The GAS 20th Anniversary self-interview

Origins of the Band

Andy: I really think it started with “What About Bob.” A dog, a log, a frog…word associations. I really believe it could have been “Stripes.” I think it could have been anything Bill Murray. Because all of those things Kirk and I thought were funny, and we would just repeat all the time these, just dumb jokes from movies that we’d watch, that spawned a new band in 96-’97.

Kirk: Yes, that’s right.

Andy: Yeah, Danger Prone Daphne broke up because Kirk was having a baby, Chris Bell (drummer) was leaving, and I was going to Minnesota to be a teacher, so the whole band imploded. And I only lasted a year up in Minnesota because it was too cold and my dad got sick so I had to come back. And I had nothing to do.

Kirk: I’d say it was about a year and a half after we folded. So Danger Prone Daphne ended like in August ’95, and I want to say it was around March, April of ’97.

Andy: It was right when Kirk sort of emerged from having his son Judson, and it was kinda fun to come over and see Judson and play guitars with Kirk and it was funny.

First Songs

Randy: After “What about Bob” references and everything, what were your first ideas?

Andy and Kirk (simultaneously): Shitty Directions

Andy: I was following Archers of Loaf on one of their tours, and I was with a friend of mine named John, and we were driving across Canada, you know, four or five Archers of Loaf shows. And I was like “Man, I’ve got this idea, I want to write a song about shitty directions and it came to me in the car. And I wanted to share it with Kirk, and then Kirk had the idea to write Civil War Reenactor, was that the second one, Kirk, or was that a little bit later?

Kirk: I think that one came later. I’m trying to think of the three song demo.

Randy: I remember you talking about Love In The Alps with the drum machine.

Andy: We had that, but it was not second, it was like fourth or fifth.

Kirk: No that was not second. I wanna say Community Service Song.

Andy: Yes it was, because we thought it was just rich as hell to work in EST from “Stripes.” We like John Candy.

Kirk: It was like a mixture of self-help and ridiculing the heroin chic. Which is funny because I remember the Dandy Warhols were doing the exact same thing, So it was kind of like everyone was getting fed up with the heroin chic. I think that’s where that came from.

Andy: And I know that later when Annelies joined the band, I think she worked in that line about ambrosia. About finding the goldmine of plastic needle boxes.

Kirk: That was perfect.

Andy: And I think that when she said that in practice I knew that Annelies was a keeper. We also had Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge that we wrote with our first drummer, John Argue.

Kirk: We weren’t like rushing to have songs done, so our first real show was like August of ’97, and we only had like 7 songs. And one of them was a Beatles cover from their first album. What song was that?

Andy: See now I don’t remember what the hell he’s talking about.

Kirk: We did a Beatles cover (sings falsetto) “She Loves You.”

Andy: No way. I do not believe that for a minute.

Kirk: You don’t? We did it!

Andy: It’s gone. It’s like not in my brain. I remember a rejected song called “Stalking Edgar Bennett.”

Annelies Joins

Andy: Annelies and I were at a party, or at several parties where we were always hanging out. And I just one time said to her, “Hey, I think you ought to just come over and play guitar with me and Kirk and John Argue.”

Kirk: (dumb-guy voice) “Hey, do you know how to jam?” Did you say it like that?

Andy: No. It wasn’t like that was it? I already knew she could jam. So I said come on over, that’s my perspective. I think she might say something different.

Annelies: You were really inebriated every time you mentioned it. So I couldn’t tell if you were serious. I was like “yay,” because I had gone to college in Madison, and I wanted to stay in Madison, but I had lost all my friends. And so first of all I was so excited I got a job somewhere where the teachers were cool, there were a lot of young people and it was cool. And then I met you guys and started hanging out at the Golden Throne (basement lounge of former DPD guitarist/singer Mike White). I was like “yay, I have some friends!” And then when you were like “join my band.” I was like “no way this is for real.”

Andy: Yeah, people don’t take me at face value, C’mon. They don’t believe my ideas. I just have to push harder.

Annelies: Well, if you’d asked me after two beers instead of ten I would have believed you faster.

Randy Joins

Randy: I went the first show, I believe it was Annelies’ first show, before I joined.

Kirk: April 20, 1998.

Randy: And you were so nervous.

Annelies: Oh yeah, I was so nervous. I was sooo nervous.

Andy: And how did you come to that show though Randy. What was going on with you?

Randy: Well, I think you and I were kind of hanging out a little bit, because you were recently divorced and I had left WORT at that time, and we were both going to shows and would see each other, and we hung out. And so you had been telling me you gotta come see my band. And so I did, and you were awesome. Just the songs and the sense of humor was very much aligned with my sense of humor. I like rock and roll that doesn’t take itself too seriously and it was fun. I think you had said that John was moving out of town and you might be looking for a drummer.

Andy: We were. I think Kirk and I had talked about it, and we knew you played. We wanted to roll man.

Randy: And I was ready. I had kind of given up my radio thing, and I had played drums in high school and college. When I was going for the radio career I didn’t really play at all. And then I didn’t have the radio thing anymore, so it’s like yeah, I have to start playing drums again. So that was good timing.

Kirk: I wanna say that was like May when we played a party at Rob and Kristie’s house. Almost a month after Annelies’ first show. That was like your coming out party.


Andy: Some of those memories from those early days is like my five-year-old years, like when I was a kindergartener. I literally can’t remember the shows. Like I can have these flash movies of being at O’Cayz and how smoky it was, but I don’t remember the set lists. There’s so much I don’t remember. But, I remember playing with these women who were in these like fire pants.

Randy: Starball (pronounced Schtar – ball).

Annelies & Kirk (simultaneously): And the Sheila Divine.

Kirk: From Chicago

Andy: I was like, man, those are some hot pants. But I don’t remember anything else.

Randy: There’s this thing that’s been making the social media rounds. The last two years of O’Cayz schedule is archived – a list of all the shows. I remember playing with Half-Japanese and the Poster Children, but we played seven shows in a year at O’Cayz and it’s like, oh yeah, I guess we used to play more often.

Andy: And back then it was easier to get a show there. You’d go down, Cathy would be booking on Friday afternoon. You could walk into the bar at four o’clock. She’d be with her book and her phone, and she’d say OK, yeah, we can give you here or here or there. It was such a different world back then. So different.

Kirk: Let’s talk about Luther’s Blues. I like that they would put a case of Pabst for the opening performer.

Andy: How did you like that you got $50 on a night when they probably made $2000 at the door for the Jonathan Richman show?

Annelies: That wasn’t Luther’s Blues that did that though.

Andy: No it wasn’t. Jonathan Richman and the Tag experience. I got a bad taste from that show. I remember Jonathan Richman kind of looking at me while I was walking out of that room and he was kind of like “Yeah, it’s OK, bye bye. Bye bye Art Student.” He didn’t say much to us.

Randy: That’s too bad because I always loved Jonathan Richman.

Andy: I still do, it’s just that…

Randy: Don’t meet your idols.

Kirk: (thinking of questions we should have asked Jonathan Richman) Could you play Pablo Picasso? Just say one line from it…

Andy: How was Something About Mary? Was that OK?

Kirk: Was craft services good on that one?

Andy: One of our best paid gigs was at the student union in Eau Claire. We were getting $1000 over three nights. And we were going to watch A View To A Kill. And we had no way back in those days to watch A View To A Kill, because they didn’t have like video that you could download at the time. So I said I have a way to solve this. I’ve got a little TV and I’ve got a little VCR, and damn it, we’re gonna watch A View To A Kill after the show.

Kirk: That was weird. It was like a Friday night.

Randy: At the Super 8 in Eau Claire.

Andy: It will be great, we’ll just carry it into the hotel. It will be perfect. And we watched the movie and we all fell asleep. But the hotel people looked at us weird as we were hauling in the video equipment, three men and a woman.

Randy: I think those shows paid for Kissing By The Superconductor.

Annelies: Yeah, they did.

Kirk: I can’t believe, we played for like 10 people.

Randy: It was like a revolving 10 people. We may have played for 100 people, but there were only 10 there at a time.

Andy: It just triggered a memory though. There were hot towels. There was a side stage with clean towels. And we went into the green room, I remember, and we toweled off and came back and played an encore. Do you remember that? OK, we’ll play one more!

Randy: That was a Thursday/Friday/Saturday, so we went up, played on Thursday, all came back. Then we went back up on Friday and stayed overnight.

Annelies: So we worked, we taught school, drove to Eau Claire, played a show, came home, taught school. That’s where I’m just like, really?! How about the show in Champaign?

Andy: Driving home from that was blurry!

Randy: Oh, that’s right. Kirk and I stayed at Rose and Rick’s house (Poster Children).

Andy : And Annelies and I could not. We didn’t have a personal day to use.

Annelies: I don’t remember who drove, Did Dan (Annelies’ husband) drive? Did you drive?

Andy: I probably drove because I was a pretty resilient driver.

Annelies: Yeah, we were in the front and I was keeping you awake. I think Dan came with. He was with us, but I think he fell asleep in the back.

Andy: I probably volunteered because I used to love it. I’m trying to remember a show at this really shitty bar on Butler Street.

Kirk: Ken’s Bar.

Andy: It was Halloween and a guy that came to all our shows showed up in a Shitty Directions costume.

Randy: We asked people to come dressed as their favorite GAS song.

Annelies: Yeah, that was Jeff Samuels from The Hat Party.

Randy: Another odd show was with Edgar Allen Cash. Johnny Cash songs with Edgar Allen Poe lyrics. A giant was playing bass. Straight out of David Lynch.

Kirk: Yeah, at Quarters in Milwaukee. Quarters was f’ed up anyway. As far as shows where I feel like we killed it…I’ll never forget that Bomblastica show we did when we played the front room at The Annex. I felt like we shredded.

Randy: I remember Andy’s “last” show being awesome.

Andy: I was gaunt.

Annelies: You WERE gaunt.

Kirk: That was a mega-crowd.

Randy: I loved playing with The Suburbs at The Majestic. That was the three of us (when Andy was on hiatus). And the Isthmus Favorites show when we were outside on King Street with the Capitol in the background.

Annelies: The political stuff we did was cool during the Act 10 protests.

Andy: That was nice to come back for that, and what was also fun was playing Willy St. Fair.

Randy: We’ve done Willy St. four times I think. It’s like every three years we’ve done Willy St.

Andy: We went down one time to Cedar Falls to play at this place.

Kirk: Was that place The Reverb?

Randy: I think that’s right. I think our beer choice was cans of Schlitz. That was the free beer. And we stayed in a hotel just kind of across the parking lot that was kind of like the MLK murder hotel.

Annelies: Wasn’t it next to the methodone clinic? It was literally next to the methodone clinic.

Andy: We kicked ass at the Turf Club in St. Paul. And I know we kicked ass because the emo bands that came on after us weren’t talking to us too much. If you remember they weren’t that cordial. I mean we went up and we just shook ‘em a little. I felt like we shook ‘em that night.

Randy: There’s the infamous Union South show where I got so hammered on Maibock and we didn’t go on until 15 minutes before they were supposed to close, because all the bands that night played long because no one was stage managing.

Annelies: I met a guy who was in one of the bands that night. He was in Tycho One. It was so funny, I showed him the video.

Randy: Of us in the bowling alley and out in the hallway, making fun of the situation?

Annelies: Yeah, he thought it was hilarious. He was like, I mean who cares..

Kirk: He was probably like “I was just a dumb kid. I would have laughed at me too then.”

Annelies: And we weren’t laughing at his band in the video.

Randy: It wasn’t even any of the bands’ fault. It was just no one from the Union was stage managing to make it run like it was supposed to.

Annelies: That was back before there was The Sett and whatnot, it was just the triangular room with a friggin’ pop up stage.

Kirk: Now they run a tighter ship. I remember opening for Faux Jean there too. They were great.

Andy: That’s right. I remember talking to those guys and saying, “You guys have to come back and play a better venue. And I talked to them on the phone after that show a bunch of times. I was like c’mon, you guys gotta come down. And they were like “ehhh.” They weren’t into it.

Kirk: I found that guy, that artist from when we played the Stones Throw in Eau Claire.

Randy: David Blaine? The “outsider artist.”

Kirk: David Blaine. I found that guy’s business card somewhere.

Annelies: Take a picture of that. That needs to go in the archive.

Andy: What band did we play with at that show?

Kirk: The Paragraphs. They were a Milwaukee band. They wore the Nixon masks. They had a podium. They were fuckin’ great!

Andy laughs: Why don’t I remember that? It’s gone. It’s like I’ve had a lobotomy.

Annelies: There was so much that night. The whole night I was like, “What the hell is going on?” I just felt like I was in some weird movie or something.

Kirk: I loved playing there. It’s not the Stones Throw anymore, but they still have shows.

Andy: We should go back and play it. Why don’t we do that. We can tell them we’re from Germany again. We’ll say “These guys are a hot indie band from Germany.” Before you know it there’s gonna be some college kids in there.

Annelies: I was gonna say, after the 20th year we should just erase and pretend we’re new.

Andy: Yeah! This is a new band.

Kirk: Exactly. Just rebrand.

Annelies: How’d these guys get so good?

Andy: Wow, they’re old, but they’re good.


Next GAS show is at Turkeyfest Day 3, Sat Oct 14, Mickey’s Tavern.

Here is the hype: “Madison’s longest running power pop-punk outfit! They’ll be playing in rare and raw 3-piece mode for this show! Hot off a 20th anniversary show at High Noon that further cemented their reputation as excellent, hook heavy rock n roll with plenty of bite! Witty and wonky punk!!!
For fans of The Replacements, The Buzzcocks, X, The Pixies, Early Veruca Salt, GBV, ETC.”

The saga of the German Art Students

Thanks to Andy Moore for capturing the spirit of GAS in this Isthmus feature from September 2017: “The damn thing was, hard as they tried to write crummy, anti-rock songs, they were entertaining the hell out of themselves.” The big show is tomorrow where we continue our “tribal band friendship.” See you there. #GAS20Years.

The Madison rockers celebrate a 20th anniversary at the High Noon

Photo Credit: James Peterson

They dropped the berets, but the band still melds subversion and slapstick.

Right about the time Annelies Howell, swaying with rapture, fell off a stool at a Memorial Union open mic singing Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” Kirk Wall and Andy Larson were across the isthmus, huddled in a basement, writing the obituary to their music careers by creating songs so weird, so quirky, that no one would want to listen to them. “It was either that or I was gonna sell my guitar,” says Wall.

While they didn’t know it yet, the artists were headed in opposite directions on a path that would bring them all together. It’s the same kind of twisted, farcical fate that would soon define their work.

Howell’s stool mishap, in the mid-’90s, was an epiphany. That night she chose to abandon her set list of Paul Simon and James Taylor numbers to take a stab at the Joplin classic. “I got so into it I fell off the stool and the crowd frickin’ loved it. They loved it to death. And I was like, oh, maybe this is what I should be doing,” says Howell.

Meanwhile, over in the basement, Wall and Larson were giving birth to songs like “Marilyn Manson You Don’t Scare Me.” The damn thing was, hard as they tried to write crummy, anti-rock songs, they were entertaining the hell out of themselves creating music that Andy Kaufman might have made if he wasn’t so into lip synching. “What if this turns into a band?” they thought.

It did.

German Art Students (GAS) turns 20 this month and will celebrate the occasion with a show at the High Noon Saloon Sept. 8. They have a lot to show for it, not the least of which is a tribal band friendship that’s hard to rival. But it wasn’t always easy. The touring and writing and recording and touring — all while launching careers, families and taking care of sick parents? That was pretty hard. So was the six-year departure of founding member Larson, who said leaving the band was one of the hardest things he had ever done. But the grind took a toll on him emotionally and physically. He returned fully charged, to open arms, in the spring of 2016.

But let’s go back to the founding. Wall and Larson already had a band going when Larson approached Howell at Verona High School, where they both taught.

“She had a folk background,” remembers Wall. “And there’s always this thing about two-guy guitar players in bands. They’re aggressive. So what she brought to the band was a kind of finesse and this … texture.”

Howell also had to unlearn some things in order to meet her objective of becoming a rocker. “I had a little bit of training — not a ton — and I’d say, ‘I don’t know if you can put a B major in there.’” Of course they could. And to get to where Wall and Larson were headed, Howell had to learn a few things. “I’d never played barre chords before,” she says. “I learned how to solo.”

Soon after, in what sounds like a verse in a GAS song, the band’s drummer split for Arizona to become a priest. So one could say it was divine intervention that Randy Ballwahn, then music director at WORT-FM, happened to be at O’Cayz Corral the first time Howell performed with the band. “I saw them and I loved it and so after the show I said, ‘Andy, I gotta be in this band,’” says Ballwahn.

Although they stopped appearing in all black with berets pretending to be German after a couple of years, GAS still manage to be subversive and slapstick at the same time, providing post-punk, Mad magazine-esque music to the world. Rolling Stone called it “nimble-witted new-age pop.”

Try to not smile and dance at their birthday party when they unpack “Robots in Raincoats,” “Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge” and their meta-hit, “Civil War Re-enactor,” one of the chestnuts on their first album, What Did you Expect, Heartland Rock? The album is in a special re-release to celebrate the 20th anniversary. Also at the birthday party: Look for Howell’s pirouette on Ballwahn’s bass drum. Onstage and in the groove, with high kicks and back bends, Howell moves with abandon.

The band says it’s ready to make another record. “If I did not play music with these three people, I can’t imagine,” says Larson. “Life would be gray. There would be no color.”

Your transistor radio will not pick up the 20th Anniversary Show. You must be present at High Noon Saloon Fri 9/8, 8:30pm. Only 5 days until the show!

Civil War Reenactor

Only 10 more days until the Official GAS 20th Anniversary Show at High Noon Saloon, Friday Sept 8. We have played this song Eleventy Million times and it never gets old:

It all started with a D and D game
A Time Life book about the blue and the grey
A pewter chess set from the Franklin Mint
A rusted sword from my cousin’s basement

You be the Captain I’ll be the Colonel
Civil War Re-Enactor
You be the Sergeant I’ll be the surgeon
Civil War Re-Enactor

The next thing I knew I bought a blue cap at a specialty store downtown
My wife stitched me a uniform that I could wear around
I bought an old carbine and I picked up a sword I polished my bayonet
My buddies from Michigan are driving down Gettysburg I’ll get there yet

You bring the Merrimac, I’ll bring the monitor
Civil War Re-enactor
You drink the whiskey, I’ll cut your leg off
Civil War Re-enactor
You bring the salt pork, I’ll bring the hard tack
Civil War Re-enactor
All of the violence but none of the death
Civil War Re-enactor

Sleeping like spoons to keep cozy at night
I polished my teeth to sharpen my bite
I got hit with a musket wad
So I’m never going back to my copy shop job

You bring the Merrimac, I’ll bring the monitor
Civil War Re-enactor
You drink the whiskey, I’ll cut your leg off
Civil War Re-enactor
You bring the salt pork, I’ll bring the hard tack
Civil War Re-enactor
All of the violence but none of the death
Civil War Re-enactor

The year of GAS culminates on September 8 at High Noon Saloon: It’s the Official GAS 20th Anniversary Show!

We will have some new songs, some old songs, and some surprises. Just like always, a GAS show is never dull!
We are so excited to have this awesome collection of bands help us celebrate:

The Coolhand Band 8:30
One of the best Madison power pop bands in the ‘90s has reformed and this is their Madison reunion debut, featuring Shinky from the New Recruits, Eric Hartz from Hum Machine, and Troy Nelsen who has been playing in Austin for the last 20 years.

The Pamphleteers 9:15
Drawing on early British Invasion, psychedelia, to new wave, Rebecca Crawford (Rhoda, The Dials), Geoff Atkinson, and Jonathan Ben-Isvy (Teenage Imposters, Returnables) yield tuneful nuggets and aggressively moody dirges that lodge deep in your medial pre-frontal cortex.

Proud Parents 10:05
Madison’s premier pop outfit featuring Claire from Non-Travelin’ Band, Giant People, ETC, Tyler from Fire Heads, Giant People, Heather from The Hussy, and Seraphin from The Gonzo Rongs

The German Art Students 11:00
Much like the parade of New Wave bands that spread equal amounts of pop and snot across the late ‘70s music scene, the local quarter hold nothing sacred. Civil War Reenactments, self-righteous lefty artists, twee-baroque rock bands. They sneer at ‘em all – Tom Laskin

Advance tickets are $10 and are available here:…/1519492-german-art-students-20t…/
by phone at 877-987-6487, and at the High Noon Saloon.

See you there.