Rick JohnsonNo Idea Records
By Pete Bataillon on February 16th, 2014 at Phone
Mustard Plug are ska legends.
Forming on the outskirts of Detroit in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1991, the horn heavy band has released some of the best ska-tunes around.
For their eighth album, the band decided to go it themselves and left their long time home at Hopeless Records. Raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign, the band self-produced and recorded the album Can’t Contain It. We chat with bassist Rick Johnson about the process and the album below.
“Can’t Contain It” is your first album in seven years. How has the reception been since its release?
It’s been good. I’ve been pleased with how people have liked it, which is always better than people hating it. It’s bad when someone is writing a review and it just come back like “Nope. Nice try. Terrible”.
You tracked “Can’t Contain It” yourself in your own studio (Cold War Studios). How was it being at the helm and producing a Mustard Plug album for the first time?
It wasn’t that bad. The hardest part about it is that I was just too involved. I can’t make logical decisions about things. I can’t be logical about whether I think it’s good or not because I’ve been there since day one of the process. So that’s kind of weird. Dealing with the actual recording wasn’t that bad. We did it pretty leisurely. It didn’t bum me out. Whereas I think if we were to go and track it all in a month I think I would have been pretty bummed.
You had some guests on the album (Dan Potthast, Sean Bonnett, Mark Petz, Corey Ruffin). How did they get involved and what was their role in the recording process?
Basically, for the most part, anybody that’s on it, or has a solo or anything on it, we just didn’t have a solo worked out. So we were like, “well, let’s just call friends”. So I just started going down the phone and was just like, “well this person can record themselves and can pull this off”. So I just put in some phone calls asking for favors.
Seven years is the longest time you’ve gone between putting out records. Is there any particular reason it took longer this time around?
No, it just took a long time to get acceptable songs into the mix. With the band, we try not to have any filler. We try not to have any filler just to get a record out. The guys try to have the best possible thing that they can put out, and sometimes it takes seven years to get 14 songs that everybody is stoked on. The other thing is that it’s six people’s decision of whether or not a song makes it. So it’s very democratic. Songs just get cut because somebody doesn’t like it, or it’s just not gelling with somebody. We probably had maybe twenty or thirty songs and we had fourteen after that when it was all said and done. It got whittled down naturally. It was like “oh, we have seven songs, but these three are terrible. Forget them”. That was year one.
How do you feel this record compares to your previous releases?
Well I’ve only been in the band for the one record right before it, so I think it was pretty comparable. I think it’s a little more light hearted probably than the last record. Like sonically light hearted. But yeah, more of the same.
After puting out four records on Hopeless Records, what led you to go your own route for this album?
Our contract was up with Hopeless and it just seemed like a natural thing to do; to try and do it ourselves. Hopeless doesn’t really do a whole lot for a band of our size. We’re not in their forefront. In the past, a record label would promote and do more of that sort of stuff for you. That would be one of the main reasons why you would get on a label, to have them do that. For this, because of the way the technology is, we don’t need their services as much as we did in the past. So why not do it ourselves and potentially make more money and we don’t have to answer to anybody.
You used Kickstarter to raise the funds for “Can’t Contain It”. Is this the first time you’ve used Kickstarter for a project and what made you decide to use Kickstarter?
This was the first time that any of us have used Kickstarter. If I had to do it again I probably wouldn’t do it [laughs]. Because there’s a lot involved. Just dealing with the logistics of getting everything to everybody and ordering everything and figuring out shipping and blah blah blah blah. A little more work than I thought it was going to be.
One of the pledge incentives was that the whole band would record a song for a person based on a subject of their choosing.
Still not done [laughs]
Did they get their request in to you?
Yeah yeah. The reason it’s not done is because we know the person and we were just like “it’s going to take a little bit”. We have to write a song about…. are you familiar with Faygo? It’s a pop, a Michigan based soda. It’s big with the juggalos. So we have to write a song about Faygo.
I don’t know if he’s going to try and sell it as a jingle to Faygo or whatever. But yeah, we have to write a song about Faygo.
That should be interesting when that’s all said and done.
Yeah. Like all those songs I don’t think we have any aspirations to put those out to the public if possible. We have some interesting requests to say the least.
How was it seeing the overwhelming support during the campaign because you raised the amount and then some.
It was great! The thing with our Kickstarter is that we set our goal real low. So the money that we made, that’s how much it actually physically cost us to do everything when everything was all said and done. Like we didn’t make any money on it. It was all manufacturing fees. It was like four grand in shipping. Just like stuff that you don’t think about. So it was good that that happened, because without that we would be in debt. It was great.
The record has now come out on No Idea! Records. How did your relationship with them begin?
We were just going to have them distribute it. I have mutual friends with Var. I’ve known Var for a little bit, and we’ve
Jeff Rosenstock from Bomb The Music Industry! designed the artwork for the album. How did the collaboration with come about? Is that just from playing with him in BTMI?played Fest before, and it just kind of snowballed, and it was like “hey, do you want to distribute this?” and he was like “well why doesn’t this just come out on No Idea? It’s like the same thing. We just put our logo on it”. The benefit of that is that media outlets will be like “oh it’s coming out on No Idea”. It’s just basically friends helping friends out. They didn’t pay for anything. We still paid for everything, it just has their logo on it.
Yeah. Jeff is one of my best friends so that was a pretty logical decision to have him to do it. We had a guy locally that we were thinking about and that kind of fell through and I was just kind of like “Just have Jeff do it”. It was like “Will Jeff be in to doing it?” and it was like “Yeah. Yeah. Come on.”
Where can people expect to see the alternative artwork from Craig Horkey and Larry Kole?
Right now we had some over run of that. So we have like 25 extra copies of that. So I don’t know if we’re going to put those up or anything. We might turn those into some t-shirts in the future. That’s kind of like if you bought that, that’s your personal thing that you get.
With the band being around for twenty-two years now, what kind of fan base are you noticing after so many years?
It’s about the same. Typically there’s young to old people. The weird thing about Mustard Plug is everything kind of stays pretty much the same as far as fan base. You usually get younger kids into it and then their parents now are coming. So it’s like young kids and their parents because their parents were into us. So that’s a little weird. But pretty much it’s consistently the same.
Are there plans for a tour anytime in the near future?
Just like weekend/week long things. Like we’re flying out to California to do some California, Arizona, Nevada dates. Because of peoples’ home lives it’s hard for some guys to get out and hit the road for a super long time.
What are the future plans for Mustard Plug?
I think we’re just going to try and tour on this record for a while and see where that goes. Tour as we can. Hopefully maybe put out another record within seven years from now or maybe an EP or something. Because we were able to record it at home and put it out pretty successfully, I think it opened a little bit more of a door so that we can do this a little more frequently than we have in the past.
Anything else you’d like to add?
No, not really. We covered the bases pretty well. [laughs]