Mxpx

author PP date 17/03/12

It has been four years since the previous Mxpx album, but they're finally close to releasing their newest album "Plans Within Plans", as well as returning to Europe to do a few shows including the Groezrock Festival in April. We took steps to arrange an interview with their legendary vocalist Mike Herrera, who is residing quite literally on the other side of the planet from us in terms of longitude, but it's exactly situations like these that Skype was designed to solve. So we had a half an hour phone conversation about their upcoming album, how they've evolved throughout their career, the situation with their drummer Yuri and guitarist Tom, as well as how we should perceive the whole Mxpx All Stars touring lineup. Turns out the interview is one of the most in-depth and interesting ones we've done in recent years, so read on to find out stuff about Mxpx you probably didn't already know.

RF.net: How's it going in Mxpx?
Mike: It's going well. I'm just going crazy with everything that kind of goes into making a record, getting the artwork done.

RF.net: You guys are gearing out to release a new album called "Plans Within Plans" on April 3rd. That's the first one you guys have released in four years, if you exclude the "Left Coast Punk" EP. So how come it took so long to write it?
Mike: It didn't really take that long to write actually, I wrote most of it right before I recorded it. Mainly it was just because we were doing other things. Tom and Yuri have been going through kind of a life transition in a lot of ways. Both of them decided that they don't want to tour full-time, but they still want to be in the band. It's a weird situation that I've never really heard of. I'm sure it has happened, but I haven't really heard about it happening with other bands.

But the bottom line is, Yuri didn't know if he even wanted to be in the band anymore mainly because he's got three kids and a full-time job now. And we kind of just said "you know, if you wanna quit, we totally get it", but then we did a show where we played "Life In General" all the way through. There was such an outpouring from all the fans around the world for Yuri to not quit the band, that he decided he'll stay in the band, he'll record another record. He'll basically not tour, he'll play shows now and then if he can do it, but for regular touring, I started doing this thing called Mxpx All Stars.

So it's just a weird thing where some people still don't quite get what is happening, they don't know if he's in the band or if he's not in the band. But he is in the band, Yuri, our drummer, he's just not a full-time touring musician anymore. So that was another reason why it kind of took us a while to start working on this record. I was waiting to figure out what we were doing.

RF.net: I guess that's what you mean when you said to somebody else that there has been some mayhem behind the scenes, so to say, when putting the album together? Or was there something else on top of the Yuri situation?
Mike: Well, then there's Tom as well. Tom is in the same position where basically with the economy, with the way music has been going, it's really hard to be a touring musician and to actually be able to pay all your bills. Now that we've been touring and doing fine, but in order to really make money, you just have to keep touring and keep playing shows. As soon as you stop playing shows, you're almost instantly broke about a month later. I don't know if that makes sense, people don't get it, because they think that musicians are all rich, but really, there's a giant spectrum of musicians as far as money they make. We're just kind of middle-of-the-road working class musicians. Yes, we can make money and pay bills if we tour, but the amount of energy and stress and everything that goes into that, I think they just needed a break. So they decided to get real jobs and still be in the band, still make records. I think eventually they'll come back and wanna do a tour. We just kind of gotta give them a little bit of time.

It is what it is. I kind of went to the fans and asked what their ideas were, and they were kind of like "whatever you can do, keep making records, tour when you can, play shows when you can", and they seem to be enjoying Mxpx All Stars. So that's what I've been doing. Actually I did a solo tour in Europe, and now I'm doing an Mxpx All Stars tour in Europe. So that's gonna be pretty great I think.

RF.net: So does it actually effect you personally then that the other two guys don't have as much time. Is it that you actually want to tour, but then the other guys don't have time to do it?
Mike: Right. It does affect me, definitely. It affects how hard I have to work, for one. Really, I have to do everything. I've always done all the songwriting and I've been producing our stuff off and on for a while. My other band Tumbledown, I've produced all that stuff. So I mean that part about it, like making the record, I've always had to do more because I'm writing the songs, but now I have to do more because I have to do all... not all the interviews, they're gonna help with interviews. But just playing live and being out on the road is probably the hardest part about being in a band. It's also one of the most rewarding parts too. So I guess I take the good with the bad. So that's a plus for me.

RF.net: So what should we expect from the new album then? Have you changed your sound at all, or are you still sticking to the classic Mxpx sound?
Mike: It's definitely Mxpx sound. There's some more hard influenced music to it, some hardcore type stuff. Which we've always done a little bit, but maybe I'm doing it a little bit more on this record. It's very fast skate punk style stuff. There's a couple of mid tempo songs that are just kind of fun, interesting songs, but most of it is pretty fast.

RF.net: I noticed that was pretty much how "Left Coast Punk" was as well, it was a much rawer record than "Secret Weapon" or "Panic" actually. So what changed in your head, since you are the songwriter, from those two albums to "Left Coast Punk" and now the new album, if it's gonna be a little bit like that?

Mike: Well I think that I'm just writing Mxpx songs rather than trying to write hit songs or anything like that. We have our fan base, people like the Mxpx sound, and of course there's a spectrum of "oh I like Life In General" or "I like Slowly Going The Way Of The Buffalo", so there's different albums that people like. So I kind of just try to put a little bit of everything into it. At the same time, it's obviously its own album, but it's definitely gonna have a more "Life In General" feel. It's more leaning towards old school Mxpx basically.

RF.net: How would you say then that Mxpx in 2012 compares to the mid to late 90s Mxpx? What's changed in the middle?
Mike: Well, definitely we're just different people I think. It's definitely more focused, it's less sloppy. I think the lyrics are a little bit more important. But at the same time, they're actually just continuing on with what we did best as a band. What people liked best about us. Which is just a fun band but at the same time there are songs that really have a serious tone that you can kind of get something from your life as a listener.

I don't know, it's just one of those things where everything's changed in life, and I think some of the songs reflect that lyrically. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to that, because our fans have grown up with us. We do have some younger fans, for sure, but most of the people who I interact with are fans that have listened to us for years and years and years.

RF.net: Right. In fact, I've noticed that there's still quite a loud and vocal group of people who still swear by the "Life In General" album instead of some of the newer material. Does that ever affect or bother you, or anything like that?

Mike: No. I mean every band has an album that most of their fans think is their best album. And that album just hit people at the right time. It was a really coming of age kind of record for us and for the fans. I think fans got into punk rock, that was one of the records that they were listening to at the time, when they sort of discovered music, discovered the lifestyle, discovered whatever it was that made them who they are. I think "Life In General" for some people is that album, or one of those albums, or that album from Mxpx at least.

So for me, that's a good thing. I think that we have different albums that different fans think is that album for them. So some of the younger kids like "The Ever Passing Moment" and "Panic" and "Secret Weapon", because that was their coming of age album. But of course the numbers, the sheer numbers of people, are overwhelmingly into "Life In General".

RF.net: Do you think that you will be able to write another album which will have similar impact or effect in the future? Or maybe even with this new one?
Mike: Well, I think songwise, the new one really reflects what "Life In General" was doing. It's of course way more technical, just from the sheer fact that we're better players now and I've got friends that can really rip some guitar solos. I got Stephen Edgerton on a few songs doing some guitar solos from the Descendents. So that being said, we have a few guest people and stuff.

But this record could and probably will be a coming of age record for a certain amount of people. But it's hard when you have so many of your fans that already have a favorite record that's "Life In General" or it's "The Ever Passing Moment". A lot of those fans have said they love "Secret Weapon", but that doesn't necessarily change the fact that they love "Life In General" the most. And that's okay. As long as they are still loving the new stuff. It's just when you're older as a person, I think it's harder to have that feeling about music. Does that make sense?

RF.net: So just to continue on the "Life In General" line, I guess it's fair to say that it's a seminal or classic record within the punk rock or pop punk genre. But why do you think its appeal has lasted through all these years? I mean there are still people who go back and discover this record and really get into it?
Mike: I don't know. I guess hopefully because it's a decent record for its time and age and how old we were when we made it, and where the world was at the time. Obviously just politics and economy and social issues have completely changed in ten years. They always do. Or it's been more than ten years of course.

RF.net: A question about "Teenage Politics". To me, that was a really 'raw' sounding record. So I was always wondering if that was on purpose or if it's because the recording went the way it did, or how did it turn out sounding the way it does?
Mike: You know, those first two records we put out, "Pokinatcha" and "Teenage Politics" were really just... we were little kids. We were in high school at the time. I think it's different nowadays, we have young bands that really are great at their instruments, can play well, have these influences that are more technical. We were just kind of like...I listened to the Descendents, Black Flag, and Ramones, The Clash, stuff that I didn't really feel like I could ever necessarily do myself, so I kind of just made up weird parts and we just did weird stuff with the music, especially for "Teenage Politics". But as far as the sound of it, honestly, it was us, we had no idea what we were doing in the studio, and neither did the producer at the time [laughs]. And it goes for both of those records. So we didn't know what was good, and they didn't have pro-tools back then. We recorded it in nine days, and that's mixing too. Spring Break of our senior year in high school, we only had a week or ten days off, so we recorded for nine days. And recording that many songs in nine days, even now when we're a much better band, I don't think we could do it in nine days to my standards [laughs].

RF.net: So today I would say that the Mxpx sound is a lot more polished, or at least more well-produced. But I wonder if you'd ever consider going back to that rawer or edgier sound. I mean I guess you did to some extent on "Left Coast Punk", and maybe the new album which we haven't heard yet.
Mike: Well, the new album definitely has some stuff that's pretty produced. But there's also songs where I purposely made the guitars really thrashy sounding, and we recorded it that way. The vocals, I just record my vocals in my basement, I built a little studio down there. So I have a studio in my hometown where I record other bands, and that's where we do most of our records. But it's cool to be able to not worry so much about signal change...and of course I worry about all those things, but I don't worry too much about everything sounding exactly perfect. Because I know it's more about getting the energy on tape and getting the performance.

So for me, I feel like it sounds pretty good, but it's definitely not as polished and produced as "Secret Weapon". But it's somewhere between "Secret Weapon" and "Left Coast Punk" as far as production goes.

RF.net: You've re-joined the Tooth & Nail roster. I think it was already for the previous album actually, but it's the first time since 1997. So how come you actually decided to go back to the label and leave SideOneDummy behind?
Mike: Well, that was for "Secret Weapon". That was mainly because they were gonna give me my publishing back for "Life In General" and a couple of other albums. So we kind of made nice and we had a good working relationship. It was pretty hard for me to do, but we did it. I was pretty happy with how we worked with them overall. But I think a lot of what I didn't like about it was mainly the distribution, because it's EMI. So going back to Tooth & Nail was cool in a lot of ways, but the worst part of it was that we're on this great label, they're a different label than when we first were signed to them, mostly different people as well. But EMI...really, they have no heart. They have no heart. They're not in it for music, they're in it for money. And so they didn't distribute our record to the world, but they had rights to it, so we couldn't go and say "sign with Flix records", like we did with this record in Europe. So that really kind of killed me, because it really hurt our world-wide fan base. I kind of just made a decision last year to start coming to Europe more and touring Europe and UK, and everywhere over there. And one of the main things was "okay, well, if I'm gonna do this, I'm need to put out a record here, not just come and tour". I had met a few people who knew Flix Records and Felix from Flix, and we started talking, and we decided to do a record together.

RF.net: So what label is it coming out on in the States then?

Mike: See yeah, Tooth & Nail was actually just "Secret Weapon" and "On The Cover II". Then we self-released on Rock City the "Left Coast Punk" EP. It was just a really small, non-distributed release. So now, we're on MRI records, which is in New York. It's more of a distribution record company, goes through Red Distribution. And it's a deal that we can do with them in North America, but also take and do separate deals in separate regions, so that's why I was able to sign with Flix Records in Europe, and we have the record coming out on different record labels in Japan, in Australia, and New Zealand.

RF.net: To jump to a completely another topic: Mxpx shows. When you write setlists for the shows, how do you select the songs that you're gonna play?
Mike: That's a good question. I try to change stuff up. People now and then want really random songs, but for the most part I just try to keep a lot of the favorites in there, because that's what people wanna hear. And I don't mind, I mean I know those songs pretty well, so we just try to keep the fans happy, and keep ourselves interested as well.

RF.net: You mentioned earlier, was it just one show that you played "Life In General" in, or was it a tour?

Mike: We've done it twice. We did one in Vegas and one in Seattle. And people are requesting us to come to their city and do it as well, so we'll see.

RF.net: Yeah, my next question was gonna be if you ever considered to do a "Mxpx plays Life In General", or another album for that matter, the same way as Millencolin did for example with "Pennybridge Pioneers". They did a whole bunch of shows with that last summer, main festivals in Europe basically.

Mike: You know, I'm considering it right now. Good idea! [laughs]

RF.net: So tell me a little bit more about this Mxpx All Stars project. Is this like a direct consequence of what you said earlier about the other two Mxpx members not being able to play as many shows?
Mike: Yes, absolutely. So basically what happened was last year, we had a tour booked in Japan, and the guys were waiting to see if they were gonna get their full-time jobs. And it was kind of one of those things where it's like a job...it's for the shipyard, which is a pretty big organization here, it's a career basically, a new career. So when they got their new jobs, they couldn't go to Japan with me. So I'm like "crap, what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do, cancel the tour, or go anyway and figure it out?". So I came up with Mxpx All Stars, where I basically have other guys in bands that I'm friends with come and play with me. So it's kind of like a big party. It's actually really cool for fans to see because, yes it's not Mxpx the original lineup, but it's me, and I'm the voice, and I write all the songs. So it still sounds like Mxpx, but it sounds a little different. In some ways, a lot more like the albums, because most of the time I have two guitarists with me, so I can do all those extra guitar parts that as a three-piece have always been hard for us to do.

RF.net: So it's actually a rotating lineup then? I was under the impression that it was Kris Roe of Ataris playing with you pretty much all the shows?
Mike: It's a rotating lineup, yeah. He's played a couple of tours with us, he went to Japan and Australia. And then I've had a couple of other band members in different continents do...I got guys that I sometimes take with me in the US. Or in South America, and then I've got different guys and different bands in Europe. The guys in Europe are actually in a band called Cancer from Switzerland. And one of the other guys is in a band called Snitch, that are pretty well-known in Switzerland.

RF.net: So are these the guys that we'll see with you at Groezrock, for example?

Mike: Yeah. They are band guys from European bands. They're friends of mine. So they're gonna be backing me up. So they're great musicians and great guys.

RF.net: Okay, so there is no Kris Roe? [laughs]

Mike: No Kris Roe. Unless if The Ataris are coming, then I'll bring him up. Believe me, I love Kris Roe, but the guys that are in my band, they know the songs better. Lets just put it that way [laughs].

RF.net: What should we expect in general at Groezrock from Mxpx All Stars?
Mike: I would say a pretty good mix of just favorite Mxpx songs. We usually do quite a few off "Life In General", quite a few off "The Ever Passing Moment", and then kind of just a sprinkling of all the other albums. We do a lot off "Slowly Going The Way Of The Buffalo", and usually we'll throw something off "Panic" and "Secret Weapon" there. And of course we'll do at least one or two songs from the new album, "Plans Within Plans".

RF.net: How much influence does Christianity still have on your music?
Mike: That's a good question. I kind of feel like a lot of the way I express myself has changed over the years, and that's definitely one of them. It's sort of made me who I am as a person, but it's also a touchy subject with me, because I've definitely changed a lot. But people don't necessarily know that because of my songs. But I try to keep everything positive and keep everything... well, with the songs, I don't necessarily always keep it positive, but I never have. But at the same time, I feel like Mxpx is known for being positive, and that's what I've continued to try to do with this new record. There's definitely some songs that, I don't know, are... say the song "Secret Weapon", we've had songs like that on every record, and I think we have a couple on the new record. I haven't really sat down and thought about it honestly. When I write, I write everything so quick, and then I'm working on it. I really don't reflect on what everything means until kind of later. Which I probably should do, we're doing interviews. [laughs]

RF.net: Do you ever meet resistance from the rest of the punk rock scene because of your faith or because of Christianity always being attached to Mxpx?
Mike: We used to. I don't think we do as much anymore. I just think that's not really an issue with us. We're not really that kind of band anymore, and never really have been. It's always been more of a story, or something for other people to talk about. But it hasn't really been that big og a part of our band for a long time.

RF.net: Okay, so do you get along with Fat Mike from NOFX? He can be sometimes a bit harsh [laughs]

Mike: Yeah, he's very harsh. But we get along because it's kind of one of those things where we're from different backgrounds, but we both love punk rock music and we both have been around touring and playing. At the very least, he respects us because we've been around and we've done so much. He may tell you differently, I don't know, but as far as I know we're friends [laughs]

RF.net: I also wanted to ask a little bit about the Christmas album that you put out. Just wondering: isn't it a little bit of a weird album to release, since you can really only listen to it one month out of every year, so for the rest of the months, if you listen to it like in June, it's a little bit weird isn't it?
Mike: Yeah. Mainly we put that out for the fans obviously, but we had compiled all these Christmas songs because every year we give away a song to our fan club for free. Or it's just part of what we do for our fan club. And we had all these Christmas songs that we had compiled over the years, so we decided to put it all together and release it. Which we never would've done, if we hadn't each year written a new song. It was just basically a compilation, I guess you could say.

RF.net: So how's your Tumbledown project going?
Mike: Tumbledown is going very well. Actually we just filmed a new video, and we're gonna be touring in February in the US, just doing shows and we got to play down in South America with Mxpx All Stars, opening. It was kind of weird opening for myself, but we just did a short set, it was almost a little like a sample for Tumbledown. It was pretty cool to do. It's going well, I'd love to come over to Europe, I'd love to do that. But I just know that it's just hard moneywise. We couldn't afford to do it, we don't make any money. We tour in a van, and we play like...our average crowd is like 50 to 100 people. So I mean Tumbledown is very small.

RF.net: So has country music always been a strong inspiration for you, or is that something that's only recently come in?

Mike: It has been, for about thirteen years. But that's when I kind of got into writing country music. I wouldn't say it's even country, honestly, I think that's part of why Tumbledown is maybe slow to start, because a lot of the fans don't wanna give us a chance, when really it's just like punk rock, but with more acoustic type instruments. We still have electric guitar, and drums, and bass, but I play an acoustic guitar. It is twangier and folkier, but really it's just Americana roots mixed with punk rock. I don't know. I got really heavily into country music about 10 years ago, but it's definitely been dying down, as country gets worse and worse. I've heard so many old school country songs and I love them all, but you can only listen to that so much. So I'm kind of like back into punk rock really heavily. I'm into anything that's good, really. Honestly, I like discovering new music, some of which I would never admit to, because it's too mainstream and poppy. But I still like Black Flag, and I love recording punk rock bands in my studio. I think the new Mxpx record reflects that I'm still into punk rock, because it's pretty crazy. For us anyway.

RF.net: Just before we stop, I'm sure that our Danish readers would like to know if you know any Danish bands?
Mike: I probably do know Danish bands, but I probably just don't know that they're Danish. Honestly, I just listen to whatever I discover, and sometimes I don't even know anything about them, if that makes sense. So if there are Danish bands that are doing well, chances are yes, I do, but I don't necessarily seek out certain countries.

RF.net: Okay. Well, thanks for this interview, and thanks for taking the time out of your morning, I'm sure you're busy over there.

Mike: Thank you very much! I appreciate it!

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