Do you think bands deliberately choose to skip St. Louis, or do you think St. Louis doesn’t try to bring a lot of bands in? BM: People think of St. Louis as not a music town, though there are a lot of people interested in making it one. What I’m trying to do now is book power-pop or indie rock bands that don’t usually come to St. Louis—and to promote them properly once they’re here, so that they’ll want to come back.
Anyone who enjoyed Dressy Bessy’s first-ever St. Louis show in December (or even their second show in March) has Maxtone 4 to thank. Despite being busy with a shift in their lineup, festival shows, and the promotion of their new album, Go Steady, the band has made and continues to make philanthropic efforts to bring touring acts that normally skip STL into town. I sat down at the Way Out Club with M4 frontman Brian McClelland, bassist Chris Clark, and Jeremy Miller, who—
BM: He plays drums for my band
JM: For your band?
BM: For my band. The Brian McClelland Band.
You’re renaming the band?
BM: It was the Brian McClelland Band before we changed it to Maxtone 4 because we couldn’t think of a band name. We’re going to a five-piece in the next couple of months, adding a keyboard player. We’re still going to be Maxtone 4. We could have 18 people and we’re going to remain the Maxtone 4.
You were invited to the International Pop Overthrow. What is that?
BM: That’s a festival that occurs in four or five different cities: Liverpool, L.A., New York… Chicago’s the biggest one; that’s where it started. It’s power-pop bands, period. It’s awesome to go to this festival and see 30 bands in a couple of days that are in the same genre of music. We actually got invited to that. Notlame, a record label out of Fort Collins, Colorado, has a CD store online and started selling our record. It was a feature of the month. We sold more records through that Web site in a month than we’ve sold in St. Louis since we released it. We sold them all over Europe. We’ve got someone playing us on the radio in Portugal and the Netherlands right now, which is weird because we don’t have somebody marketing the records there; it just wound up in the DJ’s hands.
JM: It was listed as one of the top 20 albums of last year by the radio station in Portugal, at number 6. Another guy put it in his top 20 list: Fountains of Wayne was at number 6; we were number 11.
Do you think bands deliberately choose to skip St. Louis, or do you think St. Louis doesn’t try to bring a lot of bands in?
BM: People think of St. Louis as not a music town, though there are a lot of people interested in making it one. What I’m trying to do now is book power-pop or indie rock bands that don’t usually come to St. Louis—and to promote them properly once they’re here, so that they’ll want to come back.
What other national acts would you love to bring to St. Louis?
BM: We’re trying to get Sloan; everyone’s discovering Sloan right now. We’re trying to get Apples in Stereo; we’re friends with John Hill, who’s also in Dressy Bessy. Elf Power says they’re coming back in a few months and I hope that’s true. Beulah. There’s 30 other bands…
What can fans do to make St. Louis more of a music town?
JM: Go out and see bands you’ve never heard of.
CC: And those bands you’ve heard of, but not heard.
JM: Take a chance; that’s what we need. One person that likes the act brings two or three people to the next show.
What local bands do you especially like?
BM: My favorite band is the Sayers. They’re on their second record. They took a break between records, but I don’t think anybody’s forgotten about them.
JM: Eero; they’re fabulous. A lot of people haven’t heard about them yet, but they will.
BM: We’re playing with Andy Conrad and his band tonight; this is three quarters of the band Colony. Colony was incredible: so much fun, so many great pop hooks. Every song on their last record was radio-ready, even in the current market, but their label didn’t do anything to promote it. If any St. Louis record deserved bigger things, it was that one.
What are the biggest obstacles for a local band?
BM: Number one would be girlfriends. Number two would be alcohol. Number three would be lack of initiative.
If a local band had their shit together, what would be their biggest obstacles?
BM: That’s a different question altogether.
JM: If your goal is to be signed to a label and to tour nationally, it’s getting your music heard by people outside of St. Louis, because the people you need to help you are not in St. Louis.
What are the strengths of the St. Louis music scene?
BM: There’s some really great bands. KDHX is incredibly supportive. If you give them a record and they like it, they’re going to play it. A problem with KDHX, though, is you have to be tuned in at the right time to hear the type of music you like.
Ken Williams is a great boon to the music scene; his local show [FM 101.1 The River Home Grown] is incredibly eclectic. Ken’s doing everything he can for no extra pay, spending time away from his wife and kid to support local bands, which is amazing. The Point also has a local show.
In all this discussion about the scene, I forgot to ask you: anything to say about the new album?
CC: Buy it.
BM: That’s terrible. You can’t just say that.
JM: Steal it!
BM: Don’t say that, either.
Go Steady was this band’s first real recording, besides home demo stuff, and we had a good idea how we wanted it to sound, what elements we wanted to bring together. We were lucky to get Drew Johnson, an incredibly talented guitarist and vocalist, to produce the record. We listened to sounds from different records we liked—stuff like the Kinks, the Zombies, Brendan Benson, and Superdrag— discussing what we liked and didn’t like. We wanted a mix of new-wave production with strong British Invasion–ish harmonies and with a modest amount of studio gear in his basement in Granite City, he gave us exactly what we wanted. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Is there any particular song on this album that you're especially proud of or, like a mother, do you love them all the same?
BM: I guess “Emptyspace” is the one I'm most proud of—the bridge of that song, in particular. In those few chords, I felt that my songwriting had evolved a little, in the direction that I wanted it to. Writing something that I probably couldn’t have written a year previous; that’s a good feeling.
Maxtone 4 can be found playing around St. Louis with a number of local and national bands or online at www.maxtonefour.com. Their latest album, Go Steady, is currently sold at area Borders stores, Vintage Vinyl, and online at www.notlame.com and www.blueskycd.com. Since this interview, it’s also been picked up by Japanese distributor Trolley Bus. The race is on to see where Maxtone 4 will hit it big first: Europe or Japan.