Discovery: Mean Creek
ABOVE: MEAN CREEK. IMAGE COURTESY OF KELLY DAVIDSON
While it goes against everything we believe in as music journalists—that stringing together a series of pivotal reference points for a young band is about as lazy as it gets—in the case of Mean Creek, their catch-all grocery list of inspiration goes a long way toward explaining why they’re the band most likely to break out of the fertile field of Boston rock this year. It’s meant as a testament to the vibrance of the four-piece, not a slight, when we say that there are echoes of everything from The Replacements to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Pixies, Buffalo Tom, The Talking Heads and Bruce Springsteen to be teased out of their just-released second record, Youth Companion, on Old Flame Records. Sorry to break the rules.
The highlight is first single “Young & Wild,” for which they recently released a charming, cinematic video. It’s a song that showcases the scintillating guitar and triumphant co-ed harmonizing that characterizes their sound. Guitarists and vocalist Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian come together here, and on songs like the harrowing “Shakey.” Its visceral power captures—or comes close to capturing, anyway—the raw catharsis of their live show, which has rightfully earned them multiple nods for “best band in Boston” in publications throughout the city for two years running. The transition from a scorched-earth like that to a more traditional indie rock hook-heavy shouter like “Do You Know?” sounds deceptively simple—but you try doing so many styles of rock this well all at the same time.
Speaking of breaking rules, we found ourselves stumbling across the band, including bassist Eric Wormwood and drummer Mikey Holland, on three separate occasions over a few days at last week’s CMJ Music Marathon. Typically that’s a week in which one wants to gorge on new music as varied as possible, but in the case of Mean Creek we made an exception.
Keene and Ounjian, who are set to begin a national tour supporting Counting Crows this week, explained their origins.
HOMETOWN: Boston, MA
GROWING UP TOGETHER: Chris Keene: Aurore and I grew up together in Watertown, MA. We were friends in high school. We met Mikey and Erik through playing in bands in Boston and stuff.
Aurore Ounjian: Chris used to play in a couple bands in high school, and I always went to his shows. I’d go support his shitty bands. Well, at the time I loved them, but listening back, it’s all very funny.
Keene: It was really avant-garde experiential, kind of stuff. No, actually just shitty pop-punk bands. Then I was sort of in a hardcore emo band. They were silly, I don’t know. I guess I took them seriously for some odd reason. Probably because it was all I had. I was a pretty big loser except for music.
PEOPLE SHOULD STOP THINKING BANDS ARE COOL: Ounjian: Chris just said he’s super cool. Honestly, I don’t even know what cool is, we’re certainly not it. We’re not “regular people,” but we’re not cool. I don’t know how to answer that. Those are some of my favorite artists, people who are ordinary in life and completely insane in their art, or are beautiful or talented in their art. That’s attractive to me as a human being, whether you’re in a band or not, whatever art you do, it’s always more attractive when it comes out in your art. Loser number two?
Keene: I totally agree; I don’t really know what cool is. Anti-cool is always what’s been cool to me. Someone that doesn’t try to be cool, they just are for whatever reason.
STARTING FRESH: Keene: I don’t think we had [our sound] figured out until the new record. Everything was trying to figure out who we were as a band. On the new one we worked on it a long time together and found our sound as a group. In a lot of ways, it’s like, when I look at our new record, what I would like it to do is wipe the slate clean. It feels like we’re a whole new band who totally developed our own sound we never had before. We were always striving for it, but we never got it until this record. Everything else we’ve done feels almost pointless.
VIDEOS AND PHOTO SHOOTS ARE HARD: Keene: We’ve made two videos over the past couple months. We’ve hated doing them in the past. These news ones we’ve loved both of them, they turned out great. We sort of went about them in a different way, the focus wasn’t on us playing or being in the video, it was more about the story. We don’t like being a part of the video, we’re pretty uncomfortable in situations like that.
Ounjian: That and press photos. It’s the fucking worst. We’re here to write songs and play them live. We’re not here to model. To have this one captured moment totally represent your band is ridiculous to me. It’s weird, for some reason. It’s the worst to act in a video.
YOUNG AND WILD: Keene: The whole idea for the “Young and Wild” video was Nick Curran’s, who directed it. The second he heard the song, he told me he thought of the idea. Originally it was supposed to be high-school-aged kids doing those mischievous things, drinking and stuff, but he decided he wanted to make it younger people, on the verge of being teenagers, and make it more childish and more innocent. He thought up the whole story of the video. I think it represents the message of the song perfectly so we were really happy with it. There’s lots of things in there, but the main thing is the experiences you have growing up and people there with you through that process, how that sticks with you through your whole life, how it shapes you to be the person you are. It’s about not losing sight of that the older you get, what was important to you growing up, not letting the realities of adulthood taint your worldview. That’s a big part of it, sort of the theme of the whole record.
EXPLAINING YOUR SONGS BEFORE YOU PLAY THEM LIVE: Keene: I talk about what the songs are about for the same reasons I write the song; it’s a cathartic, therapeutic thing. These are things I need to get off my chest and talk about. Doing that somehow helps me in some way. I don’t know. I hope that it helps people listening sort of connect with the songs more, the ideas being put forth. The song “Come On Before It’s Gone” is just sort of about, like, just having the courage to grab hold of moments when they’re happening and sort of live for today. People have a tendency to dwell on the past, or wait for tomorrow, but tomorrow may never come. All we really have is now if you think about it. I remember watching an interview with Springsteen, he was like, that’s what pop music did for him, the ever present now. For those three minutes of the song, you just felt alive. That’s sort of what the song is about.
Ounjian: Yeah right, for most of the songs I’m like, “Yeah, it’s about banging chicks.”
BECOMING ONE WITH YOUR BAND: Ounjian: Of course I like hearing what lyrics he’s written, and how they’re interpreted, but to be honest, it’s almost like we’re living this one life together because we’re constantly around each other. When you’re going for the same goal of playing music, making it like your life, I feel like we’re all living the same struggle, realizing certain things together. Okay, this is going to be ridiculous, but it’s like when a bunch of girls are living together and their cycles sink up. I swear we’re all on this same cycle, our bodies are on the same time, emotionally we’re all in synch. Most of the time, the lyrics Chris writes, it’s like I wrote them. I never thought I’d be talking about periods in an interview.
LEARNING FROM THE PROS: Keene: Adam Duritz saw us at CMJ two years ago. We just became friends and stayed friends, and eventually ended up going on tour together. Yeah, it was a huge—we learned a shitload from him doing that tour. I feel like we became a 10-times-better live band than we were even on that tour. We learned so much from it and watching them play and having that experience. We had played some big shows before, but not that big.
Ounjian: It’s weird, we should’ve been a lot more intimidated than we were, but for some reason, even if we’re playing to like 10 people, we always pretend we’re playing to 40,000. Playing to 10 is a lot harder than it is to thousands. When you hear someone burp in the middle of your set, it’s not the most comforting thing. We obviously were anxious and excited, if anything, it felt so right to play to all these people, because we’ve always wanted to do that.
INFLUENCES OLD AND NEW: Keene: Yeah all those [old bands mentioned above] are influences, but we like a lot of new bands as well, War On Drugs, Arcade Fire, Yuck, Delta Spirit. We try to do that as well, pay homage to all those old bands we love, while incorporating some of new sounds.
Ounjian: We’re not like this throwback band, but we’re not really a buzz band. We plan on doing this forever whether anyone gives a shit or not.
Keene: They don’t.
MEAN CREEK’S YOUTH COMPANION IS OUT NOW, AND THE BAND WILL PLAY ROSELAND BALLROOM WITH COUNTING CROWS TOMORROW, OCTOBER 25. FOR MORE, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.