In 1996, Seattle-based rock outfit Muzzle burst onto the scene with the radio-ready single “Free Trampoline.” Two excellent records later, their label, Reprise, dropped them and the band went their separate ways to work on other projects. Now, the driving force behind the group, songwriters/vocalists/guitarists Wesley Nelson and Ryan Maxwell have banded together with new players as the Young Sportsmen, who have recently completed an EP, The Familiar Glow of Colliding Particles, to showcase their tunes and lineup.
Continuing in the tradition of Muzzle and the groups it spawned such as the Dirtybomb and Pris, Familiar Glow is a rollicking, energetic pop-rock fiesta rife with bouncy rhythms, tight harmonies and singalong choruses. I’d mention a standout track if that were possible. Each of the five tunes are separate but equal parts of a whole that does itself an injustice when listened to individually. But that’s always been the case with these guys. They don’t just write great songs, they write great records.
I sat down with Ryan Maxwell recently to get the full skinny on who the Young Sportsmen are, where they came from, and where they’re going.
Scott Wherle: Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. Tell me how the Young Sportsmen came to be.
Ryan Maxwell: Muzzle had re-united with new material and was on tour. Our drummer, Burke, had to split off of the tour to play drums with Vendetta Red, and so he’d procured a fill-in drummer for the last two dates. His name is Jeff. We played a show in Oakland without ever rehearsing together and Jeff was incredible. So when we got back to Seattle, We played with Jeff with the understanding that when Burke of returned, he was the permanent guy. As it turns out Burke went on to play with VR full- time. Since Burke was gone, and since we had written a bunch of new stuff that wasn’t very Muzzle like, we changed the name.
SW: So you’re a three piece this time out?
RM: Well, actually, we had the bass player from Pris (the band Burke fronts) on tour with us, and until recently, our regular bassist.
SW: What happened there? Is there a replacement in the wings?
RM: There is a replacement in place. His name is Richard Davidson. He used to play with the Radio Nationals, who recently broke up. He was also in Rob Benson’s band, Dear John Letters, a Seattle favorite.
SW: You’re working on a record right now. The tunes I’ve heard thus far sound fabulous. When can we expect it to be done and available?
RM: Well, it’s an interesting question. We don’t have immediate plans for a full-length. We’re selling this disc on CD Baby, and at shows, but we’re not prepared to call it a release. The recording quality is not quite up to official release snuff. But we love the songs. We’re going to have a full release, we just don’t have a time-line yet.
SW: Describe the Young Sportsmen to a deaf person.
RM: Was this deaf person always deaf, or was there some horrible accident or something?
SW: Good question. Let’s pretend they were always deaf. So they have no frame of reference.
RM: I guess I’d have to say we sound like excitement. Or maybe . . . a ton of cotton candy delivered by a Panzer division.
SW: Nice. So what happened with the Dirtybomb? Loved that record.
RM: The Dirtybomb was the impetus for this whole batch of material. It was supposed to be a demo. We (Muzzle drummer Burke Thomas, Wesley, and I) hadn’t played together for years after Muzzle split up. But, the Dirtybomb started as a favor from Burke. He basement demoed some songs I’d written and got a female vocalist to sing for it. Although she was really good, it wasn’t what I had in mind, so I called Wesley up shortly after and asked him to sing on it. So there we were, the three original Muzzle guys making recordings again. But, to answer your question, no-one liked the name. It sounded too punk or industrial or something, and since we were Muzzle before, we went back to that. So essentially, Young Sportsmen is the Dirtybomb minus Burke, plus Jeff and whoever’s playing bass with us now. Richard, I think is his name.
SW: What’s next for the Young Sportsmen? Are you looking for a deal to distribute your material, or are you going the DIY route?
RM: What’s next is to play the hell out of these songs, to continue writing (always), and to try and get our music to as many people as will have it. If getting a deal to distribute our material gets our songs into more ears, then yes we’re open to that. But, I think we’ve got a lot more work to do ourselves, which we are excited and more than willing to do.
SW: How about touring? Any plans?
RM: That is never out of the question. For now we’ve got a limited budget, day jobs, etc. That’s not to say we won’t make sacrifices – we’re going to try and play from Vancouver, BC to Boise to S.F. as often as possible until we can manage bigger road stints. We’re at a point again where we’re getting weekend nights in Seattle and so we want to keep that up – you know, watch the crowds get bigger. I think when that happens, we’ll be more confident taking it on the road for more extended lengths of time.
SW: Let’s go back a few years to when Muzzle was first breaking out of Seattle. How did the deal with Reprise come along?
RM: Our manager at the time (Curtis Orthman) got our demo into the hands of then big-time Seattle DJ, Marco Collins. Marco loved the sound; the sweet vocals, catchy melodies, the harmonies, the pop-rock through loud amps. So we did a 45 single with Marco on his label, Stampede. We had a single release party and the place was jammed. Full of people. I think Marco slipped the demo and the 45 to some “important” people, too, because all of the sudden, Curtis was taking phone calls from Sony A&R people, Reprise, Interscope, etc. It was crazy. I attribute a lot of it to luck and the Seattle scene being huge at the time. But I also know that the songs and the sound were great too.
Anyway, after Howie Klein (Reprise president) came out to see us at the Crocodile Cafe, we were flown down to LA to check out the label. Everyone there was cool as shit. But we wanted to look at every option, so we went to look at Sony too.
We were flown out to NYC to play a show with the Presidents of the United States of America so Sony big-wig Donnie Einar could see what we were all about. The show sucked, but he still wanted us. The funny thing was that Howie had taken the same flight out to New York with us, and after the show, we went and hung out with him. Next day we went to the Sony office and it was just that – an office. Clean, crisp. Almost like a dentist office. So we let our lawyer string both parties along for a little while and went with Reprise, messy offices and all.
SW: After two stellar records, Betty Pickup and Actual Size, why did the deal with Reprise eventually break down?
The complexion of the music industry changed. Nirvana came and were a breath of fresh air, and then along came the carbon copies – or Nirvana wannabes – and it started turning to shit. A glut of bands that all sounded the same. And then, worst of all, came the idols. Teeny bopper bubble-gum boy bands and dance numbers and all of that. We didn’t fit that mold, and on top of it, almost everyone we knew at Reprise was let go in a huge merger. The fact that there are two songs produced and mixed like boy-band songs on Actual Size is a direct result of that. That and David Khan, the head of A&R at Reprise at the time. “We don’t hear a single” was what we heard over, and over, and over again. It made us miserable and put our lives in a very surreal light. By the time we were dropped, we were sick of the whole thing, so it turned out for the best.
SW: You guys are still in Seattle right? What’s the atmosphere like there musically these days? Was there an implosion of sorts after the whole grunge wave of the early 90s, or did it just create more fertile creative ground? Were you guys together then? How did you fit in?
RM: We’re still in Seattle, and the music here is probably the best in the world, save for the UK maybe. But I’m a sucker for Brit-Rock-Pop. There is every kind of band here. There’s indie-pop like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. There’s Punk rock – the Hollow Points. The Posies are great, the Cops . . . I mean, I could list a million bands in Seattle, and half a million would be great. It’s an amazing place for music. As we speak, Bumbershoot is gearing up, which is a great example of that fact.
We never fit into the “g”-word scene. Ever. There were bands that were tagged with that description that I loved to listen to (Mudhoney, Nirvana) but we never could have played with them. I don’t think we’d have wanted to either, just as we don’t want to try and play every kind of music we like. We just do what we’re good at.
SW: Besides the Young Sportsmen, who’s the new hotness around town?
RM: I mean Death Cab and Modest Mouse can’t be touched. But if it were up to me to spread the word on bands that deserve it I’d say Minus the Bear, the Cops, Vendetta Red, the Divorce, the Lashes, Schoolyard Heroes, and, if they hadn’t broken up, The Radio Nationals. Some of the greatest bands in the Northwest, and the world actually, won’t ever be as big as they deserve, though. Not enough room for everyone, even at the expense of leaving the best out . . . which sucks.
SW: Go that right. Switching gears a bit, what’s the one record in your collection people would be most surprised to see?
RM: Probably Mercyful Fate’s “Don’t Break the Oath”. Western European prog-metal is a weakness. A guilty pleasure, if you will.
SW: Ha! I’ve got King Diamond’s Them in mine. We’ll have to talk more about that sometime. So, any final words?
RM: Kids! Don’t do drugs! No, ummm . . .
Listen to tracks from the EP at http://myspace.com/youngsportsmen