It's funny; but Houston funk-punk-ska-thrash-noise-whatever guys Middlefinger haven't been around that long, yet, at least in terms of bands other places than Houston -- they've been around about 2 years now, and in that time they've put out a full-length, 3 Martini Lunch, and an EP, Quickie, won a big handful of awards, and played like mad all around town and elsewhere. They're also one of very few bands in Houston who can draw a crowd at all the different clubs in town. It may sound strange to non-Houstonians, but the music scene here is largely organized along club lines -- the Emo's crowd mostly hangs out at Emo's, the Mausoleum crowd mostly hangs out at the Mausoleum, and the Fitzgerald's crowd mostly hangs out at Fitz. The majority of the bands in this town appeal to one or two different crowds, but Middlefinger somehow manages to get everybody dancing and jumping around everywhere from Fitzgerald's to the now-defunct Blue Iguana. Everybody likes these guys, from the thrash fans to the ska kids, and with good reason: Middlefinger are one of the best bands in Houston, hands down.
At any rate, I got a chance to talk a bit with a couple of the guys in the band, brothers Brian (drums) and Jason (guitar), and they gave me an update on what all's been going on with the band lately...
SCR: So where are the rest of 'em, anyway? Where does everybody live?
Jason: Ah, he and I live together, kind of between Conroe and The Woodlands.
Okay, so you guys are a ways out of town.
Jason: Well, Jay lives in Montgomery, which is like...it's far. It's like an extra 30 minutes from my house northwest.
Brian: Yeah, we're actually -- Dave lives northeast...
Jason: Yeah, he lives northeast, Jay lives northwest, and then Matt lives in Austin.
Brian: And see, we really had it bad, 'cause there was actually a time, probably about a six- or seven-month period in the band where Matt and Dave lived in Austin, Jay lived in Corpus Christi, and then Jason and I lived in Conroe.
Jason: We wrote songs by sending tapes in the mail, and all that stuff.
Brian: It was the strangest thing, because since we could only get together to do shows, it was kinda like, we'd send tapes in the mail and organize the songs, and they would literally come together onstage, during soundchecks and shit like that, that's where we'd actually be writing the songs. And actually, there was one song that, uh -- "Dog Rape," on Quickie -- it actually went, like, it was all put together live at Rudyard's; that was the first time we'd ever played it together. 'Cause we had the music, but we had no idea what Matt was doing lyrically; we had sent him a tape, and then, so onstage we're playing it, y'know, we pretty much know all the music and everything, we're like trying to listen, you know, 'cause we had never heard him sing it before, so... That was interesting the way that worked out.
That would be kind of a shock.
Jason: Yeah, we've actually done a lot of songs like that, too. We don't ever get to practice.
Brian: It's always a mystery. You know, the majority of all the lyrics are written, finalized in the studio, so, uh, a good percentage of the songs, we don't know what's going on lyrically until we get in the studio.
That's kinda cool, though. Makes it kind of ambiguous...
Jason: Yeah, it makes it surprising. Y'know, we get in the studio and we read his lyric sheets, and we spend like half an hour on the floor, laughing and stuff. Or asking questions, like "what does that mean? I've never heard that word."
I was actually surprised, when I was reading the liner notes to Quickie, I was just like: "is that what he's saying? Ohh...that means something totally different..."
Brian: I think Matt himself summed it up as, uh, "entertaining word salad." Exactly. So, that's from himself.
Jason: But that's also kinda bad sometimes, 'cause y'know, then a lot of times people don't take us so seriously, 'cause we have like, ridiculous songs that make no sense, and then some people turn away from that.
Brian: We don't have the catchy singalong hooks.
Jason: We don't have any "whoa"s or...
I dunno, I think there are some singalongs, there. Not like Green Day or anything, but y'know.
Brian: Nothing lyrically that's gonna inspire somebody to change their life, y'know what I'm saying? But I'm kinda glad, actually -- that's a big responsibility to manipulate people's lives like that.
When's the next record going to be out?
Jason: We started recording back in December, and, uh, we're gonna pretty much trash it all.
Brian: We started recording at Sugar Hill, and we're gonna at least postpone what we'd worked on there, and we're gonna move the whole project over to Texas Music Studios.
Jason: We're going to do everything exactly the way we did it last time, because we like the sound we got on Quickie. So, we're going to do it step-by-step, the same way we did last time.
So, are you [Brian] staying in the band, then?
Brian: Yes, I am. Let me give you this rundown on this little incestuous band thing we have going, okay. Basically, I started playing drums for 30footFALL, and not wanting to completely give up my "throne," if you will, in Middlefinger -- and I had made it known that the only way I'd ever leave the group was if they fired me, so...although I can't say they probably hadn't thought about it. So anyway, with my going to play with 30footFALL, for a couple of weeks the band was kinda hovering around in no man's land, wondering what was going to happen, y'know? Do you replace me and go on, do you just disband the whole thing? At some point during this time that everything's kinda hovering, Jason accepts this bass-playing gig for the Suspects. So with that...Jason and I are like "The Brothers," the band whores who're playing in every other band, including Middlefinger. We pretty much put everything kinda in wacko-land, and then all of a sudden we came up with the perfect solution, and that is that, since Jason's playing in the Suspects, and we've known Claudio, the drummer of the Suspects, for a long time, and he's real familiar with our music and has done a lot of shows... He's gonna be my "fill-in" drummer, 'cause Jason's in the Suspects, Claudio's in the Suspects, and so Middlefinger shows are gonna be scheduled around Suspects shows, and vice-versa.
Jason: I've managed to avoid any kind of scheduling conflicts so far.
Middlefinger -- http://www.middlefing.com/
Photos courtesy of Middlefinger.
Don't wanna do two shows a night, or anything like that?
Jason: Actually, wait...uh, April 10th I'm playing the Earth Day Fest with the Suspects in the afternoon, and then I'm leaving immediately and driving to Corpus to play with Middlefinger, so... That's gonna be a trip, y'know.
Brian: So yeah, basically, here's the deal: I play drums for 30footFALL and Middlefinger, Jason plays bass for the Suspects and [guitar for] Middlefinger, and then Claudio plays drums for the Suspects and Middlefinger. But it seems to work out, because whenever I'm gone -- and we're actually gonna be doing some 30footFALL tours after the record comes out -- when I'm gone, Claudio's gonna do the shows I'm not here to do. But I'm definitely recording the next record, and I'll definitely be doing shows when I'm in town.
How long are you gonna be out of town?
Brian: Uh...I think July 1st, I'm gonna be gone for six weeks.
Jason: That's the amount of time it takes to get a report card in high school.
Brian: [laughing] Either that, or the amount of time it takes to get everybody in Middlefinger in the same room. I'm serious -- there are a lot of instances where the only time we see each other is onstage. Like, we meet at the club, we play the show, and then we won't see each other 'til the next show.
Jason: Yeah, like between New Year's Eve and our first show, we didn't see each other once.
Brian: What was it? February 12th, at Fitzgerald's. Yeah, we played Rudyard's New Year's Eve, and we didn't see anybody else in the band 'til February 12th. And then we all got on stage, and I dunno, something happens, it clicks when we get on stage and it works, but I would definitely not recommend that to anybody else.
I can't even imagine it.
Brian: But, y'know, Jason and I, well, we're brothers, and we live together, and we've played in so many bands...basically, we've been playing together all our lives, in various projects.
Jason: And Dave...
Brian: Well, Dave...okay, I'm not gonna go into this long story, but we used to play in cover bands, we've done everything at some point.
Jason: We used to make some kick-ass money, too.
Brian: Free drinks and girls.
Jason: Yeah, Richmond Strip baby, woo-woo!
Brian: Like, well, Dave played in the cover band with us since '94, and we stopped doing that in '96 when we got Middlefinger together, so... We've all technically been playing together since '94, but...it's just really weird, y'know.
Jason: Not to mention, we did like, how many other projects? Several? We did, like, an industrial project...
Brian: We did an industrial project that Jason, myself, and Dave played in. We've done everything -- oh, and prior to Middlefinger, Jason, myself, Joey Salinas from Pills and Matt from Sprawl, we had another band called Rugrash. It was '94, '95; we recorded a CD and never released, and I'm still gonna release it, one day, when I have the extra income. That was Matt and Joey's first band after Sprawl.
Jason: Actually, what we're going to do is eventually Middlefinger's gonna be playing all the Rugrash songs.
Brian: I think that's gonna happen -- well, "Mole," off of Quickie, is a Rugrash song. And then, on the new record, there's gonna be two songs off of the Rugrash CD. So I think what's gonna happen is eventually Middlefinger's gonna cover every Rugrash song that was ever done, and then...I dunno what happens after that.
You're going to keep 'em Rugrash songs, not make 'em Middlefinger songs?
Brian: Well, see, the thing is, stylistically they kinda already are. I mean, they're kind of...
Jason: They're more rock-y, and more, uh, some of 'em are more intricate. Some of the Rugrash stuff is more intricate, and more based in a groove. Middlefinger, we tend to get fast a lot of times, and...well, somehow it seems to work. There was no ska in Rugrash.
Actually, "Mole," I thought was more hardcore than anything.
Jason: Well, right...
Brian: Through our careers, as we continue to cover Rugrash songs, y'know, I think people will definitely be able to see how... We can kinda get away with it, because it doesn't really stray too far from what we're doing now, but it blends really away. People would know if Middlefinger were to play a complete Rugrash set. We'd freak people out. But if we throw in one here, and one there, it just kinda blends with what we're doing, so people don't say "well, wow, that song doesn't sound like a Middlefinger song." So, we're kind of tricking people, really.
Jason: Yeah, we're sneaky.
You guys sound kind of all-over-the-place, as it is.
Jason: Actually, our new record is gonna be the most diverse yet, because man, we've whipped out the piano, we've whipped out the organ, and the accordion...
Brian: Acoustic guitar. I don't think we've used an acoustic guitar yet. Yeah, the new album, which is nameless as of now, is gonna be more diverse than anything we've ever done.
Jason: Yeah, it's gonna have fast, slow, hard, light, punk, metal, jazz...
Brian: It's gonna be along the same lines, I think...it's more diverse, but it's also kinda more experimental, like 3 Martini. 3 Martini, to me, had a lot more influences from every band member, and this is kinda coming back to that. Like, we made it a point to not be inhibited as far as what we want to do -- let's just put it together, and however it turns out, it turns out. I mean, we weren't concerned with writing a ska album that the ska scene would like, and we weren't concerned with writing a punk album that the punk rock kids would like, so we just kinda actually probably ended up doing more of everything but typical ska-punk stuff.
Was Quickie different, then?
Jason: Yeah, he and I wrote 3 out of the 6 songs on that thing, y'know -- it was kinda like this: we had started playing all these shows with a bunch of ska-punk bands.
Brian: Yeah, we settled into a little ska-punk groove for a while, but we're breaking out of that.
Jason: We've really broken out of that, because we hardly touch on that with the new stuff. It's still got ska influences and tendencies, and punk influences and tendencies, but...
Brian: Also, the way we write is strange. Like, Jason and I -- going back to that 'brother' thing, since we live together and up 'til last week we worked at the same job together, we see a lot of each other, and there's times where we'll sit down and write a complete song and we'll present it and say "okay, here it is. Jay, put a bassline to it, Dave, figure out something to do..." A lot of times, we'll hand over complete ideas, like finished song ideas.
Jason: Lately, it's been a lot of Jay and Dave, man. And Matt, too.
Brian: That's what's weird about it, 'cause the writing comes from everywhere. We got a song on the new record that Matt completely wrote the music for. I mean, Matt plays guitar, a little, and he plays keyboard...
Jason: He's a musical genius. He is.
Brian: But he's not necessarily a 'play-er,' you know what I'm saying? He's a good keyboard player, not really a guitar player, but some of the shit he comes up with is just so incredible. And there's one song that's gonna be on the new record that he completely wrote the music for. He had it all mapped out, and he knew exactly what he wanted it to do. That's what I'm saying, like the writing comes from so many different angles.
Jason: Yeah, there're a few that Dave totally wrote, and showed us -- which is a first, 'cause he'd never done that 'til this time.
Brian: The writing on this record's definitely come from every angle. There's a couple of songs that Jason and I completely finished before anybody else ever saw 'em.
That's kinda weird, because from the first time I saw you guys, I kinda thought "oh, okay -- this is sort of like Sprawl Mk. II."; sort of like Matt's second band.
Jason: It's totally unlike that, actually. Since we've been together, he's written two songs. He's totally written two songs.
I know he writes the lyrics.
Brian: Yeah, and keep in mind that once we bring it to the table, we can all manipulate it, but he has completely written two songs, where he brought it in and said "okay, I want it to go like this, and this, and this, and this is how it ends, and it's done." But more often, we'll bring in pieces and just work around 'em. But the writing style, I think that's what makes us sound so much different from everybody else, the fact that the writing style comes from three or four different styles of writing.
Jason: Yeah, and we all listen to totally different crap, too.
Brian: And I'm gonna go ahead, and I'm gonna throw it out there, 'cause I know it's gonna happen anyway, but I'm waiting for a Mr. Bungle reference, because we've been accused of that. Which is not to me a bad thing...basically every article, write-up, anything, even album review that I've seen has mentioned Mr. Bungle in the same paragraph as us.
It's an easy one, partly 'cause of Matt, with the changing vocal styles and that sort of thing.
Brian: Right. Well, I just wanted to throw it out there...
Actually, I wasn't gonna ask about that. It hadn't occurred to me 'til then.
Jason: It's always a big issue.
Brian: It's a thorn in the side, if you will, because to me, I consider it a compliment because... I definitely know I'm not the only one, I know there were several of us, who before we got in the band and were exposed to it, I'd heard of Mr. Bungle, I'd heard the name, but I'd never heard 'em. So for me, to have people coming up after shows and say "wow, you know, you guys remind me a lot of Bungle," I was like okay, but only I hadn't listen to 'em. Along the way we've all kinda gotten into them, but I don't think it's...
Jason: It's more of an ongoing joke, now. Every time we write songs, I'm like "oh, nope, sounds like Bungle; can't do it. Nope, that's a Bungle part!"
Brian: But y'know, I consider that a compliment. If people wanna say, when we listen to our record, that we remind them of Bungle, that's quite alright with me. I'm okay with it.
Have you guys played a whole lot out of town? Well, actually, outside of Texas was what I was thinking...
Jason: We've done Boston, Chicago, California, St. Louis, New Orleans, Indiana.
How did it go out there?
Jason: We've done very well outside of Houston.
Brian: Shock value is a motherfucker, man. I mean, to go to another state and see people, like...in Boston, I dunno what it is, but there's some kinda ordinance about not taking your clothes off, and well, Matt basically did that. I don't think he got completely naked, at least down to his undies or something, but...
Jason: He had a stuffed reindeer hanging out of his crotch or something, man.
Brian: We're basically in another state, breaking the law...
Jason: Drunk as hell.
Brian: And it's funny to watch people's faces. It's a good sign. END