Interview by Ciarán Steward.
The Ex Senators are an American band who aren’t afraid to shout their true feelings from the rafters. With plenty of experience between them, the band are talented musicians with a real passion for music and they know exactly what they want. I caught up with DMac, lead singer with a huge personality with plenty to say and Van, guitar maestro, before a brief acoustic gig in London recently;
MYDADROCKS: What are you guys all about?
DMac: We’re a rock and roll band from Chicago, that’s it. We’re a little bit of punk, little bit of punk and a little bit of politics thrown in for good measure.
MDR: Who came up with the name?
Van: I think that came from you (to Dmac).
D: Uh, did it? Ok... I think I came up with it when we were talking about what to name the band a few years back, it wasn’t meant to be political it was kind of a joke. If you Google the word Ex Senator you get a laundry list of debauchery and embarrassment of different government officials that have done bad things.
MDR: And now you’ve added yourselves to that list?
D: Right, we figured we had enough skeletons that we qualified automatically, it was kind of a running joke.
MDR: I’d be right in saying you’re not Republicans then?
D: No we’re not (laughs).
MDR: Fans of Obama?
D: Yeah absolutely, we’re both democrats, the whole band are pretty much liberal.
MDR: There isn’t one of you that’s a closet republican then?
D: No, not that I’ve found out so far.
V: Once we find out who it is...
D:Could be fired! (Laughs)
MDR: Well they say he who talks loudest...
D: (Laughs) Well isn’t that what they say about the republicans that are always bashing gay people turn out to be gay. The ones that talk the loudest about it end up... Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but don’t be gay bashing!
MDR: Is this your first trip to London?
V: I came here a couple of times when I was a kid but it’s been a few years, it’s definitely a different thing now.
MDR: So it’s the first time for music then?
D: I’ve been here many times, I lived in Amsterdam for a year and commuted to London for a long time and I lived here for a while. I actually recorded a record when I was on Mercury, I spent a month at Abbey Road
MDR: Not exactly the shabbiest place to record?
D:It’s a great studio and it was an amazing experience. Actually got booted out of one studio by George Harrison, a couple of years before he died, I was kind of a punk kid. They moved us into the Beatle room which was studio 2. We were like ‘Oh sure he can bump us, sure!’.
MDR: If you’re going to get bumped by someone, George Harrison isn’t a bad choice!
D: Right, the funniest thing was that the one opportunity I had to really meet him, i’m standing in the loo taking a piss and George walks into the bathroom and i’m like ‘i’m not going to introduce myself to George Harrison in the bathroom’ so I waited out in the hallway and I really obviously washed my hands and when he walked out I said hello.
MDR: You described yourself as a ‘punk kid’, would you say that English punk has had an influence on your music?
D:Without a doubt, I think British punk changed rock and roll and changed music forever. Between the Ramones and the New York Dolls in the US and what happened with The Clash and The Stranglers and The Damned and those bands, they changed music because it gave everybody a license to make some noise and not worry about perfection on the strings. Van is a guitar player, I beat the crap out of my guitar, its the Joe Strummer school of guitar playing!
MDR: So you’re really about making noise then?
D: Yeah, I try to make noise and let them surf over it
V: You’ve also got to control what you do!
MDR: Well the acoustic set here isn’t going to be the noisiest thing you ever do.
V: Well we’re going to try.
D: That’s the lead guitarist’s job, to make it all sound pretty, weaving in and out.
MDR: Start A Fight is very politically based, do you think you can help to change things by putting this out there?
D: I think change is up to individual people to get involved, from our perspective putting out there was a way to say to people ‘Wake up!’ shake people up and say ‘Hey! This is going on! Pay attention!’
MDR: You want the message to get across to all of America and the world then?
D: Both sides of the aisle are guilty of spending more time finger pointing and bitching rather than actually offering up any kind of solutions so they scream and yell and make a lot of noise although there’s not actually a lot of forward motion.
MDR: What would you do if you met Sarah Palin?
D: I’d probably say hello to her if she was polite but if we wanted to get into a political conversation I would say she would be someone bringing a knife to a gunfight.
V: I highly doubt she’d want to do that...
D: Right, what i mean is she’s... ‘I can see Russia!’ that sort of thing. You can’t have a duel of wits with an unarmed person, she seems charming and sweet in her own way, in a TV/weather host sort of way, which is what she really was and they turned her into... They got what they got!
MDR: You wish she’d stayed with the presenting?
D: I do yeah, if she’d stayed in Alaska going ‘it’s going to be really sunny tomorrow, and cold...’
V: Like it’s really hard to be a weather person is Alaska...
D: (Laughs) ‘It’s going to be 35 below zero tomorrow and sunny!’.
MDR: Your other single, The Kids Are Trouble, looks at the healthcare system?
D: Yeah, a few things prompted it; there is a lot of advertising in the US from pharmaceutical companies that are like ‘take this pill to stop smoking and it will also make you want to kill yourself and have explosive diarrhea’. I saw this bit saying that the US consumes about 85% of the worlds Ritalin supply and that just, I thought it was incredible. The song is about the self-medication of society rather than just paying attention to what’s going on which seems to be an over-riding theme in the album.
MDR: Is the attitude in America that if enough drugs are thrown at a problem it gets sorted?
D: Absolutely, I think that’s starting to become something that happens in other parts of the world but in America big pharmaceutical companies hold a big sway over society. People that tap their leg, that’s now called restless leg syndrome and you can take a pill for that. I used to think that was just ‘I like to tap my foot, i hear rhythm in my head’ like a musician would.
MDR: For the rest of the album, are all the songs quite outlandish?
D: No, there’s an art to the album, there’s some introspective stuff, there’s some that’s more funky. That band has multiple musical influences, I definitely had a big punk influence and rock and roll, Beatles and Stones, I know Van loves the Stones. He came up with different type of music, each of us has different influences so it’s a bit of a wrestling match and that shows up in the record, you have the centre arc of different sounding songs. We didn’t want it to be boring for us to play of for people to listen to and I think there is political stuff and some more personal stories in the music. Our other guitarist ‘Fabulous’ has played with Mary J Blige and Janet Jackson, he brings that funky edge. If you listen to Start A Fight, Van plays the rhythm and all the little licks and the lead is Fab who is just a ridiculous guitar player and he surfs over it.
V: It’s great throwing him from his background into a rock situation because he plays stuff that normal rock guys wouldn’t play.
MDR: What would you say are your own musical backgrounds?
V: I grew up with the Stones, Tom Petty, even like Supergrass, that kind of stuff. I’m definitely way on the rock side. I started when I was like 13 or 14.
D: Supergrass was a great band, I don’t know why they broke up. I actually met them a long time ago... (tails off). Clyde our drummer played for Aretha Franklin and all these different people and yet he grew up on metal, he loves Metallica and stuff like that. Everybody in the band has different influences which makes for an interesting musical whatever it is.
MDR: How did you form?
D: We met each other a while back, Van was in another band and I was doing some solo stuff and we went in a studio together and then he moved to LA and was doing some things, we did some recording out there. When he moved back to Chicago...
V: It wasn’t too long after that, a couple of years...
D: 2008 or so, we were jamming and writing then a good friend of ours passed away and the band got together, other than Brian the bass player who came in later, the four core guys got together at a funeral for our friend, it was kind of a jam. Musicians from all over the world were coming in, our friend was a drummer who played with just everybody, the list is ridiculous, he played with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson and all sorts. We had a big jam and the four of us ended up playing and about a month later it was like ‘lets do a record’. It took 2 years between our schedules to nail it down and figure out the sound and then this is what came out of it.
MDR: Have you got further ambitions after this album?
D: Oh yeah, I think we’re ready to go for it! We’re going to play a new song tonight that we’re getting ready to go into the studio and cut and we’ve got almost a whole record written. That ones going to go a lot faster than 2 years! We’re talking about doing that in a few weeks rather than a couple of years. We’ve nailed down the way we work together and the sound of the band and where the flow is.
MDR: Do you want to keep it political?
D: I don’t think we’re a political band, I think some of the songs have a political edge to them and a social commentary. The first two songs are political and its a way to get to know the band but I don’t think we want to be boxed into that and it’s more about what’s happening in the world and we’re going to comment on it if it feels right.
MDR: Do you think the videos have an influence? The cartoon style of Start A Fight helps to endear itself to people.
D: Yeah, that video was a labour of love so to speak. We did it for ourselves more than anything because it was a really good laugh to put it together and we kept adding on and adding on, it took six months to make.
V: Who doesn’t want to be a cartoon?
D: Yeah, who doesn’t want to have their own superhero character? When the video was done, everybody in the band was like ‘can I have a picture of my character?’ It’s been fun, the idea of the band is we’re a rock and roll band, there’s punk and funk and a mixture, I think we’re gonna go wherever the music takes us.
MDR: Do you think the rest of the band will ever get a word in edgeways with DMac?
V: It’s like Penn and Teller, we’re all Teller.
D: (Laughs) That’s true, guilty as charged!
The self-titled album by the band will be released in August with their debut single Start A Fight is available now.
Interview by Ciarán Steward.