The music of Minneapolis-based Americana band Soo Line Loons transforms the day-to-day struggle of American living into foot-stomping, full-hearted anthems about chasing dreams and dancing while you do it. At times twangy, at times funky, their albums stretch the boundaries of several genres to produce something entirely different: songs that offer the loose, raw spirit of punk rock, the bold, driving rhythms of roots rock-and-roll, and the rich sense of personal history that makes classic country forever relevant. Named after a local railroad, the Soo Line running Southeast through Minnesota, the band formed serendipitously in early 2019 when previously solo singer/songwriter Grant Glad met drummer Robin Hatterschide at a bar just before recording his first studio album. The two got along so well they soon held auditions to find a bassist and discovered local pro and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Fox. Adding Robin’s mom Kristi Hatterschide, a former folk violinist, and old friend and mandolin-playing songwriter Erik Loftsgaarden, a diverse and dynamic Americana band was born. The shared energy and genuine love for the music is evident in every Soo Line Loons performance and musical release, from their April 2019 debut LP A Place No One Belongs to their forthcoming self-titled, full-length album.
Inspired by down-home, storytelling artists from John Prine to Bruce Springsteen to Uncle Tupelo, the Soo Line Loons write with a back-to-basics mentality, focusing on guitars, bass, drums, fiddle, and lyrics written by real people for real people. Their first single “Dancing at the VFW” from A Place No One Belongs was featured as Song of the Day on 89.3 The Current in 2019. The ambling, acoustic single highlights lead singer Glad’s buoyant warble, evoking warm nostalgia for simpler days as well as the grim inevitabilities of age and change. After the initial success of their first release, the Soo Line Loons put their heads down and got back to work, rehearsing regularly at Minneapolis’s famed Sound 80 where Dylan recorded Blood on the Tracks. There, they co-wrote the tracks that eventually became their self-titled release. When the ongoing pandemic halted studio time in March 2020, the Soo Line Loons released an acoustic album titled What Matters Now: The Quarantine Sessions, a selection of fresh originals and reworked, stripped-down versions of songs from their 2019 LP.
Eager to make music, the band continued to collaborate in various ways through the pandemic, eventually finishing their full-length, self-titled album, set for March 2021 release by Quit Your Day Job Records. The new album, produced by Tony Williamette at the Minnehaha Recording Company, brings the fiddle to the forefront in a series of uniquely atmospheric, bluegrass-leaning ballads and dance-ready anthems. The album’s intricate twists and turns keep the music interesting, showing a clear evolution from earlier releases, while staying true to the Soo Line Loons’ idiosyncratic style. The band brought in local legend Charlie Parr to play slide guitar, Erick Anderson from the Twin Cities iconic rap group “Atmosphere” to help build out several tracks, multi-instrumentalist Hunter Hawthorne (who since joined the band as a full-time member) to contribute keys, and local singer Car’ma to add gospel-infused background vocals to several tracks, including the keyboard-led, elegantly funky “Funktry.”
From the textured nature sounds and haunting violin that bookend the album’s opening track “Old Mill” to the elastic saxophone lines woven throughout the single “Die Young,” the album feels eccentric but cohesive, curious but never complicated. In “Die Young” Glad croons, “Ain’t got stars on Hollywood Boulevard / But we’re kings anyway,” a fitting motto for a band hell-bent on doing what they love despite the difficulties thrown at them. But the Soo Line Loons are a band that embrace difficulty: from dealing with addiction and recovery to facing depression and massive change— whether performing for packed venues (their 2019 album release shows sold out the Warming House in Minneapolis and Caydence Records in St. Paul) or playing alone in a basement during a country-wide quarantine. The album’s lead single, “Can’t Stop Singing the Blues,” offers a jaunty, cheerful consideration of shifting moods, with narrative lyrics set to a steadily changing rhythmic backbone. It’s a great example of the band’s characteristic tendency to transform misery into a unique form of lighthearted beauty: “That sun goes down in the evening. / Well that sun, you know, is gonna rise.”