Friday, April 20, 2012

Coffee and Conversation with Those Mockingbirds Frontman Adam Bird

Adam and I had been talking about getting together to talk about the band and music for some time. Those Mockingbirds had been pretty busy touring and getting ready to finally release the vinyl version of their EP 'Fa So La' via Star Beat Music. It was the first time in years I had been inspired and intrigued by a straight up Rock band and to be honest, it kind of weirded me out. Being that I had seen them a few times and spent many a day with the chorus and tasty riffs of  'Coast to Coast' as my personal sountrck. I knew that this meeting had to nailed down. So on a windy day I headed up to Fine Grinds in Little Falls to finally sit with the man who's music had quickly become part of my every day life. The result was over an hour of good, caffeine fueled conversation that helped me get to know both the band and Adam himself. I'm really glad I had the opportunity.
James Damion

James: My history with Those Mockingbirds only goes back to September of 2011 when I saw you for the first time at the Brick City Sound Riot festival. Can you fill in the blanks for me as far as how the band started and its evolution as to where you are today?

Adam: I had been writing some songs called up my friend who used to sing in Escape Engine and asked if he could play bass. I even called my ex girlfriends current boyfriend to play guitar because I knew he had been playing and wanted to start his first band. I wasn't really serious about starting a band. I just had some songs and wanted a band to be playing them. I wanted to take the band seriously but I just wasn't at the time. It was a strange situation. I knew I wanted to have a keyboardist in the band so I called everyone looking for someone with real piano ability. The thing is that being in New Jersey you'll notice that there's an endless list of trend bands. Everybody wants to play in a trend band. At the time the trend was having a keyboard with these single note runs and nothing else. That's what the keyboardist does. Either I couldn't find anyone or the ones I did find we so far on the other side of the spectrum that they didn't want to play in a band.

I decided to call Tory who I had just known randomly over the years. We weren't friends so to say, I just knew that girl Tory. She was going to music school so I asked her if she had any friends who played the piano. She replies "Actually, I play piano." I thought she only played violin but she tells me she's also playing piano now. "Cool, come on down to our practice."
So she comes down and she knows like two God damned chords. Something she had failed to let us in on before we invited her. So she tells me she's taking this "Piano101" course as a requirement and can basically do the bare bones shit on the piano. Wait, I'm not done. So she also brought her violin with her. She pulls it out and says, "Hey, look what else I can do!", "Oh, and I can sing too.".It was crazy. So basically it comes down to the fact that she really sucks on piano but she's really great on the violin. Here I am thinking to myself, "I don't want a fucking violin in the band." We're going to be the band with a fucking violin. Ultimately we practiced with her a second time and the focus of that practice was that she had to, had to play this one song on the piano or we weren't interested. Lucky for us she was able to do it so… she was in the band. In the beginning I had this fear that she was going to end up in the band and just be playing the violin and that really scared me. After Tory joined everything started to come together.

We put out an EP out with that first lineup and went on tour with it. We had the record distributed by Side Show Records and it was just a cool start for us. It was the way you'd want your band to start out. The EP debuted at #1 on the Amazon "Movers and Shakers" chart. It got us a lot of press early on.

After that we started to write new songs and were talking about putting out a single but the other guys in the band just weren't carrying their weight at all. They had mentally checked out. They just didn't like how serious things had gotten. One night after we had rehearsed I sat down and asked what was going on. I couldn't carry the band myself. I wanted them to be excited about the band. Before long, with the exception of Tory, they were all gone. It was a scary moment but I looked at it as a great opportunity because the casual nature in which the band started turned Those Mockingbirds into some that was too loosely patched together.

So we got Rob and that turned everything around for this band musically,  professionally and business wise. He taught us about making decisions that were smart for the band on a long term instead of making decisions on impulse. To many bands today just say yes to everything. They'll play any show at the drop of a dime. When we stopped doing that we really noticed our band was drawing more and building an audience in New Jersey.
The big sold out show we did at Maxwells last month is a good example of that.
That show was a great success  because we've decided to pick and choose what's best for the band.  That was just an example to the kind of mindset that Rob brings to the band.
Our current drummer Kevin is a rock solid musician. I really can't say enough about him.
He's had a tremendous part in shaping this band. If Kevin had never joined the band I don't think we would be able to as accomplish nearly as much as we have as a band.

James: Tell me about the new single you're debuting. What inspired it? Is it part of a new record the band's working on?

Adam: The new song is called "The Difference Between Love + Addiction" its about the deterioration of 2 relationships in my life that were happening at the same time, but for different reasons. One ended for reasons based in love and respect, the other ended because it felt like an addiction and wasnt good for either party to be involved anymore.
We wrote the song when we were recording 'Fa Sol La', our most recent EP, but didnt finish it in time to include it on the record. We ended up playing the song live for the last few months, even performing it on Fearless Music. When we started talking about making the next record, which we are working on now, we found ourselves wanting to put something out before heading into the studio. "TDBL+A" felt like the right choice because it is the orphan in our catalogue. It wasnt written within a group of songs, it appeared live as the only "new" song we did for awhile, and it just felt right that it should be released into the world on its own as well instead of tacked onto a release with a group of songs it has nothing in common with. It's a loner and we hope it prospers as such.

James: How has being a part of the Tiny Giants Artist Collective and networking with other bands and artists helped Those Mockingbirds and of course, you personally?

Adam: Tiny Giants has been helping with all of that in the sense that it’s been giving me the chance to talk to other bands about what their struggles are and what they’re going through as well. Those struggles are such a big part of being in a band. It’s a lot like being in a relationship. 
When you’re in that relationship and you’re having problems you need to talk to friends about it. If you don’t talk about it, that relationship is doomed to fail. When you don’t talk about the issues you have you tend to feel very isolated and those problems tend to snowball. I feel that bands never talk about these issues they may be feeling. It’s the nature of the beast. Musicians might want to be private about their bands. Being able to talk to other bands and realizing that a lot of them about what they’re feeling is incredible. That communication goes a long way. In the least it makes you feel that you’re not so isolated in what you’re experiencing.

James: With all the genre and sub genre overkill music has experienced for what seems like decades. Pure Rock Music seems to have gotten lost or buried  somewhere on the side of the road that is musics landscape. What was it that inspired you to start a band that was unapologetically ROCK?

Adam: It was a natural thing for me. Growing up, the first band I liked was Aerosmith. From there I moved to Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Green Day. 
Throughout my entire music education I always turned on to the bands that hooked me. Not until recently did I realize it but it was always the hooks. It’s not like I was shopping for NSYNC cd’s but I always appreciated the hooks in a good, classic pop song. I loved Fleetwood Mac and I loved 
The Bee Gees and certain ABBA song. I even loved Ace of Bass to a certain degree. I may have looked like a kid who listened to nothing but Nirvana but bands like the ones I mentioned had those hooks that I initially fell for.
The modern rock stations give you only one aspect of modern rock. They  have a whole bunch on 
Nu Metal. My favorite bands have always been ones that hadn’t been defined by genre. 
They’ve always been genre-bending bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, 
White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. They put songs first. They added hooks and built a song around them. When I started playing in bands it seemed that every kid in Jersey was into Emo, Hardcore or Pop Punk. I wanted to like it because my friends were so into it but it was fucking stupid to me. I tried really tried like to like it. I love The Get Up Kids and a few Thursday songs but for the most part it was a pretty forgetful time for me musically. I found that I was still listening to the Foo Fighters and I was still listening to the Smashing Pumpkins “Melancholy and the infinite sadness”. Then I got into Soundgarden and The Melvins.  I wanted more of it instead of changing gears to some other branch of the tree I wasn’t interested in. I started writing music in the sense of wanted to see where that early nineties rock sound could have gone. It could have gone the way of bands like Nickleback but for me that was the impotent version of what it might be. 
I wanted Those Mockingbirds to sound like a direct line or branch of the tree that created that.

James: I guess I'm a bit of an Independent music snob so it's not everyday that I cover a band like 
Those Mockingbirds. You're one of a handful of bands I've heard lately that I can see getting a lot of attention from major labels. As someone who has always run with the "Corporate Rock Sucks" crowd, I wanted to know how you feel about signing to a major. Say, surviving as an Independent (hard work, no real money) VS surviving on a Major (harder work, making money for someone else).

Adam: It’s complicated because when it comes down to it, the band isn’t something that’s inaccessible. Know that, why wouldn’t we want the whole world to hear us? Any artist who says they don’t want the whole world to accept and appreciate what they’re creating is a fucking liar. If I told you something you wrote was going to be passed around to every one on the planet you’d be ecstatic. When you create art you’re doing it for yourself but you’re also doing it because you want to connect with other people.

There are definitely pitfalls with any label you sign with and the bigger the label the deeper the pitfall. But I understand what our band is doing and 
Matador Records is not going to sign us. We write Pop songs. The majority of what we write are Pop songs. Even our song “The Bloodiest of Gums” is a Pop song. There are a lot of labels out there that don’t mind if we write Pop songs. That’s what I write. It may be the bare bones of what it is. They’re Rock & Roll songs but I know there are a lot of labels out there that wouldn’t give us the time of day because of that. We’ve just got too many hooks in our songs. We’re the kind of band that has to be open to major labels because our options are a little more limited. There’s an entire network in place that are signing bands that are out of key and are playing Punk and dissonant stuff. It’s a juggernaut that’s been around since the 80’s and it’s awesome. It’s created some amazing bands, but it’s not for us. We love the music just as much but decided we heard stronger melodies in our heads and wanted to put something different out there. It just seems the window is a little more closed for us.

I honestly can’t think of a single indie label that has a roster of bands that sound like us. It’s almost to the point that we would almost have to consider a major label. Because if all I ever want to do is play music for the rest of my life. That may be my only shot at it. Saying no to a major label just because I want to be respectful to the indie community would almost be insane for me because there likely wouldn’t be any other option. With that said, I’d have to say I’m one of those people who’s goal is to leave the biggest fucking mark on the tree as possible. With every song that’s written and every extra ear that hears it. I’m scraping a little deeper into that tree and marking my place in history.
I feel that most art is basically recycled versions of what came before.

James: The way we make and share music is forever changing. Here you are a musician who's been around long enough to experience those changes as they were happening. 
What are some of your thoughts and how have you adjusted to the way things are being done?

Adam: It was frustrating for me at first. People in my age group (twenties to mid twenties) 
The Internet didn’t play as much of a role when we were first coming up and starting bands. 
There was a set path that we had seen for generations. Then as soon as were getting ready to put out our first records, everything collapsed. We had to figure out how to do things an entirely different way.

James: You've spent a lot of time touring and away from home. 
What do you think are some of the keys to surviving on the road? 
Getting paid, keeping your sanity in between shows and staying physically healthy.

Adam: The best way to make sure you get paid or at least insure the chances you will is to make sure you book with a promoter that supports touring acts. If they are you’ll know they’re going to do their best to pay you. It’s also to your benefit to take care of those things ahead of time. 
Don’t show up the day of and tell the promoter “Oh, now we need gas money”.  Get a confirmation. Get it in writing or through an email and know that at the very least they’re going to take care of you at the door. So if there’s an issue two months down the road you can print that email and show them. Money is the last thing people want to talk about. No one wants to talk about money.

On the subject of physical health, Forget it, you’re going to get sick. Everybody gets sick on the road, end of story. Think about it, you’re on the road, you’re eating shit, there’s absolutely nothing I can offer as to how to stay healthy physically on the road.

Maybe I’m weird but when I go on the road I feel healthier mentally. I’m not surrounded by the daily bullshit of my everyday. Over time you start to miss everyone you love but that’s about it. 
I always bring a few books out with me. I try reading and meeting as many people as I possibly can whatever show we happen to be at. Have conversations about the area and learn about the town or city you’re in. Those are natural things to do that later on when you’re in your 70’s you could be that crazy Grandfather that happens to know everything about every city on the East Coast. 
That’s how you find people like that. It’s because they didn’t have phones or ipods attached to their ears everywhere they went. I have this opportunity to be visiting all these little cities all of the time and really experiencing them on a regular basis.

James: When you're starting out and you're on tour. Most of the people who come to the shows are there to see the other bands and probably never even hears of Those Mockingbirds. 
Is there anything you do to engage the crowd or grab their attention? How do you go about leaving your mark on the crowd?

Adam: For me it’s all about breaking down the walls of communication between the band and the audience. Letting them know that we’re not pretentious. You’ve seen the way I conduct myself when I’m playing a show. 
I try to take little aspects from what I’ve seen work. There’s a lot of talking and being funny involved. A lot of getting to the crowd, if that means throwing myself to the floor, so be it. 
If it works for the World Wrestling Federation then why not. The best way I can out it is; you have to sell the song as much as you possibly can. We played this one show in Atlantic City that had these open windows at the side of the stage that went into the other room where the bar was. During the break in “We’re Animals” 
I climbed through one of the windows to the other side by the bar while still playing my guitar. Everybody fucking loved it all eyes were on me but when I climbed back I got stuck. I couldn’t fucking get back to Mike. So for the rest of the song and the rest of the set Rob and Tori had to sing. As funny and embarrassing that was… it worked. Everyone remembered that. So anyone who was there that night is going to remember that set. Even if it was that one incident, we still stood out to them. We weren’t just some random Rock band who played our songs and left.

We were playing a show in Scranton the other day and there was this girl was up front, center stage on her cell phone and her Facebook for the entire show. Didn’t look up once.  If you want to be on Facebook, fine. Go fucking home. Why are you even here? I’m realistic though. It’s cool if you get a call or shoot a text. I check my FB during the day, but I don’t sit there on it all day. 
Check your messages later. Not when the band is playing. This girl paid to get in to the show. 
Why is she sitting there on her Facebook? On most occasions, if a crowd is unresponsive at first I can connect with them if I try hard enough. This girl was open to that.

James: As artists we can't be on the stage 24/7. We can't always be writing that song or coming up with that killer riff. As a photographer and writer I often have a very hard time dealing with myself and the people around me when I'm not being creative. How do you deal with the down time?

Adam: I try to talk about whatever issues I’m having. Talking about the things that are bothering me with the people I trust. The only way I know how to get past it is to let that thought process take itself to an extreme and as you start to dig that hole deeper and deeper I start to realize where things are going. That alone can help calm me down. I wish there was a set way to deal with things but that’s how I deal with it. I might force myself to work on a song or just distract myself with something completely unrelated. It’s really fucking tough and I wish I had a better answer as to how I deal with it.

James: I've been to a few Those Mockingbirds shows now and to be honest a lot of the focus on the band is directed towards you and Tori. You being the frontman and Tori being this goddess behind the keyboards or rocking out on an instrument that isn't exactly prominent at Rock & Roll shows. 
Tell me a little about the personalities and the chemistry in the band.

Adam: Rob is very much our patriarch. While I may be the emotional leader of the he band, he’s by far the brains. Our drummer Kevin is probably the most levelheaded in the band. 
If he feels something’s wrong in the band, it probably is. If he thinks it’s a good idea we’ll usually go with it. He’s the no nonsense guy in the band who when he speaks up he really has something to say. His opinion holds a lot of weight and he’s really earned that. 
Our guitarist John is in a sense our comic relief guy. When John and I are together our IQ’s drop drastically. He and I have the dumbest sense of humor. Toilet humor is classy compared to what we come up with. He also happens to contribute a ton of that
Rock & Roll approach to the band. He loves bands like At the Drive Inn and the Mars Volta. 
He comes from a slightly different spot than the rest of us in the band. He’s really well rounded when it comes to what he’s into. John’s the go to guy when it comes to bringing those edgy elements into the band. Where as Kevin and me pretty much listen to all the same influences. Tori is everybody’s little sister in the band. We pick on her pretty badly.

James: I’ve only known you for s short time but I think its safe to say that you’re a fucking character. How do you think people see you?

Adam: I think when people don’t really know me they consider me to be a dick. As soon as they get to know me they’ll know me for the rest of their life. Throughout my entire life people have always said they were intimidated when they met me. Not that I was intimidating in a physical way. 
They somehow felt I had this threatening nature about me. 

James: That’s how I felt.

Adam: I’ve heard it my entire life and I never understood it. Anyone that’s gotten past that and became my friend never felt that way again. They saw me, as I am, this loyal, funny dude.
It’s made me go a really long way to be very blunt with positive things from the very start. I will go a very long way to break down certain social barriers that certain people aren’t ready to deal with.  The other day I got together with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a year or two. We were sitting there and she asked me “Why did you call me anyway?” It made me think that anytime I meet somebody that reminds me of someone from my past I’ll immediately make it a point to reach out to that person. I guess I still haven’t really figured out the connection between who I really am and who people think I am; but I’m getting there. The more I’m understanding that. The more I’m putting it to my use.

James: That leads to my follow up and final question. How do you see yourself?

Adam: I’m hyper aware of coming across the wrong way. I think I purposely cut through a lot of formalities with people. It works for some and for others it doesn’t. I know that I’m not out to hurt anybody. I’m a really levelheaded person. I have a pretty big fucking mouth and I’m very opinionated but as opinionated as I am. I’m also one of the most open-minded people you’ll ever meet. I’ve been swayed on many issues I thought I was right about because I was willing to listen. That’s something that I have a hard time balancing. Balancing the idea that I always think I’m right with the fact that I might not always be right. I’m brash, confrontational and opinionated but I don’t see those things as negative characteristics. I’m just willing to speak up. People who are willing to listen and at least give me the time to see that I’m not an asshole; That I’m actually basing the things I say on intelligence will probably end up being friends for a very long time. A good example of that is that I’m close friends with any girl I’ve ever dated. Everyone I know thinks that’s the weirdest thing in the world. It’s because I’m willing to meet in the middle ground with just about anybody in order to make a relationship work. Be it friendship or what have you. That sums me up.

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