Posted On 25 Sep 2017
Mutts rang in 2017 celebrating their inclusion on WXRT Chicago’s local “Best-of” list for the second time. When they made it in 2013 it was on the acclaim of their acoustic album, Object Permanence, which quickly sold out of two vinyl pressings. This time just two singles were strong enough: “Let’s Go”, which was played at Wrigley Field during the Cubs’ historic 2016 World Series run, and “Neighbor”, offering a message of togetherness directly after the divisive Presidential election.
On September 12th Mutts released both songs on a five-track EP entitled Stick Together, which was recorded and mixed at Audiotree Studios by Rick Fritz (The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, The Orwells, Destiny’s Child).
This distinctly positive EP springs from some of the most trying times of singer and songwriter Mike Maimone‘s life. Leading up to the release of their fourth LP, Fuel Yer Delusion, vol. 4 in late 2014, Maimone was kicked out of the house by his partner of five years. Around that time, several bands that Mutts had been friends with called it quits. The trio decided that their next record would be a complete about-face from the sardonic Fuel… After recording it, drummer Chris Pagnani had his first child and decided to leave the group. Soon after that, the bar that Maimone played every week whenever home went out of business. And then their tour van died.
Despite this adversity, Maimone and bassist/guitarist Bob Buckstaff decided to go ahead with the release. Regarding the title, Maimone says, “I wanted to abandon all the satire and cynicism and just come out and say what needs to be said both on a personal and global level. Yes, it’s extremely difficult, but people need to stick together. Even though our band didn’t, we’re going to figure out a way to make it work and get this music out there. You don’t have to give up just because everything sucks for the time being.”
Putting music out seems to be what Maimone does best, with five LPs and four EPs since 2008. His deep versatility as a songwriter has helped him land eleven songs on WXRT, from the family-friendly stadium jam “Let’s Go” to the gritty “God, Country, Grave,” which was featured in a sex scene on the Cinemax show Banshee. In his own words, Maimone says, “My songs are born from a life of contradictions.” He grew up in conservative rural Ohio, not coming out of the closet to his Catholic parents until age 30. He was an all-state athlete in high school, who played against LeBron James, while having a deep appreciation and love for the arts (Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” inspired the entire album Separation Anxiety). He graduated from the University of Notre Dame business school, but quickly walked away from corporate America. Maimone explains, “Through my songwriting, I try to turn these disparate life experiences into music that relates to all different people, helping us discover commonality.”
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Learn more about Mutts in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! Where does this interview find the band today? Is there music playing in the background? What music do you all like to listen to when you are relaxing or answering interview questions?
We are at home in Chicago. It’s about 2pm on a Monday so we’re all at work. I’ve been listening to the new Queens of the Stone Age singles on repeat and I wish they would put out the album already. Dr. John’s Gumbo and anything from Tune-Yards are also never too far down on my list of “recently played.”
How does 2017 so far compare to last year? Did you all approach this year differently then you did 2016?
In 2016 we weren’t playing as many shows, as our drummer was having a baby… and then he ended up leaving the band, and then our tour van died, and then the bar I was playing at every week went out of business, and then our country elected a misogynist who (at the very least) openly accepts racism, thus empowering all of the white supremacists-in-hiding in our county to crawl out of the woodwork.
Coming into the year, Bob and I doubled down on the new music despite the setbacks. We decided to call it “Stick Together” and keep pushing positivity out there into the world. We’re approaching this year like a lot of people who left 2016 feeling beaten down… with our chins up and just trying to make the best of it.
Growing up, did you always want to be musicians? Can you recall the moment you realized that you could really make music together and be a band? Why do you think your name truly represents this group and the music that you create?
I didn’t really know I could make music until high school. I always played piano, but it was just what was written on the page. It just didn’t occur to me that I could actually write the notes myself. I think Bob, on the other hand, has always been creative. When we met we were both playing in Company of Thieves, and we hit it off over Tom Waits, Elliott Smith, and Nirvana. We figured we would make music together that would touch on all of those influences, and more. The idea of going into it with no expectations of what it is or what it’d become is why “Mutts” just seemed appropriate.
I always like to ask artists how their hometown has been an influence on the kind of music they make and really what kind of a band they are today. So how do you think your hometown of Chicago has affected you?
In what I can observe from Bob and his musician buddies who grew up around Chicago, it really pushed them to be creative at an early age. They were hanging at the VFW halls in the suburbs when bands like 405 Plan and Fallout Boy were coming up, and there was a real scene. And they all piled in vans and hit the road really young, too. I feel like Bob was getting a whole other education that they just don’t teach in school. Meanwhile I was growing up in a little burnt-out coal town called Ashtabula, OH, listening to whatever was on the radio and trying not to get beaten up at the bus stop. There were bullies that called me “fag” before I even knew what being gay was. I think that was just the only word they knew, anyway. But yeah. It all translates to rock and roll somehow.
Let’s talk about your brand new EP called “Stick Together.” What was it like putting this collection together? What was the inspiration for these songs?
2016 being one of the most divisive years to date was subtext. I always tend to write satirical songs about injustices and hypocrisy, but it was time to shed the cynicism and come out with an unveiled positive message.
Also, Mutts had been seeing a lot of our friends and favorite bands breaking up. Stick Together was going to be our encouragement to everyone who’s having a hard time, to try and make it work. Then all hell broke loose on the home front – in addition to our drummer quitting, our van dying, and my residency going away, my partner (now fiancée!) went back to school so I found myself supporting the household. Everything was telling me to call it quits, too. But Bob and I decided to double down. It’s called Stick Together, because we’re never quitting.
Do you have plans to make videos for any of the songs on “Stick Together”?
Yes. I have had visual accompaniments in mind for almost every song I’ve released; we just haven’t had the time or budget to make it happen. I used to make cell phone videos, those were fun but not professional-looking at all. A couple years ago we played a festival that paid well, so I took my cut, bought a DSLR and started making videos myself (I’m Trying & America’s Next Top Something were my 1st). On this EP I’m going to make a video for EVERY song. We have 3 already (Let’s Go, Neighbor, and Tin Foil Hat), and I’m working on shooting “I’ll Be Around” this month.
What was like having your single “Let’s Go” played regularly at Wrigley Field during the Cubs’ World Series run? Are you all big baseball and Cubs fans?
OK I have to be clear – we just heard from a couple friends at the games that they heard it, so we don’t know that they were playing it throughout the playoffs. We could never afford tickets to find out ourselves. But it’s a trip to know that enough people in the food chain at Wrigley Field dug it to want to play it for a stadium full of people!
We are pretty low-level sports fans. Bob and I both seem to only watch sports at family gatherings or in cases like this past World Series where you couldn’t be in the city and avoid seeing it. Places that never had TVs were installing TVs just for the series. It was impossible not to get caught up in it. In this case, being from Cleveland, I was pretty torn. I want them to change their name. Most of my family doesn’t get it. It was nice to see them in the Series, but it bugs me every time I see their logo.
How do you all think that you have continued to grow as a band? How is this new album different than anything else you have released?
Every record we throw a new twist at ourselves to stay on our toes. For Object Permanence, it was an acoustic album. For Separation Anxiety, I wanted to try a different keyboard sound on every track. For Fuel Yer Delusion I wanted every song to transition into the next one.
This time, I asked Bob to play guitar instead of bass. I did the bass on my keyboard with my left hand, and refrained from playing any lead parts with my right. For one, I wanted to focus more on singing and performing these songs. But mainly, I wanted Bob to be the lead instrument on an entire record. I think Bob is one of the most creative bassists out there, and he’s also an accomplished guitarist. So, this record was yet another shift in approach to what Mutts sounds like, and it took some time to lock that into place.
We were also individually busier than ever, so rehearsals were more spread out. As a result, sometimes it would just be me and Chris jamming. One time I said, “play something like the beat from Single Ladies.” And Chris took a few minutes to figure out what that meant, crafted his own interpretation, and then we came up with Tin Foil Hat.
Mike, how excited are you to be playing in the Company of Thieves reunion tour next month?
Very excited. There’s a lot of interesting layers in their music, and I just got endorsed by Nord, so I’m excited to bring a brand-new Nord Stage 2 on the road to help paint all of those textures. Getting to go with them to LA and record their 2nd album with Rob Schnapf was one of the highlights of my career. I learned a lot on that trip. Since then, we’ve all done our own independent projects, so it’s gonna feel great to look around the stage and realize how unique we all are creatively, and how cool it is to be making music together again.
How has your summer been going? What are some upcoming tour dates that you are looking forward to playing at? What can fans expect from one of your performances?
This Summer has been all over the map. I just started making music with my new brass band. Bob was out of the country for a bit so I started focusing on getting that project off the ground and will have a single out this Fall. It’s very much inspired by New Orleans piano blues like Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Professor Longhair. I’ve also been playing with Los Colognes out of Nashville, which is a very fun band to play in. And with Mutts, we’ve added a new drummer, Ian Tsan, and have started playing with a couple other musicians – Annie Prichard on vocals and Myrrick Liontonia on guitar/bass, which really fleshes out the live sound. I love it that I can move around more and perform more freely than when it’s just the 3 of us responsible for all of the music.
Where do you think you are happiest- on stage performing, in the studio recording new music or elsewhere?
Ah. That’s a tough one. I love sitting by myself and writing, singing, being goofy, not having anyone else around to hear. I’m really happy when I can just do that. But it’s a different kind of happiness from being in a studio and making things happen with your friends. When you play it live especially, and there’s a take that you’re listening back to, and it has “the feel,” it’s a rush. And of course, on stage with an audience that’s giving you their energy and you’re multiplying it it and sending it back to them, and that cycle just keeps building for a whole set – that’s like heaven. So I don’t know which one is largest in magnitude, I’d just say they can all be pretty amazing when they’re going well.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Is there anyone that you would still love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration for this band?
This one, I wish Bob and Ian/Chris were around. We listen to a lot of different music. If I may speak for them… Chris is into punk, including Descendants, Bad Brains, Green Day, and more recently Meat Wave and Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Bob is into jazz and folk music, for current music I would guess he’d say Father John Misty, and Champaign bands like American Football. Ian so far seems like he knows a little about everything – I was stoked when I brought up covering “Juicy” by Notorious BIG in the brass band and he knew all the words.
I would love for us to work with Josh Homme. I think that guy is consistently a part of great music and I’d love to hear how he’d produce us.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
The most difficult, but most important thing we can all do is to be vulnerable and empathetic humans. I think recently it’s most reflected in the songs “Neighbor” and “I’ll Be Around.” I hope people will listen to these and be a little more empathetic with each other.
What advice would you give to a band just getting started? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It’s easy to look around and wonder why you aren’t getting the breaks others are getting. It’s discouraging to look at a musician who’s either been doing it longer or is just actually more talented. You can’t control any of that, and it’ll burn you out if you worry about it. Just focus on being yourself, find out what you love, and do it the best you can. And don’t be a dick. Please, don’t be a dick. There’s too many out there already. Just be nice. Please.