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DC indie-rockers Middle Distance Runner will be celebrating the release of their new LP (The Sun & Earth) this Saturday, October 3rd, at IOTA. Their second album is a groove-oriented affair, fueled by a propulsive rhythm section. Just check out that sweet bass line in the claymation acid trip of a video for “The Unbeliever” (above).
Bass and drums stand at the forefront of The Sun & Earth at first go-round, while vocals are less prominent in the mix, lending an air of mystery to the lyrics - kind of like vintage Rolling Stones recordings. But I think that gives the album plenty of space to open up lyrically and sonically upon multiple listenings. MDR has got nice little vocal arrangements going on, and keys thicken their sound nicely. Plus, there’s even a few acoustic-tinged moments to provide balance to the album, like on the lovely “The Fury” and the epic “Round Here.”
I spoke to drummer Erik Dean and lead singer Stephen Kilroy about MDR’s dining habits and recording the new album via email. And no, they’re not really made of clay.
MMS: So what are you most proud of about your new album, The Sun & Earth?
STEPHEN KILROY: I'm probably most proud of the fact that we were able to realize the original concept and include everything we wanted to. Usually, recording involves a lot of compromise and whittling away at a grand concept, but this time we took care to make sure every song was perfect and every idea found its place.
ERIK DEAN: Yeah, we’re definitely proud of it … probably because it’s a perfect reflection of the effort that went into making it. We worked really hard with every spare moment we had, we struggled with a lot of parts, we sweated, we laughed to the point of tears, and we ended up with an album that mirrors a lot of that.
MMS: “They” always say the second LP is tougher than the first, material-wise. How did you find things?
ED: It was easy in the sense that we were all on the same page as far as the kind of album we wanted to make. We talked about the general tone and feel that we were going for. We even had a lyrical concept for the whole thing. Talking is easy though, the execution was the challenging part.
SK: It was a bit weird, because it seemed like it was the first time that all of our influences and musical inclinations converged, so there wasn't a lot of push and pull. Like Erik said, we all knew the album we wanted to make before we started and we all went through things, good and bad, as a group. So we had a lot of common experiences that made this album effortlessly coherent.
MMS: So I hear you all met in high school - which one of you was the coolest back then?
ED: We definitely thought of ourselves as the coolest kids, but in hindsight we were pretty lame. We listened to classic rock and smelled like the deli we worked at. We didn’t go to parties, we had sleepovers and made action movies. We drank too much soda and silently made fun of the other kids. I wore the same blue hoodie to school everyday. Not very cool.
MMS: And were any of you on the track team? I’m just trying to subtly determine the origins of your band name.
ED: Nope, none of us ran track in high school.
SK: If I tried to run a block, my lungs would explode and my heart would sputter out and my legs would call me an idiot.
MMS: Whom do you consider your biggest influences?
ED: You know, the usual, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. To be honest, the most influential person at the moment for me would have to be Franny Armstrong. She's a director who just made a brilliant documentary about climate change called The Age of Stupid. It was so incredibly sobering and alarming that it's kinda made me rethink a lot things in my life. I'm considering becoming a full-time eco-nut! I think every person needs to see this movie.
SK: My family, politicians, and religious figures influence probably 90 percent of the songs I write.
MMS: Being from DC, where can we usually find Middle Distance Runner hanging out?
ED: Unfortunately, I'm probably the last person in MDR to be found hanging out somewhere cool in the city. I don't have much money to spend these days so I usually hang out at my house. I love going to Caps games! I've really been into riding my bike on all the trails we have around town. I'm also a big fan of ice cream and I happen to work right down the street from one of the areas best frozen custard shops, The Dairy Godmother. I go there more often than I care to admit.
SK: Touring makes you poor, so I'm usually at home too. Whenever we have beer money, though, you're more than likely going to find us at a show at The Black Cat or Rock & Roll Hotel. I also like Comet Ping Pong a lot. Good pizza and good beers. And ping pong, of course.
MMS: That’s a pretty awesome claymation video you’ve got for “The Unbeliever,” by the way. Are you more Gumby guys or California Raisins guys?
ED: Oh, thank you. Our very talented friend Max made it for us.
Gumby and the California Raisins both have special places in my heart. The California Raisin commercial was the first time I can remember seeing claymation and it was amazing. Gumby, on the other hand, was a mind-expanding experience for me. Once, in the middle of the night, I woke up with the TV on. I was half-awake and squinting through crusty eyes to see the most bizarre episode of Gumby ever. Gumby and his horse friend were on Mars. They were morphing into random things and speaking in tongues. The writers for that episode must’ve been on a wicked acid trip or something. It was so disturbing.
SK: I was there too when we saw that Gumby episode. Life-changing. The Raisins had some serious soul power though.
MMS: You’ve got a big tour coming up. What are a few CDs that you all can heartily agree on for a cross-country sing-along drive in the van? Feel free to mention psychobilly.
ED: We all seem to enjoy Pet Sounds, especially right after leaving a club. It just feels good and gets better every time I hear it.
SK: Last tour we rocked a lot of Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. Are they psychobilly?
MMS: And finally, what do you want to leave the audience thinking after you finish your set at this Saturday night’s CD release party?
SK: "I gotta break up with my boyfriend!"