Interview: Those Mockingbirds (2015)

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Those Mockingbirds are band we have a very long history. We first saw the band jamming in Maxwell’s years ago and we were enthralled by the band’s take no prisoners approach to reinterpreting a ’90s grunge sound. The band also co-headlined our first show we ever produced at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey was back in February 2012 (that also marked the first NJ show of national touring act Crobot). Then in 2013 they went and did it — they released one of the best albums of the year — Penny the Dreadeful. And this wasn’t a great record because we know the people in the band. We know plenty of bands. We hang with plenty of bands. We’re in plenty of bands. No, this was just a flat out phenomenal record.

But then we got worried. Stories of line-up changes and a distinct lack of TMB shows had us fearing the worst. Then about a week ago lead singer Adam Bird re-entered our world with the announcement of Those Mockingbirds return to Maxwells, a new line-up and new music. To quote and paraphrase, Monty Python, ‘There was much rejoicing.’

Adam ‘sat down with me’ via e-mail to talk about the band’s new line-up and what it brings to the table, their new sound and the return to the infamous Maxwell’s.

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Penny the Dreadful was an absolutely terrific record. Do you feel pressure to “top” that album with this new album?

Yes and no…like just about every artist, or driven person, I am always in competition with my own past, and hoping that my best work is yet to come. With the new music we’ve been working on, even though this is totally veering into cliche land. I think it’s our strongest work to date. We certainly completely reconsidered what kind of band we are, and threw out any rule books we had previously been consulting. Who knows if anyone will agree with me or not, but I am far more confident at this stage of the process with this batch of music, than i was at the same stage with the Penny batch.

There’s been a pretty significant line-up change in Those Mockingbirds. How did that come about?

When we reached the end of touring for Penny The Dreadful, we could feel that something was going to need to change before we moved forward to the next step for the band. Then seemingly overnight, a lot of changes occurred all at once. Rob [Fitzgerald] moved to LA and Tory [Daines] left, so Kevin [Walters], Kyle [Walters] and myself decided to just write as a three-piece for a bit, and just see how that felt. Turns out, it felt great and we entered a very prolific period, where we pushed boundaries sonically, and song craft-wise for ourselves. After spending some time in the studio, we auditioned a few bassists, and found Leann Bowes, who fit in with us really well.

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Can you talk about what each of these new players has brought to the table in terms of a.) the new music, and b.) the live TMB experience?

Myself, Kyle and Kevin have been writing as a team much more than has ever occurred in the band previously. While that is very new for me and was hard to get a hang of at first, its produced the most exciting stuff we’ve ever done in my opinion. Leanne has really just joined the band, but she is a very skilled bassist and has been making the most of her contributions thus far, even if she hasn’t had the opportunity to contribute much just yet.

Let’s go back to the album — how is this sonically different from previous TMB efforts, how about from a writing standpoint?

we’re focusing on the beat and groove of songs a lot more than we used to. i don’t mean that its some drastic change, and we’re playing dance music now, but, we have been embracing cornerstones of music that we haven’t really in the past. We’ve been using a lot more piano than we used to as well, and overall less distorted guitars. However, with that said, we’ve also written the two heaviest songs we’ve ever done before in this new batch… so its kind of like were saving up all the distorted guitars for those two tracks.

Adam – think back to those early TMB days – the days you’d like to (maybe) forget. How have you evolved a singer, guitarist, and human being since those days? What lessons have you learned on the road and in the studio that have helped you improve upon yourself?

I definitely grew as a singer, and found my voice over the past few years. When the band started, I frankly had no idea what I was doing, and was terrified of singing in the studio because of it. Once we started touring more, I think my voice just developed from singing on stage more, and I began to notice that people at the shows were complimenting me, which blew my mind, because I just considered myself to be a terrible singer who no one probably liked at all. With guitar, I was extremely one dimensional when the band started.  Kevin actually really pushed me to expand my chord knowledge over the years, and its really helped me with writing more colorful music.

As far as a person, I was extremely insecure at first, and i think people took that as me being standoffish, or an asshole, when really, I was so freaked out that i was just being shy, or trying to force myself to be more extroverted.

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It bothered me for a long time that people who didn’t know me thought I was an asshole, but I’ve learned to stop worrying about shit like that and also the future and to just be in the now… if I’m nervous, then i just embrace it, i don’t try to expel it from myself, because that’s where anxiety and misunderstandings start to happen.

The new single is being released November 16  – why chose this one as the lead, the appetizer if you will, for this album?

We felt that “How The Story Goes” was a good mantra for us after all the changes in the last few months. The song is about learning to accept loss. In addition, its a good bridge to show people where we are headed musically.

You’re playing Maxwell’s this week – how does it feel going back to a venue that was once so celebrated, that closed, and is now back open? Is it weird? Am I making it weird by asking?

Its sort of weird because none of us have been there since the final week of the original Maxwell’s, so we don’t know what to expect. Hopefully it still feels great to be there.

What’s the plans for the rest of 2015, and the beginning of 2016?

We will be releasing the “How The Story Goes” single in November, and playing a bunch of shows. Other than that we will just be getting back into the studio to continue working on the next record.

Those Mockingbirds performs with Franchise, Arrows in Her, and Archie Alone tonight at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites