Interview with Fred Mascherino of Terrible Things

Photo by Ryan Russell

Hey Fred, how’s everything going?

Great. It’s actually the first time I’ve been home since our record came out. I was afraid I would sleep the whole time, but I’ve actually been coming up with some new riffs.

Sweet. Do you have a recording studio at home?

I do have a little something at home, but I’m actually with a friend of mine in Philly right now. He has a lot more gear than I do. We’re having fun today [laughs].

I’m sure it’s nice to have some time off. Were you on tour during the holidays?

Well, Thanksgiving night I actually left for our previous tour. I had to drive to Maine. So, I had dinner and then took off. Then, we got back about three days before Christmas. It’s been kind of crazy.

Terrible Things’ self-titled debut album is finally out. What’s the album’s back-story?

Well, I was born and raised in a little steel town called Coatesville, PA and I actually still live right in the area. Around Christmas time two years ago, my friend asked, “Hey, did you hear about the fires?” I said, “No, how many have there been?” Apparently, about half a dozen. I asked him how many there normally were per year and he said, “Just one.”

January came and there were fifteen fires in that month alone. It’s seemed like every other day we’d hear about it, and it was always late at night and never a real pattern. Sometimes there would even be two in a day. In December, they arrested someone they thought was involved, but in January it was even worse. So, in February they found two kids who confessed and we were told it was over. I actually saw my little town, that I’ve never heard on TV before, on CNN. Well, two nights later, there was another fire. I would say that it pretty much broke the city at that point. They were terrorized and I was in shock. So, I wrote a song about it called “Steel Town.” It didn’t actually make the record, but it was the start of it all. The fires continued on for months until finally they arrested one of the Fire Chiefs. He claimed his innocence, but ever since they arrested him the fires have stopped.

That’s really spooky.

It’s really a horrible story. A couple of young firefighters actually came to one of my shows in Lancaster, PA and they said they knew this Fire Chief. He was someone they looked up to. It was really emotional, having written so much about it and then to be approached by these guys who were at the fires. We talked for like half an hour. Luckily, everything has calmed down, and the town actually started to rebuild some of the stuff.

It really is a fantastic story. I’m sure it’ll be turned into a movie soon enough!

[laughs] Yeah. Well, the truth is, the Fire Chief had four kids and would leave them asleep in bed and go out and do these fires. His wife worked at night, so it was easy to sneak out. The more I heard about it, the more I wanted to keep writing and tell the story.

I hope no one was hurt.

There was actually one elderly woman, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, who didn’t make it out of her house. She passed away. There were definitely a lot of injuries and many people became homeless. It ended with almost 50 fires.

That’s insane. Quite an uplifting concept for an album.

[laughs] Right, full of sunshine and happiness. I’m a pretty positive guy and I actually liked that it gave a darker side to what I do. Our producer, Jason Elgin, was really good at not making this record so specific to my town that no one else could relate to it. It was more of a message of trying to make our section of the world a better place.

Absolutely. I noticed you have a new fiery music video for “Revolution.”

Yeah. “Revolution” is about asking everyone to band together to save ourselves if no one else is. The music video completely went along with the concept. We’re playing in a burning house (it’s actually supposed to be the burning dollhouse that’s on our cover). I had been riding down the road and saw this dollhouse that someone trashed — it must have been from the 1950s, it was so ornate. It had hardwood floors inside and so much detail. As nice as it was, we had to burn it [laughs]. So, right behind my house we lit it up and it was my photographer friend Ryan Russell’s idea to include the kids who don’t notice the fire going on.

They’re having a nice tea party, which all the kids are into nowadays.

[laughs] Yeah, totally. I didn’t even have to buy [the tea set], it was just around.

It seems like the kind of music you’re creating with Terrible Things is very different than your solo band The Color Fred.

Terrible Things is like The Color Fred on steroids. When you get all of us together in a room, they push me a lot more than I can push myself. The music goes other places. Also, we owe a lot to Jason Elgin. He’s an amazing producer who is overlooked only because he’s not in LA or NY — Jason’s in Alabama.

Honestly, going to Alabama to record the album was great because once you go away there are no distractions at all [laughs]. My wife couldn’t sneak down and bring me dinner or anything. It was just me and the song.

I think it’s safe to establish that Terrible Things isn’t just a project for you.

Yeah, we already have tours set up until next Fall. We’re going at this full force. This is sort of my dream band. I can’t imagine playing with better people. I think all of us see this as the thing we’ve all been waiting to do. When you find something like this, you want it to be permanent.

Obviously in the past, Josh, Andy and I were in emo bands. So, we wanted to not just write about our girlfriends dumping us or something. We want to play rock. We wanted something we could sink our teeth into.

When I met Andy, he was really into the concept of the album. He lives in Alabama and had an apartment he lived in that burned to the ground. He lost five guitars and all his clothes and everything else. When I told him what I was writing about, he completely related. Even though it was about Coatesville, it was a full effort on all our parts in terms of writing the album.

As you said before, you’re all from well-known bands: you’re from Taking Back Sunday, Josh is from Coheed and Cambria and Andy is from Hot Rod Circuit. What do you say to people who call Terrible Things a supergroup?

[laughs] I usually say, “Let us practice a little bit more first.” I just picked guys that I thought were great players. Josh has been one of my favorite drummers ever since he was in Coheed and Cambria. I just always dreamed of playing with a guy like that. Andy has a great voice and is a great writer. We definitely inspire each other.

It was actually hard to find a bass player because we all have ten years of touring experience and we were getting a lot of people coming in on bass that were doing their first big tour. It’s hard to really relate and see where it’s going. For us, we’re starting over and we needed another guy who could see that. Meanwhile, we’re still sleeping in our van, which is what we did when we were much much younger [laughs].

The first tour that Josh ever went on with Coheed, he was opening for my old band Breaking Pangaea. [laughs] We always talk about how we were all sleeping in a rest area. My band brought sleeping bags and warm coats in a van with TVs and stuff. Coheed was next to us, with no blankets at all, freezing to death. They had to run the van the whole night and use their gas for heat. We still laugh about that. They had never left New York and here we were in the North Midwest. Anyway, there will be days when we hit that again. Normally, we’ll get a hotel room. But, every once in a while we’ll be hanging out with someone and decide to sleep on their floor. Josh and I will say, “Man, it’s like the old days. Makes me feel good.”

[laughs] Nice. How did you end up finding your bassist?

This past fall, we started playing with a guy named Brian Weaver who’s from a band called Silvertide. They toured with Van Halen and I think they played some shows with Motley Crue. He’s got some crazy stories and just kills it on the bass. The first time he came in to play with us, we all sat up straight. We knew we had to tighten up with this guy. It’s also nice to have someone after all this time push us musically. He’s just a real cool guy. After being out on the road with him, we finally asked him to join the group.

Speaking of touring, Terrible Things have some dates coming up with Bayside.

Yeah, I’m definitely very familiar with them. I’m a fan — I’ve gone to their shows when they’ve come around. But, I’ve never done any tours with them and don’t know them as much as I’d like to. So, I’m excited about it. It might be our best tour yet.

And then after Bayside, you’ll be hitting the road with Streetlight Manifesto, which also sounds like fun.

Yeah, I went and listened to Streetlight when this tour was being talked about. I thought their songs were really cool — they kept me very interested. I knew it was very different. We’re ready for it.

Are you listening to any other new music?

I’ve been catching up. I just started recently using a monthly subscription service. I’ve been able to check out more new records than ever. It’s got me excited about buying music again. With the downloading, we’ve all gotten used to having a thousand records on our iPod. When I was growing up, we all owned maybe 15-30 records, which we would play over and over again. So, I’ve been excited again. I think that’s why I was writing so much this holiday season. For the first time I listened to Rogue Wave. I checked out the new Anberlin album and even Kanye West’s new record. It’s definitely something different for your ears.

What were some highlights of 2010 for you?

We did a couple weeks of Warped Tour. It was hot and sweaty. It’s always a good time. We did some dates with Circa Survive and Anberlin. We also played with Sick Puppies, which was totally different for us. We did a long two month tour with Mae. That was kind of the highlight. They weren’t the biggest shows we played but it was when our fans could come out and see us play a nice hour long set. We pretty much did our whole album every night. That’s what we look forward to in the future too. I hope that after this year of touring we can get the word out to a lot more people.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Fred. Good luck on the road!

Pleasure talking with you, let’s do it again sometime.

Pick up Terrible Things’ debut album, Terrible Things.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out myspace.com/terriblethings.