The Mascot Theory – Under the Borrowed Moon
The Mascot Theory. Now, that’s a name. I love band names that make me wonder. I asked band leader, Erik Kjelland, who is also the band’s chief songwriter, where the name came from. “My friend and I came up with the name “The Mascot Theory” in reference to the way he picks his NCAA Tournament brackets every year: which team’s mascot would win in a street fight.”
“Under the Borrowed Moon” the band’s debut album, is a concept, 9 songs, all written by Erik, that deal with love, life, death, relationship, set in the darkest of times, maybe the near future, maybe right now in some parts of the world. The band says, “If you prefer to look on the bright side of the dark side, come on over – you’re gonna like it here.”
“Love in the apocalypse” is how it’s described by songwriter and lead vocalist Erik Kjelland. When the Doomsday hits, I’ll have “Under The Borrowed Moon” on the old iPod rotation right along with Country Joe and Drive By Truckers.
The Mascot Theory is based in Madison, Wisconsin. The Mascot Theory are Erik Kjelland (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Nick Fry(upright bass, vocals), Adam White (electric guitar, vocals), and Paul Metz (drums, percussion, vocals) with guests Mark Oberfoell (steel guitar, banjo, mandolin) Art Ranney (mandolin) and Kenny Leiser (violin, fiddle). They have garnered plenty of regional praise and awards, and this summer they are touring throughout the mideast and mid-south.
“Under the Borrowed Moon” takes you on a genre journey from the first song, Asphodel Meadows, a solid rocker about the afterlife and how maybe in the end we all just need someone to come home to; “some day I’ll pack my bones and drag ‘em on home to you,” to folk, folk-rock, alt-country, and winds up with the country-rocker, Meet Your Maker Tavern In the Sky. Up in Smoke, Down In Flames is a folk-rocker; a nuclear demise with a banjo intro.
You know, when I hear of war related death in some small undeveloped country, where our media would have us believe that each casualty, each soul is a terrorist, I wonder about those who were innocent, who just wanted it all to go away…the folks who just wanted to paint, or pick and sing, who, like “The Mascot Theory” were trying to enjoy their gifts and share them. The song says, “And in the end, it’s a shame, if the world forgets our name, up in smoke, down in flames”, living, loving lives, toasted identities becoming statistics like Woody Guthrie’s “Refugees”. Here’s Up in Smoke, Down in Flames starring Wailing Tom, the chicken.
I asked Erik about his choices for the songs he wrote for this album. “Life is really, really short, and for most of us, very insignificant in the long scheme of things. Yet our own minds and hearts and actions create a significance and an effect on other souls we encounter.” Not one song on this album is in-your-face-preachy though the message is clear and really ear friendly.The mix is as good as it gets. The vocals are well above the music and you can understand each word, yet it is still a mix. You can turn this album way up and rock out with the windows down, or you can kick back with headphones on and ponder. These guys are no spring chickens; they’ve been around the block and they are able to craftily tell what they saw through music and lyric. This effort compliments each member’s gift and contribution. Track 4, Part-Time Valentine is about getting it while you can, finding and enjoying love, knowing, mutually, that time is short and that the world is falling apart around you.
Track 6, Everything Left to Lose, is about the suicide of a friend. I picture hearing this melody on a small town cafe jukebox, pickup truck radio or even in the local neighborhood bar. The music is country-easy, the lyrics are life-hard. The same feel is in track 8, Face Down On The Floor. The last track, Meet Your Maker Tavern in the Sky, is about re-assurance. It won’t end when this life is over. Erik uses a verse and chorus from Albert E. Brumley’s classic old-time gospel tune I’ll Fly Away”, in the body of this song to help complete the picture and seal the hope. “I believe in God and heaven and a Savior who came to save me, and I struggle in finding balance between family and work and God and this burning flame in my chest that tells me I need to create and perform music or I will explode.” Erik told me.
I hear various musical influences in the songs on this album, which is just testimony that a truly creative mind is at work here. We humans take in every note we hear throughout our lifetimes. Everything from bird songs to department store Muzac. In the songwriter’s mind, these notes bounce around and bump around in the sub-conscious and sometimes re-assemble and come back out as an original melody. Often, they might sound just like some other song. I asked Erik about his approach to songwriting and what he does when this happens. “It varies. Sometimes its based off a lyrical line and melody that pops in my head at the most random of moments, or sometimes I have a piece of music or chord progression that I like and I dig though words/lyrics that I’ve written on scraps of paper throughout the years. I remember many years ago I had a song that I completed and I brought it to the band, and they seemed really fired up and started working out guitar parts right away. But then I learned that they were actually trying to recreate the parts of a song from the 60’s that was almost the exact same melody. So I scrapped that song.” I hear you Erik, I hope a lot of folks hear Erik’s songs and The Mascot Theory. http://themascottheory.com
In todays world where every other person you meet is trying to “make it” in music, where home recording and online video can make you an overnight sensation or catapult you into oblivion, I am seeing originality being denigrated to a workshop process where folks believe they can pay someone to teach them to create, where folks are told they can just “hear a tune you like, study it, pick it apart, change it a little and make it your own” (BAAADDDD advice!!!!!!), it’s encouraging and refreshing to hear something new and true, even if it reminds you of just how temporary we all are. The “bright side of the dark side”.
The Mascot Theory. I have a feeling that when the bombs fall here, or whatever impending doom causes our society to implode, that Eric Kjelland and company will be ready to handle it with reality and hope.