The Melismatics redefine their sound on their new album, 'MANIA!'

The Melismatics' songs aren't simple at all.  They're intricate, jumping from one thought to another, and yet, they're easily adaptable to the most conservative of ears.  This, of course, is the Minneapolis band's cardinal accomplishment.

Listening to their new album, MANIA!, can be compared to taking part in a spelunking adventure where on the surface the song may seem ordinary, but it contains so many layers  -- gems hidden amongst other gems.

Gimme Noise caught up with the band before their album release on Tuesday.

Band Members:

Ryan Smith (vocals, guitars, keys)

Kathie "Pony" Hixon-Smith (vocals, guitar, keys)

Mark Wade (bass, vocals)

Ron Caron (drum set)

Gimme Noise: I'm loving the freshness of this new album, MANIA!  How do you feel the band's sound has evolved since The Acid Test?

Ryan: This album is a completely different animal than any of our previous records. When we recorded The Acid Test, (2008) producer John Fields thought Pony should have a more prominent role in the group, so he'd have Pony sing some of my lines in the studio to experiment; we found some interesting vocal combinations between the two of us. When writing material for the new album, MANIA!, I knew we had the asset of Pony's voice and was able to make that a more intricate part of the music. At the time, I was also listening to lots of Brian Wilson, and that led to more harmonies and vocal layers.

Beyond the vocals, the sonic texture has drastically changed as well. This album is more layered with synthesizers, underlying sonic landscapes, and experimental sounds. The reason for this shift is the method we recorded the album. This time around, I was able to record extensive demos of the songs independently before we hit the studio. When you record by yourself, you can explore every idea you have and take more time building tracks that you'd never have time to do if you are in-and-out of the studio. Many of the tracks from the demos remained on the final record. 

Ron: The band has matured a lot since the previous album. Songwriting, performing, and recording. MANIA! just sounds like a natural progression forward. A good balance of Ryan and Pony on this album. I would say MANIA! is probably more cohesive.  

Mark: We're always evolving and trying to go into new territory, but I would say probably the most noticeable thing about the new album is the electronic elements and layers. Also, I think the songwriting is more mature and a little deeper.

How did you come to working with Dan Wilson on this new album and what was the process of working with Jon Auer and Ed Ackerson like?

Ryan: Working with Dan Wilson was originally John Fields' idea. Dan came over to our house and Pony and I starting playing him songs we were considering for the new album on an acoustic guitar, completely stripped down. When we got to the song "Out Of Yer Mind," which was originally a faster, Gang of Four-esque track, he started to have a lot of ideas. We spent the rest of that day working on that song and it ended up in a different and very cool place.   

It was great to be able to work with two amazing producers on the album as well. I had first sent Jon Auer my home demos and he got extremely (shockingly so, actually) familiar with the songs which really helped the process. We had a day of pre-production with him in which we played the songs live in a rehearsal space. He gave us his thoughts on parts, and performances. We had the philosophy that if something in the demo was good we'd keep it on the record, and if we could beat it we'd re-track it. All keyboards, a good deal of the guitars, many sounds, and some vocals from the demos remained on the album. From there, we went to Flowers Studio and In The Groove where we tracked drums, bass, most lead vocals and any of the instrumentation that we needed to. Jon added some really cool vocal parts, and his voice is all over the album. For me it's kind of a trip, because I've always been a big fan of The Posies and Big Star, so it's really great to hear him on these songs.

We've worked with our very good friend Ed Ackerson many times over the years, so working with him was part of the time-space continuum. Ed has ears of steel, great taste, and a stellar sense of what makes a good take. It was a very similar process to what we did with Auer.  We'd bring the demos into the Pro Tools session and get to work!

Ron: Jon Auer was very cool to work with! It was great to have his input. He always had fresh ideas for parts that maybe the rest of us may not have come up with. Fantastic singer, as well. You can hear him on some of the tracks. Ed Ackerson has been working with us on and off since 2003. He's almost in the band at this point! It is always a fun atmosphere with Ed. Very laid back vibe, no pressure. Let's just hit record and rock!

Mark: Working with Ed is always a pleasure; his head is filled with endless ideas. He is a wizard and a magician. Jon has an excellent energy and endless patience.

The Melismatics redefine their sound on their new album, 'MANIA!'

Most bands these days break even when touring; does this seem disheartening to you because the Melismatics tour so much?  What drives you to keep going?

Ryan: We don't do this "for the money" but because we feel passionate about what we are doing. That's what keeps us going. 

It's ironic--when we started doing this it was the beginning of the music industry collapse.  While our audience has been growing and things have been getting better for us, the industry is generally falling apart. That means we'd probably be doing much better if we were doing this 20 years ago, but we don't know the difference. 

Ron: Money would for sure help with expenses but it's not why we do it. We love the experience of it all. We have very good friends just about everywhere we go. These people have become family to us. Having that kind of support group around us everyday is definitely motivational.

Mark: We enjoy the music we play, and we see things building in all of the cities that we play.

Why do you think your fans connect so much to your music?

Ryan: If you are making music that you sincerely can get behind, and it truly moves you then it will move others as well. If we don't think something is good, interesting, or authentic we just don't play it.      

Ron: Could be the lyrics? Could be the live show? Could be Pony?

Mark: We enjoy the music we play, and we see things building in all of the cities that we play.

With touring nationally the band has made quite a name for yourselves.  Do you see this as a sign of success?  How do you define success?

Ryan: I suppose I do see it as a sign of success. The definition of success is always changing and evolving in the music "industry", but ultimately you have to be able to live with yourself.  If you can, that is success. 

Ron: Definitely, we have been working hard for a long time. It's always nice to see new faces get into the band. We just want to reach as many people as humanly possible!

Mark: Yes, I think we all see it as a sign of success. It's tricky because you don't want to set your goals too high or you will never be happy, even if you are what some people would consider successful. I think as long as we keep growing as a band, and keep building our audience we will be successful.

Although you've just released MANIA!, what's next for the band?

Ryan: We are re-releasing our first album, Postmodern Rock, in May for it's 10-year anniversary, remastered and with unreleased tracks. The next album is already in the works, we'd like that to see the light of day within the year. We are also collaborating with Tony Ortiz of the legendary new-wave band The Monroes for a new album under the moniker "X Monroes."

Ron: Tour, Record and Repeat.

Mark: Ditto!

Tour Schedule:

January 12, 2012 - Zoo Bar, Lincoln, NE
January 13, 2012 - Triple Nickel Tavern, Colorado Springs, CO
January 14, 2012 - Hi-Dive, Denver, CO
January 15, 2012 - Senate Bar, Pueblo, CO
January 16, 2012 - Piper Down Pub, Salt Lake City, UT
January 18, 2012 - Soda Bar, San Diego, CA
January 19, 2012 - Silverlake Lounge. Los Angeles, CA
January 20, 2012 - Hotel Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge, Flagstaff, AZ
January 21, 2012 - Hotel Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge, Flagstaff, AZ
January 22, 2012 - Launchpad, Albuquerque, NM
January 23, 2012  - The Conservatory, Oklahoma City, OK
January 24, 2012 - Record Bar, Kansas City, MO
February 3, 2012 - R, Dubuque, IA
February 4, 2012 - Upfront & Co, Marquette, MI
February 16, 2012 - Otto's, Dekalb, IL
February 17, 2012 - Melody Inn, Indianapolis, IN
February 18, 2012 - Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI
February 24, 2012 - The Ritz, Minneapolis, MN (CD release show)
March 14, 2012 - Barley House, Dallas, TX
March 18, 2012 - The Grotto, Ft Worth, TX
March 20, 2012 - The 806, Amarillo, TX
March 22, 2012 - The Lost Leaf, Phoenix, AZ
March 30, 2012 - Malarkey's Pub, Wausau, WI
March 31, 2012 - The Crunchy Frog, Green Bay, WI
April 13, 2012 - Upfront & Co, Marquette, MI

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