Interview: The McLovins
One of our biggest goals for Live & Listen is to find a way to provide value and increase exposure for exciting, up-and coming bands. Luckily, we found out about the McLovins nearly six years ago. This week we had the opportunity to speak with founding members Jake Huffman (drums/vocals) and Jason Ott (bass/vocals).
This year marked the 6th anniversary for The McLovins. Most bands never even make it that far. How did you guys get started as musicians, and what led you guys to get together and form the band?
JAKE: Well we have been in the band for so long now, but we started when we were so young. It's this very strange feeling because we were so young, and now we're approaching seven years. Looking back on it now, what really kept us all together for all those years was not just the chemistry as musicians, but the way we connect as humans beings. We have always been on the same page about everything. It's really our friendship that allows us to grow as a band, continue to tour, and somehow never get sick of each other.
When we got started, Jason and I had known each other for a few weeks. After the "You Enjoy Myself" video, we got a little bite of the carrot. We had a little taste of success. I think that reassured us all that playing music is what we really wanted to do.
I think there are several assumptions and variations of you guys decided on "The McLovins". What's the real story behind the name?
JASON: I'll tell you the real history on it. Apparently it's shrouded mystery. So we posted the "You Enjoy Myself" video, and it really took off on a certain blog spot (Phantasy Tour). We didn't really have a name at the time, but we actually did have a name. I'm not going to reveal the name though. The videos were initially posted with just the song titles. When people would watch them and saw no band name, they didn't know what to call us. So the initial reaction was "Wow! The bass player looks just like McLovin from Superbad." Which I guess I did a little bit. Then they thought Jeff (Howard) looked like him too, so I'm told. We didn't want to go with the process of coming up with a new band name and felt like we didn't need to.
JAKE: I like to focus on the fact that I was the only one who didn't look like McLovin at all. But seriously, our initial name was just bad, so it seemed natural to embrace the name that we were given.
The exposure that the band received from covering Phish's "You Enjoy Myself" on YouTube had to have been intense at age 14-15. Those were the early days of YouTube. Did you have any idea as to how much exposure the video could get? Take me through that experience.
JAKE: So the night we recorded the video, I was really excited to get it on the computer. I was 14-years-old and really had no idea what I was doing putting up a video at that point. It was really stressful and took forever to upload. We put 3 videos online that night and "YEM" was the last one. The next morning I woke up at 6:00 AM to go to school and turned on my phone. My phone just started vibrating nonstop as soon as it turned on, and it literally shut off. I turned the phone on again, and it turned off immediately again. My mom drove me to school, and I finally tried to turn on my phone again. I pulled up my email, and my inbox had just exploded. They were all emails from YouTube, and I had an email for every single comment. We had uploaded the video at 3:00 AM and the video already had 10000 views and thousands of comments by 10:30 or so. Needless to say, I could not concentrate, and I couldn't even use my phone, because this carried on for a couple weeks. It's funny because you spend so much time putting music on the internet, and then to all the sudden you have that amount of attention being paid to it. We definitely weren't expecting anything like that.
It's my understanding that the video eventually made its way back to Phish. What type of feedback did you get from those guys?
JAKE: We got a really nice email from Trey (Anastasio) and Tom (Marshall), and they just told us how much they liked all three videos. That was pretty surreal and exciting. Trey actually told us how to go back and correct part of YEM that we missed when we did the recording. That was really cool, and we were able to use that advice to actually play the song correctly.
Let's talk about writing music and recording albums in high school. That's one of the craziest and certainly most confusing times of your life. What was your approach to writing and recording original music as teenagers?
JASON: Well, that’s definitely true. We were all in very different places, and we didn't go to high school together. We all had our own influences. I was in the orchestra. Jake was in school at the Jazz Academy. Jeff was just shredding on the guitar all day long. We would get together to practice at Jake's house after having not seen each other all week. Everyone would bring all of these different elements they had been working on. I'd have a specific bass line I really liked. The lyrics were always Jake, and as they still are. I'm just not a lyrics guy, and Jake always has been. This kind of allows us to go in different directions. Instead of sitting down and completely planning out the song, it allows us to each try a lot of different things on our own. Obviously, over time we have matured and changed the way we do things a bit. I really don't listen to much of the music from early days because we have come so far. It kind of makes me cringe, and I end up really wishing I could correct things I did wrong. But such is life and I think our progression is evident with each album.
JAKE: The best part about it for me is that my voice is so different now. If we throw on Conundrum in the van now, it's really pretty funny to listen to. It's just crazy to listen to yourself at 14-15 and hear how different your voice sounds. It's funny, but we have matured and learned so much since then. And with writing our own music, we just had nothing to worry about back then. If we screwed up it didn't matter. We were able to try anything we wanted with no consequences.
So you guys make it past high school and 2011 rolls around. Original lead guitarist, Jeff Howard, decides to leave the band. Was there any doubt as to the future of the band? How did you guys hook up with Atticus (Kelly) and Justin (Berger)?
JAKE: I would say there was a lot of doubt, because we had played so long with Jeff, and we loved Jeff. I think everyone would agree I am pretty hard headed. We love this band and we love making music, so we really didn't want to give it up. I already knew Atticus from the Jazz Academy, and I had been playing music with him the entire time I was playing with The McLovins. Luckily, Jason and Justin met one of the first days of school, and they really hit it off. Before long we were all playing, and at the time both Atticus and Justin were playing guitar. We took a big leap of faith that just had amazing rewards. We were fortunate to land with two great friends who are also amazing musicians. I really wouldn't change a thing.
We did see some people lose a little faith and stop coming to shows, but we carried on. That is to be expected, but we knew that we had something really special. We never would have gotten to this point now without overcoming that struggle. It definitely makes everything that we were doing a little more rewarding now. We know now that even if the worst was to happen, that we can handle it. We're going to continue making music and carry on.
The chemistry with Atticus and Justin clearly came early. It wasn't long before you guys were asked to sit in as the house band on ESPN's "SportsNation". Can you share some details of that gig?
JASON: That was pretty unbelievable. We were really fresh at that point. We had been playing together for about 5 months and had played our first show on New Years Eve. To say that there was a little stress involved would be an understatement. But it ended up being a lot of fun and an experience we'll never forget.
JAKE: The ESPN studio is up in Bristol, which is really close to Hartford. There were some people there who had heard about the band. They sent me an email one day, and honestly I thought it was a joke. We ended up playing 8 or 10 episodes on "SportsNation". One episode in particular was the "Announcement to The Espys". Colin Cowherd was still a host of the show then, which was pretty entertaining. We got to hang out with Ice Cube and the Dax Shepard one day, and that was hilarious.
The McLovins have impressively performed at Gathering of the Vibes for six straight years. What does that festival mean to you guys, and what types of opportunities have come from it?
JAKE: Gathering of the Vibes is home. I would say we owe a whole lot to Gathering of the Vibes. It is right up there with the importance of the YEM video. They are the ones who really had a confidence in our band and got us in with the right music scene. We would never have gotten the gigs we did so early without the exposure of Vibes. We are very grateful for everyone involved with the festival. We met so many people through that first Vibes show. We got to play in front of hundreds of people that year. We will never forget how good they have been to us, and the relationship continues to grow.
JASON: We were so young and it was a very euphoric feeling seeing people at a festival coming out to listen to our band. Each year we have been able to get a better time slot, play on a bigger stage. The lineup of the festival is always great, and seems to get even better each year. It's given us an incredible opportunity for exposure, and it's so close to home. We couldn't have asked for much more.
With several of the band members being full-time students, it has to be difficult to find ample time to write music, practice for hours on end, and play gigs. How do you guys go about balancing it all out?
JASON: It's a lot of work, but there are always hours in the day to get things done. You can fit it all in if you really want to. You do have to be willing to sacrifice your free time, your weekends, special events. Atticus manages to work a job at The Guitar Center. Jake seems to always be writing new songs. We have had to miss some opportunities due to school over the years. We've been able to get through it at this point, and luckily we only have the school factor for a few more months.
JAKE: When you're a member of a band at this point, you have to be in it 100% of the time. It requires so much hard word, so much time and money. There is a lot of dedication and risk involved. When it pays off it pays off, the rewards are amazing and it’s a feeling you really can't describe.
JASON: And we don’t mean monetarily.
It's almost been a year since you released your fourth full studio album, Beautiful Lights. How important was that release for the band?
JAKE: Incredibly important. We felt like everyone had been waiting to see what were going to be with the new lineup. It was kind of the elephant in the room. We waited about a year; maybe so long that some people forgot about us. But we were so happy with the finished product. Spotify was really coming into play at that point, which was great because we were able to see that so many people were listening to us. Beautiful Lights was so important, and I think it shows that we were really focusing on harmonies. It's much more refined and not nearly as wild as the previous recordings.
This past summer marked the first trip across the country for The McLovins. What was the experience like living out of the van and driving across America for two months?
JAKE: A lot of smells. A lot of close quarters with ten, sometimes eleven people in the van. Very rarely twelve, but it happened a few times. It was nuts, but it was everything we wanted it to be. Jason probably slept on the hotel floor more than the rest of us, but he didn't complain. There were a lot of weird inside jokes. We drove past so many fields in the Midwest; somehow we had a lot of fun with that. Some shows were amazing. Some shows weren't and we knew it would be a test. It was such a great experience to really get a taste of living on the road doing a summer tour. Touring is one of those experiences that I feel very privileged to have done. It's a very unique way to live. You get to see a lot of new places and meet new people. You never really stop moving. I feel very fortunate to have had the experience at such a young age. I'm really excited about doing more of it.
What other up and coming bands have you had the chance to work with? The increase in touring and festival appearances has to be great for networking purposes.
JAKE: This spring we played a few shows with The Heavy Pets and The Werks. It was great to work with such professional bands. Bands that perform but also run their own production. They were such nice guys. We were able to get to know them, but we also learned a lot from them. By playing and hanging out at music festivals, we have gotten to be around the Dopapod guys pretty frequently. They just released a new album this week, which totally kicks ass. Our light guy Thai Guy is a diehard fan of theirs, so we end up listening to a whole lot of Dopapod on the road. It's funny when we see them because they have no idea how much time we have spent listening to their music in the van.
Then there are bands like Mister F and Aqueous. We're all with the same booking agency now, and we really like those guys a lot. We have more reasons and opportunities to play with each other and support each other. It's something that we really hope to continue doing. We're all in it together.
JASON: One of the things I've really liked recently is getting more acquainted with the Hartford music scene. Bands like Kung Fu, The Breakfast, West End Blend, which features our horns section, which we have incorporated in most of our shows lately. It's been great to make these connections and support the other bands around you. That's a huge part of it, and its great when you find other bands that are on the same page.
What was the idea with recording a 4-song EP just a few months after the new album? Was this planned before the release of Beautiful Lights?
JAKE: Beautiful Lights was released almost a year after we recorded it. We already had so much new music that we had worked on. We got to support the album with a tour down south in January, and really wanted to have a brand new release to put out as we started the big summer tour. It feels good as a band to support a new album on tour. We came up with this great funk EP, Funk No. Uno, and recorded the entire thing by ourselves. It had a very organic feel to it. It just felt right that we had this new sound and a new release to support. With so much time between recording Beautiful Lights and its release, we had moved on to a new phase.
I can only imagine that 2015 will be another year of milestones and exciting accomplishments for you guys. What’s the general plan for the year?
JAKE: I think the name of the game for us is tour and play festivals. Starting January 1st we head on out on tour for a month. We are going down south and heading back out to Colorado.
JASON: We are stoked about playing AURA Music Festival again this year. That will be the first weekend of March with moe., Papadosio, The Disco Biscuits, Kung Fu, The Motet, and so many other great bands.
JAKE: Everyone will finish school by May. We really want to make it out to California, Arizona, and hit the west coast. Play new places that we have never played before. All of 2015 will be a major milestone, because it will be the first time that the entire band can focus on the band full time. It makes you a little anxious but excited at the same time. It's going to be a great year.