We recently sat down with Jesse from The Me Toos, a Pittsburgh-based band that describes their sound as “blues-based with rock and roll, garage, and punk influences.” We talked about new records, forming a sound, and the best payment they ever received.
Q) You released your latest album, Ghost Fly By, on April 29th. Tell me about that.
A) The album was put together over about a year or so. We recorded it at my house, and we did all the mixing, mastering, all that stuff. Doing it at my own space was nice because we could start and stop, regroup, start over a couple of times, all that. I was really happy with the way that everything turned out. It was a very good effort, I think.
Q) You had an album and two EPs that you released previously. Did you self-produce those as well?
A) For the first album we did, thatʻs a couple of years ago now, we went into the studio and we were very fresh… I don’t think we had our sound entirely together, and I didn’t know anything about production at all. It went okay, it was an experience. And then the second EP that we did, I recorded it but then I sent it out to someone else to get mixed. And again, still the sound wasn’t… the band wasn’t entirely solid yet. The last EP that we did, which we did last summer, I had researched a bunch of stuff, learned audio production, and we did that totally on our own. And that was the first time that the sound production was where I wanted it to be, but also the song structures were getting somewhere. And then this time around, we used some of the material we had from that EP, redid some stuff, wrote a bunch of new songs, and then put that all together. And this is definitely pushing it that much closer to where I think we should be.
Q) What was the reception like for that album (Ghost Fly By)?
A) Itʻs only been over a month, but the reviews that we’ve gotten so far have been great, which is really nice to see. The release show was a lot of fun, there were a lot of people there and they seemed to have a good time, which is all you can really ask for.
Q) You just posted on Facebook about a new recording project. Can you tell me about that?
A) Yeah, the idea is to do a split 7″ release with the band The Spectres. They’re two incredibly talented people, great musicians, really cool garage rock sound. I’m going to record it at my place, mix it all, and then we’re going to send it out to get mastered… that’s a whole other animal, vinyl stuff. But, yeah, I’ve actually already recorded everything, and it sounds… it’s going to be cool.
Q) Since you’ve learned so much about recording, is that something else you want to pursue?
A) Yeah, absolutely. Well, I guess I donʻt know know the logistics of getting into it, but it’s something to pursue, like the production end of it, and maybe branch out and record other bands too, which I think would be a lot of fun. This was my first experience doing it with another band and it was a blast. It was the ideal situation because they track everything live and there’s just the two of them, and they want stuff pretty simple and bare-bones, and it sounds great like that. So it was just a nice first step into something I want to pursue moving forward.
Q) The band was started in 2008, so you’ve been around for 9 years now. How would you say your sound has changed in that time?
A) Itʻs changed a lot. We went through quite a few drummers. Our very first drummer, who we had through that first release, had a sort of Americana sound… a lot trained beats, which was really cool, and we were having a lot of fun doing that, and then we cycled through a couple other temporary drummers until we met Kevin, who is our current drummer. His sensibilities have sort of moved us forward… he’s really into 90s music, 90s pop music, and his drumming is spectacular, very straightforward, faster than we had previously been, so that added a whole different energy. Plus he could sing, so that added another vocal layer, and heʻs very good at figuring out arrangements, which has been nice. So it added a different flavor. And Ben (the bass player) and I work very well collaboratively. I can have an idea for a song, and he’s very good at finishing it. So I think we’ve found a very nice collective.
Q) What’s your typical songwriting process?
A) I’ll typically have a bare-bones idea and I’ll record it on my phone and I’ll send it to them, super excited that it’s done <laugh>. And then we’ll have a rehearsal and I’ll say, “Hey, remember that song I sent you?” We’ll start playing it and by the end of rehearsal it’s a totally different song. I’ll usually have a main theme and a chord progression and they bring it all together and help with arranging it. And often times I’ll have one verse of the lyrics written, but then because the song typically ends up changing when they come on board with it, lyric ideas are a lot easier to come by.
Q) Whatʻs some advice you wish you had when you were starting out?
A) That’s a hard question, because it’s like a process, right? I think if I would have held off releasing the earlier stuff, and had been a bit more particular about that stuff… but then, I think that if we would have done that, I’m not sure if we would have ever pushed it forward, really. I hesitate to say that Iʻm embarrassed about the earlier stuff, because it’s not that, it’s just that we’ve moved forward from it.
Q) What are some upcoming shows you have?
A) We’re doing the Deutschtown Music Festival (Saturday, July 15th). We’re going to be at Maxʻs Allegheny Tavern at 10pm. That’s going to be fun, Deutschtown is always fun. I know that Old Game is also on that bill with us (at 8pm). I haven’t had a chance to see them yet, but I’ve listened to them a bunch since I found out and I’m excited to see them. And then we’re going to do RANT (Rock All Night Tour, in Lawrenceville September 1-3), but we haven’t heard back yet about scheduling, itʻs still in the early process. And that vinyl release that I was talking about, it’s September 23rd at James Street Gastropub. Iʻm really excited about that, I think it’s going to be cool.
Q) Do you play out of town at all?
A) We’ve gone to Erie once or twice. There have also been loose talks about doing a tour to State College and then to my hometown, Wilkes-Barre, go to Erie, maybe through Ohio, and then come back.
Q) Whatʻs the favorite show you’ve played?
A) Well, this is the last show we did, but our album release show probably stands out. I donʻt think itʻs just because it was the last one, but it was really a lot of fun. People seemed really into it, and a couple friends from my hometown showed up and I didn’t know they were coming. My folks showed up, I didn’t know they were coming. It was nice, it was a really good time.
Besides that, and I don’t remember any specifics for this… it was this show that we just got put on, but it was us and two ska bands, which we just don’t fit into at all, in any way, shape, or form. This was early on, and I didn’t even think to look into them, we were just asked and I said yeah. So, Club Cafe, the first band went on and they were playing all out ska, full horn section, and I thought, “Wow, they are going to hate us! This is not going to be good.” So we got on stage and the crowd was awesome. They were really nice to us and seemed to enjoy what we were doing, it was really positive. I think it was the most unexpected show.
Q) What are your feelings about the Pittsburgh music scene in general?
A) I think itʻs great. I think it has a lot of room to grow, but there’s a ton of really talented bands out there that play really good music. What else can you ask for, really? It is a drag when you work really hard to put together a show and it seems like you’re just shouting in the wind a little bit. But thatʻs just what it is. There definitely is a difference between like a New Orleans music scene, where the entire city is just built around music. It just happens to be a different culture here. But that being said, I think that we have a good space to grow our music scene.
Q) What would be a dream show for you to play?
A) That’s a good question. I would love to get on a show with Guided By Voices, but in a basement. Not at Mr. Smalls or anything, though that’d be awesome, but I feel like we belong in a very small space. Iʻm not sure we translate well to something bigger. So, yeah, that’d be awesome. That’s never going to happen <laugh>, but that would be an ideal situation.
Q) What are your favorite local venues?
A) I really like what Spirit is doing, how it’s almost like a split venue. You have the bar off to the side and then the stage, but it’s not split, so the people at the bar have to pay attention, so that’s cool. I really like Howlers, it’s nice to go to. Cattivo is a blast too. Those spots are cool. And James Street. The upstairs and the speakeasy. The speakeasy is great, it’s definitely like a speakeasy.
Q) What are some local bands you think people should check out?
A) Chrome Moses, I think theyʻre unusually talented, which is really nice. The Spectres, The Park Plan, LoFi Delphi. Theyʻre all offering something unique and they’re all different, and they all have their own voice and interpretation of how music should sound. And it’s always entertaining. I can see Chrome Moses a couple of times in not that long and I’m always blown away. And Vertigo-Go. They’re just so much fun. And their show is always different too.
Q) What local businesses or artists you think are doing good things?
A) I’m not terribly involved with the art scene, but I know Redfishbowl has live painting events. We actually played one on the south side, I donʻt remember the coffee shop, but it was awesome. There were lots of people there and they had a little performance space right in the window, people were just making paintings right there, which was really cool.
Q) What are your favorite local pizza places?
A) That is a contentious topic! It’s also hard for me because northeastern Pennsylvania does have a bit of snobbery when it comes to pizza. Fiori’s is pretty delicious. It’s close, it’s close… But Old Forge pizza. It’s great. You get a tray, it’s square pizza. They use, I don’t even know what kind of cheese it is, but it’s super sticky. And you will definitely hurt yourself before you’re finished because it’s so hot, but it’s definitely worth it.
Q) Where can people get your music?
A) Everywhere that music is available. You can order it through our Bandcamp page, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play… you could come to one of our shows and buy it from one of us, direct from the source. The new vinyl split will be only available at our shows for now, or a download on our Bandcamp page. Right now there’s no plan for a big release of it to a label or anything… it would be cool if that changed and we’ll definitely shop it around, but for now we’re just going to self-fund it, which is why we’re splitting it too.
Q) What are your future plans for after the split is out?
A) We pretty much have half of another album written, so we’re going to work on that. I also have come on to a really cool tape machine, like an eight-track Tascam cassette recorder, so I don’t know if this is going to work out, but I’d like to do mix tapes of other bands, like compilation albums on cassette. Record it on that, once I figure out how to use it <laugh>, and then have these albums that can be distributed. I don’t know how much of a market there would be, or if other bands would be interested in being a part of it, but I think it would be a fun experience.
Q) To finish it off, any good band stories?
A) Okay, sure. This is when we were in Erie, and we stayed at a friend’s house up there. It’s actually a town called North East, a really beautiful rural area. We played a show, it was a blast, and it wasn’t supposed to snow… but overnight, there was a lake effect snow. We had packed everything, all the gear, in Ben’s SUV, which he had just got. We were parked at the venue, which was a restaurant… and I should say, they paid us—and this is the best payment we’ve ever received—they paid us in prime rib and wine, which was great. So we had packed up all our stuff, and Ben couldnʻt see, because everything was stacked in the car. And he asked if he was clear behind us, and I don’t even think we even looked, but we were just like, “Yeah, you’re fine.” And he backed right into a pole with his new car. And I swear to god, when it hit the drums played this perfect *ba dum tss*.