Most people have trouble keeping up with one or two musical projects at a time. Try being the frontman for upwards of four bands in addition to a solo project. Mike Herrera, bassist and lead vocalist for pop/punk veterans MxPx, is keeping up with his workload without any complaints. Whether writing the upbeat west coast punk that MxPx has become so famous for or applying his abilities to the rowdy, folk/Americana of Tumbledown, you’ll be hearing even more from Herrera in the coming weeks.
OurStage caught up with the multi-instrumentalist to talk about his different projects, his upcoming tour and the recent departure of longtime MxPx drummer Yuri Ruley. Check out the Q&A for his answers and read on to find out Herrera’s exclusive announcement of the name for the upcoming Tumbledown record.
OS: MxPx has always had a Christian vibe, without actually defining yourselves as Christian music. Why has it been important for your genre to remain neutral like this?
MH: I guess a lot of it is a personal thing. I don’t know if it’s the genre, but it probably has something to do with it. The most basic way to describe it is: I grew up going to church. So when I started doing music and stuff, it was part of who I was (and am). In my mind, things got a lot more complex as I got older. That’s the main reason why I sort of started neutralizing everything. It wasn’t necessarily a very conscious decision. As I got better at writing songs, I didn’t have to be so obvious, even though most of our lyrics are pretty basic. We aren’t talking about “Aqua Seafoam Shame” or anything like that. Wow, that’s a weird Nirvana reference. Anyway, it’s kind of a weird thing because I respect all of our fans no matter what they believe. Some of our most hardcore fans are atheist, and others are religious.
MxPx has always been about the struggle to grow up and come of age. I think the religious stuff took over in the media, but not so much in the band ourselves. I was very young for the first few records, so I was still going to youth group and stuff. But once we started touring and meeting people and playing with other bands, it all kind changed. It’s all about growing up really.
OS: You guys have been hugely important to the sound of the punk scene, and your albums have seen quite the evolution. Do you think you have strayed far from your origins, or is that even a consideration when working on new projects?
MH: Well, we definitely have strayed far from the original sound. The thing is, we’ve gained new fans the whole time. From our first album, Pokinathca, we were seniors in high school. Now we have the latest album Secret Album, which coincidentally was produced by the same producer as our first album. Producers don’t get screwed with that whole Oh man, you’ve changed. If you don’t get better as a producer, or make things sound better or more slick, then you usually aren’t going to get rehired. So that’s the easy analogy. Same for writers, directors or whatever it is. You just have to keep getting better. That’s what bands do. And you can’t really go back. Once you learn something and practice something, it’s hard to go back.
I think it’s been a gradual change, and that’s what has made it natural. Each time we get new fans for new albums, they go back to the album before. It’s a little different but not too far off from what they just picked up and liked. However, if you go back to the first album you might be like, Woah this is a completely different band. Each day, there’s a new snapshot of who we are.
OS: So Yuri had to leave the band for family reasons, right?
MH: The easy answer is, because of his schedule and having a full-time job now, he not only had to pay bills but he needed benefits too. He has two kids now, and he obviously has health insurance needs and everything. It was just a life thing. There’s no way he could pay for life insurance on a punk band salary. We’d go on tour and be like, Are we going to pay the bills with money from this tour. It’s a really stressful situation when you’re a grown man with two kids and a wife. His wife also works and goes to school for being a nurse or something. He basically felt bad for us having to always ask him and he would have to say no. He didn’t want to quit necessarily.
We just did that Life In General retirement show in Vegas. It didn’t start as that but it just ended up being that. I really want to get Yuri to come do some more of those, at least our hometown in Bremerton. He really enjoys playing music. It probably kills him to have to quit something that he’s done his whole adult life.
OS:How has the band adjusted in terms of performing and coming up with new material, or is it too soon to tell?
MH: It’s much to soon to tell. I’ve always written most of the material on my own anyway, but maybe I’ll add a little emotional note to some of the songs relating to where we’re at currently with the band and with Yuri. I think that it’s one of those things where he needs to know that it’s okay for him to go, and that he’s welcome to come back anytime he wants. I’m probably going to write a few new songs and we’ll record at some point this fall. Maybe we’ll put something out at the end of this year. I’ve got quite a few projects happening right now, so I’m busy either way. MxPx has always been the head of the train, but now it’s kind of taking a back seat. So that’s a little strange.
I’m just kind of taking it as it comes. With Tumbledown, a lot of people ask why I started that band. It took me a while to start it. I had the idea around 1999, I wanted to start a folk/country band. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking exactly how it is now. It just took me that long to do it because MxPx was so busy. So I got home at one point, and just started getting some demo’s together.
MH: Usually it’s pretty different. It’s funny because I thought the same thing about Late Again. At the time, I was just getting the Tumbledown ideas together around the same time. That song probably should have been a Tumbledown song, and it probably would have been if I had the band together. With my songwriting, I can change a few things (add different chords, or a few riffs or something), to make it more pop/punk or hardcore or even the folk/country thing. The lyrics, of course are completely different. The thing about Late Again is that it was just a fun song. It wasn’t really something that MxPx normally would. Then again, a lot of MxPx songs are kind of random. Chick Magnet, for example is really the only song we have like it. The lyrics are totally random is well. We’ve always done that kind of stuff.
In terms of songwriting, I usually have to be in a certain mindset. It also depends on what I have coming up. If people are telling me Hey we need a new MxPx record, then I’ll focus on that. Sometimes it takes a while to get into the certain mindset to write what I need to write. But once I’m there, it’s pretty easy to keep writing.
OS: You formed the MxPx Allstars last year with Kris Roe and Chris Wilson. How did this come about?
MH: Basically, what happened was MxPx had a tour in Japan. It was about the time when Tom and Yuri were both about to get hired at their full time jobs (they both work at the same place in different areas of it). They were both like Look, I know it’s been booked for a while, but we can’t do it. I hate canceling tours for one, but long story short: I came up with MxPx Allstars to do this tour. I didn’t want to recruit two other guys and just call it MxPx. So it was Kris Roe, a buddy of mine for a while, who also did a few Ataris songs during the sets. It was something different. MxPx songs were different than normal, but also adding the Ataris songs was awesome. It wasn’t like a cover band, because I wrote my songs and he wrote his. People were a little confused at first, but ended up really liking it.
OS: What’s the current timeline on your projects? You’ve got a solo tour in South America, right?
MH: Yeah, I’m going to countries I’ve never been to before as a solo tour, ones that even MxPx hasn’t been to. I’m going to be there by myself”Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Equador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. I’m kind of in the middle of the Tumbledown album set for October. After my tour, it’s all Tumbledown. We’re working on the record right now, which is called Empty Bottle. I haven’t told anyone that, because I haven’t really started doing press for it yet. So you’re the first. We should have the artwork done soon. That’s the first release that I have coming out soon.
You really have to come see Tumbledown live to get what we’re doing. We’ll be on tour supporting the album, so come check us out!
Stay tuned for potential tours with any of his projects as well as Empty Bottle, dropping in October. Tumbledown is currently planning a fall tour to support the release.
For pop-rockers Motion City Soundtrack, 2010 has been”and will continue to be”a busy and successful year. The band released their fourth album, My Dinosaur Life, in January and followed up with performances at Bamboozle and the first half of Warped Tour. OurStage’s Jay Schneider caught up with vocalist Justin Pierre to talk about recording with Mark Hoppus, pushing the boundaries of pop rock and Motion City’s post-Warped Tour plans.
OS: So how’s the Warped Tour going for you guys?
JP: So far so good. We’re on the homestretch for us. We have six more shows including today and then we’re done. Just half of the tour.
OS: Some bands, after being on tour for so long, get excited to wear a t-shirt or something they haven’t seen in months when they finally get home. Are there any plans like that for you?
JP: Not necessarily the t-shirt, but I tend to keep myself very busy by doing many different projects. So I have like two weeks worth of projects that I’ve got planned, and we’ll see if I pull them off. They may involve a video shoot, some recording of stuff, some movie things and some hangout sessions with some friends.
OS: Yeah, that’s always good.
JP: Yeah, maybe some Red Dead Redemption. I just started playing it before I came out on tour, so I think I’ve forgotten how to do all the things. I can’t really ride a horse very well.
OS: I’m sure it’ll come back to you. It’s just like riding a bike.
JP: Actually it’s not like riding a bike, because I was in Japan a few years ago riding a bike for the first time in 10 years, and I fell off and totally sliced up my arm. So whoever said It’s just like riding a bike is full of shit.
OS: You just released a new album this year. It was produced by Mark Hoppus. What was that studio environment like?
JP: It was pretty relaxed. This time we used his studio”the one he and Travis own and run. It was very interesting because, they had Blink rehearsals for their tour. So it was a very weird schedule. We were shuffling around between the main studio and the B studio. I don’t know. It was really relaxed more than anything”very easy. I think that’s what’s great about Mark. He just creates an environment in which you totally feel comfortable. As opposed to some people, who shall remain nameless¦not people but person¦Anyway, it’s a long story. There’re other experiences where it’s more stressful, where things are just chaotic. Mark’s good at keeping it relaxed.
OS: It seems, for the new album, that you were pushing the boundaries a little in terms of your sound”maybe a little bit heavier than some previous releases. Was this a conscious effort?
JP: I think the only thing we were aware of was that we wanted it to be more of a rock record, as opposed to a pop record. I feel like the last record we did was very pop-oriented, and for this one, we wanted to just put a little more energy in. I feel like it was a success in that regard.
There’s a song called Pulp Fiction which is totally the brainchild of our bass player Matt Taylor. He tends to write these songs with just like keyboards and drumbeats. It started out as an electronic song. He sent it to me while I was actually in Japan, when I had the bike incident. It was so fun and easy for me to write lyrics, I wrote the entire first verse and chorus within minutes and sent it back. We ended up turning it into a real song, as opposed to an electronic/techno thing, where it started. So I would say that that was different. I think another one, like Disappear is very dark and a lot more aggressive. So, yeah I would say that that is a fair assessment.
OS: During Warped Tour and shows in general, it seems that you guys in particular like to mingle and hang out with the people who came out to the show- before/after the set, like at the merch booth for example. Why is that?
JP: I think when we do our tours, it’s really easy. It just kind of makes sense to go hang out with people. It’s only like 30 minutes or an hour out of your day. When we do longer tours, I tend to lose my voice, so I usually don’t talk. But on Warped Tour I’m talking all the time. My voice actually is going right now. It’s kind of on its last legs this week. Hopefully, it’ll hold together. I like actually talking and hanging out with people, and I don’t really get to do it that much. I guess that’s why”for selfish reasons. Most of the time I spend in my bunk, I spend it reading or watching X-files or something, and not talking with people. When I’m around people I tend to not stop. I just keep going and then I lose my voice.
Motion City Soundtrack are performing at the Leeds and Reading Festivals this year in the UK as well as Bumbershoot in Seattle, WA in addition to their own fall tour.
8/26-The Underworld, London, UK
8/28- Leeds Festival,Wetherby, UK
8/29- Reading Festival, Reading, UK
9/5- Bumbershoot Festival, Seattle, WA
10/14- Soma, San Diego, CA
10/15- Avalon, Los Angeles, CA
10/16- House of Blues, Anaheim, CA
10/17-The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco, CA
10/20- Portland, OR, Crystal Ballroom
10/22- Salt Lake City, UT, Avalon
Mike Mack & Harlem. Say that name a couple times over in your head. Now look at the picture down on the right. If their blunting moniker and shady street side pose don’t scream rough riding east coast smack-you-in-the-mouth ’90s rap then I don’t know what does. I’m not sure that’s more because Mike Mack looks (and sounds) remarkably like Biggie, or because the other half of this duo originally hails from (and goes by the name of) Harlem, but that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth for the group that define their sound as soul hop. Hell, they even reference Mr. Feeney and Screech in their rhymes.
Out of all the duos covered in Hip Hop Habit, Mike Mack and Harlem seem to be the most well balanced. These two find themselves on different ends of the spectrum in geography, tone and physical size”three aspects of their style that when combined appear at first glance more like an experiment in contrast. Not surprisingly, both have followed strikingly different musical paths to reach where they are today. Mike was born in central Seattle and discovered his love for music after winning a spot in the choir that was selected to back up Celine Dion at the Key Arena when he was in 5th grade. For Harlem (real name Hugh Brown), the passion was basketball until a move to Seattle at the age of 13 introduced him to Mack and the enthralling forces of hip hop. That’s right”the twosome has been developing their act since their teenage years, drumming out beats on middle school cafeteria tables and freestyling on school bus rides home. After some trying lineup changes and temporary hiatuses, they’re now here to stay.
The group loosely defines their invented genre soul hop as smooth hip hop, the best example of which can be found in sunny feel good anthem Check It. Primarily featuring a chirping string sample from The Jacksons ostensibly recalling the late ’70s soul era, MM&H don’t let you forget their hip hop origins by throwing in a beat overcrowded with thumping bass drum. Lyrically, they use these optimistic instrumentals as an opportunity to defend the art form they love, of course without missing any chance to inject some good natured self affirmation as well with lines like off the grid my lyrics are uncharted/ and the game’s integrity I’ve guarded and a chorus howling check it check it/ let’s take it to the essence/ this is real hip hop you gotta respect it/ the games in danger/ we gotta protect it.
Mike and Harlem relay their vision for the future in Look Into My Eyes, a track subtly sending listeners the message that they’re secretly in on something that’s going to be big. Simply put, if the two are ever financially strapped, this song would make potential investors feel very, very comfortable. Harlem’s tightrope flow perks all inspirable ears on the moving chorus, rapping “look into my eyes/ tell me what you see/ can you see the hunger that’s growin’ inside of me/ can you see the vision I’m trying to get you to see/ can you see the h-i-p h-o-p with almost methodical deliberateness. To offset his crisp sound, Mack comes in during the verse like a midnight freight train, rhyming what most everyone is already thinking: I’m sure you can see the hunger/ there’s no reason to wonder/ why every track I make strikes hard like thunder. The beat is a lethargic jam, structured around effected bass and percussion interplay, and accented with synth chimes that when combined compose the sonic incarnation of cultivation.
For the time being MM&H are performing around beautiful Washington State from Seattle to Tacoma, but if their vision turns into reality, they’ll be hitting the road nationally soon. With plans to play a number of showcases this year, release their second album Soul Hop and land their songs on a variety of radio stations, chances are you’ll be hearing them sooner rather than later. As always, check out their material in the player below and let us know how you like them in the comments!
Throughout the month of August, OurStage artists have battled for their opportunity to win great opportunities from VIBE.com, AllHipHop.com and Ernie Ball. They’ve made it this far, but they need YOUR help to secure a spot at the top of the heap. VIBE.com and AllHipHop.com teamed up with OurStage to give artists in the Rap, Hip Hop and Alternative Hip Hop Channels a shot at scoring themselves the ultimate up-and-coming feature on BOTH Web sites. One grand prize winner in this competition will have their winning song and a Q&A featured on both Web sites as well as be included in mash-ups by resident DJ’s at VIBE.com. With your help, one aspiring urban artist could catch their big break.
Over at Ernie Ball, all eyes are on the ladies in the female Singer-Songwriter Channel this month to offer one lucky artist a year’s supply of strings. One winner can cross guitar and bass strings off their weekly shopping list for an entire year! Head over to the OurStage music channels to begin judging now.
A band can spring forth from any number of scenarios”a successful one-off collaboration, approaching a musician after a gig, just goofing off with some friends ¦ the smell of toast. So goes the genesis story of Mad June, a band of four women from Montreal who decided to form a band over breakfast. Leaving sunshine and comfort in the kitchen, the band’s songcraft revolves around brooding, stylized rock. On Here Again, slinky basslines, rolling drums and the low gulp of guitar create a tempest of confusion and doubt. The sinister Polaroid tackles the media’s skewed perception of beauty with urgent, angular pangs”a moody little rocker redolent of Blonde Redhead. If you need a break from the brooding, skip to 24”an up-tempo, coursing number about love gone awry”or The Stranger Ones, where the band puts a Benatar-esque spin on youth in revolt. Just make sure you give November a listen. Manic and playful with a catchy chorus that turns a nice Figure 8”that song alone makes you wish more people would eat toast together.
With a rapidly growing international fan base, a single appearing on the hit show 90210 and CBC radio coverage, Darrelle London is on the right track to stardom. London’s voice carries a very sweet tone and her songs are just plain fun to listen to! The Canadian artist has packed venues in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Halifax and now is joining us as this week’s Needle in the Haystack winner. Darrelle London is also the latest artist signed to celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton’s new record label, which has drastically increased her international fan base.
She is in the process of recording two new songs she wrote with Chantal Kreviazuk. In the meantime, download the free track below to get a taste of her music. Stay tuned for more Darrelle London to come this week!
The first thing most people think of when they hear Washington, DC isn’t usually music. Think stone monuments, war memorials and politics. No one would expect anything else from our nation’s capital. Of course, sometimes people forget that DC is a major metropolitan area. And, with a large population and a urban environment comes a vibrant music scene.
In the case of Washington, DC, its music history is almost as old and diverse as its politics. Fittingly, one of the first famous musicians hailing from DC was John Phillip Sousa. He founded the Marine Corps band and even wrote some of the most famous military/patriotic marches of all time. The scene has impressive roots in the jazz/blues department thanks to artists like Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Bo Diddley. DC also puts itself on the map in the soul genre with famous artists like Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack. Hardcore punk legends Minor Threat also hail from DC. But DC’s most recent claim to fame is go-go music, which is a characteristic brand of dance/hip hop music.
Naturally, it’s important to mention a scene’s classical roots. DC contains three of the most famous US orchestras: The Washington Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. The symphonies play at the historic Kennedy Center where they feature standard repertoire and new works every weekend. The Kennedy Center also features many multi-purpose spaces for pop/rock acts in addition to the more classical/modern performances. Over the summer, you can catch the NSO performing at Wolf Trap for their thematic concert series.
Moving on to nightlife, DC has a handful of notable rock clubs. My two recommendations for a nightly stop are The Red & The Black Bar and Rock & Roll Hotel. These places offer nightly entertainment from typical bar fair (like trivia and cover bands), to all-out weekend productions with some of DC’s finest new original rock acts.
Of course, DC has much more to offer than just standard rock clubs. I caught up with OurStage hip hop/funk band Mambo Sauce to see what they thought about the vibe of DC. The band combines full instrumentation, gritty distorted guitars, impeccable emcee flow and powerful female R&B vocals all in one versatile package. Their sound, landing somewhere between The Roots and Black Eyed Peas, is aptly accompanied by the name Mambo Sauce”a clear reference to the complex flavor of the fried chicken dipping sauce made famous in the DC area. The band told me, “The music scene is really picking up compared to the years of the past¦[It] used to be dominated by go-go music but as of late, the cit has really been embracing variety. This embracement, however hasn’t changed the fact that DC can be a tough scene to break into, as is the case with many of the major markets we’ve looked at. Mambo Sauce refers to the audiences’ tendency to be critical of live acts as them being stuck in the cool zone. However, much like any major city though, if you bring your best, the crowd will respond.
Mambo Sauce frequents many DC venues including the State Theatre, 930 Club and The Santa Fe Café. They recommend any of these venues to a touring band or an eager visitor of the DC area. With such an impressive list of accolades, the band is certainly a DC music authority. They’re song Welcome to DC has had a plethora of placements including being in the rotation for MTV, VH1 and BET, being used for Washington Wizards Commercials, Comcast Redskin’s highlight reels and BET 2009 Hip Hop Honors awards.
Next week marks the official end of August’s regular judging season, and unfortunately the end of summer as well. Luckily, there are tons of hot music videos on OurStage to keep you sizzling through September. But your favorite artists and directors need your help to climb the charts and claim the grand video prize of $1,000. Just imagine all the cool stuff you could do in a music video with that kind of cash padding. As we near the end of the month, some killer videos are closing in on that coveted top spot. So make sure to put your voting chops to good use and check out some of the videos climbing the charts below.
All That You Are – Exile Kings
Currently Competing in Rock Videos
One Way Love – ColorFire
Currently Competing in Pop Videos
When you think Israel, you might not immediately think of great pop music. Civil unrest and tense political/religious environment have been making headlines for decades. Drawing visitors of almost every major religion in the world, this tiny middle eastern country isn’t tiny in reputation. Although originally from Canada, Dorine Levy bases her musical career in the cultural coastal city of Tel Aviv. Living in such a diverse, conflict-ridden country, it’s no wonder her music follows its own agenda.
On the surface, her songs appear to be straight-forward pop with a soft rock feel. After a few listens though, there’s something more. Her natural-sounding vocals and simple acoustic-bass-drums arrangements support her songs’ bittersweet moods. While there are, of course, catchy choruses (take “Sun” for example), Levy deals with intense themes and emotional phrasing in almost all of her songs.
After releasing an EP back in 2008, Levy has received several placements including a spot on Delta Airlines’ Indie Pop channel as well as being featured in retail stores in the UK. She’s even secured a spot on the Music Oz Awards (broadcast from Australia) as one of the Top 5 International artists of 2010. Currently, Levy is working on a new album, set to be released in 2011. The album is being tracked/mixed by Yoad Nevo (Pet Shop Boys, Bryan Adams).Be sure to check out her OurStage profile and listen to her song “Sun”.