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Dave Roepke, Published January 22 2009

Cass County Uglies to unveil self-titled debut

The lead singer is a daddy-to-be, half of them have mortgages and all four are close to leaving their 20s behind.

Additional responsibility is typically bad news for underground rockers, but The Cass County Uglies laugh it off, joking about an infant T-shirt reading, “I killed a perfectly good rock band.” If disintegration is a worry, these guys hide it well.

The local foursome, releasing its first CD at The Aquarium on Saturday, is carefree because after a decade of playing in other area bands, the members finally feel like they’re in a group that’s stable and satisfying.

“This one feels more solid,” says Dan Nygard, front man and guitarist. “Other people have bowling night or softball night. We have a band.”

The main source of the stability is that the members – also including Dan’s brother Leif Nygard on bass, drummer Ryan Haugland and Benjamin Arends on lead guitar – are friends who’ve played as many different partial permutations, just never together. Except for Haugland, who met the other three after moving from Grand Forks, N.D., the group has known each other since attending junior high in Moorhead.

“We’d be hanging out together anyway,” Haugland says. “It just finally got to a point where we could be in a band together.”

Familiarity seems to draw more out of them. Leif Nygard, who does some back-up singing, says this is the first band in which he doesn’t feel replaceable. Arends says the Uglies’ songs – grounded in choppy power pop and melodic punk, with streaks of alt-country – have forced him to be a better guitarist.

“It’s not like the generic punk bands I’ve been in before,” he says.

The Uglies, who aren’t named after the area rock mainstay of the 1960s and 1970s called the Unbelievable Uglies, pressed a standard order of 1,000 copies of the self-titled CD it is releasing Saturday.

Though the members prefer to think of the live show as the band’s real product – “It’s sloppy, but it’s who we are,” Leif Nygard says – they are pleased with the 10-track disc, which was recorded in the basement of the house that Arends and his girlfriend own.

“I’m happy enough with it that if I wasn’t in the band, I’d listen to it,” says Leif, 27, the younger of the two brothers.

Leif, Arends and Haugland typically write most of the music on the record. Leif for instance, pinched the melody for “Disappear” from The Replacements’ “Bastards of the Young,” making it faster and backwards.

Dan writes the wry lyrics, which he says are specific stories from his own life on half the 10 songs. But they all come from a feeling the Uglies can remember well, one that’s always repeating in new generations.

“It comes from the perspective of being the only kids listening to punk in a small town,” says the 29-year-old front man.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535