Prairie Pop: Iowa City rockstars Younger bring new material to Mission Creek

MCF: Younger with Cloud Nothings, Maiden Mars

Gabes — Thursday, April 6 at 8 p.m.

Collage by Sarah Mannix

For a band that was originally conceived as a goof, Younger has rapidly transformed into one of Iowa City’s best rock bands — exploding with energy, intricate arrangements, barbed lyrics and catchy hooks.

“We had talked about playing together for a long time,” drummer Sarah Mannix recalled. “I don’t think that we honestly believed it was going to be an actual band. I think we just got together more as a joke.”

“It was going to be called Ladybomb,” guitarist Rachel Sauter added, “where everybody played bass.”

Younger’s live debut was in March 2014 at Trumpet Blossom, where they performed a taut fifteen-minute set that included early chestnuts “Trenca” and “Streetrat,” two of the group’s first songs that established a template for many of their subsequent compositions. “Streetrat,” for example, includes verse-chorus-verse-defying breakdowns and changes, though without sounding overly busy or prog-rocky.

Conversely, “Trenca” features fuzzed-out guitars, layers of vocal harmonies, pedal-to-the-metal tempos and badass lyrics delivered by Sauter about a rambunctious night out (“I saw the needle spinning by on the ’table last night / and we drank a couple beers and we got into a fight / and you never really know the time or the place / and what came first / a punch in the face”).

When I met Younger before a rehearsal at Mannix’s house, the trio talked about their plans for the near future, which include an April 6 performance at the upcoming Mission Creek Festival.

“Our main goal is just to have a couple new songs for Mission Creek,” said bassist Amanda Crosby, who shares lead vocal duties with Sauter (all three sing backup harmonies). “And then once that’s done we’ll have another goal of writing more songs and recording.”

“I think once we finish these songs that we’re working on now,” Mannix told me, “it will be easier for us to see if this is an EP or if this is a bigger album project, depending on how the songs work together.”

Back in 2015, Younger released its self-titled debut — a tight 26-minute record with eight songs — which was recorded by engineer Pete Becker over the course of several months at the Englert Theatre.

“We’ve all recorded with other people in town and had good experiences,” said Crosby, “but oftentimes the sound engineer just does the job, but doesn’t engage in the process. Pete is like a bumblebee, buzzing around. I think we were surprised how Pete was fully engaged in the process, and it felt like he was very much a part of that album.”

When you see Becker in the audience at Younger shows, he’s the band’s most visible cheerleader — losing his mind and rocking out near the front.

“That’s how he is when we record,” Mannix said, “and he lets us throw out insane ideas. And we have a friendship and relationship where we will accept his ideas too, and welcome his feedback.”

“We did some weird things,” Mannix said, “like Rachel’s amp was out in the seats of the theater, and my amp was under the stage, in the basement.”

Becker elaborated, “I recorded the basic skeletal tracks of the band with them set up on the stage with their bass and guitar amps placed elsewhere in the building — in both the basement dressing rooms, and out in the house with all the curtains taken in for separation, when desired.”

Younger definitely plans to work with Becker again. “He’s essentially a fourth member,” Crosby said. “We love Pete. He’s really, really fun to work with because he’s so maniacally excited about anything you’re doing.”

At the moment, the band has about four new songs ready to record, and will work on writing more after Mission Creek Festival is over. The songs take a while to create because of work and family commitments — Crosby had a baby girl a year ago, Josephine, and Sauter has a son, Hart — and because of the band’s uniquely collaborative approach to songwriting.

“It’s nothing that I’ve ever been a part of before,” said Mannix, discussing the process. “Typically, there’s always someone that is the ringleader and usually comes in with finished songs, and then it’s just like, ‘Oh, add your part to this.’”
Most of Younger’s songs begin when a band member improvises a little riff or idea — “nuggets,” as they call them.

“A lot of times there’s these nuggets that we don’t use for a song,” Crosby said, “and then we go back and listen to our band practice tapes and we think, ‘Oh, that might actually work with this new thing that we’re doing.’”

“I think it’s all that experimenting that allows us to find what parts go together,” Crosby continued. “Because we are such good friends, I have grown more in this project than others, musically and creatively. I’m more up to try something that might be really stupid, because I know that if it’s really stupid we’ll just all laugh and move on.”

Over the years I’ve observed the interpersonal dynamics in lots of bands, and it became clear within seconds that the glue that holds Younger together is a genuine friendship.

“We talk a lot about how special we feel our little band family is,” Crosby said. “After Josephine was born, the very first thing I wanted to do to get back to reality was band practice. I think it was just a couple weeks after. I was like, ‘What? Please, I need to get to band practice!’ To go back to something that I do for myself and is really fulfilling was such a relief — to know that not all was lost. I might sleep again. I’m going to figure this out. So it was really soothing.”

“It does seem like every time I come to band practice, even if I’m tired, I’m dreading this, I always leave happier than I came,” Sauter added. “It’s just the magic of us, I guess.”

Kembrew McLeod always reserves the right to rock. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 217.

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