The Macpodz, the New Pride of Ann Arbor

We have to learn everything we can from them so we can continue moving the knowledge. It’s all about the kids. They need to know the value of playing instruments, writing songs, getting together and dancing. I suspect some of them know already. I want to write music that anyone can appreciate. I also want to write music that offends my parents, but they’re too open minded. They’ve enjoyed the least accessible stuff I’ve ever done. I’m not concerned about catering to a scene. The scene should grow around the music, and it will if the music is legit. It’s not about supplying a demand. It’s about trying to do something real, to be a part of something alive. It doesn’t matter who can identify with it as long as somebody does. Music is music. You can call us a jazz band, you can call us a jam band or you can call us modern rock opera, but that’s irrelevant to the point of writing and playing songs. I try to cater to the sensibilities of the guys in the band. We trust each other and we’re working on the sound.

We want to do what serves the music best, what fulfills the function of the song, rather than what we think a certain audience would want to hear. I want to embrace music in its totality, irrespective of genre labels and fan bases.

HT: Can you shed some insight on the recent tour in the supporting slot for Umphrey’s? Did their crowd warm to you guys?

RH: I was expecting to play to empty halls that people were filtering into, waiting for the Umphrey’s set, but every night when we went onstage, the place was packed already. We were thrilled with the response.

You don’t think of rock crowds as a timely audience, but each gig at 8PM sharp, there was a room full of people who greeted us warmly. It seemed like a lot of people took interest in what we were doing. It was very encouraging. It was also helpful to us to see Umphrey’s operation up close. They’re pros on every level.

HT: Got any funny stories about being on the road with them?

RH: Some of our Kalamazoo friends acquired a whole set of purple choir robes from the Goodwill store or something. So in Grand Rapids, they got Ryan Stasik into one of these things and he was preaching the gospel in the green room.

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HT: Alright, this is probably the most important question of the whole interview: What is your favorite sandwich in Ann Arbor – and I don’t mean simply the best place, but also the actual sandwich (i.e., number or name of the sandwich, the ingredients, and of course the specific deli)?

RH: Favorites really depend on one’s mood. I’m not going to be so bold as to say what’s the “best,” and neither could I pin down a favorite. Sandwiches are a mystical thing which don’t deal in absolutes. You’ll be unhappy with a reuben if what you wanted was a club.

Anyhow, the falafel & hummus at Jerusalem Garden is a good standard, but that’s more of a wrap. Another band favorite is the patty melt at the Fleetwood Diner. Zingerman’s Deli is actually its own country, a sovereign sandwich nation.

Griffin has a sandwich named after him at Beanster’s in the Michigan League. I can’t remember all of the ingredients but it’s grilled with turkey, tomatoes, gouda, I think, and honey mustard. Griffin has the highest sandwich standards of any of us. The Northside Grill has good breakfast sandwiches, and Casey’s Tavern might have the best burgers.

If you or your readers regularly go to any of these establishments I’d be interested to hear your sandwich reviews. I once engaged in an hour long debate with another trumpet player comparing the sandwiches of two west Michigan breweries – Bell’s and Founders. It came down to the bread and the pickle. If it’s on really good bread and there’s a good zesty pickle on the side, you’re in business. You can put almost anything in there and it will be delicious. All the heats were even, but eventually we determined that Founders had the better sandwiches on the strength of the bread and the pickle.

HT: So it’s been a little while since we’ve seen any new recordings from the ‘podz, is it safe to assume there is something in the works?

RH: It’s never safe to assume anything, but the Macpodz have all kinds of stuff in the works. Last weekend we just tracked a single, “the Truth,” at the brand-spanking-new Elevation Studio in Cleveland. Our friend Jacob Fader, the guitar player for Mifune, engineered the session. They will hopefully use the track to help advertise their studio. I think they were also showing off their sweet gear, because we are trying to figure out where we’re going to record the next album.

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HT: Presumably, you’re in the planning stages for the festival season and trying to nail down slots; what are some of the things you hope to accomplish this summer?

RH: Total freedom for everyone, philosophical illumination, the LOUDNESS. The Sound.

HT: Are there any festies in particular that you are really hoping to crack?

RH: I’d love to play the Detroit International Jazz Festival, but those folks can tell we’re actually a rock & roll band, as opposed to the rock & roll people, who think we’re a jazz band. So, I’m not holding my breath. I’ve been going to that festival since I was a baby, though, and it would be a significant personal landmark to play there.

HT: I notice your tour calendar tends to have a lot of shows concentrated in Michigan with short bursts of shows outside the Midwest. Do you guys have day jobs or go to school or is everybody focusing on the band full time at this point?

RH: There are various obligations that prevent us from dropping out of square society and going on tour permanently. I don’t really wish to discuss our personal lives with strangers though. I’ll say that the Macpodz are one full-time project amongst many.

HT: Surely one of the more exciting moments last summer came at Summer Camp where the Macpodz got the monumental upgrade to a big stage this year AND had some cross fertilization with moe.? How does that rank in terms of the biggest moments in the band’s history?

RH: The very first gig we played (February 2006) was, in my mind, the biggest moment in the band’s history. Everything since then has just been trying to capture that pure thrill.

By saying that, I don’t mean to gloss over the fun & intensity of Summer Camp or any other gig. Our intermingling with moe. started at the first Summer Camp we played, in ’07 at the campground stage. Nick was up front singing, and when he returned to his congas, a guy was sitting there playing.

Because of the sorts of shows we were doing at that time, we were used to defending the stage against vagrants and drunkards, so Nick was getting ready to throw down. Our manager Matthew stepped in just in time, indicating that the stranger was a friend of his, Vinnie Amico, who was listening to the set and in his excitement just came on and started jamming. None of us recognized him, I hadn’t seen moe. in seven years prior to that.

Later that weekend, moe. had me up for Yodelittle. They gave me the baptism of fire. I didn’t do anything very special, but I walked out alive. I learned more about music in that 17 minutes than in the whole rest of my life. It was also the last time I can remember being afraid of anything.

Since then, there have been various sit-ins. Vinnie and Jim Loughlin have made numerous appearances with the Macpodz, and Nick and Jesse have both sat in with moe. In Utica, Al brought us some tomato pies, but he left before our set because for some reason he had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day.

We still hope to get collaborations going with Al, Chuck, and Rob. Evidently, one time Rob showed up at our gig in Portland, ME, with his bass, but we weren’t there. There was no gig. The promoter was out of contact in Argentina or something, so the club owner had gone behind his back and booked some punk bands. We drove for six hours to discover this. We tried to make ourselves feel better by eating lobster, but the damage was done. Somehow we found out that Rob came by, and that was salt in the wound. If there ever is a bass duel between Derhak & Brennan, though, I hope there’s a fallout shelter nearby. That would be complete madness.

HT: And the obvious follow up, what else ranks high on that list of great moments in the bands history?

RH: There is a long-running festival in the northern Lower Peninsula called BlissFest, and last summer during our Saturday night set there were multiple instances of crowd surfing. I felt immensely pleased about that; it was very rock & roll. It’s mainly a folk festival, so in addition to being the first crowd surfers at a Macpodz concert, it may also have been the first crowd surfing in the 26 year history of the festival. I’ll have to check on that theory, though. Some of the klezmer scene gets pretty wild.

One other time a while back, Fareed Haque was playing a jazz show in Ann Arbor on a night we were playing at the Blind Pig. We had opened for Garaj Mahal in Burlington earlier that year. So somebody went to Haque’s show, and invited him to come sit in with us when he was done with his gig. He came by and played our roommate’s red Stratocaster through a tiny little Crate amp, and it sounded amazing. The way he plays is mind-boggling. He sat in on “Freedom Jazz Dance” by Eddie Harris, and another tune which I don’t recall. That was a good moment.

HT: And finally this is second most important question: How long should the Wolverines give Rich Rodriguez to turn the football program around before sending him packing?

RH: I’m so disgusted with the matter that I refuse to waste much time thinking about it. If he can figure out how to beat Ohio State regularly, they’ll keep him around for a decade, despite consistent losses to everyone else.

My parents are Buckeyes and my sister is a Spartan, so of course their consensus is that Rodriguez can have as long as he needs. Really, once he can convince the defense and the offense to show up on the same day, they’ll do fine. In the meantime, I’m thankful that the Macpodz were driving somewhere almost every Saturday afternoon this fall, sparing us the torment of watching the games.

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12 Responses

  1. I had never heard of these guys before, but your intro was so compelling that I read the interview — big mistake. Having now suffered through the grating attitude and self-righteousness of this wanker, I offer this unsolicited note to the band: use someone else as your spokesman. This guy comes off as a Grade A douche and is a huge distraction from the music because of his overwhelming buttheadedness.

  2. I think this interview is amazing! Obviously, Jimmy is a Buckeyes fan and I, on behalf of the state of Ohio, apologize for him…keep rockin, Podz!

  3. Wow Jimmy, did you listen to the music at least? It’s some pretty good stuff. Holy wa that vid with Fareed Hauque…

    Don’t dis it before you give it a little taste.

  4. great interview, thanks! i’ve been a huge fan of the macpodz for a while now. they just make me wanna dance!

    and learning more about sandwiches is never a bad thing

    haha Jimmy Z., sorry big words get you down

  5. A) Yes, I listened to them…and even liked them; B) Had my first Zingerman’s sandwich when most of you were an itch in your daddy’s jock and Anthony Carter was still catching balls; C) Never “dissed” the music, just the band member’s bloated ego. On that note, JJ, here’s a big word for you: solipsism. I will admit that I was a tad hard on the guy, but he really comes off as way too self-impressed and too-cool-for-school…most uncool. And the Buckeyes can suck it!

  6. hey jimmy- I’m actually pretty good friends with ross, we went to music school at U of M together, and trust me he’s really not a douche at all. He’s really a pretty laid back, albeit slightly eccentric guy. Sometimes people’s tone can be misrepresented within the context of an article. He has very little of an actual ego, and I hope you don’t judge him too harshly by this article because in reality he’s a pretty sweet person.

    Also, I am jealous that you have been able to be eating Zingerman’s for longer than I, I love and desperately miss that place after moving from AA.

  7. Thanks, K.R. — you come across as completely level-headed, so I’ll take your word at face value and recant my comments. Just goes to show — you need to be careful when giving a print interview otherwise your words/thoughts can be easily misconstrued despite your intent.

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