Mean Creek

Who Are Mean Creek?

Annie Zaleski

By Annie Zaleski

on 03.17.14 in Features

File under: Life-affirming ragamuffin rock ‘n’ roll
For fans of: The So So Glos, the Forecast, Buffalo Tom, Pixies, the Replacements
From: Boston, Massachusetts
Personae: Chris Keene (vocals, guitar), Aurore Ounjian (guitar, vocals), Kevin Macdonald (bass) and Mikey Holland (drums, percussion)

Mean Creek is a Massachusetts band through and through: High school pals Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian grew up in the Boston suburb of Watertown, drummer Mikey Holland is from Lawrence and bassist Kevin Macdonald is a Hanover native. Keene and Ounjian initially started playing out around Boston as a duo (called, natch, Chris & Aurore) before forming Mean Creek in 2006; a permanent rhythm section consisting of pals from the local music scene followed two years later.

As a quartet, Mean Creek uphold their home state’s long tradition of churning out dynamic rock anthems swaddled in fuzz. However, their music also boasts undercurrents of mopey British rock and rootsy Americana, a combination that’s made fans of Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz and fellow Bostonians Buffalo Tom. (Mean Creek has toured with both acts in recent years, as well as with bands such as Bettie Serveert, the Whigs and Dead Confederate.)

On the forthcoming Local Losers, the quiet desperation of Mean Creek’s previous three albums boils over in the form of punk-infused aggression. Written over the course of several months — but recorded in a week with long-time producer Chris McLaughlin at 1867 Recording Studio — Local Losers is a vigorous display of throttling riffs, crisp song-craft and frustrated sloganeering (e.g., “I can’t keep you satisfied!”). Ultimately, though, the record is life affirming — even gleeful — as co-vocalists Keene and Ounjian shrug off discouragement with cathartic hollers and bittersweet harmonies.

Annie Zaleski spoke with the pair on a recent Sunday night, just before the duo headed out for some margaritas.

On bonding over sneakers and their non-athleticism:

Chris Keene: [In high school, I met Aurore] just randomly one day in the library.

Aurore Ounjian: We were the different group in high school, creative types.

Keene: We were like Christopher Walken’s son in Wedding Crashers.

Ounjian: Oh my God, really? You’re comparing us [to him]? Um, OK, I guess so! No, actually, I used to go to Chris’s old punk band’s shows at like VFW [halls] and stuff. That’s kind of how we became friends, through music and by not being a jock in high school.

On being championed by Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz:

Keene: He is, hands-down, the most genuine person I’ve ever met. He saw us at a show in New York, like, two years ago or something, and we became friends after that and started hanging out with him whenever we went to New York. Then eventually, he asked us to go on tour with Counting Crows, which we did twice. We’ve just been friends ever since.

Ounjian: That was just incredible for all of us, because August and Everything After is in all of our houses. It’s one of the first records we ever bought.

On finding kinship with Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.:

Keene: I read the 33 1/3 book about it, and it just reaffirmed why I thought it was his best record. There’s a lot going on there in the lyrics, even though they’re giant pop hits. Maybe it’s the place I’m at in my life. Unlike Born to Run — [where] he’s a kid running away from all of his problems, getting in his car and driving and stuff—by the time Born in the U.S.A. happens, he’s older and he has to live. This is who he is and he has to live with that. It’s like that line, “I’ve got nowhere to run/ Nowhere to go” [sic] in “Born In The U.S.A.” He’s not running anymore or driving down the highway — he just has to be a “cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A.,” you know? [Laughs.]

On their new, post-Local Losers music:

Keene: We’re working on like four or five songs, and I feel like they’re some of the best songs we’ve ever written. They’re coming much more easily and naturally, and it just feels really good writing them, like we’re stumbling onto great things without even trying. Whereas Local Losers, even writing the record was frustrating. We were going through a lot of changes and setbacks.

Ounjian: Yeah, the new batch of songs feels like almost a relief from the frustration. I think 2013 was a really miserable year for all of us personally, whether it’s personal, family [or] health issues, to [experiencing] love and loss. But with frustration comes really exciting songs, so we’re really excited about Local Losers. I feel like some of the best songs come from frustration.

On their Boston band inspirations:

Keene: Dinosaur Jr., definitely. There’s a lot of good bands in Massachusetts now — Potty Mouth, Speedy Ortiz, Earthquake Party!, California X and Krill. [Also] in the past, [bands] like Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield and people like that.

Ounjian: Especially in this past year, any show I go to, I’ve been super excited about the bands coming out of Massachusetts. It’s like Massachusetts is like cool again or something. A band that we’ve actually done touring with and have become really good friends [with] are Buffalo Tom. They’re the most amazing musicians and human beings we’ve ever met. They’re so humble, and they were in one of our favorite shows, My So-Called Life, which is insane.

On their favorite My So-Called Life episodes:

Keene: If I was telling someone to watch one as an introduction to the show, I’d probably tell them to watch the pilot. But I guess my favorites are either “The Zit,” which is a great one, and also “The Substitute.” But I don’t even know how to choose.

Ounjian: “The Zit” is, like…if you can’t relate to that, you have no soul!

On prepping for the “Cool Town” video, an homage to Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”:

Keene: That was all the director. We literally were shitfaced — I was throwing up at six in the morning. We were supposed to be at the video shoot at eight in the morning, and there was this huge goodbye party for all of our friends who were moving out of town [the night before]. We stayed up all night. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to be up in, like, 10 minutes to go to this video and I haven’t even gone to sleep yet.” So I was like, “I guess I’ll just rest my eyes.” I woke up like five hours later and the director had called us: “Where are you guys?” All of us were…

Ounjian: No, excuse me — I was ready! [Laughs.]

On camaraderie:

Ounjian: I feel like we’ve really lucked out, because we’re all best friends, and it’s so much easier when you care about one another. And even if you all don’t love the same music, you make it work. I feel like I won the lottery by finding these humans to play music with.

Keene: I was just talking to my friend last night about being in bands with people, and [when you have] someone bringing a song to the band and being like, “Oh God, this guy has a song? What is this going to be like?” I was just telling her how that is never an issue in our band, and I’m so grateful for that. Because I’ve been in bands in the past where it’s been conflicting personalities. But we get along, and we work together really well. I think that’s why we’ve been a band for a while and been able to stick together.