We caught up with Signals Midwest after their Birmingham show, supported by Guerrilla Monsoon and Isaac. The band, who are embarking on their first European tour, weave progressive influences into their melodic punk rock to create a distinctive sound. We spoke about their experiences working with Tiny Engines, their current tour and their hometown scene in Cleveland, Ohio.
How did you guys start out?
Max Stern (vocals/guitar): How did we start out?
Steve Gibson (drums/vocals): We met with an upstroke [laughter]. Nah, actually, someone I was dating met Loren and Loren said that he and Max were looking to start a band.
Loren Shumaker-Chupp (bass/vocals): Yeah, she said that he had drummed for another band for a little bit and me and Max needed a drummer, so Steve joined.
SG: Then a while later we met Jeff who was playing in a different band.
Jeff Russell (guitar): Yeah, another band called Echoes of Harper’s Ferry in Cleveland and that band dissolved and then for about a year I sat around doing nothing. Then Max asked me to join.
MS: Actually, the story of how Jeff joined the band is kind’ve special just because me and my friend took a trip across the country. It was the first big trip I’ve done like that and we stopped in Kansas where Jeff’s from and was home visiting his family, so we just stayed up really late drinking whiskey and watching Star Wars just like “I love you man, you should join the band” [laughter] and it got really emotional. Then we got back and two weeks later we had our first practice together. So yeah, it was whiskey and Star Wars that brought us together. But we still do that, we did it last night [laughter]. And then we met Toby on one of our first big tours out into the west coast, and he booked one of our shows for us and we just became really fast friends.
Toby Reif (guitar/vocals): We had been talking online for years because I was a big fan of his old band and I would just like google every ska band in the country because I was like “ah I just can’t get enough ska” [laughter] then I grew up a little bit [laughter].
MS: I didn’t [laughter].
TR: So yeah when they came round Max just got in touch with me, and that was that.
So how would you describe your sound?
MS: Tough question.
JR: I’m very influenced by stuff like Braid. Steve is very influenced by stuff like The Lawrence Arms. Loren listens to stuff like Fucked Up. Max listens to like gospel music.
MS: I listen to stuff like The Weakerthans and all Jeff Rosenstock projects are cornerstones for me. Toby is like the math-rock whizz.
TR: I listened to the Godspeed You! Black Emperor discography in the van this week [laughter].
MS: Yeah, so you throw all that into a blender and you get something close to our sound.
How’s your experience working with Tiny Engines?
MS: It’s so easy. We don’t have anything like a contract. Everything is just done with like a handshake. Chuck and Will also run a company called Beartrap PR so we get press work for free which is awesome and we can record whenever we want. We own the masters to our songs, they just put it out and send us records and support our band in any way they can. Probably the most stress-free record deal ever.
LSC: Every other band on that label is awesome too so you can just namedrop and be like “this is who we’re working with.”
MS: Yeah. The Hotelier, Tigers Jaw, Restorations, Dikembe. And yeah it’s cool because that label has been like a launching pad for a lot of other bands too. And I talked to Will about it and he said he loved it when bands moved up a level. They’re trying to grow their bands. It’s the only label which I think is like universally loved, no one has anything bad to say about it at all.
Are you excited about the Cheap Girls tour coming up?
MS: Yeah, we’re stoked about that. This is probably the most concentrated string of shows we’ve ever done. We’re trying to stay sane [laughter]. After that we have like a week off then we go to Fest and then we’re gonna take a break.
TR: And take a shower.
MS: But yeah we’re super excited for that tour. I think it took me a while to come around to Cheap Girls. I think I discovered them when I was listening to Latterman almost exclusively. I appreciate the songwriting and Ian’s voice and the way they construct songs and operate as a band now.
JR: Was it Rise who like signed them and made that release saying “don’t worry kids if you don’t like this now because you will when you like real music” [laughter].
How’s this tour been so far?
MS: Amazing, but exhausting. This is definitely the biggest thing I think we’ve ever done. It’s like 25 shows in 24 days. It’s pretty crazy. We’d been talking about going to Europe for years and it always kinda felt like a dream.
JR: It didn’t really feel like reality until we got on the plane.
SG: Not even the first plane because that just landed in Canada [laughter]. We were in a small Germany town which was amazing.
MS: Yeah, the promoter came and met us and was like “hi, I’m your promoter, I have food for you, I have showers for you, I have coffee for you. We’ll go back to mine then we’ll drink beers and go to town.” It was so amazing. It’s all been so much fun.
Do you think there’s been much difference in crowds between over in the US and in Europe?
MS: We probably play to the same amount of people. I dunno. There was a human pyramid in Manchester which was sweet. That’s never happened before [laughter]. London was a really big one. Was pretty awesome, like 150 people or something. A lot of people have travelled for shows too. We were in Denmark and kids came from like Italy and Sweden to be at that show. Someone flew from Amsterdam and there’s a couple tonight who we met in Texas and now they’re here and they were in Manchester. It’s just crazy to see the reach of something we never thought would leave a basement.
What’s your local scene like back home?
JR: Awesome. I luckily live in a house which can do shows in our basement. And all my roommates play in bands. There’s a cool scene. Like The Sidekicks are from Cleveland, Cherry Cola Champions, Annabel, Worship This! The list goes on. Every time we have friends from Philly or New York or even like California come to Cleveland we try to show them like a great time. There’s always a great show like every week.
MS: People are always like really really surprised. It’s amazing. So many good bands. It’s so cheap to live there. You can get to New York in a weekend, you can get to Chicago in a weekend. It’s really great.
What else have you got coming up this year then? Cheap Girls and Fest, anything else?
MS: Yeah that tour when we get back. Some naps. Then fest. Then hopefully chill for a couple months and write songs. This year has been really insane. We were talking last night about going to a cabin in the woods for a couple days and just hiding out and making an album.
JR: The next Bon Iver record [laughter].
Photo Credit: Lewis Bloor