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A Little Respect & A Lot Of Fun

(Interview with Mike McCabe - Taken From Black Velvet 30 - Nov 2001)

By Jo Alcindor

WHEATUS, fresh from New York, left the USA behind in January to embark upon an international tour and took the world by storm with their cries of 'Teenage Dirtbag' and complaints of too 'Little Respect'. Not only did they top our charts (and the charts of the rest of Europe and Australia) but they got up to a bit of stage mischief as well. The newest member of the American four-piece, bass player Mike McCabe tells all of his wild experiences of the past year.




Mike starts off by giving us a brief summary of Wheatus' climb to fame. "Wheatus was playing in New York City to begin with before they were signed with Columbia and before they started touring and what not. I wasn't in the band at the time but they played for about ten shows in Manhattan and that was about it. There were two venues that they played at and then after being signed and having the record released and all that, I joined about a year ago. Then we started touring. We toured for about four months in the States then we started to go international and then we did Australia and then over to Europe and we've been in Europe since January."

So why have they had a band member change after such a short length of time? What happened to the old bass player? "Well nothing happened with him and me, he just wasn't working out with the band and wasn't the right person for the band basically. I had known Phil and I knew Brendon and Pete through Phil. Phil is the percussion player, banjo player and producer. I was in a band with him and that's sort of how I got into it. They fired their bass player because he wasn't working out and then I joined, pretty much. I joined the band and then we started touring immediately, like the next day basically.
That sounds very fast to me. "It was a pretty quick transition. That was some time in August; I think we started touring about a year ago like mid July in the States. We had some one-off shows here and there and then we started touring properly in late August."
Where was Mike in his life when he was asked to join Wheatus?
"Oh, Where am I in life ever? I had a career as a corporate flight attendant. As a flight steward, I was working for AOL Time Warner, a big company, and I was on their private planes flying around like with movie stars and actresses and musicians and corporate people and all that stuff. I did that for about three years before I got in the band".
Was it quite a surprise to you then to become a permanent band member?
"No, I've been playing music since I was 14 and I've been in a number of bands so it's not a surprise that I'm doing this. It's something I've always wanted to do. How it happened and how quickly it happened, yeah that was a surprise, but you just have to take those risks and do it, you know".

The band have been very successful with the debut single 'Teenage Dirtbag' and with the follow-up cover song Erasure's 'Little Respect', how does he feel about this success? "It was quick! It had a lot to do with the people over here and Europe understanding us and in Australia understanding the music. Also it's to do with the label over here understanding us. So do Europe and so do Australia. They just marketed us better than in the States where it just didn't happen as much you know.
"We sold about 250 thousand records in the States but comparably we never crossed over to the top 40. They stopped pushing our album and the single before it crossed over so it probably was going to but for some reason they pulled out and then we exploded in Australia and then we exploded in Europe so... It's funny enough we're going back to the States. They reissued the album in the States and they're re-pushing us because I guess they realise there's something good here, you know… after we did everywhere else in the world.
"So now on the second single we are going back to the states and pushing and hopefully that will take off."
Are you surprised?
"Yes, we just came out of nowhere really so it was a surprise but nothing really suprises us anymore. We've seen a lot, we just sort of do it now. This is what we do."

But is this the kind of success that they have always wanted for the band, or had they hoped it would be different?
"Yeah, definitely. We should have top 40 hits. I think the songs are the calibre and fortunately Europe liked us and understood us, and Australia too. When I say Europe I mean a lot of countries; Austria, Germany, UK and Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden. In most of these countries we've had top 5 hits. Was it suprising? Yes, but you just take it in its stride. I don't think we are as successful as people think though to be quite honest".

Wheatus' second single, 'A Little Respect', was released just prior to this interview.
"Yes, it debuted at number three in the UK and number five in Ireland. It debuted pretty high everywhere. It's great to still be in the limelight and what not but that doesn't mean that we are successful financially and that things are easy going. We're working hard and pushing the album. We're not millionaires or anything. We're just a touring band".
Do you feel the single was a success because it was a cover song or because so many people love you at the moment?
"I think it has to do with both. It's a familiar song so it sorta bridges the gap between the older audience and the younger. I think we have the younger audience and Erasure has the older audience so that sort of brought the two together. 'Dirtbag' is a more popular song than 'A Little Respect' at this point. When we play it we know that, yeah. Maybe when 'A Little Respect' has been out a little longer than it'll be more popular but when we play it live there's a much better response to it."
It was not the band who primarily decided to release the single.
"The choice was made more by the label then by us. It wasn't our choice to put out a cover song for a second single. They wanted to because it was a safe bet, it was a really successful song years ago in the eighties".
So it was deliberate then?
"Oh, it was very deliberate. Everything the label does is deliberate. Whether it's wrong or right it's deliberate. More often it's wrong but the UK had a lot to do with it 'cause it's a UK band".
What do you think of the current eighties cover revival?
"I was never really big on it to be honest. Original songs are better. I always look forward to original music more so than cover bands but coming from Long Island, it's mostly a cover song area, you know. So my whole life I've been fighting that and so has everyone else. We are all pretty much from the same area in New York.
"Where we are from more original music is frowned upon. It's more if you want to make money you have to play cover songs at bars and stuff. I've always kind of been against it, probably for that reason. Just because early on in my career when I was like 17 or 18, when I was trying to make music, original stuff, no one would let you so I had to do Police covers, and Beatles and Hendrix and all that shit… which is cool but it kind of delays the process you know".
Has the band ever been in contact with Erasure about the 'Little Respect' cover?
"No, we haven't but we heard from them… that they wanted to remix the version and that they liked it. Basically that's what we heard. We didn't talk to them directly but that was enough for us - just that they heard it and they liked it and they wanted to remix it. It was a scheduling problem where they couldn't".

We talk about the geeky image that the band has. "People call us Geek rock. We've been called everything - Pop/rock, Geek/rock, Nerd/rock".
Wheatus fans are similar too.
"I think a lot of our fans are geeks, nerds maybe. I think they are original in their own way and that's why they like us. We are original in our own way".
They think that geeks are great because "it separates you from the mass, the crowd, the herd or whatever you want to call it, which is the worst thing I think. The more originality the better".

The record company was mad enough to let this new band produce their own debut album. Will it happen again with the second one?
"We've already started recording our second album. We recorded five or six tracks I think and we stopped recording for a while until we have time to get back to it because right now we are recording, but yeah we are going to do it ourselves, self produced again but not in the basement. It will be somewhere, although I'm not sure where. We'll be using better equipment, basically".

Wheatus played the Capital Radio event Party in The Park in July this year. The band were very different to most of the pop and R 'N' B bands that also played that day.
"It's nothing new for us. We've never fit in since we've been touring in the States. We did some tours with Papa Roach and V.O.D. and these really heavy bands where we did some festivals for 40,000 people. We did a festival with a really weird line-up and it's the same here. Like we're doing Party In The Park with Jessica Simpson" who wasn't actually there, "and just weird stuff. Um, yeah, we just don't fit in".
The radio station had a competition for four lucky winners who sent in tapes of them singing Mena Sauvari's part in 'Teenage Dirtbag'.
"I didn't get to hear the tapes myself. Brendon or Phil may have, I'm not sure".
How did it go?
"We met the people obviously. They were in the costumes and it was cool. It was a bizarre situation. We got on stage and we sort of did a soundcheck while there was a TV break. We went out onstage and did a soundcheck in front of 100,000 people, went off stage then they called us on and then we played our set."
Getting people up on stage is not unusual at all though.
" We do that everyday. We'll do that tonight. That's what we do every night, it's awesome".
The other gigs are often more personal though. "We usually hand pick them. Because Party in The Park was such an organised huge deal we had them from this competition. That's why we didn't hand pick them 'cause from 100,000 people that would have been crazy."

The shows are a lot of fun for both the band and the fans, but if they had to choose between an atmosphere and note for note perfection… "They never come out perfect, it's more about the fun than anything else." Which pretty much sums up the band in full. Fun.



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