Beth performing with the Player Characters at CONvergence 2017. Left to right: Justin Hartley, Elizabeth Greenberg, Beth Kinderman, Dave Stagner.

Beth performing with the Player Characters at CONvergence 2017. Left to right: Justin Hartley, Elizabeth Greenberg, Beth Kinderman, Dave Stagner.

 
 
 From the back cover of Beth’s first demo recording in 2004

From the back cover of Beth’s first demo recording in 2004

Beth Kinderman has been singing and writing songs for as long as she can remember. She began teaching herself to play the guitar in 1999 with the idea that she might eventually want to actually share her songs with other people. However, she didn't take songwriting or performing very seriously until 2003, when a transformative spiritual experience in Granada, Spain persuaded her to make music a bigger part of her life. Following that vision has proven to be a pretty good decision so far. Upon returning to the United States, Beth started playing solo shows at and around her alma mater, St. Olaf College. She also recorded her first demos with the help of Max Clark (Unicorn Basement, Nightosaur) and released some of them on cassette tapes through his record label, Unnecessary Friction.

After settling in Minneapolis in 2004, Beth continued to write and demo solo material at home, using an 8-track recorder purchased with money earned from participating in various bizarre and unpleasant medical research studies. As she struggled to break into the Twin Cities' music scene, a friend suggested that her geeky, quirky folk-pop songs might find a receptive audience at local science fiction conventions. Beth's first con, both as an attendee and as a performer, was MarsCon 2007. Here she first encountered the filk and comedy music communities, and met her future collaborator and producer, Dave Stagner, at a room party where they bonded over their mutual love for Richard Thompson while singing "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" together. Beth's and Dave's paths continued to cross as Beth became more involved in Twin Cities fandom. When Beth started looking for somewhere to record a CD with better production values than her "lab rat demos," Dave offered to produce and engineer it in his newly assembled home studio, Extraterrestrial Highway. It was the beginning of a fruitful creative partnership that continues to this day.

Beth's first full-length album, All Of My Heroes Are Villains, was recorded on a patently ridiculous schedule of six weekends in January and February 2008 and released at MarsCon 2008. A few of the songs' arrangements called for drums, so Dave recruited Justin Hartley (who was in another one of Dave's bands, Feng Shui Ninjas) to play on the album. Other songs seemed to benefit from harmony vocals, so Beth called upon her college roommate Nikki Huls, with whom she had been singing informally for many years. It quickly became apparent that what had been intended as a loose federation of guest musicians actually worked very well as a rock band. The newly formed group dubbed itself Beth Kinderman & the Player Characters, then went about re-arranging Beth's solo material and booking a variety of shows at bars, coffee shops, and cons around the upper Midwest.

 Cover art for  Apocalypse Blues,  painted by Andy Peterson

Cover art for Apocalypse Blues, painted by Andy Peterson

Thereafter, an ever-growing association with fandom and the regular availability of a band caused a major shift in Beth's songwriting. Her songs moved away from their confessional, modern folk singer-songwriter roots and began to take on the elaborate, multi-layered progressive rock qualities of the Kate Bush records she had loved as a teenager, along with the SF and fantasy themes common to the filk community. Evidence of these changes can be found on the the first release credited to the Player Characters as a band, 2009's Apocalypse Blues. The album's complex arrangements (which among other things involved two different choirs, an ensemble of Middle Eastern percussionists, a fiddle player willing to perform in the key of D flat, several hours spent coaxing the correct tone from a spaghetti pot lid, and more guitar parts than any rational human should ever consider trying to edit and mix) stretched the band's musical and project management abilities to their perceived limits and beyond. This is most evident on the album's title tracks: a trilogy of progressive rock songs about three women from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica TV series that defined a new creative direction for the Player Characters. Apocalypse Blues is an album that the band takes great pride in to this day.

2010 saw the Player Characters performing at a record number of cons across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois, and releasing their third album, More Songs About Robots & Death. It was a smaller-scale release that allowed the band to showcase Beth's more comedic and pop-oriented original material, as well as some classic rock cover songs (David Bowie, Peter Schilling, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads) that demonstrated the Player Characters' evolving sound and influences.

 At the CD release concert for  More Songs About Robots & Death

At the CD release concert for More Songs About Robots & Death

Nikki relocated and left the core Player Characters group in mid-2010, though she continues to collaborate with the group in various live and studio settings as her schedule allows. After her departure, the band operated as a trio and occasionally solicited help from a variety of guest vocalists, including Kelly Reich (Candles Enough), Lizzy Gross, Rachel Traynham, and Tami Murck (Feng Shui Ninjas). Late in 2010, Beth, Dave, and Justin met Elizabeth Greenberg at a music party and felt an immediate connection to her. Elizabeth formally joined the Player Characters in January 2011 on violin and harmony vocals. Her contributions to the band can first be heard on 2011's Winter Is Coming, a 5-song EP of original songs inspired by works of fantasy literature (and including Beth's second song trilogy, the Fool's Trilogy).

2012 and 2013 brought the Player Characters many more changes and a temporary slowdown in band activity. In early 2012, Beth gave birth to her first child, William Blake, who understandably distracted her from writing and performing for quite some time. Elizabeth also moved out of state for two years to pursue a graduate degree. During this period, Beth produced an EP for the folk duo Candles Enough and often played drums and mandolin at their live shows. Beth also wrote, and the band recorded, an epic prog-folk song inspired by Dante's Inferno that was paired with Middle Eastern dance choreography for "Paved with Good Intentions," a Minnesota Fringe Festival show by Smiling Lune. As a trio, the Player Characters also assembled a number of Beth's song parodies and humorous originals (which are frequently inspired by tabletop roleplaying games in keeping with the band's name) into an EP called Return of the Son of More Songs About Robots & Death. Beth's comedy songs continue to appear sporadically on the Funny Music Project.

Beginning in 2014, with William increasingly self-sufficient and Elizabeth on her way back to Minnesota, Beth finally embarked on a long-delayed songwriting project she'd been thinking and talking about for years: composing, arranging, and recording The Hero's Journey, a 17-song concept album with one song for each phase of the monomyth structure as laid out in Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The rough drafts of the songs were written during February Album Writing Month in 2014 and 2015, then refined extensively through live performance and studio work as the Player Characters began the massive task of making the new record. Beth also continued to expand her audience by performing at the Confluence SF convention in Pittsburgh, PA and the Ohio Valley Filk Fest (accompanied by Dave) for the first time in 2015. Notably, Beth won the songwriting contest at OVFF 31 and also placed second in Iron Filker!

 Playing a solo show at DemiCon

Playing a solo show at DemiCon

However, this time of intense creativity was followed by a time of equally intense personal struggle in 2016 and 2017. Members of the band experienced various professional challenges, health problems, financial setbacks, and other difficulties that often regrettably took priority over musical pursuits. But it wasn't all bad. Beth and Dave both became heavily involved in running the music tracks at two Twin Cities SF conventions, CONvergence and Minicon, a volunteer role they maintain to this day. Justin and Dave joined and performed with a vast array of other bands, both together and separately - Gernsback Continuum, The Meadow Leaves, The Leprechaun Pirates, Big Loud Monsters, Temperance Turbines, and more. Elizabeth took a job on the East Coast, but is still considered an official member of the band and continues to appear on albums and at live performances when able. Last but not least, Beth had her second child, Arya Sophia, in 2017.

 Playing an electric show at CONvergence 2015

Playing an electric show at CONvergence 2015

Despite it all, the Player Characters have not been idle as they waited for the time to be right to take the next steps. Beth regularly writes new songs, and the band has continued to rehearse and make music in song circles and at conventions. All members of the band have made guest appearances with other groups; most recently, Beth and Justin contributed guest vocals and drums, respectively, to the Faithful Sidekicks' second album, Achievement Unlocked. The Player Characters have also released several singles, including song parodies and funny songs for the FuMP and the forthcoming Madam Opus compilation album of songs by women in comedy music, and a new recording of "Underneath the Mask" that was used in Dave's Minnesota Fringe Festival play "The Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Now, in the tenth year of the Player Characters' existence, Beth, Elizabeth, Dave, and Justin are finally ready to finish The Hero's Journey and share it with the world. They've resumed work in the studio with renewed vigor while also preparing to launch their first Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to finish and print the album. They hope you'll join them as they finally conclude this phase of their artistic journey, and as they begin the next one. Everything is circles.