he first time I spoke with singer-songwriter MICK McMAINS, it was the year 2006 and he was one part of the trip-hopped, politically charged musical hodge podge known as DJ MONKEY. It was the last two years of the BUSH-CHENEY years and who didn't want some sort of political resistance in their music? DJ MONEY had a sound that encompassed spoken word, hip hop, punk rock, jazz and passion for social justice a whole decade and a half before this SJW thing became a thing. It was five men in a recording studio but noticeable from a distance was the truth creative nucleus of the of the band - McMAINS and songwriter JOEY ALKES (famed for his work on THE PLIMSOULS' 1983 power pop hit A MILLION MILES AWAY).
12 years on, it's not so surprising to hear that McMAINS wasn't so-much the political one of the two songwriters but don't think for a moment that his Americana-tinged solo release AMERICAN SOUL has nothing to say. We're now a year and some change into the TRUMP years and while not overt, McMAINS' catalog of backporch, down-home love songs addresses the condition of a nation under that Orange One's presidency. "The record is called AMERICAN SOUL and on the cover is a picture of my grandparents and my great-grandparents." says McMAINS, in a recent phone conversation. "It's this old family picture that sits on my mantle and I ended up using it for the cover. My family has been here for frickin ever but not as long as the Native Americans. The american soul right now is really in a quandary. You've got the loudmouth, racist, hillbilly faction that are really noisy and people have to be reminded that most people of the white culture aren't like that. We don't hate anybody. We need everybody. Speaking as a musician, where would we be without frickin' black people. We wouldn't even have rock n roll. That whole racist thing has never been in my family. Not for hundreds of years. We're trying to remind people that we're not like those people. I don't know how else to say it nicely. That's the idea. These are positive songs about living the right way and having a good time without hurting anybody and being accepting. So there you go."
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AMERICAN SOUL is a celebration of all of the ups and downs that go along with love, romance and just plain living and helping McMAINS out on some of the gloriously crafted roots rockers (or is it country?) is his DJ MONKEY co-conspirator JOEY ALKES. This thirteen song opus includes two covers - the traditional SHENANDOAH featuring a a mesmerizing vocal performance by CHEYENNE JOLENE and a version of the JOHN DENVER classic TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS where McMAINS and company give the beloved standard some real kick, but McMAINS - the singer and songwriter - is the star here and such tracks as WOULD IF I COULD, DEVIL DON'T CARE and NEVER 2 LATE 4 LOVE demonstrate that in the acoustic tinged realm of alt-country/americana, McMAINS is an undisputed talent that stands out from the crowd.
ROCKWIRED had a chance to catch up with MICK MAINS regarding the album AMERICAN SOUL. Here is how the interview went?
It's been twelve years since I last spoke to you. That was when you were fully entrenched in working with DJ MONKEY. Now you've got this solo release and the sound couldn't be more different.
DJ MONKEY was a collaboration and this is the stuff that I do when I'm thinking about the stuff.
This new album AMERICAN SOUL is quite a revelation. It's something that is really quite unexpected. Now that it's out there for people to hear, how do you feel about the finished work?
Officially, the album isn't released yet however you can get it at my website. I don't know when we're going to pick a release date. I leave that up to JOEY (ALKES, manager). He's going to figure that stuff out. You can hear it on my site and the whole album is on YOUTUBE already. But I'm super stoked about the album. I love how it came out. The last solo album I made was GUITAR LOVE and on that album I played everything by myself exceot for the bass - which I kind of suck at - and the cello. This album - AMERICAN SOUL - is completely different. I brought in all of my friends and all of my favorite musician buddies and did multiple versions of the same songs just to see which one would pop out more. It was a great, fun thing to do. We recorded a whole mess of songs and JOEY picked out the ones that we ended up using on the record. But we've got more and JOEY helped me write a lot of them so he and I are both collaborating again but working on my own songs is way different from the whole DJ MONKEY thing. I was so pleased with it and how it came out. I was so excited to be a part of it because there was so much going on. I knew at the time that JOEY and I could also write straight ahead pop songs together, because he has done that with other people.
How is songwriting with JOEY ALKES different with this project as opposed to how it was when you two were with DJ MONKEY?
It's not different because it's still him and me and we're still hanging out together and we're still trying to not live normal lives. It's working on songs. We've just got a different mindset. Back when we were in DJ MONKEY together, there was so much going on. But there is a lot going on now. I'm older and I'm in a different place now. I've gotten married later in life for the second time to someone who is a really good match for me and I'm looking at life a lot differently now. I was never the political one in DJ MONKEY so much, although I did wirte the BIG OIL poem - maybe I shouldn't say that.
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You don't have to tell me. I remember how it all went down.
Other than that, DJ MONKEY was JOEY turning the torch for the political stuff and I was kind of guiding the music although those two duties would shift and overlap from time to time. That was a lot of fun. So we're still doing the same kind of thing. Even with the songs on this album that he didn't collaborate on, he still helped me shape and get them up to snuff. He's the associate producer on the record and he even took the pictures of me on the record even though I didn't give him a credit. I figure he's already associate producer and I'm not giving him another -
He doesn't need anymore credit.
It's like me. If you listen to the record, I play all of the guitars and the slide stuff and all of the little bits and pieces. I'm doing all of that but my name is on the front of the album and I'm not going to give myself credit for it. I'm just going ot give credit to the other players who are on the album.
So far, what kind of reactions have you been able to gauge with this album. I've already seen some reviews. Have there been any responses that have surprised you or that you didn't see coming?
I like the controversy over whether it's pop or if it's country. Like that really matters what genre it is. That's why we're calling it Americana because that doesn't mean anything other than it's got acoustic guitar, some dobro and some other indigenous American instruments like the banjo. I don't play it well, but I pulled it out for a couple of tunes. We just had a great time and I brought in a few people to help me out with some of the songs. JEFF MADDOCK is a really cool guy from New Zealand who is a producer and a guitar player. He's out here making music with various people and I coralled him into my studio to help me with a couple of songs. Then I got some great mixes from people like JIM SCOTT who has won multiple GRAMMYS for producing mixing and engineering. He worked on four of my songs on this album. That was all that I could nail him down for. There was a lot of collaborating going on on this record and because of that, I think the album is more alive.
And what inspired this set of songs on this album?
That's easy. After I met XIANG LI - this gal from Shanghai. I met her at a friends house - a buddy of mine who plays piano. I was introduced to her by his Chinese wife. I was head over heals right away but it took a little more convincing for her seeing as how I was this long haired mostly unemployed guitar player. I had to convince her of the charms of the life of a musician. It can be unpredictable but it can also be fun. And it has been. We got married about eight years ago and I started writing songs. Love songs. Something that Ive never written before. I've always tried to, but they were always imitations of other people's love songs. I got really inspired. It just came out in my art. Part of being with LI, I learned her work ethic. She is well-educated which I'm not and she works really hard so I fugured that I would really work on these songs and really try to make them as good as I can and worry about every frickin' line of every song instead of half writing a song and letting it go like I used to in my younger days. I've got a lot of half songs floating around out there but now I'm finishing them with JOEY's guidance and figuring out what makes sense and what doesn't. Maybe some of the songs were a little too hard rocking to go on this record. We wanted this album to have a down home back porch feel. Like a comfortable apple-pie-out-of-the-oven kind of feeling. I think we go it. I hope people like it. We'll have to see. But like you said, it's starting to get some spins on internet radio. If anyone picks it up because of that, that would be sweet.
And I've got to applaud you for making this release an LP in a time when the LP has become a dying art all becasue you've got people that want to download a song here or there for free.
Thank you! Back in the sixties it was all singles. Very few people bought LPs. You had to be really popular to sell an LP. But the seventies changed all of that and we got into LPs and that was kind of my era. I've got about a thousand records from the seventies. That has always stuck with me. I don't care what anyone else is doing. I'm going to do what I want to do, which is make records. To me, a record is a recording of songs in whatever format. Right now it's a CD. We'll have it up on iTUNES eventually.
You've even got a lyric sheet which I love!
Like I said. I worked really hard on these lyrics. Some of them are JOEY's and I'm proud of them. and I want people sing along to these tunes.
And describe the songwriting process for yourself. How do you go about it?
Writing is a solitary thing. I don't mind that. A part of me is a hermit and a part of me is the opposite. I'm a typical Gemini. I live in multiple worlds simultaneously. Take a song like UNDER THE SUN which is the last song on the record. I was in Shanghai where my wife is from and she still has an apartment there so we spent some time there. I went over there three times last year for a couple of weeks at a shot. I'm in the apartment and I've got a lot of time on my own. I had a guitar and there was nothing much to do. I could read a book or write a song because I don't understand what's on the tv over there. I wrote UNDER THE SUN because it was an escapist thing for me. I wanted to be anywhere besides being stuck in that room. That came out in a few days but other songs have taken years like NEVER TOO LATE FOR LOVE and I still dont think that I got it right but I got tired of working on it so I stopped. TIME WELL WASTED was a song that came out of a conversation I was having with someone. Each song is a little different and has it's own story.
And with the roll out for this album, are there any plans to do something like a small tour?
I hope so. Don't know yet. I'm ready to play and I'm ready to go anywhere so we're trying ot set that up right now. We've got a show coming up at Sierra Madre Folk Festival which is happeing on Cinco De Mayo. Thats all I've got onthe books right now, but we're ready to go.
And with this album, what's the big idea? What would you like for people to come away with after they've heard it?
That's an interesting question. Which might have an answer. The record is called AMERICAN SOUL and on the cover is a picture of my grandparents and my great-grandparents. It's this old family picture that sits on my mantle and I ended up using it for the cover. My family has been here for frickin ever but not as long as the Native Americans. The american soul right now is really in a quandary. You've got the loudmouth, racist, hillbilly faction that are really noisy and people have to be reminded that most people of the white culture aren't like that. We don't hate anybody. We need everybody. Speaking as a musician, where would we be without frickin' black people. We wouldn't even have rock n roll. That whole racist thing has never been in my family. Not for hundreds of years. We're trying to remind people that we're not like those people. I don't know how else to say it nicely. That's the idea. These are positive songs about living the right way and having a good time without hurting anybody and being accepting. So there you go.
And now that this album is behind you, what is next for you musically?
I've got a recording studio here in Temple City right outside of Los Angeles, and I'm working with lots of different songwriters. That's what I do is help other songwriters that don't have the ability to play instruments that well and don't have the gear that it takes to make a song into a recording. I've been helping other people in the neighborhood get their ideas onto tape. That keeps me kind of busy. Outside of that, I'm already thinking about the next record because this one is finished. I got a ton of tunes and I keep writing more. I can't help it. I've got time on my hands.
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