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When I first meet the members of Screaming Mechanical Brain, they are watching videos of cats on YouTube. The band is crowded around guitarist Jesse McInturff's computer, emitting ripples of booming laughter as kittens climb around the screen. For a moment I wonder if I'm in the wrong apartment—wasn't I supposed to be interviewing a metal band today?—but as we settle down in McInturff's living room, it becomes clear that Screaming Mechanical Brain are not ones to conform to stereotypes.
SMB got their start in 1997, when 17-year-old singer John Wheeler and ex-guitarist Owen Good formed the group and named it Screaming Monkey Boner. "I'm the only guy left from that lineup," explains Wheeler, a.k.a. Reverend John, a cascade of dreadlocks framing his round, smirking face. "It's entirely my fault that it used to be called that. The goal was to get a lot of attention, negative mostly. I didn't know how to play any music. It was just easier to have a stupid name and catch stuff on fire than try to play anything cool."
He shakes his head. "We weren't really a band, just kind of a disaster. I don't try to convince anyone that I rolled out of bed one day and was awesome."
Still in high school, SMB spent a few years playing shows around town and rotating through a cast of band members before settling on current drummer Bryan Pierson and recording their first CD. "Somewhere in 2001 we recorded a demo-quality full-length album," says Wheeler. "Back then, we hadn't really learned that being serious is the way to be taken seriously. It was called Fun with Poop."
Like most independent bands, SMB grew slowly by touring regionally and selling albums out of their van. But then in 2005, in what the band calls a random stroke of luck, they were invited to tour as the opening band for national electropunk/metal band Mindless Self Indulgence. "Due to some sort of mistake in the universe we ended up being the direct support," says Wheeler. "It wasn't like there were six bands and we were going first—no, we were just right before them every night. So we played to 1,500 people or more. It went over real well because those kids are all full of sugar and cartoons and they want to see something exciting."
Over the past few years, the band have carved out a place for themselves nationally, and they inform me matter-of-factly that their CDs and merchandise are now sold through Hot Topic, another development they can't quite explain. Hard work and years of touring and recording independently, it seems, really can pay off for some bands.
"We're shooting for higher than where we are all the time," says Wheeler. "You shoot for U2, and you might not make it that far, but you try. The goal isn't to be a hip, underground, indie-rock thing forever."
In addition to writing and recording their own brand of fast-paced, intricately constructed electro-metal songs, SMB have earned a reputation for putting on intense, interactive, and sometimes outrageous shows. In an era dominated by polite collegiate types playing motionless indie rock, SMB say they are proud that they still embrace the spirit of rock 'n' roll.
"I want to make old people mad," deadpans bassist Cassidy Nee. "I want John to sing about Satan in a fun way and make horrible noises. I want it to be just good enough that you can't throw it in the garbage." He pauses, squinting his eyes in disgust. "And I hate retro rock."
"That's one of the only genres that totally grates on my nerves—indie rock," agrees McInturff. "It's already been done. Led Zepplin did it better than you're ever going to do it. Let it die."
"We're starting this trend," Wheeler says indignantly. "It's called 'Do something new.' The one old thing that I'd like to bring back that I think everyone's forgotten about is that it's fucking rock 'n' roll. You shouldn't have a haircut that your grandma approves of if you're in a fucking band.
"People get hurt. I get hurt. Shit gets knocked over. We got hired to play a band battle once—we weren't competing, they hired us to play as a headliner for a high school band battle because the kids there liked us so much. We got shut off after four songs, there was a fire, there was garbage all over the place, I ended up almost going to jail. I threw a big Axl Rose fit and threw a desk through a TV and an overhead projector."
SCREAMING MECHANICAL BRAIN perform a Halloween show with Rawhyde and Dawn of Fury on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, at THE GARAGE; 952.895.4664