Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Methadones: Cutting the middleman

Costco does it. Furniture warehouses do it. But seldom do bands do it. Cutting out the middleman is risky business, especially when advertising and promotion is left solely to the band.

Chicago’s most well-known pop punk band (still together), The Methadones, have just released its new split with The Copyrights via Transparent Records, a record label thought up and made up by Dan Schafer of The Methadones (vocals/guitar) and Adam Fletcher (vocals/bass) of The Copyrights.

“We looked at three different record labels to put out the record,” said Mike Byrne, guitarist for The Methadones. “I work for a CD/DVD replication company, so Dan and Adam from the Copyrights were talking about a split for a while.”

The Methadones’ last album, “This Won’t Hurt,” was released under Red Scare Records.
One day at work, Fletcher and Schafer were talking and decided, “Man, we ended up working with these record labels that support us and promote us, but they really don’t do anything more than we could do for ourselves,” said Byrne. “So Dan asked me, ‘Well, could we press the record through your work?’”

The last statement The Methadones received from Red Scare said they sold more CDs than album downloads, thus got the ball rolling.
Byrne’s boss ended up giving the band a really cheap price to press 1,000 CDs. With a good deal, a tight fan base and a bit of confidence, The Methadones decided to completely cut out music’s middleman: The record label.

The Methadones are still going to sell its new split through distribution sites such as, No Idea Records’ online store, iTunes, independent record stores and of course, Methadones shows.
But aside from label issues, the band still has to record its music somewhere, which is the biggest cost of everything.

“We’re recording at Atlas Studios, where Matt Allison recorded the last two records we did. He’s great. He’s the best person I’ve ever recorded with, he’s real easy to work with, real relaxed,” Byrne said.
Allison recorded the early Alkaline Trio albums as well as the Lawrence Arms’ music and most recently, Less Than Jake.
“He gave us a really good deal too; he helped us out a lot,” Byrne said. “Matt Allison definitely made this possible for us. Even though we got a cheap rate at where I work at, pressing 1,000 CDs costs money and Matt was real good with giving us a really good deal.”

After recording and spawning its own label, The Methadones are anxious, but confident to see how the DIY approach turns out.
They figured it would be better to experiment the no record label idea with a split, because if it fails, big deal. You only lose out on six songs and fans of the band are still going to buy it. The only trouble would be getting new fans, the job of record labels and PR associated.

“It’s one thing to experiment with a whole record, because you put so much time into a full-length record and it would suck if we gambled and ended up dropping the ball on our own record,” Byrne said.
Back to Transparent Records. It’s basically just a sticker they used to stamp on the split album so it appears professional, but it’s also its own middleman in a way, in that up and coming bands can use the Transparent Records logo to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

“Say you had a band and you wanted your record out. You could just use Transparent Records logo, stamp it on the CD and you’ll get paid for everything,” Byrne said. “Hopefully it’ll get out there and more bands can use it.”
Being that the split just came out, if everything goes well, The Methadones are already considering using the same idea to release its next full-length album. If not, Byrne stated that they might work with Red Scare again.

In the past, The Methadones have run into a bit of trouble with labels, which is part of the reason why they want to release their albums themselves, because that would not only ensure them getting paid and given the proper credit for their work, but they have total control over their band.
“Red Scare’s done a good job with us, but some labels will put a CD out and that’s all they do is put the CD out and don’t promote it or anything, and they still take 40 to 50 percent of the profit for printing up a CD, which anyone can do,” Byrne explained.

Say you have $2,000. You can print any CDs you want and the labels will still take 50 percent out of it for doing nothing.
“It’s kind of ass backwards sometimes, so it’ll be nice having full control of the record. Also, if it goes out of print, we can work with another label down the line, but it’s kind of nice having full control for once,” Byrne admitted.
Currently, The Methadones are having some issues with Thick Records, who released “Career Objective” and “Not Economically Viable.”
“We’ve never been paid by (Thick Records) at all for anything. Right now, we’re in a bickering battle trying to get our rights back to those CDs ‘cause we’re going to Europe in the fall, and we probably won’t have enough time to re-release them by then, but when we get back, we want to re-release the CDs with bonus tracks and things like that.”

Five hundred copies of “Career Objective” were just re-released on vinyl via Underground Communiqué Records. Two hundred were pressed on blue vinyl and 300 were pressed on gold vinyl.
“They came out looking really, really nice. (UC Records) is doing ‘Not Economically Viable’ too,” Byrne said.

As for the new split with The Copyrights, the whole album is really short, with 12 songs spanning 25 minutes. They are The Methadones’ shortest songs, save for a few here and there on various albums of theirs.
“Three of them are more straight-up pop kind of songs and three have more of a darker sound,” Byrne explained. “We have one that’s really, really pop-sounding on there. First, we weren’t sure about the song, and then we went to the studio and started messing with it and it came out really good.”

Schafer and Byrne are both huge fans of pop and power pop music, and Byrne anticipates the next full-length will be headed more in that direction of the band’s influences, much like The Methadones’ cover album, putting its unique pop punk twists on power pop songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
With bassist Pete Mittler back from his humerus injury, The Methadones are back in full swing.

The band will be traveling to Europe from Sept. 10-30. When they get back, they will be playing Chicago’s annual Riot Fest as well as The Fest in Gainesville, Fla. With all this traveling ahead of them, Byrne said the band will not work on any new material until November or December.
“Probably spring, we’ll be ready to record again. In the wintertime, it sucks to tour, so we try to do all the touring in the summer, fall and spring,” Byrne said. “So we should have enough songs by spring to start recording again.”

The new split has no name, but Mike Byrne cranked out a few ideas.
“I wanted to call it, “Toby or not Toby,” ‘cause Toby runs Red Scare, to kind of poke fun at him. That’s what I wanted to call it,” Byrne said. “But we had to call it the split then.”
Instead of one band doing every other song, the split is organized in two blocks. The first six tracks are Methadones songs and the second six are Copyrights tunes. All are new songs with no covers.
Check out The Methadones at and The Copyrights at

Friday, July 25, 2008

MEATHEADS!!!!! by Mike Byrne

Here, we have examples of both a male and a female Meathead. Note the quadruple popped collars and hairdo.

By Mike Byrne
Poet Laureate Extraordinaire

This is my first column I have written and I thought I would discuss a topic that seems to fly under the radar, but is around each and every one of us every day of our lives.
What is a Meathead? Well, the easy answer to that would be to call them Jocks or Sportos, but they are more than just a jock. I have friends who have played sports and some friends who are really into sports, but that does not qualify them as a Meathead, although it could qualify them to be douche bags, snapperheads and dingleberries, but I will save that for a future column.

A Meathead is someone who loves to watch sports, is overly aggressive to friends and enemies, loves to hi-five, is really into Golden Tee and Baggo and is usually found in places that end with the words "Bar and Grill." The odd thing about Meatheads is that for the most part, they are friendly.
When someone who doesn't like you walks up and hits you in the arm or pushes you around, you would call that a sign of aggression. But for a Meathead, those are traits that he really likes you. Here are some mating calls and language translations for Meatheads:

-Hi-Five: A handshake, "how are you doing" or your favorite team just scored. Maybe he just scored with female Meathead.
-"NICE!!!!!": Something good just happened or they agree with what you just said.
-Chest bump: Means they just accomplished something and are proud of it, but most of the time, the thing they just accomplished could have been done by a 5-year-old.
-The phrase, "That's what I'm talking about": Means that you both have come to the fact that you just agree with what the other person just said.
-The phrase, "I would hit that": Means he wants to have sex with a certain female that he has no chance of ever having sex with or even having a conversation that would last over two minutes with.
-"Nerds": the Meatheads' mortal enemies.

If you were to go into a bar on the North side of Chicago, the best chances of running into Meatheads would be along Clark Street. They usually travel in packs of five or more, and as homophobic as most meatheads are, they seem to have a lot of male love tendencies.
They love hugging and putting their arms around each other. When you walk into a bar with Meatheads, the best spots to find them are near a Golden Tee machine or a plasma TV showing a sporting event. It would be in your best interest not to walk up and hang out with them because they are unpredictable, and if you are not wearing cargo shorts and a college sweatshirt in the summertime, you could be spotted and get a hi-five across your face, which was intended for a friend of theirs that they nicknamed, "Beast Whore."

There are female Meatheads, and the best way to spot one is they usually are shaped like a bowling pin. They have huge asses that they try to cover with a college sweater thinking they can fool some guy into thinking that they might look kinda good.
The Meatheads are a dying breed these days because the 1980s are over and the nerds won the Jock vs. Nerd wars of the '80s.
It was a violent war with many swirlys given to nerds in men's rooms across the country. Underwear was torn off of nerds in locker rooms in junior high schools and high schools all through the '80s. You can spot a true nerd by seeing the red marks on their bodies from towels being cracked on the bare skin in a walk-by towel snapping. For more into on the great Jock vs. Nerd war of the '80s, I recommend renting "Up the Creek," "Revenge of the Nerds," "3 o'clock High," "Just One of the Guys" and "Karate Kid."
With the takeover of the Internet, it would seem the nerds got the last laugh. But go into any sports bar on any given night, and the Meatheads are planning a hostile takeover soon.
Even though the world is basically controlled by computers that nerds run every day at their jobs, the computer can be taken down by viruses.
Nerds can be taken down by the violent stampede of Meatheads.
As long as they have cold beer and half price appetizers, the Meatheads can fuel their violence in a way that cannot be controlled.

I am going to stand on the sidelines and see how this all plays out. Some people are playing both sides by buying "Deep Space Nine" and "Dr. Who" shirts and others are stocking up on "Bears" and "University of Oklahoma" sweatshirts.
Deep down, I think the Meatheads have already won.

Mike can be reached at

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Smoking Popes - "Stay Down"

On June 7, the Smoking Popes played a record release show at Chicago's Metro for its new album, "Stay Down."
It's been 11 years since the Smoking Popes recorded anything new in the studio. Eleven years. When I compare Josh Caterer's voice from "Destination Failure" to "Stay Down," it's like I'm going through a time warp. It's really, really hard to imagine 11 years passing between the albums. Put over a decade past any other band and the change in voice and sound would be drastic. Sure, the Popes have mellowed out a bit since the early '90s material, but some would argue that they've always been pretty mellow to begin with.

"Stay Down" opens with a song about a girl named Jane from Janesville, WI. She wants to escape the town, but will never be able to because her name, permanent, will always remind her of it. I thought it was pretty silly, but in a sad way. I ended up feeling bad for Jane.
"No matter how many ways you try to kiss this place goodbye/It lives in you till the day you die, say the words with a tear in your eye/Welcome to Janesville."
The next track, "If You Don't Care," is among the best couple on the album. Josh and his brothers jump right back into that familiar "Smoking Popes mindset" of love and all its uncertainties backed by beautiful, yet catchy, instrumentals.
"Employing a few choice words/We flutter like captive birds, finally free but still afraid to fly."
Josh's analogy of humans to birds is nice, but when you think about a couple of baby birds afraid to take flight, and remember he's talking about himself and a girl afraid to take off into the unknown vortex that is love, something hits like an ice pick to the chest.
It's one of those passages where you sit back and say, "Yeah! Yeah, I know exactly how that feels! That's a tough fuckin' choice and a thin fuckin' line to make a decision on!" Some musicians seem have a great way of exploiting that feeling. Josh Caterer is among them.

Have you ever tried to play a 45rpm record set on 33? I get that feeling when "Stefanie" starts up. It's a great song, but it drags out. However, the great part about this song is that it serves as an early break in the album. Instead of getting a bunch of momentum and halting it halfway through, the slow and steady "Stefanie" is placed after tracks one and two, building anticipation for the remainder of the album.

At first, I thought "Little Jane-Marie" was a song about a girl, and it is. But I thought it was about the relationship kind of girl.
Little Jane-Marie is a heartfelt song about what I can only assume is his daughter. It really takes you back to about first grade when Josh paints a picture of cotton ball clouds and Styrofoam planets with his voice.
"Oh, I'm alive again whenever I hold you in my arms/Oh, I'm a child again just like you are, my sweet little Jane-Marie."
You know, as rarely as I let the word "cute" out from it's cage, I'm going to here.

"Grab Your Heart and Run" is hands down the best track. It is really, really catchy, fun and reminiscent of the Smoking Popes' older material. What makes it the best track is going through that time warp, though. It could have been written and recorded years ago. Just like a fine wine, aging slowly, not caring about time's wrinkling effect as it develops into the perfect product possible.
I wouldn't have known the difference.
It's a song about being so determined to take a girl's heart for one's own. It's almost like robbery, but in a good way. It reminds me of postive graffiti. Do you erase graffiti that says "Unity" between rival territory, or do you leave it? It's a dilemma. Here, is stealing one's heart wrong? Too controlling on the thief's behalf? Maybe, but definitely in a justifiable way.
It has good feeling behind it. It's stable, determined, positive and definite. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it. It doesn't seem as if any bad can come of his snatch-and-run plan.

Following "Grab Your Heart and Run" is "It's Never Too Late (For Love)," where the album slows back down a bit. It's a hopeful song for the loveless and the doubters of the overpowering emotion. He sings about how all the nights spent alone with the rain are not nights spent in vain. He sings about how love is in front of all of us all the time. He basically says, all you have to do is open your eyes to see it. It's a great song, even if it sounds a little too idealistic for the still-pessimistic-but-still-want-to-be romantics.
"Somewhere waiting only for you is the one you've been dreaming of/Deep down you have got to believe that its never too late for love."
It's all building towards something in a sense, and he urges us to keep that spark of potential true love alive within us and to not give up on it. Sixteen years old or 90, male or female, this song's message applies to everyone.

The final thing way worthy of mention is the revamping of "First Time." The album closes with an acoustic version of the song, which was originally placed in the middle of the band's "1991-1998" album.
It's a sincere, painful yet positively heartfelt closing tune to "Stay Down."
It's words are raw, real and so gut-wrenchingly easy to empathize with for those who have loved and lost, it kind of hurts the chest cavity to think about.
"It's just the thought of another arm around her shoulder where my arm used to rest so comfortably/She'll probably never be again as happy as I made her then/But then I'll never really know for sure, will I?"
At first, it's like, "Poor Josh. That really sucks." But then you apply it to your past or present life and your heart skips a beat.
And then it's like, "Shit. This could happen to me."
Even so, the album doesn't lose it's tone of positivity, overcoming and pulling through. Instead of being 100 percent down, he stands up to his emotions (or even demons) and he acknowledges them by saying, "There's nothing like the first time, you fall in love so strong/At least this is the last time I will ever say so long to my first time."
If I was a hotshot magazine with a militant and definitive star-rating system, this album would capture them all. No buts about it. The lyrics are incredible and heartfelt. The music is strongly and passionately played.
The Smoking Popes have really made a triumphant comeback with "Stay Down." I cannot muster up and spit shine enough positive adjectives to describe how truly great this album is.