first draft of the Wicketran interview / review
submitted to City Pages
April 2001

You say you’re into drum ‘n’ bass? Sure you are  – how about something with a nice 4/4 time signature, and a predictable “thumpa-thumpa” rhythm, perhaps? You’re not gonna find any of that here, I’m afraid. Meet Justin Ohlander, who manhandles the bass for personal pleasure, and Jeremy Ward, who assaults his drum kit with the precision of a surgeon and the relentless fury of a professional boxer. Collectively, these two soft-spoken St. Paul-ites comprise a formidable unit called Wicketran – the name nothing more than a word made up by Ward, and which has been subjected to countless misinterpretations from “Wicked Ram” to presumed affiliations with the Wiccan religious order.

In the wake of countless two-member rock outfits of the past decade, hailing back to the Olympia-spawned “love rock” duos of the early Nineties, which gave us Heavens To Betsy, and The Spinanes, the inception of yet another duo could have been perceived as a mere novelty, or an idea which had played itself out. Naysayers beware: There is nothing lightweight about the rhythmic onslaught which is the band’s trademark. Dubious at first as to whether or not their sound would be full enough – or worse, whether they would be taken seriously – Wicketran morphed into existence in late 1999, and their fears were soon assuaged, with the numbers of fans growing in cities across the U.S.

Live, the band creates an awesome spectacle of passionate fury and intense drama – Ohlander bends and sways as though trying to steady himself in the midst of a storm, furiously plucking away at his bass as though his life depends on it. Ward appears to be endangering his own limbs as he mercilessly flails his drums, although he laughs at the notion. “I’m more likely to get carpal tunnel from my job”, he laughed during a recent interview conducted at this writer’s home, “just typing all day, or playing video games.”

Despite all the onstage intensity, the music translates on CD into a happy-go-lucky hodgepodge of hyper-paced prog-rock and free jazz skronk which characterizes the playful nature of its origins. Their first full-length CD, Frills and Flashy Finery (released last year on Ohlander’s own Snackbag Records, features song titles such as “Belligerent Hairstyle” and “Conquering Mount Shoehorn” which add a subtle degree of humor to the glorious din the band creates. “I personally like goofy song titles”, offers Ohlander, “Music is just supposed to be fun – you make fun of everything.” Adds Ward, “With instrumental music, no one’s gonna relate to it on an emotional level, they’ve just got the music to go on.”

With music this energetic, propelled by little more than the desire to make good music and have fun, it seems that the most difficult aspect of Wicketran’s music would be determining when a piece is a actually finished. “They’re never finished!”, Ohlander bursts out laughing. Regaining his composure, he adds, “I’m not a fan of repeating a lot of riffs over and over, unless you have lyrics on top that change, but with this band you really don’t have that. I don’t come up with many riffs that I like, and I have to use them very sparingly.”

Citing an assemblage of riffs as the backbone of his songwriting, Ohlander quietly shrugs off any notion of complexity in Wicketran’s music. “Most of it is basic pop structure – you’ve got your hooks and your interludes. You just mentally come to a certain point where you know the riff has been used enough, and it works within a particular context within the song.” It works, indeed. Muscular, distorted bass lines prowl the album’s eight tracks in the guise of severely damaged waltz melodies and frolicking goose-step cadences. Jackhammer rhythms percolate and erupt convulsively, challenging the listener to refrain from involuntary seizures.

Inevitably, even for a band that would seem to defy pigeonholing, the comparisons always come around. For Wicketran, however, the obvious nods toward math rock and unpredictable time changes are less prevalent than references to other rock duos who play loud, aggressive music. “The comparison we get are just based on line-up”, suggests Ward, “Ruins, Godhead Silo, and now Lightning Bolt – and I hadn’t even heard of ’em until about two months ago.”

Undaunted, the pair continue to convert new fans with their anthemic free-form brand of skronk. As Ohlander points out, “There’s no reason to break up the band – there’s only two people, there’s no one to team up with and fight.” To which Ward counters, “I could challenge you to a duel!” Ohlander contemplates the idea, “That might actually help get some emotions out”, he muses aloud. Ward chuckles, “We’ll just fight each other on our Game Boys!”

Wicketran will be playing at Pretzelvania, formerly Captain Black’s (info on website), with Tale of Genji (from Chicago, who are on Up Jumps the Devil, a Skin Graft imprint), Stillwell (which is members of Tale of Genji), and While They Slept (which is local, Godspeed You Black Emperor, mellower-type rock), on 7/20.

They are also playing at Seventh Street Entry with Arab on Radar, and Check Engine (featuring members of Sweep The Leg Johnny and members of Lynx), and Time Of Orchids, from NY 8/15.

© J.Free / City Pages; 2001; 2022

[Historic addendum : Within a few years following the appearance of this piece in City Pages, Wicketran appeared to be on indefinite hiatus. Justin Ohlander continues to pursue his creative ambitions beyond the auspices of public scrutiny, and Jeremy Ward would spend the next several years contributing his percussive talents to the monolithic outfit known as STNNNG.]

Bits & Pieces I’ve managed to salvage which once appeared in City Pages:

The A-List Frank Black: Catholic Boy Catholic Boy – Take 2 Wicketran