Prizm News / January 1, 2018 / By Gregg Shapiro
Out Ashtabula native Mike Maimone and His Band, Mutts, Take a Bite at the Right.
By Gregg Shapiro
Openly gay singer/songwriter and Ashtabula native Mike Maimone sounds like the long-lost son of Tom Waits.
There might be no higher compliment than that for the lead singer of the band Mutts. Like Waits, Maimone is a pianist who began playing in his youth. Following a high school jock period and thoughts of playing football at Notre Dame—”I wasn’t big enough or fast enough”—he earned his degree in accounting there and returned to music.
With his marvelous band Mutts—Chicago-based but Ohio-bound for January shows in Columbus and Youngstown—and also as a solo performer and a guest musician in other bands, Maimone has honed his skills and become a spellbinding artist.
“This will be the first record where I open up and sing ‘he-he’ songs. Especially in rock and roll, it’s all ‘he-she,’ and I want it to be more prevalent…that a powerful relationship song can have same-sex protagonists.”
On the Mutts’ new EP, “Stick Together,” Maimone and bandmates Bob Buckstaff and Chris Pagnani continue to expand their musical palette while giving listeners a lot to think about in songs such as “Neighbor” and “Tin Foil Hat.”
The first time I interviewed you, we talked about your dogs, neither of which are mutts. How are they doing?
Ah, yes, it has been a while [laughs]! Those dogs belonged to my ex. I hear the older one died, and the other one is probably morbidly obese by now since I was the only one who walked him. I am now engaged to a wonderful man, also named Mike, and we have a 140-pound American Bulldog who insists on sleeping under the covers [laughs].
“Neighbor,” from the new EP, has taken on increased meaning in light of the carnage in Charlottesville. Was the song inspired by the troubling Trump era, or does it predate that time?
It unfortunately has taken on a new life. I started that song probably in 2015. … It occurred to me then that this division wasn’t just political. These people believe they have God on their side. That’s such a dangerous mentality.
I looked at my neighbors at the time: Republicans, crosses on their walls. They were polite to my partner and me, but I wondered if they really believed in us as human beings, or if their belief in their religion or their politics was more important.
On the whole, the songs on the aptly named “Stick Together” sound as if they are a reaction to Trump, especially “Tin Foil Hat,” “I’ll Be Around” and “Let’s Go.” Am I on the right track?
Absolutely. All of it was written during the (2016 presidential) primaries. It was supposed to come out in early 2017 and remind us of how bad it was getting and try to keep the momentum rolling.
Unfortunately, now it’s more of a plea to fix this situation.
“Tin Foil Hat” was supposed to be a complete joke, once we were safely on the other side of the election. But now it’s unfortunately become a dagger aimed at the masses of ignorant people thinking Trump was going to bring back coal jobs, or whichever empty promise they latched onto.
I’ve felt that desperation of poverty. I understand it can cloud your mind and make you do things you wouldn’t do in better circumstances. But this one is unforgivable because it’s harming a lot of innocent people.
People usually say hindsight is 20/20, but everyone knew this guy was backed by white supremacists, and so, predictably, all this hatred has erupted.
Would you say that you always had an activist streak, or is this a new voice that has found its way out because of the current social climate?
It’s always been there. The first track of the first Mutts EP in 2009 is called “Stolen Bricks.” It’s a response to the financial meltdown from the real estate collapse and ends with me screaming, “Hang ‘em now!” at all the greedy bankers and politicians that let it happen.
I love the “Make America gay again” line in “Tin Foil Hat.” As the gay frontman of Mutts, can you please say something about your bandmates’ and Mutts fans’ reaction to a line such as this?
Full disclosure, I snagged that line from a hat I saw at Pride in 2016 [laughs]. I knew it had to go into a song somewhere. My bandmates love it, and people think it’s hilarious.
When Trump won, I re-wrote the second verse to be more scathing, and that line became “Make America hate again.” Chris (Pagnani, then the drummer) pointed out that the song had lost its fun. So I kept it as it was, and I’m glad he objected.
In addition to recording and touring with Mutts, you also perform solo and with other bands such as Los Colognes. How do you balance those aspects of your creative career?
It always helps your own art to contribute to other artists’ ideas. When Bob (Buckstaff, Mutts’ bassist/guitarist) or I sit in with another band, we come back to the practice room with more tools in the kit. …
I’m fortunate to have outlets for the various types of music I like to write. Having friends who are musicians that are versatile enough to play everything from heavy rock music to Zydeco is a wonderful blessing. I’m currently working with a brass section on some New Orleans-influenced rock and roll and should have a single ready this winter.
Also, this will be the first record where I open up and sing “he-he” songs. Especially in rock and roll, it’s all “he-she,” and I want it to be more prevalent…that a powerful relationship song can have same-sex protagonists.
I made a fun one about telling off guys who say they love you to your face, and then you find out they’re all over the country sleeping with other men. And I wrote a ballad for my fiancé, who has been in nursing school and working really hard for the past two years to create a better life for the both of us. And our American Bulldog.