“Music is a flagpole, it’s a gathering point, a beacon calling across time and space.”
The year is 2013, new words "twerk" and "selfie" have just been added to the dictionary and YouTube is buzzing with the new Harlem Shake trend before Instagram supported video posts. It was in these simpler times when Minneapolis quintet Hot Freaks released their first, and (for now) last LP. Their debut record, the self-titled “Hot Freaks” collects 10 tight tracks of winsome yet up-beat indie-pop produced with a glossy, highly danceable disco sheen that counteracts a yearning lyrical melancholia– reminiscent of famous over-sharers of Montreal and sensitive symbolists Voxtrot, with a touch of MGMT’s unbridled charisma.
For whatever reason, while Hot Freaks’ brand of toe-tapping vulnerability was electric on the lively Minneapolis scene, the band never made it far beyond the borders of Minnesota, playing countless homefield shows but only one or two in the greater midwest area. Comprised of old friends whose relationships are interwoven like the roots of an old growth tree, (some members have been playing together for over 15 years and drummer Cody Brown even dated bassist Sarah Darnall’s sister in highschool) Hot Freaks were born of a tight knit community, and would seem destined to remain hidden gems in the local scene. Or would they?
By 2015 Hot Freaks split amicably, frontman Leo Vondracek moved to LA and guitarist Darin Dahlmeier relocated to New York. While members went on to pursue other interests, the Freaks remained friends as social media made it easier, and then even easier to stay in touch. And just as nothing is ever really lost online, slowly but surely fans and followers found their way to the Freak’s first record in ever growing numbers.
“I had noticed our Spotify numbers going up over the years,” muses Leo, “and during the bleak days of quarantine I think we all looked back with a fond nostalgia for the old days when we would light up the local bars.” When the idea for a few reunion shows was floated keyboardist Celeste Heule didn’t need to think about it, “Hell yeah I wanna get back together with the Freaks! Those guys are the best!” And as luck would have it, just as these five best friends were dusting off the old gear, slipping back into the band like a favorite pair of dancing shoes discovered buried in the closet, eight-year-old lead single PUPPY PRINCESS went viral like wildfire on TikTok.
Suddenly Hot Freaks had found their audience! By the droves, new, young fans are connecting with the single’s earnest hopefulness as Leo’s lyrics admit “You know me as your boyfriend’s goofy friend/ I seem to have this effect on women” and then turn in the chorus to a full-hearted plea to “kiss me, kiss me with your eyes closed...tell me I’m not funny, tell me I’m legit.” Suddenly, in the ‘what really matters?’ of a global pandemic, a generation jaded with being jaded found their voice in the sweet sincerity of the Hot Freaks, just in time for their reunion.
What was to be a small smattering of local shows in Minneapolis is now shaping up into a proper tour supporting a newly shot roller rink themed music video for PUPPY PRINCESS, and a fresh release of rare 2013 b-side PAYCHECK 2 PAYCHECK, an ode to the work-a-day struggle of pursuing one’s passion that’s as resonate today as it was nearly 10 years ago.
Says Leo, “We try to work in a little humor to stave off the darkness, PAYCHECK 2 PAYCHECK is an example of a song that’s kind of a joke, but a joke about something real.” That lighthearted, laugh so you don’t cry tension is what drives the often covertly forlorn compositions that have fans tapping into a uniquely youthful optimism powerful enough to push past the heartache. As Leo croons, “I wanna make you feel like your heart is in a race…I wanna make you feel like this isn't a mistake,” you can just feel that wide-eyed lovestruck teen inside you welling up.
“It’s been amazing to see this outpouring from fans all around the world, sending us fan art, prom-posals, and asking us to come play shows!” says Sarah. “I hope they can get into the venues! But honestly my favorite TikToks are the ones with the super cynical thirteen year old girls in punk tee’s raising their eyebrows at our heart-on-your-sleeve pop music, cuz that would have been me when I was that age!” says Celeste. Chiming in, Cody adds “It’s wonderful to see so much engagement with this new crop of fans, even when it feels a little intense, I just hope they can connect with the music, and the new songs we’re working on, even if it takes another eight years.”
Contemplating if the music can still resonate almost a decade later, Leo seems assured it will, “At the time, our lyrics were like whispering into the wind, telling secrets no-one will share, but now they’re so many people dissecting the songs, looking for meaning and making their own...When I write I put on blinders, I can’t worry about being cringe, and I think that authenticity is what’s resonating now. All these years later, I can still remember the real emotions that drove our songwriting, and it’s not too hard to get back to that place– it’s just exciting to find tens of thousands of fans waiting for us there!”