Mike V. doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s ever given a limp handshake. In fact, I’m skeptical he even believes in handshakes. The frontman of New Jersey’s the Everymen communicates with a passion and urgency that suggest that life’s too short for all that formality and bullshit. The Everymen’s music sights you across the bar, beelines in your direction, and gives you a big, sweaty bear hug, no matter how hesitant or scared you may be. But as you stand there, feeling the warmth of it’s embrace, smelling the beer on it’s breath, it’s perspiration seeping into your t-shirt, you realize that, yeah, this actually feels really nice.
The Everymen’s unapologetically straight-up rock ‘n’ roll is a comforting thing. And while plenty of bands make straight up rock ‘n’ roll, The Everymen do it exceedingly well. On its full-length debut, New Jersey Hardcore, the eight-piece band can summon the ramshackle energy and romantic sweep of early Bruce Springsteen records one moment, the thrashy punk of the Replacements the next. There is no shortage of anthemic riffs and squealing saxophone. Mike V.’s speaking voice bears more than a passing resemblance to Craig Finn’s, but he sings with a wild man’s quivering intensity, something that most recalls Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer. Fans of the Exploding Hearts and the Hold Steady will find a lot to like here.
Spotting the influences with the Everymen is somewhat besides the point though. Its music seems to spill forth without the slightest hint of self-consciousness or artifice. As Mike V. puts it on “Dreams”: “I’ll never try to be anything but what you need.”
You’ll have to wait to hear New Jersey Hardcore – the LP won’t be released by Killing Horse Records until October. (You can get a taste of many of its songs on last year’s live record, Seconds as an English Language – available for free on the band’s Bandcamp page – and download opening track “Dance Only, Only Dance” here.) The band recorded most of album during one stormy night, and eventually passed it along for mixing to renowned soundman John Agnello, a man who has helmed albums for the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile, and the Hold Steady.
New Jersey Hardcore is a celebration of life, warts and all, and its making was not without low points: As he discusses below, Mike V. lost his mother during its production, just days after she had a chance to hear a rough cut. During the course of putting this interview together, my own father passed away, and when I told Mike V. this, he offered me some words of comfort: “Nothing that anyone says can make shit easy, so lemme just say I’m here for ya brotha. You don’t know shit about me, I don’t shit about you, but you’re in my heart, dude.”
I’ve never met Mike V., but I know he meant this. And if we were in the same room at the time, I know he would have given me a big old hug.
Catch the Everymen tonight with King Khan and the Shrines at the House of Vans in Brooklyn, and Sunday (for free!) at the Ottobar in Baltimore. (The Everymen are, left to right below, Mike V., Geoff Morrissey, Jamie Zillitto, Stephen Chopek, Scott Zillitto, Jake Fiedler, Catherine Herrick. Not Pictured: Tom Barrett)
BYT: So, The Everymen: what’s in a name?
Well, originally the band was called Sarin McHugh & The Everymen. But we dropped the Sarin part because it just confused people. “Wait… which one is Sarah?” But years ago Sarin McHugh & His Everymen were one of my hundreds of fake bands and I always just imagined them as being this wild rock n roll frontman – a Jerry Lee Lewis kind of motherfucker – but backed by this totally normal looking band. Like, regular looking cats who just kind of stood back there and did their thing while McHugh lit the stage on fire (theoretically, of course).
The Everymen, now and in real life, hardly just stand back there. They’re motherfucking rockers, man. They put on one hell of a show and I’m flattered and honored that they play with me because they are genuinely seven of the best musicians I’ve ever played with, and I’ve been in bands for almost 20 years now. I’m so happy to say that I’m the least talented member of The Everymen. But that’s just us and the name actually kind of fits perfectly now. You look at The Everymen and you don’t really see a bunch of punks or hipsters or bros or brawlers or any of that. We’re seven relatively normal dudes and one relatively normal chick. We’re just everymen, ya know? The cool thing is that the band kind of came into the name. I didn’t name the band because of the members. That would’ve been impossible.
BYT: You sound like a group of comic book superheroes to me. What’s The Everymen’s genesis story?
We do?! That’s awesome. Though none of us have alliterated names. Seriously, look at every super hero’s civilian self. They’re mostly repeated consonants (or consonant sounds): Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Scott Summers, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor. Ya know, there are a lot of exceptions to the rule, but isn’t that weird?
Anyway, we started out as a two piece, man. Pretty crazy. I was in a band called American Watercolor Movement. I consider them the godfathers of 2000s Jersey art rock, but that’s a pretty specific tag, ya know? It was so fucking rad playing with them, man. So interesting and crazy and mind bending but it was a nine-piece band at points and it was relatively democratic. Everyone had their say and nothing was terribly easy. Plus the songs were generally intensely complex. So while I was guitaring in that band, I was writing some little pop dittys on the side while daydreaming that I was someday gonna start the most straightforward band I possibly could.
One winter weekend I was visiting my parents down the Jersey Shore when a blizzard hit. My old man is a musician himself so he’s got tons of recording equipment at home. So with nothing else to do I just holed up in the basement and recorded some demos. Now I love playing in a band and I love writing songs but I fucking hate practice and I hate recording. So I really spent no time getting sounds for those demos. I set up a single mic in the room and just started tracking what would become out first EP, Rotocoma Pollution! So I laid down these demos and I thought, “Fuck it, man. This is just a fun thing. I’m gonna put this out as an EP.”
So I did that and recruited Stephen Chopek through some mutual Jersey City friends. We started playing shows with guitars and drums, we did a little tour and I wrote some more songs. That happened for about a year and then piece by piece people just started coming around. I can’t remember in which order but ya know, we just started having more and more people in the band. And now we’ve gone so far as having two drummers!!! (Though not at the same time. They’re both very busy dudes so when one can’t make it, the other does.)
BYT: The songs on New Jersey Hardcore track pretty close to the versions on Seconds as an English Language. Going into the studio, was the intent to capture the energy of your live shows?
Hell yea!!! If you’re a rock n roll band who isn’t trying to make an energetic record then you, my friend, are a fucking idiot. That’s rock n roll music, man. Sweat. Dancin. Love. Pissing off your parents. Ya know, rock n roll?! So we tried to make the record shake as much as possible. I sure hope we did. But you could always shake just a little bit more, ya know?
BYT: Did you all really record the record in one night? Were you well-provisioned?
Pretty much. We went back for some overdubs but the bulk of NJHC was recorded in one night. See, we recorded in Hoboken and parts of Hoboken are below sea level. So when it rains hard, it tends to flood the streets. So we were in there the first night, tracking with the main dude Mike Moebius, when it started POURING! Ya know, I’m not talking rain. I’m talking sheets of fucking water so thick you couldn’t see across the block. Craziness.
When all was said and done and the deluge had sufficiently delugged, we went outside to see what was up (the studio is ground floor but about three or four steps up, so we had a little crow’s nest out on the porch). Sure enough, the entire west side of Hoboken was flooded – like, 2-3 feet of water. Normally I woulda said, “fuck it” and walked out but we had our guitars, amps, drums… all that shit. We were stuck. There was a band scheduled to come into the studio for a late night session but they called the studio like, “Uh, we can’t get down the block.” And we were like, “Well we can’t get outta here! So fuck it man. We’re here. Let’s get it done.”
So, yeah, we spent most of the night stuck in the studio, making a record. As for provisions, there was this one hero Chinese delivery guy. Rode his bike up the block as far as he could, which was still about 15 feet from the stoop of the studio, and chucked the bag over to us. Told us to pay him tomorrow. I shoulda thanked him in the liner notes.
BYT: John Agnello is a big gun to have mixing your record. How did you guys hook up?
He’s a Jersey City guy, ya know, so I always kinda was familiar with him from around the scene. But he is a big gun, like you said. I’m a record nerd and more importantly I’m a liner note nerd so for most of my youth I was seeing his name on all of my favorite records and I’d always admired him as a record man. So of course there was no way he’d want to work with my stupid little band. He’s hot shit. He’s got Dinosaur Jr records to make. But one night I got drunk and asked him on Facebook to mix (I didn’t get drunk TO ask him. I happened to be drunk WHEN I asked him). He replied immediately and enthusiastically, “Fuck yes!” Thanks Mark Zuckerberg.
Unfortunately, I only got to be in the studio side-by-side with John for one day. My mother was sick and had been battling cancer for five years and while we were mixing she began to fade away. So John gave me the option to wait till after the dust had settled to continue to mix or just let him do it himself. Of course I’m gonna let him do it. It’s fucking John Agnello and it’s a straightforward rock record. So I went home to be with my family and John and I were left to mix the record over emails and texts. Luckily, though he did send me over a first mix just a few days before mom died and I set up a little stereo next to her bed and played her our record. She smiled. Damn that was hard to type. Anyway, he helped get me through that time and shit I’m eternally grateful to John. I’m proud to say he mixed our record but I’m more proud to say that he’s my friend. In a world of idiots, he’s as righteous of a dude as it gets.
BYT: You seem very proud of your Jersey roots. You once wrote that those roots are “as inextricable from these songs as the guitars, the voices and the drums.” What is about Jersey that seeps into your music?
If you can’t be proud of where you come from, you can’t be proud of nothing, man. There’s no disputing that fact. Even if you hate where you’re from, you still have to wave that flag high because that place, wherever it may be, made you the person that you are. I wave that flag high and hard, man. So, hell yea, the Jersey roots are as important to our songs as the parts themselves. These songs are about being a kid and being in love and being devastated and being low and being high and being scorned and getting laid and throwing your arm around your best friend and and one day watching that friend’s casket lower into the earth and telling everyone how much you love them and being a man and being a kid. Those things happen everywhere, but for me they happened in New Jersey. So these are Jersey songs.
As for the manifestation of it in our music, well we all worship at the alter of Bruce and I think a lot of Jersey bands live by his ethos; nose to the grindstone, heart on your sleeve and goddamnit make those motherfuckers dance. Ya know, there’s a general blue collarness to Jersey. Even though we have some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country, there’s still that side of us that’s always fighting for our little slice of pie. And I think that’s magnified in a way when you grow up on the Shore. Work all day, make the bread, pave the road, do what you gotta do to get something in your pocket, but once nighttime comes, we’re gonna party. It’s a dichotomy of sorts and that comes through in our tunes because at first listen they could be taken as party jams, which they are. But when you sit down and really listen to what I’m telling you, there’s a lot of pain in there. A whole lot of hurt. But also a whole lot of joy and triumph. And to me, that’s Jersey. And that’s me.
BYT: What’s the biggest misconception about Jersey’s music scene?
That it’s dead.
BYT: Why did the band relocate to New York then?
We didn’t!!! Just me, Catherine and Geoff live in NYC. We’re all here for work but these are Catherine’s stomping grounds. She grew up on the east side of Manhattan. I wish I could still live in Jersey but with my job it’s just not feasible. But the rest of the dudes – the Brothers Zillitto, Stephen, Jake, Tom – they all live in Jersey. Jersey City, Weehawken, Union City, Martinsville. When we do practice (rare) we practice out in Passaic in this big warehouse that seemingly every band in New Jersey practices in. So yea man even though some of us are out in NYC, we’re still very much a Jersey-based band.
It’s cool here though man. It’s definitely a different scene than New Jersey. There’s a lot less camaraderie but that’s ok. I mean, people move to New York City with the purpose of “making it,” whatever “IT” is. So a lot of people are very, very selfish. Not complaining here, ya know. You take the good with the bad. It’s always been so weird to me that New York is a destination. Growing up so close to here, New York was just a place you went. It wasn’t a trip or a weekend or anything like that. I remember when I once asked my dad why the prize on Double Dare was a trip to New York. “Who cares?!” He had to explain to me that not everyone lives a short drive from Manhattan. So it’s really a wonderful thing to see these kids who get off the train or the bus from Iowa or Canada or Ohio or wherever with the whole world right in front of em. It’s really beautiful. And then some of them get ravaged, chewed up and spit back out. But maybe that makes them go back to Iowa or Canada or Ohio or wherever with a new found appreciation for home. And that’s one of the most important things in the world.
That reminds me of a funny joke… When they were trying to come up with a name for the country, one guy said “What about Canada?” One of the others said, “I love it. How do you spell it?” And he said, “C, eh, N, eh, D, eh.” Strange Brew’s a good movie, too. I love Canada.
BYT: You’ve said you “love when people get the fuck up and dance” at your concerts. Are you ever tempted to go Les Savy Fav and get in a rigid audience’s face?
Nah man. The way I look at it is if they’re not dancing, we’re not doing our job right. They ain’t dancin? Play harder, motherfucker. Scream louder. Move. Groove. Make em feel the gospel, ya know? We do love it and it usually works. Maybe not right at the start, maybe not in the middle but every time we get to our closers, most of the crowd is moving. Groovin’ and shakin and sweatin’. But ya know, I’m not gonna call motherfuckers out. That’s their call. I’m gonna be up there and I’m gonna work as hard as I possibly can. I’m gonna play till my fucking fingers bleed and I’m gonna sing until I can’t anymore. I’m dancing, motherfucker. You can join the party or you can hang out over there in the back like it’s a fucking indie rock show. If you can’t get down at a rock and roll show you’re probably the type that likes to have sex under the blankets with the lights off. Let’s move, man! Let’s let loose. Let’s dance with a pretty girl. It’s Friday, motherfuckers! We’re gonna party. I think it comes through with us. People see us on stage and they know we mean it. They know we’re not fucking around. We’re playing for keeps. And if you can’t get moving, how can you expect your crowd to get moving? We’re up there fighting, man. We’re fighting the fight. It sounds self-righteous, man, but it’s true. I’m not just playing for myself or for The Everymen. I’m playing for everyone that should be up there in that room with us, man. I’m signing as loud as I possibly can in the hopes that my mama somewhere can hear me. I don’t know where she is but I want her to hear my voice, ya know? And maybe that’s the only way she can.
BYT: Who’s better: a Jersey audience or a Brooklyn audience?
Jersey FOR SURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Best crowds in the world!
BYT: What’s the best concert you’ve seen recently?
Shit. I see so many shows, man. But I’d have to say Bruce at MSG. I’m almost ashamed to say it as a Jersey boy but I’d never seen Bruce before. I’ve been a diehard Boss fan since Born In The USA came out when I was two but for some reason I just never got around to seeing Bruce. So that sure was a special night. They did a tribute to the Big Man that made me cry. It was beautiful. And then Bruce said something about Clarence that gave me a lot of solace in a dark, dark time. A spotlight illuminated the spot on stage where the Big Man used to stand and the Boss said, “As long as you’re here and we’re here, then they’re here.” Seriously man it was fucking beautiful. I’m pretty sure all 20,000 people at the Garden were crying. But that was NYC and I’m sure nothing can match seeing Bruce in Jersey, which we have tickets for in September… and I’ve kinda been thinking about every night since we bought them. Some others though My Morning Jacket at MSG, Pulp at Radio City, The Men at Pitchfork Festival, Ceremony at LPR. We play with this Jersey City band a lot called Thomas Francis Takes His Chances and I’m pretty much blown away every time I see them.
BYT: The Everymen makes very throwback rock and roll. Are you inspired by any modern acts or do you stick with the classics?
Dude I listen to everything. And when I say that I mean everything. Not like how some people say it. “Oh I listen to EVERYTHING!! Except country.” No you don’t, idiot. You probably don’t listen to most things. But yea I have a crazily wide palate. I get that from my old man. Growing up we were all over the place musically. James Brown to ELO to The Manhattan Transfer to Liza Minelli to Steely Dan to Jimi. So I’ve always just kind of had that outlook on music. I mean, what’s on my turntable these days? Buddy Guy, Purity Ring, Black Breath, Thin Lizzy, Archers Of Loaf, Op Ivy, Elvis, Ernest Tubb, Cyndi Lauper, Gary Puckett And The Union Gap, Belle And Sebastian, Lungfish, Fugazi, CCR, Teenage Jesus And The Jerks, Katy Perry, Charles Bradley, Alan Jackson, The Cardigans, Brain F, The Men, Bardo Pond, Paul Revere And The Raiders, Dolly Parton, Dylan LeBlanc, The Comet Gain, Public Enemy, Kelly Clarkson, Jonathan Richman, Kris Kristofferson, The Misfits, Otis Redding, Sonic Youth, Fuck, Royal Trux. That’s about it for now. But you catch my drift?
The all-time tops for me are as follows: The greatest guitar player ever was Jimi Hendrix. There is no arguing this point. The greatest singer ever was Otis Redding. There is no arguing this point. Archers Of Loaf are in fact the Greatest Of All Time. There certainly is arguing allowed here. Man, I don’t give a shit what kind of music you’re making. As long as the song is good, I’m on board. All you need is a good song. But we’re influenced by so much more than music, man. Love. Each other. Friendship. Death. Sunny days. Rainy days. The collarbone that sticks out of a girl’s shirt. Shit man, look around. What doesn’t influence us?
BYT: What’s in the tape deck in the “Get the in the Motherfucking Van” tour’s titular vehicle?
Oof. Anything above. Though I do have a rule: no indie rock in the van. It’s not that I’m against indie rock. I love indie rock. But these days it’s fucking everywhere. But seeing as we’re in the van, I think we’d have to play something that everyone can agree on and in The Everymen the one thing everyone can agree on is Iron Maiden. If the band had to name a singular favorite band, it’s Maiden hands down. I’m not a very good guitar player so I can’t keep up but practices often find the rest of the band playing The Wicker Man or Aces High. And then Scotty Z hits those Dickinsonian high notes. “SCREAM FOR ME, PASSAIC NEW JERSEY!!!!! SCREAM FOR ME!!!!!!!” But the van we rented has satellite radio!!! So we’ll be rocking a lot of 50s on 5. Also 40s on 4 is really good if you can catch an old comedy show or a serial story. Talk radio, too. Can’t just listen to music, ya know? Gotta keep the mind sharp. Elections are coming in November. Let’s hear some motherfucking ISSUES!!! I would LOVE to listen to NASCAR radio from the minute we leave till the minute we arrive but something tells me The Everymen won’t dig on that.
BYT: You also write a blog with your girlfriend – do you have any non-music related interests or hobbies?
Hell yea man!!!! You can’t just rock all the time! I’m actually a huge football nut. I come from a big football family. My grandfather played professionally. My sister knows more about football than most guys. My dad is often caught pulling the car over to watch a bit of a Pop Warner game. I’ll watch pretty much any game that comes on TV. High school, college and of course the NFL. But when I say I’m a huge FOOTBALL fan I mean just that. Not necessarily the NFL (though I do live and die by the Giants) or NCAA but the game football. I love the game so much. The strategy, the concepts, the cerebral nature of it is so beautiful. People don’t realize how much brains it takes to play football. So I’ve studied a lot of football, I’ve read so many books about the game, I’ve learned a lot about Bear Bryant and Don Coryell and Bill Walsh and Lombardi and Parcells and Ara Parseghian. Few things I enjoy more then talking football with people who know what the fuck they’re talking about. When we used to go to games, my dad and my grandfather were constantly quizzing me. “What’s the cornerback’s job on this play? Who’s covering the middle? Why did the fullback miss that block?” Ya know, so when it comes to football I have a thirst for all the knowledge I can absorb. But there’s always more to learn.
What else? I don’t golf but I love going to the driving range. I can hit the fuck out of a golf ball, man. FAR!! BOOM! Unfortunately, that blog you mentioned has sat dormant for a little too long, ya know. After my mom died I just lost a whole lot of motivation and writing was the first thing on the chopping block. We need to fire that one back up. That’s a fun blog.