interview by Michael McCarthy
Last week I brought you part one of my interview with Chris McLelland of the popular post-hardcore/pop punk outfit Nominee, which focused on something we have in common: bipolar disorder. Today we have part two, which focuses on the band’s music, tour plans and a few of our famous random questions. Enjoy!
MM: So, who are the other guys in the band?
CM: There’s five of us. For a long time there were only four of us. We originally started as a five piece and then for a minute we were a six piece. We had a girl that was playing some keys just to fill it out and give it more dynamic but when she left it was kind of like, OK, we wanted our sound to be a little more stripped down. We realized that upon having somebody to fill it out, that we wanted it to be a little less complicated. So, when she left we were just like OK, we’ll make it work like this. Then we parted ways with another member and we were left as a four piece. It’s just me, the guitarist, Steve, bassist Cameron and Andy, who plays drums. And us four wrote Drag Me Out together. And before that it was very much so [where] one of us would write a song. We would write it fully – we’d write the music to it fully – and we’d bring it to the band and the rest of the members would learn it and that would be the song. And it was normally done – most of it was done by Nate, the guy who left in November of 2015. So, we rethought how we were gonna start writing and we started writing together. One of us would put the skeleton together and then we would come to practice and break that song down and rewrite it together. Drag Me Out is the first more – the first record that is composed by the band. But we definitely needed someone to play lead. I play guitar parts on the record and Andy, our drummer, plays guitar parts on the record. So, when we were like OK, with the record coming out we had a guy named Dean who had filled in on everything but tours. He had filled in on all the local stuff and regional stuff for about a year and he’s just an incredible musician. So, after the record was about ready to come out we did a west coast tour with him and just meshed incredibly well together. We were just like he needs to be in the band. He might not be able to do every tour with us and that’s perfectly fine but he needs to be a member because he contributes as much as everybody else. So, now it’s a five piece with Dean as a member.
MM: Did you release any music prior to Drag Me Out?
CM: We did. Yeah, we put out another EP in 2014 called I Woke Up. And that was as a five piece and we did that here in town with Joe Milligan from Amberlin. He produced it, recorded it and mixed it. And we’re still so proud of the songs. I did some of my best writing, lyrically, on some of the songs on there. It’s just again at the time I had so much time to write about. At the moment I had written in real time about my diagnosis with diabetes and the complications that were coming from that and not having health insurance and not having a great support system because I had just moved to Austin and didn’t have my family here to support me. So, I just had a lot to write about. So, I was really happy. We’re still so proud of that record. Drag me out is us as a band more so than songs written by people but we’ll always be proud of that first record, too.
MM: Who is on the cover of Drag Me Out and who came up with the concept?
CM: The concept of the record – the theme of the record, of the music – is all about while I talked mainly about bipolar disorder it’s mainly about if you have a problem, and in this case mine is bipolar disorder, if you have a problem and something is really getting you, and getting the best of you, it’s OK to know that you can’t get through it by yourself. It’s OK to need to lean on somebody. And my relationship with my girlfriend Heather gets me through so much. I start thinking about all the people who’ve helped me get through things in the past and I think about my brother and I start thinking about all the things I’ve helped him through on one level or another. He is a recovering addict and I’m just like, man, life is all about the relationships you make and the people who can help get you out of a certain situation, or help drag you out of a certain situation so to speak. So, like I said, life is about having those relationships and people that can get you through those situations. And the most influential relationship I have – I don’t know why, I do know why – the relationship that my brother and I have will always be really important to me. When we started thinking about a concept for the record I wasn’t really thinking about someone pulling me out of a certain situation. I was thinking about people dragging each other out of situations. The first relationship that you have, if you are not an only child, the first relationship you have is with your significant other. And I think that’s why my relationship with my brother is so important. And so, originally, the album was supposed to have two kids side by side on the railroad track to symbolize a relationship or the relationship that you might need to get out of a certain situation. Or to feel better about something.
MM: So, how’d you end up with just one?
CM: Another one of the actors wasn’t able to make it. So, the significance of the one person on there – it is what it is, it’s a coincidence that there’s one person on there – but if you ask me the significance of the one person on there is that it’s OK to ask someone for help but it’s also OK to be by yourself.
MM: I like the way the person is balancing on the train tracks.
CM: That could be another way of how it’s depicted, you know?
MM: You could go either way. You could get off of the track or you could jump in front of a train.
CM: Man, that is much deeper than I had envisioned that. I love that thought. Love that thought.
MM: Are you guys going to be doing any more touring for the album?
CM: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We actually just announced a tour starting March 26th and ending in the middle of April. We’re actually coming up to the East coast. We’ll be playing in Cambridge, Mass.
MM: Cool. I should be able to make that.
CM: I think it’s the 29th or maybe even the 30th or 31st of March. The tour dates are up on a flier on all of our social media.
MM: I’ll look into that.
CM: So, yeah, we’re gonna do that tour and that kicks off here in Texas in Dallas at the So What Music Festival. We’re going out with a band called Sundressed from Arizona, who is also a phenomenal band. I’ve been listening to that band for a couple of years now and everything they put out is incredible. So, yeah, we’re gonna go out with them. The whole tour is gonna be with them. And then we go out to the Midwest and down the East coast and then back over to Texas. That’ll be the first of many tours to be announced this year. We’re working on other plans as well.
MM: How does being out on the road impact your bipolar disorder, if at all?
CM: It sucks. You know, because here, at home, I’ve got my support system and that’s not to say that my band is not a great support system. I can be myself when we’re driving and when I’m in a van and it’s just us. But then the time comes to play a show and be social and I want people to know about our band and I want people to know about the message the record provides, going into a situation where you know that you’re gonna have to be social, and you know you’re gonna have to speak with strangers is not easy. But, at the same time, at a show that is where – if there is a social situation to be in – that is where I’m most comfortable. That is my home. So, luckily, I’m touring, playing music, and I’m not going to weddings. There’s a community in music in which people understand mental health. Not everyone you meet does understand, but luckily if I’m not feeling myself the other members of the band – if anybody asks, where’s your singer? After our set. They can say he’s not feeling well. He actually struggles with [bipolar disorder] and people will understand. So, it’s not great in the sense that I don’t have the people that help me the most. I don’t have my girlfriend on the road, who is the most important person in the world, and she makes me feel better. I don’t have her. I don’t have my bed. I don’t have the opportunity to put myself inside of a dark theatre and watch a movie when I’m feeling down. We have to keep to a schedule. So, touring is not ideal, having a mental disorder, but it could be worse. It could be going to a nine to five job every day in which I have to meet people. It could be worse.
MM: I read in your press release that you had three jobs because of an ER bill. Do you still have that many jobs?
CM: Well, the three jobs isn’t as much really because of the ER bill – I do work multiple jobs, but that is more to stay ahead of the curve financially so that if anything were to happen on tour we could be financially stable. And it’s also because the bills here at home are more than I make at one job. One of my jobs is seasonal. I am a tour guide at a zip-line and that job is incredible in the sense that I get to exert myself physically and the endorphins help. They don’t help as much as I wish they would or could, but being outdoors and exerting myself physically really helps with bipolar. Your question was do those medical bills still exist and, yeah, they do. But I’m just chipping away at them slowly.
MM: Like me with my credit cards.
CM: Yeah, dude, and that is why the three jobs mainly started. I had my medical bills and extensive, horrible credit card debt to get out of, and as of August or September of 2015 I was able to crawl out from under that credit card debt.
MM: I actually had to file bankruptcy.
CM: When I was diagnosed with diabetes I thought for sure that I was gonna have to file bankruptcy.
MM: It’s not fun.
CM: No, I don’t imagine that it is.
MM: But it’s not as difficult as you would think it would be. It sucks that you’ll have that on your credit report, but I don’t base my personal value on what my credit score says.
CM: Oh, hell no, dude. My credit score is awful. But I know that I made some mistakes with credit cards and I also know that to follow something that I was so passionate about when I was in my old band we were touring a lot. We were touring seven, maybe eight months out of the year. And in order to stay on tour I had to use credit cards to keep me afloat. And that is, unfortunately, what it is. And I’ll never apologize. I’ll never feel bad about my credit score because I wanted something so badly. It is what it is. It’s an unfortunate thing and just because you have a below average credit score doesn’t mean that you have below average thoughts or below average passion.
MM: Yeah, exactly.
CM: It’s a sad part about chasing a dream. Especially an art.
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. I have some music related ones for you.
MM: Name three artists from your parents’ record collection who you actually liked.
CM: That is a good one. Let’s go with – it will always be the Allman Brothers. My Dad – when I think of my Dad I think of the Allman Brothers, especially Gregg Allman. It will always be that way. It will always, always be that way until I’m on my death bed I will remember my father for Gregg Allman and the Allman brothers. My father, when I was home for Christmas a couple years back, he gave me his record collection. The records were kept in our garage and it was really humid in there so the jackets are all destroyed but the records are in great condition. So, it was really cool to have those records, but my favorite record out of all of them is probably Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
MM: That’s a good one.
CM: Yeah, it’s an incredible record. I’ve always loved that record. And at the time that was given to me I was listening to a lot of a band called The Head and the Heart and Fleetwood Mac reminds me – The Head and the Heart reminds me of Fleetwood Mac. I think that’s why I clung onto that records so much. And I remember listening to it as a kid. I remember my parents listening to it. I love it. And then next, and it’s strange to be torn between the two, I would have to say Led Zeppelin or Elton John. Because if you like A B they’re greatest hits and you take both of those records they’re both incredible records. But I would probably have to say Elton John because I haven’t given my mom any credit. Both Fleetwood Mac and Allman Brothers, both of those favorites were probably my father’s favorites and he’s clung onto the classics that he liked as a kid, whereas my Mom kind of gave way to country. I’m not a huge country fan unless it’s, obviously, Taylor Swift. But my mom, when I think about her I think of Elton John. So, I’ll go with those. I’ll go with the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John.
MM: When you were a kid, did you reach a certain point where you started asking people to buy you music for gifts?
MM: What were some of the earliest albums you asked for?
CM: The earliest album that I asked for was Dookie by Green Day and my parents told me, kindly, to fuck off because it was too explicit for how old was I, eleven? Or twelve? I might have been 13. No, Dookie came out in ’96. I was ten. I asked for Dookie. I asked for No Doubt – Tragic Kingdom. The first record that was given to me – I guess it was a gift, the first time my parents gave me money to buy a record was Enema of the State by Blink-182, which was ’99 so I was 13 when that came out. And then after that I was at that age where I was really impressionable. So, Blink-182 was my first obsession. As much as I’m not a fan now, Tom DeLonge, I was obsessed with everything that he did. I wanted a Tom DeLonge strap. I wanted to dress like him. I wanted to look like him. I wanted to sound like him when I was writing songs. Like Dude Ranch and Enema of the State I would get money however the hell I would get money – I would not eat lunch at school and save my lunch money and go and buy Blink-182 records. I would go to a used CD store Tunes in Voorhees, New Jersey and I would buy whatever the cheapest record was from Blink-182 at the time.
MM: If you could have one artist cover one of your songs who would you like to cover you and what song would you like them to do?
CM: Damn, that’s a good question. It’s usually the other way around. That is hard. OK, just as of recently, I have gotten really into an artist called Julien Baker. So, just because I’m on that train right now – I’m on that wave – I would say I’d love Julien Baker to cover anything acoustic that we’ve done. Which now we have the last track on our record is an acoustic track called “You Came with the Sun” and it’s a little bit more on the emotional side. Melodically and I guess the actual performance on the record is a little bit more emotional. If I could hear her cover that I would probably lose my cool because the reason that I love her so much is that she’s so emotional in her performances and in her lyrics. But also Ben Gibbard and the Postal Service have done some really good covers so that would be really cool and Jimmy Eat World has always done really cool covers. As far as like my favorite artist doing a song, I would love to hear Jimmy Eat World do it, but I think it would always be that song, “You Came with the Sun.”
MM: Yeah, that’s my favorite one on there.
CM: Is it really?
CM: That’s cool. That song needed to be written in the sense that it’s about something that happened to me five years ago at this point and I sat down one night and I was just in the mood to write. I was feeling inspired and I just thought about the thing that happened to me and I played that song one time through and it was done being written. The lyrics just came so naturally to me. And I didn’t worry about fixing the song and producing it and making it have a chorus and making it have – I didn’t worry about the song being perfect. I was perfectly happy with the song the way it was after my first time through. That’s cool that you like that song.
MM: I’ll ask you one last one. If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back and why?
CM: Freddie Mercury. It would be because Queen is just like, man. There are a lot of artists out that like this. You hear a song by them and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard the song before, you’re like, that’s this band. There are a lot of artists out there that are like that. For me, the artist that is most like that is Queen. And it ranges from the guitar tone, which is absolutely one of a kind, mainly to Freddie Mercury, who was just so unbelievable as a vocalist and as a poet. He’s unreal. And I will never get to see Queen unless it’s somebody else covering their songs or somebody at karaoke.
MM: They just announced another tour with that Adam Lambert dude singing.
CM: That’s cool, but I will never get to see Queen with Freddie Mercury. I think out of all the artists that exist Freddie Mercury, maybe John Lennon, so I could possibly see The Beatles. But I like Queen more and more than anything I would love to see them live. That would be the coolest thing in the world to me. I would love to see them in concert and I would to know what it would be like if they were still writing records. There’s a million reasons out there. If I am ever asked that question, it will always be Freddie Mercury.
This was a great interview. Though I wish you guys didn’t have it, it’s nice to know there are other people struggling with the sickness that is bipolar disorder, too.
This is a great interview. Always appreciate people who have the courage to open up.