Interview: Mutts (Chicago, IL)

Call them Tom Waits does blues-rock/grunge, or any other way you can think of describing them. It doesn’t matter what you call them, Chicago band, Mutts is exactly that. They are Mutts. And their music, the perfectly blended mutt. If you are a local Chicagoan there is no way you haven’t heard of Mutts before, or received one of lead singer Mike Marimone Mutts email updates. Having recently celebrated the release of their new LP, Separation Anxiety at the Fireside Bowl earlier this month, I was delighted to get an email from Mike inviting me to a going away house party they were playing at. I was able to catch up with the three men that make up Mutts over burritos, an upright bass and beers. I can tell you one thing, it has been quite a year for Mutts, and they are just getting started. This weekend Mutts heads up through Madison, to Minneapolis and back through to Chicago. For a complete listing of current shows, visit their tour page.

Mike, how did you go from a Notre Dame football tryout to deciding you wanted to become a rock star and start a band?

Mike: It was easy. I wasn’t that good at football, so they made the decision for me.

Bob: Thank you, Universe. 

Mike: Yeah, and then was playing piano at the chapel at my school, and somebody heard me and asked me if I wanted to play in their band. I just started playing in bands, and really, really loved it. It wasn’t until then that it occurred to me that I could write songs. That was just a whole new world, as Aladdin would say.

How many people tell you that you sound like Tom Waits?

Mike: Most people. But then I know who I like, because if you’ve heard of Tom Waits then chances are I might have the same musically taste as you.

I know that you and Bob came together through Company Of Thieves. How did Chris join in?

Mike: We were just huge fans of Chris’. We would follow him around, watching Suns play.

Chris: My drumming reputation preceded me.

Mike: We kept having to kick drummers out, until Chris was free. It finally worked out, the rest is history.

Chris: In fact I didn’t even know they needed a new drummer, because they had just gotten a new drummer like two or three months prior. I heard they needed a drummer, so I contacted them, and we practiced. I remember after we played the first song, one of you guys said, “Alright we got a drummer.” . We practiced three days in a row, and the second day I showed up before we even went inside Mike was like “Here I made you keys to the practice space.”, They liked me!

Mike: It was barely even an audition because he knew like the first five or six songs we asked him to play. I called Bob and was like, “What did you think?”, and Bob was like “It was great.”. We were both thinking the same thing, so it was just obvious.

You’ve said before that you’ve become honest with yourself over the past few years. How has that change impacted your writing?

Mike: I didn’t immediately want to start writing the way I felt, like being crystal clear about things. I’ve never entirely been super specific about a topic I think. As Chris once said, even when I’m writing about something heavy, I’ll try and mask it in some sort of tongue in cheek observation. I’ll maybe put a humorous spin on something I was talking to Bob’s brother, Pete and he was encouraging me to be more honest. There are some serious things that need to be addressed in our country, and I thought I have to be honest with myself and people around me to be able to do that. There are a couple of songs on the new record where I was finally able to say what I felt needed to be said about homosexuality, the views on it by the church, and certain political groups.

Your lyrics can be very politically charged and personal. Are there any songs that you get nervous to play live, or songs you reserve to keep on albums and not play live?

Mike: No, I think playing those songs is why they’r written. They’re not written to be kept in a box or anything. I actually look forward to playing the songs that really mean something to me. Those are the songs that there is a specific point to be made.

Do you all have the same influences now as you did before you started playing in bands?

Mike: My influences have totally changed since I started playing in bands, with Bob especially, and Chris recently.

Bob: You definitely you vibe and get new stuff with everybody you’re working. Everyone brings a new sauce to the table. Mikey from Suns was just out here, and I got a lot of stuff from him when I was working in Wax[Wax On Radio]. Working with Chris, he’s kind of an encyclopedia brain when it comes to music. He’s always bringing new stuff to the table, and on long drives.

Like Candy?

Chris: Last weekend it was peanut butter crackers. 

Mike: Those were a lifesaver.

Chris: Like Bob said, from other friends that are in bands, like the Suns guys. Just people who really care about finding new music, that’s where I get a lot of new stuff. I share it with my friends, and it’s a cool sharing, kind of community feel. If I think about the bands that influenced me to start playing, like we were talking about Green Day earlier; it’s totally different, like that’s a band that will forever be important to me, as far as getting me to start playing music. Do they inspire me to play now? It’s a totally different thing now for me. That was like the impetus, and now there is new stuff that I want to try, and is challenging. 

What inspires you about Chicago?

Bob: The whole town.

Mike: The other musicians. Being in this house right now, and playing with all these other people we respect and really genuinely enjoy their music. Every time I’m feeling closed off I can go to one of several shows that’s going on, and get a little inspiration.

Chris: Traffic. My hatred for traffic, by the time I get to practice I’m all keyed up, and I’m ready to play.

You guys are always playing shows, if you were to build your own tour, who would you include?

Chris: Like an actual tour that would really happen? Let’s set the stage here.

Like a nice Midwest to East coast month-long tour. They have to be alive.

Mike: They can be a fantasy, like not just bands that we know that we can tour with?

Right, who ideally would you like. Who would be your supreme nacho burrito crunch that you would want to tour with?

Bob: Ohhh! Now you’re talking Mike’s language.

Mike: You are talking my language. Now I know what you’re getting at. I would say someone like Tom Waits, or Randy Newman but I wouldn’t want to open for them. I would be scared shitless.

Bob: But imagine how good you’d be after a tour like that, because you’d have to keep on top of it.

Mike: That’s a good point. I’m going to go with Tom Waits, because it would be completely inspiring kick in the teeth every night.

Bob: The Willie Nelson – Snoop Tour.

Mike: Man, this bill just got really interesting.

Chris: So we have Tom Waits,vWillie Nelson, and Snoop, I’ll throw Refused on top of the pile. Like Mike said it would just be one of those totally humbling thing. In terms of just having a magical dream tour, that would be it for me.

How is Separation Anxiety different from your other albums?

Mike: I would say the songs are much more personal. They come form a much more introspective place, and I try to use new sounds. There are definitely different textures on there. 

Chris: I was a fan of Mutts before I was in Mutts, which is one of the reasons I was so excited to be in the band. I feel like there is more of a straight ahead rock thing, while still being weird. I feel like a lot of the older records revolved around more blues. I feel like this the songwriting branched away from that, and tried more of that driving, still kind of progressive rock.

Bob: There is a lot more improvisation on my end, I feel like on this record. 

What was it like to have “Half Mile” on the CMJ mix-tape?

Mike: It was cool. The mix-tape was great, just listening to all those tunes and them ours came on, it was surreal.

Chris: I agree! 

You’ve had a busy year, you’ve been on the CMJ Chart, Alternative Press, The Deli Magazine.

Chris: The Alternative Press one, the only reason I knew we got that was a friend of mine that lives in San Diego took a picture of the page we were on. He put it on  Facebook, and tagged me in the picture. The caption was something like, “How many times you’ve been in Alternative Press, twice.” Because when I was in Suns, we were in it once. And he said,  “How many times I’ve been in it? Zero times, I’m very jealous. Then I went out and bought one.

With having all that done in the past 8 months, what do you hope to accomplish before the year is out?

Mike: Cover of Rolling Stone with Justin Bieber.

What about before Biebs?

Bob: Mutts brand toothbrushes. We’re gonna start heavily merchandising the band, in the next fourth months. 

Chris: Bobble-heads

Mike: Bobbel-heads, toothbrushes, snow shovels.

Window Scrapers.

Mike: Ohh, Window scrapers.

Chris: TIKI TORCHES@ Mutts brand tiki torches.

Mike: They burn my sweat for fuel.

Bob: You’re a very moist man.

You’re hoping to play CMJ this year?

Mike: We’re hoping to play CMJ. Honestly, all I want out of this record is to keep playing shows. Maybe get some more opportunities to do a full, full tour. And Mutts tiki torches.

Bob: It will be nice to start branching out on longer runs.

What comes after Separation Anxiety?

Mike: It’s an album called Object Permanence, it’s all unplugged. When you’re an infant and your mother leaves, you naturally have separation anxiety, fearing that your mother has just gone. Because there is no scope for an infants means of though, until it develops object permanence. Which is the realization that things continue to exist when they are out of sight. This was kind of a double album in content. 

If you were all “mutts” as in hounds, what kind of mutts do you think you would be?

Mike: Chris would be a Pit-Bull and a giant Schnauzer. And a poodle. Now what would I be?

Chris: A Huskey.

Bob: You’d just be a bear, dude.

Chris: Mike would be a Corgi and a Saint Bernard. Bob would be one that likes to sleep.

Mike: (On Bob) I would say some sort of Afghan and a Basset hound. 

Thoughts?