The Next Step is back.
Upcoming shows and a rumored new album, "My Solar System Is You," reflect that shiny, damaged image. Formed in 2003, the Next Step has defied categorization and definition.
The only constant has been Dennis Vogen, who has held on to these dreams and ideas (and name) like a sick person clings to life.
More news to come. In the meantime, enjoy a previous article over half a decade old.
"The Honorable Mentions: An interview with the Next Step."
By Hollis Mason
(Posted on August 1st, 2006)
The first time I meet the Next Step, I determine that they're falling apart, like a cookie drowning in a glass of milk.
They're filming their latest music video in Dennis Vogen's apartment in the suburbs of Minneapolis. For anybody who's anybody who knows who the Next Step is, they know that Vogen is the rebel with a musical cause, the ringleader of the band. He writes and records the songs, and makes the records in bedrooms and bathrooms. He formed the group with two friends in 2002 as an avenue to finally meet and greet girls. A noisy, charasmatic nerd who felt confined within the faux brick walls of Faribault High School, Vogen was definitely not the most popular kid in class. He didn't play sports and he wasn't invited to parties, but he did read comic books and loved the Cartoon Network and the Evil Dead series. He joined theater during his sophomore year, and even played Lt. Cable in the school's production of "South Pacific." He scribbled drawings and wrote lyrics in class, and was obsessed with music he knew he shouldn't be. Unacceptable music. Namely, boy bands and the bubblegum pop genre.
When I walk into his apartment at three in the morning, I'm greeted by two intoxicated young men: the first, Brian McDonough, has been one of Vogen's best friends since his high school days. The other is Nick Arens.
Arens is the second member of the Next Step. Live, he plays bass and drums, but "not at the same time. It's impossible," Vogen informs me.
If Vogen is the yin, then Arens is the yang. If Vogen is rock, then Arens is roll. If Vogen is peanut butter, then Arens is jelly.
They're two great tastes that taste great together. They're opposites, but wrapped together in the tortilla of life. Fajita brothers.
Their relationship is summer and wading in kiddie pools, but things aren't going so swimmingly this early morning. McDonough and Arens are wasted, and Vogen (who wrote the scrip INVALID and is trying to direct) is frustrated and feeling overwhelmed. His actors can't act. They can't even put together sentences, like toddlers choking on legos.
"It was going so well," he puts his hands on his face and speaks to the camera. "It was going so well."
Between takes of McDonough burping and Arens crying ("Alcohol hurts when it comes out your nose," he whimpers after a drink tries to come back up), Vogen manages to get the shots he needs.
And then some.
"This'll be funny in the morning," he tells me, "and I'll have this tape to record reruns of 'Full House' next week."
Later, Vogen will turn this disaster into entertainment when he premieres his 18-minute "Making the Video," a behind the scenes look at the shoot, in June.
And that's one of Vogen's talents: turning heartbreak, drama and tragedy into something comprehendible. Understandable. Digestible.
He literally turns disaster into entertainment.
When I meet the band for the second time, Arens is in Moorhead, Minnesota, at a theater workshop. Vogen is sitting by himself in a booth at Denny's. He's sitting in the smoking section, but he doesn't smoke. He's drinking a cup of coffee with two packets of sugar and two creamers.
He doesn't like to talk about former band members. I don't want him to buck the interview, so I was careful not to prod him with that subject. But he says he will address it. With music, of course.
"There's a song on the next album called, "Uh, Oh, No," about Nate (Paquette, an original member and one of Vogen's best friends until late last year, when Vogen had a falling out with Paquette's girlfriend). It says a lot about what I was thinking and feeling after he left (they lived together). It's a little gay if you analyze it, but most guys are a little gay. Even Scarface was a little gay."
As we continue the interview, he nervously sips his coffee. He talks fast, and trips over his words frequently. He stutters when he's excited, like his mouth can't form the words as fast as his brain can create and deliver them.
This is the official biography at www.myspace.com/thenextstep:
"the next step is dennis vogen & friends.
since 2002, vogen has written, produced & released every next step album by himself, with notable exceptions. the band was formed by vogen, kenny taylor & nate paquette in a local mcdonald's as a musical vehicle to pick up girls. inspired by boy bands of the '80s & '90's, vogen invented the name & concept & started writing music. paquette never played a show or made a record with the group; taylor has been added and removed from the band approximately two times. andy trahan joined the group in 2003; two e.p.'s, "tangled cords" & "no fear of failure," were released in july & november, respectively. trahan played bass on both records. vogen did everything else, including produce, sing & perform every instrument. the next step played a few local shows (sometimes with taylor on drums) & vogen was invited to record at pachyderm studios, where nirvana recorded, "in utero." there, he recorded an unreleased e.p., known publicly as "the pachyderm sessions." in 2004, the group made like a kit kat & took a break & trahan left the band without notice. in 2005, vogen completed the next step's first full-length album, "something old, something new," & released it on the two-year anniversary of "tangled cords," on july 13th. he produced hundreds of copies with his home computer & laptop (& help from kinko's) & gave them away for free, sometimes at shows, sometimes in malls & sometimes in the mail. "something old, something new" is a concept album based on a musical vogen was writing in his head. with the help of the internet, the next step gathered a group of nuts & call them their fans. in 2006, nick arens joined the band. together, they've been taking over the world, one heart at a time. vogen has recently revealed "the streetlight diaries," which is a trilogy of albums: first, they'll release "love & fear" in september of 2006, followed by "honesty & happiness" in may of 2007 & they'll conclude the set with "life & death." the next step's websites (www.thenextstepislast.com & www.myspace.com/thenextstep) are catching more & more kids' (short) attention spans with their wit & cute (but excellent) music videos. the next step is a kiddie pool full of fun. we cordially invite you to dive in."
VOGEN: "We played a few shows in 2003, when Andy was in the band and Kenny played drums. Then Andy quit, and I got desperate to play. So I tried to teach my cat, Kitty, how to play keyboard. He was good at playing the standards and blues classics, but I needed him to play at punk tempos. He decided to quit, too, after I put too much pressure on him and it started to affect our relationship. After Nick joined the group last December, we started to rehearse together and we did play a couple shows in May (including a headlining acoustic gig). I'm definitely planning on playing some more shows soon. Tell people in your article to stay tuned to our websites for information. Or, I guess I could. People: stay tuned to our websites for information. There. (Laughs)"
I finish the interview by asking him to explain "the Streetlight Diaries."
VOGEN: "Okay, but this is the last time. (Laughs) 'The Streetlight Diaries' is a trilogy of albums that I have planned. I'm a very theatrical person. I like stories. I like concepts. I like ideas. So this is my new big idea. The first album is "Love & Fear." It represents the break-up. The second is "Honest & Happiness," and it represents self-discovery. And the final act is "Life & Death." Self-actualization. And realization, whatever. (He pauses.) It'll be our masterpiece. Our "Starry Night." Our "Mona Lisa." If the first two albums don't break through, if they don't reach the surface of the mainstream, then the third definitely will. I have no doubt. Does that sound cocky?"
I say a little.
"Sorry. I'm an ass. Is it okay if I go?"
I say, yeah.
So he pays the tab, shakes my hand and leaves. He said he has to work tonight. Vogen has a day job, at the local Chili's.
He says he can relate to people.
And I say they can relate to him.
And that makes me think he won't have to wait until the third album to break through.
I think he might be breaking through as you read.