If an alternative/punk band disappears, will anyone really care? It’s 2015 and although your average Hot Topic kid is holding out for a My Chem reunion, the community they belong to is changing. Blink-182 are a mess, Paramore are bringing their self-titled era to a close, and several mainstays – Polar Bear Club, Hostage Calm, The Swellers – are either preparing closing remarks or completely off the grid. West Hartford’s MAKE DO AND MEND admit they were caught in the crossfire for quite some time, turning their attention to bills and significant others, but the disconnect allowed them to achieve “a really healthy balance in their band life”. It reintroduced them to friendships and a sense of community, and in turn produced Don’t Be Long (out Feb. 24th on Stay Close), an 11-track effort that voices years of frustrations next to a backdrop of Clarity and Caution. On one of their off-days, we spoke with guitarist James Carroll about the band’s brief hiatus, the culture of expectations, and the enthusiasm they have for their first set of shows since September 2013. As Carroll puts it, “We’re very anxious to play these new songs and we’ll make ourselves 100 per cent accessible for anyone who’s looking to hear the jams”.
The general consensus seems to be “the scene” is dying; is this necessarily a bad thing?
I haven’t heard that. That’s wild, but good to know because I guess that explains a lot! I think it’s a bad thing, if that is in fact the case. I’m not as plugged in as I have been in the past, or would like to be, but I still think there’s a lot of great bands out there who make relevant and heartfelt music. To be perfectly honest, I think now more than ever there’s a group of young kids who pay attention and care.
I was cutting a guy’s hair a couple weeks ago and he was telling me about how his daughter is just starting to get into music and how he’s trying to be as supportive as possible. He recently took her to see The World Is A Beautiful Place And I’m No Longer Afraid To Die. He’s a guy from a completely normal walk of life and his daughter is just a regular high school girl, but her and her friends are tuned into the bands that are out there making good music right now. So whether it’s dying, I don’t know. It seems to me like it’s always been the hardcore/punk/underground bands that have always been the underdogs, but that’s the way I like it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think we’re still kicking, and as long as there’s a pulse, I think we’re in good shape.
Are scenes and categorizations something people get caught up in a little too much?
I would agree with that. I’ve really realized this from travelling; the United States is really unique in the way that we categorize and put bands in boxes. In other countries, there’s very little of “this band is a punk band, and I like punk bands, so I like this band”. The attitude is more like “this band sounds good, so I like this band” or “this band is really different, but they also sound good, so I like them too”. I think that’s healthy. Listeners in the States suffer by not having a bit more of an open mind, but some people are able to get past that and take music and bands for what they are.
Is it fair to say the music industry also plays a part in placing unrealistic expectations upon musicians?
I definitely agree. I’ve done it and been there. Bands that I love have put out a record and for one reason or another I go “Man, it’s just not as good as the last one”, or “They’re under this new label, are they trying to sell out?”. As I’ve gotten older and become more experienced, those preconceptions are starting to go away. I’ve seen it happen with my own band. People just have expectations; they want stuff to sound a certain way, they think we’re supposed to do certain tours, and even dress a certain way. Those preconceptions do exist and I think they’re a great hindrance to what we do.
Well, the world changes, but somehow the ideas that circulate in any given scene seem to remain the same. For example, no one buys CDs anymore, but when bands do other things to earn a living, they’re still seen as “selling out”. Does that kind of ignorance hurt musicians?
Absolutely, I’ve seen it from a first-hand perspective. It’s rough when you work really hard on something and you put it out there for people. I don’t mind if people don’t care for a record because that’s the beauty of art, you’re allowed to feel however you want to feel about it. But when those feelings are based on very superficial and kind of not well thought-out grounds, that’s when it really starts to hurt. Like when someone writes you off for reasons that don’t have a ton of merit, that’s when it really hurts. Maybe you’ve experienced this from a journalistic perspective, like when you put something out in the world that you take great pride in and worked very hard at and people just aren’t able to accept it for what it is. If they don’t like it, by all means, it’s not my job to determine what people are supposed to like. It’s my job to make music that I care about and that’s what I’m going to do.
How does the music you listened to a decade ago compare to the music you listen to today?
That’s a good question. I was a senior in high school about ten years ago and the funny thing about it is that a lot of the stuff has remained the same. I was a huge Jimmy Eat World guy. I loved bands like Hot Water Music, Get Up Kids, aggressive emo-pop and stuff like that. I was also into ’80s hardcore and I’ve always been a huge Smiths guy. None of that has really changed which is really weird. My music inclinations have certainly broadened as there’s a lot more that I like now that I didn’t care for back then.
In the same way that your tastes have changed, why do people generally find it surprising that a band’s discography changes over time?
Well, a band puts out a record that you really like and you like it for specific reasons. Lets use Jimmy Eat World as an example. They put out Bleed American – it’s heavy, it’s melodic, the lyrics are incredible, the guitar sounds amazing, and the music draws an emotional response in me to this day. So to me, Jimmy Eat World is a rock band that writes heavy-driven rock and roll songs with emotional lyrics that are concise and well put, and they have this je ne sais quoi to them that’s intangible. Like everyone’s favourite band has that “it factor”. You can’t put your finger on it, but they’ve got it.
So you assign all of those qualities to the band and when their next record comes out, you immediately compare and contrast it based on those qualities. When those key points don’t necessarily match up from record to record, it’s easy for us to say, “Well, it doesn’t really sound like the last one and it doesn’t have all that stuff that I really liked about it”. I think it’s important as a music listener to understand that people evolve and change, and their tastes change and their musicianship changes. Hopefully, they stay true to the real heart of what they do and hopefully that intangible “it factor” never gets lost. There are bands that I adore and always will for my entire life, and though they’ve put out records that I don’t really care for, the heart and feeling is still there. I can see this by the way they tour and the interviews they do, and I can tell they’re still the band I fell in love with. To me, that’s what’s important.
I understand everyone’s inability to be less flexible, but I think everyone who’s a true fan should be responsible to give everything a shot. If you don’t like something, then cool. Lately, I’ve been really into this new record from a guy named Bryan Adams – a favourite of mine – and people were telling me the record sucks, so for a while I didn’t want to waste my time because there’s a million other things I could be listening to. A couple weeks ago, I synched it to my Spotify before a flight, because I thought that even if I didn’t like it, I should at least give it a shot and I love it. I’m head over heels for it, its ridiculous. That’s the perfect example of why it’s important to listen to albums and form your own opinion.
Make Do And Mend went on a bit of a hiatus, didn’t tell anyone, and secretly recorded an entire album that’s some of your best work to date and something you’re incredibly pleased with. Why don’t all bands function this way?
There’s so much of a culture of expectations and it also has a lot to do with instant gratification. People, especially bands, are so afraid of falling off the radar, so the solution has become to stay in everyone’s face and to always have a buzz in your direction. I’ve talked about this previously, but it’s like when a little kid cries in the middle of the night and you know you’ve got to go in there and see what they need. I’m a barber and this is something that happens to me at work all the time. People bring their kids in and the kids are losing it, running around, jumping off stuff, being wild animals. More often than not the parents are trying to give their kids iPads and lollipops, and that’s instant gratification because kids know how to push their parents’ buttons. If I act like a wild animal, chances are I’m going to get what I want. Bands operate in that same way. They’re so afraid of being forgotten about that they cater to the instant gratification culture and I think it’s very damaging to what we do and the art we create.
I don’t think anything you do should be solely for the satisfaction of somebody else. We make this music and were so grateful and happy to share it with people, and when we find out that people like it and respond to it, it’s one of the most gratifying feelings in the world to have that recognition, That being said, Make Do And Mend never have nor will we ever approach a record saying, “Okay, we’ve got it do it this way so the fans will still like it”. In the past, we’ve been led into using the in-your-face, 24 hours a day formula where we’ve always had the next tour booked and the new song posted online. Like as soon as you decide you’re going to record another album, you’ve got to let everybody know, and then as soon as you get into the studio, you’re taking pictures and videos for studio update things.
All of that takes away and dilutes what we love about making music, which is hanging out with our best friends and writing songs, recording those songs and playing those songs live while building those connections. When we did decided to make another record, we decided we wanted to do it our own way.
You’ve been in a band since you were a teenager and I understand you‘ve relied on music as your livelihood for much of that time. With this no longer being the case, has the concept of adulthood and reality changed at all for you?
I don’t know if I’m able to really put a finger on what has changed, but I know that I’m a much happier, healthier, and a more stable person than I have been in a long time, possibly ever. I think I have learned a lot and I have done a lot of growing and that’s really refreshing, What I’ve learned and how I’ve grown, I’m not really sure. There are guys who adore being on the road and every time they’re home, they want to get back out there, and then there’s guys who enjoy being at home and they enjoy the comforts of home – I’m one of those guys. I love touring and I adore playing gigs, but I like sitting on the couch and watching Netflix with my dogs, and going to work every morning like a real dude. I think being able to realize and recognize that, and get fulfillment from those aspects of my life and not just the band has been really gratifying.
Is reception vital to whether or not the band will make another album after this?
Would it be shitty to say no? When we took a break a little while back, we knew that we wanted to make another record, but I think all of us had some pretty serious doubt as to whether or not we could. Like if the songs were there and whether or not this was something we really truly, deep-down-in-the-bottom-of-our-hearts really wanted to do. It would have been very easy for us to call it quits.
We were playing shows, not a lot of people were coming out to them, and it would have been easy to pack it up and call it a day. It is what it is. But we got together and stated writing and playing together, and we quickly realized it wouldn’t have been the right thing because we still have something to offer. If we put this record out and people don’t dig it, it just is what it is. That’s the risk that you take when you’re creating anything. Eventually, we might think it’s time to pack it up, but in a month or a year or a few years, one of us could send a voicemail that has a guitar riff, and we might go, “Oh fuck, here we go again”.