A Few Pints is a segment where we meet up with our favorite bands at a local bar, buy them a few beers, and hope they reveal the keys to longevity, wealth, fame, and the secrets of the universe…or we just bullshit with them for a while about their band, what they love, and what they are currently up to. Good times and free beer for them.
Josh Verbanets of Meeting of Important People was nice enough to meet us in a busy and new student populated Oakland last week to throw down some coffee, OJ, and some serious conversation (no one was in the mood for pints). Josh and the rest of MOIP are fresh off their official digital release of Quit Music, an EP packed with loud guitars, great melodies, and even a song about Jesus. The band has been up to a lot over the last couple of years with more good stuf on the way. We recently caught MOIP at their CD release show at the Warhol and it was a blast. Check out what Verbanets had to say about his former band The You, his cell phone related song writing, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and the future of the band.
…You work at the museum right?
Yeah, yeah. I work at the Natural History Museum. I’m a financial analyst and work with money and stuff. My day job is to tell scientists when they’re broke. Seriously. They have no idea. So my job is to invoice the federal governments for grants. They don’t just send you a check. You spend your own money and every four months we send them an invoice and then they give us a check. We’re not just sitting on a safe of federal and state money. We invoice the Feds. If that’s not a rock and roll way to start an interview, I don’t know what is. [laughs]
Wow. So you were a finance major?
And you’ve worked there for how long?
Two and a half years now. Best job I’ve ever had – it’s like high school. My drummer is Matt Miller, and he also works for the museum. So in high school I’d sit there with my friend and watch the clock run out and say “We’re going to get to play music in twenty minutes! We’re going to get to play music in ten minutes!” and it’s just like that now. I walk down the hall and find Matt and say “We’re going to get to play music in an hour and half!” So we’re totally in a state of arrested development for us.
Ok. Let’s get down to brass tacks now. Our first question is the standard BS. Give us a brief action packed summary of the way Meeting of Important People started. How’d you meet Matt and Aaron?
Well all three of us were in bands – the usual thing. Everyone’s in a band and everyone plays Down by the River by Neil Young for seventeen hours. The You was a band that I started when I was 19 and home from school. I went to Ithaca College in New York for a couple years – I wanted to be a film maker. My whole thing was movies at first. At school I noticed that if in a film, I had a character say something, everyone in the theater just assumed it was you speaking as student film director. Then I noticed that if I wrote a song and said something as a character, I wouldn’t need people to assist me and people would seem to get that more…So I was home in Pittsburgh over a summer and I tricked my family into letting me transfer to Pitt as a business major, thinking it would be easy – “Oh I’ll get to play music, this’ll be easy. Finance will be easy ‘cause I understand math” and it totally backfired because I work in finance. At the same time, I’ve also double dipped and got to play music but I don’t have to live in my parents basement, I make my own money, I go to work. All three of us are like that actually. We all own houses. We’re a different kind of band than most rock n’ roll bands that you think of.
You have your creative life and then you have your business life and they can intermingle, but they can be separate too.
Exactly. So there was a time when The You got a record deal when I was about 21 from this former A&R rep for Sony/Epic that was starting his own thing. It was right when things were getting real fucked up with record labels, like 2003, 2004 and no one knew what was going on. A former A&R guys was going to start his own label and use all his own contact and he would still be this guy. Just a guy that liked music. And if I needed something I could just go to this guy. There’s no board of directors…and it was a disaster – a horrible horrible experience. From this very young age, at these very formative years, I had a record executive telling me “You are going to be a professional musician. You’re going to be a professional song writer”. And that’s something that I still struggle with to this day. It all went sour. Our band broke up, miscommunication with the label, he ended up not having the contacts that he thought he did, not having the time he thought he had and not understand our band. He invested a ton of money in our band and we got to record with Brian Deck [Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine] and he was a great friend. But they paid him thousands of dollars to record The You record and I got to live in Chicago when I was 22 and it was just me and bunch of sessions musicians. The band didn’t gel! We just threw it all together and they were all 40 and I was just a kid and no one was listening to me. I had no communication skills and I still don’t! So a bunch of my songs are tied up with this guy and contractually it’s all still a mystery.
That’s insane. What a mess…did you receive any kind of money from it at all?
Yes. I got advances. This guy was of the old school and I got advances and that’s what I moved out on, but I quit school because I thought I was going to be a professional musician. Eventually I wised up and nothing was going to happen and than I finished school and tried to get away from music a bit….am I supposed to be rambling? Stop me if I’m rambling.
No, no ,no. Just go man.
The miraculous thing that happened then was that I was done. I quit music. I’m going to get a straight banker job. And then my friend Greg Dutton from Lohio was just starting his band and he asked me to play drums for Lohio just to get a band going. Just for fun. So I came out of this horrible musical experience and was introduced to this amazing community of people in Pittsburgh that I never even knew existed. I was in my own little bubble.
We didn’t know either. We were in our own bubble here in Oakland while we were in school. It’s strange.
The youth of Pittsburgh doesn’t know what’s here…For me it was the same thing. I realized that I was surrounded by all these nice people. It wasn’t a genre based scene. It wasn’t all punk rock. Al of our bands were all entirely different. It actually did become some semblance of a scene and for most of my life I kind of rallied against that. I was anti and against the idea of all your friends just coming out to see you. It finally dawned on me though that it was an excuse for me to hang out with people in their twenties…like minded people. And a lot of stuff started happening – WYEP and our friend Cindy Howes started playing some of our music, which got the community to start learning about these bands. And I hate to make it sound cliquish, because I hate to think it’s all about who you know, but in 2006, 2007, 2008, if these bands played together, people were going to come out and see them and your friends were going to be there. It was a great time for people who didn’t like to watch football together. So Lohio was really how I met everyone I know and without Lohio, I wouldn’t have any friends. I wouldn’t have a band. Matt Miller, my drummer, was the drummer for Lohio at the time. I walked in to my first practice and he was sitting there smugly and I didn’t like him, I thought he was a jerk [laughs]. And I asked him, you know, “How’d you get here? How’d you find this place?” and he said “I know every street in this town” and I immediately started writing that song in my head. So my first meeting with Matt inspired a song. [laughs]
What about Aaron?
I met Aaron around the same time. He and his brother had this amazing band called The Resistors and then they were Bre’r Fox – an amazing two-piece band. Aaron and David Bubbenheim were like urban legends to me. They were like mountain men! I met them just playing music and becoming friends with Aaron. Sharing songs because we were all song based bands interested in the idea of writing songs regardless of genre, at the time.
So Matt and Aaron are local Pittsburgh guys, then?
Yes. Aaron is from outside Butler and Matt is a city guy…grew up in South Park and then went to Schenley High. He’s about as Pittsburgh as it comes.
So we’ve talked to a few bands about this, but would you say Matt and Aaron are your friends, or your band mates?
Oh they’re my best friends in the entire world. I’ve been in bands with people who aren’t my friends.
Does it only work one way for you? Do they have to be your buddies for it to work
That’s a great question. I guess I always thought that there are two kinds of bands. Bands that you start with your friends, and bands that you start with the best people you can find. And there’s pros and cons to each and sometimes you get lucky and they’re the same thing. I’ve been in bands where it’s like “You’re the best drummer I know, you should be in my band”, but do you really want to drive around and play music with that person? Matt and Aaron and I have a beautiful friendship…
We’re all in some interesting times right now though, to be perfectly honest. Matt and Aaron are a little older than me and there’s some transitional stuff going on with jobs and such, and it’s a little questionable what’s going on with the band right now. And it’s at a bad time right now with some of the great attention we are getting, but I think we’re going to pull through. Some things might have to change a little bit.
Good Night, States is like an inspiration to most bands going through stuff. It’s like a long distance relationship and they manage to make it work. They can do it.
If they can do it then we can too I guess. I think we’re all still very much interested in playing music with each other and there’s some things going on that could mean exciting things for the band. Get Hip, that vinyl label out of Pittsburgh – their market is mainly overseas and they were started by that band The Cynics. Over seas, those guys draw like thousands of people in Spain from neighboring towns and stuff. There talking about putting our first album out on vinyl, which would mean we’d get to travel overseas with them in the summer to Europe and play shows. That would be amazing for our band….we’ve found that our band doesn’t really work as a modern day indie band, we’re more of a garage rock band. My perception is that we seem to work better for people when they think of us as a garage rock band. So we have that…we hope they’ll re-release our album around the New Year and we’re going to continue pushing this new EP.
That’s great. Some seriously exciting stuff. Now in our preparation and being good bloggers, we did the research and read the old interviews…
Oh no, I’m so embarrassed…No I shouldn’t say that. We do some good interviews. We have some quotables, that’s for sure.
We touched on it a bit earlier, but if you had to label yourself, or categorize yourself, or if people want to try and label you guys…do you not buy whole label thing? More of a – take us for what we are and make your own judgement?
I understand for people to like anything, and I do this too, it just makes it easier for them to understand what is. We’ve run into a lot of trouble because the stuff we do doesn’t explain itself very easily. Our stuff just doesn’t fall into one specific genre. From the beginning, it seems like the way for our band to succeed is to have one song reach critical mass, and you’ll find that when I talk about music stuff I talk about it, probably like you guys, pretty analytically. Some guys are like “We just gotta get out there any play, man!”, but not me. Everything’s just been a plan for me. For me, it just seems like for anything to happen with our band…we’re not doing anything that’s cutting edge. The first time you hear one of our songs it probably doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot other than a sing songy melody. But if one of our songs would break, reach critical mass, get featured on One Tree Hill, that would be the key to a band like us rather than getting in a van…you know we’ve toured, we’ve traveled, we played 40 dates out of the year in 2009 and it didn’t do a whole lot for us. To put a label on it, I guess we are a garage pop band. We tried to be a modern indie band, but any label that anyone wants to put on our music, positive or negative is completely fine. I don’t mind.
Now you say your more of a song-oriented band and there’s no specific label that you fall under. Is that because of your influences? Are you really interested in 60’s Britpop and you go home and start writing a song that’s what it ends up sounding like? Are your songs filtered through your influences?
Oh man, I’m going to take up hours of your guys’ time. I feel bad.
Got to town, man. Do it.
OK…so it’s happened so many different ways…[pauses]…ok, so multiple things. Roman numeral I. So songwriting for me seems pretty different for me than other people. Some people treat songwriting as a craft – “I’m going to sit down and write a song. I’m gonna go home and write a song”… I’ve never in my life done that. For me it’s always been completely accidental. Someone will say something and I’ll be working…I worked in a video store for a while. I’d just be mumbling it to myself over and over or I’d hear some muzak playing and hear it incorrectly, and I’d think “Oh man, that’s really awesome. I really like that progression” and I’d go back and listen more closely and realize “No, I made that up. That’s mine or some permutation of the real thing”. So for the longest time I literally made up songs out of nowhere and I’m not saying I’m some genius that gets willed these songs supernaturally. Anytime I try to write a song, it sounds like I’m trying to write a song and it sucks. I’ve never been much of a writer who tries to write, so when you hear songs you can kind of tell the lyrics are just like what it was when we figured it out. We’re not going to change it now. As I’ve gotten a little older, the only time I can write is when I get excited about a change of life, a new girl, etc. I don’t just write about girls of course, but I don’t get inspired quite like I used to. I used to have a ton of ideas and now I have to grab it before I lose it. Get it while it’s there. If there’s something very passionate going on in my life, I’ll start to dream songs. I had a dream about a month ago about a girl I know, not romantically, that was literally teaching me to play a song. She was sitting in almost a support group like an AA meeting in folding chairs, in a semicircle, and she was like “OK, lets begin” and she was showing me this song and singing it to me in this dream. And in my dream I was like “Ok you got to wake up, you have to wake up, you’re writing a song” and I forced myself to wake up and rolled over to my phone. My whole life has been me running into the back of work singing into my phone because I had an idea for a song. That’s really how it is! Where it does become a craft is what does that song become. I just have a melody or a basic idea and whatever bands I’m listening to at the time dictate what kind of song this is going to be. What’s right for our band. Like we had our Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett song. What’s great now is that I get to write for our band. We have such a wonderful wonderful band and distinct personalities and distinct ways of playing and how do I make that work for the band? Does that answer the question? I rambled…
No no. It’s great. What kind of artists are you listening to now? If something Blake says inspires you right now, what are you going to go home and dream about?
There’s the usual big stuff that everyone always talk about like The Kinks and the early Who, and I guess I don’t hear that so much when play. The weird thing about our new band that works is Matt Miller, our drummer, doesn’t know much about those bands. He knows Jimmy Chamberlain [Ed. Smashing Pumpkins], he knows 90’s rock. We all love that stuff. So we’re taking these little Britpop songs and adding big Chamberlain beats to them. That seems to be a unique thing in our band…
Yes. Blending decades. Sure.
Album name! Song name! Sing it into your phone!
[With a yinzer accent] Sing it into the phone! Blending decades!
If I were to go home now, and try to fit into a genre…well we just did that. We literally just wrote what I feel are the first two songs we’ve ever written. I’m that excited about them. And one is a really simple, what I would think would be a Pitchfork song, what the Pitchfork kids would like…and I hate that shit [makes noises and stomps feet]. And also, what sounds like a Stone Roses song, like an early U2 song with a lot of delay. To fit with your question, a lot of it is challenging myself with songwriting to see if I can…I’ll hear a song and I’ll be so enraged by it that I’ll want to do the exact opposite of it. There was a Ray Davies song where he was bemoaning the loss of the Mom and Pop coffee shops or diners. The gist was “we can’t even meet at the local diner, we have to meet at a Starbucks”. And my response was, “Who gives a fuck where we meet, as long as we’re both there”, know what I mean? The Stone Roses-esque song, the idea was to write a really stupid song where we sing the chorus like 30 times – just dumb and stupid and it turned out really really well. The verse can’t always be as good as the chorus – people want that lead up to the great chorus. So we kind of fit songs into that challenge and every couple of months I’ll go back and listen to my voice messages and say “oh that would make a good bridge, oh that would make a good chorus” and I cobble these songs together. I’ve called it cobbling for years. So I’m always about a year behind myself with songs. So that’s a lot about question number two I guess…
You’re like two steps ahead of us, so forgive us for revisiting a few subjects you already touched on. What are your feelings on the Pittsburgh scene? We call it a scene because there are a lot of really great bands doing really great things. How would you describe the Pittsburgh scene – is there a sound? From someone who is intimate with it?
I would say no. I would say there isn’t a Pittsburgh sound. All of our stuff sounds very different. All the bands I run with, I don’t see a sonic connection at all. It’s more the focus of those bands that connects them – a focus on songwriting. They’re all just so creative in these interesting ways. Hallie Pritts songs, Greg Dutton songs, Harlan Twins songs, Donora songs – just so creative. Much more imaginative than most bands and they’re good character songs.
Let’s get to the Quit Music EP. We were at the release show and we loved it…
[laughs] Oh it was a blast. We didn’t mean to be talking so much and goofing around. We were just going to be real serious, but then we saw so many friends and we ended up talking and fucking around…
No, no. It was great. We were at the front, slamming our hands on the stage, singing along. You almost kicked me in the face like three times.
Well I didn’t’ have a shoe on so it probably wouldn’t have hurt that much. [laughs]
Watching you on stage, you’re a pretty dynamic performer. You jump around, you have presence. Is that something you try to do, or is that just how it comes out …like you can’t contain yourself?
The truth is, in recent years, I’ve lived pretty clean. I don’t drink. I used to do “bad things” and for quite a while now I haven’t done “bad things”, so my release, and really only release, is performing music, which I think causes me to behave a little more strangely. When we were younger in The You the whole point was to be really loud and fall into your amp and pretend you were Curt Kobain. I’ve thrown so many guitars. I threw a guitar in the William Pitt Union one time and spilled grape juice on the carpet. We’d just trash our stuff. We don’t really do that stuff in Meeting of Important People. For me it’s not an act, I play like that in practice. I’m just very fluttery and clumsy looking in general.
Is there any guitarist or front man that’s influenced you in that kind of way?
Oh my God. So many. But I have bad posture and I don’t look as…I’m too Pittsburgh big to be like…I’m just a little too big to look like a cool rock and roll guy. Now I just look like a big guy with a guitar…Pete Townshend, Syd Barrett, Jonny Greenwood. Front men? Alice Cooper – man I love Alice Cooper. I don’t think I’m really imitating anyone, that’s just how it comes out of me.
Where did the Quit Music title come from? Is that joke or a recommendation from someone?
[laughs] It’s a joke that we would always say, “Oh that guy should quit music. That band should quit music. We should quit music. What kind of music is it? Quit music.” It’s a joke because, and I’ll be completely honest, we didn’t know if anyone would give a shit about it. We made the first record, we had high hopes, we traveled a lot, we had a video that was viewed by 60,000 people, placements in commercials, we played CMJ. We never dreamed those things would happen, but I thought if they did, they would have gotten us to a level where a bigger band would ask us to tour, we’d get management, and we could make some living do this. That didn’t happen, so we’re in this strange limbo. We ended up coming back to Pittsburgh with this batch of songs and wanted to sum up our live sound. Our first record was designed to sound more like an iPod commercial and maybe we’d get placements. This time, lets keep it sparse and track live. A garage rock record. We honestly didn’t know if anyone would give a shit about it though. We didn’t know if anyone would come out to the shows. So it was kind of a subliminal message to ourselves – if no one would have come out to the CD release shows, we would have said “Alright, spend more time with your wife, maybe we’ll play again around Christmas time”. Instead it’s been the opposite, which is amazing.
So with this EP, it was released by Authentik, but only digital. How’s it working with them, what’s the relationship? What’s the story?
Amazing relationship with them. They’re based out of LA. They don’t care about our physical disks. They couldn’t care less – our deal with them is strictly within the digital domain.
Do they realize that’s the future of music? What’s the deal with that?
It’s almost as if they don’t want to be bothered with that aspect of it. So they could place our song in One Tree Hill and suddenly 50,000 kids want to order our physical CD and they’ll go to meetingofimportantpeople.com and pay with a credit card directly to us. They’ve been completely receptive to every idea we’ve had. I found them. After our first release I whored us out to every person in the music business I had met. Nobody really cared …well a few offers from some small labels that liked it, but they would have taken control of the physical disk. And then we found Authentik who just said “No we just want this”. They take a cut of our publishing, which is bad, which sucks, but the plus is we own our own physical disks and press them any way we want. We can have Get Hip press it onto vinyl and have nothing to do with Authentik . We can kind of lead that dual life …and Authentik paid for the record and our video. They’re going to make their money back because just enough people are going to buy it and download it off iTunes. They’re hoping that some huge placements comes along, like a Coke placement for $50,000 and they’ll get $20,000 out of us. It’s smart. It’s just math. Meanwhile, we’re just trying to get the digital release out to as many people as we can.
So Authentik is placing your songs, which is wild. Where have you been placed? What’s that all about? You’re the first band we’ve talked that’s said, “Hey, we’re in a TV show”.
Hey, yeah, I mean, we’ve got paid. We’ve made a little money off of it. First thing is I got us a placement before Authentik was around. I got us placed on The Ghost Whisperer on network TV. I had a friend who knew someone and placed our song “I Know Every Street” in The Ghost Whisperer on CBS. Millions of viewers.! We were so excited because if literally, if you just hear ”I know every street in this town” just one time and mathematically 0.001% of the viewers googled the band, do you know what that could mean for us? But it was so low in the mix you couldn’t hear anything and we were so bummed out. Authentik has placed us on MTV a few times. We’ve been on the Real World, Keeping up with the Kardashians…we were on the season premiere of The Real World last year. It’s funny, it’s surreal. For me, as the songwriter, that means I get a royalty payment every time those air, conceivably if it works out right. Hopefully, they’ll place some new songs from Quit Music, but that album’s pretty loud, so we’ll see.
Would you say that’s Authentik’s mission to get your guys into mainstream pop culture? Is that their payoff?
They see their payoff is a major label comes along and wants to sign us. There’s a clause in our contract that says Authentik gets a lot of money if a major label buys us out or one of their bands breaking in big with a major placement or something. And it’ll happen someday – it has to. They know what they’re doing, that’s for sure.
Do you fear that people think you’re selling out if you get placed in TV shows? Does the term “selling out” apply to indie bands like you?
It’s funny. Five years ago, it did. Every band now knows that’s how you get found. Every since Garden State, right? Most people on the street these days think that’s cool. Ten years ago if someone in a band would have told me that they got placed in an episode of LA Law [laughs] I would have said “Fuck you, man”, but now, I’d say “hey man that’s cool! Good for you. Let’s get some pizza and get some people together to watch it”. To me, I still think that’s the only way our band can break. It has to be a good enough song for people to be ok liking it, but also hip and cool enough. We have to be an MGMT or a ,god forbid, Kings of Leon, or The Ting Tings for us to reach critical mass.
Like Modest Mouse. They were an incredible band for at least a decade before Float On came along.
It’s scary to think of it. Bands that are doing what we’re doing and succeeded, people say they made it because they got in a van and traveled and I say, “No they didn’t”. Radiohead did it because of “Creep”, Flaming Lips did it because of “She Don’t Use Jelly”, Beck did it because of “Loser”, The Shins did it because of “Garden State”. They’d be working at Caribou Coffee still if it wasn’t for that thing…they were writing songs. The beauty is that we can do that any time. We can be 36 and write a hit song. I don’t think it’s selling out at all. I wish I could have gotten us to a level where Matt and Aaron wouldn’t have to work day jobs where we could actually play. We could do some great stuff, man, but you got to do what’s right for your family first. That’s my advice. We’ll probably never be a band again where we get in a van and just ride around like we did last year, and I’m totally fine with that.
So tons of people have reviewed the Quit Music EP and most of them are glowing. We couldn’t help but notice the review from that guy in England, which was less then nice. How do you take negative criticism like that?
Oh God I love that kid of thing, but I don’t understand what he was talking about! He suggested that we were being crammed down the throats of the British radio public, which is clearly untrue because nobody in the world knows who we are. I didn’t know what he was talking about. But I’m ok by anyone who says anything about our band in any way. I’m flattered by anybody who can waste a breath talking about our little band. I was amazed by the backlash though from our fans, and families, and even British people to that dudes review. I didn’t understand, and still don’t understand his criticisms enough to have a witty retort.
Do Aaron and Matt take it the same way? Do they just ignore it?
I think for them it’s a little harder, a little more serious. I’ve just always had this irreverent attitude to the whole thing. It all seems so silly sometimes, so I don’t take anything seriously. They’re just not as used to it probably because I’ve been a bands longer that definitely deserved bad reviews [laughs].
When you found that out…I mean he heard it, he wrote about it, and he was in Europe. It must have been like a “Hey, we’re getting played across the Atlantic!” kind of moment.
Yeah, seriously. If I could get in touch with the guy and say “Hey I don’t care what you wrote about our record, but where did you hear about us?” So we have this free download link that a few hundred people from around the globe have used and I’m no sure how that’s getting out, but that’s the whole plan really. Send that link to everyone, tell them to check it out. We’re not going to play a show and put a sign up that says “CDs – $10”. We’ll sell two of them. The Warhol show, we had 400 people show up to that. They had to turn people away. We might have sold 40 or 50 CDs and made $400 bucks between the three of us? Yeah…$400 bucks. Instead 400 people walked out with that CD and heard the music.
If you could say anything to that British guy, what would you say?
Is this where I say something mean to him? [laughs]
No, not necessarily. Anything. Like, “Get out of my face!” or something?
[laughs] I would literally ask him if our record is getting crammed down the throats of the British radio public because if it is, awesome!
He gave you a bad write up, but he still gave you three out of five stars!
Right, right! He did. [laughs] So if we were rated on the curve we probably would have gotten a B+. I’d really like to know who’s hearing it over there though, because I’m not seeing any new Facebook fans from across the pond.
Many thanks to Josh Verbanets again for finding the time to sit down and talk about some serious shit. We had a blast and apologize again for not being able to make it out to their Labor Day weekend show with Mariage Blanc. If you haven’t already, check out MOIP’s website, their myspace, and cross your fingers for a vinyl release of their first LP. Get their latest EP and play it for everyone you know, goddamn it!