Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Joe. You sing and play guitar in About The Mess. And I KNOW you say that the bands history isn't interesting...but I'm gonna ask anyway. Can you give us a little history on the band and how you got started?
CM: I heard the bands song "Story To Tell", and I gotta tell ya in all honesty, that was a GREAT song! Is that song gonna be on an upcoming release?
JM: Thanks so much for that! That song was one of my early attempts at much more mature song writing than I had done in the past. When we started talking about a lyrical direction for this band, that song became somewhat of a stepping stone to everything we are trying to do now. We aren't kids anymore, so writing songs about fantasizing about girls in our class and the supposed oppression of my parents or my boss doesn't make much sense anymore, not that it ever did in the first place. I also wasn't interested in doing the whole political thing for a number of reasons including 1) that the scene has been flooded with political bands since the Bush years, and 2) the issues that are most important to me today, like gay rights, women's rights, and civil liberties, would be disengenious for me to address since I'm a straight-white-male fortunate enough to have a job in this economy, and don't actually have to deal with the oppressions I'd be rallying against. Though we do have a great idea for a video for our song "Janie" that might flip one of those on it's head if we can ever get it done. So what were we going to write about? I looked at the four of us in the band and thought, here we are, all 30 years old, a bit world weary now, and we've definitely made our fair share of mistakes and have to live with them, and have been for a while now. Myself, as much of a straight-white-male as I may be, can't stand the idea of becoming part of the moral-majority that bridges any political spectrum that looks down upon and attempts to hide peoples supposed imperfections instead of accepting, and embracing peoples humanity. Example, everyone and their mother has sexual fantasies, granted, some are far more perverse than others, but some people actually play them out. However, what happens when someone does actually play one out and it gets out in the open? Miraculously everyone else suddenly doesn't have these fantasies, and the person who actually did get tied up wearing assless chaps, hanging from one of those swings, with nipple clamps on and a ball gag in his/her mouth, and has his/her butthole fingered by some guy(s) and/or girl(s) is villanized for it, and dragged through the ringer for committing no crime, and simply being a horny, and consensual human. So yeah, on that note... the underlying topic of a song might change, but that is the perspective the lyrics are coming from, assless chaps and ball gags... ok, but really from the perspective that it's ok to have made real mistakes, but you have to deal with the consequences, but also, that some things that the moral-majority considers mistakes, aren't mistakes at all, and are part of your humanity, and you should embrace it, and embrace others for it.
The recording you heard was recorded by our very own Jack Duffy. We needed something to get a few shows, so we put that track out. However, we rerecorded it for our upcoming EP "Anthem of Imperfection" at Million Yen studios with my friend Jeff Dean (who is in some AMAZING bands including Noise by Numbers and All Eyes West, check them out!).
CM: Are you the principle song writer for the band? Or is it a group effort?
JM: The underlying music has been a collaborative effort, but all the lyrics have been mine so far, not that that won't change in the future. We actually have a great dynamic in that regard. It definitely mixes things up, and the process isn't entirely the same for every song. Some songs the riffs all come first, and I layer melodies and lyrics over them, other ones, I bring melodies and their underlying chord progressions to the table, and then we play with it from there. It's actually a lot of fun writing in this band because there is very little "no, don't do that" that happens in a ton of bands, and more of a "let's at least try it, and see what we can do with it" attitude.
CM: Who are some of your musical influences?
JM: What most people don't expect that meet me through the bands I've been in, is that I am a "classically" trained violinist. I started playing when I was 8, got pretty good at it, got myself into music school, ultimately graduated from Michigan State with a degree in Music Composition. Classical music pretty much consumed my life until I was about 13 years old, and then I started to hear bands like Nirvana, Green Day, Offspring, etc. through friends at school. As the classic story of most punks go, you hear it once, and suddenly you want more, and want to find all the underground stuff. So even though I was spending my practice time playing Beethoven and Mozart violin sonatas, throughout high school I started listening to a lot of punk music, discovering stuff on Lookout, Fat Wreck, Epitaph, etc. Then finding local bands to listen to. Around this time, I started picking up my Dad's guitar and translating all my violin playing knowledge to the guitar. It was made even more fun and exciting by the fact that my parents definitely weren't all for it, and definitely didn't want me playing the guitar. Even though my dad plays guitar, and used to listen to a lot of rock n' roll (one time later I borrowed his car, turned it on, and Sex Bomb by Tom Jones was blaring through the CD player... awkward! now he listens to country music, the kind that really sucks), and my mom loves the oldies and Motown (also very influential to me), they were deathly afraid of me doing so, probably because they knew I wouldn't be able to put it down once I started, and would get myself into all sorts of hairy situations that I can only assume most parents of their generation wouldn't be too excited about hearing their kid having been in.
Then came the biggest influences in my guitar/singing life, bands that played at the local Livonia, MI clubs Pharoh's and Token Lounge. Bands like Slo-Poke, Suburban Delinquents, Suicide Machines, Mustard Plug, etc. Those were really my formative years. Then came the whole "Chicago" scene, which I first came across through the Slapstick record, and then I saw Alkaline Trio at some tiny little show in Downtown Detroit, then the Lawrence Arms have really made an impact on me. As I got older, bands like Hot Water Music became very influential, and I still seek out new music and love Nothington, The Loved Ones, The Reaganomics, The Holy Mess, and a bunch more. The rest of the band has really gotten me into those Off With Their Heads guys... I saw them at the Riot Fest afterparty show at Exit last year, and they were awesome.
CM: Besides being in ATM, you also have a pretty rich musical history yourself, obviously. You were in Common Rider at one point. What was it like being in a band with Jesse Michaels? 6) Did you do any touring with CR or record any music with the band?
JM: It's pobably best to give the entire story to this since there may be some context that won't be understood otherwise, especially since I've never publicly addressed Common Rider before, so this might be a bit long, and for that I apologize. Ending up playing with Common Rider was all about degrees of separation. Over the spring/summer of 2002, my friend Kevin Sierzega, who was singing for the Teen Idols at the time, a band Phil (Hill) was also in, called me up and asked if I wanted to go do some backing vocals down at Sonic Iguana, Mass's studio, for the new Common Rider record. I was 22 at the time, and what was I going to say, no? So along with a slew of other musicians, I recorded backing vocals on some tracks, most recognizably in "One Ton." And that was the catalyst for playing guitar in the band.
Whenever you meet someone for the first time that you idolized for a significant period of your youth, you have a well formed idea of them in your head that is never representative of who that person actually is. Jesse (Michaels) was no longer the young lad of his Operation Ivy days, he was a grown man now, as was everyone else in the band but me. He was much more reserved than I expected, and the contrast between Midwest and West Coast individuals was never more apparent in my life. All that aside, it came up that they needed another guitarist for their upcoming tour dates, and half jokingly I tossed it out to him that I'd join up, never really thinking anything would come of it. A few months went by, my band Ten Ninety started to fall apart, and I got in touch with Jesse again, and boom, a few weeks later, what do you know, I was off to Indiana to rehearse with the whole band. And then we were on the road. It all happened very, very fast, and as exciting as it all was, I was completely unprepared for what I was getting myself into.
We did about three months of touring, most of it on the Plea For Peace/Take Action tour, playing with bands I never dreamed I'd be sharing a stage with like Bouncing Souls, Lawrence Arms, Jimmy Eat World, the list goes on. So there I was in my early 20s, when your life is still completely in front of you, and everyone else in the band was in their 30s now. To say the least, there were some tense moments, mostly due to the fact that I was in lala land, and they were in their grumpy-early-30-something-what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life phase that I completely get now. Here we were eating crappy food, drinking crappy beer, smoking the cheapest cigarettes we could get our hands on, and driving 10 hours a day no matter what the weather is like... they knew it was hard going in, I had no clue, and had to learn the fast and hard way. There was stress, and disagreements, but ultimately understanding, and broader world view, and all that good stuff. It was a dream come true, but also a lesson on how hard a touring musician's life can be, especially when you are barely making enough to get from show to show. In the end, I owe a lot of who I am today, both musically and personally, to Jesse, the rest of the dudes in that band, and the friends I made on that tour.
CM: I know ATM is a somewhat new band. But are there any big plans for the rest of 2011? Any big gigs in the works?
JM: We are VERY new. We have only played four shows so far, and through the kindness of our amazing friends, and some great people we have already met along the way, we have had a good run at those four shows. Also, my, and now our, friend Jeff Dean was kind enough to record our upcoming EP at Million Yen studios. That EP will be coming out very soon, we should have more details on it within the next few days as to timing, and where to get it. If you want to come see us do our thing and hang out with us and drink some beers at one of our favorite spots, come to Cobra Lounge on Friday, July 22nd, we are playing with The Infected, and another band that has not been announced yet so far as I know. The Infected are awesomely more heavier than us, and have been very good friends to us the past couple months.
CM: Is there a website where fans can get in touch with the band, get news on upcoming gigs, releases and merch?
JM: Right now, the best places to go are Bandcamp where you can download some live tracks from our Double Door show a few weeks ago, and Facebook where you can see us posting a whole lot of pictures of monkeys and bananas, and a bunch of video clips to make your workday go by a little nicer. You can also find me on twitter (@themizzi), Mike (@mykeybone), and Gus (@superimportant). Jack insists he does not understand twitter.
CM: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Joe. I'm looking forward to checking you guy's out live and hearing new music in the near future. Thanks again.