl: We were always a DIY band, we’d book our own tours, make friends along the way, and then do it again and again. It was a revelation when Blank Records introduced us to the concept of a “credit card,” falsifying our application to indicate that I was an A&R person for Phonogram…
Your band was very influential among other Minneapolis artists. Do you remember the first time your music was covered? Or at least that it was evident that your band mattered to more than just your friends and family?
Steve Almaas: The scene that started in the Blitz Bar and then moved on to the Longhorn gave us a lot of validation. When we played in those days, it was a very real dance between the band and the audience. Discovering other like-minded souls as we left Minneapolis to play in Cleveland, New York, Denver, and California was pretty gratifying, too.
I’ve heard covers of our songs by The Magnolias (“Complicated Fun”), the Swedish band Sator (“I’ll Wait”) and Soul Asylum (“Attacking the Beat”). I like them all…
Chris Osgood: There are some other versions of “Complicated Fun” floating around out there, too. What was more important at the time was turning people on to real rock ‘n’ roll. Wherever we played people loved us and we changed their lives, or they waited around to beat us up after the gig. I met a guy named Greg at the Soul Asylum/Guided by Voices show we played last weekend who declared how much he hated us at first — then he started his own band!
— Da Capo Publicists (@DaCapoPR) September 6, 2017
Bob Mehr’s Replacements book, Trouble Boys, included several mentions of the Suicide Commandos. Do you like how you were represented in the book?
Chris Osgood: Bob wrote a great book that was fun to read. I learned a lot I didn’t know, and I was there!
Steve Almaas: I’m happy that we received credit for our place in the scheme of things.
Dave Ahl: I’ll have to read it!
Is there a band accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Chris Osgood: Being named “Best Twin Cities Band” and “Worst Twin Cities Band” in the local weekly in 1978.
Steve Almaas: I’m feeling pretty good that we’ve managed to make an album I’m proud of.
Dave Ahl: I like our new record, Time Bomb!
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Steve Almaas: I spend as much time as possible at my cottage in the Catskill Mountains. Wandering with my dog and spending time with friends and family. My little slice of heaven.
Chris Osgood: My wife Adrianne and I fly fish in Wisconsin and Wyoming and we spend part of the year in Southwest France in an old stone house — built in 1299! — that we have been slowly fixing up. I work with eight suppliers to bring the wines of Southwest France to Minnesota. My day job is being vice president of community relations at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dave Ahl: Reading.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Steve Almaas: It’s still as important as ever to just get out there and do it. Who knows what will happen…
Chris Osgood: I will always be proud that the Commandos made a living for years playing music people hated! Eventually, of course, some came around. If you believe in something, don’t be a wimp! Don’t second-guess yourself and worry that other people won’t find you cool. If you think that way, you’re already not cool, right?
Dave Ahl: The Suicide Commandos have two mottos: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People” and “For Better School Lunches.”
[Featured Image by Paul Lundgren]