…as one of the most jubilant bands currently working out of the region, we’re very excited to see the return of Cincinnati’s Wake Up Mordecai. With their infectious blend of big beats, folk instrumentation, and catchy-as-hell songwriting, the trio has earned a devoted following over the past few years. We spoke with Mike Ingram of TSS about the band’s past year, lineup changes, and their trajectory for 2012. Here’s what he had to say…
The Buddha Den: As TSS wrap up 2011 and head into 2012, what were some of your favorite moments from the past year? How was the reception to your last album, Verb/Noun?
Mike Ingram: 2011 was our biggest year ever. New album, new agent, new drummer, two music videos, and about 22,000 miles worth of touring on top of it all. There are too many moments to even begin to say which one represents my favorite, but I think the ones that I’ll always remember are the sort of eye-of-the-hurricaine moments. Sometimes you find yourself in situations that seem ridiculous but they’re even more ridiculous when you think of how many more ridiculous moments happened to lead you to this one.
For instance, we had our good friend Andrea along for a couple of months of tour, selling merch and keeping us company. And it just so happened that at just about every single truck stop and gas station and restaurant we stopped at—which amounts to several times a day—Andrea, while a perfectly normal and non-insane person, had what was always the MOST INSANE PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE come up to her and start a conversation. Like, for whatever reason, crazy-serial-killer-truck-driver-who-collects-the-toes-of-his-victims-in-a-jar happened to be in the restaurant at that time, and absolutely without fail would happen to be in her vicinity and turn to her with no warning and start striking up a conversation, ranging from his life story (”I can’t stand potato chips to this day and here’s why”) to proposing marriage on the spot (”girl I know how to treat a woman and I would treat you right”). About once a day, this exact thing happened, for two months straight.
I think my favorite thing however was the release of Verb Noun, which I really think is our best album yet; we finally had the right studio and the right time frame and the right tools to flesh out the sounds in our heads, and I’m really proud of it. We had a really successful radio and press campaign, toured around the US and Canada in support of it, met countless new friends and saw countless old friends as well. It’s a little crazy that it’s basically my job to go on vacation and collect crazy experiences.
TBD: The band recently parted ways with drummer Brian Penick. What was the story behind the lineup change? How did you meet up with your new drummer, Joe Frankl?
MI: We had been pals with Joe’s other band—aptly named The Frankl Project—basically since we’ve been a band ourselves. I can’t rightfully recall but I think we might’ve actually played our third show ever with them, in a basement no less. Joe had filled in this past summer for a handful of festival dates while Brian was on vacation, and he fit right in without missing a beat, har har har. Brian came back and at that point we realized we had two drummers, and in fact at this year’s Midpoint Music Festival we performed with a dual-drummer assault! Brian then announced that he was going to take a break from playing music, after spending the better part of a decade constantly touring; we’re all very much friends and totally understand, and Joe kind of just slid right in there. It couldn’t have been an easier transition. Joe brings a lot of exciting things to the table because he also plays guitar and bass and piano and a pile of other instruments, and sings like an angel. We will defiantly be exploiting him to the fullest extent of the law!
TBD: You recently released a new video for the track “I am the Conductor” off Verb/Noun. How was that experience? How did you come up with this concept? How do you feel it compares to your other video concepts?
MI: The director, Anthony Moorman, came to us originally with an idea for a video that was reasonably straightforward, and while it would have been cool and a great video, we asked him to come up with something crazy to compare it to to make sure it was really going to work. He came back the next day with the concept for the I Am The Conductor video, almost shot-by-shot how it eventually turned out. It was our first big-time rock-star video, and we had an absolute blast. It was amazing to see it all come together, and to see 25 or so people working together and filling in every piece that needs filled exactly when it needs to be there. We’ve done videos before that are loosely based on story and a couple that are kind of simple “band-in-a-room” kind of deals, but we couldn’t be happier with how Anthony was able to fit just enough story and character development and humor and music into a two-and-a-half minute song.
TBD: You just played your last show at the Historic Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky. How was that night for you and the audience? How did you feel about the venue closing down? What kind of effect do you think this loss will have on independent music in the region?
MI: The Southgate House has been an enormous part of our story, and we’ve always viewed it as our “home base” as it were. The staff and the sound and the stage and the whole vibe is just indescribable. Not only have they given us specific opportunities (opening for good bands and playing good shows etc), but by nature of their existence they gave the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky music scene a platform, shelter from the storm, a soap box where you could present your music to fans of all shapes and sizes and ages etc. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a place like it – where you can have three venues under one roof, with three genres of music, almost every night; anything from Indie to bluegrass to rockabilly to punk rock. And if you didn’t like that band, you just walk to the other room and watch a different band in a different style.
Margaret wrote an EachNoteSecure, a local music blog, that pretty much sums up the whole story. A venue is not just a stage and a sound system, it’s the heart and soul behind the place that keeps it going and keeps it popular. You can have the best stage and lights in the world and no one will go if it’s not the whole package, done for the right reasons. The Southgate House has always been a haven for original music, and never gave way to the “make money off of cover bands” model that their neighbors quickly adopted.
Fortunately, the heart and soul of the place—the people that run it, the sound crew, even the ghosts—will be moving to a new space over the next couple of months. It won’t be the same, of course—all things and buildings must return to dust—but the new place could be an even better place to see music. It’ll be the next chapter in the legacy and we can’t wait to be a part of it.
TBD: With a new lineup in place, are you currently working on new material? Have you been recording? When do you expect a new release to come out? What else can people expect from TSS in 2012?
MI: We’ve been working on new material for a while now. It’s a really exciting process because for a while, we were really focussed on putting out as many albums as possible and everything we wrote was with that in mind – we were always writing for the next one. However, right now we’re writing without a specific album or project in mind, so instead of trying to write songs that fit with the other songs so they’ll all fit on one disc, we’re letting each song go in its own direction and flesh it out into its own existence, and try to take it as far as it can go. It’s really fun to work on each song like it’s its own little album, and see if evolve and change as we play it live and make changes and record demos and change it again and again until it really fills out its own identity. Of course we will eventually organize these songs into an album, but writing with Joe, who also plays several other instruments, is a totally different process than we’re used to and it’s keeping us fresh and on our toes; after four albums worth of material I feel really happy that we’re continuing to evolve our sound and our writing.
This year we are working to make a lot of changes to how we present ourselves live. I feel like live music should always be an important and unique experience, and as personal and unique as recorded music is, it’s important to be a band that is as fun to see as it is to hear. We’ve got some big things coming down the pipe for our live show; as well as the fact that Joe plays a variety of instruments, we are finding more and more opportunity to deviate from the sort of “trio” format of guitar, drums, banjo. We’ll be on the road a lot in 2012 and we can’t wait to start breaking out our ideas!
TBD: Is there anything else people need to know about TSS and their upcoming show at SPT in Dayton? Anything else at all?
MI: I guess the only thing to say is despite being from Cincinnati, it feels like our two cities are expanding to the point where they join in the middle – right around the Trader’s World exit, as if that flea market is the light on the end of God’s finger in the famous Sistine Chapel mural. We feel like Dayton is just as much part of our home as Cincinnati. We’re really, really fortunate to have so many people in Dayton treat us like a hometown band, and it’s really exciting to have two cities right next to each other that have so much respect and support for original music. We had an absolute blast at South Park Tavern last time, and I suggest folks bring their dancin’ shoes!