Readers, you may not be aware of this, but certain Lawrence bands actually continue to exist once they leave the insular scenester world of Larryville. Case in point: Mammoth Life.
If you're a local music fan, you certainly remember their LFK days as a (uniform-wearing) art-pop collective followed by their days as a (uniform-wearing) duo. These days Mammoth Life is in San Francisco, digging the cool ocean breezes and performing as a (non-uniform-wearing) three-piece. We caught up with our old pals Nicholas and Kix for a wide-ranging chat about their new sound, the differences between the Midwest and coastal scenes, drugs, nudity, and scenester irony vs. sincerity. Enjoy! And keep up with Mammoth Life via their FB page . If you're in San Francisco this summer, make sure to catch a gig or just hang out with the growing LFK expatriate community on the coast!
Richard: I’ve seen Mammoth Life back in your “collective” days and later on as a duo. What’s the current line-up like? And how has your sound and songwriting evolved over the years?
Nicholas Goss: Out here in San Francisco, we're feeling a coastal/ indie/ pop vibe and the live arrangement is reflecting that direction; we've got ML performing in the Bay Area as a three-piece right now. Kix Mead sings, plays electric organ and is now adding some low-end synth sounds too, I'm kicking it out on the electric guitar, and Damon Larson, our newest member (an SF resident for 10 years), is playing drums.
Mammoth Life's sound and songwriting has evolved alongside our ever-changing musical tastes, personal interests, and age. I've always felt music is a medium that should be used to capture, document, and preserve one's self in a given moment in time; it is really no different than a diary or a journal per se. Good music and art should be honest and self-revealing; at least that is the foundation for some of my favorite records.
Kix Mead: We also slightly alter our writing based on the live lineup at the time. We had to evolve our writing when we switched to a two-piece, coming out of being a five-piece because individual instruments had to be “bigger” sounding as a two-piece which led to different arranging techniques. Now, having a live drummer, we can scale back again like with Nicholas on electric/lead lines instead of acoustic chords, and myself doing a synth/organ combo instead of heavy organ.
Chip: Are you still wearing uniforms? Or should I call them something else, like “outfits?” Tell us about the history of the Mammoth Life look?
Nicholas: Mammoth Life Apparel came about when I wanted my younger brother Neil to be in the band. The problem was that he is a visual artist and cannot keep a beat to save his life! So instead of him wielding a guitar or something, I thought he could play a needle and thread and fit in all the same. It turned out to be a significant aspect of Mammoth Life for all those years in Lawrence.
We were referencing DEVO, Nudie Cohn, Gram Parsons, B-52's, and Buck Owens & His Buckaroos, for example. Basically any new wave band or country and western swing band who ever dressed up in colorful/ matching stage garb. Neil produced 6 total, separate "waves" of ML Apparel uniforms for the band from 2005-2011. He decided to stay in Lawrence when we moved out here to SF and so the uniforms and cohesive visual aesthetic will stay there too; we are no longer performing in ML Apparel.
Richard: You guys certainly loved LFK. One need look no further than "An Oasis in the Midwest" to fully understand that passion! What do you miss most about Lawrence these days? Also, we hear there’s a great little Lawrence expatriate cojmunity out there, such as Extra Classic’s Dri and our buddy Nezbeat. Do you all get together and wax nostalgic about Replay shows and such?
Nicholas: The thing I miss most is being a part of the sickest untapped music scene in the United States. The Lawrence Music Scene has produced some of my favorite bands to date, i.e. White Flight, Cowboy Indian Bear, Cloud Dog, Hospital Ships, Ad Astra Per Aspera, Boo And Boo Too, and Fourth Of July; just to name a few. I miss everything that being in that scene entails, from the live venues like The Replay and Jackpot, to the music blogs/publications like yours and I Heart Local Music, to local businesses like Love Garden, Wildman Vintage, and college radio via 90.7 fm KJHK; ultimately all the things that have gone into shaping and sustaining a really cool and young, underground college music town.
And yes, Dri and Nezbeat are both out here in San Francisco as well! We all hung out during March Madness this year and caught the KU games together with other "SF by-way-of-Lawrence, KS" kids... you should have heard that Rock Chalk chant cut the mix in the bar!!
Kix: We miss our friends and family which made our time there so amazing. It has also been nice seeing and meeting so many ex-Lawrencians out here; we are truly at home in this city.
Chip: How have the crowds at your San Francisco shows differed from Lawrence crowds? More hippies and less hipsters? Are the crowds mostly smoking weed or are they on ‘shrooms too?
Nicholas: San Francisco is an adult city; that means crowds of mid to late 20 somethings to upper 30 year olds are hitting the shows. All of them crazy college kids in Larryville don't even start partying til 11 pm, which moves headliners back to 12:30 and 1 am at places like the Jackpot and Replay!! Here a show will start, and I mean actually start with an opener playing on stage, as early as 9 pm. It just means the bands get paid here earlier instead of 2:30 am.
Weed is decriminalized and medicinal and you can smell it just about anywhere you go in the city at any given time. It's nice not feeling like a criminal anymore! Tolerance is not just limited to drugs here. This city is tolerant of all walks of life; race, sexual orientation, philosophy, religion... doesn't matter. San Francisco is its own “country” within the North American continent, it seems.
Kix: Ultimately, the crowds are very similar. Whether you are here or there, everyone just wants to drink booze at a cool venue and listen to good music. In SF, you just have a better chance of seeing nudity, or other various drug-related insane things, at some point in the evening.
Richard: I dig your ambitious “An American Movement” concept album. Can you write a short summation of it using some pompous Pitchforkian language? And what rating might they bestow upon it?
Nicholas: An American Movement is a spaghetti pop-western opus about a character named Boy Blue who, it is said, "can do anything that he wants to do." It combines chamber pop, country and western sounds, and an unabashed sense of "self." The record is punk as fuck; but not in the commercialized sense. Rather, the "in your face" and "against the grain" kind of sense; as punk should be. B- (or the equivalent to whatever rating system Pitchfork uses).
Chip: One thing I’ve always liked about Mammoth Life is that you seem unusually sincere. Does that make it difficult for a band these days, since so much of scenester culture is bathed in irony?
Nicholas: I'm not really sure about those things. I'm just being me. No disrespect, but relentless humor and evading the point appear to be what bands do who are possibly unsure of themselves and what they are doing. Those acts are more “entertainers,” which I have mad respect for as well. I just don't hide the point that I care very much about Mammoth Life. It is a bonafide dream that I've been having since I was 18; with the person I love. I'm just sharing a sentiment of passion.
Richard: What’s on the horizon for Mammoth Life in 2012 in terms of new music and touring and do you think we’re about to enter a new era of consciousness, as some of this year’s Mayan aficionados seem to believe?
Nicholas: Mammoth Life is going to focus on playing live and hitting the Bay Area hard over the next 6 to 8 months… you can catch us in Sacramento on June 30th at Fox & Goose, Knockout in San Francisco on July 28th, and Stork Club in Oakland on August 2nd. We'll probably release a two song 7" on Satisfying Records or another indie label sometime in early 2013 and then follow with a self-titled full-length LP in the spring/ summer. Many different cultures and religions have proclaimed the end of the world, or the end of consciousness, as we know it, for years now. I try not to worry about things I cannot control; I just try and rock n’ roll.