The Mascot TheoryAn interview with Erik Kjelland, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist of The Mascot Theory
CD: Under The Borrowed Moon
Record Label: Stone After Stone Records
by Mike Huberty
With an Americana acoustic folk-rock sound, The Mascot Theory is Madison’s answer to Ryan Adams and The Lumineers. Led by Erik Kjelland (former singer of rock outfit, Crimson Vim) and backed up by bassist Nick Fry, guitarist Adam White, and drummer Paul Metz, they released their first album, Under The Borrowed Moon, in 2012 and they’ve been touring regionally, since. We spoke with Erik about the band, the record, and their upcoming show on March 30th.
MI: So, how did it all begin? What got you into music in the first place?
EK: As far back as I can remember I have always loved music. In my home studio I have a framed picture of a 3 year old me, with giant headphones on my ears. But it wasn’t until “The Beatles Anthology” aired on television in 1995 that I truly felt a drive to write songs and perform. Of course, their songwriting was incredible, but I used to listen to all the outtakes of their studio sessions and be amazed at how much fun they seemed to be having, and watching them evolve from album to album, genre to genre, not really caring about who they would alienate by not duplicating their past successful efforts.
MI: So what’s the show that really gelled you guys as a band?
EK: Our album release party at the Fisher King Winery in Mt. Horeb was very solidifying as a band. It was the first time that our own songs were the true focus of the evening, and people were so into it and showering us with approval. The Mascot Theory started as a makeshift band, a last minute, thrown together act for a coffeehouse show, then we did another makeshift gig on New Year’s Eve 2011. We didn’t intend to keep playing together as a “real” band, and we certainly didn’t plan on recording an album. But something clicked, we all sang so well together, and our harmonies became the glue in the band.
MI: What inspires you to write? What drives The Mascot Theory as an artistic endeavor?
EK: Life. Death. The afterlife. Love in the apocalypse (which was a strong contender in the naming of the album). I think our style of music, this alt-folk, toe-tapping style, sort of hides how deep and uncomfortable these lyrics can be. Not unlike, although maybe not as agitating, when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco sings “I dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt alright to me” in “Via Chicago”, a beautiful, acoustic-driven mid-tempo song that pulls you in by the flowing melody, and then you find yourself singing along with your kids present in the car and realize how disturbing the lyrics truly are. I tend to sprinkle a little slightly faded and reserved hope in to my lyrics. Our song “Part-Time Valentine” is about allowing yourself to feel happy and to be loved when the world is crumbling around you, even if it will be short-lived. The album’s opener “Asphodel Meadows” is about the afterlife and how maybe in the end we all just need someone to come home to; “some day I’ll pack my bones and drag ‘em on home to you.”
MI: And what drives you as a person?
EK: Life is really, really short, and for most of us, very insignificant in the long scheme of things. Yet our own minds and hearts and actions create a significance and an effect on other souls we encounter. I believe in God and heaven and a Savior who came to save me, and I struggle in finding balance between family and work and God and this burning flame in my chest that tells me I need to create and perform music or I will explode. All of that, against a backdrop of knowing and trying to accept my insignificance in this world, makes me a lousy speaker for any cause or a leader to the masses. I prefer laughing and making people laugh over perching on a soapbox. And this is why I love music so much, I can write things that I’d never say aloud, without confrontation or immediate judgement, because the band and I are going make your toes tap and your hands clap and drench these words with four part harmonies, and thump your hearts with our upright bass lines, and calm your nerves with sweeping harmonica riffs.
The Mascot Theory will be performing a free all-ages show at Tuvalu Coffeehouse in Verona, Wisconsin at 7pm on March 30th, where you can hear their alt-country and folk blend live!
• Download Under The Borrowed Moon on Amazon.com