LET'S TAKE A MINUTE to appreciate a band from Bremerton that usually gets dismissed faster than an unruly drunk does from a Belltown bistro. The>"/>
LET'S TAKE A MINUTE to appreciate a band from Bremerton that usually gets dismissed faster than an unruly drunk does from a Belltown bistro. The members of MxPx are certainly guilty of being Christians and skate-rats, and of making punk-pop barely distinguishable from many of their peers traveling with them this summer on the Warped Tour. To quibble further, the three musicians—vocalist and bassist Mike Herrera, guitarist Tom Wisniewski, and drummer Yuri Ruley—stir up less controversy than Eminem's chauffeur, which is a writerly way of saying that their public persona is boring, especially for a supposed punk band.
MxPx at the Warped Tour
Gorge Amphitheater, Tuesday, July 4
But MxPx deserves recognition for a few things, and they rarely get props in the press. For one, they're resilient. They released three albums on Seattle's Tooth & Nail, got signed to A&M, reached gold-record status by selling 500,000 copies of 1998's Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo, and then weathered the record industry's equivalent of The Perfect Storm—when Seagram bought Polygram (which owned A&M) and did away with thousands of jobs and hundreds of bands' contracts in early 1999. Which brings us to MxPx's latest major label disc, The Ever Passing Moment, where Mike Herrera proves once again that few can equal his ability to write disarmingly catchy two-minute punk-pop songs.
One such song kicks off the new album. "My Life Story" is ridiculously simple, built with a buzzing guitar riff, elemental rhythm, and the type of snotty vocal delivery that's been de rigueur since Johnny Rotten first grabbed hold of a mike. He's worked the formula before. "Chick Magnet" and "I'm OK, You're OK" conveyed easy-to-relate-to messages that clicked with young crowds, and the lesson wasn't lost on Herrera: "My Life Story" features a down-and-out guy showing up late for a date and running down a list of excuses. Yet he's not as calculating as it might seem.
"The idea for that song came for a photo shoot that we did," says the 23-year-old. "We wanted to do something interesting for a band photo, so we decided we'd get all dressed up and drench ourselves with water, and have bloody noses and bloody lips, and dirt on our faces. Then we'd show up on this girl's doorstep, like 'Sorry we're late.' That was the idea for the picture, and I was like, that would make a really good song too."
HERRERA BRINGS an almost working-class mentality to his craft. He formed MxPx with Ruley and another high school buddy, who was soon replaced by Wisniewski, and the three began releasing albums, EPs, compilation tracks, and 7-inches in prolific fashion. They toured the West Coast, building a fan base among young Christians and skateboarders (Herrera and Ruley favor this form of transportation). Despite living near Seattle, the three remained in Bremerton, leaving on increasingly frequent tours and eventually becoming part of the Warped juggernaut; in 1998, MxPx spent the year pumping out sets on stages throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.
Herrera says that despite seeing many exotic locales, the guys still are content to come home. "Now that I've traveled all over the world, I [notice] that there are some things that are lame about Bremerton," he says, but quickly adds that he appreciates the familiar faces of his hometown. "I really love New York City and Hollywood and all that, but at the same time you can be in the best city in the world, but if you have no friends then how much fun is that?"
Again, simple sentiments, but ones that can strike a chord. That's why the new bottom-line-first record conglomerate stuck with MxPx, and that's why thousands of ecstatic teens will greet the band at each tour stop throughout the summer.
Not to imply that MxPx has failed to progress musically. The Ever Passing Moment approaches complexity at times, and nuanced, fuzzed-out tracks like "Answer in the Question" and "One Step Closer to Me" betray an acute pop sensibility and an ability to maneuver around more than just the basic hooks and melodies. But these probably won't be the songs the fans scream for.
Besides the old hits, they'll surely hope to hear "My Life Story" and "Next Big Thing," a fairly preachy indictment of the current star system, where image, of course, is everything.
As unstylish as it may be, MxPx writes for a niche audience that's put off by Eminem's trash-talking and Kid Rock's blustery nouveau metal—and it's a pretty sizable niche, as it's earned the boys from Bremerton a fan club of 50,000. These are kids that live in the suburbs, watch MTV, skateboard, maybe even go to church. They like MxPx's mortal, generally positive messages. Herrera's not quite a charismatic leader, but at least he's comfortable with his role off to the side of the spotlight.
"Our fans are our fans," he notes. "It's rad, because MxPx fans are hardcore where we're their favorite band, and then there are people who think we're just OK. There's not much in between. Well, there's definitely people who don't like us at all who don't get it and don't know why people even like us. But we definitely have a wide range of kids that like us."