Choosing a band name is hard work. So hard, in fact, that The M's tried to avoid it as much as they could. "The name is more about what we didn't want," says guitarist and singer Josh Chicoine. "It doesn't mean anything...but since we decided to keep it, we've been seeing meaning everywhere. Like there are a lot of M's in string theory and in Opus Dei. I think that once you decide on something it begins to have some meaning."
The M's would do well to stick with their chosen moniker, seeing as it's gotten the band pretty far over the past five years. Since its humble beginnings in a basement in the Ukrainian Village, the pop quartet (Robert Hicks, vocals, guitar; Joey King, vocals, bass; and Steve Versaw, drums, round out the band) has seen its popularity grow nationwide; check out The O.C. soundtrack for proof.
Critics have mentioned The M's in the same breath as canonic rock outfits like The Beatles and The Kinks, and these remain apt starting points for trying to explain the band's sound, even if they are big shoes to fill.
"It's great that we're compared to such classic bands," says Chicoine, though he tries not to take anyone's opinion too seriously, good or bad. "You can't really care about [what people say], because it's constantly changing. People can have an opinion about an album a year and a half after we make it, and we're already thinking about the next album. It helps that we're not 22; we have a little bit of a devil-may-care attitude about it."
This maturity has undoubtedly helped the M's through what's been a long, tiring year so far. Following the release of its critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Future Women, in February, the band toured almost non-stop through the summer, including a gig at Lollapalooza and a trek across Canada with Wilco. "We're kind of burnt out," says Chicoine, lamenting the high cost of touring, which recently included a stolen van.
With a little time to rest, the band members are doing some things independently while gearing up for another album in the near future. The M's egalitarian approach (four songwriters, three singers) means that everyone will come back with something that the group can then develop as a unit. While they may bring in an outside engineer for the first time, doing everything in-house worked pretty well for the first couple of albums. "We didn't want to spend a lot of time while someone else twiddled knobs and stuff, when we all know how to do that and have done it. Usually, we found another head in there just muddles things up."
One collaborator they welcomed with open arms was filmmaker Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense), who approached the band earlier this year with an idea. "He wanted to do a stop-action video for Future Women. We met up at the Bowery Ballroom to shoot when we were on tour, but it's not gonna see the light of day," says Chicoine. "He was really busy with (Neil Young's) Heart of Gold, and we had to push what was supposed to be a three-day shoot into one day. We were trying to make it work, but after a while we realized we were just trying to push square pegs into a round hole."
The M's already have one successful video under their belts, the Jonathan Johnson-directed "Mansion in the Valley" (watch it). The video was shot on a Fisher-Price camera in Chicoine's home, but his place isn't likely to be a rock venue again anytime soon; he and his wife recently welcomed a baby daughter. Hopefully, he put a little more thought into her name.
In the beginning: Our first gig was at Martyrs'...actually I was in another band that was trying to sort of do a really experimental thing on stage that ultimately failed. At that time, The M's were doing some basement recording. I had this gig lined up with no band, so I asked if they wanted to play, and they did.
I get live at: Most of the venues around Chicago are pretty nice for us…Schubas, obviously, was where we got our first really good gigs. Now we just have fun wherever we play. We have a pretty good following here in Chicago.
What's cool in your neck of the woods: Lately we've all been sort of into places without people…so there's Resi's Bierstube, and the Green Eye, which is right by where I live, by the Blue Line at like Western and Armitage. We all drink beer, so as long as they have beer, we'll be alright.
Most surreal moment on the CTA: One time I was riding the train, and there was this really cracked-out guy out in between the cars. People were calling on the intercom to the driver, and I knew what was going to happen, they were going to stop the train and I was going to be late. So I went up and knocked on the window and was like you've gotta come back in here. He looks at me, he's all cracked out, his face is all red, he's got this gnarly hair with pee in it or something, and he says to me, "who the hell are you?" I said, "man, I'm just trying to save you, they're calling the cops." So finally he comes into the car and sits down, and this lady next to me goes "you're a big hero today". So the rest of the day I felt like a hero. I don't know why.
Fresh from the woodshop: Future Women is out now on Polyvinyl.