When we first listen to a band, our brain reflexively logs them under the most fitting genre masthead, waiting for the next time your itch for “noise-core goth rock” needs to be scratched. Rare are the bands that challenge the inexorable classification by playing whatever the hell they want. Take a gamble to overthrow the whole system by listening to New England’s wildly eclectic crew of genre rebels, The Mallett Brothers Band.
Out of Portland, Maine, the six-piece formed in 2009 and have been conjoined to the touring circuit ever since. With support slots with some heavy hitters like The Josh Abbot Band, Turnpike Troubadours, and Toby Keith, their efforts have garnered them consistent local acclaim as New England Music Awards’ Best Band in New England and with their most recent album, Land (2013), labeled as Best Album – and that’s only 2014.
“We don’t really ever take any time off,” vocalist/guitarist Luke Mallett explains. “We’re out pretty much every single week; we do at least three or four shows a week. These long trips, we’ll go out for three or four weeks at a time. We’re lucky that New England’s been good to us and keeps us really really busy in between and that’s pretty much where all the gas money comes from.”
It’s that kind of disciplined approach that lends to the maturity interwoven with the band’s country rock flair.
Experience is a considerable source of that musical maturity as well, with each of the six members possessing an unexpected musical past. For example, Luke’s previous endeavors include a 12 year stint in a hip-hop group, while dobro player (and all around multi-faceted musician) Wally Wenzel and drummer Brian Higgins left their double bass punk thrashing for the whisky-soaked southern rock stylings of TMBB. Perhaps calling it southern rock is a blatant oxymoron, but you can’t deny the influence.
“We definitely can’t call ourselves southern rock because we are definitely not southern, but there’s a little bit of twang and there’s a little bit of rock and there’s a little bit of lots of other things,” Luke says. Make it easier on yourself and don’t pigeonhole them, because once you think you’ve got it figured out, the next track will throw you for a loop.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is being able to be versatile. We do a lot of acoustic shows, we can do a stripped-down show on a really tiny stage, or we can get on a huge stage with a light show and rock out. It’s nice to do a little bit of everything.”
Still, with over decades of experience combined, this group of alt-rockers continues to grow, with the crux of that growth stemming from their onstage presence.
“We’ve been a band for about 5 years, and I think the live show affected how we did everything else. The first album is very different from the second, which is even more different from the third. A lot of that had to do with the live show and the evolution of what we were doing on stage. If the energy of the album matches the energy of your live show, then you’re doing something right.”
As for plans on a new album, Luke says, “We have officially booked time in October. So we will actually be recording our new album on either side of our Texas tour. We’re gonna start doing some recording in Maine, then we’re gonna stop in Atlanta on our way home and we’re gonna try to finish the album there. It would be great if we could have it done by Christmas, but we just gotta kind of dive into it and see what happens.”
As Maine grows colder with the onset of fall, TMBB begins its migration toward the West for a new thread of shows. More importantly: to Texas, a state all members are said to be in love with.
“Maine is very different, but it’s a lot similar than people realize. There are a lot of parallels even though the landscape is very different. There are a lot of attitudes that are the same here and there. We’re pretty drawn to the history as well. We drove that road from Amarillo to Austin one day, and we were driving forever and ever in the high plains. We spent the whole drive listening to a hardcore history broadcast, and just being there and looking at that landscape and listening to what happened…it was amazing. Very spiritual place.”
And that love has clearly been reciprocated. “It’s cool for us to go out on the road and have people sitting there to say, ‘I knew you guys were coming, I saw you on the website, I went and checked out your videos, I already know my favorite song…’ They do their research and they get ready for you and that doesn’t happen everywhere we go. So I think that’s kind of an ongoing thing in Arkansas and Texas; people prepare for you to show up. They just really love live music.”
Submit one Sunday evening to retire on the legendary stomping grounds of Gruene Hall and observe TMBB, while they’re still hovering under the radar. Abandon the impending woes of Monday morning with a tranquil fall night, frosty beer in hand, and some genuinely soulful country rock as your soundtrack. Legend has it that bassist Nick Leen once stomped the sole off of his boot during a live show. If that’s not swaying enough, then you’re just being stubborn.