Middle Class Rut pushes their boundaries on their latest release

Sacramento natives Zack Lopez and Sean Stockham reached new heights when their band Middle Class Rut struck rock radio gold with the single “New Low” in 2010. Now the band is back with their sophomore release, Pick Up Your Head, which not only expands the band’s boundaries musically, but also will see their live roster grow.

Believing Pick Up Your Head’s sound to be too big to produce live as a duo, MC Rut opened the door to three more musicians who will tour as part of the band this summer. In a recent interview, Stockham told us that the new lineup will feature a bass player, second guitarist and a percussionist, whom he seemed very excited about.

“He’s actually a great drummer. It’s almost a shame to limit him to just the percussion stuff, because he would be such a great drummer in his own right,” Stockham said. “We might switch off at some point down the line…we might have him play the drums and I’ll just sit backstage and masturbate or something like that.”

The addition makes MC Rut’s already huge, rhythmic live sound even larger.

“It feels like two drummers on stage,” he said. “I really like that. As a drummer, it’s really fun to look over and feed off his energy and mine. It feels like the drums are a lot bigger than they were before. We’re having fun with it.”

Stockham discussed MC Rut’s new members and the process behind creating Pick Up Your Head in the following interview.

Zack and I were talking about how you put a band together for the road. How does it feel opening up MC Rut to new musicians?
At some point during the recording of the record, it became obvious that there was no way we were going to be able to do these songs as a two-piece, unless we used computers and that never felt natural. So, I think we knew we were going to have to try to find some people, and that’s the shittiest thing you could do. It’s sort of like going out and looking for friends, because not only do they have to work musically, but you have to like them and you have to spend a lot time with them, and they have to be able to work for peanuts because we can’t pay people a ton of money. Through our little network and other friends, we found a group of dudes. We just got into a room and instantly started playing a bunch of songs. We didn’t even give it a chance to see if we liked each other. It worked so well musically, so we went down to Austin [Texas] that was our first outing as a full five-piece band and had a really good time. We felt that the shows were really good, and we get along really well with these guys. We’re stoked, but I don’t know how people are going to feel about it. I’m guessing that a lot of people who like our band like us because of the two-piece thing. Not to bring up another obvious two-piece band, but if you went to see The White Stripes, and there were a lot of other people on stage, you’d be like, “Aw man, I just came here to see Jack and Meg.” I’m hoping people are a bit more open-minded to it. We can’t do something just because people expect us to do it, or because that’s what we’re known for. That sounded gimmicky to us, and believe me, if we thought we could pull it off as just a two-piece band, it would be so much easier and so much cheaper to do it that way, but at least for this run off this record, we’re going to do it like this. We might experiment doing some songs as a two-piece and the rest as a full band. I don’t know how it’s going to work yet, but we like these dudes, so we hope everyone else does too.

The shows went well in Austin, but it sounds like you’re a little bit apprehensive…but the musical chemistry seems good, so I guess that’s the most important thing.
Yeah, I think that’s the thing. Once you have a really good show where everyone is jamming together on the same page, it just feels good and you stop worrying about it. Like I said, my apprehension comes from how the few people who actually know our band and like us will react to it, but it feels good so far.

Zack and I were talking about all the stuff you used on the record as percussive instruments—hardwood floors, pots and pans. What kind of stuff are you bringing live?
He’s pretty creative and got into the whole idea of trying to come up with different things to make these sounds. He’s got a couple of brake drums from an old truck, a couple of trash can lids from Home Depot. He’s put cymbals on top of other cymbals and broken them. Everything is trashy and loud. There’s no shakers or anything like that. It’s almost like Stomp!, just loud and nasty shit to hit. I’m sure it’s going to be something that evolves over time too.

From the sound of it, it doesn’t sound like you’ll have to worry too much about people not being into it.
I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be fun, more fun than in the past. Anyone who’s that closed-minded who’d only like our band as a two-piece, I could take or leave those people.

Being a drummer and having someone else to feed off of, have you noticed the songs changing from your end live? Did it reenergize any of the songs for you?
We haven’t played all that much old stuff yet, all the stuff I’ve been used to playing for years. I’m curious to see if that changes at all, if he’s playing with me. The new stuff, that was probably the biggest challenge of this new stuff, the drums and the guitar are just background. They’re playing supportive roles to the vocals and the overall song. Eveyrone’s playing the supporting role. When Zack and I first started this thing, jamming as drums and guitars and screaming into a microphone, it’s was just a barrage of shit happening. The hardest part has been having to calm down a little bit and actually having to listen a little while you’re playing and remind yourself why you’re having to chillax a little bit because there are all these elements that are happening. I don’t need to distract from those by being crazy drummer guy.

When I was talking to Zack, it sounded like the songs are built backwards in a way by starting with the percussive parts and then building the songs around that. Being a drummer that must have been a pretty neat feeling.
I love that the result is always a really beat driven song, and I think that’s something we’re never going to get very far away from. We both feed off that beat. We could write an entire song to no music as long as there’s just a beat happening, probably a lot easier than we could write a song if there was no drums but just a guitar line. That’s how the one song that I wrote lyrically on this record started out. I was jamming just drums in the room, I recorded a couple beats and then I went out into a room and started singing acapella over these beats. We’re definitely very beat oriented.

It sounds like how a rap song would be written.
It is, man, and that’s why we’ve always felt something in common with that kind of music. Maybe we don’t really know what that means or how to fit that in, but we’ve spent a lot of time collaborating with hip-hop people because there’s something in common with that.

You can hear that in the way you were talking about how the beats and the music are just background to the songs.
That’s always been the two different sides of this band from the get-go. We’ve had that one side that’s guitar and drums rock ‘n’ roll music that’s written that way, with Zack and I in the room jamming for hours and hours until something comes out. Then there’s the other side where the two of us are in the lab with a computer and a pair of drumsticks to hit whatever’s around you in the room to build a beat like someone would build a beat for a rapper. It gives you such different results. It’s almost two completely different sounds. I love those two sides of our band. We’ve found even more success on that side of things, with songs like “New Low”…”New Low” was totally put together that way. It was built as a beat on a toolbox and over the course of a day, just building, building, building and adding to that song. The same song could not have came out if it was written from our normal positions behind the drums and guitars.

Has this sort of hip-hop producer side of the band won out more on Pick Up Your Head?
Yeah, this album is definitely more beat-based, and assembling the songs in a totally different way. We’ve been jamming together for so long. We found a tape we’d made that was dated 1996. You could imagine that if you’re doing something for so long, you can get a little bit bored. If I’m always behind the same drum kit, and he’s always behind the same guitar, things are going to sound reminiscent of things you’ve already done years ago. I might have my go-to beat that I play, and his go-to beat that he plays. It was like, what do we do? The only thing you can do is totally rearrange the process and do something completely different. What’s awesome about that is that it’s not only this breath of fresh air and you get this new sound, but you get this new excitement for doing it, because it feels like something new. It feels like it did when you were a kid and you first started playing music and everything was new, but now we’re 30 years old, we’ve been doing it for half our lives or longer. We need to switch things up and keep things fresh.

Did you listen to that old rehearsal tape you found?
We don’t even need to. We don’t really need to listen to that one.

There’s a lot of layering on these tracks. Did you hear right away what each songs needed or was there an experimentation factor behind that?
Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes it’s really obvious. Sometimes the song asks for what needs to be added. Then sometimes you’re listening to it and it sounds a little light or a little empty. It was everything from A to Z with these songs. Some of them came really easy and were maybe a bit more minimal, and some of the other ones were a bit of a struggle to get them out.

Did you produce this one yourselves also?
Yeah, and that’s the other thing. We’re not used to going into the studio and saying, OK, we’re going to make the record on this date. It’s an ongoing thing. I guess we’re just used to that. We’re also used to combining the writing and the recording process all into one. We try to do that still. We try to go into a room and just write, but we don’t have a whole lot of luck doing it that way. The computer or whatever’s being used to record has to be ready and running, because that’s just the way we work.

So you’re just constantly working on stuff?
That’s why the idea of working with your traditional producer kind of guy, we just really don’t know how that would work. Maybe with these new guys in the band, we’ll do something that’s more straightforward. Maybe we’ll write a couple songs during sound checks that will be rock songs, and we’ll have someone come in and produce it in the traditional way. As long as we’re doing more—I don’t even know what you’d call it—like assembled beat stuff, that stuff is just going to have to grow organically.

Pick Up Your Head will be released by Bright Antenna on June 25, 2013. In the meantime, you can be sure to get a taste of the band’s new material and expanded lineup when they play Cesar Chavez Park in Sacrmento on May 10 with Jonny Craig and others. Best part? The show is FREE. Check out the video for “Aunt Betty” online at Mcrut.com. If you’re in the Sacramento region, grab our current issue to read our companion interview with Zack Lopez.