Messer: ‘We Had to Strip Our Egos Bare’ for Self-Titled Album
The year is still early, but Messer have emerged as one of the bands starting to break through at rock radio. The band's self-titled debut disc drops today (April 20), with fans getting a chance to check out what else the Dallas upstarts have to offer.
We had a chance to speak with bassist Maddox Messer and guitarist Donnie DeVille to get some more insight on the band, plus the group's fan favorite canine mascot Oskar also weighs in as well. The guys discuss their background, hit on a couple of key album tracks, touch on some of their day jobs and discuss the state of rock. In addition, they discuss touring with RED, Lacey Sturm and Righteous Vendetta as well as their new shows with Shallow Side. Check out the chat below.
The band formed in Dallas and had the benefit in playing in one of the stronger local rock scenes in the country with each of the members having a variety of experiences in music before forming Messer. Can you talk about what ideally you wanted out of this band that maybe hadn’t happened prior? Plus, what has playing in the Deep Ellum scene meant to you?
Maddox Messer: This band started out like any other band jamming in a room and playing some local shows. A short time after we were formed we caught the attention of our producer and co-writer for the album, Chad Gendason. He opened our eyes to the possibilities and helped us develop in ways we didn’t know we were capable of. I remember it very clearly; the day Chad and I had the notion to begin this process of developing this band from the ground up. We knew we wanted to make a great, enduring album with new classic songs that would stand the test of time. It was a very calculated and meticulous approach that none of us had ever done before. We had to strip our egos bare and go back to the basics in a way that younger versions of ourselves would have never allowed.
The band members all come from different backgrounds. What influences would we most strongly hear in your music that are specific to one of the members? What’s an artist we might find odd that’s in the listening playlist as you’re killing time traveling to shows?
Maddox Messer: Our musical taste run the gamut of musical styles and variety. Part of this process was for us to be pushed outside of our comfort zones. It forced us to reach higher and dig deeper than any of us thought we could. We studied a lot of singer-songwriter type performances from greats like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Sia and even Adele. We were also inspired and have several “tip of the hat” moments to bands like Pink Floyd, New Romantics, The Eagles, Nine Inch Nails and Bruce Springsteen. We wanted to have a groove like Pantera and vocals that were soulful, almost R&B styled, with explosive choruses that were unforgettable. Our playlist is very eclectic, but some may find it odd that we are into Toto, particularly "Africa." We always do sing-alongs when we are on the road when that song comes up on the playlist. Maybe a cover version is needed?!?!?! (laughs)
“Make This Life” is a definitive statement song. What are the origins of the track and was there something that inspired what you wanted to get across with that song?
Maddox Messer: The notion of that song and the particular attitude came out of the last presidential election. We all have been overwhelmed with the mainstream media and the bullshit we were being fed from the news outlets. I actually stopped watching the television ... You could say we’d had enough. In a time where some tried to divide us, we wanted to send a message of unity. This is a song meant to empower all of us and encourage you to "Make Your Life Worth Fighting For!"
Listening to the album, the contrast of the two versions of “Simple Man” really caught my ear. The electric version is one of the heaviest and most energetic songs on the album, so knowing there was an acoustic coming, I couldn't wait to hear how you altered the arrangement. Both are excellent takes on the same idea. How much fun is it to experiment like that and do you have a preference on which version (or both) to play live?
Maddox Messer: The original version of our song "Simple Man" was the first song we ever wrote with our producer Chad Gendason. It was anthemic and proud, a real fist pumper. We had always toyed with the idea of an acoustic version but it wasn’t until we were nearing completion of the album that we decided to dig in and go for it. We had messed around with the idea of a cover song for the album but we couldn’t quite decide on what song to cover… So we thought, why not cover our own song?
A lot of time had passed since the original was recorded and the whole band was different now. We had all gone through this process of becoming better musicians. Chad really broke us down and rebuilt us from the ground up and this changed us as individuals and as a band. We felt the acoustic version would make a nice bookend to our story because the attitude and feel was more humble and honest.
Sonically, the song took on this Fleetwood Mac feel with all this space and air between the notes allowing Dereak’s vocal to tell the story… "I am just a simple man." For our live shows we usually go with the fist pumper, but we have done an encore with that as a closer a la MTV Unplugged style. There is a live video on our YouTube channel of that performance.
“Everything Beautiful” feels like it should do well for you as a band with potential radio play. What is the origin of that song and was there anything that stands out from putting the track together?
Maddox Messer: The truth is, that was almost our first single. We had everything in place to lead with that song and last minute decided to switch it up and save it for the follow up to "Make This Life." The working title of "Everything Beautiful" was “7ish” because it was inspired by the killer riffs from the great band Sevendust. We also love how Lajon’s soulful vocals contrast against the heavy guitar tones. It was definitely a tip of the hat to the iconic sound of Sevendust.
My personal favorite part is the "whale call" guitar solo in the bridge. It's not very typical of today's solos, which is one reason I like it but mostly because the sound of whales are very haunting. The bridge is a very vulnerable and intimate point in this track in which the conveyance of emotion shines through.
Especially when starting out, you have to find ways to support yourself. Maddox, what got you started in cutting hair and have you ever been approached on the road by other bands to do so? It’s not always easy finding the time.
Maddox Messer: I had dated a lot of hairdressers so it made sense at the time. I graduated from the esteemed Toni & Guy Academy of Hairdressing. Ironically that's where I learned about the “Secret” and the laws of attraction, which we use to this day to help us live this dream. I love cutting hair and I always keep my shears on hand. Being on the road makes it impossible to keep my clientele but most of them have all been supportive of this rock n' roll endeavor. I do plan on offering some VIP meet and greet haircuts in the future so stay tuned for more about that later!
For Donnie, can’t help but notice some impressive tattoo work. Of your own tattoos which is your favorite or means the most to you and why? And as a tattoo artist as well, what’s the most unique request you’ve had over the years?
Donnie DeVille: Thanks! I have spent many years working hard at trying to perfect my craft. As far as my own body art, that's a tough call. I mean, 99.9% of my tats all mean a lot to me. If I had to pick just one to talk about, I would say the Monster Squid taking out a Great White in waves of blood on my torso means the most. There's a thunderstorm in the background, and a banner at the bottom that reads “Ride the Tide.” For me, this piece represents facing the biggest of fears and not being afraid to overcome anything that gets thrown my way. Life is full of challenges and struggles along the way, and you can't ever let that hinder you from prevailing.
While fans may come out to see the band, Oskar may be the most popular member of the Messer crew. He's even got his own Instagram site. What is Oskar’s favorite Messer song and what’s the most challenging part of being a road dog?
Oskar: "Fight of My Life" is my favorite Messer song. Being as old as I am with no teeth, sometimes my bark needs to be bigger than my bite! This song reminds you to never back down, fight like your future depends on it, and when life pushes you ... fight back harder!
As for the most challenging part of the road ... It's a toss-up between holding my bladder between rest stops, unhealthy truck stop food or watching the guys load and unload gear in bad weather. Arf!
It’s an interesting time to be a rock band, with the mainstream not necessarily opening its doors to rock as much these days and downloading and streaming essentially making touring the most viable form of income. What’s your take on being a rock band in 2018 as opposed to perhaps how you viewed it growing up that made you want to do this in the first place?
Maddox Messer: Our approach today is almost the same as any other startup business. We “signed” ourselves and began the arduous and time consuming task of artist development. Our approach was to systematically and methodically remove all the “No’s” in the equation. We remain focused on the songs and the sonic quality with sub atomic attention being paid to our live sound and performance. The way we are able to deliver a studio quality sound live is proving itself as effective as it is unique. We are always being told how great our sound was and how the listeners are able to understand all the words so clearly – that's all by design.
As for the biggest difference in today's music business, it's trying to find ways to monetize our musical efforts. There is no room for frivolity or shenanigans: We are all business and that business is making new fans and providing some stress relief from everyday life and hopefully inspiring some positive change in the lives of everyone we encounter. Our business is GOOD!
You’ve been out on tour with RED, Lacey Sturm and Righteous Vendetta. Your thoughts so far on the bands on the bill and as a band on the rise, what do you take from playing with the headliners?
Maddox Messer: We have the upmost respect for any artist who is able to sustain themselves in this new model. This tour has been and continues to be a learning experience for us. Sometimes it is a lesson on how to treat people and sometimes a lesson in how not to treat people. I will say my eyes are always open and its cool to see how another touring act puts their show together. We enjoy being the opener because most of the time we are unassuming and a welcome surprise to many people that are coming out to the shows – because sometimes openers are not that great. We strive to set the bar really high right from the beginning of our set which usually sets the tone for the whole night. It's always an honor to be asked to open for a tour like this one because these are tried and true acts and we never take this opportunity for granted.
You’ve got dates coming up with Shallow Side. Have you crossed paths before? What are you looking forward to from the run?
Maddox Messer: We have not crossed paths with Shallow Side before, but we are super excited for this upcoming tour. We have heard nothing but great things about the Shallow Side camp and I’m sure we will make many great unforgettable memories this summer!
Thank you for your time today. What's next on the horizon for Messer?
Maddox Messer: Our plan is to keep our heads down and stay focused. We plan on leaving an indelible mark on Rock History as this little indie rock band from Dallas, Texas fights our way to the top 10 and beyond in a field of heavy hitting major label acts. We are at the merch booth after every show because we love meeting new fans, so come out to a show and connect with us!
Our thanks to the guys (and dog) of Messer for the interview. As stated, the self-titled Messer disc arrives today and can be ordered here. The band just started their tour with Shallow Side and the remaining dates can be found below. Stay up to date on Messer via their website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify sites.
Messer Dates With Shallow Side
April 20 - Dallas, Texas @ Trees
April 21 - Austin, Texas @ Satellite Bar
April 22 - Slidell, Texas @ Olde Towne Tavern
April 25 - Valdosta, Ga. @ Ashley Street Station
April 26 - Tallahassee, Fla. @ The Warrior
April 27 - Tampa, Fla. @ Working
April 28 - Naples, Fla. @ Southside
April 29 – Orlando, Fla. @ On Hold
May 2 - Atlanta, Ga. @ Masquerade
May 3 - Huntsville, Ala. @ Sidetracks Music Hall
May 4 - Clarksville, Tenn. @ The Warehouse
May 5 - Fort Smith, Ark. @ Steel Horse Rally
May 9 - Louisville, Ky, @ The Bourbon Hall
May 10 - Concord, N.C. @ Amici's
May 11 - Hickory, N.C. @ The Vault
May 12 - Spartanburg, S.C @ GroundZero
May 19 - North Richland Hills, Texas @ Pit Stop Bar and Grill
Messer, "Make This Life"