Starting in December 2002 with former members of Fourth Gear Blue, Mustangs and Madras may not have had the most illustrious of beginnings but after recruiting a new singer a few months later, Mustangs solidified a line-up that went on to write some of the most striking post-hardcore music of the last decade.
What set the act apart was its constant sonic evolution and a willingness to go well outside any post-hardcore formula. Whether it was the inventively atmospheric guitar work, the inclusion of decidedly non-rock instrumentation or lyrics that explored themes and complex emotions beyond any restrictive genre canon, Mustangs were probably hard to pin down but never failed to write powerful, inspiring music.
With numerous regional tours throughout the United States, countless shows locally and a full-length record and an EP under its belt, Mustangs and Madras will bid farewell with a final performance at Three Kings Tavern this Saturday, January 23. We sat down recently for a long conversation with guitarist and founding member Eddie Maestas-Vigil about the group's origins, its comfort with a genre label, the best of times and the worst as well as its plans for the final gig.
Westword (Tom Murphy): What bands were all of you in before, and what were you able to do in Mustangs that made it so compelling for you for so long?
Eddie Maestas-Vigil: Tom Chagolla was in Fourth Gear Blue with me, playing guitar. But he's actually an incredible drummer and he played drums in a band called Woodbine Station. After they broke up, that's when Mustangs Started. I'm not going to mention my bands in high school.
Colin Madden was in Fourth Gear Blue as well; he was also in the Facet, and he was in a band called Contender. One of the guys from Dartanian was in the band. Gene Martinez was in a horrible metal band called South Saint.
Nick, fuck, what band hasn't that dude been in? He was in the Facet, Call Sign Cobra, Gravity Index, Pariah Caste, my band, and Blue Angels with Tom Chagolla and Danny McCarthy. I think he has a new project going on now, but I'm not sure. It goes far back, back to the Pinhead Circus and Crestfallen days -- that was my favorite band from Denver ever. Heller's awesome, and John Mather is the man too.
Obviously, everyone had his own reasons for staying in the band, but my main reason was the friendship we've had. We're all really close friends and we always have been since ... Gene's been my best friend since the day we started seventh grade -- we got sent to the principal's office together.
Only a day or two later, I met Tom. I met Nick when we were in high school. Colin was a freshman when we were all seniors, and we kind of took him under our wing. It was the kinship, the camaraderie and the tours together.
Musically, I think it was always good because we started off as a three-chord punk band. If you listen to our first record it's pretty much a three chord punk ensemble. If you listen to our last EP, it's completely different. If you listen to that first EP even going to La Lechuza, it's completely different, too.
Our final EP is only four songs long but it's 45-minutes. I think that's another thing that kept me going -- the evolution of how we grew. I'm really proud of it. Part of the break-up is that I don't know how we can outdo what we did. I'm not saying that none of us could outdo it, but, as this project, I don't think we can.
WW: Whenever anyone talks about your band they use the term "post-hardcore" to refer to the music. Is this a label you agree with? How would you characterize the music you did with this band?
EMV: I think the first album is, and I hate using this word, kind of an emo thing. The way people like you and I use "emo" is completely different from the way someone in high school probably would. "Emo" to them is My Chemical Romance and that kind of thing. In that regard, it was kind of a post-emo thing -- though what the fuck does that mean?
La Lechuza was definitely a post-hardcore thing. Looking back on it, though, we hadn't played any of those songs in a long time, and Colin and I were at practice and thinking, "Jesus Christ, these songs are kind of mathy and technical!" I would agree with the post-hardcore description with that album.
With the new EP, it's more on the metal side. Not really on purpose -- we got bored with playing the fast, jittery shit. Post-hardcore is a generic term, but then again, it sucks when you talk with some dumbass you work with, you can't tell him, "Post-hardcore." You say, "You know The Foo Fighters? We're heavier than that!"
WW: "Paradox of Grace" is one of your most powerful songs. Can you tell me what it's about and the source of the sample you use in that song?
EMV: It's loosely based on the Columbine tragedy. A lot of people, especially the conservative media and the Christian media were saying, "These two boys and their Marilyn Manson and their Doom and their fuckin' video games and everything." No one looked at it from the perpetrator's side. What happens when you fuck with a dog, it's going to bite you. Or what happens when you fuck with a kid that has father issues or negligence issues -- they're going to bite back, basically.
We kind of wrote from the perpetrator's point of view, but also the victims' point of view, and it came together as a song. The idea had been thrown around, and when we were in the studio recording La Lechuza, Tom said, "We should take clips from Patty Nielson." She was the lady that called from the library. That's what those 911 clips were all about. If you listen really close you can hear shotguns firing.
I agree with you, it's one of the more powerful songs on the record. What's funny is that when we put those snippets in, we did it during the mastering, we're all sitting there saying, "Maybe we should do this." We didn't know if it was like stomping on someone's grave.
Say what you want about it, say what you want about Columbine, even crazy shit like 911, everyone has their points of view about, but unless you were there, which we weren't, you can't form a real, solid opinion on it. That goes with any kind of media coverage. But we'd like to think we can imagine what it was like to have been there.
We caught a little shit for it, but we knew we weren't trying to stomp on anyone's graves by doing it. We weren't doing dishonor to the families that lost people. But everyone forgets the perpetrators, Klebold and Harris -- their families lost someone, too. It's gotta be harder on those families because it's like, "Wow, our kids just murdered twelve people and then themselves."
There's definitely a somber feel to the song, and I think that was probably seventy-percent deliberate. It was a rough song. For a while we were going to try to play those snippets live, but the timing wasn't right, and it's a little weird. And it still is.
Sometimes that song will come on when my iPod is on shuffle, and I'll listen to the whole thing. The 911 call will come on and Gared O'Donnell from Planes, who did the backups on that song -- "nothing brings you comfort now" -- when I hear his fucked-up voice with those 911 calls I think, "Damn dude, this is heavy. I can't believe we fucking did this!" But it is what it is.
WW: What have been the high points for the band and for you personally throughout the band's existence? The low points?
EMV: I'll start with the low points because I can identify those exactly. We had two European tours that got canceled on us. Those hit hard because not only did we lose mentally, we lost financially, too. We had this huge thirteen-country European tour booked that got canceled, and we had one after that and that got canceled.
We had this tour booked with this band, and they said they didn't think it would be financially right for them. Obviously this is really nutshell because there was a lot of bullshit in between and a lot of stupid promises. We had all spent the money on the plane tickets already. A plane ticket to Europe, that's no joke. For me it was nine hundred dollars.
Emily, our manager, told us not to worry, and to save our money and plane tickets and transfer them for this other tour. And this guy was supposed to book the other tour, and he ended up having a nervous breakdown. Apparently you can get a note from your doctor in Germany, or wherever the hell he was from, and get money from their government, and take a vacation at a spa.
So yeah, he completely flipped on the whole tour and said, "I can't book this, I'm freakin' out!" That was the end of our tour. That sucked, too, because that was right after La Lechuza was released. We didn't do a US tour on that because we were waiting to do this European tour. Well, that sucks because what are you going to do? Book a US tour in two weeks? You can't do that shit.
The highest point would have to be any time on the road with these dudes. Aside from blood, these guys are my brothers. They would say the same thing, if they were here. Any time on the road I was with these guys, whether it was fucking Colin going to jail, playing in front of five people or playing in front of three hundred people. It didn't matter to me, any time we were on the road, it was the best time of my life. It was, basically, you take five guys from a shitty ass town and you get them on the road.
Everyone I knew from Longmont, now, they're big, they're bald, they have five kids, and they're bankers, and they hate their fucking lives. They went to college and all that shit, and that's all good -- a couple of us went to college too -- but we got all of our shit done.
Gene and I were at our ten-year high school reunion, and we thought, "These people suck." We're doing exactly what we want to do, when we want to do it, how we want to do it. Being on the road is like being a kid again. You don't have to do shit except get to the next town in the morning. There were definitely tiffs, but for the most part it was just us owning the road.
We had two vans, Smarty Jones and The War Admiral. Smarty Jones was a little Econoline van but we had a loft built on top of it, and we used to haul a trailer. It was driver, passenger, two captains and just a loft. The War Admiral was huge. It was The Gamits' old van. They sold us the van for two grand. It was a piece of shit. Smarty Jones never had any problems. But The Gamits, fuck them, they sold us a lemon. You can put that in print. [laughs]
WW: Do you have anything special planned for the final show?
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EMV: Normally we play five or six songs, but we're playing sixteen songs. Originally we were going to have two bands get together to reunite for the show -- Ricky Fitts and the North Atlantic, but Jason Richards can't do it. We toured with the North Atlantic, and we love them to death. Wires in the Walls is one of my favorite records.
Basically, we wanted the last show to be a huge bro down. Every band we've been a part of and every band that's been a part of our lives over the last several years. One of the songs in the studio from the new record didn't sound as good as we wanted it to live, because we did a lot of double tracking. So Casey from Only Thunder is going to come up and play that song with us. Other than that, there's not going to be much talking or anything.
As it is, the set's going to be a little over an hour long. We went back seven, eight years ago and had to re-learn some of these songs. That shit back then was so fast -- it was punk rock. Whereas the new shit is like, "Chill out, dude."
Mustangs & Madras final show, with Git Some, Get 3 Coffins Ready, Only Thunder and the Gunshy, 9 p.m. Saturday, January 23, 3 Kings Tavern, $8, 303-777-7352.