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Middle Class Rut: New Album, New Tour, Big Future

Middle Class Rut are set to take over the rock world with their new album, Pick Up Your Head. Middle Class Rut are set to take over the rock world with their new album, Pick Up Your Head. photo by Emily Ibarra


For a band with millions of YouTube views, Middle Class Rut are an anomaly. Zack Lopez and Sean Stockham don’t pander to the masses with auto-tuned bubblegum pop churned out in some big studio’s songwriting factory. Instead, the Sacramento duo blast out blazing rock tunes that are equal parts ferocious and infectious.

One of the most amazing things about Middle Class Rut is how much they’ve been able to do with just drums, guitar, and vocals. But now, they’re building on that foundation. On their new album, Pick Up Your Head(available June 24), Lopez and Stockham have taken a more expansive sonic approach.

The band will hit the road this summer with additional musicians in tow, appearing as a five-piece on the Rockstar Uproar Festival, which features Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, and Coheed and Cambria, and travels across North America from August 9 to September 15.

RosebudMag.com caught up with drummer/vocalist Sean Stockham to talk touring, recording, and the disappointment of growing up.

RosebudMag: The new album is about to drop. It’s been a couple of years since the last one. How is Pick Up Your Head different?

Sean Stockham: I think the biggest difference is probably that the first record felt like it was ten years in the making. This time around we came off the road, chilled out for a minute, and then started writing and recording and we finished the record pretty quickly.

Sonically, there’s always been two sides to this band. There’s been the drum-and-guitar rock side of us, and then there’s been the sort of proggy almost hip-hop side of the band. I think this new record is maybe more of that proggy side. It’s not so much driven by just loud drums and guitars; it’s more like beats with layers on top of it.

RM: You layered it with instruments other than guitar and drums?

SS: Yeah, totally. We got in the studio and at some point we forgot that we were a two-piece drum-and-guitar band, and just started kind of throwing whatever we wanted to into these songs. Some of these songs have pretty unconventional sounds and instruments on them, stuff we can’t even do as a two-piece, which is why we’re traveling with a band these days.

This time around we got towards the end of making the record and we realized either we’d totally have to rework some of these songs in order to do them as a two-piece, or [just play songs from the older record], and neither of those seemed like it was going to work. So we ended up finding three friends to help us out.

RM: So what’s the instrumentation like on stage then?

SS: We’ve got another guitar player, who also sings back up; we’ve got a bass player; and then we’ve got a percussionist who sings back up, and he’s got all kinds of trash can lids and broken cymbals and other trashy stuff he’s got set up.

RM: Do you like it better with more guys or is it hard to mess with the dynamic that you and Zack have had for so long?

SS: That dynamic, we just had to set it aside and forget about it for a minute and just kind of grow with the new outfit. It’s been more fun having more personalities in the mix.

So much of being in a band is long drives and just long, boring waiting around for things to happen. Sometimes we’re really only busy for 30 minutes to an hour a day, so the rest of the time is just hanging out in the back of a van. It’s been really nice to have some other people that we really get along with to share the boredom.

RM: You spoke about the progression musically on the new record. What about lyrically?

SS: I feel like it is a lot of the same themes because I don’t think our outlook has changed a lot since we wrote the first record. We’re still pretty frustrated and unsatisfied, so it doesn’t seem like there’s ever a shortage of those emotions to motivate songs like that.I can’t imagine us ever writing really positive songs. It doesn’t seem like that’s the way we ever feel.

RM: There is a darkness to the lyrics, or even an aggression.

SS: Yup. Definitely.

RM: What’s at the root of that expression? Where does that come from?

SS: I don’t know. Maybe feeling a little like you’ve been working your whole life towards something and maybe you show up to that thing and it’s not what you thought it was going to be. I think a lot of people feel that way just about adulthood in general. You spend your whole childhood preparing for this thing and then you get there, and you’re like, “oh this is kind of lame.”

You want to explain that to the generation younger than you, who are in such a rush to grow up just like we all were. We couldn’t wait to grow a beard and be 18 or 21 and buy booze or whatever it is, but you don’t realize how good you have it when you’re young.

And just speaking about the music industry, we grew up in a time when things were a lot different than they are now. If we had grown up in this time, I don’t think we’d want to be involved in this whole thing.

When we were younger, music was more important. People bought full records and invested in a full album. And now it’s a lot different, and it’s hard to get used to.

RM: Now people buy ringtones instead of albums.

SS: And that’s the reality. We hear it from our managers and from the label because those are the people that are trying to stay the most in touch with what’s hip and what you’re supposed to be doing. Meanwhile, we’re over here just trying to write and record songs and do things the old fashioned way. And then you’ve got those people telling you everyday, “You gotta be up on this application, and doing this meme,” whatever a meme is. Everyday there’s some new word.

RM: You talk about the era you grew up in. What were those bands?

SS: The thing that was happening in the ‘90s, we got lucky in that we were exposed to good music through the radio and MTV. That’s how we found out about things. Even more underground things would play late at night on MTV. I know I saw a Quicksand video, and I used to watch Tool videos, and that’s how we found out about music. You didn’t have to go digging super deep.

And then the local scene in Sacramento was really influential, too. There were bands like The Deftones and Far playing the local venue, The Cattle Club. It seemed like they were there every other Friday. We were always going down there and getting a chance to watch rad live bands and we were still pretty young, so that made a big impression on us.

RM: You know, all these bands you mention, none of them are duos. Did you guys ever think you needed to be a band in the beginning, or were you always comfortable being a duo?

SS: It’s funny. We were always comfortable writing and being creative just the two us, but we always felt like we needed other band members; it’s just that they weren’t involved in the writing process. It took us ten years of doing that to realize that we don’t have to have those other members.

I think growing up we thought, “Well, surely to be a band you have to have a bass player and a singer who’s doing karate kicks.” After our last band had everyone going their separate ways, Zack and I got together writing music again, and we decided to try singing on it. Once we sang on it and listened back, we thought, “Oh, that was easy. I wish we would’ve know that ten years ago.”

RM: And now you’ve come full circle back to playing with a band again.

SS: Yeah. It’s just one chapter in our whole journey. I’m sure we’ll play plenty more shows as a two-piece. We don’t plan on being a full band forever. I don’t think we know what kind of band we’ll be forever.

RM: The Rockstar Uproar Festival should be fun. You talk about growing up with ‘90s bands, and here you are touring with two of the biggest in Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction.

SS: Yeah, we talk about it all the time. Here we are in 2013 and these bands have been around for over 20 years, and it seems like they just won’t go away. And that’s a good thing. It seems like they’re still on top. And it doesn’t feel like a cheesy throwback. It’s like a fresh new version. It’s cool to grow up on their music and then go tour with these bands.

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The lead single from Middle Class Rut’s new record, Pick Up Your Head.
Last modified on Thursday, 13 June 2013 06:26

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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