The local music scene’s ubiquitous and ridiculously busy hot hand, Erik Appelwick has, remarkably, been living in the Twin Cities only six years. Having grown up in South Dakota and Michigan, and then kicked about South Dakota for a while during his collegiate and postcollegiate years, he made the bold decision in 2000 to move east, if only slightly. “I wanted to play music, and there wasn’t really anywhere there to play,” he said of his old South Dakota digs. “I was scared to move to a really big city—afraid of being eaten alive and that sort of thing. Minneapolis was just the closest place. And I was even afraid of moving to Minneapolis.”
That admission turned out to be the most telling detail Appelwick would let slip during the forty-five uncomfortable minutes he spent rehashing his whirlwind music career. For while he has enjoyed many successes of late, he doesn’t particularly relish talking about them.
Appelwick had come ambling into Spyhouse, a South Minneapolis coffee shop known for its loyal patronage of MCAD students and musicians. There he ran into Dan Wilson, the Minneapolis singer-songwriter and frontman for Semisonic. He lingered for a bit to chat, but not long enough to make him late for an appointment. Then the clean-shaven, neatly dressed Appelwick took a seat in the sunlight. “How are you?” he asked quietly, his voice barely audible above Tom Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow.”
According to the brief career history he’d provided in an earlier email, Appelwick’s youthful fascination with KISS—and, embarrassingly, Huey Lewis and Peter Cetera—led to piano and guitar lessons and then, in high school, to playing percussion with his school’s orchestra band. (“First chair, thank you,” he’d written.) He then got a taste of the spotlight while playing guitar with the Harvesters, a University of South Dakota rock band that found its way, in 1996, to the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But any exposure SXSW might’ve provided was mostly squandered, as Appelwick and his bandmates spent the bulk of their time getting drunk.
Fast-forward to the year 2000. Appelwick eased into his new hometown of Minneapolis, having quickly hooked up with another South Dakota export, Darren Jackson (Kid Dakota, Alva Star, The Hopefuls). Soon Appelwick was playing guitar with Jackson’s band Cellophane, an infectious power-pop foursome that morphed into Camaro, then The Olympic Hopefuls, and, finally and simply, The Hopefuls. During this same time, Appelwick was also cobbling together an income by gigging with Kid Dakota and Alva Star while trying to persuade others to let him play on their records—“bass and keys or tambourine,” he said. “I can play just about everything. I can come up with a melody for a song if it needs it.”
All this while he was writing and recording his own songs as well. At the urging of Jackson and other new-found Minneapolis friends, those homemade recordings became Blood & Clover, the booty-shaking debut from Vicious Vicious, an enduring solo project on which Appelwick plays “pretty much everything, except drums.” The 2005 follow-up, Don’t Look So Surprised, proved equally groovy.
This past April, after initially offering to help the band with future recordings, Appelwick became bass player for Tapes ’N Tapes. The band quickly became an indie rock sensation, with the requisite grueling tour schedule. The unfortunate upshot of Tapes ’N Tapes’ success was that The Hopefuls tribe came to the conclusion that Appelwick no longer had time for their band and let him go.
The ability of some musicians to carve out a living is an enduring, and sometimes obsessively jealous, fixation for lesser- and non-musicians alike. As for Appelwick, he’s sustained himself on “record sales and money from shows.” Call it dumb luck perhaps, but he’s managed to do so without much knowledge of the financial nuts and bolts of the business; for example, he has no idea whether Tapes ’N Tapes’ July appearance on the Letterman show helped bump sales for the band’s latest release, The Loon. Likewise, Appelwick isn’t particularly fond of marketing. Vicious Vicious, he said, has been heard only by local music aficionados and random visitors to his MySpace page; he hasn’t even bothered promoting his records to college radio stations, an established and time-honored route for most indie bands. “I’m not that good at business,” Appelwick noted more than once. “Talking about it sort of cheapens the experience for me. I’m much better at the process.”
But that’s not to say he’s particularly adept at discussing the process, either. In his defense, by this time, Appelwick was clearly losing steam and admitted to being jetlagged, having returned just the day before from a Tapes ’n Tapes tour of the U.K. His gray eyes had started to glaze over. When asked how he goes about writing his songs, or why, for that matter, he continues slogging his way through the pitfalls of the music industry, Appelwick shrugs. “I’m just doing it because that’s what I do,” he said. “And I like doing it.”