Genre-defiant Portland, OR trio Mystrionics contacted me about two weeks ago. Unsure of what to expect, the first (and probably my favorite so far) song that I checked out was "Loose Face"—an excellently weird mishmash of Alice in Chains meets Alien Ant Farm and maybe a touch of The White Stripes. Their second single, "Skunk," brought more of a quirky, not-so-far-gone Mr. Bungle vibe to the table. That was enough to sell me, so I asked if they had anything new that we could work with, and they fired over the semi-erratically indie-angular Primus kick of "Bedside Manor."
All three tracks come from the band's forthcoming debut EP, due out Tuesday, April 3rd through Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, and other leading digital services; and I'm incredibly eager to hear what else they've come up with. The more I listen to Mystrionics, the more I love their clearly bizarre, surprisingly catchy, truly distinctive fusion of influences. Check out "Bedside Manor" below, followed by an interview with guitarist/vocalist Aaron Stern:
I've spoken to a handful of bands lately—Mystrionics now among them—that are new enough to where there's not a lot of background information present online. It looks like you formed in the summer of 2017, so give me the basic rundown on things…
The long-short of it is we started playing music together in middle school and played in a progressive death metal band called The Odious with two of our other best friends. In high school, all we ever did was play music together. After high school, the original group took a year off to record our full-length, Joint Ventures, before going back to school. Then, in 2015, Spencer [Linn, bass/vocals], Jeremy [Klein, drums/percussion], and I got back to playing music together and about a year ago we started writing the first Mystrionics songs. Everything came together pretty quickly. We know how to write, record, and perform together, and everything has been unfolding naturally.
At least some of you are or have been involved with a few other bands/projects as well, is that right?
Yes, I'm the biggest band slut in the group. I play with a couple of Portland bands: Sheers, which is led by my girlfriend, Lily Breshears, an art-pop band with R&B and classical music influences; and The Tamed West, which is a shoegaze-y psych-pop group that I play bass in. Also, I'm filling in on keys here and there for a great band called !mindparade. That's a chamber-psych band with lots of really cool influences molding together. Spencer still operates The Odious with new members, and just started playing with a brand new band called Tulpa which is going to be very awesome. We keep Jeremy locked down pretty tight, because he's too talented for the rest of the world to know his full potential.
Your Facebook page refers to the band—perhaps jokingly—as "NPR metal," but that's simply too insulting! You're better than that, and even to say "metal" is, in a sense… not "misleading," per se, but… too limiting, I guess? Your material is weirdly inventive and yields a serious "What the fuck!?" vibe, but not so far gone that it's irritating or anything. It's fucked up and twisted in a way that's catchy 'n' cool. How did you land on this sound? What the hell were you setting out to create here!?
[Laughs] thank you! I really appreciate your compliment! Mostly, we don't know how to genre-fy our music, so if anybody has any suggestions, we are all ears. But to explain, "NPR metal" is a joke that we have about the heavy bands that get on the NPR premiere list. Bands like Chelsea Wolfe and Deafheaven, who I think are great bands and artists. Honestly, I'm glad that NPR premieres heavy music, it's just that those bands are somehow deemed "too cool" for the underground and get into the mainstream. But good for them!
But, to get to your question, I think we are still figuring out the Mystrionics sound. We just want to do something different, not care about what's cool or trendy, and make the music we'd like to listen to. We like heavy stuff, but we also like pop and weirdo oddball shit, too. I think we accomplished what we wanted out of the EP and leave enough room to experiment in the future. The music we're working on now is pretty different from our older material. I can speak for all of us when I say that we have a strong desire to not repeat ourselves.
The track we're premiering here, "Bedside Manor," is certainly the most Primus-y of the songs you've released to date. What "inside information" can you share about this composition?
Spencer had the vision for that song and we all worked on the arrangement together, but that was mostly his baby. Bands like Primus and Mr. Bungle are big influences to us, and I think we were exploring that. A big part of this song—and our sound in general—is Spencer's Bass VI, a six-string bass tuned like a guitar an octave down. It's a weird instrument, but it has a huge range that the main riff in "Bedside Manor" takes advantage of.
Lyrically, the EP is a kind of character study, and we travel between an internal monologue and a third-person perspective. "Bedside Manor" has the character reflecting on their sexual predilections and the larger things that it portends for their psychology. All of the lyrics make up part of the question that the EP poses conceptually: "What can we do as broken, fucked up people? Is there hope for redemption?"
Mystrionics started releasing individual tracks a few months after the group's conception. Is the plan to release one song at a time until the full EP is complete?
"Bedside Manor" is the last single before we release the EP. It's five songs total, and we'll be releasing it digitally on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Each song has its own identity, but tied lyrically to the concept that I mentioned before. Expect the next two songs to be different from the singles. Ideally, listen to the EP as a whole at least once, because that's how it was conceived.
It's probably too soon to look beyond the EP, but when I'm excited about a band I can't help but fish for details on what ideas might be floating around for the future. Anything…?
[Laughs] thank you, again! We have a couple more releases planned for 2018 that we're writing for now. We produce our own music, so we can get stuff done relatively quickly. We're doing a weekend of shows to promote the release in Oregon—playing in Eugene, Salem, and Portland—so, for the readers who live there, we would love to meet you! I guess I'll just keep you posted on the new material as we make it. Thanks for the interview, Andrew!