BandSpotOn

National Beekeeper\’s Society offers a unique sound unlike anything you\’re listening to; they classify themselves as \”funeral pop.\”[/media-credit]

“No comment.”

Two words that say more about the state of a band than a 15-minute interview book-ended by clich?d questions and forced photographs taken in dimly lit bars with quasi-Baroque decorations.

The four members of Madison band the National Beekeepers Society, singer Nick Whetro, bassist Kris Hansen, guitarist Karl Christenson and percussionist Brad Motl, have drudged their way over to Mickey’s Tavern on Willy Street to chit-chat about the wonderment of their music, trading standard responses for every standard question that’s unavoidably asked when writing a band profile.

“Would you consider yourself a ‘Madison band?”

They’re all from the surrounding Madison area.

“Where did your band name come from?”

A Wes Anderson movie — “We’re patriotic,” Christenson says.

“Tell me about your creative process.”

Whetro writes the lyrics, and the rest collaborate on instruments, they chime in.

“If a record label asked you to tweak your sound, would you?”

Never, they insist.

All in all, 15 cut-and-dried minutes of interview fodder that makes the same old cut-and-dried story about your same old cut-and-dried band.

That is, until a question comes around to Whetro and Christenson’s other project, Icarus Himself.

“Which one is the side project?”

“No comment,” says Whetro after considerable and audible self-debate.

A simple response, but it doesn’t come easily, and utterances of “awkward” rise forth as all tried to move on attempting to make the moment a fleeting one.

“[But] we barely scratched the surface discussing it,” said Christenson during a phone call the following week.

According to Christenson, the past month has been shaky for National Beekeepers Society after Icarus Himself took to the road touring the Midwest throughout the month of August before stopping in Madison to play Mickey’s that Saturday night. Icarus Himself, now signed to Madison label Science of Sound along with other noted Madison groups like Sleeping in the Aviary, was originally Whetro’s solo side project until Christenson joined him for “more sound.”

“The rift began a while ago with Nick creating Icarus Himself. He would write songs for [Icarus Himself], and if they didn’t work well in that minimal context he would bring them to [National Beekeepers Society] for the full band treatment. Me joining [Icarus Himself] added some kindling to the fire because now the band was split [two] and [two]. Brad and Kris started to feel [National Beekeepers Society] was taking a back seat to [Icarus Himself],” Christenson said in an e-mail, though he later added in a telephone conversation that “[Icarus Himself] is basically the focus for Nick right now.”

The fact that National Beekeepers Society hasn’t played a show since July 15 and, as of press time, has no shows scheduled — though Christenson said the quartet met last week to “figure out a plan of attack”– probably hasn’t helped ease the stress.

But Christenson is open and accepting about the band’s current squabble.

“It’s a rock ‘n’ roll band, we’re supposed to be fighting,” Christenson said, citing wildly successful bands like Wilco and Oasis who are notorious for their rifts.

“It’s not so much a dying star,” Christenson reassured, laughing at the clich?. “…I wouldn’t say we’re on the verge of a breakup.”

And Christenson’s words serve as good news for Madison music fans and music lovers in general. National Beekeepers Society offers a sound not offered in either mainstream or indie genres today, blending the simplicity of Stephen Malkmus’ Pavement with enough noise and self-loathing to make you cover every mirror in your house and enough quirk to make you enjoy this type of self-imposed solitude.

“Funeral pop,” Christenson says.

Songs like “Amputee” — originally an Icarus Himself song, although Hansen said it should be recorded as a Beekeepers track — offers a look into the somewhat dysfunctional relationship of an amputee victim. Other songs like “Look at Me” highlight the futility of superficiality, “Suburbanite” wallows in the ironic misery of the suburbanite, and “Upon the Hills of Georgia” is a jaunty, baroque rock ditty overlaid with a Russian translation (Hansen speaks Russian) of Pushkin’s “On the Hills of Georgia.”

But for some, National Beekeepers Society’s music may not be immediately approachable. Songs like the aforementioned “Georgia” at first seem more abrasive than melodic. Their tracks are also rather short, generally averaging about two minutes, though their latest album has a few that hover around four.

And critics and savvy music listeners have learned to embrace the quartet’s charm regardless. Despite the band’s troubles, summer ’09 has been a successful venture for the foursome. The band’s album Pawn Shop Etiquette has received acclaim on the indie circuit, once again drawing comparisons to Pavement and Spoon. The band made an appearance at Summerfest, and they also played a set for Wisconsin Public Television’s “30 Minute Music Hour.”

The question of what the distant future — Christenson says the band will plan shows in the Midwest and may put out another EP within the next year — holds for the band is yet another standard one, but Christenson answers regardless.

“…Whatever happens in terms of new material, happens because of Nick,” Christenson writes in an e-mail. “So if he is not interested in writing any more NBS songs, that’s exactly what happens.”

Not your standard response, but with their bleak yet fun, quirky yet somber outlook, National Beekeepers Society isn’t your standard band either.