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Mock Orange | Record Play | interview | indie | alternative | rock | Lollipop

Mock Orange

The Record Play (Lobster)
An interview with guitarists/vocalists Ryan Grisham and Joe Asher and drummer Heath Metzger
by Tim Den

If the "indie" scene had a best - if not unfairly so - kept secret, it would be Evansville, IN's Mock Orange. Formed of childhood friendships, these four early twenty-somethings honed their chops by releasing two independent full-length demos and playing tons of shows before signing to Lobster Records for their debut, Nines and Sixes, to critical acclaim. The boys trekked cross-country for most of '99, put in their hard work, and ears are beginning to perk up.
Equipped with mind-blowing technical skills (listen to "Window Shopping" and "All You Have" from Nines and Sixes) and a penchant for mercurial melodies, many have described them as a combination between a punk rock Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid's playing abilities. Personally, I think all comparisons fail to convey Mock Orange's immense power, and can only recommend them to everyone I meet. Having been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of road time with these boys, I can without a doubt say that they'll be remembered as one of the giants, given time. Live, they're dazzling acrobats on their instruments. On record, they're a jigsaw puzzle of intricacy and tasteful imagination. Pick up both Nines and Sixes and the amazing, if not more laid-back, new record, The Record Play, if you don't believe me. Nothing even comes close (p.s. don't let their seemingly-pessimistic/perfectionist front fool you. Look closely and you'll find a group of humorous kids with more randomness than Conan O'Brien).

How have things been since the album came out?
Joe: The record's been out for what, three weeks? The label says people have been ordering it, and there've been some reviews that were good... It just came out, so people aren't really familiar with it yet, but there were a few shows where a couple of kids drove five hours just to see us. People show up knowing what's going on. Not in droves, but four or five people come to a show every night and totally know what we're doing, really up on the band. It's awesome. That's really encouraging. Even if we're still stone broke, it doesn't matter because people are at least catching on.

It's always hard for the first record. The second one is usually a bit easier.
Joe: I'm stoked, man, I'm not gonna lie to you. I'm really stoked at how everything's going, everyone (in the band) is getting along finally. We're having fun on this trip, we've been doing crazy shit like jumping into the ocean and tackling each other on stage and stuff... stuff that we've never done because we were always bitter toward each other. Last night, I knocked Brandon (Chappell, bass) over and he knocked me over, and it was a big laugh.

Just don't knock Heath over. He'll start insulting your mother or something.
Joe: (laughs) Heath's mellowed out, man. It was really stressful during recording. He and I got into a really big fight and I was way out of line. He said something, as usual, to piss me off, and I punched him in the chest holding a remote control. I hit him hard. I mean, I leaned into it. As soon as that happened, Brandon ran out of the house, not wanting to deal with it. We froze afterwards, and I realized what I'd done and apologized.

How was recording with Mark Trombino?
Joe: Totally cool, the most mellow being around. He showed up the first day and was all, "Hey, what's going on? My name's Mark," and started putting mics up. That was it. If we did something he didn't like, he'd say, "Man, that sucks." He'd just tell us. We told him "Be straight. If you don't like something, just say you don't like it." He said "Oh, don't worry, I will." If we did something weird, he'd say, "God that's bad. Don't do that." We'd be "Well, what do we do?" He'd say, "I don't know. Just not that." We trusted his judgment a lot. If he told us not to do something, we wouldn't do it. There were a few things we held onto that he wasn't down with, but he was never rude, very nice, and so good, you know? He just knows what the fuck to do. He liked songs to go smoothly, pleasant to listen to. He didn't want us to do anything that was very dissonant. If we changed it up or fucked with the meter too much, he wouldn't dig it. I definitely don't have a bad thing to say about him. I think he's the man and hope that we can work with him again. We learned a lesson about being prepared. We thought we could saddle up and figure it out as we went along. We thought if we had the basic shell for the songs, we could just sort of fill it in with something cool when we got to the studio. We had a lot of confidence we'd be able to do that, but we tried and it wasn't always so good. We'd try to do some stuff and a lot of it was lame. We realized it was because we didn't know what the fuck we were doing; that we're not the world's greatest musicians. The last week in the studio - I know this is a really typical thing to say - but for me, it was the most stressful week of my life. I was wiggin'. I felt like there was just too much that had to be done. Even Mark was like, "Man, we're running out of time. I don't know how we're going to finish." The last couple of days were bad. But I think it all turned out and we got pretty much everything done we wanted to get done, and in the end, it was a good experience.

What have you been rockin'?
Joe: I've been bummed because I haven't found anything new. The last Superchunk record was awesome. Older Sea and Cake stuff, and the new Shellac, which I'm very excited about. In the first song, he uses the word "fucking" like forty times, which is cool. I'm looking forward to Hey Mercedes, and the new Radiohead is going to be big. The new Sunny Day Real Estate too... just obvious stuff. I've been actively looking for new bands to check out because the stuff I listen to is getting stale. I don't know if I'm not "hip" or whatever, but I can't dig the stuff that's getting big now. I don't understand it. The new, real straight-forward new pop (emo) punk stuff: I don't get it. Everything's totally saturated with that kind of stuff, and it's lost on me. I understand it makes people feel good when they hear it...

...But it all sounds the same.
Joe: I haven't found a band in a really, really long time that I can latch onto. I hear all this stuff that's getting really big, I go to shows and see these big bands playing... and I just don't get it. It's fucking depressing. All these kids that are digging these bands - all the fifteen year-olds - in a year or two they're gonna grow up and leave it. I've just been bummed about the state of everything. It fucks me up because it saps my pool of influence. You only have so many ideas of your own, and if you're not digging anything musically, it makes you uninterested in playing and writing music. But there are still rad bands like Six Going On Seven and this band I just heard called Engine Down. My girlfriend/ex-girlfriend (confusion) freaks out over Rainer Maria. I heard their new EP and I think it's really good.

Where's Ryan?
Ryan: Hey, we met your sister. It was weird. She looks exactly like you. I was thinking "Man, she looks like Tim" before we even met her...

What are you up to?
Ryan: Nothing, still working at Subway. My one-year anniversary is coming up with my girlfriend. She got me Wallace and Gromit triple video pack, I watched it and I thought "God, that shit's awesome." I got me a camera, some clay, and started messing around doing amateur claymation. It's fun. And I'm healthy now, unlike when we were touring with you last year. I remember being in Boston, walking down the street from your house to get some food and not even being able to walk straight. I think the liquid in my ears was unbalanced and threw off my equilibrium.

Where's Heath in all this? Grab him for me...
Heath: What's up, buddy? I'm just normal.

I don't know if "normal" is the word I'd use to describe you.
Heath: Well then... how about uh... normal. Cool word.

You freak... How has the tour been going? You met my sister, right?
Heath: Tour's been going really fine. That's crazy that your sister came out and saw us. It's weird because she was hanging out with us, then all of a sudden she's like "I'm leaving." We're like: (puzzled) "uh... alright." We played really well that night.

Are you as bummed as Joe about music?
Heath: I've been listening to a lot of soundscape type stuff like Mogwai, Tortoise, Trans Am... instrumental stuff. But then I've been going back to ELO for songwriting stuff.

How come you didn't sing on this album (like on "Poster Child" from Nines and Sixes)?
Heath: Aw, man, they don't want me to sing. I only helped arrange on the new album. Most of it had been pre-four-tracked for the others to learn. It's not my favorite album... but it still rocks. I do four-track stuff on my own all the time.

What's your take on recording The Record Play?
Heath: We really didn't have any of the songs written. One song in particular, "The City Call," we wrote two days before we went into the studio. When we were trying to record, we had to settle for "alright, it worked" instead of "that's beautiful" because we were under time constraints. But I really like the end of "Twelve O'Clock Call" with the piano in it. That was our only collaborative new part. We did it right in the studio. Joe and Mark played the parts.

Are you still working construction?
Heath: Yeah, about thirty-five or forty-five hours a week. I work for my Dad. If music doesn't work out and I don't finish college, I can maybe get a pick-up truck and be the leader of a pack. Go out and fix roads...
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