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A Happy Accident: Chris From Much The Same

Much The Same – Chicago, Illinois, USA

Much The Same
Cover Photo: Silvy Maatman – Punk Rock Holiday // Above: Gabrielle Guité

Undisputedly, the hardest part of the interview process is ascertaining a title. It’s only fitting then that “A Happy Accident: Chris From Much The Same” became the title as a happy accident in itself. I had a whole script to choose from after the interview you are about to read but again, happy accidents are never unwelcome. I asked Chris some questions, he called me cruel and we got into it about the band’s resurgence. Recently, I also published a piece reviewing and analysing how Quitters Never Win stands up post-remix and remaster. The band’s debut full-length is the latest to get the wax-treatment and said piece can be found – Here.

And so, life goes on much the same, we are caught off guard yet quitters never win. That is how we survive and hope that everything is fine.

Starting a little in jest, tell us who you and Much The Same are as if you were trying to sell us a time-share.

I’m Chris, the singer, guitarist, and founder of Much The Same. We’re a Skate Punk band in the vein of ’90s Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph bands. We mix an aggressive sound with catchy hooks, and write lyrics about everyday life that somehow balances anger and sorrow with positivity.

Well, I’d invest! – It’s safe to say you’ve had a busy few years unto now! Represses, “comeback records” and the band’s ancestral tunes etched into vinyl. What place would you say Much The Same as unit are inhabiting right now and did you think you’d be here in 2020?

We’re honestly just happy and kind of surprised people care as much as they do. I’m sure people cared back when we were really active and touring but the daily grind of trying to get noticed back then, especially while some of our friends were blowing up and making our minor successes seem insignificant, made it feel like we were shouting into the air. Then we take eight years off and the demand grew, at least in certain parts of the world. When we started writing the new album, I honestly was just really interested to see if we could still pull it off, but we’re all really happy with how it turned out.

On a daily basis though, we’re all just kind of regular guys, doing jobs, having families and hobbies, so anything band related always seems like a little vacation from real life. I definitely would not have expected to be here during those years we took off. It was kind of a happy accident.

I remember discovering the band around the time of the hiatus and seeing nothing but a recommendation for the records to date for those getting into Skate Punk, so it was indeed very real. Obviously its been a welcome surprise over the years but did it at all put any pressure on you and the band as a whole? Did you feel any obligation at any stage ahead of a more natural desire to get back to it?

Further within that, in your experience, do you think that’s something people forget? That those in bands aren’t the invincible artists they are sometimes imagined as?

Definitely no obligation at all, initially. I mean, we didn’t even really hear much about people liking our band during those years. Occasionally I’d get an email or comment here and there, but it was pretty quiet. Nobody was asking for a reunion except some of the guys in the band, and that was a many-year off-and-on conversation until we were finally all interested at the same time.

I think it would be easy to feel pressure from fans, or even internally, to make the most of the fact that the dreams we had when we were younger are, in some ways, finally coming true. But, I lived with my parents until I was 28 because if I’d had to pay rent somewhere that would have been the end of touring. Even now, when we make some money, it’s never as much as we’d make just staying home and working our day jobs, and we’ve got homes and families to look after. So that makes it a pretty easy decision to just say well, we’ll enjoy what we can do and be thankful for every cool experience, and leave it at that.

I do think people misunderstand the economics of being in a band, and how even playing a show to a thousand people doesn’t really turn into some big boost or a great payday. If we had all the time and money in the world we’d love to go play for every fan in every city around the world, but that’s just not how it works. We’re regular guys doing regular things. Today is my 12th anniversary so I’ll be having a date at home with my wife, but I also need to do some laundry, clean up some cat vomit, and play Fortnite with my kids. It’s not glamorous but it’s often very fulfilling.

Much The Same

I should think such an answer will be either eye-opening and/or resonating to a lot of people reading this. I have to say congratulations on the 12 years! I’m approaching two myself and that seems monumental enough.

Through saying that if you had all the time and money in the world you’d play for every fan in every city, I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head there regarding the misinterpretation of being in a band. On social media I see bands inundated with “come to _________” and “come back too ______” incessantly, it must be flattering but also frustrating nonetheless.

So, ‘Quitters Never Win’. I saw your live Q&A (including your impressive collection of books) and how you talked on the consistent rumination on reissuing the record over the years. What was the definitive moment that resulted in pursuing it, did you have any doubts in actually doing it?

It’s definitely flattering and almost always a positive thing. The only time it bothers me is when we spend months planning a tour we’re excited about, make an announcement, and 95% of the comments are people saying “why no ____ date???” often in completely different countries. That’s the one day I would just like to hear someone be excited that we’re coming rather than upset about where we’re not going.

Over the years a handful of labels, including A-F Records, reached out to us about doing vinyl. At some point we came up with the idea of remixing the album so it seemed like a good idea to do those two things as one project. But the costs and risks of all that didn’t make sense until we had the new album on the way and saw what kind of response it was getting. Coincidentally, after years of promising to do it, Nitro Records decided to release ‘Survive’ (2006) on vinyl right about the same time our new album, ‘Everything Is Fine’, came out. Everybody started asking about ‘Quitters […]’ then, because who doesn’t want to have a complete set, right? We ended up just buying the rights to the album back and working with the same three labels that put out EIF to put out ‘Quitters […]’.

That’s the first time I’ve asked that question to a band member directly so thanks for being so clear. At least people know that you absolutely would if you could.

Were Lockjaw, Thousand Islands and PEE obvious choices for you once you’d decided on this, how did that come about? Other than the above, did the recent resurgent power of vinyl have much of an influence on the decision at all?

As a bonus question, do Dan, Franky, Jevin and yourself collect vinyl at all?

We met Bruno and Cynthia from Thousand Islands Records briefly when we played at Music4Cancer Festival in Quebec. They were really friendly and helpful, so when I found out they ran a label in the best Punk scene in North America right now, it was a pretty easy decision. I didn’t know of Lockjaw Records beforehand, though I had heard some of their bands, but Steve from Belvedere recommended them highly. We had a few European labels interested but his feedback clinched it. PEE Records was an obvious choice for Australia, as they put out a bunch of good records and Pete Pee is a long-time fan.

There are a lot of labels in the US we could have sent the record to and maybe they would have wanted to put it out, but given that we are not trying to make a career of this, we’re not touring, and there are labels run by fans who were asking for it and already had a proven track record, it just didn’t seem worth it to try to convince someone to release our album.

Yeah, the popularity of vinyl is the entire reason we released them, people are asking for it so why not? None of us in the band are vinyl collectors, I think I have two vinyl that I was given as gifts and I don’t even have a record player. But I think it’s awesome that there is a format that people enjoy collecting now that most of us (I think) are primarily listening to music digitally. I am totally a collector and a completionist by nature, so I get it. I have over 1,000 books in my collection, not counting hundreds of books in my kids’ rooms, so I know if I started buying vinyl I would need to own every record I ever loved!

Much The Same

I think there is definitely a different record label culture nowadays. The love of it and genuine desire seems to be outweighing a lot of the traditional competition or perhaps running par with it now. Ha, well, that sounds like you are both best or worst type of person to indulge in collecting vinyl. Best of luck if you ever feel the temptation!

Speaking of not touring, how have you all been keeping during the COVID-19 period? Its not an easy time for anyone but the music scene has been seen to suffer greatly. Do you have any advice for bands who are feeling the negativity weigh in on them? 

Two of us are still working our office jobs, I think both from home. The other two work in the brewing and restaurant industry and have been mostly out of work the last few months. So our experiences are pretty different. We only had for shows booked for the year and they were all in May and June so 100% of our band activity has been cancelled this year. That’s pretty disappointing with how infrequently we get to play live, but also ultimately not a huge impact on our lives since it’s only a couple weekends. I’m very bummed that we weren’t able to release ‘Quitters […]’ at Red Bridge Fest, though. Everything had been planned around that festival so now we’re just doing the release from home, which is fortunately still going quite well.

My only advice would be to recognise that it is absolutely normal to not feel creative during this season or to be at your peak productivity at home just because you have extra time. There’s a lot going on in the world and it’s Ok if your mind and heart are focused on those things in ways that don’t result in hit songs.

That’s a real shame! With all this happening, with tours and festivals, cancelled, I think a lot of people are feeling the weight of it outside the day to day restrictions. We are having a huge run of our venues closing down over here currently for example. What do you think the scene will look like when this is all over? Do you think it will largely return normal or do you think the attitude towards it will change?

I think people are going to be trying to make up for a year off. 2021, if things get relatively back to normal, will be a big one for festivals and whatnot. But nobody can really predict how long we’re going to have to be careful or what “being careful” will really mean.

Let’s hope so! This time with less of the “come to_______” requests post-tour booking, eh?!

Back to ‘Quitters […]’ You’ve already shed some light on how the album sounds post-remaster. So, if you were sat in a room right now with the Chris from that era and you had both just heard the re-master for the first time played in full. How do you think the ensuing conversation would go?

I think it would start and end with, “So, we just keep getting balder, huh? Have we at least moved out of our parents’ house yet?”

I feel you there! – Do you think you’d both still have same opinion regarding what hits hardest on the record? Favourite tracks or particular parts for example.And furthering that, personally, to you, is there a track or aspect of the album that you feel has benefitted the most from the remaster both at the forefront and perhaps something a little less obvious?

It’s funny, you listen to any first album from almost any band that’s more than ten-fifteen years old and the sonic quality is going to be very different. So much has changed in terms of what kind of sound we want to capture, how easy it is to capture it, and how much it would cost to do it right. You can just do so much better these days with a fraction of the budget.

The main difference is in the drum tones and performance. It’s still the same performance as the original, we didn’t re-record anything, but back then we couldn’t fix mistakes in the drum performance the way we could with guitars and vocals, or it would be really noticeable. So when you have a small budget and short timeline and a young kid playing the drums, there’s only so many times you can afford to play the song all the way through hoping for a perfect take. I know there are purists that scoff at the idea of going back and correcting mistakes; “that’s not rock and roll”. And in theory, I agree, if you make a record too perfect it loses a lot of the energy and “realness” of the performance. On the other hand, there are all kinds of records that I would enjoy more if they fixed their timing or tuning issues, or had a better guitar tone, or whatever. Sometimes it’s charm, and other times it’s just bad! Dan Precision did a fantastic job recording that album and he’d still be my choice if we could go back in time and do it all over again. The new mix just brings out all the great stuff he captured.

‘Wish’ was always the standout track. It was originally meant to be the last song on the album, and if you listen to it with that in mind, you can see why it begins and ends the way it does. It was very influenced by ‘Exit’ by No Use For A Name. But when we gave the album to our friends to check out, we kept hearing people say they would skip to ‘Wish and listen to that before listening to the whole album. So that’s why it ended up being Track 1.

But there are definitely songs that mean something different to me now. ‘Quitters Never Win’ was just something I wrote to myself as motivation not to give up on the band when we were struggling to get noticed and members kept quitting. All these years later I’ve heard stories of that song being the thing that saved someone from suicide or got someone through the despair of a parent’s death, stuff like that. I never could have imagined it would have that kind of impact; a number of people got the title tattooed on them. I only wish I had come up with a less cliche title!

‘Father & Son’ is another one that looks different to me now that I am older and a father myself. I understand a lot more about both sides of the relationship described than I did when I wrote it at 18 or 19, and at times I struggle not to be exactly that same kind of father.

I’ve spoken to people in bands before that are dumbfounded by the impact their music has on people. I suppose at face value if you can see people digging stuff that great but you never really know how far that goes.

I spent some time listening to the old mix before I heard the new one and (tried) to discuss it through modern eyes. At the time of writing this, it’s two days before I publish that in fact. Digression aside, ‘Quitters […]’ definitely had the charm of the early 2000s, a lot of records from that era still hold up so well without a remix but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Personally as a consumer of all this, the better quality of bass-tones and as you say, drums, really create that contrast between the abrasive and melodic aspects of Skate Punk. I’d even argue that in many cases, all the things that made the genre so seminal initially are now even more notable. What’s your opinion on that?

Would you say that the journey of ‘Quitters Never Win’ has been completed via this remaster?

On top of that, I was also going to ask you what you track benefitted most from the remaster, but you’ve beaten me to it!

The draw to Skate Punk for me has always been that balance between an aggressive sound and attitude mixed with melodic hooks and important themes. I’m not into anything that’s too poppy or silly or whiny. But like Green Day, as poppy as they were, they often nailed that aggressive thing perfectly without sacrificing their hooks. You don’t have to be shouting or playing heavy metal riffs to be aggressive. Fortunately, we now know how to capture that sound really well and make it sound tight and powerful while still perfectly blending everything.

I think ‘Quitters […]’ has definitely arrived in its final form now! And I’m really glad in general to have it in physical form again after being out of print for so long. Now if we can just get ‘Survive’ reprinted on CD we might actually be able to sell all our albums at the merch table at the same time!

That’s the dream! I wish you the best of luck in that endeavour, I’m sure someone will pick up that format for you. Of course, the moment that happens, you’ll have to immortalise it before they all sell out!

You’re obviously more than content on where the Much The Same sound is now but I have to ask if you could self-release a five-track career spanning EP of what you consider your best and the best place for a prospective fan to start, what would you include?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question no one has ever asked me! And limiting it to five.. Well that’s not even two from each album, you cruel, cruel man!  

An interesting nuance to that decision is the fact that our most popular songs like ‘Stitches’ and ‘You Used To Have A Garden’ don’t match the fast Punk style that I think we’re generally known for, so a “greatest hits” EP might differ significantly from a “get a taste of what this band is like” EP. But…

‘Snake in the Grass’, ‘Stitches’, ‘You Used to Have a Garden’ ‘Take What’s Yours’ and ‘Wish’.

I have already changed songs out on this list at least five times so I’m just going to go with this and stop thinking about it. Rest assured, if you asked me in an hour my answers would change.

Well, an easy question wouldn’t be fun, would it?! You know what, I’m going to ask you that again in a couple of weeks. So be ready for that!

Ok, so as a final question before we sign-off, if Much The Same were starting now in the contemporary scene. Who do you think you would look to as definitive influences?

I don’t think it would change much, but if at all possible, Face To Face and Millencolin would probably be even bigger influences than they were before, at least for me.

With the last two albums from Millencolin especially, I think I’d have to agree there!

It’s been great Chris! I’ll let you get back to shuffling another sampler list for the next time I ask you.

Just finally though, is there anything you wish to say regarding the band or anything at all? 

Just a big thank you to everyone who has been supporting us and sharing our music with others!

 

 
 
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