In their own words, Milwaukee rock foursome The Living Statues (Tommy Shears, Chris Morales, Alex Thornburg, and Zak Rickun) sound like they “inhaled the sounds of ’64 off an LP of A Hard Day’s Night and coughed up Jack White’s blood onto Cream City brick.” I recently caught up with the band while in the studio recording their new single “Valicity.”
1.When did you know you first know you wanted to be a musician?
Tommy: As a kid, my dad would show me old videos of The Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan show and Shea Stadium. I saw these guys wearing suits, playing music… they had thousands and thousands of fans just screaming. And I said “I want that job. How do I sign up for that?’My dad bought me a guitar, I started taking classical lessons, and well…here we are.
Chris: I don’t know if there’s an exact moment when I said “Yes, I want to be a musician for the rest of my life.” I just grew up listening to the pop megaliths — Prince, Michael, Lenny Kravitz. These people seemed like gods. The control, the presence, the sheer magic they created on stage. It was mesmerizing, stunning, shocking in all the right ways. And when you grow up listening/watching those guys, I think it got embedded in my musical DNA. Very much in the same way Tom watched videos of The Beatles. And now it seems almost innate. When we are on stage, it feels so good, so natural. I’m behind that [drum] kit and I have complete control.
Alex: I first knew I wanted to be a musician after watching some old footage of The Who as a kid. They were playing shitty plastic guitars while Roger Daltrey screamed James Brown covers into a chrome ribbon mic behind a pair of dark sunglasses. They weren’t polished but they had an edge.
Zak: I don’t remember a distinct moment. I was a weird kid at a small school and I think I wanted girls to like me. Yeah, that must have been it
2.How do The Living Statues stand out in the current music scene?
Tommy: The landscape is pretty dominated by folk bands and electronic pop music out by us, and I think in general throughout the world. Both fine genres and both fun to see live in their appropriate settings, but for us, we want to bring that gritty, dirty rock vibe that you just don’t see too much anymore in the mainstream. We have a polished look to contrast the sound and really go all in for the live show. There’s a conscious effort to put heart and soul into the music and lyrics so it shines out in the live set. I want people to feel familiar with me by the end of a show. To feel like they’ve been communicated with on common ground, even if they didn’t know of the overlap.
Chris: I mean, just think about what Billy Joe Armstrong said after the VMAs over Twitter…”just watched VMAs. Seriously @MTV not a single young rock n roll band?”He was right…you really don’t see/hear about a lot of young, rock-n-roll bands in this musical era of the 2010’s.The Living Statues are modern, young, rock-n-roll. We are doing something sonically & performance wise, that not a lot of groups are presenting as.
3.The Living Statues started off as a duo (Shears and Morales) and now currently has four members. Was it always the plan to slowly expand the band?
Chris: When you start a band, I don’t know if there’s really a “plan.” You just see what works & what doesn’t work as you write more and play more. Tommy and I did the duo thing for awhile, and it was fantastic, but we were always writing songs with the vision that it would be fuller than just two guys playing guitar and drums. When we brought Thorn on, the chemistry was absolutely there. And when we brought on Zak, it evolved even more.
4.You have released 3 EP’s and 3 additional new singles since 2011. How has your music evolved since your first EP Bad News?
Tommy: Oh mannnnn. Bad News was the first batch of songs I ever wrote with Chris. It was all new to me- writing, recording, producing and releasing. It was an amazing time. Technically we call Bad News and Strike of a Match our demos because they were self recorded, but they were very very fun to make. The songwriting has gotten better with time, absolutely, as well as our focus on the genre. Back in those days we were just writing songs that sounded cool, now we are exploring a “sound” and that can be an interesting, rewarding challenge.We’ve also added two new members since those early days, and Alex and Zak bring quite a lot to the table in terms of writing and improving songs.
Chris: I mean, you can tell the early demos (Pre-EP’s) were very young, in terms of recording quality, song composition, etc. The more we write, the more we record, the better we get. Every song we put out is better than the last in some capacity. Always pushing forward. From retro rock, to more modern pop-rock. And you can definitely hear that in this new song we’re recording, “Valicity”. You can even hear it in “Blackout”, and in “All My Girls.”It’s more polished. It’s got this sheen that wasn’t present in the Knockin’ EP. And that’s totally cool. It’s a good thing. It’s good that the sound evolves. If you don’t evolve, you don’t survive. Adding Zak and Alex absolutely aids that direction. Working with different people in the studio also informs new dimensions in our music.
5.Tommy, you injured yourself and were not able to play guitar the night you first opened for Mayer Hawthorne in 2012. Describe that night and were you surprised you acquired management (A-Side Worldwide) partly off of that performance in spite of your injury?
Tommy: That was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a show, hand(s) down. See what I did there?First of all- it almost didn’t happen. One of my best friends, John Sprangers aka Barrow aka Johnny Automatic is the best musician I’ve ever known, and he truly saved the day. He learned all the songs in a week and drove two hours up from Chicago for two practices (only!) before we played our biggest show ever, at that point.The show went off without a hitch. Absolute career highlight for me. I was able to do the “frontman” thing for the first time without a guitar. As for surprised… Yes- only because it was totally out of nowhere and an unexpected thing for a no-name local band to get an huge opening slot like that, much less the attention of someone in LA! But… if it was going to happen at any show, it makes sense that it was that one
6.Zak, you were the last member to join the band. How did that come about and what was it like walking into an already established band?
Zak: Yeah, Chris and I met when I was a senior in high school. We were both interns at a radio station and we hit it off pretty well- Kept in touch over a few years. Last September he told me they were interested in adding another guitar player. I’d just moved back to Milwaukee, so I went to see the guys play at the yellowphone music conference. I met Tom and Alex. Alex’s first words to me were “hey dick, wanna join a band?” I’m just lucky they did all the early leg work for me.
7.The music you listen to can tell a lot about a person. What is one of the first and last records [or vinyls] you’ve bought?
Tommy: First CD – U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind but my first actual record I bought was a scuffed up Rubber Soul from a flea market about 10 years ago.Last record I bought was a box set of the Replacements’ Twin\Tone albums. I have all the original first pressings framed in my room but these remasters sound amazing and I’m way less nervous to have them out and spinning!
Chris: Ooo, good question! First record I bought myself was Off the Wall by Michael Jackson. I got it at Half Price Books for 99 cents — can you believe that? 99 Cents! I thought: “Why would anyone get rid of this? It’s a classic!” Mind you, this was before he passed away. Vinyl record at that. Most recent *album* I bought is The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness. I haven’t picked up a vinyl copy yet, but as soon as I see it (if it exists), it’s mine. It’s absolutely gonna be a classic. Totally has an MJ influence, but with modern pop textures & lyricism. I think I listen to the most “pop” music of the other members. You can thank my mom for that. She used to work at a record store in Milwaukee when I was a kid.
Alex: First record: The White Stripes De Stijl. Most recent: Paul Westerberg Stereo
Zak: First one I bought was Celebrity by ‘Nsync. No, I’m not ashamed. They were also my first concert experience. Eden’s crush opened. They played a 10 minute set. It was legendary. My most recent buy was The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady by Charles Mingus
8.You have opened for many high profile acts such as Walk The Moon, Best Coast, and The Vaccines. What acts would you take with you on your own dream headlining tour?
Tommy: Hmmm. I’d love to tour/work/write with Brian Fallon (singer from the Gaslight Anthem) in some capacity. Maybe tour with his solo show or one of his side projects?I’ve also played a number of shows with my buddy Ezra Furman who is goddamn amazing. That idea wouldn’t be too out there in the future…
Chris: If we were to headline, yeah? Man oh man. Every other group I think of is 1 million times larger than we are. Give me a sec…
Interviewer: Dream big!
Chris: The Kooks would be awesome to tour with. I’d also do just about anything musical with Justin Timberlake. My list goes on and on
Zak: I’d love to go on tour with King Krule
Alex: King tuff
9.What’s the most stereotypical “Rock n’ Roll” thing you’ve ever done as a band?
Tommy: I don’t know- I think putting a TLS sticker on the outside of a Southwest plane is pretty badass. (It survived the flight).
Chris: When we destroyed that hotel room in New York…probably shouldn’t say the name. That’s definitely on the list. [Sept. 1] when we were playing a show…we got called back for an encore. So we go back out there…and we tried to jump into a version of an old song “No Love,” but the sound guys cut the sound exactly at 9PM when we started. But we played the song anyways and Tommy was just wailing into the crowd, no mic and the crowd sang back… “Aint no love by the city!” That was pretty “stereotypical rock n roll” But man, it was magical. It could have went horribly wrong, but it just turned out to be amazing.
Alex: I did a band interview horribly drunk… I was the only one drunk in the band. You can find it online somewhere
Zak: Umm… I often times break guitar strings during shows
10.What can fans expect next from The Living Statues?
Chris: Well, we are in the studio as we speak! Finishing up a brand new single called “Valicity.” And we’ll have another single after that. I won’t name drop it quite yet. We’re also working on another music video. Just more new music. More content. More Statues.
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Photo Credit: Sarah Hess