Mouse Fire with Lost at Sea and Grown Ups
8 p.m. Friday
South Florida trio Mouse Fire recalls The Faint with more of a '70s soft-rock vibe. Its resolutely dance-floor-ready sound combines bristling funk backbeat, shimmying synth lines and big, harmonic vocal hooks that hark back to Hall & Oates, Air Supply and Chicago. As graceful, pretty and foot-tapping as its latest, "Big Emotion," is, it's a little surprising to discover the members first bonded over youthful twin loves: skateboarding and punk rock.
"We grew up skating and played in punk-rock bands together over the years. We were just growing up and wanted to play something different," said singer/guitarist Shane Schuch. "I always liked funk music. It's one of my guilty pleasures. So the funk and dance started to come out, and I kind of like electronic music, too. It just kind of happened. Three skater dudes that play dance-fusion stuff. Funk and dance music just makes people move. People want to let loose at a show. We just want to bring a celebration for a night."
Mouse Fire originally was a quartet, but singer Joey Bruce left in 2008, a year after releasing its full-length debut, "Wooden Teeth." It was a mutual decision fueled by the band's desire to hit the road, and extend its franchise beyond Florida.
"We never toured our first record " and we had some decent PR on it " but we never got to ride that wave. We never got to push it," Schuch said. "You have to take your music places. We were at a crossroads. (Bruce) had an assistant superintendent job at a golf course, and a mortgage. He had two jobs and he just got engaged, so he was moving more toward settling down and focusing on a family."
They seized the moment and remade the band. They transferred Bruce's parts to keyboards, adding MIDI strings and other electronic instrumentation, creating canned tracks to accompany them live, and hit the road. Schuch, who had only really ever been a lead guitarist, took over the vocal duties, exploring the taste of singing he gotten with the group's rich backing harmonies. Where its debut was stiffer and angular with a moody, indie-rock vibe, the new incarnation embraced pop sensibilities and dove headlong into melodic, bouncy dance rock.
"We wanted to have more fun with it, because I don't think we ever really had good, pure, clean fun at any of our shows before that," he said. "We were rocking and having a good time, but I don't think it's anything like it is today. There's so much more passion and heart and soul in it now. Somehow, we found that soul in ourselves."
They had more than a half-dozen songs written when they headed out on tour in '08, and intended to write a handful more when they returned. Copeland leader Aaron Marsh was scheduled to produce the drums, at the very least, but those last four or five songs proved more difficult to pen than anticipated. It took nearly all of 2009 to put them together, at which time they found it difficult to coordinate with Marsh's schedule. So they recorded "Big Emotion" themselves in a spare room at drummer Aaron Venrick's place that they "MacGyver'd" into a little studio.
Although Schuch's earlier attempts to write lyrics had left him frustrated, he found plenty of grist for the new album in his failing marriage and subsequent short-lived relationships. He self-deprecatingly notes in "Half a World Away" that it's "another song about broken hearts and lovers lost." However, the lovelorn subject matter fits the percussive musical sway, as if shaking one's ass is the appropriate response to the surrounding romantic storm clouds.
"We look back at 'Wooden Teeth,' and Joey was so vague and you never really knew what he was talking about. With these songs, it's pretty much up-front," Schuch said. "It was like going through therapy: Each song helped me get rid of something I was feeling or thinking that was holding me back from release. I was afraid it was too many love songs, but the guys actually related to the songs."
Having rediscovered their swerve with "Big Emotion," Schuch and company are excited to be on the road, and back in Oklahoma City in particular. They really enjoyed their last visit.
"We got a couple days to hang out because we had the next day off. Our buddy, Jason Apple, showed us a good time around town. He took us skateboarding, and we got breakfast at a cool diner," he said.
Overall, Schuch's relieved that Mouse Fire survived Bruce's departure.
"We just kind of felt destined to play with each other after all these years," he said. "We'd always skated, hung out and played in all these different punk-rock bands together, and somehow, we're back years later still doing it." "Chris Parker