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Make Do and Mend Have Been Quietly Working on a New Album and Surprise, Here’s the First Song

Interviews

By Mischa Pearlman

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You probably didn’t know it, but Make Do and Mend have a new album on the way. No, they’re not going into the studio—they’ve been in the studio already. They’ve made the damn thing. It’s called Don’t Be Long, it’s great, and it’ll be out sooner than you think. Musically and conceptually, it’s the culmination of everything the once Boston-based band has been through since forming almost a decade ago. It’s coming out on Stay Close, which is an imprint of Rise Records that the four-piece—singer/guitarist James Carroll, his brother Matt on drums, bassist Luke Schwartz, and lead guitarist Mike O’Toole—have set up themselves and which sees the post-hardcore four-piece returning to their roots. That, as James and Matt explain, means once again making music purely for the fun and the joy of it, and cutting out all the other crap.

Noisey: These days, most bands start making noise about being in the studio as soon as they get there, but you kept this very quiet. Why the stealth approach?
James Carroll:
That’s exactly what we were going for, and hopefully it catches people by surprise. There’s really no firm reason why we decided to be so low key about it, but a real drive behind making the record was that we spent so many years following this formula for what you do when you record an album. You know—you record a record and somebody has to bring a video camera into the studio so you can be shooting all kinds of cool little outtakes so when you announce the record three, four, five months later you’ve got all this ammo to show you’ve been doing all these cool little things to really get people excited and I don’t know know… our true love is writing music and releasing that music and getting to play shows, and—at least for me personally—all that other stuff has always just felt like filler, like details, and I’ve never had much patience for it. This was a record that we made not because we had to, not because people were expecting a new record from us, but really just because the songs were there and we felt very strongly about them and we all wanted to make another record together so that’s what we did. So I think in the spirit of the record not really being made within the confines of the rat race of what’s come to be recognized as DIY and the scene of music we exist in, and making it in that spirit of trying to be separate from that, I think we decided to say, “Hey, listen, no bullshit, no little filler—we made a record, here it is, it’s coming out pretty soon, check it out.”

People do have very short attention spans these days. Was doing it this way a reaction to that?
James:
Absolutely. People’s synapses are firing at a million miles a minute, 18 hours a day and I catch myself doing it. I’ll be sitting on the couch and I’ll be putzing around on my phone doing whatever, and I go into the kitchen and I feel for my pocket to see if I have my phone with me and it’s just like, “Dude! Take three seconds away from being on your phone.” People’s brains are so trained to have sensations fed to them all hours of the day, and I think the music business has sort of catered to that, because in a certain sense you have to. If you’re not making yourself immediately available and in people’s faces, then there’s a million other things for them to pay attention to that aren’t you, and I think that popular music has perpetuated that a lot by saying “Oh man, we don’t want to get forgotten about. We don’t want to get overlooked, so we need to be constantly churning and churning and churning to stay in people’s faces.” And it’s just like a kid who has temper tantrums and you see their parents going, “Oh my god, we don’t want our kid to cry, we don’t want our kid to make a scene, so here’s this, here’s that,” like, “Whatever you want, we’ll give it to you, just please don’t forget about us.” And we didn’t want to do it anymore. We’re not going to play to the constant media being shoved in your face. It’s sort of a take it or leave it kind of a deal.”

What difference do you think you can make by not subscribing to it? Or is it purely for your own health and sanity?
Matt:
It all depends on what type of person you are and what you want to do, not only with music and your band, but with life. I feel like a lot of guys in bands are fine with doing that—let’s 24 hours a day/7 days a week be putting the effort in for this machine. I don’t know. James, you can take over?

James: I think what you’re asking is if this a concerted effort to sit around and go “Fuck the system—we’re going to turn it on its ear!” It really wasn’t. This is just what we wanted to do. It was very much a personal choice. We’re not trying to make waves. We’re adults with jobs and a lot of other things going on—I don’t have interest in pandering to that 24-hour machine. So it wasn’t a conscious thing, but I do think it’s an important thing.

Let’s talk about Don’t Be Long. When did you record it and who with?
Matt:
We recorded it in August and we did it in two different studios. We did the drums and the bass in Connecticut with a good friend of ours whose name is Nick Bellmore. He has a studio called Dexters Lab and he did our entire Bodies Of Water record and did the drums on End Measured Mile. So he’s been a friend forever, and he actually recorded James, Mike and I’s first band. We literally found him on a message board at our local venue when we were like 15 years old. If you were to tell us today that he would still be recording our music—or that we would even still be playing music—I would have told you you’re fucking insane. But no, we connected with Nick early on and have always kind of leaned on him with our music, and trusted his judgement and ear, so we decided to go back and record with him, which was really, really important to us. And then we did the rest of the record with another good friend of ours, Jay Maas. He has a studio up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and he also recorded a good chunk of End Measured Mile. We love those two guys dearly as people, and as producers and engineers, and we just felt, where we were in life and with the band, these were the two guys we wanted to spend our time with. And it was far and away the most stress-free, positive, and fun recording process we’ve ever had. It was just perfect.

I was going to say, to my ear, it sounds like you’ve gone back towards Bodies Of Water and End Measured Mile. It’s more brutal and raw and exposed than Everything You Ever Loved.
Matt:
James and I have had this conversation before, but something I love about music—not only listening to it, but creating it—is every song tells a story. It doesn’t even have to be in the lyrics. Every song, every record, if it’s genuine, tells a story of where whoever wrote the songs were in life at that specific time. With this record, it was very unique for us, because at one point we all lived in the same city and, especially for Everything You Ever Loved, we really killed ourselves over that record. We practiced and wrote every single day for months. I wouldn’t change it—it made me a better songwriter and a better musician and I loved it—but this album was very different. We went from all living in the same city to literally all living in different cities. James moved to New Hampshire, Mike was in New York, Luke was in Detroit, and I was in Austin, Texas. So we were all individually writing and sending ideas around, but we only really got together to play like three times, if that. So those were the only times we played the songs together before we hit the studio. And that, to me, makes this record really special because it’s completely different to all of our other records in the way we created it.

And it’s good to keep these things fresh. You’ve been a band for eight, nine years, so it must get tiring at times, especially when you have jobs beyond the band.
James:
I don’t know. Certain aspects do get tiring, but the only time I’ve really ever felt tired doing the band is when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and nothing’s really catching. And that doesn’t mean we got tired of touring and people not really paying attention—there’s no real qualifier there as to what that means—but the only thing that ever really gets tiring is when you feel like you’re putting in more than you’re getting back. And it’s not even that we expect a reciprocity there, but it’s just like anything else, and that’s the only time you really feel it grind on you. But like you said, we started the band in 2005. We didn’t really get our shit together and put out a demo until early 2006, but this coming year we’ll have been going at it going on ten years, which to me is super cool, and there are very few times when I’ve been “Fuck this.” It’s always just felt good and if it hasn’t, we’ve figured it out. That’s what really attributed to us slowing things down a bit and taking our hat out of the ring for a little over a year. We were spinning our wheels and nothing was really catching. We really started to lose faith and lose track and I feel really fortunate that we caught ourselves and we took a step back and said ‘Hey, we’re not happy with ourselves or each other, let’s take a breather to reflect before we fucking run this thing that we love into the ground.

How has your life changed since you signed to Rise? Are you still happy?
James:
We’re definitely still very happy. We signed to Rise because the dudes that ran that label when we decided we wanted to make the jump to a label with a bit of a larger profile, they were the dudes that were the most genuine. It all felt good and it all felt right and it still very much does. I know [from social media] that some people think Rise harmed us in some way, that they somehow hurt us, and that we would let the opinion or perception of what the label that we are on is influence the music that we make, both of which are completely off-base. It literally couldn’t be farther from the case. I’d say it’s a rarity where the fact that a band signs to a bigger label completely steers where they go musically and vibe-wise.

Listening to this record, it seems slightly less introspective and more outward-looking.
Matt:
The album on the whole is about having something in your life—whether it’s a person, whether it’s a thing—and in my life, since I guess I’m the one writing the lyrics, I have the band, which is something that I love enduringly and unbelieving, and then I have my significant other, who I feel equally as enthusiastic about, and the record on the whole is having something that you love that you put so much work into—all day, every day, it’s on your mind and you’re really giving it your all, and sometimes you don’t feel as though the gears are moving. So the gears are spinning but nothing seems to catch. That’s the underlying or over-arcing theme throughout the course of the songs and this time, uniquely to any other record we’ve ever written, this is the first time where I really… I never want lyrics to be ambiguous or vague. Every single song and every single word has a very, very specific meaning to me as I write them. I’m fine with people taking it and molding it to their own situations, but everything means something very specific to me and this is the first time where I really wanted to make sure you could listen to the songs and go, “Is he talking about the band? He could be. Is he talking about his girlfriend? He could be. Is he talking about his dog? He could be.” Everything can work for a multitude of different outlooks.

Musically, too, “Begging For The Sun To Go Down” is quite an expansive and different way to end the album. Is this a hint that something different is going to come next time?
James:
I guess the short answer would be no. That song is really special to me, because it came pretty early on in the writing and I was completely in love with it. And as the writing progressed, that one always stuck with me as something really cool. Mike wrote the main riff and when he sent it over, I was like, “This is something special. This needs to make the record.” It is a different way to close out a record, but I don’t think there’s much symbolism behind it other than the fact it felt right.

James: That’s the bottom line. It felt right. It’s definitely not foreshadowing what the next record is going to sound like. But you never know!

When you guys all moved away to your different cities, was the future of the band ever in doubt?
James:
Yeah, I would say so. I don’t think any of us ever thought the band was over, but being faced with everybody being so far away really, really, for a while—“doubt” is a strong word, but I’ll use it for lack of a better one—I doubted our ability to really make it happen and send ideas back and forth. Even as we continued the process and we got further and further towards getting in the studio and recording songs I had no idea if it was going to be good. I had no idea if it was going to work. I had no clue if we were going to be able to do it, and once we did it I had no clue whether or not it was going to be good. Whether there was doubt there, maybe, but it was definitely a fly by the seat of your pants situation.

Matt: Yeah. But while I think it made it a little bit harder, it almost more made it easier, because we used our few times getting together as a true litmus test, like, “Do we want to do this anymore?” Because I think when you’re so immersed in somethin—and I’ve fully experienced this for other things besides playing music—when you’re fully 100% immersed in something, it is so unbelievably easy for your judgement to be clouded. You can be so immersed you just don’t have a fucking clue. You don’t know whether it’s good for you, bad for you, or if you’re doing it correctly. You lose track of what you’re doing in general, and I think that being able to step away and being able to literally thousands of miles away and then getting together was a perfect way to ask, “Does this really feel good anymore?” I think that if when we had gotten together it didn’t feel good, both musically and personally, then that would have been it. So all being in different places was a tough thing, but more than a tough thing, it made continuing on an easier decision.

Obviously that’s its own reward, and the album is testament to that, but do you have any specific aims and ambitions for Don’t Be Long?
Matt:
That’s also something that’s super exciting and feels really nice—no. I’ve never felt that way with our band. I take that back. That’s the way I felt on our early records, because no-one gave a shit about our band, so we were just making music because it’s what we love to do and we loved writing songs together. When Everything You Ever Loved came out, being in a band was our job. It was our everyday, our 24/7, 365. When you’re doing something every single day, you kind of have to set goals. We need to put this out and do X, Y, and Z to make this continue to work. And with the time we had taken off, that all changed. It went from the band being our full-time job to it being a no-time job. So to be in that position, it feels amazing. We wrote and recorded this record and we’re going to put it out because we want to. We’re putting it out at the time that we want to and in the way that we want to, and what will happen will happen. I hope that people like it, but we don’t need X, Y, and Z to happen. Do you feel that way, James?

James: Absolutely. This is the first time in a long time where our livelihoods aren’t riding on how this record comes across. Which, like Matt said, is unbelievably relieving. And getting back to the idea of not wanting all the shit that clouds what making music to us is truly about. If this record comes out and nobody likes it, that’s totally fine. I know it’s cheesy to say but we had such a good time making it and we feel so fulfilled in how we made it and the way it sounds that I already got everything I need to get out of it.

So you’re happy with music not being your full-time job?
James:
I don’t mind it at all. I love touring, I really do, and it’ll always be a true love of mine, but it doesn’t need to be my livelihood anymore. It really doesn’t. We’re totally fine wherever it goes.      

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