mapccwar

Imaginary Interview: James & Charles of Math & Physics Club

It's a true luxury when one of your favorites finds you. Sure, a lot of us nest in record stores, judging the contents of the bins by covers and liner notes in search of the perfect unknown.

Sometimes you score; sometimes you just end up with dirty cuticles.

But when the perfect unknown emails you on a "midweek midmorning" and you find a couple of songs on their website, and you play them endlessly, all the while emailing your friends to EXCLAIM HOW MUCH YOU LOVE THEM {in all caps and run on sentences} because regular words cannot describe your newfound love for a band… Well, one of your favorites has just found you.

Such is the case with me and Math and Physics Club {MAPC}. They consolidate their influences {Magnetic Fields, Lucksmiths, Smiths} into songs that are at once reflective, melancholy and uplifting. Each song fits like a vintage cashmere glove and could calm the most jittery of souls. They render a mortal romantic helpless.

One of the outcomes of my quick and steady rise to MAPC super-fanny status was an interview with the founding members Charles and James. The interview took place in September, 2004.

The two guys I had chatted with that night were still unsigned, had only played a couple shows {one at the Hideaway and one at a house party}, and had only sent out their demo EP to less than a handful of people.

Since that charming conversation, smart folks from all over Seattle {and, thanks to the www, the world} have become MAPC super-fans. Most notable fans have included the iconic John Richards {giving them loving radio airplay on KEXP and KNDD's local music show, "The Young & the Restless"}, and the decision-makers at Matinée Recordings, resulting in a label for the band.

With such exciting and noteworthy developments, many of the details of that conversation we had in September have quickly become outdated {and have been archived for the Behind the Music special}. In that spirit, I offer you a two part look at Math and Physics Club: Part 1, which took place in September and a more timely one, Part 2, which took place in December.


Interview – Take 1 {September, 2004}

TIG: First, tell me about the MAPC reference… does it have something to do with John Hughes?

James: Yeah, our name is derived from one of those "classics". But saying more than that would take all the fun out of it, wouldn't it?

Charles: We tend to quote movies a lot, and the name sort of started there and evolved into Math and Physics Club.

TIG: Did you have any other names in the running?

James: "Charmed" was one. Charles, any others we're willing to share?

Charles: Don't forget "The Normans!" We definitely went through our fair share of names before finally hitting on something we liked.

TIG: How did the band get together?

Charles: James and I have known each other since we were little kids but we didn't start playing music until college.

James: We both grew up in Olympia, in the shadow of the brewery.

TIG: So you were born and bred in the midst of an impressive local music scene. Where there any local bands that especially inspired you to write music?

James: Oh man, that's a huge question…

Charles: James will probably say the same thing, but Beat Happening was a huge influence on us, and bands like the Dharma Bums and Posies. We spent a lot of time at the OK Hotel.

TIG: Since you've been friends since you were wee, was music always something you've talked about? Or did you have an awakening somewhere in college?

Charles: We've always been big music fans. In high school it was REM and then in college we discovered the Stone Roses independently (James was in the UK).

James: I remember one day sitting in this broken down TV lounge in Weatherford Hall, this really old dorm building in Corvallis, Oregon watching 120 minutes on MTV and all of a sudden this amazing song came on. It was "One I Know" by the Charlatans. I just couldn't get it out of my head. That song changed my musical life in a huge way.

TIG: You wanted to make music from then on?

James: Totally.

Charles: We always wanted to make music, we just didn't know how!

TIG: Did you dare each other to buy a guitar and race to come up with the first original riff?

Charles: Back to Beat Happening… it was always about just being able to play enough to write simple pop songs.

James: It was just a matter of time before Charles and I started unraveling the mystery between what was in our heads to making it come out of our instruments.

TIG: And are any of your first songs (written in college) on the demo?

James: NO!! Trust me, that early material should not see the light of day.

Charles: We had a friend in high school who had this heavy rock v-shaped guitar and he could play Judas Priest songs… we were in awe.

TIG: Did you start off with cover songs or have you always aspired to write your own stuff?

Charles: We've always pretty much wanted to write our own material.

James: It's funny… we never could focus enough to learn to play covers.

Charles: We still don't know any cover songs except two Stone Roses ones we've known forever.

James: "Going Down" and "Sally Cinnamon".

TIG: How did you meet up with the other half of the band?

James: Craig's List!!

Charles: Honestly, Craig's List has been very kind to us…

James: That's how we found Kevin the drummer and Saundrah.

Charles: Our new bass player, Ethan, approached us at an open mic at the EMP.

TIG: Awesome! How did you find Three Imaginary Girls?

Charles: I had been reading TIG for a long time and had read that you liked the Lucksmiths. I just happened upon the site somehow. I tend to surf a lot.

James: Charles turned me on to TIG a while back and it was all over from there. It was just the sort of thing I knew had to exist in Seattle but never could find.

TIG: *Blush* {swift topic change} Who are you big fans of now? What is in high rotation in your ipods?

Charles: I've become a really big fan of mix tapes lately. People keep turning me on to new bands… Of course, always behind the times, half the bands I find out about are already broken up! My latest "discovery" is the Fairways on Matinée Recs, and also the Aisler's Set. "Discovery" is in quotes because they are no longer…

James: I can't stop listening to certain specific songs right now… like Nada Surf's "Blonde on Blonde". It's weird. I can listen to it like 20 times in a row.

TIG: I am not sure if I should admit this or not… but I used to do that when I was a kid. I would make a tape of one song played over and over.

Charles: That's hilarious! Since we're all admitting things, then… I used to sit in a closet and sing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" when I was a kid.

TIG: Nice! You should cover that then!

Charles: That would go over big.

James: Yeah, that's not one you probably want to admit to too many people, Charles…

TIG: OK, topic change before I disclose WHICH songs I used to make repetitive tapes of…

Charles: Can we all agree this part of the conversation never happened?

TIG: Hmmm… I don't know about that. That "Battle Hymn of the Republic" thing is pretty good. You all talked earlier about Beat Happening… I have a vision of you all having a song with a Calvin Johnson guest vocal on it.

James: That would be dreamy.

TIG: Do you have a song written yet that would be appropriate?

Charles: Oh well, you know, that would be amazing. "C is the Heavenly Option" is one of my top 10 all time songs.

James: I wonder if he would like "Sixteen and Pretty," that would be interesting!

TIG: Any stories from your recent first ever shows?

James: We played a house party the other weekend which was a blast! One of the coolest aspects of being part of Math and Physics Club is how well we all get on as a group. It's the greatest thing to play music with people you really, really like. It makes everything so much more fun. And at the party we discovered that Kevin Emerson is like Don Johnson to MAPC's Miami Vice! Very smooth at working a crowd (but minus the pink blazer and stubble, thankfully.)


Interview – Take 2 {December, 2004}

TIG: Wow… I am SO proud of you guys. Things are really going well. I looked at your website's guestbook and there are entries from all over… and I've heard a Math and Physics Club song every morning for the past few weeks on KEXP. Tell me about the best fan mail you've received so far.

James: We keep receiving messages in Japanese, so if anyone wants to help us translate them, we'd be very grateful. We're just happy to hear people are enjoying the songs. It's been fun corresponding with folks that have written us.

Charles: This doesn't really count as fan mail, per se, but we recently ended up getting mentioned in Wil Wheaton's blog (how I found out is not important). He was Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I used to be such a huge Star Trek fan in college, so my reaction really betrayed my true inner geek to the rest of the band. They were not kind.

TIG: Well, at least they'll keep you humble and vote down a MAPC performance at the next convention. What is in high rotation in your home?

James: About two weeks ago our new boss Jimmy Tassos at Matinée Recordings sent us a bulky packet of recordings from fellow label-mates, so we've been on a steady diet of Pipas, The Windmills, Would-be Goods, and The Fairways, to name a few. My new favorite song is "The Back of Her Hand" by The Fairways. Sadly, they're no longer together.

Charles: Well, it's the holiday season, so our house has been filled with Dean Martin and Burl Ives for the past couple of weeks. But outside of that, I've been really loving the latest Would-be Goods record, and "This is Farewell" by The Fairways. The new Trash Can Sinatras is brilliant as well. I've also been making a lot of mixes with some of my favorite singles of the year. The Owls "Air" is simply gorgeous, and I could listen to it over and over (which I do!).

TIG: Great! Good to know that musical habits like that never die. What did your family say when you told them that you were signed to the same label as the Lucksmiths?

James: Fearing nothing more than ridicule, music stuff is something we have kept under wraps for awhile. Neither of our families really know what we've doing in that department. We've both just recently opened up a bit.

Charles: I think my family's reaction was basically, "You're in a band?" My mom didn't even know I could sing until like a month ago. It's just not something I've ever been comfortable doing, you know, in front of other people. But my wife and I danced around the room when we got word that Matinée wanted to put out our record. It was really exciting.

TIG: Now that you are starting to get some of the attention that you deserve, is there a new outlook — or has the general energy of the band changed?

James: We're thrilled by the response we've gotten so far. It's totally energized us to work harder to bring new songs into the mix and polish up our poor playing skills.

Charles: Well, I don't know about "deserve," but you can't help feeling energized when complete strangers start writing to you about how much they enjoy your music. We're music fans too, and we get giddy about bands all the time. To have someone tell you that hearing your song made their day, well, it's just incredibly flattering.

TIG: Since we last talked, have you expanded the scope of things you want to do or what you have planned?

James: Being on Matinée with all these bands we love opens up a bunch of cool possibilities. For example, we're all suddenly keen to tour Sweden, Land of the Midnight Sun.

Charles: Frankly, our jaws just keep dropping open on a daily basis at the opportunities we're getting right now. We recognize that a lot of good bands never get these opportunities, so we're not about to start expecting more. Hopefully it's because we've really concentrated on making good music, and people are responding to it. As long as we keep doing that, then hopefully good things will continue to happen and we'll get to keep making records for a while.