Frontman Kirk Johnson (a.k.a. KjustinJ) defines the title of Iffy’s debut album Biota Bondo (2004) as, “A mass wilderness of sound held together by the gracious filters of night and day.” After all, he is an Artist. To keep it simple, the album’s title ‘biota’ refers “to the combined flora and fauna of a region.” And ‘bondo’, of course, is the ubiquitous white putty used to repair automobile bodies. Either way, Biota Bondo is an apt title for an album blessed by technology, singing the praises for the analog-digital collision.
Biota Bondo pairs uptempo modern soul with funky, chilled-out dance beats that never strays too far from pop. There’s no question these 13 tracks will captivate a thirsty ear and stimulate one’s imagination. The daring album opens with a straight-up loop-driven pop ode to jump rope called “Double Dutch” (something for the kids?), inevitably kicking out a little something for the grown-up kids on “Hi-Life.” “Sweet Stuff” brings new smooth to old grooves, set to the theme of a radio love-line. The most rockin’ track, “Da Blink,” sinks a deep hook into an unprecedented kind of pop. It all makes sense when you realize that the album was a three-way collaboration between Kirk (vocals), Dave Pederson (guitar, keyboards, programming) and Tom Merkl (bass, programming). Tom splits his time between Iffy’s hometown of Minneapolis and the Netherlands. In another nod to technology, the album germinated between the continents, with Tom and Dave often sharing creations via the Internet
Biota Bondo was produced by John Fields (Semisonic), with its elements taking shape at the band’s own Candyslippers studio. “There are a lot of Candyslippers techniques on the album,” says Dave, “which means that you don’t know what you’re doing, but you go ahead and do it anyway.” “Hi-Life” for example, features Dave playing the zipper of his pants. But Iffy didn’t stop there, “Our studio is above a bar,” adds Tom, “and there are a lot of fights on the sidewalk. I hung a mic out the window when some guys were scuffling, and we used it on ‘Double Dutch.'” The song “Can-O-Cope” was co-produced and mixed for the album by Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliot Smith), who also flexes his mighty mixing muscles with a pumped up radio re-mix of “Double Dutch.” Iffy clearly steps outside rock traditions, enlisting Freddy Fresh and Q Burns Abstract Message for the “Can-O-Cope” remix 12-inch. XLR8R Magazine coined the phrase “cowboy reggae” to describe the band’s unique sound, while Metropolis radio show host and famed DJ, Jason Bentley states: “Quirky indie-pop sounds great on KCRW. I’m loving it!”
Iffy’s members possess a strong bond to their hometown. All three are Minneapolis natives shaped by the local scene that spawned Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum and the Replacements. DMA Magazine (Dance Music Authority) points out another influential hometown icon: “Paisley Park and the purple PrinceS[Iffy] come off like Prince’s kid brothers, taking his sound on a warp drive trip.” “When early inspirations mysteriously resurface, they get twisted around and imprinted with your own personality,” Kirk explains. “The coolest part is when those influences lead you to stretch out and go way beyond familiar territory. It’s important to keep pushing and growing. The song still needs to come from within you.” Iffy’s poetic stream of consciousness, from artwork to lyrics to music, runs very deep. Kirk, who is also a painter and sculptor, created the artwork featured throughout the album packaging of Biota Bondo.
Kirk and Tom first garnered national attention in the seminal Twin/Tone and SST band Run Westy Run, before forming Iffy with Dave. They invited Kirk’s brother Kraig Johnson (also from RWR, and now serving time with the Jayhawks and roots-rock supergroup Golden Smog) to play guitar and Martin Dosh to play drums for the live show. A truly chemical reaction has been set in motion. “When you’re making music on a computer,” says Dave, “you have total control. But in front of an audience, you give that up in favor of combustion. Kirk is a real instigator.”
Nate Bertz on vocals and guitar
Mykl Westbrooks on guitar
Brock Specht on guitar and keys
Tony Graham on bass
Michael Reiter on drums