The first evening of Garrison Play Days this year roared to life with a musical performance provided by the band of the night: Lake Effect. McGregor area locals Shawn Hagen and Spencer Passer remember the evening well. They were thereon-stage, a guitar and saxaphone in-hand respectively. Hagen and Passer have been bandmates for over two years now and are two of the five members who make up the group. One Wednesday afternoon at Fireside Inn in McGregor, these two came together to explain just who the performers behind Lake Effect were.
Forming a band
Hagen came to the McGregor area in 2012, a transplant from New Ulm. Though Hagen had been with six other bands back when he lived in southern Minnesota, Lake Effect didn’t start to take shape until fall 2014, when he and Kevin Johnson came together for a jam session. “He knew a singer and I knew a bass player,” Hagen explained. Since this initial formation, new members have come, and several have gone. While Anderson has left the group, the bassist, 2013 McGregor alumni Tim Scollard, has been with the group since its formation. In spring 2015, Passer, also a recent McGregor graduate, joined as a saxophonist. Hagen met Ellen Klabunde, the group’s vocalist, at a show in fall 2015. Klabunde was then studying at the University of Minnesota – Duluth. “She could sing,” Hagen said, “so she auditioned.” Drummer Noah Mercil joined in January 2017, the group’s most recent member.
Hagen brings about 12 years of musical experience to the group. “My dad played guitar,” he said, “so I was born into a lot of equipment.” Passer had been playing saxophone for about six years when he joined. He believed Scollard had been playing bass about the same length of time with a few additional years of experience with guitar.
Neither member could easily pin down one genre or style for the band. When he first joined, Passer said the group had played more classic rock, though recently they have been trying a rock-funk fusion. “We’re not just a classic rock band,” Hagen added. “People have asked me before, and I’m at a loss for words at it.”
Each member brings his or her own musical background to the group. Hagen describes his own influences as ’70s rock and blues. Klabunde was based in classic rock, while Scollard was a mix of progressive rock and metal. Mercil had a background in jazz, as Passer put it, “of any period.” Passer described himself as a mix of everyone else’s taste with a recent focus on funk and progressive rock. “The mixture of all those sort of describes our songs,” Hagen said.
The band primarily plays covers. “I think we are original at putting together the arrangements,” Hagen said. “None of it is stock.” Citing Scollard’s progressive-inspired bass playing and Mercil’s “technical, funky beats,” Passer further stated that a lot of their covers were quite different from the original songs. “I think Ellen probably keeps it the most normal, out of all of us,” Hagen said.
According to Hagen, the group’s first public performance came a month after they formed. During this early period, the group managed a gig once every few months. “Now we are playing about 40 gigs a year, maybe, if you average the last few years.” Hagen and Passer figured the group last got together to practice in March, and practices in general happened about four times a year.
“We’ve been kicking around [original music] now,” Hagen said. “we are kinda in the beginnings of it, but we will be doing a lot more going forward.” In Passer’s opinion, the group was currently working toward defining what their sound is. Hagen owns all of the recording equipment, so the group didn’t have to go through a studio.
Pursuing a degree in graphic design at St. Cloud University, Scollard had been doing work on the group’s videos and promotional materials. In addition to getting original work out there, Hagen also hoped to focus on larger gigs, stating the group was now performing in a casino circuit.
When asked what defined the band, Hagen responded, “We are all pretty particular on how the music is being played … We all have a good ear for perfection.” Passer added, “There is no weakest link among the band.”
Passer plays in the group because he had fun performing, but also hoped that he could channel his creative energy into the band’s original pursuits. Part of what drew Hagen to perform was seeing the fans have a good experience. “They can have an escape without going to a huge concert show and paying over a hundred dollars for a ticket.”
Even outside of their music, Passer, Scollard and Mercil are all three currently pursuing college degrees. A passion fuels their work, and its output is a synthesis of a wide range of artistry.
For those interested in seeing that artistry in action, Lake Effect can be seen at Bann’s Bar and Restaurant in McGregor Sept. 22, the Isle Muni Sept. 23 and Black Bear Casino Sept. 30.