Interview with James Carroll of Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend play a brand of brutally honest post-hardcore that’s remarkably fully developed on the band’s debut full-length, ‘End Measured Mile,’ which was released last October via Paper + Plastick. The album distinguishes itself through unconventional song structures, massive hooks, and vocalist/guitarist James Carroll’s gritty vocals. ‘End Measured Mile’ is a quick, refreshing listen with a very high replay value.

On the band’s drive between shows in Milwaukee and Detroit, James was kind enough to have a phone conversation with us about the album, touring, and Make Do and Mend’s plans for the future.

You guys just played with Hot Water Music last night in Milwaukee.

Yeah, we played last night in Milwaukee with Hot Water, and then tonight as well in Detroit.

You guys also played Krazyfest on Saturday. How did that go?

It was pretty amazing. It was one of those things where we were excited to play just because of the legacy that Krazyfest embodies, and then all the amazing bands that were playing. It was just a really, really cool thing to even be a part of. And then getting to play our actual songs, everything was just absolutely breathtaking. It was a really, really cool experience.

That’s awesome. Did you get to check out any of the other bands?

Yeah, absolutely. Got to watch a ton of great bands, which was really, really cool. Missed Sunday, which was a huge bummer because there were a bunch of bands that I was dying to see on Sunday, but Friday and Saturday were really amazing.

‘End Measured Mile,’ the band’s debut full-length, pulled in a lot of positive press. How do you feel having released such a well-received album?

Dude, it’s really wild. You know, there’s always — I think for any band when putting out a new record — there’s a huge stress factor there because you just don’t know if people are going to like it. There’s always some sort of backlash; there’s always some group of people who are going to think poorly of it. So there was this high stress level there for me because it was a personal thing, and we had put out an EP that people seemed to like, and there’s that real pressure there to follow it up with a good full-length. So I was definitely really, really nervous. Then, the reception was amazing, and it seemed like there was no sort of backlash, no sort of group of people who weren’t that stoked on it. That was just unbelievable. I feel really, really lucky.

Yeah, I had a hard time finding anything negative about the album.

I know, it’s wild right? At a certain point I kind of wanted to find on a message board or something like that someone who would be like, “Yeah, this is alright, like, I don’t really love the vocals,” and I’m like, “Yeah, alright! Finally!” It’s a weird time to have gotten that lucky.

The thing that, for me, stands out most of all on the album is the lyrics. Do you write most of those?

I do. I write all of them.

When you write that stuff, is that hard to pull off night after night with the same amount of intensity?

No because the words themselves and what the songs are about and what they mean means a great deal to me, so really just having the opportunity and the privilege to sing those songs night after night makes it really, really easy for me to give off an energetic vibe and do my best to make it mean something. So, no, it’s something I really, really enjoy doing and have never really had much of a problem with.

Cool. I’ve read in some interviews, and in some of the lyrics, that you guys all work forty-hour weeks. How do you guys find the time to practice and write songs and play shows with all that going on at the same time?

It’s rough. A few of the dudes, right now, are in between jobs, and Mike [O’Toole], our guitar player, actually just graduated from college a few weeks ago, so he’s a man of the working world now. We’ll know what we have to do once we get home from this tour. We all just find ourselves in these weird transitory situations, and it’s sort of a weird life to try to keep up. I work a job, and I don’t know how much longer I’m going be able to do this sort of really rigorous touring schedule that we have for the rest of this year.

That definitely makes it tough going home. We just got back from a full US tour last week, and then we left for Krazyfest and the Hot Water shows on Thursday, so we had four or five days at home where we’re like, “Alright, we need to practice, we really need to get ready for these shows.” And I’m like, “Well, dudes, I’ve got to work.” I had to work from the morning until the night, and then there was shit going on in the night, and we go, “How do we juggle this?” So it’s definitely tough, but we all do our very best. Playing in a band is pretty much job number one, and anything we do is really just a vehicle to try to fuel this fucked up addiction that we have to playing in a band.

So when you’re not touring, do you guys practice mostly at night and on the weekends?

Yeah, usually at night. We got a practice space where you can go twenty-four hours, so we’re usually in there in the late evening, which is cool because everybody’s gotten off work and we can sort of just get together and do our thing.

Awesome. You guys are heading off to Europe soon with Hot Water Music, right?

Yeah. We come home from these shows; we’ll actually be home tomorrow. Then, next weekend, we play at Rain Fest in Seattle, and then we have most of June off. We’re playing two shows in June, which are a show with The Bouncing Souls at the end of June and then a record release [show] with some friends of ours in a band called Balance and Composure who just put out a record called ‘Separation.’ Those are the two shows in June. In July, we do a Canadian tour, and then we do Europe with Hot Water, which will be unbelievable.

Have you guys ever toured in Europe before?

This will be our first mainland European tour. We just did a UK tour in the spring, and that was our first time in the UK. This tour has some UK dates as well as some actual European shows, so it will be our first time in mainland Europe.

The band will also be heading down to Australia for Soundwave Revolution. Are you guys stoked for that?

Dude, unbelievably stoked. It’s one of those things where all of our friends who’ve ever been to Australia before are just like, It is the coolest place in the world, both to tour and just to be in because it’s gorgeous weather at all times, it’s paradise, and the shows are so cool.

Are you looking forward to doing anything aside from the tour down there?

Yeah, I hope we get to see some sights, maybe pet some koalas, just see some of the scenery.

My whole thing is, like when we got to go to the UK, when we’re going to get to go to Europe, and when we’re going to get to go to Australia, being able to play for a completely new group of people that we just have never — yeah, well, they might have heard us recorded, might have bought the record — we have never played to them live before. That’s just the most thrilling thing in the world to me.

In addition to Soundwave Revolution, you’re also playing Hevy Festival and Pukkelpop. Are you guys excited to see any of the other bands playing at those festivals?

Dude, it’s so wild. We were given our stage assignments for those fests, who we would be playing with on the day that we’re playing, and it’s different on each fest, but it’s like New Found Glory, Deftones, just a ridiculous list of bands that we get to play with. It’s like, how did that happen? That’ll be a trip, just to be there. Hevy Fest is cool because it really feels like all of our friends from the United States and other places are going to be there. Defeater’s going to be there, La Dispute’s going to be there, Comeback Kid’s going to be there, Living with Lions is going to be there, All Teeth is going to be there, so that’s going to be gnarly. That’s going to be a really fun time.

Your song “Ghostal” features Jordan [Dreyer] from La Dispute. How did you guys get that collaboration going?

La Dis are really, really close friends of ours, and I think on top of being a group of our really, really close friends they are a band who we really, really admire. We are all huge fans of La Dispute, both the music that they make and the way that they carry themselves as a band. We just are in constant awe of that band. Jordan, in particular, is one of my favorite lyricists and vocalists ever, so it was one of those things where it was appropriate that with such close friends of ours we could say, “Hey, would you sing this line off the record? It would mean a lot to us.” It’s a complete honor to have him on the record.

Cool. Did he write the verse that he sang, or did you guys already have that written out for him?

The way that we worked it was I wrote the first part that he sang, but it was really, really important to me, being that he is one of my favorite lyricists, that he have his lyrical fingerprint on his part. So the second half of what he sings he wrote, and it’s just incredible.

Another one of the tracks that I really like is “Firewater.” That song surprised me on the first listen because of the string parts. Are those real strings?

Yeah, they’re real strings. When we were writing the song and we wrote that part, we were like, this could be a really, really cool part to have strings there. It’s an idea we’ve always toyed with but have never really been able to put together. With the dude who was recording the record, we were like, “Hey, what would you think about doing live strings here?” We were afraid he was going to go like, “Nah, that’s too complicated; it’ll take too much time,” like we can’t do it, and he was way up for it. So our friend Tim, who plays bass in a band called Hostage Calm, played violin, and then another friend of ours played cello. I’m just so stoked at how it came out. It was a really, really cool thing to be able to get to do.

Did you guys structure that song around having the string part there from the beginning?

No, not really. That part was just sort of this big, expansive part, and we were just like, “Man, it would be cool to have strings here.” So we wrote the strings to that part, and it worked out really well. Surprisingly well.

Yeah, it’s definitely one of the best moments on the album. Another thing I find really cool is the cover art. What’s the concept behind the picture?

All the artwork for the entire record was done by this guy named Rob Dobi, who is a photographer/graphic designer/artist dude from Connecticut. I have been a really huge fan of his art since I was a really, really young kid. He does this photo series called New England Ruins, where he goes around New England to abandoned buildings and takes pictures. Since I was in high school, I’ve just been obsessed with this dude’s art. Then, I met him through some mutual friends fairly recently, like last year, and we were writing and recording the record. We were like, “Hey dude, we’re huge fans of your artwork, is there any way that you would be interested in doing the art for the record?” He agreed, and we were so stoked.

The pictures were taken in an abandoned town, a town in Connecticut where there had been homes and families. It was an island town, and the bridge connecting the island to the mainland fell down. So the state just said, “We’re not rebuilding the bridge. Everybody from the island has to move. You can only take this much stuff, and you have to get out of here.” So whole homes, fully furnished homes, homes with pictures on the walls and clothes, were just completely left behind. That place, the idea of what happened there, has always really fascinated me. I wanted the art to be the idea of a human element in a completely inhuman place. There are no people on this island. There’s no bonding, except for these remnants of a human touch that’s completely gone. There are the clothes strewn on the completely barren ground, and there are the tires on the back cover. That was kind of the idea about it, and that’s how it came about.

Does that concept tie in with the lyrics at all?

I don’t know if it ties in with any specific lyrics on the record, but it definitely ties in to just a general feeling of displacement, a feeling of isolation that I’ve always sort of felt, that always seeps its way into the lyrics. There’s definitely plenty of lyrics on the record that deal with the idea of isolation and feeling out of place and feeling like you don’t belong in a place you’re supposed to belong in. On this record, and on previous records, I’ve sort of touched on that as well. In a way, the artwork really does coincide with that quite well.

A lot of people describe your singing style as pretty aggressive, to say the least. Is it ever challenging to keep your voice in shape on tour?

It’s really weird. I have very rarely had any trouble whatsoever. On the UK tour that we just did, I had a bit of trouble. There were a few nights where I really couldn’t hit the notes I wanted to hit, and it was like I couldn’t hold out a lot of the parts that I really hold out and do a lot of pretty intense shouting. It messed with me so bad. I was like, “Why can’t I do this? Come on!” I’d never had a problem with that before; that was the first time I’d ever had any trouble with it. And that’s night after night after night after night of touring, just yelling and yelling and yelling and never giving me a problem. So it totally tripped me out. After that, I started every single night by taking some time to warm up and just get my vocal chords warm and ready to sing so that I don’t go into it cold. Therefore, I feel like I’m able to, right off the bat, exert my vocals better than I had been previously. So it’s not something that gives me a ton of trouble, but it’s something that I definitely have to keep up.

Well, it’s good to hear that it works out. It always sounds like you’re yelling at full volume the whole time.

Yeah. There are certain parts where I’ll dial it back a little bit just if I know there’s this part coming up where I really want to melt it. So it’s like, right here I’ll give myself a little bit of a break. But I would much rather give it my all and leave nothing in the gas tank and then suffer the consequences, whether it’s having a sore throat or not being able to speak very well, than possibly giving people the impression that I’m not giving it my all because that would upset me a lot.

Have you guys started working on any new songs yet?

Yeah, we’re writing and recording a song for a comp that’s coming out pretty soon this summer. It’s Run for Cover Records who’s putting it out, and it’s all of our friends’ bands on one compilation, most of whom are recording completely new songs. We started writing a song for that; we’re really, really stoked for how it sounds. As soon as we get home from this tour, we’re going be spending pretty much all of our time putting that together and getting it ready to record.

Nice. Have you guys thought about a new album at all, or is that way too far in the future for now?

We’ve thought about it, and we’re starting to talk about the logistics of it, but musically, we’re not there yet. It’s a weird thing because we’re still really stoked on ‘End Measured Mile’ songs, and we haven’t really done a tone of touring on this record, so a lot of these songs that we’re playing off the record are still relatively new to us in terms of playing them live. We’re still really having a blast doing that. I think once the shine starts wearing off of playing those songs, we’ll start thinking more seriously about writing some new ones.

Pick up Make Do and Mend’s debut full-length End Measured Mile.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.