Mystery Machine never really went away
Its current burst of activity after a long period of relative silence might lend the impression that Mystery Machine is making a comeback. Last month, the Chilliwack-spawned but now Vancouver-based quartet put out Western Magnetics, its first album in 14 years, celebrating the release with a short tour through Ontario. That’s a lot of action for a group that dropped off the radar back in the late ’90s, but the fact is that Mystery Machine never actually broke up.
“Nobody called it quits at all,” drummer Mario Nieva says when the Straight interviews him alongside singer-guitarist Luke Rogalsky at a South Granville eatery. “We just all had different things happening in our lives, and rock ’n’ roll was put on the back burner a little bit. But I don’t think any of us had any intention of not playing with each other.”
In fact, the band—which also includes guitarist Bean and bassist Shane Ward—has been working together pretty consistently, if in a remarkably unhurried fashion, for the better part of a decade. Western Magnetics is the result of that. And long-time fans can breathe a sigh of relief: Mystery Machine still sounds like Mystery Machine. From the opening salvo of “Pronto”, a tuneful blast of noise-rock in the hallowed tradition of Sonic Youth and Swervedriver, to the spacious dream-pop of the aptly titled “Floatist”, the album shows that, thankfully, the band hasn’t spent the past 10 years reinventing itself.
“I think one thing we wanted it to be was weirder—more strange than maybe our last record on Nettwerk was—because we don’t really like mainstream music that much,” Rogalsky says. “None of us are fans, or ever have been, of anything mainstream. I think that was part of the push, to make it not something that was totally digestible in a mainstream sense.”
It’s significant that Rogalsky still views 1998’s Headfirst Into Everything, Mystery Machine’s third and final LP for Nettwerk, as an object lesson in what not to do. He feels he and his cohorts were pressured into trying to deliver a pop record they had no interest in making. The artistically compromised result pleased neither the band nor the public, and Rogalsky and company found themselves axed from the Nettwerk roster.
“We had that album done and in the can the way we wanted it,” the frontman laments. “We did some work at Vince Jones’s studio. We had this album of multilayered guitars, but all the control was taken from us. If you could have heard the album we wanted to put out, it would have sounded a lot like this one. There are songs I love on that album, definitely. I just think the presentation wasn’t really our idea.”
It goes without saying that Western Magnetics is a better record than Headfirst. The shock is that it might even be better than Mystery Machine’s first two, 1993’s Glazed and 1996’s 10 Speed. It’s the work of a band that finally knows exactly how to achieve the full-spectrum sound for which it has always striven.
That confidence, combined with a dose of maturity, makes for a more powerful live show as well, in Rogalsky’s estimation. “When we were young, it was just like a wild, drunken shit storm. It backfired a lot of the time when we would play live. So we can kind of control it now.”
“It is controlled chaos, in a way—except for the times that it isn’t,” Nieva adds, and both men laugh.
Mystery Machine plays the Astoria Pub on Saturday (October 13).