When you bring up the success of Zack Lopez’s band’s new single “New Low” on alt-rock radio, MTV, and Fuse, the Middle Class Rut guitarist doesn’t get too excited. He politely doesn’t really give a shit about hype and media hoopla pegging the duo as the next big thing. But a mention of the valiant grind of touring and gigging gets him talking excitedly and loudly.
“We like to have people come out to a show and decide. They either really get it right away or they don’t,” says Lopez. “I don’t like any press stuff that has crazy hype going on. I’d rather people hear us and come to a decision on their own terms, instead of being told. We just want to exist under the radar right now.”
Lopez and vocalist/drummer Sean Stockham kick off their winter tour this week in Charlotte at Amos’ Southend. Traveling in support of a recently released full-length debut titled No Name No Color, they work their way back to the West Coast through late spring before joining the Warped Tour this summer.
Middle Class Rut’s first visit to South Carolina was in 2009, opening for Social Distortion at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach and at the Shoreline Ballroom in Hilton Head. Lopez says they’re excited to be returning under their own steam.
“Every week, someone’s telling us something else that’s goin’ on,” says Lopez. “We just soak it in as we go. When you go out on the road, you’re just living in a van and going from show to show, so it’s really cool to hear that things are happening outside of all that.”
The guitarist says it’ll simply be the two of them on stage at the Music Farm, with no extra touring musicians behind them or any fancy theatrical or audio enhancements.
“On the production tip, we’re definitely scaled down,” Lopez says. “If they’re familiar with one of the songs that’s been on the radio, they’ll get that element of the band, but they might also be surprised by the sound of the rest the songs, the way we play in them on stage. It’s going to be heavy and loud, and I think people who are into rock music will like it.”
Lopez and Stockham go way back in the northern California band scene. They formed their duo in Sacramento in 2006. They’d previously played together in the Dreamworks-signed band Leisure, which split in 2003. In 2008, they signed to the Bright Antenna label and released two EPs. The last two years have been a mad dash for the twosome, as they’ve toured the U.S. and the U.K. continuously.
“As long as we’ve been in bands, Sean and I have been playing together,” says Lopez. “We started our first band when we were both 13. We decided to start scaling things down around 2006.”
Once they got rolling, comparisons to other modern indie rock duos like the White Stripes, the Black Keys, and the Kills were inevitable — and not inaccurate.
“It’s easy to say it, ‘Oh, sounds like this or it sounds like that,’ but with us, the bands we resemble don’t come from us sitting around and spinning their records over and over,” Lopez says. “When we started writing songs, and I started singing, we weren’t sure who we’d sound like. Once we got going, I thought our stronger influences came out as the spirt of the band, as opposed to an actual riff-to-riff thing. We try to recreate the exciting feeling and live energy we got from our favorite bands.”
Stockham’s heavy-handed drumming pairs well with Jucifer’s Ed Livengood and the Flat Duo Jets’ Crow. Lopez, on the other hand, wails and strums with slightly more refined grunge-meets-post-punk manner, drawn equally from the likes of Mudhoney, Jane’s Addiction, the Melvins, and Foo Fighters.
“We’re definitely playing for the song more than anything,” Lopez says. “When I sit down to write a song, my mindset is different, knowing that it’s just going to be me playing it. We always describe the music as a really raw, heavy, unpolished sound. Even on the recordings, we try to keep it as basic as possible, but effective.”
With a configuration of merely a set of drums and an electric guitar and amp, it seems like the absence of bass guitar or some sort of low-end source would be detrimental. Lopez finds it liberating.
“At big venues, when you mic up the kick drum, it sounds huge,” he says. “A lot of times, the bass guitar is just big low frequency going on. It depends on the types of band. Obviously, I know there are great bassists out there who play their roles, but with us, the bass lines have usually been a low octave of whatever riff I was playing. That was a huge eye-opener. We never played amazing bass players before, anyway, so I though I could do that part myself.”
Some of MCR’s heaviest material, like the machine-like cruncher “One Debt Away” and the fast-paced and repetitive “Alive or Dead” thrash and bang. Other songs, such as Jane’s Addiction-like “Busy Bein’ Born” and the riffy radio single “New Low,” feature less bulky elements of classic guitar pop and melody-driven alternative rock.
“It’s just easy for a two piece in a way because we can do whatever we want,” says Lopez. “But we do run into situations where we try to make the best song possible, but we hear another part that we can’t play, and we don’t want to let a song suffer. Just being two guys means we’re limited to what we can do on a stage together. It plays into what kind of songs we can write. For example, I can’t do a lot of high, noodly stuff when there’s no bass backing it up. You tend to go for a more sold thing. You’re looking for groove more than you’re looking for that one flashy part.”