Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mouserocket | Commercial Appeal | Mouserocket likes it Pretty Loud

On second album, band maintains spirit of collaboration, improvisation
By Bob Mehr
Friday, April 25, 2008

Although they've been playing together since 2001, the members of Mouserocket did something for the first time recently: They took a band photo.

It's odd that it should take so long -- nearly a decade, a handful of album and single releases, and countless shows -- for a band to get around to such a basic task, but Mouserocket has always operated in fairly unconventional manner.

A local "supergroup" of sorts, the band features guitarists/vocalists Alicja Trout (Lost Sounds, River City Tanlines) and Robby Grant (Big Ass Truck, Vending Machine), cellist Jonathan Kirkscey (Rob Jungklas Trio, Hi Electric), and drummer Robert Barnett and bassist Hemant Gupta.

Though it started it out as a side project for most of its members -- and remains that way to a large extent -- Mouserocket has become a fixture on Memphis' indie rock scene, while the band's recordings represent some of the best work any of them has done. Tonight, the group celebrates the release of its second and latest effort, Pretty Loud, with a show at the Hi-Tone Café.

"When we started," says Trout, "for me, Mouserocket was the band I'd go to and be like, 'This is a group where I can just enjoy music' -- as opposed to feeling stress or the pressure of touring or a career."

Originally built around a handful of children's songs Trout wrote in the late '90s, she began rehearsing with drummer Barnett and guitarist Grant, veterans of Big Ass Truck and Vending Machine.

"Originally, I was just going to come in and play loud guitar," says Grant, who soon began contributing his own songs to the mix.

Then, Gupta and Kirkscey came along, the two being old friends, roommates and band mates. "In high school, Jonathan played guitar in the band and I played sitar," says Gupta, whose mother is an accomplished sitar player. "She was teaching me for a bit but it didn't work, so I got a bass."

Kirkscey, who joined the Memphis Symphony in 1999, connected with Trout via their work together on the soundtrack to Craig Brewer's debut film, "The Poor & Hungry," and later, Kirkscey briefly played with her in the notoriously combustible Lost Sounds.

Kirkscey was invited to play with Mouserocket, and Gupta arrived with him, his bass in tow. "They came as a package, one day they both showed up together," says Grant. "And that was the band."

Mouserocket's self-titled debut, released in 2004 on Empty Records, was a quirky, angular affair that merged an early-'90s lo-fi/four-track aesthetic with the big-tableau pop of XTC and the odd blast of Sonic Youth-styled guitar noise.

Although they continued to play as Mouserocket with some regularity over the next few years, the group ultimately took a backseat to the band members' individual pursuits. Trout was busy with the Lost Sounds and later the River City Tanlines, and then the birth of a baby girl; Grant and Barnett continued with their quirk-pop combo Vending Machine and families of their own; while Gupta finished law school, got married and took a job at the firm of Butler Snow. Kirkscey is the only one in the band who's single or doesn't have kids.

"Be sure to print that," jokes Grant. "'Jonathan is single ... and he likes taking long walks on the beach.'"

Finally last summer, the band decided to try to complete work on its sophomore album, Pretty Loud. Recorded at various home studios in fits and starts over the last four years, it combines news songs as well as polishing up a few nuggets from Trout's and Grant's back catalogs.

Although Grant and Trout generally provide the original impetus of the songs, Mouserocket has, over the years, evolved into a more collaborative unit -- something that adds a unique texture to its indie-rock concoctions.

"For me, the songs start as something really simple that would sound good with big parts and people adding their own layers to it," says Trout. "Or it's something that's really unfinished and we work on it at practice -- 'cause we don't really practice our set; we just sort work on new material when we get together."

A kind of flowing improvisational element -- with each member adding his or her own touches to the songs -- has come to define Mouserocket, particularly on stage. "We all sort of enjoy the freedom to experiment and be creative," says Kirkscey. "That's a good environment to play music in."

"Although sometimes at shows, we don't know what we're supposed to be playing," says Trout, to gales of laughter. "It's like, 'Um, I think most of us played the D chord there.'"

Perhaps the biggest difference, both in concert and on Pretty Loud, is Kirkscey's cello work. Beyond his job with the symphony, Kirkscey has become the go-to cellist in local pop and rock circles, playing with everyone from Cat Power to Al Green to Harlan T. Bobo. His keening, sometimes dissonant playing has become a defining part of Mouserocket's sound.

"At first, trying to compete with these guys was incredibly difficult," says Kirkscey. "I tried a lot of different pickups, amp and pedals. I didn't have anybody to tell me how to play rock cello in a band, so it was trial and error. I think I've gotten it to where I can compete volume-wise with these guys. It's only taken seven years to get there."

Following a recent industry trend, Pretty Loud is being released this week, by Chicago's Tic Tac Totally! label, as a vinyl LP with a CD of the recording packaged inside. The vivid cover art that accompanies the album is the creation of New Orleans musician Miss Pussycat, depicting the band as furry, tribble-like creatures.

"She made a different puppet of each of us, but I had to describe everybody over the phone to her," says Trout, chuckling, "'cause we had no pictures. . . . They're pretty good interpretations, though."

Although the disc is already generating good reviews (including a recent nod on the Los Angeles Times Web site), it's unlikely -- given the band members' personal commitments in Memphis -- that they'll hit the road to promote the disc.

"This band has tons and tons of potential to do stuff, except most of us are not in the position to tour it," says Trout.

They will make the local rounds beginning with tonight's CD release at the Hi-Tone, continuing with an acoustic show at Goner Records May 1, and an in-store at Shangri-La Records later next month.

Although Mouserocket's members continue to stay busy with various projects, the band is something none of them plans on ever leaving behind. In fact, they all agree it's one group they can see playing in when they're old and gray.

"It's weird to think that," says Trout, "but it's true."

"Well, it's because we never have fights," says Kirkscey. "That's a rare thing to have in a band."

"That kinda is the deal with us. We don't have any drama. Which probably makes us boring," adds Grant, laughing. "We're happy to manufacture some if you want, though."

--Bob Mehr: 901-529-2517

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mouserocket | Memphis Flyer Article | Meeting in the Middle

Robby Grant's "pretty" and Alicja Trout's "loud" morph into Mouserocket.

The Midtown Memphis music scene has long been an incestuous network. It's almost hard to find prominent musicians who haven't worked together at one point or another. But one of the more interesting pairings in this world might be Robby Grant and Alicja Trout, who co-front the underrecognized indie-rock quintet Mouserocket.

Grant made his name on the local scene as the frontman for '90s notables Big Ass Truck but has lately recorded most of his music via the somewhat-solo project Vending Machine, a home-recording-oriented "band" in which Grant tends to write quirky, dreamy songs about subjects such as his wife, kids, and home life.

Trout became a major player on the local indie/punk scene via the synth-rockers the Clears and, later, as a co-conspirator (alongside Jay Reatard) in the ferocious Lost Sounds. More recently, Trout's signal band has the blistering power trio River City Tanlines. In Mouserocket, Grant and Trout meet halfway: Trout tones it down, and Grant amps it up.

"The whole pretext for me was that I wanted to make a lot of noise and play guitar and not write songs," Grant says. "I think Alicja turned to me one time at band practice and asked, 'What song are you going to do?' So it's kind of morphed into that. But what I like to do in this band is play really loud guitar and sing really loud."

Mouserocket started out, a decade ago, as a Trout side project of sorts — an outlet for lighter, poppier, more playful songs that didn't fit her other projects. But it's developed over the years into a classic, collaborative band.

"Here you can bring a skeleton of a song, or less, and make something," Trout says. "Everyone can come up with a part. It takes a lot to get to that point, but it's a true band. The sound isn't determined by the songwriters."

The band members who have coalesced around Trout and Grant include former Big Ass Truck drummer Robert Barnett, cellist Jonathan Kirkscey, and bassist Hermant Gupta. Barnett also plays with Grant in Vending Machine, and, in a Midtown landscape where there seems to be a handful of talented drummers who serve an entire scene, he stays busy, playing with Rob Jungklas, Hi Electric, and a jazz trio with guitarist Jim Duckworth and Jim Spake.

"He probably plays in more bands than any of us," Grant says.

Kirkscey plays in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra but lately has been bringing his classical chops to the rock world. Gupta, alone among his fellow Mouserocketeers, is a one-band man.

With its members involved in so many projects, Mouserocket is not the type of band that practices regularly or lives together in a tour band. But everyone agrees that, with a familiarity born out of a decade together, the band thrives on its looser framework.

"We've gotten to the point where we don't play a lot together, but we've played together for a long time," says Grant. "We're not a band that practices once a week and that practices our old songs. We can play shows and come together without that."

"Our shows are boring if we practice too much," Trout says.

This fruitfully ramshackle quality is reflected in the band's new album, Pretty Loud, only its second official full-length release and one that was recorded over several years. It features new versions of several previously recorded songs — two from Mouserocket's past ("Missing Teeth" and "Set on You," previously poppy rock songs here gone electro and country, respectively), one from Vending Machine ("44 Times"), and one from Trout's solo project Black Sunday (the epic "On the Way Downtown," which richly deserves a second life).

Along the way, the album presents a sonic variety — especially in guitar sounds — perhaps unique among Grant's and Trout's myriad projects.

"That's probably a result of it being recorded over such a long time in so many different places," Grant says of the variety. "But I love that about it."

"What are you supposed to do when you're a songwriter and you record a song on a seven-inch that sells 300 copies or whatever and then you record a better version with a band that's playing live?" Trout asks about reusing old songs, particularly "On the Way Downtown." "Black Sunday is my solo thing, but if I'm playing [that song] live and the version is totally different, I think you have the license to record it again."

If Mouserocket has, at times, been secondary to Grant's and Trout's other musical outlets, now the band seems to be moving to the forefront. As the father of two, Grant isn't as free to tour (or as interested in touring) as he was in his Big Ass Truck days. Trout, the mother of a six-month-old girl, is in a similar place.

"For me, when I was in Lost Sounds, it was very stressful, and I needed this band to remind me that music was fun," Trout says. "I've put it on the backburner because touring was taking up so much time. Now that I'm not touring ... You know, having a kid has given me less time in some ways, but it's given me more time to think about [my music]."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Mouserocket Record and Show

The new Mouserocket record "Pretty Loud" is coming out next week.

Check out more on the Tic Tac Totally website.

We have a show coming up next week too:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Rockey Shuffle - Vending Machine does a song for the Memphis Redbirds baseball team

The new Vending Machine song AND dance, "The Rockey Shuffle" will debut as a part of this Sunday's (April 13th, 2008) "Baptist Pediatric Care Kids Opening Day" festivities at the Memphis Redbird's AutoZone Park.

As is the Sunday tradition at the park, kids will be invited to run the bases at the conclusion of the game, which will be followed by a special invitation for all to stick around and be a part of the making of the Rockey Shuffle video which we will use throughout the season both in-game and on the Memphis Redbirds website.

Sunday's first pitch is scheduled for 1:35 PM, and tickets are available at or by calling (901) 721-6000.

The song was recorded last month at the new Easley McCain studio and features Robert Barnett, Quinn Powers, Doug Easley, Sean Faust and a cast of kids.

Check back here Sunday night as well to hear the song. We will be posting it here!

April 16, 2008 - Update! Take a listen here:

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