Seven Minutes in Heaven is a pop/punk powerhouse on the rise to world domination, but first they’ve got work to do…and they couldn’t be more excited about it.
Based out of Chicago, their home is the open road, their castle the back of a van, and their kingdom…the stage, where a legion of screaming fans propitiate a four-piece pantheon of energetic rockers on a vision quest to change the world.
But really they just love music.
Founding member, Timmy Rasmussen (guitar/vocals), and singer/bassist, Alex Rogers, together create an electric dueling front man dynamic, bouncing off of drum risers and launching high-kick spin moves from the tops of monitors in a backlit silhouette of high energy original music. Aerobatic lead guitarist, Justin Mondzak, fleshes out the band’s frenetic lineup with the explosive Brennan Gilbert pounding skins, holding it all together with a flawless, metronomic backbeat as the band hammers a sweaty young crowd into submission.
We caught up with the guys before a recent set, headlining a five-band bill at the Wire in Berwyn, to talk about music, life, ambition, music, touring, record deals and, well, music:
Ten years ago, the Chicago Music Scene was a hodge-podge of local bands, struggling to make a name in a city rich with culture and proprietary arts, yet destitute in the kind of cohesion one might expect from the town that perfected American Blues and brought it to the world. Have you guys noticed any difference or evolution in the local scene since you’ve been a part of it?
Alex Rogers: “The reason we’re still a band at all, being from Chicago, is the fact that, right off the gate, we were able to be a touring band.” Referencing places like Mojo’s from “back in the day,” he remembers, “It was five bucks. You could meet your friends there. Everyone was into the same music. It was its own scene.” However, he notes, “even since (then) it has completely broken apart and dispersed into little cliques.”
Timmy Rasmussen: “Instead of establishing a hometown foundation…it was kind of like working backwards,” as touring opportunities became more available (and more fruitful) than chances to promote the band locally.
Born in Evanston, Rasmussen relocated to Washington State as a child, before returning to Chicago after high school. “I moved back here, and within a year, I got a tour opportunity,” he says. “I never really built something here first.” Through extensive touring, the band has grown their reputation considerably, facilitating triumphant homecoming gigs with other local musicians they respect and admire. Reaching out to “up and coming bands” in the region, specifically in the pop/punk genre, “just to be more involved, see what’s going on,” has helped the guys keep a hand in things back home while promoting their brand on the road. Rasmussen understands “there are so many little pockets (of music), and there are so many people doing different things with it.”
“We were lucky enough to not ever be stuck in a local rut, (where) you have to find that niche that you think you have to be a part of,” Rogers adds. A city like Chicago might have “five different genres, five different promoters, but whoever it may be, you have to do it through them, you have to do it their way,” which creates disparity within the scene itself. “Recently though,” he says. “It’s been getting better. People are realizing, ‘Wow, there’s this amazing music that’s happening. There are so many bands!’ For example, take (local favorites) the Millennium. They should be huge. They should be massive.”
Bands, unfortunately, tend to get judged superficially all too often; not just by their music, but by their looks, in accordance with a perceived ‘image.’ “As cliquey as certain aspects (of the scene) have been,” says Rogers. “People have realized (the importance of the music), and I think that’s had a positive benefit.”
Rasmussen: “It’s seeing past the bullshit,” he says of the shallow-yet-slowly-deepening waters of the Chicago Music Scene. “It’s more (about) the music. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. If the music’s there, and the talent’s there, at the end of the day, that’s gonna speak for itself.”
Walking In the Footsteps of Giants
Touring extensively for several years, playing bars, clubs, festivals, basically anywhere they can get in front of a crowd to do what they do, Seven Minutes in Heaven has trodden nimbly and purposefully upon some of Rock n’ Roll’s most hallowed grounds. A recent show at the legendary Roxy in Los Angeles stands out as a definitive high water mark.
Has playing in this band given you guys a chance to cross paths with any of your musical heroes?
Rasmussen: “We got added to Four Chord Festival in September,” with Starting Line and State Champs headlining. “I saw Starting Line (on the bill), and I was like ‘Holy shit, I’ve never even seen them live!’ That was insane.” Excited about the planned reunion of Dangerous Summer (“one of my favorite bands,” Rasmussen says), evinced the same reaction. “They were added (to Four Chord), and it was like ‘Holy shit.’ It was crazy.” Groups like Hit the Lights, Patent Pending, and “tons of other hot bands” promise an explosive end to the summer festival season in Pittsburgh this year.
“I grew up on the East Coast,” says guitarist Mondzak, reminiscing about Patent Pending’s popularity around New York and Long Island. “I’m really excited to finally play with them again.”
Rasmussen elaborates, marveling over their experience last year at So What Fest, which was “stacked” with some of the band’s favorite musicians, like Under Oath, and Devil Wears Prada.
Finding themselves as peers, in a very real and significant way, to bands they grew up loving, bands that made the guys want to be in bands, is a dose of surrealistic wonder. Asked what it’s like to occupy the same strata as some of their heroes, they all agreed that it’s “pretty fucking cool.”
If you guys had to pick a favorite venue from all the places you’ve played, would the Roxy be the pinnacle thus far?
Rogers: “Overall, I think, for the legendary (status of the venue), the sound quality, the amount of people that happened to come out for that show, everything about it…”
Rasmussen: “That whole day was just…I mean, we saw Matthew Perry at a coffee shop.”
Mondzak: “I just remember watching live Fallout Boy videos on YouTube, and I saw a video of them at the Roxy, and I was like ‘I was right there! I was on that stage!’ I was so stoked.”
Thinking big things for the future, Mondzak hopes to one day fulfill a lifelong dream as an artist. “If I had to pick a venue to play,” he offers. “I would say Madison Square Garden.” In terms of Rock n’ Roll Glory, headlining the Garden is pretty much the Double-Dip Cream Dream Thrill Ride on any musician’s Bucket List. He adds that a show at MSG is “definitely a different spectrum” altogether, but sees no reason why the band couldn’t make it happen, acknowledging the importance and necessity of “hitting all the milestones” along the way.
“I would love to play the Eagles Ballroom at the Rave in Milwaukee,” Brennan Gilbert, the contemplative drummer, chimes in.
“That’s definitely a favorite,” says Rogers. “We usually play the bar, obviously, because the other rooms are massive. But it’s still sick to be able to play there and see the shows that are happening, because we go to shows there all the time. We want to play those bigger stages someday.”
“We’ll work our way up to the different stages, different levels,” Rasmussen says.
“The Grind,” adds Mondzak.
Recognizing the tedium often faced by young bands, wading through the mire of anonymity, inching through every small step on the path to notoriety, navigating the arduous climb out of the shadows of obscurity, we asked if they’ve been lucky enough to skip any steps along the way.
“If anything,” says Rogers. “Maybe we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves on certain steps,” meaning they’ve had to “just work with it” when finding themselves in uncharted territory. Mentioning the various pitfalls, road blocks, and detours with which bands must contend while building a brand, he sees it as a choice to either “go all the way” or not, even though there’s no such thing as absolute certainty in the music business.
“Kind of like two steps forward, one step back,” says Mondzak.
“Even though opportunities come up,” Rasmussen muses. “You can still learn from them, even if you turn them down.” He clarifies that the decision to turn down an opportunity is never easily made, requiring bandmates to consider where they want to be, collectively, in six months or a year.
Exactly five years to the date of the band’s 2012 inception, 7MiH inked a deal with Rude Records, becoming label mates with Less Than Jake, American Hi Fi, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and dozens of other great artists. How has a record deal changed things for the band?
“It’s insane, man,” says a wide-eyed Rogers. “It’s put everything in perspective. It’s kind of getting ahead of ourselves, but not. Like, we’ve jumped to (this point), and now we’re like ‘All right, now it’s fucking time to do this shit!’ Because for a long time, we would just go at it, and go at it, and go at it, and it (might not) work out for whatever reason. And so for this to happen, was kind of a great way to get that foothold, and now we know what we have to work towards.” He goes on to say that it happened “in a beautiful way” when the band landed an opportunity with a non-American label, noting how many of the “great, amazing, legendary” indie houses in the States might be home to such a colossal list of artists, that it could be difficult for newly-signed acts to access the resources and crucial guidance so many young bands need.
“They have huge rosters,” says Rasmussen. “So it’s like ‘Well where do we fit into their schedule?’” The guys all agree unanimously that “getting lost in the shuffle,” so to speak, would be a horrible fate for any group of hungry musicians on the rise.
“That’s the greatest fear,” confides Rogers. “I mean that’s terrifying.”
“Rude has been nothing but amazing,” Rasmussen says. “They’re overseas in Italy, so we’re getting pushed in Asia, in Europe…”
“It’s insane seeing, like, UK numbers coming in, or being able to get played anywhere and seeing people get stoked on it,” says Rogers.
“Just getting tweets from random people in Japan,” says Mondzak. “Like ‘Come to Japan!’ I’m like ‘We would LOVE to!’”
“We had an article in Billboard China, which was crazy,” Rogers continues. “If anything, it’s been eye-opening. What I mean about ‘getting ahead of ourselves’ is that we have so much reach, just working through this label, and the ability to reach these people. And now we get to work for that, which is cool, whereas we could’ve waited and tried to sign to an American label, and done it the ‘normal way.’ But we were lucky enough to have this opportunity to kind of ‘jump the gun’ (with) a foreign label.”
Sharing stories of other bands they’ve known, we hear about the tribulations of trying to break into non-domestic markets without prior exposure, without tour support from a label, or without hitting the road with a more established outfit. The expenses alone could prove fatal to the project.
“So for us,” says Rogers. “We get this exposure (from the label). And then if we get to go (abroad) someday, we get to do it right. We’re not just going (overseas) and taking these leaps that could ruin us (financially) as a band.”
Rasmussen states the importance of managing expectations, even in the face of such fantastic prospects. Just being signed and expecting things to happen, he says, isn’t enough. “We still have to keep grinding. We still have to keep working. These people that are tweeting us, or (sending) message(s) or comments…we have to follow up with them if we want them to stick around.” Simply keeping up with fan correspondence on social media is a huge task in itself. “This interaction, keeping those people (interested in our music)…it’s those little things that end up being big things.”
“It’s slowly becoming tangible,” adds Gilbert. “The whole process. We’re starting to actually see it (take shape). We haven’t toured since, what, October? So this is our first tour back, and it’s been awesome. It’s just cool that people still care.”
“It feels like a natural next level,” Rasmussen says. “We have in-ear (monitors) for the first time. We’re still working out the kinks, but…it seems like a natural progression. It’s falling into place naturally. Nothing seems too rushed, nothing seems too slow. It’s a nice pace.”
So you guys aren’t freaking out, staring over the abyss…?
“Every day feels like that,” Rogers half-jokes. “But in a positive way. You’re stoked to be on that edge. Who knows what’s at the bottom? It could be a bungee or it could be spikes.”
“I was gonna say spikes!” laughs Mondzak.
You guys have done several releases on your own. Your last EP, Side Effects, was a big step. Your first EP with Rude Records (Symmetry, out 9/15) should hopefully open some more doors. Immediate plans for the future?
“Tour tour tour,” goes the chorus. “Grind grind grind.”
“We never got to push (Side Effects) properly,” admits Rogers. “Not for any bad reason. Just the way it worked out. It sucks, but we get to do that now.”
On the song, Ways I Shouldn’t Be from the last EP, there’s a line, “I’m searching for a place that’s in between where I’ve been and where I want to be.” Where you are now, do you feel you’ve gotten any closer to that? Was that something you were going through then?
“I feel like we’re still searching,” says Rasmussen. “We’re still trying to find ourselves. Trying to find this sound that we all click on.”
On the fact that two bandmates, Gilbert and Mondzak, live in different states, Rasmussen alludes, “We’re still working the flow out. It’s getting there, for sure…but we’re still in this kind of limbo, but we see what the possibility is.”
“We see the bigger picture,” assures Gilbert.
One of life’s constant struggles involves seeking some semblance of balance; personally, professionally, spiritually, etc. The new EP focuses on trying to find that positive balance in light of all the bullshit, all the confusion we’ve been seeing lately. With respect to our current political climate, any commentary on the state of the world since every day is a brand new shit show?
“At the end of the day, we’re all human,” says Rogers. “We have to work together.” A primary reason why there’s so much strife in the world, he says, “is because there’s separation among people.” Embracing diversity in all of its forms is the way forward for humanity. “The biggest problem in the world is that nobody can actually put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If people actually took the time to do so, which it’s really hard to, obviously, but if (we) did that, it would change the world.”
A little bit of empathy goes a long way.
“There’s so little empathy in this world,” he agrees. “But it’s building, I think. That’s exciting to see. People are stepping up to the plate now, wanting to make things good for a good reason, rather than cash <sic> in on bullshit.”
Do you find politics seeping into your songwriting more as the shit continues to pile up around us?
“Hundred percent,” says Rogers. “This is our escape. We’re very honest in the way we write as a band.”
It seems we as a species have gotten farther away from each other, farther removed from personal connection. We now live in an integrated global society, which has both positive and negative ramifications. We’re completely interconnected. Artists can share their work all over the world; people can talk face to face from opposite ends of the planet. But at the same time, this global interconnectivity has created a new kind of separation; a new malaise. People retreat into their own individual boxes of confinement. Seeing the way you guys connect with your fans, personally tweeting everyone back, going out into the crowd and talking to people, shaking hands, giving hugs; that kind of relationship is all too important in spreading the message that we’re all part of one human family.
In terms of being able to block out all the craziness in the world and focus on the music, would you say it’s the simple fact of focusing on the music that allows you to block out all the craziness?
“I feel like, collectively, music is our passion,” Rasmussen says. “It’s where we find the most comfort. We can truly be ourselves, and nothing else exists. Especially when we write together. Shit can be happening anywhere, and we’re writing a fucking tight song…”
“Like ‘Yo that riff is sick,’ and then everything else is gone,” adds Rogers. “It’s what we need to do. Just relax. Everybody just needs to chill out. Take five minutes to just stop and not even think (about) anything. Don’t over-analyze.”
“Live in the moment,” says Mondzak.
What was the catalyst for becoming musicians? Was there a moment, an event, a person in life that made you realize ‘If I don’t play music, part of me is going to wither and die’?
“For me it was seeing the Dance Dance music video for Fallout Boy.” Mondzak volunteers. “I saw Pete Wentz and I was like, ‘He’s the shit, I want to be like him. I want to play music. I want to be in a band.” Adding, “My dad wanted me to play sports, and my mom wanted me to go to college. So I went to college for a semester, then dropped out and started touring. I hated sports.”
“I guess the pinnacle was when I was at college,” says Rogers. “I had a full ride to NIU, but I had just gotten into band stuff. It was right at the end of my first semester. I can remember the night. My first band was actually playing the Metro for the first time. It was a thirty band festival, but it was dope though, because we got to play Metro. I still shit over that!” The experience led to the realization that academia was perhaps not his calling. “I flunked out second semester, and I’ve been doing this ever since.” Rogers has no regrets about the decision to leave school. “I love to learn,” he says. “But I’ve learned more in my three years with this band than I have in twenty-five years of existence.”
“I was in second or third grade,” recalls Rasmussen. “I was at my grandpa’s house, and he had guitars on the wall, and my dad was playing a little bit. At the time I was like ‘Holy shit, my dad’s playing a guitar!’ And I was like ‘I want to do that!’ And my dad’s like ‘Check out my band.’ They were called Devastation, a local black metal band in the ‘80s. He was the vocalist. I’d never heard anything like that. Then I wanted a guitar really bad.”
Seven Minutes in Heaven signed on with Rude Records exactly five years after the band started – to the day. Was that always a goal starting out? Did you have a timeline within which you wanted to, for instance, release your own music, go on the road, land a record deal, etc.?
“There was never really a deadline,” says Rasmussen. “I mean, those were things I wanted to do, and they just kind of naturally happened. I’m always bad when people are like ‘Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?’ I’m like ‘I don’t fucking know. Playing music!’”
What’s your philosophy for moving forward with the band, in light of growing pressures from, say, the record label, or any of the myriad external entities you’re likely to encounter along the way?
“There will always be growing pains,” says Rogers. “At the end of the day, we just want to keep our creative independence, which we’ve been lucky enough to do. (Rude Records) has never told us what we have to do, and that was a big thing. We didn’t want to be with (a label) that’s gonna tell us what to do.” He’s realistic about it, though. “To work with us and give ideas is a whole other thing. Constructive criticism is one thing, but we know for a fact that there are (other record labels) that are telling certain people to do things a certain way, and they feel like they have to do it. You feel boxed in because you signed a contract. So we just want to keep our creativity, which we have done, and I think we always will do, because that’s the one thing you have in this world…your ideas.”
For a band who literally would not be a band if it weren’t for the likes of My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy, and Blink 182, Seven Minutes in Heaven are exactly where they want to be: On the road, playing shows for fans who love the music as much as the people creating it. Catch the boys in Nashville before the East Coast leg of the tour, where they’ll make way up to Boston before circling back to Columbus, OH. From there it’s on to Four Chord Festival (September 10th) in Pittsburgh, then a ten-day run in October, and a West Coast jaunt through November/December. Watch for a TBA homecoming show in late September to officially commemorate the release of Symmetry, available from Rude Records on vinyl, cassette, CD, and digital download September 15th.