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Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez Discusses ‘Pick Up Your Head’ Disc, Unique Instrumentation + Uproar Festival Trek

MCRut.com / Jeremiah Mayhew

The day is finally here. Middle Class Rut‘s ‘Pick Up Your Head’ arrives in stores today (June 25) and the duo of Zack Lopez and Sean Stockham are looking forward to a summer on the road promoting the new disc. The album has already spawned the hit single ‘Aunt Betty,’ with plenty more expected to follow.

Noisecreep recently chatted with frontman Zack Lopez about the band’s new disc and he described some of the unique recording practices the duo employed while taking ‘Pick Up Your Head’ to the next level. The singer-guitarist also shared what it’s like expanding the band to a five-piece for touring, what he expects from the Uproar Festival this summer and the weirdest “instrument” that found its way onto the album. Read our interview with Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez below.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted going into this record and did it play out like you expected?

No, we’re terrible at trying to set up anything. If we start thinking about anything it’ll go in the wrong direction just to spite us. It was just more of the same. We’ve always stockpiled songs and it was more of that. It was a combination of songs that I put together on off time and then songs Sean [Stockham] and I created on the spot in the studio together. So the only real goal was to get enough songs together that we loved that we thought could make a record and also have some sort of step that showed growth from the last one.

And on this record, there’s a little more to it than just drums, guitar and vocals.

Yeah, with that first record it was just guitar, vocals, drums. For however many songs that were on that first record, there’s probably 30 other ones that could be on that record that were in the same vein, but they were never released because they weren’t as good or whatever reason. But this time, we sat down and it was like, ‘Okay, let’s start writing the second record.’ And you start doing the same things you’ve done, and it was felt like we weren’t doing anything new or groundbreaking. It didn’t feel like the kind of growth we were looking for. So ultimately that’s what led to us trying different ways to make music and creating different sounds and eventually this record became its own thing.

I know you and Sean go back to another band even prior to the first Middle Class Rut record. At this point are you still able to surprise each other with what you come up with?

I think that we’re really good at knowing when we’re not in synch with each other, so I think that’s what made this record exciting is a lot of the sounds, a lot of the songs, it was like, ‘Oh s—, that’s a f—ed up sound that doesn’t sound like anything. Let’s build off of that.’ And that became the excitement.

Once it became, ‘Alright let’s hit anything in this room and then find a way to make it sound cool,’ then it became a new type of excitement rather than a bash-out in a room together for 20 minutes and write another rock song. There’s still a lot of love in doing that, but I think we were looking for a little more this time around.

This record has that great raw vibe and you can feel the joy coming through it. Was it as much fun to put together as it seems?

It was, it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was like ‘Pick Up Your Head,’ it’s the most non-traditional approach to making anything. Just the s— that we were banging on and what we would make a beat out of, it was fun because there was absolutely no pressure to do anything at all.

I know from the last record, you guys began playing percussion off desks, pots, pans, whatever. What was the weirdest thing you worked into this record?

We started doing that with ‘New Low’ and I think this record was kind of taking that and running with it and making a whole record out of it. But the weirdest thing on this record is probably the beginning of ‘Born Too Late.’ There’s that bum, da-da-dum, da-da dum, da-da-dum sound and it’s the edge of a PC printer. And that mixed with these, there’s these buzzes that you hear going into each verse and that’s Sean’s dryer buzzer. (laughs). So that kind of makes it, man.

That’s awesome! Switching gears, ‘Aunt Betty’ is doing a great job for you, but there’s a lot of great songs on this record. Was it the obvious lead single?

There was a little debate because what the band wants it to be and what the label and management want versus what the people who talk to radio want, everyone’s got their own idea. I think it was easy with ‘New Low’ because we’d already done the work and proven it ourselves, so there was no question. But this time around, I don’t think ‘Aunt Betty’ was Sean or I’s first choice at all. In fact it was a huge pain in the ass in the studio to do. It just took longer than any of the other one’s to reconfigure so maybe by the time we finished the last thing we were thinking was, ‘This is the first single.’

We keep everything we do so close to us that it’s impossible to keep perspective all of the time. So as soon as we release this record into everyone’s hands, it’ll be like, ‘Hey what do you think?’ You have to at some point let someone else’s view get in there. I think we’re happy with it. It’s a heavy song, it’s a rock song, but there’s definitely weirder s— that we’d like people to hear.

Hitting on these other songs — I love the beat on ‘Leech.’ It’s got a great glam rock feel to it and I was wondering if that was an influence growing up?

It wasn’t. In fact, it was probably the least scene we were into of any. But a lot of the people around us were into that and maybe on that level…

But musically, no, it’s not something we were into and that song was just something that came together last minute and I know when I played it for Sean, he was like, ‘Holy s—, that beat’s rad.’ It sounded really fresh and good and we decided we should finish that one. And it was cool to kind of put that up toward the front after the chaos of ‘Born Too Late.’ It cooled it down nice.

Also wanted to hit on ‘No More,’ one of the standout tracks on this record. If you want to share how that one came together.

‘No More’ came together toward the last … We’d been in the studio for three weeks and burnt ourselves out and went home and took some time off. Of course, since we were out of inspiration, we weren’t allowed to go into the studio, but one day I just came in anyway and was going through some stuff that Sean had laid down right before he left and found that huge beat. Right away, I came up with the guitar line and it’s one of those things where the song wrote itself in no time at all. The whole song was done in 20-30 minutes and then I came in the next day and wrote the bridge and it was f—ing done. Then Sean came back and I showed it to him, and he was like, ‘Oh s—, when did that happen?’ It was just a cool accident with a great energy and I’m grateful it came out. It’s definitely a song that I think people will dig if they heard it.

I have to ask because I heard the bonus tracks — I don’t know that I would have pegged you for Tom Petty fans, but ‘I Need to Know’ sounds great. You definitely put your own stamp on it. How did that become your cover?

Somewhere, during the first batch of songs with this band, I think I’d stolen the ‘I Need to Know’ riff and wrote my own song around it. So when it came time, I threw that song out and I played it and it sounded like one of our songs anyway. So it was really easy to do. And we’d just come off doing that [Bob] Dylan cover of ‘Hurricane,’ which was a 10-minute insanely long production. It was rad, but it was also like let’s go in there and do something we can bash out live in no time.

The hardest part of it was that tag line they do with the piano, but we turned it into the ‘Whoa-oh-oh’s.’ It was hard. We tried a piano. We tried a xylophone. We tried a guitar, and nothing. We had that whole song figured out but that part and then finally we put the vocals on it and it made more sense than anything. We’re actually huge Petty fans, so we could cover his songs all day.

I also wanted to ask, because I know the band is strictly you and Sean, but you’re adding three new musicians to the lineup for the live show. How have things progressed so far?

It’s been good. We spent the whole month of May touring so we’ve got a full month of doing it. It went really well. It’s kind of right in the middle because we’re predominantly focusing on new s—, so when you go out there, you’re playing for people who don’t have the record yet and all they know is your old stuff. So it’s tricky, but at the same time we want to be really solid live with the new stuff anyway. So it’s been a good mix and I think I’m super confident in the way that we’re able to pull this new record off. I’m really excited for people to get the new record, hear it and then come to the show and realize that the weird noises are there and the feel of it is there and it sounds like the record I know.

With Middle Class Rut, you and Sean have such a hold over what is being presented. Was it weird trying to incorporate new members and has anything surprised you?

I think the biggest surprise has been for everyone else. I think a lot of people may be used to seeing it a certain way, and even for us, it completely changes the dynamic onstage. It was two guys in the middle of the stage just battling it out, and we still have that, but you can’t help but change the dynamic with three other dudes in there, you know.

For me personally, it’s been a positive change — with the freedom and ability to play better and do more stuff. It’s something that’s settled into a really cool groove so we’re looking forward to touring the whole summer and getting better and better.

You’re playing live this summer on the Uproar Festival and it’s a very eclectic bill. What’s your take on the lineup and getting a chance to be part of this package tour?

When I found out what the bill was going to be this year, it was like, ‘Oh s—, this is gonna be good.’ I feel that it’s super cohesive in terms of everyone that is on the bill. I think we’re going to fit in with it all really well. We toured with Alice in Chains in the past so it will be cool to see those guys everyday and be on the road with them again. We’ve done a bunch of shows with Jane’s [Addiction] and we’ve toured with Circa Survive before so it’s going to be really familiar for us, you know.

The record is coming and ‘Aunt Betty’ is doing well. What’s next for Middle Class Rut?

We’re figuring that out now. We’re going to shoot a video or two and we actually leave for a headline tour and we start in Chicago, doing three weeks worth of dates. And then we’ll come off and shoot more videos before Uproar. We definitely want it to be ‘No More’ and ‘Dead Eye’ in terms of singles. I think that’s where Sean and I are leaning toward those two songs.

Our thanks to Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez for the interview. You can purchase the ‘Pick Up Your Head’ album via iTunes.

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