There are many challenges to playing a summer on the Vans Warped Tour. You have to wake up pretty obscenely early – usually around 8 a.m. most days. You usually don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour because most people are staying up pretty late. You’re doing something active for most of the day, and it’s all in the sun. Oh yeah, the heat. By itself, the heat you encounter on Warped Tour is enough to drain any man of his enthusiasm.
A year ago, that heat – along with the other nuances of touring not just on Warped, but any tour – might have felt like a burden to Make Do and Mend vocalist James Carroll. But not so much anymore. Carroll has gotten things figured out – or at least he’s working his way there.
Make Do and Mend released Everything You Ever Loved this Tuesday via Rise Records, their second full-length and first effort for the Portland-based label. The album, to put it lightly, is a wrecking ball of a force. Both lyrically and musically, the Boston-based four-piece has never been more impressive, and this starts and ends with Carroll.
After Make Do and Mend put out End Measured Mile on Paper + Plastick Records in late 2010, an album that I called "an exhilarating listen all the way through" and the "obvious" choice for record of the year in its genre, everything changed. The band had been touring fairly consistently since the Bodies of Water EP was put out via Panic Records, but making the jump to an acclaimed full-length meant that the band was a lot more active on the road – and a lot less present at home.
"Playing in this band is what we’ve always wanted to do, and now we’ve been doing it long enough that it sustains itself," Carroll says from Make Do and Mend’s tour van. The group is playing in Michigan on this night, touring its way to meet up with soon-to-be busmates Polar Bear Club before Warped Tour sets sail. "That affords us a lot of really cool opportunities, but at the same time it’s super stressful. All of us have significant relationships back home and we’re all close with our families. It’s a give and take – for every cool experience you get on tour, there’s something you’re missing out on."
If that sounds bleak or melodramatic, Carroll assures us that Make Do and Mend is "still very much [his] dream come true," and that he wants to do it for a long, long time. But incomprehensible to many music listeners is the dedication it takes for bands like Make Do and Mend to be on the road for nine or 10 months out of the year. Aside from the obvious time commitment and the endless hours spent sitting in vans, the emotional drain of almost never being home is a staggering one. Perhaps many fans forget this when they see how much fun their favorites bands have on tour, playing shows, interacting with fans and pulling pranks on each other.
And as Make Do and Mend – comprised of guitarist/vocalist Carroll, guitarist Mike O’Toole, new bassist Luke Schwartz and Carroll’s brother, Matt, on drums – got into its new touring schedule, Carroll found himself feeling different.
"I had to take a real step back this past year where I found myself feeling a little burnt out," he says. "I wasn’t saying 'Fuck this' by any means, but I was a little worn out by something that I once begged for. That I once dreamed of. And that’s a really weird realization, that something that once provided you shelter and a sense of purpose and fulfillment is now the thing that is a sense of tension. That’s sort of wearing you down. I had to take a step back and find a balance there."
The result of Carroll’s realization became many of the lyrics on Everything You Ever Loved. We don’t have to go far – just into the chorus of the opening "Blur" – to find Carroll with his heart on his sleeve. "What if everything that you ever loved / More than anything / Was killing you this slow?" he sings on the track. Certainly, the lyrics are broad enough that they can apply to any given person’s situation at any time – a bit of a specialty of Carroll’s. But in his case, the blessing of being on tour, of doing what he always wanted to do, was changing him into a different person.
"I started to notice myself – not changing, but not being myself," Carroll says. "Starting to let the pressure of playing in a band and this lifestyle change my personality. I would have little encounters with people and look back on it and be like, ‘Why did you act like that? Why did you approach that how you did?’"
So he wrote a song, directed squarely at himself, the first song penned for the Everything You Ever Loved writing sessions. It turned out to be album standout "Hide Away," where Carroll begins by singing softly: "Is this a bad time? For a while there you were fine."
"That song is kind of like a ‘What is going on here that is making me act this way?’ sort of thing," Carroll reflects. "The entire record is this process of disassembling, this process of uncertainty that you feel like you’re falling apart, falling away, and trying to remedy that."
Certainly, the stress of tour and the feeling of a dislocation from home are not the only themes on Everything You Ever Loved. A personal struggle of lacking confidence is another repeating subject. Carroll belts out extremely personal stories through the album’s 11 tracks, but never gets so self-involved that the lyrics can’t be applied to a wide range of listeners.
The other songs that Carroll wrote towards himself prove to be standouts as well – "Stay In the Sun," with its status-update-worthy chorus of, "You can click your heels till you wear holes in the floor / But you’ll realize that no place feels like home anymore," and "Storrow" are perhaps the two most obvious. Through writing and reevaluating his priorities, Carroll was able to move past his troubles, at least for a little bit. He calls it "striking a better balance."
"I think it’s the same with anything – it’s like eating candy every single day," Carroll muses. "If you eat candy every single day for 10 years you’re gonna be like, 'Yo, candy sucks. I hate candy. I want some broccoli.'"
Make Do and Mend took its broccoli in the form of heading into the studio to record a new album. Making a sonic shift from the aggressive, angry Hot Water Music-infused punk rock on End Measured Mile, the band found itself writing slightly more mellow parts to some songs. Bringing out flashes of two other bands it commonly gets compared to – Jimmy Eat World and the Foo Fighters – Make Do and Mend wrote a record that is more versatile, more impressive, and flat-out better than End Measured Mile.
"We grew up, you grew up, I grew up in a world where there were rock bands on the radio who made incredible music. Relevant and thoughtful and really potent, so we’ve always drawn from those bands," Carroll says. "But there really isn’t a lot of hero worship going on."
A lot of what people dub the "urgency" of Make Do and Mend’s first LP came from the pressure the band burdened itself with. Although it had only released the Bodies of Water EP, there was a certain apprehension of being dubbed "that band with the cool 7-inch" from the band.
In a raging desire to put out an equally worthy full-length effort, the band wrote a simply devastating album. End Measured Mile is heavy, it’s blunt, and it’s unabashed. Carroll wasn’t afraid to make his points heard on that album, in ways that encouraged listeners to bellow his lyrics back at him. Paper + Plastick owner Vinnie Fiorello said once, "Make Do and Mend out-Hot Water Music’ed Hot Water Music" on the record.
But while the guitars might not be as punishing, and while Carroll might sing more and blatantly yell less, Everything You Ever Loved isn’t anything close to calm.
"I did this interview with a magazine from Australia and the girl said, ‘It sounds like this record isn’t as urgent.’ I disagree completely," Carroll says. "To be honest, I think this record is our most urgent album yet. It’s not as musically aggressive or driving as End Measured Mile, but the themes and mindset are the more focused and on point we’ve ever been as far as how we present ourselves musically and emotionally."
Drown In It
So for those who suspect that new label Rise Records had something to do with the more radio-friendly numbers like first single "Lucky" or the very Foo Fighter-y "Drown In It," those notions can be tossed out the window. In fact, Carroll tells us that Rise has been rock steady during the album release process – even though he originally thought Make Do and Mend would never be caught dead on the label’s roster.
Carroll tells us a story about last year’s Krazy Fest, being out to dinner with his band and their manager, discussing where to go with the next album. They talked to everyone, he says…all of the major independent labels anyone familiar with the scene might think of. "We were eating Chinese food, and our manager goes, 'Rise wants to put out your new record,'" Carroll remembers.
"And I had just gotten my food, I was just starting to dig into it and with a mouthful of fried rice, I go, 'NOOOOO!' I was just sitting there with a mouthful of food muttering about metalcore bullshit."
Fortunately for Carroll and the band, their manager talked them into hearing Rise out – and after one phone call, he knew his initial reaction was wrong. It’s just part of the path that has led Make Do and Mend to another make-or-break point in its career, with the success of Everything You Ever Loved having the ability to shape the group’s future. The rest of 2012 is already planned for the band – something that Carroll says gives him panic attack. If initial critical response means anything, the album should provide Make Do and Mend with plenty of opportunities in the future. But Carroll is still nervous about how people will react to the record.
"When we released the first single, there was a certain contingent that were like, ‘This is bullshit, this is radio rock garbage.’ There were some Papa Roach comparisons thrown around," Carroll says.
"In this band, for me, the most important thing is for people to be able to form an emotional attachment to our band. That’s what I was able to do with my favorite bands and my favorite bands to this day are still the ones I was able to connect to, and I want people to be able to do that with us. I hope people see this record for what it is: A really genuine expression of who we are right now."