May 27, 2009, 06:39AM

INTERVIEW: Mount Righteous

The Dallas-area marching band talks about their boundless enthusiasm, their writing process, and why everyone thinks they're a Christian band.

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Maybe the Internet is the purest form of evolution—a big family where everything and everyone is truly related. It’s pretty easy to digitally daydream from video to related video and band to similar band and hardly remember whom you were listening to or watching when it’s done. As a musician I find it sad and annoying that most of my peers will enthusiastically sing along to a song they hear the radio or on their iPods and when I ask “who is that?” they’ll say, “Oh I don’t know, I just like this song.”  As if the song appeared out of thin air.

When I first heard Mount Righteous it was by accident (as usual) and I was struck immediately by the sound of the group’s collective shout. Loud as hell, but good loud. Visceral loud. Like I could hear them pounding the skin on their palms as they all clapped. Like I could hear them sweating. It’s the kind of loud that hurts but makes you lean closer.

An 11-piece post-punk marching band from Grapevine, Texas (or as they’ve coined themselves, a “merry dorkestra”), their debut When The Music Starts practically bleeds positive vibes from the opening track onwards, when the group screams simultaneously:

When the music starts we all get together/and we dance and sing and love one another/it’s a gorgeous thing/this feeling you bring / freedom is finally mine.

Featuring a raucous patchwork collection of trombone, flute, trumpet, steel drum, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, accordion, bells, melodica, sousaphone, whistles and a few guitars for good measure (plus everyone sings in unison), Mount Righteous defy you to feel down in the dumps.

They recently answered a few questions:

SPLICETODAY: First, tell us a little about how this "alternative marching band" concept came together? Did you envision it as such a big project in the beginning?

JOEY KENDALL (bass drum): Yes, we envisioned it as being a big project. There are a lot of instruments in it to avoid using mics, PAs, stages, etc. We don't really march but we're completely mobile. I had the idea a few years ago when Kendall and I were living in Los Angeles for a bit. When we came back to Texas, we got together as many of our friends that played music who were down with the idea. It just grew from there.    

ST:  What's the story behind the name? A tongue and cheek jab at any religion in particular?

KENDALL SMITH (bells/melodica): Think more along the lines of surfer-dude "righteous." Not so much almighty-God "righteous." People tend to assume that we are a religious band because our songs are about positivity and don't embarrass our grandmas. We all have different beliefs and disbeliefs.     

ST: It's hard not to be drawn in right away by the sheer magnetism of 10 or more people singing at once. It all sounds cleaner than just a live show but with the same intimacy. How the hell did you catch all that noise and energy on your album When The Music Starts without it getting muddy?

DEREK TERRY (snare drum): We had an awesome producer named John Congleton (of The pAper chAse) who made it really easy for us. We recorded it in two days... instruments live on day one, vocals live on day two. He's a great producer who has worked with tons of amazing people. You should Google him!  

ST: I’m trying hard here to see who your influences might be. Do you use them or tune them out when you're creating? Not many groups come to mind that sound anything like you.

JK: Everyone in the band has different musical tastes, so it doesn’t really affect our songwriting and composing. The movement of the band is really all that influences us directly.    

ST: How does the typical Mount Righteous tune come together start to finish? How much collaboration occurs?

AUSTIN BIRD (flute/guitar): Typically, the songwriter will bring a song to the band that is pretty much finished as far as vocals and composition goes. The songs are tweaked at rehearsal by the band until we're all happy.  

ST: Seems that the accordion/sousaphone combination is making a big comeback lately, bringing almost a sea-shanty-vaudevillian flavor to tunes that are still decidedly modern. How do you walk that fine line between being hip and just a cheesy novelty?

KS: On the first album it was really strange for the songwriters to write songs for an 11-piece group to sing. This isn't a band with a leader or frontman... so you're writing lyrics that everyone in the band will agree with. We have been referred to as too happy, or cheesy, or whatever... but that's what came out of that project. And we're totally proud of it. We're just a bunch of friends who aren't trying to be cool.          

“Sea Man” Live at The Grenada Theater in Dallas

ST: Is it hard to be heard at live shows? Seems like the full band would be a sound guy's nightmare.

LAURA NEELEY (melodica/percussion): Most of the time we’re playing without mics/amps/etc. The songs are arranged to be one sound so that everyone can hear our vocals. We typically play on the floor with the audience, so if someone complains that they can't hear us, then we tell them to come closer! On the rare occasion that we need to be mic'd (such as at a big club or festival) the sound guys are pretty good. We don't rely on monitors, so that helps.   

ST: People I've sent your stuff to have all said the same thing: "Wow this is crazy shit" and then "Grapevine, Texas? Where the hell is that?" It seems to be not far from Dallas. What's the music scene like down there? Do you think independent roots music thrives better away from the consumer-crazy coasts?

MASON PONDER (sousaphone): We're from the suburbs of Grapevine, so it was important for us to claim Grapevine as our hometown. As far as the music scene in Dallas goes, it's great. It's kind of like a big high school. Everyone goes to everyone’s shows, everyone bickers on blogs about who sucks, but deep down everyone loves each other.   

ST:  If you guys had to cover a Top 40 hit right now what would it be? (Cough cough Top 5 right now are Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Jamie Foxx, Kid Cudi, Beyonce etc).

WHOLD BAND: Are you trying to trick us with this question? Right now we're covering "Breakfast Machine" by Danny Elfman and we’ve covered "You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd" by Roger Miller.  

ST: What's the next step for Mount Righteous? Doubling the personnel maybe? Playing arenas?

WHOLE BAND: We're recording our second album at the end of the summer and we're going on a few mini-tours in the following months.  

Check out Mount Righteous' videos and photos.

  • I gotta see these guys when they tour their way up to the east coast. Never really seen anything before quite like this...except for maybe the Polyphonic Spree. Good find!

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