Band To Watch: MSPAINT

Libby Zanders

Band To Watch: MSPAINT

Libby Zanders

“It’s so goofy to me. I feel like a jester up there, watching people fucking spinkick each other to our music. I’m still learning how to front a band for these hardcore crowds. For me, thinking about where that type of aggression comes from, it evokes this critique of self and critique of where you put your energy — real deep thought shit, y’know? That’s at the center of a lot of our songs.”Deedee of Hattiesburg

A heaving, humming synthesizer whirr fills the air, conjuring retro visions of a once imagined American future: vast switch grids, elevated monorails, and cities powered by tubes of lightning blue electricity. I clear my throat.

Listen, now, as I explain the music of tonight’s Mosh Madness opener, MSPAINT… without ONCE using the word ‘hardcore,'” I announce to the assembled concertgoers, many of whom respond by taking several steps back into a sort of circle formation, assumably to give my voice space to travel. “Ask the band members what their genre is, as I foolishly did, they’ll laugh and say, ‘We consider ourselves post-modeM.'”

“Nick Panella on electronics, Quinn Mackey on drums, and Randy Riley on bass,” I continue. “Together, they’ve developed a surging, seismic, but curiously meditative future-punk style that sounds like a glitch storm avalanche swallowing a SimCity 2000 skyline. Their instrumental tones are modeled on the warbling, gated fuzz of fax machines and the dial-up sounds of their 1990s childhoods. They almost named themselves Wikipedia Type Bea—”

Mackey slams his kick, cueing Riley to pump some dirty, brutal-grind distortion. Seemingly ignorant of the oratory music journalism in progress, burly dudes with ear guages and municipal patches on their jackets start ramming into one another. Distressed by their musical misunderstanding, I attempt to draw attention away from MSPAINT’s propulsive rhythm section towards the frequently sedate, trancelike quality of Panella’s keyboard parts (you could drop them into Mother Earth’s Plantasia with little hassle). Just then, a bellow rises alongside an oxen charge of crashing feet. I outstretch one drowning hand and crook my pointer finger stage left.

“Here comes Deedee,” I mutter from the bottom of the pit, my voice somewhat muffled by the Doc Martens on my face. “He’s an imposing stage presence, but his true weapon is his shout — a rhythmic full mouth holler that goes wide on dentist’s office vowel sounds, sounds a teensy bit like primitive rapping, and 100% does not stop for a breath. Like the band behind him, DeeDee’s energy is difficult to sort, neither obviously angry nor explicitly uplifting. Though his lyrical mantras aim to tear down familiar power structures — the tyranny of organized religion, the callousness of prisons, widespread corporate waste — they attack from a distinctly uncertain vantage, asking listeners to think about what comes next. Even as the music strangles with incessant, claustrophobic modernity, through Deedee we’re given a chance to ‘leave behind the whole human race’ — ‘born again in the dirt’ as ‘flowers grow up from concrete.'”

Also, emerging up from concrete, finally, is me. I’m excited to continue MSplaining to my rapt audience, but it appears several hours have passed and everybody has left the show. Despite my misgivings, it’s necessary to admit that MSPAINT fucking smack and if you put them on a hardcore lineup people are gonna mosh hard. But if they are a hardcore band, it’s of a brand new sort — thrumming with potential, not kinetic, energy. Whereas most of their peers are gassed up chainsaws aimed at a predetermined target, MSPAINT is a vibrant current ready to be directed, open equally to destruction and creation.

Whatever lies at the end of the extension cord, the national hardcore community has been an ideal initial power source for MSPAINT, facilitating a three-year rise that culminates March 10 in Post-American — one of the best goddam albums you’ll hear all year. It’s a record that wouldn’t have happened without the crucial touring network the band found in traditionalist rippers like SPY and Gel, the exploratory ethos they shared with new friends Blind Equation and Soul Glo (whose frontman Pierce Jordan guests on “Decapitated Reality”), or the one scene beacon who demanded he be their producer. That’s cool as hell, and the band couldn’t be more grateful, especially cause there’s another timeline where all hardcore does for Deedee is get him accidentally smacked in the fucking head.

Let’s take it back to MSPAINT’s first ever out-of-state show: Convulse Fest Colorado, October 2021. Deedee is taking in the Denver sights when he spots one of his musical heroes, Militarie Gun frontman Ian Shelton, crouched on the sidewalk. Possessing no knowledge of Shelton’s inner monologue — which is currently persuading him that the scene-straddling, alt-accessible Militarie Gun have no business headlining Convulse Fest’s pure-core lineup — Deedee inadvertently crosses right into the warpath of a pre-performance panic attack.

“I’m spiraling out, convinced this punk crowd is about to fucking hate us, and then this big guy Deedee pops up out of the air— clearly a very punk person. At first I’m like, ‘Oh man, ahhhh, here they come,'” Shelton recalls, unaware at the time that Deedee was then attending his first ever hardcore show. “But right away, he introduces himself and starts talking to me about how much he loves our band. It really brought me down to earth, you know? He had such a calming presence… kinda saved the day.”

Shelton misses MSPAINT’s set, so he comes home from Denver assuming the band play some familiar strain of hardcore. It isn’t until two months later that van chatter to the contrary forces Shelton to actually seek out the group’s only recorded material — a four-track demo released on March 14, 2020. Within moments of hearing the rinky-dink baseball organ intro to “Hardwired,” Shelton realizes that Militarie Gun were not the most conspicuous band to play Convulse Fest.

“I instantly became obsessed and started corresponding with them,” Shelton says, “I had to know everything. Where did these dudes get their ideas from?”

“We frankly have no fucking clue what our influences are,” Deedee shrugs, citing the spontaneity of the band’s barstool-to-jam-session origins. “Don’t interpret this as me giving us mad credit, but we didn’t discuss a single thing, except that we’d all been in different bands together and apart for over a decade, were sick of playing rock music, and decided there’d be no guitars. Aside from Quinn’s drumming, nobody in this band is filling a role they’ve held before. It must be annoying as hell to write about us.”

Hmm, maybe, *attempts to crack knuckles*. Truth is, MSPAINT’s preternatural need to burn their surroundings and build anew snaps into complete coherence when you understand where they’re from. All the members hail from different parts of Mississippi — a historically Republican state long weighed down by both a refusal to disavow a hateful past and an inability to tackle the injustices of the present. It’s why, like so many other weirdos and artists born on the bayou, their early twenties deposited them in Hattiesburg. The sort of college town where all it takes to book a gig is writing your phone number on a venue wall, what Hattiesburg lacks in resources it makes up for in community and spirit. Who needs a practice space when you can tape a thrift store blanket onto the wall of a shared storage unit?

“It’s the most backwards-thinking, racist state in America, and the schools are terrible, so inevitably if you figure that out you’re gonna educate yourself post-scholastically, which is in some ways a blessing,” Riley explains. “As long as the people keep changing, the potential for growth is stronger here than in some big coastal city, because when you come to Hattiesburg there’s no set identity besides being sweet to everybody in that Southern way.”

That said, just because their hometown audiences don’t beat each other up doesn’t mean MSPAINT necessarily fit in. “Nah,” Deedee says. “There’s no crowd that we play in front of who are like, ‘Hell yeah, these dudes make sense!'”

Maybe with time an understanding could have been forced, but MSPAINT only played live four times before lockdown. Far from being discouraging, the inability to perform their breakthrough music only made them take it more seriously. While Deedee used the pandemic to get sober, Riley took the bold move of shopping their demo around. Despite — or perhaps because — of the city’s vibrant DIY culture, soliciting publicists and courting record labels has never been a Hattiesburg priority. When Adam Croft of Convulse Records invited MSPAINT to Denver for their first non-regional show, the band made sure their intentions were clear. This wasn’t a chance to escape their tiny scene, but perpetuate it.

“It’s important to constantly rep where we’re from so that any attention on the band comes with attention on Mississippi,” adds Deedee. “Even if we get fucking shipped off somewhere, there’ll be themes of the South in our music forever.”

“It’s still kinda scary every time we leave from down here, driving out into the unknown in an ’86 Chevy van I bought playing a bowling alley in Minneapolis,” explains Riley.

Thankfully, by the time MSPAINT emerged from Panella’s home studio with a finished debut LP in early 2022, they’d made enough touring connections to collect notes from hardcore’s finest as well as their neighborhood bands. Reactions were universally positive, except for one.

“I called up Deedee like, ‘I’m about to say something out of pocket, so hang up if you don’t wanna hear, but these just seem like really great demos to me,'” recalls Shelton. “‘And not to be on some old school suit bullshit, but I don’t hear a single.'”

Shelton traveled down to Hattiesburg to workshop the material. He found right away that MSPAINT’s exploratory spirit made them a breeze to collaborate with — the band willing to rethink seemingly any aspect of their work. But once everyone flew to LA in June to bang out the refurbished LP at the Pit — a studio operated by engineer Taylor Young (Nails, Deadbody) — Shelton couldn’t get them to stop changing the songs. While recording “Delete It” — the album’s first single, out today — the producer stepped out to take a phone call, and came back horrified to find the band had, in fact, deleted it.

“Ian came back saying, ‘What happened to the song you were working on?’ and we said, ‘This is that song,'” recalls Riley. “He was like, ‘No! Undo! Undo! First draft! Let’s not overthink!'”

It’s possible MSPAINT might simply be moving too fast for any producer, scene, or genre to hold. When I saw them later that fall at Austin’s famous Mohawk, they’d “leveled up” enough to be opening for somber electro-industrialists the Soft Moon. While it was nice to know none of the shrimpy goths in the crowd were likely to stage-flip into my solar plexus, I’d like to see MSPAINT keep associating with bands who make me want to start fights. After all, we need to destroy ourselves if we truly want to build something new.

“Sometimes a hardcore association can almost be a stain upon a band, because people have such a preconceived notion of what it means creatively and what it means ethically. Most bands are not looking to tear down the establishment quite the way MSPAINT is,” says Shelton. “But I think those two things, order and destruction, can exist at the same time, can play together and mutually feed each other. It’s a beautiful thing to exist without bounds, but a support structure is cool too.”

01 “Information”
02 “Think It Through”
03 “Acid”
04 “Hardwired”
05 “Delete It”
06 “S3”
07 “Decapitated Reality”
08 “Post-American”
09 “Free From The Sun”
10 “Titan Of Hope”
11 “Flowers From Concrete”

Post-American is out 3/10 on Convulse. Pre-order it here.

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