Interview with Mac Miller of The Sheds

Photo: Carly Hoskins

It’s difficult to predict where The Sheds will be in a few years. Hailing from California, the ska punk act are still fairly young, but they seem to be well-positioned. After leaving No Sleep Records in early 2011, the band hit the studio to record a new EP, ‘…And Now for Something Completely Different.’ The group raised just enough money through Kickstarter to fund and promote the effort before hopping on the Vans Warped Tour. Shortly after soaking it up in the blistering sun that summer, the guys inked a deal with Rite of Passage Records, a subsidiary of Mediaskare Records. Now, they have a brand new EP for fans, ‘Self/Doubt.’ As discussed below in Rock Edition’s exclusive interview with vocalist Mac Miller, who plays in the band alongside his two brothers (Evan and Morgan) and friend/drummer Mark Blaker, ‘Self/Doubt’ is definitely a major improvement from their previously released material. 2012 could be the year that truly takes these guys out of the garage — or in their case, the shed.

Before we talk about your new EP, can you tell us a little about how the band got started?

The Sheds started in late 2005. It was just me and my two brothers, Evan and Morgan. The three of us were playing only cover songs for about two years. We would play any songs we liked, regardless of genre. We played Eric Clapton songs, Anti-Flag songs, Reel Big Fish songs, and anything else that we liked. I used to play drums and sing for us, with Evan on bass and Morgan playing guitar. Around two years into it, we decided we were going to cover a Reel Big Fish song, so we wanted to have Morgan’s friend from school play trumpet on it. Also, right around then was when we started writing our first songs, which were all simple three-chord punk songs. At the time, we still couldn’t really play our instruments very well. [The trumpet player] started writing in horn parts, so we decided to be a ska band. It’s funny because none of us, to this day, have been huge ska fans; we just fell into it. Anyway, we kept doing mostly cover songs, with a few original songs thrown into the mix. We got a trombone player. [chuckles] He was this metalhead who also played trombone. Then, we had a full horn section for about six to nine months.

We wrote and recorded our first album, ‘Stimulus Package,’ three songs at a time. The whole record was done over a year. We’re proud of that record because it shows where we came from, but it has no representation of us. We don’t play any of those songs anymore; it’s just a little history, I guess.

When did ‘Stimulus Package’ come out?

I believe it came out in March 2009.

One year later, you guys signed with No Sleep Records, right?


But you soon parted ways. What happened?

We signed to them in April 2010 and we left in January 2011. We still have a good relationship with Chris Hansen, the guy who runs No Sleep, but it just wasn’t a good place for us at the time. Being the smallest band on the label, we needed more attention than we could get from them. And being a smaller label at the time, he didn’t have time to give us the attention while he was building up some of his bigger acts.

And what happened with your older EP, ‘…And Now for Something Completely Different’?

We had been writing songs before we signed [with No Sleep]. We demoed a couple songs with El Hefe from NOFX, actually. It wasn’t for an official release, but one them was on a No Sleep sampler. Then, we signed with them — nothing really came of it, so we just kept writing songs, and we were then dormant for about a year. Then, we found out we were going to do some dates on Warped Tour, and it’s really useless to be on a tour that big and not have a release to push. So, we were on No Sleep about putting out an EP for us, but they didn’t have the time or funds for us. Instead, Chris let us out of our contract without any problems. We rushed into the studio with our friend Alex Estrada, who we were really excited to start recording with because he just did the Touche Amore and Joyce Manor records that year. We ended up recording our whole EP in one day. Using Kickstarter, we raised the funds to self-release it.

Nice job pulling that off. Was the signing experience daunting at all? You were all so young at the time.

Yeah, it was definitely a strange experience. The way we got in contact with No Sleep in the first place was through some of our friends. Our friend Mitch was working at the label at the time. Also, our friends The Wonder Years were just getting ready to leave No Sleep Records, but they had been with the label since its inception and had nothing but great things to say about them. We just threw our trust into all of our friends. We did have someone review the contract, but we also thought, “If we’re doing this, we’re just going to go for it. What happens, happens.” It’s naive, but a little daring at the same time. [laughs]

[laughs] Certainly! You’re lucky to have been let off scot-free.

Definitely. We could still be sitting ducks with nothing; just stuck there. We’re quite thankful.

Moving forward, how did you eventually hook up with Rite of Passage Records?

Our home venue that we play often, the Cobalt Cafe in Canoga Park, CA, is home to a few of their bands that also play there. Our good friends Betrayal, who we grew up playing shows with, have been with Mediaskare for a while. We kind of knew the guys at Mediaskare but never pitched ourselves to them. I think they just ended up at one of our shows and became interested. We sent them some of our new songs that we’d been working on and went from there.

Cool. Where were the songs for the new EP recorded?

We recorded those at Undercity Studios, which is in North Hollywood. We recorded it with Taylor Voeltz, who we’ve known for quite a while. He’s kind of the in-house engineer for Mediaskare and Rite of Passage. He’s definitely done a lot of really big records that don’t sound anything like us.

[laughs] Yeah, totally. And I think it’s fair to say that production-wise this new EP is a step in a stronger direction than your old EP.

By far!

Another difference between the two is the lack of horns on ‘Self/Doubt.’ Where did the horns go?

Well, there were a lot of changes between the two EPs. On top of the lack of horns, the first EP was recorded in one day without a click track, and there was no editing whatsoever — what you hear is us playing live. On the new EP, we put about a week into recording it — full, 12-hour days worth of tracking and polishing everything perfectly. We’re really proud of how that came out. On the last record, we still had a saxophone player and our old trumpet player Duncan [Murray] come in. What happened after we finished Warped Tour this summer was that we parted ways with our saxophone player, Daniel [Teplitz]. It wasn’t because of any conflict — it was just that having only one horn player really affected our sound. If it was a trumpet, at least that would have some kind of punch to it, but saxophones are really smooth sounding.

Right. You don’t want to be a George Michael cover band.

Exactly. Too smooth. Also, the new songs that we were writing had a lot more going on with the guitar parts and drumming. It was just unnecessary to have a saxophone then. We didn’t really want to do the whole RX Bandits thing and have a trombone hanging around when it wasn’t really needed.

And who made the call to get Joe and Tim from Transit on your song “Heart”?

We’ve been friends with the Transit guys for a couple of years now. We always have bands come and stay at our house, with a floor for them to sleep on. So, we’ve known the Transit guys for years because of that. Anyway, we happened to be playing in Camarillo with them right when we were recording the record. They were interested in singing a part, and we had a part for them to sing. So, it just worked out that way.

They stopped by Undercity Studios?

Actually, right before playing our sets we went over to our friend Zack’s house in Camarillo, who we recorded ‘Stimulus Package’ with, because it was only a three-minute drive from the venue. We had them record their parts there, and then we went back to the venue to perform.

What material have you been playing live? Are you performing songs from both EPs?

Yeah. Well, there are a couple of songs that are on both EPs. So, we’ve pretty much been playing just about all the songs from the two EPs, as well as a cover song most nights. For 2012, our goal is to be on the road as much as possible, and hopefully have a full-length out by the end of the year.

For the full-length, are you considering bringing the horns back?

Where we’re at right now we don’t want to bring in horns, but we think we might for a song or two on the full-length. One of our biggest influences is The Suicide Machines. They don’t actually have horn players in their band, but every once in a while they have some guest spots and horn parts on a song or two, where applicable. I think we might go with that whole deal. If we feel like a horn part is necessary, we’ll definitely go for it. As we are a ska punk band at heart, we aren’t getting rid of ska.

Totally. What was the best part of 2011 for you?

Warped Tour was huge for us. Firstly, we got to go on tour with some of our good friends like Larry and His Flask and The Wonder Years, and we made tons of new friends. We wouldn’t have been able to do this last little tour with Set Your Goals if it wasn’t for Warped Tour. And we wouldn’t have been able to watch one of our biggest influences, Less Than Jake, every day if it wasn’t for Warped Tour. It’s also the only tour we’ve done where we’ve been able to see most of the US. Well, I’ve seen most of the US with other bands, but to do it with The Sheds was a really big deal. It was cool to bring my brothers out into a different environment, too. Also, festival touring is so much different than regular touring. Warped Tour was by far the most difficult tour I’ve ever done in my entire life. At the same time, it was the most rewarding. I would do it again in a second.

Pick up The Sheds’ new EP, Self/Doubt.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.