Just getting good

The Promise Ring doesn't need an Emergency to start popping off

It is late August, less than a month before his band The Promise Ring is set to release its third album, Very Emergency, and guitarist Jason Gnewikow is doing his best to remain calm. Not surprising considering the disc's impending arrival and all of the anticipation surrounding it, all of the people expecting a masterpiece from a band they've heard about in publications as disparate as Playboy and Teen People, but haven't really heard yet. You could forgive Gnewikow if he were a bit nervous, because The Promise Ring is more often referred to, for better or worse, by another three-word phrase: Next Big Thing. You couldn't blame him if he were steeling himself for the oncoming onslaught of media hype and tripe.

But, no, that's not what is bothering Gnewikow today. In fact, at the moment, the release of Very Emergency is the least of his worries. Gnewikow and the rest of the band -- singer-guitarist-lyricist Davey von Bohlen, drummer Dan Didier, and bassist Scott Schoenbeck -- have had all summer to listen to the album, and it lives up to the only expectations that count: their own. It doesn't matter to them whether the band's press clippings arrive in the mail on glossy magazine stock or the smudged newsprint of homemade 'zines, or whether they even come at all. ("Oh, my God, we finally made it! Teen People," he laughs.) They made the record they only hinted at on their 1996 debut 30 Degrees Everywhere and 1997's Nothing Feels Good, and they're ready for whatever happens next. But they aren't worried about it.

As Gnewikow sits in his Chicago apartment (the other members of the group reside in Milwaukee), it's his other job -- freelance graphic designer -- that is more of a concern. Specifically, it's the computer he uses to complete his design projects, mostly album covers, that has him frustrated. The Apple computer Gnewikow had been working with for years finally died, and the newer model that replaced it doesn't mesh with his scanner or printer. Gnewikow is learning first-hand that hyperbole can't make up for a product, such as Apple's iMac, that can't be easily plugged into wherever you want to put it. It's still too soon to tell whether the same thing could be said about The Promise Ring.

Best-looking boys: The Promise Ring is, from left, Davey von Bohlen, Scott Schoenbeck, Dan Didier, and Jason Gnewikow.
Andy Mueller
Best-looking boys: The Promise Ring is, from left, Davey von Bohlen, Scott Schoenbeck, Dan Didier, and Jason Gnewikow.

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"Little did I know that the new Apple computers are not compatible with any of the old peripherals," Gnewikow says, seething. "They have all new ports and stuff. It was like a nightmare. I'm totally not a computer nerd, so I'm blindly feeling my way through this. I order this modem, and I'm like, 'All right, is this the right one?' And they're like, 'Yeah.' I get it today...not the right one. Fuck. I just bought this new printer and new scanner only three months ago, and I could've gotten ones that are compatible, but now I just spent all this fucking money."

Unfortunately, throwing good money at a bad computer would turn out to be the least of his computer difficulties, after Gnewikow decided to come out in an interview with The Advocate a month later, coinciding with Very Emergency's release. Gnewikow bravely joined a few other musicians, including Burning Airlines drummer Pete Moffett, former Braid guitarist Chris Broach, and Michael Brodeur and Vanessa Downing of The Wicked Farleys. Not that Gnewikow's sexual preference should matter to anyone one way or the other. He only made it public knowledge to quash the rumors that von Bohlen's lisp had prompted; everyone thought the lead singer was gay, not the guitarist.

Coming out was Gnewikow's choice, and it doesn't affect his guitar playing in the slightest or change the meaning to the lyrics of his band's songs. After all, he doesn't write any of the words anyway; von Bohlen handles that. It has nothing at all to do with The Promise Ring, other than the fact that Gnewikow is a member. Or so it would seem.

Yet in the realm of Internet message boards, every detail is open for discussion, debate, and, all too often, derision, and nothing hits too close to home to be considered off-limits by the legion of anonymous posters hiding behind a keyboard and a phone line. Rumors become established facts without anyone ever bothering to establish the facts, and rarely does a band's music actually come into play. At best, songs run a distant second to their singers, as Web board denizens are too busy crafting questionably spelled screeds against every group they hate, usually in the most insulting way imaginable. They are the perfect places to sharpen whatever ax you wish to grind, even if you don't like the bands being discussed. It's practically encouraged.

So when Very Emergency was released at the end of September, more people were talking about Gnewikow than about the 10 good-to-great pop songs on the album. Gnewikow's admission brought out the worst in a bad bunch, beginning discussions on the Web site of their label, Jade Tree, that proved just how narrow-minded some people still are. Jade Tree's owners, Darren Walters and Tim Owen, wisely decided to take the board down, replacing it with a list of links that "offer educational, political, and personal resources for gay and lesbian rights campaigns, anti-violence projects, and AIDS activism." And fortunately, Gnewikow didn't see any of the vitriol directed toward him, since he resolved a long time ago to ignore message boards completely.

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