It was late in the evening when I had a chance to sit down with The Missing Letters after one of their performances. This particular night we happened to be in Milwaukee. The air was especially brisk as we stepped out of the band’s dark blue Dodge Ram van, and into the wintery Wisconsin night. We hustled into the legendary local twenty-four hour diner, Ma Fisher’s, to get some post show grub and talk. The restaurant was filled with the typical late night crowd… A group of loud college girls in the corner, a couple cops fueling up on coffee, and several couples wrapping up their evening date after a night of bar hopping. The warmth of the room wrapped itself around me, as I pushed off the cold. The hostess led us into a corner booth, and one by one Shannon Drymalski, Josh Ripley, Bryan Murphy, and Jonny Naughton- Capello, (collectively known as The Missing Letters), slid into their seats and settled in. “My dad grew up in Milwaukee” exclaims Shannon. “He was in a pretty well known band here back in the 80’s. He once told me that after every show, they would come here to hang out… So it’s kind of a tradition”
The Missing Letters who hail out of Minneapolis, Minnesota have been bringing their brand of rock to midwest fans now for the last 5 years. However, it is just now that this band is beginning to rise into a larger spotlight. Their 2016 release, Lucille, has garnered acclaim from several blog sites as well as critics. The band has also recently toured with Adelita’s Way and Buck Cherry amongst others, and is looking forward to a one night stand with Bon Jovi at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul in the coming weeks. Though this is a young band, their accolades are many. The band opened up Neil Young’s legendary annual Bridge School benefit concert in both 2014 and in 2016, playing along side greats such as Roger Waters, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Soundgarden,Dave Matthews and Neil Young, himself. This band comes from a special pedigree. One that has fostered a very seasoned type of vibe in these four young musicians. This is where I open up my line of questioning as we wait for our coffee and peruse the menue. I turn to the lanky mop headed drummer Shannon first…
CW: “I know that you guys have a unique connection with several different bands such as Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Neil Young. Have you found that this has been an advantage for the band in terms of the success that you have had?”
Drymalski: “Yes and no. That is sort of a complicated answer. I think it has definitely been a huge learning experience for the band to know those guys. It is kind of insane to think about it. Those guys have done pretty much everything that we have ever dreamed of. We are beyond lucky to be able to have such amazing mentors… With respect to my drumming, both Matt Cameron and Eric Kretz… as well as Gregg Kepplinger have never hesitated to throw advice my way, or show me a trick or two… In some ways it’s kind of surreal, and then when you sit down and think about it, all the rock star stuff doesn’t matter anymore… It comes down to a master at what they do sharing their skills with me. To me that is way more of an advantage than to be associated with a famous band or person…
Ripley: “Exactly… It’s something we don’t take lightly. To be able to perform with legends is beyond amazing! I guess the bottom line is that we are there to perform our best. However, we also get to learn from some of the greatest players to ever live. We all just feel very lucky.”
Murphy: I think just being adjacent to something like that… You know, being that close to Willie Nelson, or Neil Young, or Dave Matthews… You begin to kind of understand how it really is magic. How these people can take something as simple as a song and a couple of guitars and bring thousands of people together and make them all feel the same thing in an instant without even saying it. Just getting to see them do that and how they do that in such different ways really gives us a perspective on how we can try to achieve that someday”
CW: You guys knew both Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell. In fact, you were on tour with Scott as support when he died. Has that affected you in any way?
Murphy: Every single day
Drymalski: “It’s a….” [He pauses] “It’s seriously a drag on so many levels… I mean its just hard to believe there’s no more Chris and Scott. That vibe and energy that they gave us is gone forever. I knew Scott. Its not like we were best buds, but I had the opportunity to have a relationship with him… It just sucks. It sucks more on a human level you know? He was a great front man of course. But I think back to just sitting around with him playing video games or whatever… And then all of a sudden that’s gone forever”
Murphy: “I think it goes to show how scary it can be to bring music to that many people. When even the best of the best are feeling those things…. It’s a good warning sign for us, and an important lesson for us with regards to how we cope in the future.”
Ripley: I think its important that we be more aware of each other… That we ask each other more questions…You know… harder questions… “
Drymalski: “As musicians, you sort of mine into the soul…It can get pretty dark sometimes. Its important we have each others backs”
The Missing Letters have been referred to as an “up and coming” or “breaking” band… Do you see any difference between that and being considered a “local” band? Do you feel like you have any responsibility to a different label?
Murphy: “No… I mean when you’re focused all the time, and you’re in zone that you want to be in,... the outside stuff like what people are calling you won’t make its way in, because you are doing the same things every day. But that being said, I think there is definitely a responsibility. However I think its more in how we put our music out and that we stay true to it and the writing process… I mean people like what we do. Its our job to figure that out, and what that means with regards to us as a band, and then we need to figure out a way to keep doing that”
Capello: [Sighs] “Exactly…Id say with regards to the whole what are we (puts his hands up as quotations) label thing goes.. Absolutely not. There are plenty of things that we need to do to up our game… Having a reputation means nothing. You need to be always looking at yourselves and say how can we make this better”
CW: That being said, I think it is safe to say that being a rock musician in current times can be a challenging career choice. Given all the new media atforms, and all of the endless genres and styles of music out there, Rock n Roll has definitely taken a hit… All the stereotypical hang ups aside… Do you see any advantages to being in a rock band in 2018?
Drymalski: “I think that just like any form of music, there’s an ebb and flow… Sometimes rock goes more underground…However it eventually naturally finds its way back to the main stream. We just do what we do… Loud feel good music.. The advantage to that is obvious
Capello: “I guess I feel that no genre really dies… Some are more popular than others, but there is always a market for everything…I mean there are still plenty of people out there who love jazz and classical. The same is true for rock… I don’t feel that the genre that you happen to be in is necessarily what handicaps you. Any success or failure comes from the Artist or Band and how they apply themselves to the moment.”
Murphy: “You know, one great advantage is that you have a very deep catalogue of music to reference…. If you’re looking for something to spark your creativity you can go back hundreds of years in a manner of seconds and find relevant and accessible music to learn from”
CW: Isnt that a dangerous bridge to cross though, when you have such easy access to something that could be called an influence? Also, how do you draw that line between what you create in your mind and what is influencing you?
Murphy: “I think when you’re that dedicated to something, you end up remaining very focused on what you do for seriously long periods of time. You start to understand what helps and what hurts your creative tendencies. It enables you to block out a lot of the noise of things that you don’t want to make their way into your playing or writing… You know, you really become atuned to what you’re looking for. I mean when it comes to influences, they’re like tools… However there is also a more vague cloud of influence around us that determines how we use those tools. I grew up on classic rock like Queen and The Eagles and Steve Miller. That is constantly what is lending itself to my music making. However, when it came to learning how to play, Id say that the 90’s band’s are more where I turned…”
Ripley: For me I think it’s a bit of both. Finding a catchy melody, sticking to it, and always resolving to it, is something I always try to accomplish. McCartney was great at that. I’d consider him an influence… However, I’m more focused on finding that special riff than a musician I want to sound like.
CW: There seems to be a current trend for young rock bands to be coming from more of a retro type place… For instance Greta Van Fleet and Them Evils lean heavily on that…The Missing Letters seem to have a little of that tendency There as well. However with you guys, it’s maybe not as upfront. Is this conscience? How do heritage bands play into your influences?
Drymalski: We are influenced by so many different bands from so many different eras… We just write what we are into. We don’t really set out to write a 70’s rock song or a 90’s rock song… We just write rock songs. If you think it sounds like a 70’s song… Then that’s cool, but we don’t set out with that approach
Ripley: Admittedly, I think all of us really do love that classic rock vibe and dynamic where you can have multiple songwriters and singers… Its not all dependent on that one front man type thing… We look at the Beatles, or The Eagles and we like that feel. I don’t think we ever really planned it. However that’s how it seems to have happened. You know, we like what we do, and how we are dong it. Yet at the same time its important to evolve and not be afraid to touch on a bit of everything. If something we do brings out a sixties vibe or a nineties vibe or a vibe no ones ever heard before we are going to jump on it, own it, and make it The Missing Letters
CW: Describe your relationship with your fans. How does it make you unique from other bands
Ripley: It’s crazy, we have fans that will make long car rides, and even plane rides to come see us play all over the country. We are incredibly fortunate that way. It is super important to us. We always try to spend as much time as we can talking to folks, and getting to know the people that come to our shows. The four us really enjoy it. We want people not to just come see us… We want them to feel included in what The Missing Letters is all about. Seriously, we cant get enough of them.
Murphy: You know… I think that we are all kind of looking for something in an age where nothing is real, that still IS real. That’s where we as musicians and the fans come together… The glue is the music. It seems like a lot of people that like the band are people that typically wouldn’t be hanging out together… Our fans come in all types.. It’s a scary world… I think we are all kind of terrified… A lot of people are out there looking for something that somehow puts it all in a perspective that still feels like we are living a life with hope and positivity… For whatever reason, I think our fans find that at our shows. I mean its not about politics… we all have our own things… But it comes down to relating on a person to person level. I think people find that kind of community at our shows. At some point, I started saying BE NICE TO EACH OTHER at the end of every show. Im not sure why I started that, but it kind of stayed with me and now I take it really seriously… You know if one person takes that with them at the end of the night, that’s change. That’s positive. Talking about politics just raises your blood pressure.
Drymalski [Laughs] We are one big family. Its really cool how welcoming our fans are. Its like when we go to a different city where we have a decent fan base and you step on stage to that kind of warmth its like coming home all over again!
CW: The band has become a bit notorious on the local Twin Cities scene for being “proponents of the chronic”… Does that play into your music? Do you think that association follows you out of Minneapolis and into other cities where you play?
Capello: Ummm yeah… Soo… I wouldn’t say we go so far as to write songs about it like Willie Nelson or Bob Marley, but I do think there is a connection. For instance, I wouldn’t really call us a jam band… But I’d definitely call us a band that jams.
Murphy: Everyone has their own tool box…
CW: In other words… Whatever floats your boat?
Ripley: As long as the boat stays afloat
The Missing Letters seem to come at you from out of nowhere. Their approach is quiet. They don’t come at you with guns blazing. That’s not to say they’re not perfectly capable of getting the rock n roll out of you…They have the unique knack to be able to get into your head and stay there. They play the kind of music that gets you humming to the riff ,or singing the words in the shower or car before you even realize what you’re doing. Its just natural.
This is reflective of their evolution as a band. Though the current line up has existed for 3 years now, the first 24 months saw different members come and go. The group is somewhat of a cumulative example of the local Twin Cities rock scene. All four members of The Missing Letters have played in different popular area bands. As drummer, Drymalski states "There is nothing forced about this band. It wasn't put together. None of us really started out as friends. Each member fell into place at a time when they were needed. With each change, the band evolved very naturally. In some ways the band found us."
Watch for these guys. Minneapolis wont be able to claim them for their own too much longer. There are bigger things in store for The Missing Letters…
The Missing Letters will be performing as support for Bon Jovi at The Xcel Energy Center on April 28th. They will be also be playing at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis on May 4th with another Twin Cities favorite, The Modern Era