Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – The Suicide Commandos

Award-winning singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist and IPR Instructor Kevin Bowe
(Photo: Darin Back)

This blog is part a series of entries from inside the production mind of Audio Production & Engineering Associate Program Chair Kevin Bowe. Kevin will detail the audio production sessions that he and his Production Portfolio class run during the course of the term. Over the past year, Kevin and his class have worked with artists like Hot Date, Alexander Young, Jonah Marais, Batteryboy, Hot Date, Maudlin, Jake Ilika, and Communist Daughter. 

4/24/2016,  Mastermix A

If you have lived in Minnesota and you are a “person of a certain age”, then The Suicide Commandos changed your life. I know they changed mine and very much for the better.

The mid to late ‘70s were not exactly a renaissance period for Minnesota music. There had been a burst of creativity and original music in the mid to late ‘60s (instigated by the Beatles famous Ed Sullivan appearance in 1964) and a local record label called “Soma” released incredible original music, all based out of Minnesota. The scene was ripe for garage bands like the Trashmen (Surfin’ Bird) and The Litter, along with psychedelic bands like the Paisleys and Stillroven. But a lot of this had died down by the mid-’70s and the clubs had been taken over by cover bands and disco DJs.

The scene here was desperate for re-invention, and two new elements came along to accomplish that. One was the new r&b sound pioneered by Prince and the Flyte Tyme crew; that was an exciting sound which ended up changing the world of music …. But Minneapolis was a MUCH more segregated place musically at that point, and there were relatively few white people who got into that sound at its inception. It wasn’t until the hit single “Funkytown” and the emergence of Prince and The Time that the whole world took notice of this amazing movement, and it’s important to note the Minneapolis was one of the LAST PLACES ON EARTH you could hear Prince on the radio!!!!

But there was another ripple started in the later ‘70s, and that was the beginning of Midwestern punk rock. The very first punk band from here was called The Suicide Commandos; three kids from the western suburbs started playing very fast, very short, and very quirky songs that didn’t sound like ANYTHING ELSE on the radio. Punk rock had begun in NYC and London (depending on who you believe) but things took a while longer to spread around the world back then, and The Suicide Commandos were our uniquely Minnesotan response to the Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and all the other first wave punk bands. As you might expect, our Minnesota brand of punk was a bit more humble, down to earth version of this strange new music. We just don’t take ourselves that seriously here, and the Commandos reflected that aesthetic. But they rocked like a house on fire as is quite literally demonstrated by the early video of their song “Burn It Down” which they filmed in front of a house in Minnetonka. Which was…. Burning down!!!

suicide commandos
Commandos drummer, Dave Ahl, IPR APE Student Geo Montecillo, Instructor Kevin Bowe, Commandos guitarist Chris Osgood, and Commandos bassist Steve Almaas

Chris Osgood on guitar, Dave Ahl on drums and Steve Almaas on bass were a lethal combo. Their shows at the legendary Longhorn Bar (Minnesota’s first punk venue) were packed, sweaty and unforgettable. The band released one flawless record on MCA, but the world was not ready for their brand of ferocity. This was not corporate rock. Their second and final release was a live recording of their last show, leaving a legacy that other bands quickly picked up on, most notably The Replacements and Husker Du. But all of us got our start opening for the Suicide Commandos; they were the first and in many ways…. The best. All three members have gone on to lead musical lives, and Dave Ahl has gained a reputation as the premier recording studio builder in the Midwest; he built Flyte Tyme for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (where our own Steve Hodge engineered countless hits for Janet Jackson and so many others) and he also built our own Master Mix studio right here at IPR!!!!

Now life has come full circle, as it so often does, and The Suicide Commandos have reunited to record a new album of original songs- I am beyond lucky to be the one recording it right here at Master Mix…. The house that Dave built. Dave has not lost a beat, his manic drumming is still as exciting as it was in 1978, Chris’s rapier wit and guitar playing cuts just as sharp and Steve Almaas (in from NYC for these sessions) still pumps a bass line with the energy of a teenager. Watching this band open for Bob Mould (ex Husker Du) at TWO sold out First Avenue shows over the weekend was a welcome relief from our city’s overwhelming grief at the loss of our own Prince. While the crowds cried purple tears outside in the street, The Suicide Commandos took us back to the crazy joyful reason I do this in the first place….. loud, fast rock and roll music.

I’m so glad to be doing this record, and I’m so glad it’s happening right here at our own oasis of music in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, where it all began. At least for me.

-Kevin Bowe

Recent blogs by Kevin Bowe include:

Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – Sophia Norwood
Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – Maudlin
Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – Communist Daughter
Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – Eric Hohn