Rising from the ashes of the Mike Middleton Band, Madison Street Station calls the new formation a better version of the previous band. The quartet has been hard at work recording, booking gigs, and arguing over each others’ musical tastes. Though it may seem like a conflict of interest, they always make it work.
Bassist Spencer Herbert, lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Middleton and guitarist/vocalist Chase Paul (the drummer, Jason Johnston was playing with another band) sat down with Pop ‘stache to talk about their favorite and worst gigs, musical inspirations, which vary depending on the member you ask, and the reason why they continue their creation of what Herbert describes as “fuck rock.”
Mike Middleton: I had a band breakup a million years ago and directly following it, I had to come up with a rebound band really fast, because I needed to play. So, I got these guys together. We rehearsed for a month and played one show, and in the middle of that rehearsal, we didn’t figure out a band name and my dad came up one day and said ‘Hey, I had a dream that you guys were trying to come up with a band name, and it was Madison Street Station.’ I actually felt bad that nobody said, ‘no, I still want to be in a band named after you, Mike.’
Chase Paul: On a much more serious note too, it kind of takes it away from it just being perceived as one person doing everything, and it makes it more of a team collective kind of thing.
P’s: What do you guys label yourselves?
CP: That’s usually the toughest question. It’s indie pop-rock.
MM: We got good hooks, we do some melodies.
SH: It’s fuck rock.
P’s: It seems as though Madison Street Station picked up where the Mike Middleton Band left off. Why did MMB cease to exist?
MM: The format changed. We were playing as an acoustic duo and Spencer had played bass on a couple shows with us, but when Spencer and then Jason came on, we started to sculpt this new rock band sound and decided to slash over half the material we had because we weren’t going to force it into this new thing. We wanted to have a fresh start. It gave us balls.
SH: I like balls.
P’s: So essentially MSS is a new and improved version of MMB?
CP: Yeah. The things that Mike and I did that we thought were our strong suits, we continue to do. We still focus pretty hard on making sure that our vocal melodies are tight. Harmonies are really tight and we kind of took that and tried to just build that into a bigger and better sounding project.
MM: We really focus on trying to have a good, strong focus. The writing should never be easy.
CP: I think the foundation is still the same. I think most people, especially people our age, grow up listening to whatever their parents had around the house, and then your musical tastes kind of develop from there.
MM: In the Mike Middleton Band, what we were using was so one dimensional. We were only two acoustics and two vocal parts. So, our influences really challenged us to figure out, okay, where are we going to write all these different parts in? The influences really come into how our different songwriting clashes. All the time, Chase and I will mention a band that we’re into and the other person really hates that band. It’s kind of like that across the board.
SH: We all hate each other’s music.
P’s: What have you guys been listening to?
CP: I just listened to the new Johnny Marr album today and that’s kind of cool. It’s weird to hear him a little bit older and more mature and still pushing the limits in terms of ambient music. It’s a little bit more evolved than The Smiths.
SH: I just picked up the Sound City compilation with Dave Grohl and Stevie Nicks and all these artists who were working at Sound City. It’s like a compilation of new material, and they’re all going through the old setup of all these historic rock albums. It’s really cool. It’s kind of surprising to hear Stevie Nicks singing something other than Fleetwood Mac.
MM: New Atoms For Peace is pretty cool. I really like that. It’s a lot more fun than that weird short release they did a couple years ago.
MM: There’s a lot of different ways you can record. What we did was, we laid down a scratch track, which is basically me and Chase singing and playing guitar. Then we build everything from the ground up. Jason will listen to us just kind of humming the melody in his headphones, and he’ll play the drum part. Then, Spencer will record his bass to the drum part and then we start layering guitars. Then we go back and put effects on things and then just share my beautiful voice with the world.
SH: I would say that, versus if you’re just starting as a band and if you’re struggling with songwriting, an important lesson I learned with making mistakes, whether it’s a mistake or not, is that you acknowledge that there are no mistakes when you’re playing music. It’s just things you didn’t mean to play, and that mistake can be repeated in a pattern and it becomes a part and that’s the beauty of playing music.
Some of the worst things that you play at first become your best idea.
P’s: How was it playing at the Hard Rock Cafe in comparison to a place like Reggie’s or the Metro?
MM: You know those venues where there’s dinner seating across the whole place and then when they switch to band stuff, they move the dance floor tables? There’s still seating on the side, and that’s not weird, but they don’t move the tables. It’s not conducive for crowd flow, and the lighting situation made it very weird, but the sound there is incredible.
SH: I think it’s more important for us at this stage right now to play rooms that have a better feel not, necessarily a name.
CP: Playing smaller, more intimate rooms makes you feel like you have a closer connection with the people that are there because at this stage in the game you can’t take for granted the people that are there to see you. So you have to make sure that there’s a connection there between you and the audience and it makes it a lot easier in these smaller, kind of tight-knit clubs.
P’s: On that note, what’s your best live gig experience?
CP: Well, I think, going back to Mike Middleton Band days, Mike and I played a couple shows in the basement of the Double Door in the dirt room, and it’s like really dimly lit. They put up Christmas lights behind the stage with this red velvet curtain and there’s just like two or three can lights in the front of the stage, and I say stage, but it’s really on the same level as everybody else, and it’s really cool. When you start playing, you can tell that everybody’s locked in and paying attention. For those 45 minute sets, you really feel like everybody’s in that moment together and it’s really cool.
MM: We had one show at the Cubby Bear where we were an acoustic opener for a night of bands, and we got there and they told us that our set wasn’t a half hour, it was an hour and we were going on like 30 minutes before we were supposed to go on and nobody said that to us, but we’d already played together for like two years and tackled shit.
P’s: How hard is it to book shows and how stressful can it be?
CP: It’s easy to book shows, but it’s tough to book the right shows and handle it correctly. Correctly is kind of an ambiguous word. It depends on the kind of music you’re doing, the rooms your playing, the nights of the week and the pressure situation. It’s tough to book shows that benefit the band as much as it benefits the venue.
MM: There’s a lot of things to look out for. You don’t want to over-saturate. If you do a show every four weeks, your draw depletes.
P’s: What’s the ultimate goal of Madison Street Station? I know you guys said earlier you want to have fun.
CP: I want to be able to support myself playing music, because there aren’t a whole lot of things that I’m this passionate about. It’s basically just music and football, and I’m not going to be an NFL player, so I’m not going to play football, so music is kind of the path for me. I’m not as inspired to do other things. It’s kind of my default that this has to be how I make a living.
Madison Street Station will play at Cubby Bear on Friday, March 22 at 9 p.m.