"Nobody likes me.
Everybody hates me.
I'm going out to eat some worms."
Forget the worms pal, eat some tick instead, Mama Tick
Published in Pure Magazine 1993
Mama Tick can't figure out why people don't like them. Could it be that their sound is too angry? Too chaotic for most music fans? Are their guitars to cryptic? Too crunchy? Are their vocals too throaty? Too coated? And for those Pearl Jam and Nirvana-fed, alternative hipsters, maybe there's just not enough melody in their punk rock. Billy Corgan likens himself to the Fugitive, forever at odds with the "one armed indie rock community," so who then is Mama Tick at odds with? Just about everybody. But that's okay with them, they've got 21 inches of vinyl in the form of three seven inch singles, and that's almost two whole feet of Rock'n'Roll. Their latest seven inch, "Horse Doctor," has charted twice on WNUR's playlist, and they've been featured on a recent compilation of local underground bands called "Pressure Cooker," so why can't they get any respect?
Not long ago, I had the chance to chat with Mama Tick in singer/guitarist, Ben Keller's modest West Lakeview flat where I found out a little bit about the band and what makes them Tick.
The band formed in 1991 when Adam Laats and Ben Keller, long time pals from suburban Beantown, Ma, got together in Chicago to start a band. With the help of a drummer named Baldo, Keller and Laats begat Mama Tick. An arachnid with maternal instincts? Hardly.
In '91, under the influence of a profusion of punk rock and noise bands and such grindcore kings as Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower, the trio takes their musical maelstrom into the local club circuit. They also recorded their first demo with Brad Wood at Idful Studios. Then Baldo runs away to Seattle and Chad Moore, ex-Howling Monkey drummer, originally from the cheese fields of Wisconsin, is invited to take his seat behind the drums.
Keller, in an extensive demo drive, sends 72 demos out into the cold indie music world and gets only eight replies. One is slightly warmer than the rest. It is from Minneapolis, in the form of a phone call from Tom Hazelmeyer at Amphetamine Reptile. It's their first break. AmRep releases "Hatefest" b/w "Breath Out" as a part of their Research and Development picture disc series.
"That single opened a lot of doors for us," says Keller. Indeed it gave them the opportunity to play Minneapolis in support, not only of their single, but in support of their favorite band that Cows. "AmRep brought us up to play two shows with the Cows. We were totally nervous. It was Chad's first show with us. After we were done, we asked him (Tom Hazelmyer) "So, Tom, what did you think? And he said, "Well, you didn't suck."
As for their relationship with AmRep now; "They still like us. They don't want to sign us, but they like us."
"They think we're the nicest people," says Laats, with perhaps a touch of sarcasm.
To keep the ball rolling, Keller trusts more demos to the hands of the US Postal Service. Bovine Records out of Madison, WI releases "Torture Me" b/w "Lode". It is a limited or "exclusive' release of 600 copies--no press, no promotion, although it gets a couple of kind words from MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL.
Six months later, from Chicago very own Skingraft Records comes, "Horse Doctor" b/w "I'm OK with Me accompanied by a groovy comic book for the kids. WNUR plays it... a lot. MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL has some good things to say about this one too, as does, The College Music Journal and Your Flesh. Also in '93 Mama Tick track title, "Matt is released on the Pressure Cooker compilation from Furball Records, Chicago. A video is shot for a soon-to-be released video compilation of the same name which features Laates in a Godzilla suit, Keller in a dress and Moore wearing nothing but a cymbal over his pelvic region, which he beats incessantly with his drum sticks.
In between all this, Mama Tick tour doggedly all over the Midwest. They play Des Moines, IA, Bloomington, IN, Lexington, KY. They play to warm receptive audiences in some places, to apathetic stiffs in others. "That was hooor-ible," whined one young lady after a Mama Tick show somewhere in the Heartland. A compliment perhaps, but it just goes to prove that mama Tick works hard for little respect much less acceptance.
The band can not put a finger on their lack of accessibility and they seem a bit disillusioned with the Independent Label scene which both Laats and Keller are a part of in their day jobs. "It's a load of shit," Keller explains. "There's so much attitude it's amazing. It's mini-corporate rock. As for their own sound Moore suggests that maybe the dual screaming of Keller and Laats may be a little off-putting. "I don't think that's why people don't like us," Keller defends. "I think we're abrasive and we don't carry a tune musically and that's why people don't like us." Regardless, Mama Tick has no plans to cower from or cater to anyone just yet.
As for the future, some people, supposedly in the know, have been suggesting that Chicago has the potential to be the next Big Music Scene, and with band such as Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair gaining national recognition, and their lovely faces cropping up in glossy music magazines like Spin and Rolling Stones, it certainly seems plausible. I asked Mama Tick, how this hypothetical notion would affect them. Their sardonic reply, "It wouldn't affect us because nobody likes us anyway."
So where does that leave Mama Tick? Right now they are talking to some Germans about a possible full-length LP and working in their cozy practice space. You can hear them from the street below if you happen to be walking down Belmont towards Ashland on your way to Woolworth's. You can hear the sound of a drum pedal kicking the living shit out of a bass head and the barely audible sounds of a bass being slapped and a guitar being pounded. It is the brutal sound of frustration being taken out on inanimate objects, but you can't spend too much time sympathizing with musical instruments held at the mercy of Mama Tick. The beatings are as heavy handed as the noise they make, which is pretty heavy.