CG: Where are you guys from? How did the band come together?
ML: We all met here in Eugene, [Oregon] through one musical connection or another, and knew each other pretty well before playing together. As a drummer, I’d played in an alt-country band called Saltlick with Jerry, and played with Brian on bass in Dan Jones and the Squids. There are lots of connections like that; one of Ken’s many bands rented a practice space in my friend’s woodshop!
The Stagger and Sway really came together as a result of our EP, Time Changes, and friends encouraging us to put it out. Until then, the band was just Jerry and I--an acoustic side-project playing cancellation slots and shows like that.
Suddenly, with Time Changes we had an EP and gigs lined up! We needed a name, a drummer, and another guitarist. Luckily, a lot of my friends are really good musicians!
CG: Awesome! So, who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
CG: Did growing up where you did influence your music at all?
ML: I’m sure that it did. I moved to the Boise area when I was 14 and discovered local bands playing live shows at All-ages clubs! I’d never heard of such a thing! There was a great rock scene [in Boise] at the time; Doug Martsch was still with Treepeople and then Built to Spill started my last couple years of high school. That whole scene was really collaborative; we had a lot of great Boise-bands and they traded shows with awesome Seattle-bands. As an early teen, I soaked it up; I started up my first bands and began playing out. Boise exposed me to a lot of styles of music and artists that became very influential to my songwriting.
CG: Does being from Eugene, OR inspire you at all? What’s the coolest part about the city?
ML: Eugene inspires me in a lot of ways. The city has a very strong sense of community, and it’s one that encourages artistic endeavors. Programs like the Saturday Market and Last Friday Art-Walk, encourage people to make and create, and then share whatever that is. It’s like some authority figure saying, “Yeah, it’s okay to take your creative side seriously.”
I think that type of general mindset encourages people to share the songs they’ve been crafting in their bedroom, or the stack of paintings that keeps getting bigger. As a result, we see a lot of real, genuine art — not a slew of songwriters trying to be the next-big-whatever, for example — but people creating their own music, paintings, modern chair designs, etc. just for the sake of creating it.
CG: That sounds amazing. Seriously. So, what bands do you think you sound like, if any?
ML: We’ve recently been compared to: Death Cab for Cutie, Mason Jennings, the Decemberists, Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens, Tom Petty, and Wilco. All of which I find pretty favorable comparisons! I think you can pull a few common denominators from those artists, like lyrical styles, or creative song structures, and many other qualities we’d be happy to be compared to!
CG: What do you think you would be doing right now if you weren’t a musician? What did you want to be when you were a kid?
ML: I really can’t even imagine that! I’ve done a lot of other things — from driving ice-cream trucks to troubleshooting telecom networks — but I’ve always been a musician writing songs and playing shows at the same time.
So, whatever I might do, I’d probably still end up writing a song about it! When I was a kid, I thought I’d be an inventor by now.
CG: What has been a personal high and a personal low about your musical career so far? Any particular moments of awesomeness or embarrassing blunders?
ML: My personal musical low is pretty easy; there were a couple of years in my early twenties, living in Chicago, where I really wasn’t playing at all. Maybe an open-mic here and there, but I just had no steady musical outlet for a little while … no embarrassing blunders, just nothing happening at all.
As for high moments, the day after my 21st birthday, my band opened for Built to Spill at Western Washington University in Bellingham. I was so nervous for this show that it’s made me nearly immune to gig-anxiety ever since.
Also, I got to open for Dinosaur Jr. when I was with Dan Jones and the Squids. Murph came out and kicked my bass drum, and said it sounded great. That was pretty unbelievable … I’d been listening to his records and figuring out his fills when I was 15!
Even with all that, I feel I’m riding a bit of a high point right now with the release of [our album] Break Til You Bend. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, like we just hit the Freeform American Roots Chart in February, and we’ve licensed a few tunes. People are hearing our songs in coffee shops and on the radio, and the response at live shows has just become more and more fun. It’s been a pretty exciting time.
CG: So what’s the story behind your band name? How did it come about?
ML: The band name came from a song called “Stagger and Sway,” that we released on our EP. The song title was a reference to taking the path alternate of the “Straight and Narrow.” Why that ended up as our band name, well … Jerry thought it had a nice ring to it, the notion seemed to fit our music. So it stuck.
CG: What is next for the band?
ML: We like planning short tours to places where we can return frequently. We’re heading on our third trip through Idaho at the end of April (Boise, Clarkston WA, Moscow), and looking to do another short tour around Central Oregon and Northern California in the late-spring. And of course, we’ll keep playing the Portland-to-Eugene Area a few times a month. Regarding how our material may progress, I’m hoping to get into the studio again in the next 9 months or so, and I think we’re sailing a pretty steady course.
The songs on Break Til You Bend are relatively diverse, without the record losing cohesion or sounding eclectic. One song might sound very different from the next (if you’d only hear Sh*t Adv*ce [from Break Til You Bend], you wouldn’t call us an Americana band), but they still feel like they come from the same musicians and the same songwriter. Whatever those specific qualities are, our next record will have those same fingerprints.
Be sure to check out The Stagger and Sway at their next gig at the Bombs Away Café in Corvallis, Oregon on March 4th. In the meantime, take a bite out of their alt-country, down home earnest tunes.