UTG INTERVIEW: Mime Game Discuss the Past and the Future

Mime Game

Contrary to what you may believe, Kansas City has quite a lot going for it. One of the latest acts to transition into making a name off of national-level touring would be Mime Game. After releasing their 2013 EP, Do Your Work, and having a stellar string of performances at SXSW, the group has now returned home to dive into the writing process of what will become their debut full-length release.

UTG recently had a chat with Mime Game’s frontman Dillon DeVoe about his band’s adventures at SXSW, his personal experience of recording with a newly sober perspective, differences between writing alone or with a full band, and lessons learned from his previous band, Josephine Collective.

How would you describe your experience at this year’s South By?

It’s really hectic. We didn’t really have a second off until Saturday, and on Saturday, we spent a lot of time relaxing and preparing for what we thought was going to be a full band set at [the house of] Kerry O’Quinn, who created Fangoria, the horror movie magazine, and he created Starlog, the sci-fi movie magazine. On Sunday we played at his house, but we didn’t find out until the end of the day on Saturday that it was just going to be an acoustic [show]. So we spent the whole day on getting amped up for this party that we were going to play, but then he was like, “oh, I think you’ll blow my breakers if you try and play full band.” It was kind of an easy Sunday too, we just got to wind down but Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was just nonstop madness.

That sounds pretty intense! But this one wasn’t your first one, was it?

Not for me. I mean, Josephine Collective (my old band) went down and played in 2007, and that was my first South By, and I’ve gone every year since then, except for one. Whether it was just taking an acoustic guitar and playing on street corners, or setting up house shows or shows at co-ops in Austin. It’s all been unofficial, [as in] not a part of official SXSW. With this band, we did the Music Saves Lives showcase, we had another showcase that we got put on at a restaurant on sixth. But we missed the deadline for submission for official South By–we were on tour and coming back from Atlanta, I just had a kid like seven months ago, so there was a lot going on. We didn’t even realize until a month afterwards that we had missed the submission [date]. So I make it a point to be in Austin during SXSW every year, but Mime Game is actually yet to get billed, officially.

I’ve heard about your recent decision to go sober — congrats! Do you think that recent change in your lifestyle will reflect itself in any future music that you guys plan to work on?

First of all, thank you for making that junction, it means a lot to me. At 26 years old, it was a decision I’ve been mulling around in my head for a while. You know, from a lot of people’s perspectives, I’ve never had a problem with very serious drugs, just been an incredibly habitual weed smoker, or sometimes drink way more than I needed to. I kind of hit a point where I was like, “I’ve had a lot of incredible opportunities in my life, but I’m not going to be able to make anything pan out to the level that makes me feel happy and satisfied with what I’m doing and I feel like having a clear head is going to allow me to have the energy and strength that I need to do that.” Having that ‘trial by fire’ of being newly sober and going into SXSW and back was all around awesome. Everywhere we went I was just like, “Oh, I’ll have water. No, I’m ok.” They try to give you everything for free; it’s like “Free drinks! Free madness! Come partake!”

Josephine’s first time [at SXSW] was when I was nineteen years old. So I’ve had a lot of years to stretch out, lose days, waste time, and act like an idiot. Like I said, I’m 26 years old, I’m done with drinking, I need to get more serious about my life and my career. I think this is the best decision I’ve ever made, not just for my mental clarity, but my voice is now stronger from not smoking, vaporizing, or drinking. It just dehydrates you, it dries your vocal chords out.

So far, the music I’m writing has been more energetic, because being stoned all of the time makes you feel pretty lethargic and it’s cool because it helps me create ambient atmospheres, which will be a part of this first record that we’ll be doing… It’ll be a little more poppy and accessible as well, so we got the really over-thought, overwrought songs that are just massive musical renditions being juxtaposed against songs that are just me kind of awakening all over again, saying, “this is what I have, this is what I’ve got, this is the most simplistic way that I have to say it and put it out there.” It’s creating a really cool mix. I’m really excited to share it with everyone.

How far along are you with work on your upcoming full-length? Specifically, do you have any completed songs?

I think we have about 45 songs written so far. Partially, that’s because this project started as a side project for Josephine, and I’ve only done three EPs for this. I mean, we did do eight songs, a kind of “half-album” that was more like b-sides. So I’ve never really gotten the chance to go in and make a full cohesive audio work with my band that’s turned into a full-length album. Because of that, I’ve been just stacking up songs this whole time, and every time Dalton (our lead guitarist) and I sit down and make a list or track listing of what we’re going to do, we’re like “whoa, this song can be bumped for this one!” So honestly, we’re so ready and considering that our drummer has only been a part of the project for eight months, and him and I both produce, and he makes beats and raps, we have all of these other elements that we haven’t even explored as a band, because all of the songs for this first record, I solely wrote myself. As we get into a second album, I think as a four-piece we’ll be in the room writing together a lot more, which gives us so much more headroom for growth, because we’ve got enough for two albums right now and a completely unexplored method of writing to take a song further than that.

Do you have any plans for any specifics, like where and who you’ll be recording with?

We are most likely recording with Rick Parker, who did our [Do You] EP and we really like working with him. He got us in to do drums at Scott Weiland’s (Stone Temple Pilots) studio. We’ve been able to take “Do You,” the last song on the EP, which originally clocked in at like 2:45, and he was like, “I feel like this song needs more,” and threw in a five minute arrangement session of sitting down and thinking “what could we do to really make this feel full?” We were able to add in another 45 seconds to the song and turning into what I think is one of our most awesome bangers as a band. Already having that rapport with him and loving him as a producer and as a person, I’m pretty sure that’s definitely the route that we’re going to go. But also, he’s been working on the guitars for the Foo Fighters’ new album, and has told us that there’s a possibility that we might be able to track our album at Dave Grohl’s 606 studio, which to me, is amazing, because if you watch that Sound City documentary, the Neve console that they had in there has got some of the best drum tones in the world when you record with it. The likelihood of possibly running into or meeting up with members of the Foo Fighters or any other incredible musicians makes us so ecstatic.

Mime Game began as a part-time solo project, but it’s since evolved into something greater. Has the songwriting process become easier or harder since then?

I think as I get better, it becomes easier, but I think the inverse reaction of that is that as I strive to get better, I’ll dive in deeper to make sure that I’m not just getting lazy. I don’t want to allow myself to fall back on this part that I feel like I’m developing here, ya know? I want to continue to tell myself that I need to get better, so that I continue to grow as a songwriter. That being said, I think the best songs I write are the ones that just flow out of me, whereas sometimes songs that I’ll spend weeks and weeks pouring over every little detail turn out to be personal triumphs that I’ll be like, “oh, I’ll never call that a masterpiece to someone else, but in my mind, that’s something that I’ll see so much value in.” The songs that people tend to connect to the most are the most understated and straightforwardly honest, and those will always be the easiest ones to write.

So it’s kind of cool, the ones that I really, really work on become more of a project for me and the finished product becomes more of a personal triumph. Whereas the songs that I’m like, “I just need to get this song out of my soul,” people are like, “Oh that’s really cool!” I’ll be like, “Cool, because that was really easy to just state.”

The “alternative rock” can be so big and ambiguous! If you had to come up with a unique and spur of the moment name for your sound, what would you give it?

It’s guitar-driven folk-tinged whimsical pop-rock alternative music that aims to be lyrically strong and musically deep. We want the music to be attractive to the listener, we want people to hear it and think, “oh, I can get into this!” We don’t want to do a lot to turn people off, which is why I think we go with the name of the genre alternative rock, because it’s so broad. There is that folk tinge to some of it, there is kind of a grunge aspect to some of it, and then there’s a really clean emo-pop vibe to some of it… So even a song that comes across as poppy, pop-punk-y, or even just kind of classically alternative rock still has an emo tinge to it with just the fact that my lyrics are all about very serious life experiences. Very rarely am I writing about a relationship with a girl or something trite, it’s always about things happening in my life and things that I see going on in the world because I first and foremost put emphasis on the lyrics and on creating and fostering a vibe of transcendence. I want to lift people up and make them feel something that might be uncomfortable that they’re happy about feeling after the fact.

What’s the most important lesson learned from your experience in Josephine Collective?

Be humble. Absolutely. At 18 years old, I had the singer of Goldfinger (who is my favorite band) contact us on MySpace and say, “for no pay let me see how serious you are: will you guys drive to Anaheim and open for Goldfinger?” And this is while I’m watching people around me not have opportunities like that. We did it and he liked us, so much that he footed the bill for our initial recording for the EP and had us stay in his basement while we were recording, all because he believed in this project. At first, that’s a humbling experience. Then you’re talking to a major label at nineteen years old and I [was] like, “man, I must be doing something right!” It escaped me for years that I was blessed, I was lucky, and it wasn’t that I was just so amazing, it was that I was working hard. Working hard and being humble was what created that experience.

Do you have anything special planned for your set at Middle of the Map Fest?

Really, it’s going to be kind of a standard Mime Game set, but after SXSW, we really bonded in way (as a band) that we haven’t yet and when I say that, I know it’s standard for me, but no one in Kansas City has seen that yet, because we’ve really only had three shows at South By where it was like “oh my gosh, that’s what we’ve been missing!” We’ve put on good shows, even great shows, but now when we’re playing, it feels amazing. I mean, we might like, climb on the roof and shred. [laughs] We’re going to get crazy: that you can count on.

How does it feel to finally be getting love from your hometown of Kansas City? It’s been a long time coming!

It feels amazing, it really does. I’ve had my own insecurities about letting Josephine go when everyone started going their separate ways. I tried to cling to it because it was all new and it felt safe. Mime Game has always been more true to me, musically. It is me, as a project. It really is as honest as I can get. Having that fear and having that slow sort of resistance from people all created conflicts in me where I was like, “maybe it wasn’t me that they wanted, maybe it was Josephine.” My main contributions to the band were the vocal melodies and the lyrics, but I wasn’t writing any instrumentals. So I thought that when I would pick up a guitar and write a song, I didn’t write as good of music as Josephine did, and maybe I’m not good enough to do this on my own, and the reality that I came to was, I wasn’t good enough to do it on my own. No one is.

It takes a team of people to create something gorgeous, to create something memorable. I just had to find that team, and if I have found that team, it wasn’t that people didn’t want me, it’s that they still weren’t ready to let go of Josephine. Some still aren’t, and some had to see it come into fruition on its own, because the project was still growing after Josephine’s dissolution, and when I finally found those people who are helping me create something that is larger than any one of us, people were starting to see it. So I don’t blame anyone for not hopping on the bandwagon right away and I don’t beat myself up anymore, thinking that I made the wrong decision or anything. It’s all coming around in time, and to be where I’m supposed to be, and as my city starts to see that, it feels like bliss, it’s awesome.

Keep up with Mime Game online through Facebook and Twitter.

Interview written and conducted by Adrian Garza (follow him on Twitter)

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