MAMA definitely play by their own rules. In a city where punk and garage rock seemingly reign supreme, the Chicago quartet draw upon a wide-range of influences that results in a huge ’70s rock and roll sound. While their tunes are heavy and fast, there’s no shortage of melody that gives them a very power-pop feel at times reminiscent of Rockford, Illinois, legends Cheap Trick or Thin Lizzy. This was showcased on their fantastic new EP, Speed Trap, which really caught our attention. So, we caught up with and had a casual conversation with MAMA’s Christopher DeArcangelis about the band’s formation, what power-pop means to them, their new EP Speed Trap, and, of course, their new single “Double Dribble,” which was recorded exclusively for LoudLoopPress.com by our own Damian Wiseman, and is available for free download at the conclusion of this post and/or can be streamed in the Bandcamp sidebar to the right.
LLP: Let’s start with the basics. Tell me a little bit about the formation of MAMA and how long the band’s been around.
Chris: This is a whale of a tale, but a good’un: MAMA is the result of many years of false starts, failed attempts, and stormy relationships. Ross, our drummer, and I went to college together in Ohio. We met 10 years ago. He’s from Boston, and I’m from Franklin Park on the Northwest Side of Chicago. All throughout college we attempted to obliterate minds and had some shining moments, but every group was short lived and sort of experimental. After college, we both relocated to Chicago and attempted to start a serious band. This is in 2007. Instead, we had a lot of fun playing shows mostly on the South Side and could never get anything going reliably. We also ran a DIY space called Go-Go Town in Bridgeport. We had many great local and national bands play there in its brief existence. That’s how we met our bassist Dylan. His old band Cat Or Mouse played their once, and in a moment of coincidence he responded to an ad I had put up on Craiglist when we were looking for a new bassist. Ross, him and I started a band called Far Things and played out for a year or so before a lack of creative vision put us at each others throats and we broke up.Ross went on to spend a lot of time playing in Black Belts, and the short lived aftermath Sweet Tooth. Dylan kept Cat Or Mouse alive and played sludge metal in a band called Arctic Sleep. I gave up playing electric guitar for awhile and went country, starting a very short lived country and folk ensemble called The Breezy Babes, which in its final days had Spike from The Yolks on bass.
Then there was this insane blizzard in early 2011. The day after, Ross and I had an impromptu rock jam session based on some of the more pop oriented punk and rock and roll I had been listening to from the 70s and 80s. Feeling good about rocking again, I then attempted to start the project, although without Ross and Dylan, for 2 years. We were first called Mainliners, then Secret XYZ, then MAMA. Eventually, after hanging with them more, I knew that we had to come together. I knew it had to be the three of us and hopefully someone else. That someone else is Paul Parts. Paul leads a band called Big Smoke City, plays bass in Total Jams, formerly Vlllge, and with Daniel Knox, and teaches guitar for a living. He’s a professional guitar smoker. He joined up with us on guitar at the beginning of this past summer. What a fucking journey!
LLP: While there’s a lot of lo-fi garage rock happening in Chicago right now, and it’s intriguing to me that you all seem to have found a very rad sound by playing power pop. Can you tell me about your influences as a band, and what drew you all to play power pop? What about the genre really speaks to you as musicians?
Chris: The four of us have major classic rock and classic pop tendencies, which is really what garage rock used to be called, and roots in punk rock, metal and avant garde experimental mayhem. We love so much music and worship none. We have no gods and have killed our babies. We believe in complete artistic freedom. When most people think of power pop, people think of the Exploding Hearts. I’m not really into what most people consider modern power pop. A lot of it features terrible Richard Hell or Elvis Costello impressions and pretty typical songwriting. We consider MAMA to be power-pop in the way that Slade, The Sweet, The MC5, The Ramones, Madonna, Iron Maiden, The Nerves, Nick Lowe, The Shivvers, Cheap Trick, Prince, Shoes, The Four Tops, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Thin Lizzy, The Replacements, Love, Jackie Wilson, Motely Crue, Frankie Valli, and Motorhead are all really power-pop. It’s heavy music with a major importance on the rhythm, riffs and singing with lyrics anyone can understand and short song lengths. We shoot for two and a half minutes with our songs. Most people today can barely make it through five seconds of music before they click to the next track, you know?
LLP: Going off of that, I feel like Chicago is the perfect place to play power-pop due to the Cheap Trick’s history with the city and the Midwest in general. So, can you talk about how the Chicago scene and MAMA’s place within it? What are your favorite places to play or Chicago bands to play with or listen to?
Chris: It seriously makes total sense that power-pop came from the Midwest. You gotta see a light at the end of the tunnel to live here and be happy. Power-pop combines the darkness and the light into something that takes you away from the flat, hot dog eating monotony of this largely ignorant cowboy town.
Musicians right now in Chicago have the most creative minds and biggest hearts and loudest, loving mouths anywhere in the USA. The underground music scene is literally overflowing with talent and potential, and I am reluctant to call out any names because we love so many musicians and bands. We have been embraced by many different groups and are extremely excited to be playing for anyone and everyone. It’s really hard to pick a favorite place to play, and honestly I’m more excited to play a brand new place with brand new faces. I’ve always wanted to have a bad ass rock show at The Hungry Brain! Who wants to help me set that up?
LLP: A rock show at the Hungry Brain would be bad ass! Anyway, moving on, can you talk about your new EP, Speed Trap ? What’s the story behind the writing and recording of it?
Chris: The Speed Trap EP has songs on it written from as long as four years ago to as recently as last April. We recorded it in the living room and basement of George and Alex Szegedy’s house in Lansing Michigan. We recorded it to quarter inch tape, and it was mixed nearly completely analog. We recorded ten songs, and decided to release them as two EPs. The other 5 songs are coming out this winter as a double seven-inch EP.
We are influenced by lots of obscure things, and the title Speed Trap came to me as a sort of sci-fi meets Motorhead kind of title. It was simultaneously forbidding, exciting and cautionary. It was dangerous. All of the songs on the record deal with the similar theme of human love and emotion, but through the lens of my own experiences and my own fantasy. Sometimes the lyrics are about a strange friendship getting confused with longing, like in “3 Tricks”. Sometimes its antagonistic love that’s so bad it’s good like in “Open Secret”. Sometimes it’s a nostalgic dream that combines simple places with old friends like in “White Hen”. Sometimes its embracing the truth, even when its bad like in “Bad Reputation”. Or just turning a bad time into a good time like in “Columbia Twosome”. We wanted this EP to be cranked from rolled down car windows and blasted from stereos turned so loud the neighbors scream. Music is about freedom, and this is our current best attempt at turning freedom into music.
LLP: Also, I did a little searching on the web, and I can’t seem find much info on your record label that released Speed Trap – Postcaring recordings? Can you give me a little more info on the label, and how you came to release your EP with them?
Chris: Postcaring Recordings is our own label. It comes from a philosophical concept my friend Max Gutfeld and I created called “Postcaring.” It’s really a jibe at how everyone in the art and music world has to compartmentalize everything: “what genre is it?” If you can’t give it a name or five names some people can’t be bothered to listen. It’s crazy that some people think this way. We thought and still think it’s insane how people spend more time doing that than actually just enjoying the music or art for what it is. We had a plan for awhile to make just god awful satirical bands based on different genres and to release recordings of us pretending to be these bands on cassette. One was going to be ultra lo-fi where we would record electric instruments unplugged on an early cell phone in the woods at the darkest hour of night. Shit like that. Total insanity.
We decided to take on that name for our record label as a call to arms for our first serious release. Since we are a fresh band playing an uncommon style of music, I wasn’t exactly surprised when most local labels didn’t rush to support us. But then I thought, “Why don’t I put this fucking record out? What the hell are they doing I can’t do?” When it comes down to it, everything in music is about ridiculous effort and believing in the unthinkable. And it was the best choice I ever made. A true act of Postcaring!
LLP: Can you tell me a bit about what’s on the horizon for MAMA? I know you all jokingly posted about touring in Japan on your Facebook, but is that something you all are truly interested in?
Chris: We have a double seven-inch EP coming out on a local label this winter that we are very excited for. We are planning shoots for two music videos. We are going to do some crowdsourced fundraising. We are going on tour in December and in January, and plan to go out on the road as much as possible. We hope to write and record a full length soon and it put it out sometime next year. We have a song coming out on a cool compilation this winter too. We definitely aren’t joking about touring Japan! We plan on it and will definitely be going there eventually.
LLP: Finally, can you tell me about your new single, “Double Dribble,” you recorded for Loud Loop Press?
Chris: We think it has a very Halloween vibe to it. It sorta makes me wanna hear a Vincent Price monologue. The name sort of came to me in a strange vision, I liked it, and I ran with it. Double Dribbling happens in basketball, and it’s a penalty. It also sounds kinda gross. So the lyrics are about pulling this slick move and getting away with it. Don’t get caught – just get wild! That’s how MAMA Double Dribbles.