Mannequin Men's Kevin Richard sounds off on indie rock.
In 2003, after Kevin Richard broke up with his girlfriend, he slept on the floor of his friend Seth Bohn’s apartment for 150 bucks a month. Thus began Mannequin Men. Once guitarist Richard and drummer Bohn teamed up with bassist Rick Berger and, later, guitarist Ethan D’Ercole, the garagey punk band quickly earned a reputation as one of Chicago’s most untamed live acts. Before the foursome makes its first trip to Austin’s South by Southwest this weekend, we met with lead singer Richard at Matchbox, where we found the 25-year-old Frankfort native sipping a can of Schlitz.
Time Out Chicago: In write-ups about you guys, the word drunken comes up a lot.
Kevin Richard: I think that gets blown out of proportion a lot. I mean, it couldn’t be more, like, tertiary to what we’re doing. It’s not an artistic influence.
TOC: So it’s not like you guys are drunk while you’re performing.
Kevin Richard: Oh, we are. Quite drunk. But it’s completely secondary. People kind of attach to that ’cause it seems like it’s cool or edgy or something. And I’m like, there’s a lot edgier shit going on than that.
TOC: What’s the edgier shit?
Kevin Richard: Well, I mean, everybody falls prey to that idea of, like, “Oh, what kind of band are we? Are we a garage rock band? Are we a punk band? Are we, like, a psych band?” We’ve been able to put our toe in the water of all those things.
TOC: MM tracked its first record, Showbiz Witch, in one day—the second, Fresh Rot, in three days. Was an unpolished sound an artistic choice or done out of necessity?
Kevin Richard: For the first record it was definitely a necessity, but it was necessity carried by a desire to do it that way, too. For Fresh Rot, once we got in there with [producer] Robert [Daniels], who works very quickly, I’m like, “We don’t want to polish a turd. We want to get in there and put it down, and if it’s good we’re going to keep it.”
TOC: Do you think too many albums are polished turds?
Kevin Richard: Oh, yeah. By far. And there’s a place for that. But I don’t think that we operate in that kitchen, you know? I don’t think people are going to compare us to, like, a Wilco record that takes seven months to make. If we made a record like that, no one would want to listen to it.
TOC: Is MM consciously trying to counter a trend in indie rock?
Kevin Richard: The second you get conscious, you get boring. If you want to call us a punk band—it’s like, if I had to list my favorite bands, the Bee Gees would be on there. Like psych Bee Gees is some of my favorite stuff on earth.
TOC: Do you think there is a trend in indie rock?
Kevin Richard: Indie rock has become such a monster that it would be nice if there was a trend. Like, this week the new Arcade Fire album comes out and everyone’s, like, “Oh, let’s try and do this on our album.” And with us, it’s always been, like, we’re 16 years behind everybody. We’re like, “Oh man, that second Alice Cooper album is kicking ass.”… I think the trend in indie rock is this really weird—the analogy that Ethan used was Kool-Aid that there’s not enough mix in it. It kind of tastes like it, but you’re like, What the fuck? No one believes in what they’re doing, everyone just wants to get popular and are willing to sell themselves out—not sell themselves out, I hate that term. But it’s kind of appropriate.
TOC: What are you guys hoping to get out of SXSW?
Kevin Richard: Play for some people who haven’t seen us before. As much as it sucks, you gotta at least give a wink to the business side of it every now and then. Not to mention the fact that it’s seven days off work playing rock & roll music in another state.
TOC: Some online critics have praised MM but also said there’s nothing really new here.
Kevin Richard: What the hell you gonna do that’s new? If you want to hear new music, man, you’re fucked. It’s not gonna happen.
TOC: Then why do you think that criticism gets made about you guys?
Kevin Richard: I don’t know. I really don’t. I think we’re doing something new not necessarily musically but socially. I don’t feel like bands are willing to participate in, like, interacting with the audience. It’s entertainment, it’s not as serious as the blogs say. You’re supposed to be part of these people. And the music can come in second place. Too many times it’s like, “Oh, we’re the band, bring it in.” And I’m like, “We’re the band, let’s have a good time.”Mannequin Men spreads the joy at SXSW Thursday 13–Saturday 15.