Just because you’ve got a good thing going on doesn’t mean you won’t want something else on the side.
Such was the case with Jacob Mullis of avant-pop duo Fort Wilson Riot when he teamed up with Aaron Baum of Night Moves to form R&B/electropop outfit Pornonono two years ago. Though Mullis had been making music with Fort Wilson Riot bandmate Amy Hager since 2002, he had creative urges left unfulfilled and energy to spare.
After initial experimentation matching Mullis’ lyrics to Baum’s beats, Pornonono expanded to include Hager, Jared Isabella, Ben Clark, and Peter LaVoie. The group released its sexy, innuendo-laden debut, Yes, in June 2016. The five tracks are brimming with desire and bumpin’ enough to work up a sweat, be it through dancing or some other consensual physical activity.
We talked to Mullis, Baum, and Hager ahead of the band opening for Sweet Spirit at the Entry on Friday.
City Pages: The band isn’t taking an anti-porn stance with its name, is it?
Jacob Mullis: Not necessarily. I have nothing against sex workers and them getting their work done and doing what they do to make money. There’s an element to some of the songs that maybe address the kind of unhealthiness of overindulging, not necessarily in porn. If anything, it’s more addressing overconsumption and how internet culture brings that out in people.
CP: The band description on Pornonono’s Facebook page is “post-sexual-future-history.” Explain that.
JM: It’s us writing from the future about the history of what this overload of porn music has done to us. No, I mean, I guess I kind of like imagining writing from a future and looking back on a history where sexuality is more free and the hang-ups have gone away and trying to celebrate that a little bit. In some of the lyrics, there’s some anxiety, too. One of the inside jokes about the lyrics is we have these songs that the titles will suggest something sexual but the actual lyrics are kind of about anxiety and fear about the repressiveness of our collective American history. It’s kind of like looking towards a time when we don’t have to worry about that stuff so much, the shackles are off, and we can all be one together.
CP: That’s an interesting contradiction: We’re flooded with sexual images on the internet and in porn yet you mentioned hang-ups. What sexual hang-ups are still left?
JM: I personally think heterosexuality is one of the most damaging invented constructs of human beings. Obviously, there’s only one way to make babies without having scientists and doctors involved helping that process, but I definitely consider heterosexuality and male and female as categories to be something of an invention by civilized society. I think we all would be a lot healthier and better off if we could get past that way of thinking about things.
CP: In addition to the sexual side of Pornonono, what else can you express in this band that you couldn’t in Fort Wilson Riot?
Amy Hager: People just end up having different projects. I don’t know if it was a need to express something different.
JM: I think a lot of ways that bands start, especially in Minneapolis, is you meet different people that you’d like to try to collaborate with. That was basically what happened with this. Aaron and I had been working a lot doing some recording at the Sound Gallery and getting to know each other. We realized we had common goals in a lot of types of music. If I recall correctly, I made a couple little demos that I gave to him, and he was like, “Oh, hey, I have these beats that I made that kind of fit that vibe.” And then the vibe of the music matched with the name and the whole package came together.
It did initially feel like, in particular with writing the lyrics, that Fort Wilson Riot has been a band for such a long time that even though we’re not this huge band, we feel like there’s some kind of history to it that we have an expectation or a sound, at least for ourselves. It definitely felt like, in writing songs for Pornonono, that we could just say whatever.
AH: Also, all the lyrics were written more as a group and Aaron had a big part in that as well.
JM: Yeah, we’d sit in a room and write them together.
AH: Which was fun. A little more playful.
Aaron Baum: If you put them side by side, Fort Wilson Riot is definitely a bit more family-friendly and Pornonono is a little more PG-13 to R-rated. We tried to put some Pornonono songs in with Fort Wilson Riot at one point at a family function and we noticed, “Maybe this isn’t quite all-ages appropriate.”
CP: Do you think that Minnesotan audiences are particularly repressed?
AH: I don’t think so. I think it depends on which crowd you’re at. I don’t think either of our bands attract audiences that are repressed. I think the people [who come to our shows] are fun.
AB: I think it just comes down to people who are used to going to shows versus people who don’t go to shows. I think that’s kind of the culture around nightlife in general. We’ve all toured a lot and I don’t think Minnesota audiences are any more or less repressed than anywhere else.
JM: I feel like maybe America in general has a unique brand of performance anxiety in terms of being out at cultural events. I get that vibe, that people tend to feel like they’re being judged or being watched.
AH: Until they drink a little bit.
CP: Is the Twin Cities music scene one that allows musicians to explore new sounds? Are audiences open to that?
AB: Yeah, I think so. I think sometimes it takes a little longer to accept new ideas, but I think that was more of a thing in the early 2000s, the ‘90s even. When electronic bands started coming out, I remember being in high school and seeing a big backlash to that, there being like, “They don’t have a real drummer, therefore they’re not valid” or something like that. I think that’s gone away entirely with just the fact that more of that has come out.
AH: I agree with Aaron and to add to it: it all obviously depends, too, on who’s in the band. There are certain people that can play anything and everyone would love it no matter what. Some people have to try harder, but that’s just how it is.
JM: I think on a certain level, the people directly involved in the Minnesota music community are really open-minded. Sometimes it might take the audience a little while to accept a band playing with a lot of backing tracks or something like that, but the music community, I think, is always ahead of that curve in Minneapolis. Bands are always experimenting. I think people are quick to embrace something that is good and new.
CP: You put out Yes a little over a year ago. Is there another Pornonono album in the works?
JM: When we recorded Yes, we recorded ten songs initially. We have a lot of new stuff that we have yet to release. Everybody’s in a lot of other projects.
AH: We need to lock us in a room. We do have the intention to put out those other songs that are recorded. We just have a couple little tweaks to do, but we don’t have a date for that.
CP: Which band member has the best dance moves?
AB: Probably Jared but he’s behind the drum kit so he can’t dance.
JM: He’s really flashy. He’s very animated as a drummer so he’s still showing everybody up with his moves.
AB: Next best would be Peter because he’s playing the sax and –
JM: He’s got those sultry moves.
Where: 7th Street Entry
When: 8 p.m. Fri. Aug. 11
Tickets: $12; more info here
More from Music