The Soviet Machines Talk Self-Titled Debut, Working with Jack Endino, Musical Ethos and More (INTERVIEW)

Minneapolis-based Rock band The Soviet Machines just released their self-titled LP via DC-Jam Records on January 1st digitally, and on February 12th they will release the vinyl. The power trio have already dropped lead single “Get Your Kicks”, as well a video for the song, and on the album itself worked with notable Seattle Producer Jack Endino at his studio to capture a live sound that well suits Endino’s history and the band’s background in live performance. 

The Soviet Machines, whose current lineup includes Jack Swagger, Marcus Jones, and Rich Salsbury, has an eventful history as a band launched in high school that continued until 2009, then went on hiatus for a decade before reforming in 2019. Many of their musical goals and drives remain the same and their fast, loud music is still infectious but now has that extra authenticity of avoiding overproduction which is definitely in demand right now from music fans. All three bandmates spoke to me from Minneapolis about their history, their ethos, and the experience of making their new album. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: I wanted to ask all of you about the connection between music and where you come from. I know Minneapolis has quite a place in music history. When you were growing up and starting out in music, were you aware that there was a lot of music in Minneapolis? Did you find it a place that was accessible in the sense that you could play local venues?

Jack Swagger: I would definitely say, “Yes”.

Marcus Jones: Oh, yes, there’s a rich musical history with all these bands in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are always places to play. The sky is the limit, really, in Minneapolis.

Jack: It’s served us well, for sure.

HMS: Did that influence the genres you were most interested in working with? Was there anything going on there then that got you into the styles you’re most interested by now?

Jack: Absolutely. I have to give credit to Marcus on that one. At a really early stage in the band, when we were still in high school, he said, “You need to know who The Replacements are, and Husker Du, and early Soul Asylum. The music that came out in the early 80s is, to this day, a big influence on us.

HMS: I noticed on social media that you were doing a call back to a venue where you had played in the past, The Garage Lounge. I wondered if you’d like to comment on your history with them. Did you play a lot there?

Jack: Absolutely. All three of the original members of the band, including Marcus and myself, lived next door to each other, and that was the venue right down the street. It was also our local all-ages venue. We used to play there once a month. You could just go in and book a show, and promote, and go to other shows. It was a highly important place to us.

Marcus: It is community-owned so it was really great for local bands. You’d have bands coming through town playing there, too, but it was predominantly under 18 kids playing there. It was great.

Jack: And they are still open to do this day, which is really cool.

HMS: This is an obvious question, but could you tell me about the name of the band? I know it goes back to its earliest days, and you can tell me how it came about if you want, but I’m most interested in what you’d like fans to get from it right now in this new era.

Jack: To be honest, we didn’t think about it too much. When we were all still in high school, we had a big notebook where we’d try to come up with names, which we’d sneak to each other during study hall. Most of them were just jokes, to try to make each other laugh. I think I was in a history class, and that name just stuck. They said, “The Soviet Machine” and I think they were talking about tanks and weaponry of the World War II era. It didn’t really have a meaning right away, we just liked how it sounded. Even now, there’s a culture of guitar pedals, and a lot of the Russian-made guitar pedals of the 1980s are some of the coolest that you can find. Actually, Marcus has an original one, and that’s a Soviet Machine.

Marcus: I always thought it was a great band name. I thought it came off really strong. You either love it or you hate it, which is fun, too. Back in the day, people really hated the name, but are now embracing it.

HMS: It’s definitely going to get a reaction. Can you tell me about the time period between the band going on hiatus in 2009 and coming together again in 2019? What were you, individually, getting up to during those years?

Jack: We all stayed extremely active in music, with Marcus and I in bands from the get go. Marcus was in band called San Dimas, then the House of Teeth, then his most recent Busey, which is great, and you should check them out. I toured with a lot of different bands, including Quiet Drive, who we used to play with. I played with some bands over the years. We never really thought it was going to take this long to do this. 

Rich and I have been pretty the last couple years, playing out with bands. I kept running into Marcus over the years, and we stayed in touch building our friendship. Eventually I started sending him some demos, and honestly, it was just the right timing. Covid happened and the shutdown, and our previous projects were in a resting period, so we got together and had a beer, and played like twenty or thirty songs. And we thought, “We forgot how fun this is!”

Marcus: Jack pretty much hit the nail on the head there. I had been playing with different projects, and this was just the right time. We played some tunes and it felt great.

Rich Salsbury: I, personally, was a friend of a fan of the original band, but from 2009 onwards I did a lot of wandering musically. I hitch-hiked across California, and then across the South, and I would play music on street corners and busk. I made different friends here and there and had different writing partners. I tried to experience things from an entirely different angle. When I came home about five years ago, I linked up with Jack and he helped me go through my new songs. He helped me piece together a band called Perfect Liars and helped us get our first EP out. That ran its course after a while, but we started talking again, and here we all are.

HMS: What sort of sounds had you been working with before, and is that similar or different to the sounds we’ll find on the new album coming up?

Jack: I think Marcus and I have a big love for Punk Rock that’s pretty apparent, and all that branched out from that, but at the end of the day, all the different veins of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Marcus: Definitely Rock. I played in a couple of bands that were definitely Grungier, with Punk influence. Everything we’ve ever done has been with “do it yourself” ethics. There was also a Garagey Blues band that I was in. But we’ve always been influenced by Rock and Punk Rock.

Rich: For many years, I was really dedicated to the acoustic guitar and doing the singing/songwriting thing, so my dynamic in this band is completely different. Now I’m playing bass in a lot more of a Punky, fast-paced style rather than with strumming, open chords, and flowing melodies. So that’s kind of a change of pace for me, but I grew up playing Punk-influenced music and it’s how I learned to play the guitar, listening to old Green Day and Blink 182, rather than what purists would call Punk Rock. Ultimately, it’s the same style, with the Classic Rock and Blues chord structures, just played faster and on less strings for me now. 

HMS: Do you all have feelings about genre words applied to what you are doing right now? With your single, “Get Your Kicks” out now, are there words you prefer to use to describe the band or this album?

Rich: In the studio, I know Jack and I threw around the phrase, “Beatles-y Punk Rock” a bunch.

[Laughter]

Marcus: It’s Pop-based Punk, but we’re not Pop Punk. Pretty much Garage kind of Rock. I prefer those.

HMS: Those are cool! I know terms can get restrictive, especially if you want to change things up later. I feel like the term “Garage” is more open because it’s more about energy than sound. 

Marcus: I totally agree with that. I think that works for us. This band has really always been more about energy than trying to define the sound. If it’s fun and it’s got energy, we’re good.

Rich: Garage is almost more of a sentiment than a genre. I grew up jamming with my brother in garages and a garage band was pretty much any band without a stage to play on. It kind of captures how I feel about the whole experience. 

HMS: I know you worked in a studio with Jack Endino to record these songs, but were they demoed before you got to that stage? Had you worked on them previously together?

Jack: Yes, we demoed them at Marcus’s house, and I think we need to do every record like that. You learn so much about it that way. 

HMS: What sort of equipment did you use to create the demo?

Marcus: I just have a basic set up, with a Tascam DP24. It’s a basic recorder, with no bells and whistles, which I prefer. We had some basic microphones set up with a little bit of reverb. From that, you get a sense of how the band is performing, rather than throwing a bunch of sounds on there in an artificial way. You can hear yourself clearly with that kind of blueprint. Then you go into a studio with someone like Jack Endino and you have a better idea of what you’re doing in a professional space. That’s why I like doing demos so much.

HMS: Did you have a previous relationship with Jack Endino or his studio before going in, or was this a totally new or intimidating experience?

Marcus: Yes and no. We’ve been around the block and made records before, so an intimidation factor wasn’t really there. As a musician, you’re always slightly nervous if you only have a couple of days to make a record. I was a little worried that I’d be shell-shocked meeting Jack Endino, but he’s a super down to earth guy. It was super easy, got in there, banged them out. I was done with my drums in a couple of hours.

Jack: Rich and I had previously worked with Jack on a project called The Filthy Famous. It was a Grungey two or three piece, with Rock and weird pedals. We recorded a single with him there about two years ago. I remember talking with Marcus when we were doing the demos, thinking about where we could record, and I threw Endino out there as an option. I’m not sure Marcus believed me right away! But we did it. 

HMS: It’s really great that you had a past experience with him, and also with that space. That must have made the place feel more like home going in. I do get a sense of what that recording experience was like because I’ve seen the video for “Get Your Kicks” which is made up of video clips from that trip and recording session. 

Jack: What you see in the video is all the gem-like moments, and that’s what we tried to capture: the experience of trying to catch lightning in a bottle. I thought it went well, musically, with what we were trying to do, trying to capture the best take of a song all in one room, live, since that’s how we did it. 

HMS: It’s like a video diary in the best sense. What led to the decision to record the tracks live?

Jack: It’s no secret that Endino is known as the godfather of Grunge and is highly associated with Sub Pop Records and all the bands that came out of Seattle in the 80s and 90s. If you dig into his catalog, though, there are so many great records, and they are varied. But overall, what you get with him, is that he likes to do things live and capture the band. And that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want some overly modern, pristine sound. We wanted it to sound human. 

HMS: Definitely. That sounds kind of ideal given your background as live performers. I’m hearing it a little more often lately that bands are intentionally going for a live sound in the studio. 

Marcus: It was our goal. That’s one of the reasons we picked Jack Endino and knew we’d get along with him. Overproduced sounds just don’t sound natural to me. I feel like Rock is a very natural thing, with a bunch of people playing together, so to me, that’s how Rock should be recorded. 

HMS: Was everything tracked together, or were some elements separated out?

Jack: The three of us played in the room together, so the only things were a couple of little guitar overdubs and some vocals. I don’t even think we used a clicktrack or anything. So you’re getting the most organic, live setting possible, for the best results. 

HMS: Did you do different takes and choose the best ones?

Marcus: Three of them were one-takes. It all kind of depends on the drummer to get the feel right away. There were several where we ran through three or four times, max, and picked the best ones. 

 

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