That damn genre term (you know the one) where no tangible explanation is muttered beyond, “They’ve got a 90s sound.” Sure it’s a connotation for bands that will sport four-day foul working clothes on stage, forego thoughts on commerce for art and never write the same song twice (even though “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Rape Me” are twins), but when you scrape it all down to the core, a 90s sound is about being loud and just embracing the noise that can be made with these expensive machines. This spot of grandiose feedback and bent notes is where you find Mice in Cars and also why my ears were ringing for three days after leaving the trio’s Thunderbox rehearsal space.
“Being in high school in the mid 90s, Nirvana was your life,” Mice in Cars frontman/guitarist Myke Johns pondered on where his preference for the blustering sounds came from. “It was all I wanted to do that moment.”
“I discovered very early on when playing guitar, when I was thirteen, that I have this inability to stand still when I play. It’s just not gonna happen,” he continued, pointing out the stand still and stare approach that came about sometime after the 90s hay day – bands slouching through their sets as if each song created a hangover – that still continues today is something that he just can’t connect with. “If you’re gonna play a show, play a show. Nobody goes to a show to say they went to listen to a band. They’re going to see a band. Plus I want it to be worth it for me. If we play a show and I’m not bleeding at the end of it, I feel like I didn’t do well enough.”
Mice in Cars newest offering is a two song digital EP titled Good Men Are Monsters. The opening riff to “Exit Interview” – an innocuously brooding bass line – comes by way of bassist Mark Parker. As the song groans to a state of cracking distortion, it’s clear they have taken the path treaded by Bitch Magnet and Rodan: the curdling feeling that is more like a slow decent than an uprising. John’s guitar welds the melody while the man behind the drum kit and surrounded by used electronics and keys, Nick Johns, pins it all down with a controlled yet hyper-active beat.
This image of the band isn’t the same as it was in their beginning. When they formed in 2006, Mice in Cars were a foursome; one that fumbled in a Dinosaur Jr. like fuzz, which you can clearly hear in the band’s self-described “shit EP” – 53 Bicycles and a Dead Man. Once they were down a guitar, the aggression became a head figure in the songs.
The sprawl of the musical landscape of Atlanta has always allowed for many musical avenues to present themselves as bands are able to meander through experimentation in a competition for mind-fuckery, but all this breeds the possibility for cliques. Often misplaced as a post-rock band, Mice in Cars have resided in that gray area in between the varied crowds that will attend one show but not the other. Not to mention that the misnomer post-rock has and always will sound unequivocally boring enough not to care.
“Every band you talk to is going to say ‘We’re the outcast,’” Johns goes on to explain. “I guess it’s the hip thing to do but also because we’re working together in rooms like this.” He points to amps and poster filled walls, a very claustrophobic space when under the right influences. “Basically it’s like being a writer. You work in isolation, and then you go out into the world and apply your wares. Atlanta is a city where it’s really easy to feel isolated.”
But, John contends, if you really want that feeling of comfort and belonging, you have to reach out to people. If you end up watching the three at Nophest, which the band will be playing at The Earl for the festival’s sixth year, and are in front, be aware that you might be a part of the decimation of notes in the finale of their set as John happily hands off his guitar. “It’s funny to see the look on people’s faces,” Parker laughs. “People just don’t expect that anymore because people come to rock shows and just stand there and drink beers,” Johns adds.
Before the words ended and the band began to propel their joints back into movement, John began to slowly circle his riff on “Exit Interview”. The resonance of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” is undeniable. Try as we might to mask our influences with volume and new compositions, we just can’t escape the fact that our loves always bleed through.
Mice in Cars will be playing Nophest Friday, August 24th at The Earl.