Chris Keene (Mean Creek)
The term “blue collar” isn’t normally associated with youth, and it’s rarely applied to indie-rock bands. But there’s something of the factory yard and the construction site about Mean Creek, in which making music is not about lofty intellectual pursuits, but all about skilled labor. It’s in the no-bullshit, unpretentious way they carry themselves off stage; the way they gel into one furious, emotionally charged rock band on it; and the way they swept through three categories in the local section of the 2011 Phoenix Best Music Poll. Built with pride.
Last year, Mean Creek took home Best Local Act in our readers’ poll, just before the release of “The Comedian” 7-inch off Old Flame Records. When their label lost funding from Razor & Tie, though, Mean Creek was on its own. But who needs label support when you have an entire city behind you?
Twelve months after its release, grand-scale indie opus “The Comedian” would win WFNX Boston Accents Song of the Year. Frontman and co-guitarist Chris Keene would win Best Male Vocalist. And the band, as a whole, would win a second straight nod as our city’s best local act.
All without a label, or even a proper full-length since 2009’s The Sky (Or the Underground). In January, the band self-released the Hemophiliac EP (a close second place to Freezepop for Best Album/EP) with a triumphant sold-out gig at the Brighton Music Hall; it was a release that saw a dramatic uptick in the quality of their songwriting. Tracks like “I’m So Afraid” and “Say You Care” really are the sound of the city — emotionally charged, booming guitar anthems that could have come from nowhere else. That night at Brighton, the band encored with “The Comedian,” and that performance remains the most powerful couple of minutes of Boston Rock in 2011. Nothing like an indie band that gets their crowds feverishly screaming back lyrics like they’re at a punk show.
“These past couple years, we’ve had people latch onto our band, and they’re coming out to our shows and listening to our music, and it feels great to have that kind of support,” says Keene, a low-voiced Jekyll & Hyde type whose shyness off stage is only surpassed by his energy under the lights. “We might not be able to survive as a band if it wasn’t for that support; it means everything to us.”
Not unlike Mumford & Sons, which took down the Radioheads and Arcade Fires on the national side of the BMP, there’s a grassroots, DIY quality to Mean Creek.
The band will tour the Northeast in spurts over the summer, and release “Land of Hopes and Dreams” — freshly recorded with producer Chris McLaughlin at 1867 Recording Studio — in time for July 4. A new record is planned by end-of-year, though it’s too early to tell if it’ll be released by a label. But for a band that has garnered the attention and respect of established musicians like Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, it’s clear the “industry” — whatever that means these days — is watching.
“We’ve sort of realized these past couple years that if you want to play in a band that lasts and that creates music that feels honest and true to yourself and hopefully to others, you’ve just gotta go and do it yourself,” Keene says. “So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s the best feeling in the world when people latch onto it and appreciate it.”
Eldridge Rodriguez [the Beatings]
Bill Janovitz [Buffalo Tom]