By Philip Runco
“Dude, I listen to everything,” Mike V told me almost three years ago. “And when I say that, I mean everything. It’s not like how some people say, ‘Oh, I listen to everything! Except country!’ No, you don’t, idiot. You probably don’t listen to most things.”
The perpetually bearded frontman of the Everymen contrasted that with his “crazily wide palate” – something instilled by his father – and as if to illustrate the point, rattled off a list of 35 acts, old and new, that he was listening to at that point in time. It covered everything from Black Breath to Katy Perry to Otis Redding.
“I don’t give a shit what kind of music you’re making,” he said. “As long as the song is good, I’m on board.”
Over the course of two LPs and several smaller releases, his New Jersey band has captured that omnivorous spirit in subtle ways. Last year’s excellent sophomore effort, Givin’ Up On Free Jazz, shot out of gate with a thunderous, Black Sabbath-riffing intro before bleeding into the anthemic, Springsteenian fist-pumping of “A Girl Named Lou Pt 2”. Other nods followed, too – to the bobbing girl groups of the late mid-60s and the searing punk of the early 80s and unadorned acoustic balladry that hasn’t gone out of style for sixty years – but what matter less is the laundry list of styles and acts than how the Everymen makes each its own.
If there’s one place where Mike V airs his fandom in a manner that’s unapologetically straightforward, though, it’s the Everymen’s “A Very Short Tribute” series. The premise is simple: One 7″, one act’s songs, minimum fuss. Two years ago, the band released Who Wrote These Songs? A Very Short Tribute to Jonathan Richman. This Saturday, via DC’s Crooked Beat Records, it puts out the second installment, Spaceship Opening: A Very Short Tribute to Eric’s Trip, for Record Store Day.
We checked in with Mike V over the weekend to discuss his connection with the seminal lo-fi ’90s band – Sub Pop’s first Canadian signee – as well to get an update on the Everymen’s recently recorded third LP, and a future solo album from the singer-songwriter.
Spaceship Opening: A Very Short Tribute to Eric’s Trip will be limited to 300 copies. Listen to the 7″ below.
Eric’s Trip is the not most obvious choice for a covers 7″. What made you want to record a “very short tribute” to them?
Why Eric’s Trip? They were a very, very seminal band for me.
When I was 12 or 13, I started growing into my own and developing my own musical tastes, as opposed to simply regurgitating what my parents listened to or what I had heard around the house, like The Beatles, Aretha, James Brown, Jimi. Eric’s Trip was one of the first bands that I came across at that point. I was given a mixtape that had a few Trip jams on it, and I had a proper “a ha” moment.
Up until then, I enjoyed music for what I heard, but I never could imagine that it was made by perfectly normal people who had a wealth of talent. The Beatles and Jimi were so far beyond my realm of understanding. I just always saw them as superheroes in a way, which is kinda how I still think of them. I never thought that Jimi Hendrix was a real guy. I never thought that Paul McCartney was just a dude with a guitar. I never had any idea that it might be something I could do myself.
But with Eric’s Trip – and Guided By Voices and Dinosaur Jr and the Lemonheads and scores of others – the reality of what I was hearing came quickly into sharp focus. These were cats that weren’t much older than I was, and they weren’t that much better musicians, either. Their albums didn’t sound like they were made in some trillion dollar studios. They didn’t fly around the world in jets. They didn’t play Giants Stadium. They were normal people making the music that they had to make. And that drew me to them instantly.
I’ve always thought that Eric’s Trip were just masterful songwriters. I’m a slave to the tune. If there’s a great tune in there, I’ll look past most other things and fall quickly and madly for that tune, and often for that band too.
How did you settle on these particular songs?
When we decided to do the tribute, I knew I wanted to do these three tunes. They are my all-time favorite Eric’s Trip songs, hands down.
I think that “Follow” might have been the first one I ever heard, so it’s got a special place for me.
“Anytime You Want” is just the quintessential early ’90s tune. It’s got all that shit up in there. You can find traces of every wonderful band from that era in that 1:19 song. From Pavement to Dinosaur Jr, Lemonheads t0 Buffalo Tom, blah blah blah. It’s a fucking time capsule, that song.
And “Behind The Garage” is – with all hyperbole aside – one of the sweetest, most emotionally rendering songs I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear that tune, I just have this extreme nostalgia for a time in my life (and hopefully in everyone’s lives) when stealing away someplace and making out for a little while – with no other expectations – was the most fucking magical thing on the planet. It was a major feeling, and it was the best part about being thirteen or fourteen or fifteen years old and discovering girls and how wonderful they feel. It just has this sweetness about it. I don’t know, man – I’m sure that this tune has nothing to do with that. It’s actually a pretty heavy song. But that’s the feeling it gives me.
We actually could have fit a lot more on the 7″. Eric’s Trip songs are generally super short. But it was one of those “where does it end?” kinda things. These three were a given, but there are easily fourteen or fifteen other songs that I would have gladly covered.
The only thing I’m bummed about is that only one album is represented on this 7″. I mean, it’s far and away their best album, but these three tunes are all off the same LP, Love Tara. There are just so so many tunes that I think we could have done justice to, or at least tried.
When you’re recording something like this, how long do you spend rehearsing and learning the material? Is there any sense of wanting to record that’s a little raw rather than polish it down?
[Laughs] Ten minutes. It was the same as with the Jonathan Richman tribute 7″. For that one, I just kind of sat in front of my computer with the Garageband program open in one window and iTunes open in the other window, and I just learned ’em part by part and recorded the demos that way.
On this 7″, we went into the studio and recorded them a bit more properly, but still pretty raw. It was really cool, because I got to play the drums on them. I haven’t played drums in a few years, so I had lots of fun. But we certainly never practiced them. And just like the Richman jams, we’ll probably never play them live. It’s not really about that. For me, it’s just paying tribute to songs that I think are perfect.
It’ll probably change on the next round of our 7″ tribute series, where we plan to cover some Louis Prima tunes. That will probably require a little more effort on our part.
But the overarching idea of this “Very Short Tribute” series is that they’re all gonna be very raw, very lo-fi. I just feel that as the band grows and makes better and more polished records, I still wanna make shitty sounding lo-fi stuff. That’s where I come from. That’s how I grew up recording things.
I have no idea what I’m doing. I know what a mic is. I know what a mic cable is. And I know what a record button looks like. Set the mic up someplace, press record, play. That’s how I grew up making tunes. I love the stank of it, the pace, the grime, the fact that it doesn’t cost anything. Whatever. I just love it.
I’m always gonna want to keep making lo-fi shit. And, in a big way, it’s less because of aesthetic and more due to the fact that when I get an idea, I just want to get it out. Fuck belaboring it. Fuck overthinking it. Because it’s really hard to make it sound as good as it does in your head. But if it sounds shitty in your head, you’re gonna be psyched with the outcome.
But like I said, the more the band grows, and the more we find ourselves in nicer studios and more professional situations, the more I’m gonna want to go do a blown-out guitar track in my bathroom with my VestaFire four-track that I’ve been using since the 9th grade.
Taking a step back, what’s the state of The Everymen union? I know that you’re moving south, and there are some new band members.
The union is good, man. We just wrapped up our first tour of 2015, which was great. We were all ready for it, ya know? Last year was just insane. I mean, we put out our last record on May 20, and then we basically toured from May 20 to the day before Thanksgiving. In that entire span, we were home for maybe a cumulative month. It was just fucking nuts. I think that we did 150 shows.
So, we were all psyched to get home and chill, but being home from Thanksgiving to early March, man, that was a stretch. We were ready and itching to get back on the road. We broke in a new guitar player and a new drummer. They both killed in and totally fit right in without missing a beat, so the van vibes were good, but most importantly, the shows were rad. I think that we turned a lot of people on. SXSW was great. A total fucking clusterfuck, but great.
And then halfway through the tour, we posted up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at this absolutely unreal studio called The Nutthouse, and we tracked our next LP with a dude named Ben Tanner. It was such a special week, man.
Otherwise, it’s going good. Status quo for us, which means we’ll probably spend much of the year on tour. Hopefully, we’ll catch a few breaks and some bigger bands will take us out on tour with them. But we’ll just keep at it, regardless. The new record probably won’t come until early next year, because, yeah, I am moving south. Chapel Hill here I come! And I’m getting married in the fall, so it’s gonna be a heck of a year for me.
But nothing will change on the band front. It’ll just be a longer bus ride to practice.
What can you share about the new record? How’s it sounding to your ears?
Man. Holy shit. I mean, it’s really different for us.
Just the process itself was a whole new experience. Our first LP was just me in a studio with others coming and going. Our second was similar, but spread out over six months. Mike and Scott recording sax. Six weeks later, Mike and Geoff doing guitars. A month after, Mike and Catherine cutting vocals.
This experience was the first time that we were all together in a studio day-in, day-out, kicking out twelve-hour days and really just collaborating as a unit. It’s produced some tripped out results. I mean, one tune sounds like PM Dawn meets Led Zeppelin. Another is a fucking Captain and Tennille song. And everything in between.
There are strong Iron Maiden influences and a lot of doo wop vibes in there. We’ve always been all over the map sonically but it’s magnified because we were all in the same room at the same time, cranking on the same ideas and developing the same concepts together. When you have six people coming from six very different places, you tend to end up with some wild shit.
But for the first time in the life of this band – just shy of five years, by the way – I think that we’ve made artwork, rather than producing simply a collection of rock songs. And that is in no way a slight to our previous two records or anyone who’s worked on them. I just think we’ve grown into a new pair of jeans on this new one, so to speak.
And of course you can’t make an album in Muscle Shoals without being influenced by the town itself.
Jaime Zillitto, Albert Rothstein (studio assistant), Scott Zillitto, Raymond Mantovani, Catherine Herrick, Mike V, Ryan Gross, Ben Tanner (producer/engineer), Mitch Cady
What was it like recording in Muscle Shoals? Does recording in a place like that – somewhere with so much history – affect on how the music turns out?
In a word, magic. There’s something about that place, man.
Here’s the quick version of the story. Ben Tanner and I have long been pals, and we’ve always said one day we’re gonna make a record together. For one reason or another, we’ve never been able to coordinate and sync it up – mainly because of the aforementioned piecemeal style of recording that we’ve previously done, and the fact that it’s not exactly easy to pop down to Alabama a few times a year.
So, when we started thinking about this album, I emailed Ben and said let’s do it. We set a date and started discussing ideas and whatnot. Originally, we were meant to track at FAME which is the famous Muscle Shoals studio, but it turned out that FAME was booked for a few of days that we wanted, so Ben said that we could either do five days at FAME and two or three days at another studio, or we could just post up for the entire time elsewhere and really dig in to the studio.
Of course, we were all slightly bummed at the idea of not making a record in the same room Aretha – and countless fucking others- tracked in but, man, we soon realized that it’s not really just about the room down there. There’s something special going on. I don’t know what it is, and I’m certainly not the expert, as I’ve only spent so little time there. But they’ve got ghosts, man. Maybe they live in the river – I don’t know. But they’re there. You feel it, whatever it is. There’s a vibe about that place. It’s a magical place.
But I gotta tell you, the coolest part isn’t the ghosts. It’s the people who are very much alive. I mean, here are four towns – Florence, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals – which combined probably don’t have one-tenth the population of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but they have so many wonderful bands, musicians, singers, and songwriters, all living and working down there. Ben and Mr. John Paul White own and operate an amazing label down there called Single Lock Records, and they’re really documenting a lot of wonderful, beautiful action that’s coming out of the area.
Our last night there we saw a Single Lock show which had Donnie Fritts, John Paul White, Dylan LeBlanc, The Pollies, Belle Adair, and Daniel Elias & The Exotic Dangers all on the same fucking bill. That’s a fucking boatload of talent – all working in this tiny, tiny melting pot.
So, yeah, they got ghosts, but they’ve got some real motherfuckers. And those motherfuckers make that place just as special as Duane Allman’s spirit does.
But what made it most special was that my dad [Raymond Mantovani] flew down and tracked with us for a few days. Some vocals and some guitars. It was a highlight of my life to make a proper album with him.
There have been rumors of a Mike V solo record. Can you deny or confirm?
Confirmed as fuck.
I’m actually heading into a studio tomorrow to start tracking the drums with my pal, Nabil Ayers. He’s a fucking badass drummer, and we’ve been close pals a long time, but we’ve never made music together – other than a few times that we’ve jammed on Maiden tunes – so I’m really psyched for that.
I just had this batch of tunes inside me that had been hiding, ya know?
So dig: When my mother was very sick and dying was when I met my soon-to-be wife. I was dealing with two of the most intense sets of emotions that a man could deal with – at the same time. In both the best and worst possible ways, I was an absolute mess.
I wrote a lot of these songs in my head in the aftermath of my mom’s death, but I never really had the courage to sit down with a guitar, write them, and make them real. That’s some catharsis shit that I wasn’t entirely ready for.
That is, until I started touring heavily with the Everymen. Sitting in the van for so many hours in a day will make your mind wander to some very weird places, and I could no longer avoid the shit I was thinking about, so when I came home from being on the road for six straight months, I forced myself to pry these songs out and see what would happen.
I have these tunes that are coming from polar opposite sides of the spectrum, but in a way, they’re very similar. Those feelings, deep down, are oddly similar. Maybe that’s just me. But falling in love left me exhausted in nearly the exact same way that loosing my mother did.