Minneapolis, Minn. — If this reporter ever did a story on band names alone, "Coach Said Not To" would probably be at the top of the list. The group's guitarist and singer, Eva Mohn, says it was a pretty spontaneous choice.
"It was number 71 in a list in a pamphlet of 101 ways to turn down a sexual invitation," she says. "We were looking for a band name because we couldn't figure out what our band name was going to be, but it wasn't purposeful. We were just paging through this thing thinking it was hilarious and we got to number 71 and it was like... oh coach said not to, that's so strange."
To the indie rock aficionado, the name sounds like a hard-core punk band. As a self-described female-dominated art rock band, Coach Said Not To's music is anything but.
The group's members are products of Minnesota public school music programs. Many can play at least two instruments. Eva Mohn and her sister, Linnea, the bass player, met keyboardist Lee Violet as students in a ballet class taught by Violet. Drummer Nate Perbix was recruited after dating Violet. Violet says they started the group almost as a response to the bands they heard in bars.
"It wasn't that people were doing things that we didn't like, it was just the things that they weren't doing," she says. "Like why don't people sing in harmony more often or why don't people change up rhythm and why don't they play in weird meters, or why don't they use comedy or humor a little bit more in their music? And so, we kept saying, 'oh wouldn't it be great to be in a band that did all those things?'"
When group members first started having to describe their style, Violet looked up the category "art rock" on her computer.
"One place on the Internet I found defined it as music that was classically influenced," she says. "And that's definitely us. I think that we have a lot of classical training between the four of us and you know, we hear melodies and harmonies in a very clear and concise way, the way classical music can sometimes be."
Many musicians get annoyed or perplexed by questions about the songwriting process. For some it destroys the mystery. Coach Said Not To members revel in such conversations. Their artistic approach is very collaborative and egalitarian. When ideas graduate to song form, they go through what members call the Coach Said Not To sausage factory. Members say this song-by-committee process is invigorating and gives all of them ownership of everything they create, but Linnea Mohn says it can be time consuming.
"It will take us literally weeks sometimes to finally get a song to a place where we're, like, OK this is where it was headed all along," she says. "It'll go through a couple of lives before it gets to a place where we feel like it's finished. And we'll take it away, we'll take it off the table if we're not happy with it too. Everything's a work in progress, always."
The lyrics in Coach Said Not To songs also eschew tradition. There are no typical relationship songs in the group's canon. Quite often, they focus more on minute sometimes mundane details than grandiose events. One song deals with the death of a childhood dog. Another is a wistful remembrance of the Mohn sisters' mother's past as a surfer chick. Then there's the song "Words That I Employ."
"It's a reaction to a person looking at a rock show," Eva Mohn says. "It's not me in particular, but it's this person that is in love with a performer or seduced by a performer and so it's this.
I don't want your mouth to move anymore.
When your words fall out,
my knees fall down.
"And so it's this falling in love with a performer sort of thing," she says, "and how sad that is and how funny it is that people really do think they fall in love with somebody just because they're under this great pink light and microphoned."
With its tempo changes, melodic shifts and idiosyncratic lyrics, Coach Said Not To is definitely a thinking person's rock band, kind of like their nerdy brethren in New York, "They Might Be Giants." It's a comparison the group doesn't reject, but embraces.
"I think maybe that might be the route for us, is a cult-like fan base instead of radio play, Lee Violet says. "And who knows; we'll see."
The Coach Said Not To cult will gather at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis May 8, when the band unveils its debut CD, "Coach Said Not To."