Musicians of the world, please take note: If you think you don’t need to work hard because your hair is pretty and your jeans are skin tight, you are wrong. If you believe that because you can play an instrument semi-decently you don’t really need people skills, you are wrong. And if you think for a second that you can get away with mediocrity because ‘the kids don’t know the difference anyway,’ you’d better beg for your day job back. Oh, and download the brand new EP from Those Mockingbirds, Fa Sol La. Give it a listen and learn how it’s done.
The first thing I ever wrote up about these Montclair-based rockers was a 70-word spotlight over a year ago. I’d say that was the tip of the iceberg. But ice melts; this was more like a pyramid. Hard work and dedication are personified by this band, and they are damn near unmovable. Seated comfortably at the top of this pyramid with a beer in hand is frontman Adam Bird. Alongside him are the four other equally as talented and hard working musicians that make the band whole, with passion, conviction and humility making up the base.
That humility aspect is very important—they don’t talk themselves up, or self-aggrandize. They don’t have to. The music speaks for itself. Every time I have heard Adam speak candidly about the band, he’s always sounded as if he’s letting me in on some sort of big secret; that kind of excitement and pride in what they create really shines through their music. They take their jobs seriously, with strenuous practices and touring to as many places as possible.
They released their first EP in 2010. No Symmetry quickly topped Amazon’s Movers And Shakers charts, due in part to fan involvement. The members of Those Mockingbirds regularly go out and interact with potential fans. “We really like to connect with the people who listen to us… go to malls and hang out, actually talk to these kids and play our songs for them on our iPods. We take down email addresses and we find them on Facebook to stay connected.” You must be thinking the art of street teaming is long lost in 2011, but I assure you, it is not. My first time hanging out with Adam in a non-professional setting was spent passing out stickers and chatting up some interesting people.
“Don’t get me wrong, we can attribute a lot to the Internet as well.” Adam says. “For a while we did covers of songs on the side and posted them to our YouTube channel, along with other silly videos and stuff. We kidnapped the Numa Numa guy during the release of our first EP. That went well. But the Internet is sort of a double-edged sword.” When asked to elaborate on that, he made an interesting point.
“One of the hardest things about the Internet is being the first to do something that hasn’t been done before. Rock bands are all competing for attention, really using any social networking medium they can find, and it over-saturates peoples’ lives. The market for online music has kind of gone from, like, a trickle to the diaper just being absolutely full.” It’s pretty challenging and nerve-wracking, trying to come up with something totally unique and fun and, at the same time, entertaining and able to get the point across quickly to cater to ever-decreasing attention spans worldwide.
Judging by the rewards, though, the hard work and the brainstorming have paid off. Their second EP, Fa Sol La, was released on Sept. 13 and is available for free download on their website, thosemockingbirds.com, with a physical copy to be made available soon. And it is damn good.
Recorded at Wild Arctic by Shawn Kimon and Dean Baltulonis (The Hold Steady, Ra Ra Riot, Brand New) and also at Sleeping In Sanity Studios by Mockingbirds drummer Kevin Walters, the EP had not only a great set of musicians recording it, but a great production team as well; it was mixed by Howard Willing, who in the past has worked with bands such as OK Go, Sheryl Crow and even The Smashing Pumpkins. You don’t get to work with big names and play with expensive equipment by sitting on your ass!
But production isn’t everything; this is definitely some of the band’s best work to date, and everything down to the title came from somewhere deep within. “We were actually having kind of a hard time coming up with a title. I first started writing when I was around 14, and at that time I was working my first job, this place that made platinum and gold record plaques. I got the inspiration from there, wrote it down in like—oh, geez, this sounds so lame—I had like a journal or a diary, and I wrote it down for my future self to use as a title somewhere down the line. It was just a dream at that time.”
“We were writing and working on this for a long time, testing new material out here and there on tour, gauging the audience reactions and reworking things; there were times when we spent hours picking apart one section of a song over and over till it was right. We practiced a lot, we’re still practicing a lot. We worked out a cover of ‘The Chain,’ originally by Fleetwood Mac, and people really seemed to enjoy it. We took on smaller projects along with what we’d been working on. We released 50 handmade and numbered copies of a limited EP, and we started selling handmade jewelry with our merch. We’ve really grown a lot in the past year.”
And indeed they have. The sound has come together and matured. Everything seems to be in perfect sync, with the new lineup. “We’re pretty obsessive about the way we write our songs; we write the way a germaphobe washes their hands. We put everything under a microscope. I still bring in the skeletons of songs, but as opposed to earlier work, where we didn’t really change much, now we try new versions, different styles… we spend more time on things and the end product benefits greatly. We take input from the whole band.”
In the background on the phone, I can hear keyboardist, violinist and vocalist Tory Daines saying, “Adam, you’re making us sound like math rock,” to which he laughs and quickly corrects himself.
“We are NOT math rock,” he says. “We are literature and sociology rock! Rock about how fucked up people are!”
And that may be so, but the current lineup functions like a well-oiled machine; it’s almost methodical and scientific, and definitely a step forward from the old lineup. The sound is tighter, the songs are smart and powerful. The baby birds flew the nest, lived life a little, and came home with ripped jeans and blisters on their fingers. “It sounds so cliché, but it’s the truth—we really stepped our game up. We dug a lot deeper. Also, we were vegetarians when the first EP came out. We aren’t anymore, and you can totally tell the difference,” he says jokingly.
And as for the future?
“Touring as always. We’ll be heading out this fall and winter, definitely. We have a few New Jersey shows coming up, probably some Internet stuff too. Most likely a music video, which is always exciting. We’re also thinking of doing, like, some private parties, where we’d invite fans and friends to come over and hang out and hear what we’re doing, see what we’re up to.”
Those Mockingbirds will play Bowery Electric on Oct. 19, Lulu’s in Brooklyn on Oct. 20, Cin-M-Art Space in NYC on Oct. 21 and Maxwell’s on Nov. 4. For more information, go to thosemockingbirds.com.