Maplewood Feels Good
The Brooklyn based quartet, Maplewood is a breath of sage infused fresh air. Their 2005 debut album conjures up images of driving west in a land yacht convertible under a desert sky — an ice cold Mexican beer between your legs, L.A. bound. Produced by Bryce Goggin (Phish, Oysterhead, Pavement), it’s a hidden gem that would make Gram Parsons and like-minded 70’s alt-country musicians proud. You’ll hear a little Buffalo Springfield here and a little America there, some Crosby inspired “Cowboy Movie” with a dash of mid-80’s R.E.M. and a pinch of Ween’s country/western phase, yet they are uniquely their own band. Music with twang, yet also with bite. Not surprisingly, America has taken to playing the Maplewood penned song, “Indian Summer” in concert.
I recently sat down with Craig Schoen, guitarist/songwriter to discuss the debut album, as well as the new album, Yeti Boombox, which will be released on August 4th.
MSD: Where did the name Maplewood originate?
CS: If I remember correctly, it comes from a couple of things. Mark’s wife is from Maplewood NJ, but I think there was something else involved other than New Jersey, I hope (there is).
MSD: Tell me a little about the guys in the band and the roles they play within.
CS: Well Mark Rozzo, Ira Elliot and I have been playing together in various line-ups under various names for years in NYC. Mark and I’s first band, 44, had a drummer named Lee Wall, who joined Luna. I think Bryce Goggin hooked us up with Ira who was and is with Nada Surf. Ira has played with me in various projects, along with Mark’s band Champale for a few years. Just a fabulous guy and drummer so it’s great when he has the time. As far as Steve Koester goes, he’s from the midwest, in the band Two Dark Birds, and his own band Koester which was on David Lowery’s label Pitch-a-Tent with Champale. Mark kind of floated the idea of Maplewood to Steve and we just started recording with the idea to do the softest rock since Bread and it sort of took
on a life of its own. Before we knew it, we had a whole record where Ira was playing drums, Mark 12-string, Steve various guitars and myself playing bass and guitar, and we were recording and mixing the whole thing. At this point, we are basically a team of three songwriters who just simply love playing and hanging with one another. We each bring in a few tunes, arrange them together and record. Not much rehearsal, just conceptual writing so to speak for Maplewood. All of us do vastly different things, so it’s pretty easy to write for Maplewood, especially now after a few years. Bottom line is when you are fortunate to be around players such as these, it makes things pretty easy.
MSD: Assuming that you’d categorize Maplewood as alt-country, who are your influences within the genre? I know Hendrix dubbed CSN as “twinkling desert sky music”, would you say that that applies to Maplewood?
CS: Yeah, if you include CSN, America and the Burrito Brothers as alt-country i guess that’s the vibe we wanted. We always strive for good writing, lots of harmonies, and kind of taking you back to AM radio. Kind of what you might remember hearing in your parents’ car on the radio. Sweet harmonies, driving in Cali, when music was guilty fun. Dessert sky sounds right, after all we have a bunch of tunes that conjure up Joshua Tree Nat. Park and the canyons outside of LA.
MSD: I know that you are proficient in different genres. What challenges do you face, going from playing rock to “canyon rock?”
CS: I would say the most difficult and enjoyable thing is that you can not fake “canyon rock,” so to speak. Not if you want to pull it off live. You have to be able to sing and harmonize, all the time, while not filling in too much space around it so as not to overwhelm the vocals. There is a fine line between between cheese and sweetness in our genre; it makes it fun.
MSD: I’ve immensely enjoyed Maplewood’s debut album. What are your thoughts on it?
CS: I hold it very close to my heart simply because of how it evolved. Everything, for the most part was done in my studio at all hours of the night kind of flying blindly towards this goal of as sweet and soft as we can get. I think we all got what we wanted from it, probably a hell of a lot more than we expected, but safe to say we are still very into it and really focused us into what we were about. I spent so much time on the first record kind of grasping engineering and mixing as a whole, and trying to create and make it sound like i remembered records from the 70’s sounding like. I remember we would take records and compare sounds when we were mixing. Certain America tunes, Bread tunes simply a/b ing them in comparison to our mixes. I really wanted to make it sound like a lush record by just the quality of the players and arrangements, and without all of the studio BS.
MSD: To me, it seems to have a fluidity and cohesiveness. Intentional? What was it like working with Bryce?
CS: We really lucked out with the fluidity because the three of us come from very different writing perspectives. I always say to Mark and Steve that we are kind of the perfect pairing of songwriters, besides the fact that we like each other very much. Mark is the hook machine, Steve is the lyrical machine, and I’m the sound machine. I think if you pay attention to each of the songs and listen closely, you can tell who wrote what and where it’s coming from, however the mesh of the three works very well.
As far as Bryce goes, I moved to New York, worked at a studio and hoped to meet Bryce, mostly because of Crooked Rain, and was fortunate enough to meet him while he was doing Spacehog’s first record. Mark, Bryce and I became friends and Bryce helped us with demos, and slowly but surely became the superstar that he is, so when we can use him we always will. He’s one of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with period. Super focused, super intense, and best to let him do his thing.
MSD: It seems to be an honest album, meaning there isn’t much studio trickery and mostly traditional instrumentation.
CS: Yeah mostly traditional instruments no samples or loops or anything. The new record has some mellotron, chamberlain stuff and more pedal steel, some piano, but that’s about it.
MSD: Who plays pedal steel on the album?
CS: Allan Weatherhead plays the pedal steel on the record. One of our Richmond buddies who plays with Sparklehorse and is quite the engineer himself. Also, Don Piper does some lap steel as well and some harmonies on the new record. Don is another uber-talent.
MSD: The new album comes out next week. What challenges did you face in the production? How does it differ from the first?
CS: Mostly that we don’t all live in NYC anymore, but other than that nothing. the new record has been a pretty painless, albeit fast, process. We know what we want and usually know how to get it. I think just a slight growth in knowing who we are, and I hope a progression towards a completely serendipitous identity. I’ve really begun to appreciate the new record for very different reasons since it’s completion. I feel very lucky to have such great people and player around. It made my job of mixing relatively easy. Yet the new record is a little less thick with everything, it has a sparseness that I really love.
MSD: Any guest musicians on the Yeti Boombox?
CS: Gerry from America, Allan from Sparklehorse and Don Piper.
MSD: What’s on the horizon for Maplewood?
CS: Touring Europe in the fall hopefully spreading the word of soft-rock everywhere!
We will be following up with more info on Maplewood in the upcoming weeks.