Weekend warriors create a world of songsby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
A Twin Cities indie rock band has released what could be the longest album in recording history. "77 World Tour," from the group "Army Defense," is a 10-disc set recorded in just 13 months. It features songs representing all 191 countries in the world. The band has hundreds more songs in its vault but chances are you won't hear any of them unless you click to its Web site. That's because the only fans Army Defense members truly want to please are each other.
Golden Valley, Minn. — Twice a month, Friday night becomes the best night of the week for members of Army Defense or "A.D." as they affectionately refer to it.
Guitarist and songwriter Jose Ferreira says that's because it's "A.D. Night": "I get a special dispensation from my wife--thank you, Amy!--for allowing me to come and participate here," Ferreira says
"Yes," guitarist Jon Sailer chimes in, "thank you Bobbie as well."
"Thanks, Irisha," adds Shannon Roberts. He plays guitar and keyboards in the band.
Every other Friday night, Ferreira, Sailer, Shannon Roberts and the other two 9:00-to-5:00ers in Army Defense turn computer consultant Dave Lehnen's Golden Valley rambler into a party house. Beers are downed, cigarettes are smoked and music is heard. Their own music.
For Jose Ferreira, the band is basically a social club for 30-something songwriters with day jobs, "where we get together every other Friday and we just totally party and have a good time and get away from our regular work lives. And it just so happens that we record music."
But this is a group that records a jaw-dropping amount of music, actually.
Over the last three years, Army Defense has produced 20 albums containing 492 songs, and several are good enough to be played on The Current. But the players design each project primarily for their own entertainment, just because they get a kick out of going to such lengths.
Each album is more grandiose and absurd than the last. One record, entitled "Couch," was inspired by the Dutch windmill designs on Dave Lehnen's back porch sofa. Another double album was devoted to all the American presidents.
As you may have noticed, Army Defense members love themes. "We did 'superheroes,' says Jose Ferreira, "and we did 'taxes,' and 'death.' 'Six Feet Underachievers' I think is the name of that album."
To Dave Lehnen, writing and recording songs for every country in the world was a natural next step. "We wanted to top ourselves, he says, and this was the way to do it."
The resulting 10-disc, 191-song album is called "77 World Tour." The five members chose whatever countries they wanted, but some voluntarily carried a heavier songwriting load than others.
While some of the songs directly refer to the title country, many barely mention its name. For example, Jon Sailer, Army Defense's most prolific songwriter, made the Lao People's Republic one of his picks.
After Sailer Googled it online, he decided to make the leader of the country the focus of his song. "In this case it's the president and he has this mistress who's addicted to sleeping pills, and so it's his wishing that she was the way she used to be," Sailer says.
The sheer volume of Army Defense's output makes you wonder if the musicians are all constantly in the studio together, churning out songs like an indie rock assembly line.
No, says Jose Ferreira, not exactly. He thinks the group has an even more efficient system. "Really all you need to be able to participate in A.D. is a microphone, and a medium to record," he says.
The members of Army Defense record most of their material individually at their own homes. They turn the tracks into mp3s and send them via a file transfer program to Dave Lehnen, who assembles them into songs.
For some it would be tedium, but Lehnen enjoys it. When he was young he filled several notebooks with a comic strip he called "Army Defense." That's where the band got its name.
In the recording studio, Lehnen also looks to the past for his inspiration. "We try to sound like the Beatles," he says.
And if Army Defense tries to sound like the Fab Four circa "The White Album," then Lehnen is the band's George Martin and his basement is Abbey Road Studios. Lehnen has become really good at transforming songs into something more than the sum of their parts.
Many tunes on "77 World Tour," such as "Serbia and Montenegro," start out with only guitar and vocal tracks. Lehnen adds his own drums, bass, piano, organ, slide guitar and backing vocals.
Jon Sailer thinks Lehnen's production and musical skills spur the band's productivity. "It's really motivating to record things because, nine times out of ten, you put something together and you think, 'I don't know if this is going to be good,' and then two weeks later Dave's massaged something magical out of it," he says.
Lehnen admits that being Army Defense's studio wizard is extremely time-consuming. "It's all right though, because I love getting better at something," he says. "And I feel like I get better when I do this a lot. It seems like a constructive way to spend my time."
Army Defense members have toyed with the idea of playing live somewhere, but Ferreira says the idea usually dies pretty quickly.
"When we started to even just practice these songs," Ferreira says, "all the stress level.... It's just like, immediately, 'Oh my God, this is just so stressful.' It's like, 'Hey man, we're destroying the whole reason we're here.'"
By day Ferreira works as an IT manager. Being in Army Defense allows him to hold onto a dream.
"Not everybody can be a rock star," Ferreira says, "not everybody can be super-famous or win that lottery ticket? But this is a way for me to still play that game and still have an outlet for that. I thrive on this. This is the ability to stay human."
So far, Ferreira says Minnesota Public Radio is the only media outlet to receive the full 10-disc, "77 World Tour" album. Army Defense members are thinking about sending a set to Paul McCartney, if they can track down his address.
Meanwhile, they're already at work on their next big project, which is the complete works of Shakespeare, in song. Their tentative title is "Stratocaster upon Avon."
- All Things Considered, 02/16/2007, 7:15 p.m.