They’re called Alien Brain and the Jugular Vein and Amanda Nygard is their leader.
Musicians streamed in and out of the MSUM music senior’s south Moorhead house Friday night carrying instruments of a bygone era. Nygard was hosting practice for her jug band, and her living room reverberated with the sounds of a washboard, fiddle, jaw harp, mandolin, guitar and, of course, the low rumble of the signature ceramic jug. The band was preparing for its third annual trip to the Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands, which is now in its 30th year of celebrating this obscure form of blues-influenced music that incorporates homemade and traditional instruments. Alien Brain and the Jugular Vein is scheduled to perform around 6 p.m. on Sunday at the Cabooze.
“It’s always been a family affair and these guys are my ‘framily’ – my friend family,” Nygard said.
How close the seven band members have grown over the past few years is obvious in their banter.
“The rule is we rip on whoever is not here,” said Lyle Landstrom, a scruffy middle-aged civil engineer, as he plucked on his guitar.
His daughter, undeclared MSUM freshman Sam Landstrom, joined the band when she was 15. She said being in Alien Brain and the Jugular Vein has “been irritating but been rewarding in other ways. We really know how to get on each other’s nerves and it seems like everybody likes to do that.”
Three years ago, when her other band couldn’t make it to the Battle of the Jug Bands, Nygard found some replacement players. And they’ve been together ever since.
Locally, the band has played benefit shows, including for the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. In the past month, they’ve gigged at the Northsider Bar in north Moorhead’s All Star Bowl. But right now, the focus is winning the coveted waffle iron – spray painted gold – bestowed upon the champion of the battle of the Jug Bands. While some bands at the battle have elaborate period costumes and staging, Alien Brain and the Jugular Vein decided against it – although one year they did wear tin foil hats.
“Our music is more of the thing,” Nygard said, before fiddling to the 1928 Harry McClintock tune, “The Bum Song.” “I think we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Last year, the band took second place out of a few dozen competitors, and Nygard took home the “triangle of power” individual prize for being the best multi-instrumentalist. Band members are confident they can seize the waffle iron this year.
Besides Alien Brain and the Jugular Vein, Nygard leads the roots outfit Amanda Standalone and the Pastry Shop Girls. And last month, she tried out for The Voice.
Nygard maintains a philosophical outlook about not advancing in that competition.
“Anything that will be sustainable and will actually grow has to happen in its own time,” she said. “You climb the ladder just like any other thing. Sometimes the idea of making it to the top seems absurd … I’m a folk musician, man. C’mon.”
BY BRYCE HAUGEN