MTHDS to their madness: Heighten your senses with MTHDS at the Bluebird
Darius Rucker might not have a whole lot of street cred these days as a country singer, but it's still kind of a big deal if he asks to sing with your band, which is what happened to MTHDS a few years ago when it was based in Vail.
The guys were playing at a bar in the mountain town when Rucker, coming from a gig at the Vilar Center, approached MC Nick "Dillz" Dillen and asked if he could sit in. Rucker had heard MTHDS play a cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" earlier with more of a hip-hop feel, and said he'd sing it with them if they did it again.
Thing was, the crowd had been feeding the band shots all night, because the bar's manager had threatened not to pay them unless the folks in the crowd bought a lot of booze. "I like to drink," Dillen says, "but somehow, I was the most coherent of anybody on the stage. Nobody knew what the fuck was going on. So I was like, 'Yo, we got Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. He's going to come up and do a track with us.' Finally I get John to start playing 'Love and Happiness' again. Dude starts singing it, right, and L [MC Lawrence 'L' Kerr] just has no idea that the dude is even on stage with him. And he's just singing right over the top of him, just like belting. And after probably, like, sixty seconds of giving it a good shot, Darius Rucker's like, 'Dude, all right, thanks a lot, guys. I'm fucking out of here. Y'all are shitfaced.'"
"We learned our lesson since then," guitarist Johnny Schleper says. "We don't drink nearly as much. But that was a once-in-a-lifetime deal where they said they wouldn't pay us unless the crowd drank a certain amount. So we're like, 'Okay, we'll get everybody in this town to buy shots.'"
While the guys in MTHDS, pronounced "Methods" and an acronym for "Music That Heightens Different Senses," do like to have a lot of fun during their energetic shows, they're pretty serious about their music. Take their self-titled album, which was released in May of last year. Dillen jokes that "it's almost like a mixtape you would make for a girlfriend you were breaking up with," but points out that there are definitely finite genre changes for each track.
"Rise," the album's opener, is more or less a straightforward rocker that borders on rock rap, while "No Regrets" is bluesy. The jam-based "Time" steers into psychedelia, while Dillen says "Riot" is straight hard shit. "Believe in You," he says, is a slightly sentimental rock-reggae track about leaving your girlfriend that sometimes comes off as being a bit callous. The soft-rock, jazzy "Lil Girly," is Dillen's mom's favorite track. "Brand New Life" recalls Pink Floyd, and the lyrics borrow from a Pulp Fiction type of storytelling, with three different vignettes. "Banger," on the other hand, reminds Dillen of Nas's "Hip-Hop Is Dead."
"I think, for the most part, that album is long, dark and jammy," Kerr says. "It's not a representation of what we're playing now." The band switched things up on its latest EP, Ship of Fools, which includes three new cuts as well as remixes.
"There's a difference in vibe, but there's a little more continuity, more of a thread though them, and I think it captures a little more of our personalities," Dillen says. "We're not dark, serious people. We're fun-loving weirdo sarcastic assholes who love to have a good time. That's really what we're trying to express with our music, and hopefully other people have a good time, too."
As for explaining their style of music, multi-instrumentalist Neil Yukimura doesn't even try. Instead, he just tells people to check out their shows. "It's energetic," he says. "We're sweating our asses off, jumping around, falling through stages or whatever. We're still trying to catch it on our albums, of course. Our new EP is closer to that. Energetic, sarcastic hip-hop rock and roll with reggae undertones and a dash of...all the stuff we've been influenced by, whether it be the Cars or reggae, pop and stuff."
When the six-piece band, which includes five guys who moved here from the East to snowboard, first came together in Vail over three years ago, Dillen says, each member kind of pulled in different directions, though the obvious route was hip-hop, since the group is fronted by two MCs. "The harder I would pull toward more hip-hop-oriented beats and shit," Dillen says, "the more [drummer] Dustin [Zentz] would pull more toward the rock stuff. He was always like, "Why don't you challenge yourself?" I think about that a lot. Because he was like, "Why don't you try to rhyme over something different?" Finally, like three years later, we're getting...like that new track we're working on really kind of has that indie influence."
Every song has its fair share of conflict as far as breaks, downbeat and the bass line — even the guitar licks — are concerned. "Everything is up for debate constantly," Kerr adds. "It's all just a work in motion."
About a year after the band formed, all of the members save for the drummer moved to Denver. While they played a lot of gigs in Vail and a lot of people came to the shows, Kerr says it kind of gave them the illusion of having a fan base, because after a while, the whole town would show up to every gig. "That's not the case in the Denver," Kerr says. "We scratch and scrape for fans."
"Obviously, that's a much smaller pond," Dillen says about Vail, "and we were much bigger fish. We knew if that we were going to grow, we'd have to go to a larger market. And we knew it was going to take some time and it was going to be a lot more difficult than being in a place like Vail, where you can play twice a week."
Having already opened for acts like the Roots, Method Man, Eek-a-Mouse, the Living Legends and Karl Denson, MTHDS is also about to head out on tour with reggae and dancehall singer Collie Buddz, which might help broaden its audience.
"Overall, our goal is to be more like Phish than like Katy Perry, in that we want to have lasting success and build dedicated fans for years to come who want to come and see our live performance because it is so action-packed and energetic and enthusiastic," Kerr says. "That's really what sets the tone of who we are as a band, that powerful live performance. We don't want to just blow up quickly and fizzle out and be a nobody and not be able to sell tickets to a show when we have songs on the radio, because there's no excuse for that."
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