Q&A with MJ of Awesome New Republic
Michael John Hancock, better known as MJ, from Miami's soul-punk group Awesome New Republic, talks about the band's new release coming in October, settling in Miami, and band breakups. Awesome New Republic will perform Tuesday, September 8 at Roxy's in West Palm Beach and Saturday, September 12 at Soho Studios in Miami. Visit the band's MySpace page for more details
New Times: You studied music at University of Miami. How did your studies inform your composition style or musicianship?
Michael John: I was a music major in the [Frost School of Music], but I could study outside of the music school. It wasn't narrow. I came in pretty narrow, doing music business. I had a scholarship for classical voice. It certainly stretched out my range. We move around a lot with our music as far as the range.
NT: The third part of Rational Geographic is set for an October release date?
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MJ: Sort of what happened was, we started working on what would have been volume 3. The last batch of recording sessions ended up going really well and being slightly unrelated to the other two. So we ended up just making it into a full album. I know we've been promoting [it as] a third volume, but we decided to just make it a full album, a full CD in and of itself. It's all the stuff we recorded for volume 3 plus some more songs, including some from the first two and some other stuff that was either old or we play live a lot. [The logic behind releasing it in volumes was] we're a pretty unknown band, and if we break it up and sort of put stuff out throughout the year leading up to an October release -- that we're really pushing -- it would benefit us, instead of just waiting around until October. And it worked out. We've been getting nice little mentions over the summer and spring.
NT: What can people expect and how is it different from the last two?
MJ: The last two were sort of going back and forth between the connection of one's personal life and one's life with their community or their society. So there's a lot of songs that are more political or socio-politcal. What's coming out in October, pretty much every song is relationship stuff, personal stuff. We've been a really eclectic band for a long time and we try all sorts of different styles, I think this is more cohesive, this is definitely more like one unified sound.
NT: What was your priority going into the studio?
MJ: Our priority is to pretend that we don't have full 24-hour access to a really good studio. We work [at our record label Honor Roll Music], and I live here at the studio... So you can fall into the trap of "I'll do it later," whereas a lot of bands will buy studio time and work around the clock and do an album. What we've settled into this year is creating a fictitious scenario where we're just acting like we bought the time for two weeks. We have to get it done in two weeks.
NT: When does that two-week period start?
MJ: Right now we're finishing everything up and cleaning everything up. We've been working on that for a week now. We're trying to get everything shipped out September 1. I don't think we'll keep the deadline. But September 3 or 4 at the latest.
NT: What led you to move away from more political subject matter?
MJ: I think it was a combination of what was on my mind at the time. We went into it wanting to be a hybrid political [group], do a lot of stuff on politics and sexual politics. But after a while you feel like, if you're writing a lot of political commentary and you like dance music, you start to feel like a politician or some dude in front of a podium. It gets a little tiring, so we wanted to take a break from it for a while. But I'm sure we'll get back to it. It's in our blood.
NT: How did you and B Rob meet?
MJ: We met playing in a band call Empirical Mile. It was more like a jam band.
NT: What inspires your musical tastes?
MJ: For him, he's really influenced by improvisational music, but not crappy improv music.
NT: Like, not jam bands?
MJ: Yea, he likes a lot of jazz, jazz fusion, Miles [Davis], Herbie [Hancock]... a lot of prog rock. A lot of dorky prog rock. The first tapes I ever had were Thriller, Talking Book, Harry Belafonte's greatest hits, Beach Boys Endless Summer, and the Disney Afternoon soundtrack. That's pretty much all I listened to on repeat for a long time, probably during the time I started first writing music around 5 to 10 [years of age]. We were just injected with pop, and then meeting eachother in college, showing eachother music. We get really excited about more underground music, and we try to take all those cool sounds and incorporate them into a more enjoyable, popular style of music.
NT: Why did you decide on Miami instead of New York City?
MJ: I came down here in '01. B Rob was really adamant about moving to New York and trying that out. I gave it a shot, a very small shot. And pretty much came right back down to Miami. I've been a big fan of Miami ever since I got here. The only time we moved was to try to stay together as a band.
NT: ANR split for a short time. What caused the breakup?
MJ: He really wanted to move to New York, he thought the band would do better in New York. I was getting married, and there was a lot of stuff going on. He was moving, and I was going through some personal changes. It felt like going from a really good situation down here, to being one of 20,000 other bands in New York City getting paid zero dollars a night to play. I left New York and that was it. I was never a big fan of New York. It gave me a lot of anxiety.
NT: Who would you like to collaborate with?
MJ: My friends who also make music and who I don't get to make music with enough, like Panic Bomber. He's a really nice guy. We were talking about trying to go on tour together sometime, just the two of us doing, like, more electronic stuff for fun. And we were talking about doing an EP together for that.
NT: Any bigger names?
NT: Iggy Pop, probably right now, that would be the most dominant, notable act which would be someone we would wipe our schedule for, if someone like that would be at all interested in jamming with us.
NT: You've played big festivals like SXSW and small clubs here in Miami. What do you prefer and what's going through your head playing a huge festival?
MJ: [With festivals] it's more like running around, playing for whoever came to see you versus the 20 other shows going on at the same time in the city. And then as soon as you play, you pack up and you run around. You go see other stuff. So it's kind of like a scavenger hunt or like a really fun activity. Whereas playing our own show, because when we play our own shows we're usually in smaller venues, there's more energy and sonically it's more enjoyable. When we play something like Langerado, or any of those outdoor festivals, those are kind of weird. We don't have 20 amps for each of us. And those things are like open-air shows on the big stages, and it could sound great out there, but so far it always sounds really controlled. And it's like the wind carries your sound away. It's kind of a weird experience playing those things when you're not that big... For us it's like you dropped three little ants on stage.
NT: When will be the moment when you feel like ANR has really made it?
MJ: If we ever played David Letterman, which is my favorite TV show ever. I think that would be it for me. But we were on NPR a couple weeks ago, and that was pretty special for us.
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