Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Traditionally, the second album is usually a golden opportunity for a band to try too hard and over-reach. The need to transcend a solid first album can result in either a quick turn to the lure of commercial success, or a more experimental or “personal” work that succeeds in only alienating a fan base. The McLovins have successfully avoided the sophomore slump by going forward with their rock-solid new release GOOD CATCH.
The majority of the tracks on this 11 song disc have come straight from the band’s recent high energy live performances. This is a thematically coherent release; with each piece integral to the greater whole. The trick for a jamming band is to take songs that flourish in a live setting, traditionally given a 15 minute workout; then distill them down to a manageable length. Distillation is a good allusion, as these songs gain a vital potency when extracted down to their core. The group mind is on full display as drummer Jake Huffman handles the lead vocals and Bassist Jason Ott contributes the back-up vocals. Jason and Jake along with Guitarist Jeff Howard all contribute to writing both the music and lyrics as the credits are shared.
The album opens with Tokyo Tea, and is followed by Deep Monster Trance, both straight ahead party jams, nimble and lithe, with outstanding guitar and bass work. Tokyo Tea in particular benefits from Jake's staccato cymbal work, and Jason's ropy bass lines. Jason has moved forward further into the mix, his bass dominating Tokyo Tea as well as contributing backing vocals to another song on the disc, the reggae-chill Milktoast Man. One of the biggest surprises of the disc is the ballad This Town. This tune is a showpiece for Jake, as it features some of his most mature lyrics, and sung with a laconic drawl, the song is positioned as a breather after the musical ferocity of the first 2 songs. Jeff plays a couple different tracks on this cut a very sweet acoustic along with his traditional Strat riffs.
Milktoast Man slides in as the fourth song on the disc, and primes the pump for the following songs. Jason in particular shows up well on this cut, nimbly tackling the backing vocals and dropping bombastic bass licks. Hell Yeah is up next, this was previously the second cut on the Virtual Circle ep that was released last fall. I believe this track is a different mix than the ep version, tho every bit as unrelenting as anything the band plays. This covers the first five songs, tomorrow I'll tackle the second six which includes the 3 new songs.
The genre has shifted a bit from their last album Conundrum, you can call it progressive jam or jazz rock, and musically the stakes have been raised a bit. This band has the chops and is fearless; walking the razor’s edge has become second nature to them and as with any band, they are the sum of their influences. For your traditional jam band, ground zero is either Phish or The Grateful Dead. The Mclovins have been schooled in traditional jazz, funk and soul as well as jam and rock. There are times when a familiar musical turn may catch your ear, but this is a surprisingly original work. If asked to describe their sound they will say they sound like The McLovins, and soon enough, everyone should know what they mean.
Monday, May 24, 2010
To start off, you’ve finished your second album now and you play in a genre, whether you call it progressive jam or jam funk, where the benchmark of success is the quality of the live performance. Where do you think the studio album fits now in today’s jam music scene?
Jeff - This new studio album is definitely closer to what a current studio album is today. There are several sections in the album where there are multiple guitar and drum tracks. These days, you don't often stumble upon an album that is solely three musicians recording live together with no overdubs (which was what Conundrum was). So, while this album was recorded mostly live, the overdubbing makes it sound more current.
Is the job of the album to give a quick snapshot of the live act, or is it a jumping off point for expansion in the live show?
Jake - I think that the album is a sample of the Artist’s work and using the studio to your advantage is crucial.
Sophomore albums are notoriously hard for a band, after defining themselves through a first album, many artists choose to use the second album as a chance to either define their sound or to take it in another direction, which way do you feel this album is going to pull you?
Jason - I feel that "Good Catch" was not a direction change, but rather a maturing in sound. Our first album showed that we could write songs that got people interested and that we could really jam out to live. On our second release, we expanded on this sound, not creating something drastically different, but just added more elements to our songs that make our sound even more distinct and CATCHY ;)
The majority of songs on this album have come from your live performance; do you think this makes it easier going into the studio with pocketful of fleshed out tunes rather than starting from scratch with the germ of a song one of you brings in?
Jeff - It is definitely easier. With our songs, they evolve and mature the more we play them live. Even when we think we have them all done, each time we play them in a show we learn what works well and what doesn't. This could be little things like "I'm not gonna put on distortion on this part" or something like "let's make this section shorter/longer". Because of this, it's essential that we go into the studio with a good sense of what works in the song. It's kind of like getting to know the song as a "person".
You’ve just released Couch Tour Vol. 1 which has to be your most polished live show yet, and again, a number of the songs off you new album are performed live on this set. Will the studio versions of these songs differ from their live counterparts, and if so what will be the major difference?
Jake - The Live show songs show more of what we sound like live (of course) with longer jams and more spontaneity. On the other hand, our studio songs have some extra tracks including acoustic guitar, steel pan, percussion, etc. Although they have shorter jams, and area little slower, we think the studio makes your personal McLovins listening experience very special too.
Your first album, Conundrum, was a tour-de-force, really showing the depth of your musical influences; have you guys narrowed your focus a bit on this new album, or are you still looking to create cross-genre music?
Jason - The range on our new album is very expansive, from the white boy reggae sound of Milktoast Man to the prog rock, Rush sound of Bead Head Crystal Bugger, to the dance vibe of Deep Monster Trance. We were able to incorporate a wide variety of genres without making the album confusing to listen to, or too sporadic. After listening, I believe the album flows quite seamlessly!
The flow on the new album is phenomenal, on Conundrum, you had a song-cycle that drew it’s inspiration from the novel, “The Phantom Tollbooth”; this added an over-arching theme to the album. Your new songs though actually seem to be more connected thematically than your earlier songs. I assume this is a benefit from being able to work them out live?
Jake - Being able to play the songs for months before we record them helps us polish them and get crowd reactions from people early on their preferences and passions.
Jason - Putting together a live show and playing our originals before we recorded them is what made recording and creating the album so much easier for us. Playing live brings out the true potential of every song, and brings unity to what otherwise may seem like very different and separate songs.
Jeff - I think what makes them sound more connected is the fact that we have found our "sound" more on this album. With Good Catch, because we've had more time to play our music live, we have found the certain areas that we really thrive in. I think its things like this that make Good Catch very unified.
Musically you’ve grown into a tight power trio, this was your third recording session counting your EP last fall, so is there a blasé feeling going into the studio or is the excitement still there, the desire to tinker and twist the knobs and see what happens next?
Jake - I personally still felt more excited because we knew the ropes so we could expand more on the possibilities of the studio tracks.
Jason - Going into the studio for the third time, we definitely felt more at ease and at home in a way while recording. We were in a more relaxed mood and this helped the creative juices to flow. This produced a much fuller and exciting album that we are all proud of and feel great about.
Jeff - There was plenty of excitement going into the studio. The first album was very raw and basic: three tracks per song, all recorded live. With Good Catch, we felt there was so much new territory to explore, and new things to try in the studio the second and third time we went in, such as, as I've mentioned before, adding in overdubs and vocal harmonies. And, overdubs and vocal harmonies aside, we were just plain psyched to record Good Catch. I think it's safe to say we're all very proud of these 11 songs we've written, and couldn’t wait to record them.
You can order GOOD CATCH now at THE MCLOVINS website store, HERE! , and you can catch the band live at StrangeCreek festival in Greenfield Mass on May 30th and June 6th at Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
It's hard to believe it's only been a year given the amount of growth in this band. I wandered into Granby High School May 22, 2009 to check them out, knowing that there was something special there but having no idea the impact this would have on me. Since then it's been 46 shows, 2 albums, 1 Ep, 20+ road trips, and a 1/2 dozen t-shirts. It's hard to explain how amazing all the people that I've met this year are, all I can say is thanks to the band and to these 3 families for one memorable year. This is the review of my first show, and again I have to thank The McLovins for rekindling the love affair I used to have with live music, I'm more excited about music now than I've been in last 20 years. Call it what you like, but if this is a mid-life crisis, I heartily recommend it.
Friday, May 21, 2010
"To talk of many things:
of shoes--and ships--
and sealing-wax--of cabbages--and kings--
Monday, May 17, 2010
Pulling into the idyllic village of Woodstock there is a slight feeling of deja-vu, you get the feeling that you've been here before. There is also a comfort in this rustic setting, the pleasing hippie vibe, the plethora of tie-dye, and most of all.. the smiles. Everyone we met that night had a grin, it's as if an entire town were in on a secret, it was not a secret though, Max Creek and The McLovins were in town and the jam was on.
The McLovins had opened for Max Creek in Troy New York a few months ago, and will be sharing the bill together several time this summer, so there is a bit of a comfort factor. The venue was just a dream, this being the house that Albert built, Albert Grossman's dream come true, a 300 seat venue with Radio WDST and 2 restaurants sharing a lot. Soundcheck was a breeze and the mood in the green room was light, all that mattered to the band is they were here to do a job and it was showtime.
The set went off at 9:00, and they opened up with a smooth jam that quickly escalated into a 8 minute shredder, this was a harbinger of things to come. Fan favorite Tokyo Tea was next and snaked it's way through a minefield of tempo and signature changes. Hell Yeah is off of last fall's Virtual Circle EP and this high tempo tune had the dance floor shaking. Deep Monster Trance lived up to it' s name, Jeff kept pulling the tempo back only to rush back into the mix, adding a neat texture to an already complex song.
I feel the highlight of the set was Milktoast Man as Jason moved to center stage to contribute backing vocals. This positioning of Jason so close to Jeff added another dimension to the band, the last time they used this configuration was during a set last fall at The Main Pub. Having the bass and guitar so close really raises the level of communication and playfulness, as they consistently trade off leads while Jake peals away on percussion. The earthy vibe of This Town is next, featuring Jake's most earnest lyrical delivery of the night as the song is a welcome lull to an otherwise high tempo set. 20 In A 35 is an fiery re-entry into the energy that had dominated the night, Jeff and Jason rolling over each others leads, you keep waiting for the the song to spiral out of control, but it's always drawn back to the core beat. BeadHead Crystal Bugger closes out the show with a decidedly progressive edge. This is a complex song, full of staggered time and tempo changes, and they just tear into it and just like that, the set is over.
I'm not a fan of 1 hour shows, it seems barely time enough for the band to get warmed up, but this night it was just right! Walking around after the show I saw quite a few people with the look I see frequently after McLovins shows. You see it in the eyes first, a kind of glaze, and also a grin smeared across the face and a jitter energy and frantic texting. For some of them, they've just seen an amazing band and can't wait to tell everyone about them. And for a select few, you can tell, they've just seen their favorite band for the first time, and it makes me smile because I know just how they feel.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Dark Wood, Dark Water is a fantastic collection of roots rock / folk based music that is both lyrical and haunting. I had heard Tulsa Burmah, All You Ever, Highest Hopes and 11/11 during their November live show, a couple of these were solo acoustic performances, but the studio versions of these are a revelation. The songs on the album all share a stark musical beauty, a slowly building rhythm. There is an overall theme that is lyrically redemptive, this is not cookie-cutter folk rock. There is a uniquely New England sound to this collection, a stark coolness but with sunny promise. This fits squarely with much of the new folk revival, I can hear echoes of The Low Anthem and a whisper of Lovely Feathers or The Swell Season, but this is a very original work, and The Lake And The Lion are a band with a message.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
A little less than a year ago, I stumbled upon The McLovins and appropriately the first members of the band I met were the mothers. Three amazing women with a shared love of music and a desire to help their kids to fulfill the dream of being a band, the McMom's are a force of nature.
Chance are, the first thing you'll see when you walk into a McLovins show is one of the moms.. whether it's keeping tabs on the sound guy, or manning the merchandise table, they are always there, supporting and urging their kids on. They walk the fine line between a parent and a pal, skillfully using their strengths to take much of the pressure off the band, leaving the guys free to do their jobs.
They manage the band, they run the merchandise sales, the research all the venues, they watch hours of YouTube and read endless bios, they are part-time cheerleaders, hula-hoop coaches, sandwich makers, taskmasters when required, and confidants when all is needed is someone who will listen. Always approachable and always ready to talk about their kids, they do the jobs no one else will.
So on this Mother's Day, I think it's time you got some recognition, toiling in the shadows you have allowed your kids to live their dreams and for that we owe you thanks, through your work and sacrifice we have been given the gift of this band. Now I haven't forgotten the other half of your team, the fathers, but that's a story for a June day.. today it's all for you. Deb, Carol and Deb, I love you all, no way to really thank you for all you've done, but you do get the pleasure of watching your children live their dreams, to become the men you've always known they'd become. For a mother, I don't think there can be a greater gift than this.
"Men are what their mothers made them."
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Saturday night I was lucky enough to catch The Mclovins performing at a 40th birthday party for high school pals Doug and Zach. The party was held in the work room at the historic
Now I had written a review chock full of the typical hyperbole you’ve come to expect here at OAOAOMT and written in my patented verbose style, but I decided to chuck it in favor of this. The real important thing about Saturday’s show wasn’t what they played, but how the chose to play it. The first set was a bit loud and quite a few party-goers made their way outside where they could still hear the show but also get a chance to chat and mingle. This wasn’t a problem, after a blistering first set, the guys got together and turned in a second set that was both musically challenging and crowd pleasing.
A few months ago this may have set the guys off their game a bit, but in an extremely professional and totally classy decision, they forged ahead, playing the set that the evening called for. The band was fired up, as this was a warm-up for the next big one this Friday at Infinity Hall, and by turning in a mature performance, the band stayed loose, had fun and everyone left happy. Sometimes bigger is better, but it’s an epiphany when you realize that less really is more.
Deep Monster Trance,
20 In A 35,
2nd -Blues Jam,
Break On Through,
Sea Of Wisdom,
Backwards Down The Number Line