In 2003, Mest
frontman Tony Lovato fulfilled his childhood dream -- and it almost killed him. "As a kid I always said that if I ever played the whole Warped Tour, I could die the next day a happy man," Lovato says, who performed on the punk rock summer tour's stage a few days after having back surgery. As always, Mest gave one hell of a show. "The next day, which was my birthday, I woke up literally in tears because I couldn't move my back at all."
The dedicated band mustered up the energy and continued through the summer. While delivering one insane set after the next, Lovato numbed himself on a cocktail of meds, trips to the hospital and booze. Over the months, infection set in and Lovato was forced to undergo emergency surgery, later learning that if he had waited just one more week for treatment, he could've been left paralyzed or dead.
"I definitely cheated death," Lovato says now.
So you've got to give the Illinois rock band a little leeway if Mest's fourth CD for Maverick records, Photographs, covers heavier topics than usual. Suicide, innocence lost, and even nightmares are just some of lyrical inspirations among the chord-driven rock and hooky melodies.
Written while contemplating his physical situation, the blazingly insightful "Take me Away (Cried Out to Heaven)," questions how faithless people find faith when faced with serious trouble in their life. "Last Kiss," a song about a dual suicide gone wrong, has taken on more weight after some of Lovato's family and friends took their own lives. And even though the album's title track is one of the most upbeat and bright on the record, it carries a powerful sentiment that's about cherishing simpler times.
The album's lead single, "Kiss Me, Kill Me," penned and sung by guitarist/vocalist Jeremiah Rangel, follows a tumultuous relationship. Another of Photographs' songs written and sung by Rangel is the eerily forceful "Graveyard," which is literally based on one of his dreams and draws the picture of an apocalypse populated by the walking dead.
Looking at the album as a whole, Lovato now sees what it means to him: "Wow, I didn't realize how serious this record is. You know, it was a time for us when so much happened: break-ups, suicides, touring the world, the thing with my back, all of this stuff. Making this record was like a therapy session."
Since forming in a working class suburb of Chicago, the guys in Mest were in it for the long haul. The group of friends and family members (Tony and Matt are cousins), have used their mutual love and appreciation of music to form a tight unit. After many club dates and a line-up change the current roster was set: Tony and Jeremiah sang and played guitar, Tony's cousin Matt took care of the bass and Nick Gigler handled the drums.
In 1999 the guys hounded producer John Feldmann into giving them a listen. Feldmann dug them and got them a deal with Maverick. That relationship has also stood the test of time as Feldmann has produced all of Mest's releases for Maverick -- 2000's Wasting Time, 2001's Destination Unknown, 2003's self-titled disc, and now 2005's Photographs--- helping the band take stylistic leaps with each effort. Over the years, the guys have kept it continually eclectic, including reggae-tinged jams, fiery hard rock, solid pop and gorgeous ballads with equal amounts of skill and aplomb.
"When we get to John's place it's almost like a five piece band. So when we went into the studio this time we just said, 'Let's try to do something that we've never done,'" says Gigler.
With Photographs, Feldmann has kept Mest's sound in intact, while allowing the band to broaden its musical base like never before. One of the main reasons is more collaboration in the studio. Lovato and Rangel have always presented separate songs to the group, but this time songs were tweaked, augmented and completely changed with everyone's equal input.
"I was always asking, 'Is it too much of a jump?'" adds Lovato. "And John Feldmann was like, 'If we're not questioning everything we do on this record, then we're doing something wrong.' That's the attitude we took: let's do everything that we haven't done. Let's do what we do, but let's make sure there's something different about every song."
Thus "Cry Out to Heaven" has a real Police
-driven vibe, while some other tunes look toward the Cure
for influence. The band's ability to craft engaging ballads is also spotlighted in the touching "This Time" and "Can't Take This," which hinges on a simple drum and guitar loop and recalls a moody cross between Jimmy Eat World
and Boxcar Racer
. Even the more straight-up poppy songs have cool tweaks: Guitar tempos switch up at every turn, hip-hop drum kits (recorded in a bathroom) add serious beats, and string arrangements and piano touches add thick flourishes throughout the album.
"We're that band that really wears its influences on its sleeve. If you hear a reggae song from us, you're gonna know that we like Bob Marley
. And when you hear one of our fast songs you'll know that it was influenced by NOFX
," says Lovato. "But over the years we've learned to love other types of music. I'm not the same kid I was six years ago when we made our first record for Maverick, so we're gonna grow. But I'm always going to be a rock kid at heart no matter what."
The band's love of letting loose is no more apparent that when on stage. These are the guys who are famous for drinking puke (yes, drinking puke), getting into all sorts of trouble and basically bringing good-time anarchy to every stage they hit. The legendary shows have won over legions of hardcore fans since day one.
"I think the most important part to a band is how they are live," says Lovato, who now sticks to an exercise regiment to keep his back in shape. "If you're not visually entertaining or stimulating I can just go home and listen to the record. I want to see that energy from the music come out on stage. And we definitely give the fans our all when it comes to that."
Even though they're four major-label albums under their belt, Mest refuses to rest on their laurels. Instead they stick to the road, bringing their ever-diversifying music to new fans on by one. This time though, the musical door is even wider, more welcoming.
"We went in as musicians to make a great record," says Lovato. "It didn't matter; we just did whatever was going to make this song sound best. We don't need to associate with any on kind of genre or sound. We are who we are. And I'm more proud of that than anything."