This article was published in September of 2006 in a Champaign-Urbana rag called The Hub. Over drinks at a campus bar, I interviewed Josh Chicoine, one of the singers and a guitarist in The M’s and a guy I knew in high school and got to know better afterward. I was thrilled to cover such a great rock ‘n’ roll band and regret not talking to one of his band mates, who was sitting near us at the bar, for this article. I skipped out on seeing the M’s play live that night but caught them two other times and was highly impressed. They sounded just like they do on record. Here’s hoping they put out more music someday.
Riding a wave of momentum that included a 10-day tour in Canada with good friends Wilco, an appearance at Lollapalooza, a song featured on the teen TV show The OC, and rave reviews from Spin magazine for their latest album, Future Women, rock band The M’s from Chicago are making a splash — and doing it their way.
Following the musical integrity that classic indie bands such as Guided by Voices and Sonic Youth have displayed over the years, The M’s make records that please them, which is thankfully splendid stuff.
The M’s make records that please them, which is thankfully splendid stuff.
Beatlesque melodies with a sprinkling of 1990s-era Blur and their own brand of gritty (but sometimes cleaned-up) garage rock is how The M’s do it, though Josh Chicoine (vocals, guitar), Robert Hicks (vocals, guitar), Joey King (vocals, bass), and Steve Versaw (drums) are not a group of musicians who like being pigeonholed.
The M’s started in 2000 playing in a grungy Chicago basement, writing and recording together, just hanging out as friends with no intention of conquering the world with their music.
Recording an album wasn’t on the agenda — at first. And the guys — all of whom had been in other bands before — knew from the beginning they’d be all-in underground indie if they decided to make a go of it.
“The music industry for us was sort of like this weird thing that we didn’t understand, and so we didn’t try to understand it,” said Josh Chicoine, a Champaign, Illinois, resident who graduated from Centennial High School in 1991.
The M’s self-titled, self-produced first album on the Brilliante label is a super-tuneful concoction of three previously released EPs. The CD flows well and contains instant sing-along tunes from top to bottom. Songs such as “Dirty Old Dog,” “Banishment of Love,” “Holdin’ Up” and “Maggie” are rife with hooks and sweet-sounding harmonies.
Future Women, released by Champaign music label Polyvinyl Record Co. in February, is more of the same but with further musical influences. Chicoine has heard from people who hear influences from The Faint, Mott the Hoople, and Steely Dan on The M’s latest effort, which was also produced by the band.
Chicoine and his band mates like that their sound and influences are wide ranging and don’t care about what musical scene they fit into. The M’s may venture into less rock-oriented territory in the future, with arrangements that are more “opened up” and instrumentally diverse.
“It’s the song that matters more than anything,” said Chicoine, who equally shares songwriting duties with Hicks, King, and Versaw.
As a testament to how endearing The M’s three-man lineup of singers is, Chicoine’s aunt, a classically trained singer and piano player, complimented her nephew on the vocal harmonies she heard on Future Women.
Chicoine’s mom, Marcia, although not always keen on the crunchy guitars and distorted, buried vocals that her son’s band records in spades, told her son it’s a thrill to watch him on stage doing what he loves.
Chicoine himself will become a father soon to a baby daughter, with his wife, Laura, which makes it an ideal time for the band to take a break, he said.
Relaxing at Murphy’s Pub before an August 26 gig at the Illini Union, Chicoine said The M’s could be making records until they’re fifty as long as the songs are good, they record them well, and the band still has fun with the music-making process.
Separating themselves from their own artistry and the music business — an often jaded world — is key to forging ahead, Chicoine said.
The M’s have crisscrossed the nation three times to promote their music. Chicoine said he had a blast partying with disco-rock band and label mates Of Montreal on the East Coast, but the real thrill is rediscovering old friendships on the road.
“This is my hometown,” Chicoine said about Champaign. “It’s always a blast to come down here, and it’s always really fun to play in front of my friends. I see people from all around the country that I went to high school with. That’s what’s really fun about touring.”
With any luck, The M’s will continue to tour for a long time.
Photo by Darya Sannikova