Smile Politely

Join a future Mutts reunion

The people I talk to as a direct result of this job are some of the coolest human beings around. The new experiences that are lain at my feet are almost absurd in quality and quantity. I am talking to people I’ve seen on stage a hundred times but never talked to in person. I am interviewing bands I’ve never heard of that, once I talk to the lead singer, I wonder how on Earth I managed to go this long without. I talk to people I’ve known a year who have side projects completely out of my conception of them. What I’m trying to say, dear readers, is that my job is pretty sweet.

I recently talked to Mike Maimone, singer/songwriter (“as well as secretary, janitor, etc.”) for Mutts. He’ll be playing with his bandmates on May 9 at Mike ‘N Molly’s, one of my regular haunts.

Smile Politely: How did you all meet?

Mike Maimone: I met bassist Bob Buckstaff when we were both playing in Company of Thieves in 2009. We toured with them that whole year, got to play some incredible venues, and see the country. In July we were on the road, opening for Plain White T’s with [a] teeny bopper band called Days Difference opening. Company of Thieves was stuck in a saccharine pop sammich, devoured nightly by an audience of junior high schoolers who had clearly no interest in what we were doing. So Bob and I decided to book some studio time with a couple friends, where we’d record some live, spontaneous, raunchy rock music, just as a catharsis from the tour. Don’t get me wrong, the experience of playing those nice venues and traveling with Plain White T’s was amazing. But if you listen to [the] Pretty Pictures EP, the result of that sweaty July studio session, you’ll understand where we were coming from.

SP: So that’s how you became a band? A random, therapeutic jam?

Maimone: We didn’t intend on this session becoming a band, but it was such an amazing release, we decided to do three more sessions. We started playing shows, too, and, in 2011, we decided to record a full length and make Mutts our main focus. Along the way, we had a few drummers come and go before Chris Pagnani joined us in late 2011. Although we had just put out Pray for Rain, we figured we should introduce Chris to Mutts the same way the band started: recording music as it was being written. So, in early 2012, we tracked 21 songs in 8 days, which would go on to become Separation Anxiety and Object Permanence. The latter of these just came out in April, and we’re currently on tour in support of the release. 

SP: What are you guys’ influences? (“It’s like                married                and raised a drummer who only listens to              ,” etc.)

Maimone: The Venn diagram of Mutts’ influences overlaps at Nirvana and ’90s rock, in general. Bob and I initially bonded talking about our favorite Beatles and Tom Waits records; Chris and Bob both grew up on early punk and then got into bands like the various Kinsella brothers’ projects. Chris and I would love to put on some Sublime or Green Day in the van without Bob rolling his eyes at us. I think that [variation] contributes to our eclectic sound, and we enjoy not being easily classified, even if it sometimes works against us in terms of booking shows.  

SP: How do you mean?

Maimone: We were initially labeled “like Tom Waits fronting a garage rock band,” but that doesn’t sound anything like our new album, Object Permanence, where we ditch the amps in favor of acoustics piano and upright bass. I would say the new sound is like Randy Newman married John Lennon with Dr. John presiding over the ceremony.

SP: That’s clear enough… Do you have a personal style or do you just wear whatever’s crammed in your suitcases?

Maimone: We’re usually a t-shirt and jeans sort of band, but recently started dressing up a little for this tour. With the new classic sounding record, we wanted the release tour to be like a traveling piano lounge, so we made sure to pack the brandy snifters and smoker’s jackets. We’re really looking forward to playing at Mike ‘N’ Molly’s!

SP: What are some of your favorite places to play?

Maimone: Our favorites so far would have to include Fort Wayne, Muncie, Champaign, the Quad Cities, Madison, Milwaukee, Stevens Point/Wausau, Columbus, Louisville, and, of course, our hometown of Chicago. It’d take too long to elaborate on why each of them [is] individually special, but the common thread is that there are great bands [there] who we listen to all the time. We’ve made some incredible friends in each place who welcome us with open arms each time we come back.

SP: Do you travel elsewhere, or do you mainly stay within a few hours of Chicago?

Maimone: While we’ve headed to the East Coast a few times, we tend to tour around the Midwest consistently. It’s an incredible and humbling feeling to travel 300 miles from home and realize that the four people from the first show each dragged two friends out to the third show, and so on. We’re playing really tiny clubs for the most part, so we can definitely notice the word spreading about our music. And we try to talk with everyone who wants to hang out, and get to know people personally as much as possible. So it feels like, when we go on tour, we’re having reunions and catching up with friends in each city.

SP: What a cool way to think of it! Never in a strange city… Thanks so much for chatting, Mike!

To check out Mutts, hear their eclectic sound, and get in on the reunion vibe, go to Mike ‘N Molly’s on Friday, May 9.

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