'It's Time For The Ticker-Tape To Fall!'
Rob Carpenter wrote his first song at 11: a rousing three-chord ode to his dog. Maybe not an immediate smash-hit, but judging from subsequent responses to his work, the golden retriever was probably quite pleased.
Since forming Louisville rock band The Muckrakers in 1997, Rob and his four bandmates (singer/guitarist John Ruby, electric guitarist Micah Gerdis, bassist Brian Meurer, and drummer Dave Sparks) have been drawing mobs of sweating, dancing, request-shouting fans from Kentucky to Colorado. Their new album, FRONT OF THE PARADE, offers a collection of immediately memorable songs whose propulsive drive reflects the energy of the band’s live shows. On first listen, you’ll notice their unabashedly melodic vocals, tight, soulful harmonies and clean ensemble playing — their general sound seems to fit somewhere on an iPod mix between, say, Crowded House and Matchbox 20.
On a second listen, the play of oblique biographical detail and savvy literary reference reveal themselves in haunting images and subversive wordplay. “Saw the ghost of Barrymore drinking H2SO4,” begins one line in Hold On, unlocking itself next with “Baby don’t you know I hate Hamlet.” Cigarettes and Magazines wraps a critique of superficial, Bible-brandishing hypocrites in a sweet, swaying lilt. And the giddily euphoric Through My Door (also the first video) celebrates the pleasures of crushes for crush’s sake – toasting the self-justifying thrill of infatuation itself.
Plus, these are songs you can dance to!
Chatting recently with Rob Carpenter, I first ask him to more explain about this now infamous (and official!) 'Muckrakers Day' (July 8th) that had sprung up in Louisville "It's huge. The entire city shuts down & people come to Louisville from miles around. I think I read that they're expecting Louisville to triple in size for this year's Muckrakers Day and hotels are booked over an hour outside of town. Just insane. There are steamboat races, giant random bonfires, beauty contests (there has to be a Ms. and Mr. Muckrakers Day doesn't there?), sing-a-longs, corn dog booths ... and this year they're going to commemorate the statue of us rescuing a kitty cat from a tree. A burning tree. Actually ... wait ... nope ... none of that is true!"
OK, but is there at least an actual key to the city (or local bar!) that's included in the package?! "Bupkiss - I did get a very nice certificate w/ a seal of the city on it (and the mayor's signature). Certificates are incredibly underrated."
Your album title 'Front Of The Parade' is an interesting choice, but does it originate from a more personal standpoint for you guys, perhaps? "Interesting that you bring that up. When I was writing "Cigarettes," I had a very specific idea that I thought I was writing about. As I got more and more into the song though, I realized that it was one of the more autobiographical songs that I've ever
written. The album title comes from a lyric in that song - and we thought that the song and the lyric were a good representation of who we were and where we wanted to be."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated The Muckrakers at their musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "The thing I love about our band is that everyone puts their stamp on a song. Perfect example - "Working My Way." I wrote that song in my dorm room in college and John & I played it while we were still a duo - but chances are you wouldn't recognize it b/c it has seen so many changes over the years. Brian joined and changed things around
with his bass lines. Dave did the same with his drums and Micah did the same with his guitar when they each joined. I love that a song like "Working My Way" can show all of our strengths too - but if you take out any one member of the group, the song doesn't work. It's empty without harmonies. It's empty without drums. It's empty without bass. it's empty without Micah's guitar. That's what a band is all about."
Having already opened for Vertical Horizon, the Violent Femmes and ... Jessica Simpson, I'm now looking for a bit of muckraking on your experience alongside the lovely Jessica that day! "Sadly, there's not much to report. Our drummer (Dave) met her briefly - but she and Nick arrived late and left early. We did get to meet everyone's favorite American Idol runner up Justin Guarini though (who was very nice and, in all honesty, stole the show). That was the weirdest day of our career - to be on that bill & to see the thousands of teenage girls come running into the venue when they opened the doors. Absolutely surreal."
And just where did the name The Muckrakers originate ... and what else could it so easily have been? "John gets credit for it. When we were just a duo starting out we went by the name "John and Rob." We were asked to play a little festival on campus and when we told them that we went by "John and Rob" we were told that we really needed a band name. I remember sitting at a Hardee's in Bowling Green and agreeing on the name. I don't think there were any other real nominees (though I liked John Ruby and the Rhinestones). I've been in many bands over the years - and I think the thing I enjoy the least about being in a band is naming a band!"
Having formed at Western Kentucky University in 1998, I'm wondering what has been the biggest positive change in the band ... "I think the biggest positive change has been the transformation from duo to full band. After each member of the band was added - some fans protested (especially with the addition of electric guitar w/ Micah). But, I don't think any of us can imagine not having the full band that we have now. A close second would have to be traveling. The fact that I get paid to see the country with my best friends and play songs that we have written just blows my mind."
... and the biggest negative change in the band?! "The business aspect of being in a band is incredibly hard - and can be incredibly frustrating. We all joined a band because we love to play and write music ... not worry about budgets, sales, promotion, etc. But, we have no choice. I really wish one of us had a business degree though."
For fun, and taking the titles of a few of your album tracks, please let us know:
'Cigarettes & Magazines' - Do you smoke ... and what mags are your favorite reads?! "Occasionally. I'm continually trying to completely stop. I have subscriptions to "ESPN: The Magazine" and "Atlantic Monthly." My favorite music magazines are "Paste" and "Q." And I steal all of my mom's issues of "Time" and "The New Yorker"."
'Warning Sign' - What's the biggest verbal/visual/mental warning sign that you've encountered in life ... and how did you handle it? "These things honestly happened to me the day I moved to South Bend, IN: my alarm broke over night - so I was late in leaving ... my car broke down by the side of the road ... I had to pay a deposit of $666 on my apartment ... I was given the wrong keys twice ... I was not allowed to move in b/c of a "curfew" rule. What did I do? Absolutely nothing. The lengths you'll go to for a woman. Worked out pretty well for me though!"
'Gone' - Which deceased actor or musician do you miss the most and would love to chat to if ever they were found alive and well after all?! "I struggled with this question more than any of the others - and I'm still at a loss. Now, if the question was baseball players or historical figures - I could go all day (for the record - Jackie Robinson & Thomas Jefferson)."
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "I've never admitted this, but I owned the Milli Vanilli record - and I wouldn't mind hearing a reworked version of "Blame It On The Rain" or "Baby Don't Forget My Number." I really shouldn't write that ... I'm so going to get kicked out of the band!"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "How could anyone not like penguins? I like pandas. You?"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of The Muckrakers' brand new CD, just answer this easy question: What was the name of their very first independent album?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'MUCKRAKERS SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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