Ruh-ro, MXPX is back in hiding
By Naughty Mickie
Photos courtesy of MXPX.com
Okay, maybe the title's a little misleading because you can still catch MXPX on their latest effort, "10 Years and Running'' (Tooth and Nail Records), but it's mostly the truth. I spoke with guitarist Tom Wisniewski just before the band's appearance in the Southland on the Warped Tour and prior to the release of the film "Scooby Doo," which features their music in its soundtrack. As you read this tale, da boyz of MXPX, vocalist/bassist Mike Herrera, drummer Yuri Ruley and Wisniewski, are in the studio working away on their next album. Yet, with the wonders of words, we will travel in my time machine, back a few months to take a peek into Wisniewski's creative brain...
"The band got together back in high school. Gosh, it must of been '92," Wisniewski begins brightly. "Yeah, that makes sense because we're 10 years old now. It was just a bunch of friends that wanted to play. Mike (Herrera), he had a kind of band started with a friend of his named Andy and they needed a drummer and they heard this kid named Yuri (Ruley) who played drums and they called him up, had him come over, they practiced a bunch, played a lot of shows. Flash forward a couple of years, I got in the band, took Andy's spot, and we've been touring and recording ever since.''
"You seem to have meshed really well," I comment.
"It worked really good for some reason, I don't know. We're just all really good friends and it just seemed to work. And Mike wrote pretty good songs and people kind of liked them, so eh!'' Wisniewski laughs.
All of MXPX's members grew up in the state of Washington. I ask Wisniewski if he had any musical influences as a child.
"Yeah, when I was young, I remember, my parents had cable, I remember when MTV first started," Wisniewski recalls. "I remember the first year it was on, this lady would come over and watch me, she would always sit around and watch it. I remember 'Thriller' and 'Pride in the Name of Love' and stuff like that, all these classic MTV bands, I listened to them and watched the videos. When I was a kid, I didn't really get what was going on, but she was like, 'This is the most amazing thing ever.' I was so young that I didn't get that bands weren't on TV all the time, that it was like a rare thing.''
Wisniewski first picked up a guitar in ninth grade.
"I played drums originally, but all my friends played guitar, so I figured, 'They all know how to play it, I'd better learn something so I can hang out and play along with them.'" Wisniewski then tells me about his drumming, "It was in '87 or '88 when I started playing drums. I just got a drum set, I was in school band and I did snare drum and all that and my parents were like, 'If you want a drum set, you've got to practice and stick with the school band' because they liked it. I said, 'Yeah, I'll stick with it through high school.' They bought me a drum set and I set it up in the basement, we had an unfinished basement, and I just played all the time. I drove my parents nuts, I'm sure. I'd go upstairs after I was done playing and the TV would be cranked. But I'd just play along to 'Appetite for Destruction' or 'Doctor Feelgood' and stuff like that. That was how I learned how to play drums.''
"I'm also a musician and can play a bit of everything, was it hard for you to switch instruments?" I query.
"It wasn't a weird switch really because I played drums," replies Wisniewski. "This was the first band I ever played guitar in, but Mike and Yuri needed a guitarist. They're like, 'Hey, we need someone who's really committed, who's going to stick with it.' I was like, 'Yeah, you totally do.' They're like, 'How do you feel about it? Do you want to be in?' I'm like, 'Sure. Why not?' They already had one record out and they had a tour they were starting to plan. They were like, 'We can't go on tour and everything, we need someone to go. How about you?' I think the only reason why I made it through the first tour was because I'd already played drums and I could at least hang with Yuri and I knew where he was at all the time. So I wasn't a complete rambling mess on the guitar.''
I mention that his work on the current CD is pretty good.
"Well, yeah, it's been a few years I've been playing. I'm no Eddie Van Halen by any means, but I'm starting to be able to hold my own,'' Wisniewski says humbly.
MXPX took off so swiftly that he never attended college.
"We left on tour two days after we graduated from high school," Wisniewski explains. "The timeline is: we graduated Monday, shot a video, our first video, on Tuesday, we were in Seattle, and went on tour for two months on Wednesday. Came back and all our friends were just starting college, we're like, 'We're going back out on tour, see ya.'''
He never had to keep a day job while the band was getting on its feet.
"I was a groundskeeper in high school for a summer. Other than that, nothing really," Wisniewski says. "Yuri and Mike were busboys at a restaurant in town. We had little high school jobs, but you don't have time when you're touring. With our band, luckily we've been blessed with being busy. So we don't have time for real jobs, always touring or recording or doing this, that or the other thing, there's no time to have a real job.''
"What do you do when you're not on tour or in the studio?" I wonder.
"When we're off tour, like right now we're home, we've been home for a little while, we practice a lot," replies Wisniewski. "Usually Monday through Friday we're at a studio. We get up around noon and go until whenever. And like right now, we're practicing for the Warped Tour, so we're practicing. You only get a half hour, so we're trying to figure out what songs to put in the set and what to cut out and we're trying to make up a couple different sets so it's not the same boring thing every day in case some kids go to a couple shows.''
"I hang out at the house," Wisniewski says about his hobbies. "I've been working on my yard. I came home from a trip recently and my yard was like a foot deep and I had to dig out of that. And we have fun, some of our friends play at an open mic on Wednesday nights around here, so we go to that and hang out and have a good time. I work on the car a bit. Me and my friend, Neil, go cruising. He has a '64 Impala and I have a '64 Malibu, so we go cruising a bit together and just have a good time.''
Herrera usually takes the reins in songwriting, but the band works as a team to create the final product.
"Mike writes the songs and brings them into practice and we make them into what they are," Wisniewski explains. "So he has the basic ideas, he goes, 'These are the words and these are the chords and this is how I kind of think it should go, start here, go there, you know.' Then we go through it and I'll go, 'Oh yeah, let's try something here.' Yuri will have an idea. We'll work on it together.''
Still in the middle of the music scene, I ask Wisniewski his thoughts.
"There's a lot of good bands," Wisniewski says. "It seems like the boy band thing is disappearing a little bit, which is fine. They had their time, you know, but I mean by no means are they gone at all, Britney's on tour and she's just doing huge and Backstreet has a new record coming out. There's always going to be that, there always has been. There's a lot of good young rock bands that are coming out that makes me feel good about the state of MTV and the radio and stuff because they'll actually play these bands. I'm like, 'Wow, they're pretty good.' And so every time I turn it on, I'm like, 'Oh great, another N'SYNC/Backstreet/Britney clone, just what I need. It's good that MTV and the radio is beginning to play some of these other bands, like the White Stripes and the Strokes and stuff like that, they're just straight-up garage rock basically.''
He uses the Web for a variety of interests.
"I'm a big fan of the Internet. It's cool," gushes Wisniewski. "I got the new iMac, I just fell in love with that computer, it's just so cool looking. It works really good too. I like to cook a lot when I'm home too, so I go on the Food Network Web site and I get recipes. We just went camping last weekend, so we looked up directions for where we were going. It's a useful tool, I use it a lot with the band too. I've got e-mail I have to answer a lot too.''
Getting back to MXPX, I ask his how they got the Scooby Doo gig.
"It was going around that they were looking for a band to do it and our manager called up and was like, 'Hey, we're your band,'" states Wisniewski. "So we went into the studio and we recorded a demo of it and they liked it and they said, 'Yeah, it just needs to be a little longer with an instrumental part because we want to put it in the commercials.' We added an instrumental break, no big deal. It's just a cover of the actual theme song.''
"Did you watch 'Scooby Doo' when you were growing up?" I ask.
"Oh yeah, all the time.''
"Who's your favorite character?"
"I don't know. Scooby was always funny because he was the comic element to the show, him and Shaggy," replies Wisniewski. "But Shaggy was always kind of a little scared. I like Scooby the best. No one else because the other ones were all so straight and like, 'Gee, we'd better solve this mystery.' Yeah, I liked the funnier parts of it."
I have to know, did the band meet the film's cast?
"No we didn't," says Wisniewski. "I think they had something like four or five different bands because I know Shaggy, which is funny because the name, but they had him do a kind of reggae-ish version and I know someone else did a kind of techno-ish, hip hop, rappy version. There was a few different groups doing different versions. We did a punk rock/rock and roll version. My wife was like, 'Do we get to go to the premiere?' I'm like, 'Yeah, right.' I'll probably see it with the rest of the world when it comes out.''
"What parts of the film feature your music?" I ask.
"It's in a couple of commercials and from what we hear from them it's in part of the movie. I think it's when they're doing some kind of roll call thing where they're showing all the characters. Like 'Shaggy' and 'Fred,' I don't know,'' Wisniewski shakes his head.
I learn that Wisniewski and his wife don't have children, so I ask him what his friends think about MXPX contributing to the movie.
"They thought it was cool. Some of my friends from other bands were like, 'Dude, I heard you're doing the theme song for "Scooby Doo."' We said, 'Yeah.' 'That's the coolest thing ever,'" glows Wisniewski. "One of my friends has a band called Dashboard Confessional and he was like, 'That is like the coolest thing I ever heard. Records, videos, free airplay, that's all cool and everything, but you did the theme song for "Scooby Doo,'' that's awesome.' He grew up watching the show too.''
The band has no plans for slowing their momentum.
"We're going to do the Warped Tour until August 18 (2002) and then we're going to go in and record a new record starting in August and have it out by the end of the year hopefully," says Wisniewski. "That would be nice. But it just matters when we can get it done and the record label can get it out there.''
I prepare to let Wisniewski go, but he continues, boasting about their new release.
"The '10 Years and Running' thing is actually a whole can of worms in itself because we've actually been around 10 years, it's weird. It's cool to have a 10 year package come out, 'Here's the highlights of the past 10 years, what do you think?'" Wisniewski bubbles. "It's crazy, I never thought I would be in a band, I mean the longest I was in a band before this was a year, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I've been in this band for an entire year, that's amazing.' But that's pretty cool. I'm going to be showing my grandkids the videos. So to have that, like, 'We weren't just a one-hit wonder.' Here it's 10 years later and we're still playing and we're doing better than ever.''
"Would you say that your old music still stands on its on?" I query.
"Yeah, I'd say," responds Wisniewski. "We try to play a lot from every record when we play live and everything goes over pretty well. There's songs that obviously go over better, but for the most part old, new, whatever, the kids sing along. It seems they've got them, downloaded them, borrowed them from a friend, whatever, they've got them, they know all the words.''
Wisniewski returns to speaking about the album, "We're working with our old label who we had a bit of a falling out for a few years, now we're back with them for this one thing and it's been good. They've treated us really nice. It good to get it out there, something new for the fans. And also for some kid who's never heard of us, it's a good thing to check us out and get an overview instead of getting one particular record and getting that moment in time.
"I'm looking forward to the Warped Tour too just because we have a lot of really good friends on the tour -- No FX, Good Charlotte, New Found Glory -- they're all good bands and they have a good time with us," Wisniewski goes on.
This tour, they're planning to get away from the venues occasionally to see the towns and have some fun. On regular tours, as opposed to large tours, like the Warped Tour, the group has more time to get out and see the sights.
"It's like 'Ground Hog Day,'" Wisniewski says of the Warped Tour. The group will be preparing for the studio as well, "We're going to have a little practice area set up in the back of our bus, so if you're standing close to the back of our bus on the Warped Tour, you're going to hear a bunch of new songs.''
I tease him that I'm going to tell all my friends.
"If you can get backstage, past all the security and figure out which of the many buses is ours, you might hear some new songs behind it, yeah," Wisniewski laughs.
We share a few "band adventures"-- I tell him about the time I caught fire on stage and he offers a tale of his own.
"I broke a toe once playing football, about a week before we had this big show down in L.A.," Wisniewski relates. "I don't know if you've ever broken a toe, but it takes forever to heal and all you can do is tape it to the one next to it and just deal with the pain. If you go to the doctor they'll just tape it-- nothing. You can't put it in a cast or anything. So we're playing the show and I'm kind of hobbling around stage and I'm just trying to do the best I can, but at the end of the set we get up on top of the speakers and we jump off of them. Right when I landed I just felt it, a sharp pain, like I broke it again or something like that, it's like 'Oh, great.' I limped off stage and stuck my foot in a bucket of ice and was like, 'This sucks.'
"Luckily for us it was just a one-opt show and I can't be on it for another week and a half," continues Wisniewski. "We've been off a lot lately and we're going to Australia and Japan, so I had some time where I could heal it. I mean, I broke it playing football which I normally wouldn't be doing if we were going out on tour, just because we never have enough people around. We were at the beach, just a bunch of us friends, playing around and I had this smart idea that my shoes were getting too full of sand, so I'll just kick them off. And then I was trying to fake out one of my friends and I completely kicked him in the shin and broke my toe. He was like, 'Dude, that must have hurt you because it hurt me really bad.' Well, it's all good now.''
Wisniewski's story parallels MXPX's career and future-- "It's all good now." They've made it through 10 years and seem poised for 10 more... which is no mystery to their fans.
For more clues on MXPX visit www.mxpx.com or www.toothandnail.com
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