Scene Point Blank: Megan mentioned that the final songs, post-production, often sound different than expected (in a good way). What's an example of that? Is there a particular song that really surprised you in the end?
John: I think maybe the titular track, “Plastic Pompeii.” That was just a really barebones ripper when we were performing it live in the studio while writing. All the psycho-studio effects that are on it were just an off the cuff decision Megan and I did while mixing the track.
Scene Point Blank: Have you played live shows with loops or effects in other bands? Is that how you'd approach some of the "kitchen sink" sound effects on the record, or are you likely to go more stripped-down/reimagined?
John: I never have done that, nor do I personally have any interest because I think it would just complicate things and make them awkward. I mean, how many DIY shows have you been to where 80% of someone's set is just them befuddling their malfunctioning gear because they're trying to some kind of stage antics of the sort that is just not working at all... I just wanna make sure our shows are fun and actually provide people with an energetic experience. In my dumb brain that equates to keeping things simple and just making sure we rock and are tight.
Scene Point Blank: How do you feel about livestreams? Would The Mimes do one? From a distance it seems like it might fit some of weird intangibles that recording in isolation inspired (along with the videos).
John: Ummmm... by and large I do not like them at all. I love the effort that they imply: people trying to keep performed music alive in a time when it can't. That intention is admirable, for sure.
But I take a staunch opposition to them for one main reason. That is, I do not want to welcome this notion that live streams are an adequate replacement for the synergy that is a live musical performance and thus propel them to being normalized and displace the live human event further than it already is. Technology is really putting a stranglehold on music more than I think people recognized. I don't want to stand for a further delineation of such.
Scene Point Blank: Maura mentioned that some songs were inspired by your surroundings -- stuff in the room, etc. -- Did you ever try to push that inspiration, like wearing the makeup while writing or recording and, if so, did that inspire any specific things you can point out? Did John's clown collection influence anything? I'm tempted to ask for a photo to use with this interview…
John: It for sure had an effect on the songs from time to time. But mostly it was in terms of execution, like, “Hey we're in this studio and there is xyz available at the moment. Let's make a song that uses xyz instead of drums, guitar, and bass. The actual thematic inspiration for the songs came from all over the place. For example, there's one song (“Hello Tokyo”) that is about my ingrown toenail. But then there's also a song about an old forlorn friend of my past who was arrested for the possession of child pornography (“Heirloom Sins”). So inspo was all over the place...
Scene Point Blank: Maura mentioned that you're working on new songs too. Is a follow-up already in the works, or is it less formal than that, like you just hangout and jam and if it turns into an EP or LP that's cool but not the goal? Or it sounds like maybe even a DVD?
John: It's both, honestly... Our brains never stop with ideas. We're always thinking of what could be next. So, yes, we've already got a batch of tunes in the works that we want to get out there ASAP but we still approach it informally, because I think if you don't you end up severing the soul that could be behind it. No one needs to feel like they have another job... But weirdly enough, at the same time, you still have to bust your ass to get it all finished and have something to show for it.
Scene Point Blank: A few songs sound really personal, like "Ugliest One There" or the aforementioned "Heirloom Sins Pt II" or maybe "Knob." Would you have been comfortable playing songs like these with musicians you'd just met, versus with longstanding friends? In other words, did your well-developed relationships with each other help to open the creative floodgates?
John: That's hard to say, because it would just really depend on an individual's vibe. But I think it's fair to say that our closeness as both a band and group of friends allows us to really be free and open with one another, wich only really helps the creative process in my opinion.
Scene Point Blank: For people outside of Cincinnati, who is David Mann and, in a nutshell, what inspired that song?
John: David Mann is the chair of our City Council here in Cincinnati. He's by and large unknown to anyone other than a Cincinnatian who stays up on local politics. He's running for mayor this upcoming election. He was also in federal congress at one point? Point is, this past year during the civil rights demonstrations, he called off a budget meeting regarding the police department because the crowd of attendee's boo-ed out an old man who was attempting to agitate the crowd by arguing that the CPD (who had spent the month arresting and brutalizing protestors) deserved an even larger budget. They already demand almost half, if not more of the city's budget...
Point is, we thought it would be funny to dip our wick into singing about local politics, both because I was at that meeting and feeling a certain way about it, but also because I thought it was a funny way to poke fun at the traditional political nature of punk music.
Scene Point Blank: Even the first time I listened, it seemed obvious why "Plastic Pompeii" is the title track and closer. It's playful, absurd, a bit cynical...representative of the whole. But I also don't have a lyric sheet and I don't want to project. What's that song about to you, and how did you choose to use it as the title track?
John: Well, “Plastic Pompeii” is a dystopian sci-fi short story I wrote for my sister Jennifer as a Christmas gift to be paired with a noise song of the same title. The story gave meaning to the instrumental track. (I write an Xmas song for her every Xmas). Since making that for her I always wanted "Plastic Pompeii" to be the title of a proper album.
The song itself is about environmentalism and just how negligent we are with our earth. It became the titular track by total accident; we just thought it turned out cool.
Scene Point Blank: You have the benefit of getting interview questions before you've read my review. (Don't worry, it's nice.) So you get the chance to refute my observations, maybe before they publish. Anyway, as I’ve listened a bunch of times, I had the thought that The Mimes sounds “like a combination of your other bands with a splash of The B-52s and tripped out funhouse music.” Do you think that’s on track?
John: I'm never gonna complain about being compared to the B-52s. They rock.
Scene Point Blank: I also hear a lot of quirky but poppy ‘80s elements from the golden age of MTV. Who are some artists outside of the punk realm that have shaped your work, here or in other projects?
John: I'm super inspired by Cyndi Lauper. Megan is by Prince. Maura literally loves all music. I also have an affinity for Bob Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Brian Eno, and many others.
Specifically, I really wanted to rip off "Groove Is in the Heart" by Dee-Lite with the song "Hello Tokyo." Obviously it doesn't have the amazing bass playing like Bootsy, but I think, aesthetically, we kinda hit the mark.
Scene Point Blank: How long have you all known each other? Do you remember when you met?
Megan: We've all kind of known each other for a similar amount of time. I can't say for certain, maybe 10-12 years?
Maura and I had mutual friends growing up and frequented the same spots and would see each other at shows since our early teens. John and I would see each other at shows in our later teens. I can't really remember how any of us became friends. We were just some of the only people our age that were into the music we liked at the time and naturally gravitated toward one another.
John: I met Maura in a class in college at the Music Conservatory at UC. Megan and I met at punk shows around here in Cincinnati around the same time.
Maura: I met John at this venue called Bike Haus. He thought I was 28 for some reason even though I was 18. Then we actually hung out at freshmen orientation at UC. Megan and I knew each other through MySpace, but first hung out when we were miming weird shit with each other at a show (I pretended to spelunk in her vagina). From then on I knew we were destined to be friends. Then she catsat for me.
Scene Point Blank: What's your favorite song (non Mimes -- or maybe one Mimes, one other band) that your bandmates have written?
Megan: Maura has a song called “Like Glass” from an old band of hers, Mixtapes, that I love. My favorite of John's isn't released anywhere, it's an old song he wrote years ago for his old band that never was completed. But if we're talking songs you can find, his old band Sleeves had a song called “Houses, Cars” that I always find stuck in my head.
John: I love this song Megan wrote called "Waste My Time" for another band of hers, Cloudbusters. Its melody is timeless and if I laser in on it, it transports me to images of the Newport Folk Festival. I can't exactly justify this vision, especially considering the song is not folk-y at all. But there's just something about the melody that makes me imagine.
Maura has been writing a lot of solo material lately that I love getting to hear when she shares it. Dunno any of the names of those songs, though, sorry.
Maura: That's a hard one! Probably “Heirloom Sins, Pt II” for John (or one of the new ones we are currently working on). For Megan, I really love the songs she made for her band Cloudbusters, specifically "Waste My Time."
Scene Point Blank: You've known each other for a while but not as bandmates. What's something you learned about each other in the process of making this?
John: Megan's taught me how to be more trustful of myself because she has such a strong, internal foundation and soul. Also I loved learning that Maura's grandpa is a Texan oil outlaw who got into a shootout with the cops. That's nuts.
Maura: I learned that my friends are really encouraging with creativity, smart with arranging and IMO geniuses at recording. Megan isn't an engineer but she has really unique ideas. On "Cereal" she had the idea to record the door slamming and the knob twisting and it sounds super creepy and cool!
Scene Point Blank: I'm sure there are a lot of firsts on this record, but what's something you each learned while putting this together: maybe it's your first time playing drums on a record or production or video direction, etc.?
Megan: It's my first time playing drums on a record. It's also just my first time being so collaborative, which is a dream come true. I've always recorded either songs that I mostly wrote myself with some added instrumentation or other people's songs that I've just added bass or guitar to. It's much more rewarding and exciting to make it all a group effort.
Seeing the production side of things has also been fun. I had never put as much thought into the production aspect of songwriting, which was a silly oversight on my part, so it's pretty exhilarating to have that added into my process now.
Maura: This is the first time I've played drums on a record, I learned some songwriting stuff from John and Megan (not to be so precious with writing, etc.).
I also learned that I love making music videos when we get to do it ourselves. I used to hate making music videos because in other bands we would overthink it.
Scene Point Blank: It looks like the cassette is sold out. Any reprints or what's next?
John: We're making more as we speak and the LP version is at the plant now. That's coming by way of Let's Pretend Records.
Scene Point Blank: Anything you'd like to add?
John: Thank you is all.