Contrary to those AT&T preschool focus groups, more is not always better. Middle Class Rut's Zack Lopez and Sean Stockham discovered this when they blew their duo into a five-piece prior to last year's second album, Pick Up Your Head.
"We thought in a climate where it was super hard to make any money, we'd make it even harder," jokes singer/guitarist Lopez. "Actually I don't think we were thinking. We're fortunate that we have a label [Bright Antenna] that has endless respect for what we want to do and they're like, 'All right, do whatever you guys want to try. We'll fully support you.'"
Lopez and Stockham founded Middle Class Rut in 2006 and released several EPs during their first few years before scoring a hit with the dispirited rocker "New Low" off their 2010 debut, No Name No Color. The metal-flavored cast of that album earned tours with Them Crooked Vultures, Alice in Chains and Farrell's own Jane's Addiction, but their sound's not necessarily that narrow.
Sure there's metal crunch, but there are also hints of punk-garage throttle on Rut's more eclectic follow-up, Pick Up Your Head. "Leech" moves like Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" passing through a garbage disposal; "Dead Eye" channels dreamy, textured Brit-rock such as Doves; and the epic closing track "Nothin'" suggests Queens of the Stone Age expropriating Lennon's "A Day in the Life."
The Sacramento-based band's sound recalls that of Clutch, only with more melody and less churn. Lopez's vocals are the spitting image of Perry Farrell's, with that same primal, tribalistic croon/howl. Drummer Stockham's frequent backup vocals add to the musical punch.
Initially, the duo drew notice for the volume and intensity of its sound, which was oddly diminished in a more conventional rock quintet.
"If I fucked up a guitar part, all of a sudden it wasn't that big of a deal because there are other guys backing me," says Lopez. "The band afforded us a chance to relax a little bit more on stage, but that's not necessarily a good thing. We thrive on intensity and just on the chaotic idea that something could go wrong at any point. It's a don't-know-what-you've-got-until-it's-gone thing."
This is actually Lopez and Stockham's second big go-round. Previously they'd been in the band Leisure, which got signed to a major label young, then imploded in the studio while recording its debut album. Both swore off music for several years after that, but the abortive experience, they say now, was instructive.
"Sure you worked hard when you were a teenager, but how hard?" Lopez says. "It was all fun; it wasn't real work. So I don't think we would be the band we are now without having that kind of insight that we got the first time around."
For one thing, Lopez says he's grown increasingly comfortable in the knowledge that you can't please everyone.
"I remember we would get told all the time during our first few tours, 'You guys should get this or get that,'" he says. "Then you go out and tour for a year as a band and you listen to people going, 'I really liked you as a two-piece.' That's just confirmation that all you can do is what makes you happy, because you'll always have people that want the other thing, including ourselves."