Chicago-based indie-alternative rock band Mutts has overcome a lot of adversity to release EP “Stick Together,” which came out Sept. 12.
It all started in late 2014 when, after the release of their album “Fuel Yer Delusion,” the band’s openly gay singer, keyboardist and front man, Mike Maimone, was kicked out of the house by his partner of five years. Then, several of the bands the group is friends with decided to pack it in and quit. Mutts forged ahead, deciding to record new music, only for their drummer, Chris Pagnani, to decide to leave the group after recording wrapped up. Then, Maimone’s favorite local bar and performance venue went out of business — and, to top it all off, the band’s tour van died.
Maimone, along with bassist/guitarist Bob Buckstaff, opted to go ahead with the release of “Stick Together,” whose title is suddenly all the more relevant.
“It was definitely before the most recent trials and tribulations,” Maimone said about the title. “So we thought about not calling it ‘Stick Together,’ since the drummer left the band, but then I just kind of felt like we should go with it to show that the times that are the hardest to stick together are the times you really need to dig deep and stick to your roots. So we had the title, a bunch of crap happened and we decided to go with it.”
Maimone said they decided to do a five-song EP instead of a full-length album in an effort to keep the band’s momentum going.
“We just wanted to get some songs out there,” he said. “We usually write a lot and then record it right away and put it out. We’ve had four full-length albums before this and toured for about a year and a half, doing over 200 shows in that 18 months. We got back and were looking at being broke and back where we started before we put out the album. So we wanted to do a small chunk of songs based on budget and time and just being able to get some music out there right away rather than having to wait any longer to see if we can fund a full-length album.”
Maimone grew up in conservative rural Ohio, not coming out of the closet to his Catholic parents until age 30. As Mutts’ main lyricist and songwriter, he said he tries to turn his disparate life experiences into music that relates to all different people.
“The way that I write songs is definitely a reaction to the times and the things that are going on,” he said. “A lot of our music is up-tempo rock music anyway. I think the things that were going on for me personally at the time fueled these songs. It was also compounded by the political climate in 2016, leading up to the election and obviously after the election. A song like ‘Neighbor,’ I thought when I was writing it in 2016 that Hillary was going to win and ‘Neighbor’ was going to be a message of togetherness for everybody. I didn’t realize that it was going to be a hug for everybody who needed it when Nov. 9 rolled around.”
Besides performing and touring with Mutts, Maimone plays keyboard on the road for another Chicago indie-rock band, Company of Thieves, for which he and Buckstaff have performed in various stints.
Maimone said the fertile music scene in Chicago has had a definite impact on Mutts’ sound.
“When our band started, we were hired players in other Chicago bands,” Maimone said. “We’ve all played in a lot of other bands in Chicago and still do some session work with other bands, so it’s hard not to get inspired by all the other creative people. The city has a strong hip-hip and electronic scene. The rock n’ roll scene is definitely a Midwest kind of community. But there’s a lot of great music being made, so that is a great influence for us.”
Maimone added that he is putting Mutts on hold for a few weeks to hit the road with Company of Thieves this month, which he started playing with in 2009.
“I played in that band for two-and-a-half years and then wanted Mutts to be my full-time thing. Company of Thieves kept going and did some great things. They are essentially doing a reunion tour because they took a few years off. So when I got the call, I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t want to take time off from Mutts, especially around the EP release. But I just figured every time I go out and play with another band I come back a stronger songwriter and performer. I felt like it would be a good experience for me and, in the long run, I think it will benefit Mutts as well.”
Maimone said he might get the opportunity to open a few Company of Thieves shows in this tour with some Mutts songs.
“They said that if there’s time between when the doors open and the first act on the bill, I could do a quick solo set,” he said. “That was the handshake deal when I signed on. If I could get any chances to play Mutts songs, that will be a nice bonus. Most of them translate very well because they started with just me and a piano. It’s enjoyable to me to play them as they were when they were first being created. Hopefully that translates to the listener as well.”
Maimone added that he hopes some Company of Thieves fans will make the jump onto the Mutts bandwagon.
“[Company of Thieves singer] Genevieve [Schatz] is an incredible singer and she’s very powerful and talented,” he said of the differences between the two groups. “I am a singer by default. My bands kept breaking up when I was younger and I realized that if I wanted to have any longevity in music that I should start singing the songs that I wrote. My route to singing and her route to singing are very different but hopefully it meets in a place where we are both very passionate about our songs. Genevieve is a fiery individual and I think that I am too. I would hope that people would see the commonality in that we both feel very much about the subjects that we are singing.”
Mutts’ “Stick Together” EP is out now. Maimone performs with Company of Thieves 8 p.m. Sept. 19 at The Foundry, 29 E. Allen St. For more information, visit www.muttsmusic.com.
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