From Athenaeum To MG4 — An Interview with
In the four-piece, Athenaeum guitarist Mike Garrigan graduates to lead singer and songwriter, while vocalist Mark Kano steps into the shadows as guitarist, and as demonstrated on the band’s superb new four-track EP Gravity Affects Me, it’s an arrangement that suits all parties.
Garrigan explains: “Initially, in September 2003, Mark, Remy [Jeremy Vogt, drums] and I tracked two songs that were headed for the fifth Athenaeum album. In this session, Mark sang the lead on both songs but we opted to shelve this material in favor of doing a Mike Garrigan band project. Then Mark approached me about switching places in the existing line up and we agreed it would probably be for the best. He’s started on a new direction in his life and doesn’t have a lot of time for songwriting. He’s also one of my good friends, so I respect his decision to be in the position he is.”
As former singer-songwriter for Universal Records’ Collapsis and a solo artist with three solo albums to his name, Garrigan relished the opportunity to be a frontman once again, but he admits to being grateful for the talents of Kano and his fellow band members, Vogt and bassist Mike Mitshele in MG4.
“Playing with Mark is a true blessing,” he says. “He is, hands down, the most talented person I know. There’s a real chemistry between the guys in the band and it’s good to surround yourself with people who are more talented than you are. It makes me look really good!”
He continues, “MG4 is different from any project I’ve done because it represents the band as it is. There are no excessive overdubs. Remy plays all the drums. Big Mike plays all the bass. Mark and I play all the guitars and do all the singing. In my previous works, I had 11 or 12 musicians play all over the albums. This is a true representation of where we are in 2004, as Athenaeum is coming to a close.”
But as Gravity Affects Me and the countless demos posted on www.mikegarrigan.com prove, the powerful, melodic sound of Athenaeum still remains on the majority of MG4’s songs, even though the dynamics of the band are different.
“Yeah, it’s basically the same,” Garrigan admits. “Lyrically, there’s a difference, but not a night/day one, and musically, it’s not much of a departure. The material on the EP is more like [Athenaeum songs] “Sweeter Love” than “What I Didn’t Know.” MG4 is the eleventh hour line up for Athenaeum, so similarities are inevitable. I’m so completely happy with that because I love Athenaeum’s sound.”
The four songs on the band’s debut EP will no doubt be savoured by fans of Athenaeum and Garrigan’s previous material, but such is their quality, there’s no reason why modern rock fans unaware of the band’s previous incarnations shouldn’t also be extremely impressed by what they hear.
“I’m quite pleased with the result,” admits Garrigan. “Gravity Affects Me is the first project I recorded and produced myself, and one thing I noticed early on in pre-production was that all of the songs deal with falling on your ass and picking yourself up again. That’s a departure from the “relationship” material that comprised so much of The Promise of Summer, my last album. I guess it goes back to the darker Collapsis material.”
The sonic and lyrical depth evident throughout the EP is perhaps best demonstrated on the darkly captivating title track. Originally written for the planned second Collapsis album, it later resurfaced during the acoustic shows Garrigan and Kano played around Greensboro.
“It was written in August of 2000 and is far and away, the densest recording I’ve ever made — including all the stuff with Collapsis,” says Garrigan. “I worked for about a week on singing the last chorus of that song. I would sing the chorus every morning at the top of my lungs and comped the best lines. I always wanted to deliver a vocal performance like that.”
While not as intense, opening track, “Another Day In Paradise” reflects similar sentiments to “Gravity Affects Me” and boasts another terrific band performance. “About two years ago, I dropped a handful of really bad habits and never looked back,” Garrigan comments. “This song reflects that personal transformation. I was tempted to fade out the outro, but it reminded me of what I liked about the Athenaeum song “Comfort”. Mark and Remy just kept going and going so we kept the performance, unfaded.”
Remaining tracks, the brooding “Walk In Circles” and the uplifting “Run From Thunder” complete the EP in spectacular style and really whet the appetite for a possible full-length MG4 album.
“It all depends on the reaction to the record,” says Garrigan. “It’s very possible if the EP sells enough copies to warrant a full length. We are doing one-off shows here and there to support and promote the release of the EP and it’s selling so well right now that the project will recover its cost even without a tour. Thank God for the internet!”
Indeed, after unhappy spells with major labels while in Collapsis and Athenaeum, Garrigan is grateful for the creative and financial freedom being an independent artist affords him, and he believes the development of the Web is the single biggest challenge to the music industry status quo.
“There’s no question that being independent is the way to go nowadays, he asserts. “The only reason to be on a major is if you are already selling 500,000 copies of your album by yourself. Then, all the bullshit makes sense.
“But technology is making it possible to eliminate every single middleman in one’s income chain. The best thing a band can do these days is get a decent website, set up a Paypal account, and devote two to three hours a day to licking envelopes and mailing packages. That’s what I do and this is the first year I’ve ever made a profit in the music business.”
With a couple of acoustic and full band solo albums already written, Garrigan intends to spend the next 12 months recording those, promoting MG4 and producing local Greensboro artists from his home studio. But the members of MG4 have one other task to occupy their time before 2004 is out — a small Athenaeum farewell tour.
“I don’t think we’ll do more than a handful of shows,” Garrigan says. “We have one show on the books in Charlotte on December 18, 2004 and I anticipate one or two more shows being added, but not much more than that. We all want things to go out with a bang!”