Mock Orange: “We start getting the itch.”

After being a band for 20 years, we go behind the scenes of their new album, 'Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse'

Mock Orange: “We start getting the itch.”

By Glen Bushell

May 17, 2016 13:08

While some of our readers will be familiar with Mock Orange, the chances are that more than a few won’t be. Hailing Evansville, IN, they are described by guitarist Joe Asher as “a zany, wigged-out Dinosaur Jr, high on the Flaming Lips, from the South”, and have been around for over 20 years now. While perhaps not reaching the same level of commercial success as some of their peers, they have gained a cult status, one that Asher seems bemused by. “I’m not sure that we are even aware of this cult status,” he admits. “If that’s the case, then we can only take it as compliment. Of course it would have been nice to have had more success early on, but some things are out of your control.”

We speak with Mock Orange as the release of their new album, ‘Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse’, looms. It sees the band team up with the excellent Topshelf Records for the first time, who are no strangers to championing bands from yesteryear. “A friend of ours put us in touch with them,” explains Asher, as to how the pairing came to be. “We didn’t know they were already fans, and it was as simple as that. So far it’s been a great match.” With Topshelf having released new albums and reissued old classics from Midwestern indie/emo bands such as Braid and Boys Life, it seems like the perfect home for Mock Orange. “I am a bit surprised, yes,” says Asher, of the resurgence of this sound in recent years. “But I think there will always be a market for guitar-based indie-rock. It’s almost like a part of Americana at this point. But I also don’t think our new album really fits that mould. I think it sounds fairly current.”

He is certainly right. ‘Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse’ has shown yet another progression in their sound. This is something that has always made Mock Orange stand out, and aided to the aforementioned cult status of the band. “I think it’s a natural evolution in our sound,” continues Asher. “We are retaining the quirkiness and big-guitars that started with ‘Mind Is Not Brain’, and we have always had a little bit of technical syncopation going on. But also we are trying to focus more on just writing good songs as opposed to showcase pieces for how technical things can sound. The groove, vibe and melody have to be there.”

Having worked with a number of high profile producers in the past, including Mark Trombino and J.Robbins, Asher explains how the band took matters into their own hands this time around. “Ryan and I wrote 11 or 12 songs in about 15 sessions over a year ago,” he says. “The songs came fairly quickly and easily. It’s always encouraging when you’re not banging your head against a song to arrange it. Ryan had really honed his recording chops and this was the first album that we wrote, recorded, produced and mixed 100% at home.”

For their new record, the members of Mock Orange took a slightly different approach to the writing. It did put a degree of strain on the band, but given how rounded ‘Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse’ is, it certainly worked in the bands favour. Despite the pressure, Asher confesses that it was still a fun way to write. “We used to write everything together, all in the same room,” he begins. “Now Ryan (vocals/guitar) and I write the songs and record scratch tracks for Heath (drums) and Zach (bass) to hear. We sort of build them from there. The lyrics come last, but we’ve agreed that if we do another album, we will want to put the lyrics to the songs as we go. This last album was the first time that we have collaborated on the lyrics. Normally Ryan writes them all. But as he had taken on the production of the recording, I think it was too much of a workload. But it was a fun new way to do things and its good to know that we can collaborate lyrically into the future.”

Regardless of them coming out at a time in the late 90’s when emo/indie rock was on the brink of being a very marketable product, Mock Orange had something more bizarre about them. They are far from just another emo revival band. “We sort of have an unspoken rule of ‘no love songs’,” laughs Asher. “It does seem like we sing about the strangeness of the human condition often. Writing lyrics that aren’t cliché or that don’t get in the way of the song is arguably the hardest part of songwriting.”

So that begs the question, what has made the members of Mock Orange keep going? What is it that has fuelled their fire for over two decades? “We all have jobs and lives at home, but usually, after we’ve taken a year or so off, we start getting the itch,” explains Asher. Ryan is a really creatively minded person so he is always working on something. If it’s not music, it’s painting or sculpting or screen-printing. So when I can tell he is getting in the mood to write songs, I definitely want to make time to be a part of it.”

With no signs of slowing down, and ‘Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse’ being praised across the board, the Asher says the band are still planning on moving forward in the future. “We are heading to Japan to tour, with The Band Apart. That will be both to support the new record, and also a Japan-only split EP we are doing with them. After that, we are back home for the album release party. Then we need to start thinking about some domestic shows and probably, if we are lucky, writing new material.”

‘Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse’ is released on May 20th via Topshelf Records, and is available to pre-order now.