“I’m not going to get into my whole ‘In Defense of New Jersey’ rant here,” Everymen frontman Mike V told BYT a few years ago. “But you can rest assured that it is long, vitriolic, passionate, and incredibly well informed.”
As far as assurances go, this is about as unnecessary as they come: It’s hard to imagine anything produced by Mike V and the Everymen not being passionate and incredibly well informed. This is what they do. They make music steeped in the canon of American rock ‘n’ roll – from 60s girl groups like the Ronettes and the Shirelles to Bruce Springsteen in his E Street prime to the early ’80s punk of their home state – and they play it with fervor of a tent revival healing crusade.
Today, they pile in a van to take the gospel to the masses. It’s a big moment for the band. The Everymen have toured often but sporadically. This is the band’s first major trip across the country, and they’re doing it in support of Givin’ Up on Free Jazz, their recently released sophomore effort and debut for well-respected NYC indie Ernest Jenning Record Co.
Givin’ Up on Free Jazz is the first record that the Everymen have made with a line-up that’s solidified over the past half decade, and it’s the first that Mike V says he’s truly taken his time to hone. Both of these things are readily apparent when you listen to the LP: It’s an achievement for the Everymen, one that fulfills of all the promise the band has shown through the years and more. Its 38 minutes float by like a warm, boozy summer night, it’s huge melodies and riffs deposited in your brain like a retreating tide’s sandbank. Its production is crisp and spacious, a credit to Mike V’s arrangements and venerated soundman John Agnello’s mixing. And it has appearances from a gospel choir and the New Pornographer’s Carl “A.C.” Newman to boot.
On the eve of the band’s tour, BYT sent some questions to Mike V. His answers were as long, vitriolic, passionate, and incredibly well informed as we’ve come to expect.
The Everymen summer tour is on the horizon. How are you feeling? Are you mentally, physically, and emotionally preparing for two months on the road?
Feeling good! Mentally, we’re ready to go. It’s been five long years of waiting for the right time to strike. I never wanted to go out into the world until we were ready to go out and knock people on their ears from coast to coast, and now I think we’re ready for that. Our M.O. over the past two and a half years or so has been doing these little weekenders and one-to-two week tours so we all know what to expect from those. We know how to pass the time in the van, how to get as much real sleep as possible, how to eat somewhat like an adult human. But beyond those little runs, Stephen and I are the only ones in the band who’ve toured extensively, so for the others, it’ll be a bit of a learning experience. But they’ll get it. Once we find our groove a few weeks in, we’ll be unstoppable!
Physically, hell yeah! I’ve become a CrossFit addict over the past half year. I’m in as good a shape as I’ve been since high school. Catherine [Herrick] been rocking the elliptical every day at her gym. (I think it might be an all-male, all-gay location.) Stephen is a pretty devout meditator and yogi. Scott’s been biking all over the city. And Jamie’s been doing Camel Light curls. It’s so easy to lose yourself physically on the road, and I think a lot of that can reflect in a shitty performance on stage, so I try and maintain some semblance of fitness on the road. It’s hard though because you’re in a van with a ton of other people, you’re often living off the graces of people hosting you in their homes (ie, you might not always get a shower in), so nobody wants anyone to hop in the van for an eight-hour drive sweating and stinking like a mule. It’s not something that ever came up in the past, simply because we were doing shorter runs. But now, seven weeks on the road… something’s are gonna have to become routine.
Emotionally, we’ll see. This is the longest I’ve been away from my woman since we’ve met, so that’ll be a bit of a strain, but it’s made all the easier because she’s told me time and time again that if I don’t leave her to go on tour she’ll dump me. A textbook case of a great woman behind a good man. For me, that’s the only thing weighing on my heart. Everything else, I’m jazzed. 100% locked, loaded and ready to fucking rip.
You recently left your day job to focus full time on the band, no?
Yep, I’m done! This band is my full-time focus right now. Of course, we don’t make nearly enough money on the road to support ourselves just yet so a lot of us are working from the road. We got our van Rosalita outfitted with some wi-fi, and Rosie’s gonna be like this little mobile office, barreling across the country with a bunch of shitheads typing away inside. Least rock and roll thing ever? Maybe.
What was the timeline for Givin’ Up On Free Jazz coming together? A good chunk of New Jersey Hardcore was recorded while you were holed up during a storm and Hoboken flooded; did any forces of nature intervene this time around?
Be it The Everymen or any other band I’ve made record with, I’ve always worked at a breakneck pace. I really don’t like being in the studio, toiling and talking and setting up and not actually playing. It drives me insane. So, yeah, in the past I’ve always just knocked out records in a day or two or three. Never more than a week. And a lot of my music has suffered because of that (though a good chunk of it has flourished as well). This time I really just wanted to hang back, take our time, let the songs breathe, lay a foundation, and see what grew out of it. So we did just that. We tracked drums, and then waited two or three weeks. Then we did bass and some rhythm guitars. Then I listened to the roughs ad nauseam, digging for things that were in there and just needed a little unearthing. Then lead guitars. A few weeks off. Same process. Vocals. Rest. Sweetners – tambourines, woodblocks, handclaps, etc – and group vocals. A few weeks off. I think a lot of the bigness of the record comes from that process.
Then we had this odd period where the record was ready to be mixed but we had to push it back a few months due to scheduling conflicts. So there we were with a completely tracked record, waiting to be mixed. So, of course, I listened more, not so much to see what we could change but to see what could be added. It was in that period that we scored our two amazing cameos; one by A.C. Newman and one by the Columbia University Gospel Choir.
Columbia was a bit simpler. In listening to the roughs, I thought that it might sound rad to have a choir on “A Thousand Miles” so I dialed up a few around town and ended up working with those cats. They were great. Super professional kids and CRAZY talented. And I got to go way uptown for the evening, which is a treat for me.
A.C. Newman, on the other hand, came about a little more organically. His wife and I (and Catherine for that matter) are pals and she had gotten her hands on a copy of our first record, telling me that she and her husband loved it. So when were done tracking and I had all this time to kill between then and mixing, I sent the Newmans a copy of the roughs, saying something like, “This is crazy unfinished but thought you guys might like to hear.” She responded that both of them were absolutely loving it and that “A Girl Named Lou Pt. 2” was Carl’s favorite. He said it reminded him of punk rock Meat Loaf, which was the best fucking compliment anyone’s ever given us. (“Sam and Dave meets The Dictators” is a close second). So, never thinking in a million years he’d say yes, I asked Carl if he wanted to do a guest vocal on that tune. He said he’d love to, and, being a fucking massive New Pornographers fan, I freaked the fuck out.
When we spoke last year, you said, “We’ve grown up. We’re hitting maturity, ya know? Our balls are getting a little fuzzy, so to speak… This [record], we’re just taking our time.” How did that patience affect the record in the end?
You tell me? Does it sound better than NJHC?
Catherine plays a bigger part on this record. Do you write for her specifically? What does she bring to the Everymen as a vocalist?
Absolutely. Writing for her was always the end goal. The first time I heard her sing, I thought to myself that I just had to write tunes for that voice. It was very muse-like. The problem was that the first album was all but finished when she joined, so there really wasn’t much for her to do save “Coney Island High.” On this record I sat down and wrote with her completely in mind. This batch was gonna be Catherine’s songs. Which took an inexplicably heavy load off of me, as vocals are by far weakest suit and having a song with everything done but words and melodies often gives me fucking panic attacks.
But she’s such a secret weapon, ya know? I think she has one of the most classic rock and roll voices I’ve heard in a long, long time. That belt and bellow, it suits this music so perfectly. She can go toe-to-toe with any instrument this band has, but also she has this amazing gift where she knows when to put the throttle down and when to lay off. When to bulldoze you and when to weave through the spaces that exist between everyone in the room.
But what most people don’t realize is that our vocal ranges are somewhat similar (of course, hers ten times as wide and generally better than mine) but it’s not like we’re Mark Lanegan and Nina Persson here. We’re kinda singing on the same spectrum. And in a lot of ways, that shouldn’t work, ya know? But it does. And I attribute that 100% to Catherine knowing exactly what she’s doing.
Five years in, how has the Everymen changed from you initially envisioned it?
We’re a band. A real band. Back then, it was just a side thing. It was something for me to just make silly little fuzzy pop songs and press a few 7″s. I just wanted to play a few shows and have some fun with my friends (which I still do, a LOT). But it’s become this thing, this working machine. This operation. And we’re starting to reach people outside of our group of friends and their friends, ya know? We’ve sold records overseas. We’ve sold records in cities we’ve never been to. We’ve written songs for NASCAR. We’ve got a bunch of tunes in a great film called Sidewalk Traffic which is premiering in a few weeks. We’ve played with so many great bands. We’ve made records with John Agnello. We do interviews because people (ostensibly) give a shit! None of this stuff I would have ever envisioned when it was just me and Stephen making a whole lot of noise.
But the thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s all been a very organic thing. We’ve never had Buzz. We’ve never been critically lauded. We’ve done all of it one day at a time, one record at a time and one fan at a time. And we’re still a completely unknown entity in the grand scheme but all that will change soon enough.
There are 30 notable products of New Jersey name-dropped on “NJHC”. Did anyone just miss the cut?
Yeah, of course! I wish we could have included everyone from the Garden State we thought was awesome, but they’ll never play a tune on Jersey 101.5 that is twenty minutes long! Also, I don’t think Catherine would have been able to rhyme “Martin Truex, Jr” with anything.
But yeah… here’s a short list of our faves: Flip Wilson, Carl Sagan, Victor Cruz, Frank Langella, Bob Hurley, Wendy Williams, Eddie Trunk, Carl Lewis, Shaquille O’Neal, Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis, Mike Trout, Kevin Smith, Donald Fagen, Ed Harris, Michael Ian Black, Ted Leo, Susan Sarandon, Zakk Wylde, Orel Hershiser, Danny Tamberelli, Patti Scialfa, Tate Donovan, Mira Sorvino , Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wuhl, Martin Truex, Jr, John Stewart, Rick Barry, Jason Alexander, The Shirelles, George Clinton, Elisabeth Shue, Andrew Shue, Savion Glover, Bill Bellamy, Peter Dinklage, Bill Parcells, Michael Showalter.
Are you still optimistic about the Corey Booker presidency? And speaking of New Jersey presidential candidates, no love for the current governor?
I think one day Booker is gonna run the show. He’s the real deal. The world needs more people like him.
As for Christie, fuck that guy. I try and stay out of politics, but fuck that guy. Jersey’s got the reputation it does because of bullies and dirtbags like him.
“All I Need is You” is a really sweet ballad. Did you write that for your girlfriend?
When was the first time you played it for her?
Hmmm. I have no idea, actually. It most certainly wasn’t in person. I’ve actually never sang to her, which is kind of sad and completely unromantic but it terrifies me. TERRIFIES. If she wants to sit in the crowd with 300 other people, I’ll sing a song just for her. And I’ll tell the whole fucking room. Just like I did at our release show. But when it’s just us, eek. I’d rather just play a song she likes on our hi-fi.
Generally speaking, how much are your songs reflections of your life and experiences, as opposed to things you’ve been inspired by – like the story of the building set for demolition in “Spain” – or classic song archetypes?
I’d say in this band most of the stuff I write has a general, overarching feel to it. Traditionally, I’ve always written from a staunch first person point of view. My songs were about specific things that happened to me, specific girls that I fell in love with or that broke my heart, specific friends that I lost, ya know? When I started The Everymen, I made somewhat of a conscious decision to get away from that a bit and write from more of a wide perspective. I try to write songs that are about feeling rather than happening, ya know? But I feel in a way like I’ve gone too far in one direction and I need to bring it back a bit. But there are some good examples of my older style of writing on this new album (though mostly because they’re older songs).
Take “A Thousand Miles”, for example. That song is a story of these two lost lovers, cruising across the country, doing exactly what they set out to do when they left their hometowns, only to realize that all they really ever wanted to was to be back home, to see their friends getting married, watching their families grow. The shit that seems so boring when you’re stuck in a small town but the shit that is really the most exciting part of life. That’s more of a feeling song; though it takes place around specific instances, it’s a song everyone can relate to.
“Izzy” on the other hand, that’s a song that I wrote the day my niece was born. The first time my sister let me hold her I was just floored. I was blown away. So I wrote that tune. That’s a specific happening, rather than a feeling. But life is a process, ya know? I need to balance those things, to write songs that the world can relate to but also to write in way that exorcizes my demons. I get a lot of exorcizing done on stage. Now I just to do some of it at home.
What’s the story behind the photo on the cover?
Our friend Brian Last is an amazing photographer. He lives out in Long Beach, Long Island, which is an area that is so similar to where I grew up. Blue collar shore town. Great surf. Great locals. So Brian would go out every day and document his area with photos. He’d always be posting them on Facebook and I always enjoyed them. Until I saw that cover image. It was post-Sandy (which is hopefully apparent) and it just knocked me for such a loop. The photo summed it all up for me. The destruction, the devastation, the wiping out of entire swaths of towns. But the pride that someone had to go and hang that flag. The toughness and the resilience of Jersey Shore people and Long Islanders was encapsulated in that one picture. Be it Sandy or Irene or any of the other hundreds of storms we’ve endured – be they environmental, physical or emotional – nothing is gonna keep these motherfuckers down. You push, they’ll dig in until you can’t push anymore. You punch, they’ll punch right back. You knock ’em down ten times, they’ll get up eleven. It’s in their blood. It’s in my blood. And that shot just says it all. The second I saw that, I knew it had to be our album cover.
A hygiene question: The beard and long hair seems more tailored for winter. Are you planning on rocking them through the summer?
Save for one week that I had to shave for a wedding, I haven’t had a clean shaven face in nearly a decade. I’m used to sweating through my beard. As for the hair, I’m having an emotional renaissance lately. I desperately want to move back to the beach. I’ve been in cities too goddamn long. So maybe that’s the first step of my urban rebellion: Start dressing like a stinky shore dude. So, until we move back to the Jersey Shore, I’m keeping the hair. Plus, I can use the sweet hashtag #longhairdontcare now. And that rules.