Band To Watch: Liquid Mike
If there is one thing Twitter is good for, it’s galvanization. Even as it creeps closer and closer to the sweet embrace of death, the site now known as X (ugh) is still capable of having moments where the most random shit spreads like wildfire.
This past spring, one corner of indie-head Twitter was all aflutter about some dude name Liquid Mike. “Liquid Mike hive we ride” was the repeated refrain, led by one of music Twitter’s most beloved loudmouths Keegan Bradford of Camp Trash (and Stereogum) fame, who was one of the first people to post about Liquid Mike’s new record S/T.
From there, the word about Liquid Mike’s music spread in a very organic, word-of-mouth way, which is simply not a thing that happens a lot anymore. If an album isn’t covered by one of your major music sites, most likely you’re going to miss it. And that’s the thing about Liquid Mike’s S/T. Major music sites weren’t writing about it. The record kinda came out of nowhere all because one dude said he liked it, which in turn led to people on social media sharing it because they all agreed: Liquid Mike fucking rule.
S/T (or Self-Titled but not Liquid Mike) is an 11-song, 18-minute record of ripping and carefree power pop. It’s a tightly packed clown car of hooks that sound so familiar yet you can’t quite put your finger on it. Some might hear Superdrag. Others maybe Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, or Weezer. Personally, I hear Mark Hoppus if he grew up on Guided By Voices instead of NOFX. Every song adheres to the Celebration Rock-certified Nothing-But-Bangers rule because at 18 minutes, there isn’t any time for fucking around. Not a riff is wasted, and every chorus HITS. The album is tight and crunchy, and songs like “2 Much Of A Good Thing,” “Holding In A Cough,” and “RAV4” sound just as good with the windows down in your car as they do on your shitty iPhone speakers while you get drunk in your friend’s kitchen.
S/T is an album you’ll want to leave on repeat due to its runtime, and it’s bound to show up on numerous year-end lists come December. There’s a reason people on the internet went nut-nut for it. It’s THAT good. But where the hell did it come from? I mean seriously, who the fuck is Liquid Mike?
Turns out, he’s your friendly neighborhood mailman.
Liquid Mike a.k.a. Mike Maple spends his days working as a “rover” for the United States Postal Service in Marquette, Michigan. (I can see the future headlines now: “On His New Album, Liquid Mike DELIVERS.”) For three years, the singer-guitarist has trudged on foot, going from nowhere to nowhere through rain, sleet, and snow filling up mailboxes and writing songs — sometimes both at the same time like a modern-day John Prine. “I write songs on slow days,” Maple tells me on a video chat. “If I’m bored and find inspiration, I’ll do it.”
It’s hard to see his face on the screen, and with all the mystery around who Liquid Mike is, I can’t tell if this is on purpose to keep the mystery alive or if the lighting in his living room is just shitty. It’s probably the latter because there are other darkly lit people in the room with him. Oh yeah, as it also turns out, Liquid Mike isn’t just one person – it’s a full band, featuring Monica Nelson (synth, vocals), Cody Marecek (drums), Zack Alworden (bass), and newcomer Dave Daignault (guitar).
Maple and Nelson had been making music together since 2016, but then they migrated to Marquette, where they met Marecek and officially started Liquid Mike in 2020. “We had just moved to Marquette and didn’t know that many people and weren’t in a band anymore like we had been in our previous college years. So we just decided to start jamming,” Nelson explains. “Mike’s had music he’s been writing whether he’s in a band or not, so he had things he wanted to have people play.”
For the unacquainted, Marquette is a small-ish town in the northern arm of Michigan on the coast of Lake Superior. Most of the year, it’s covered in ice and snow that doesn’t thaw out until May. It’s also a college town, and while it’s not exactly a desolate wasteland, it can be an isolating and tough environment to grow a music community. “There are plenty of bands making original and interesting music up here, but there’s just not many places at all for them to play,” Maple explains. “That’s the problem up here. It’s really hard to find spots that aren’t house shows that get shut down half the time or bars that don’t really tolerate loud music.” Daignault, who joined Liquid Mike this year and who also plays in midwestern emo outfit Charmer, chimes in, “You’re not going to get anywhere in Marquette playing local shows if you’re trying to like do music at a higher level.”
When they’re not playing the occasional show or delivering holiday cards from your grandma, Liquid Mike are constantly writing and recording music. And Maple has written A LOT of music in the last few years, both for Liquid Mike and his other band with Alworden and Daignault called Drain County. “I like writing a lot,” he says. “I feel like our music lends itself best to kicking out two albums a year, when you’re writing power-pop songs like that: quick, fast ones. That’s mostly what we’re kinda going for, just to have a deep catalog of songs we can pull from to play live.” In their short time together, the band has self-released four albums of scrappy, unpolished power pop – 2021’s Stuntman and You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, 2022’s A Beer Can And A Bouquet, and this year’s S/T. “I had a whole summer’s worth of music, like 15 or 20 songs. We’ve been playing catch up with ourselves, trying to put a shit ton of albums out all the time,” Maple pauses. “Not a lot to do out here, you know?”
A lot has changed for Liquid Mike. For starters, people are suddenly paying attention, something the band is still trying to navigate after S/T blew up on Twitter (relatively speaking) literally overnight this past April. When he checked his phone the next day, Maple couldn’t believe it. “I just woke up that one morning and had like $150 dollars on Bandcamp and I was like, ‘What the hell just fucking happened?’ Then I checked Twitter. It was really weird and scary to have strangers talking about your shit.” With Maple distracted by the buzz, the mail would have to wait that day. Alworden, who has been on the other side as a self-proclaimed Liquid Mike “fanboy” before joining the band himself, wasn’t as surprised as his fearless leader. “I almost couldn’t believe that it wasn’t already huge,” he says. “It was only a matter of time ’til the right people found it. So that day was kind of validating for me as like a fan of the band.”
Perhaps more surprising, at least to me, is that the band doesn’t seem to think too much about that record at all. “That last album was so thrown together,” Maple admits. “I just wanted it to be a 7″, and then we just kinda kept adding to it, and then a month later it was done.”
Nelson turns to him. “I think that was the first time, too, where we were all in the same town to record, right?”
“Yeah. S/T felt very like spur of the moment. It just came into existence.”
The spontaneity is part of the appeal of Liquid Mike’s music. There’s a sort of wry, cocksure nonchalance to it, like they can just shrug off riff after riff. Put simply: They make it sound fucking easy. S/T doesn’t seem belabored. The music has all the sonic dynamics of an early Guided By Voices record. It’s punchy and compressed to shit, with the band recording live on a tiny 8-track with no-preamps and no fuss. “We might as well be recording with plungers,” Daignault jokes.
It also suits the way the band operates. Maple tends to write music at a Robert Pollard-type pace (“I feel like I’ve been ripping off GBV my whole life”), and much like the parcels pouring into the post office, the songs do not stop coming. Whether on the mail route or snowed-in at home, Maple says he’s constantly writing songs, to the point where it gets hard for the rest of the band to keep up.
“Mike usually comes to me with a song, and then a week later he’s like, ‘Got another one.’ He writes at a pretty quick rate for me, and I’m like, ‘Oh fuck, I’m like three songs behind,'” Alworden laughs. “He’s pretty impatient. Even today Mike was like, ‘I can’t wait to write again,’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, I need a breather!'”
“Mike will write a new song and the composition, structure, and melodies are all there,” adds Daignault. “I’ve never worked with a songwriter that functions on that high level. I envy his music brain in many ways.”
“Yeah, it’s fun. I like putting shit out,” Maple shrugs. “After this one, I think it won’t be so bang bang bang…”
“You say that now,” Daignault interrupts.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen you operate any other way,” adds Alworden.
“I’ll wait.” Maple thinks about that for a second. “But I also like striking while the iron’s hot.”
And that’s exactly what they’re about to do. Liquid Mike already have another album in the bag. That album, Paul Bunyan’s Sling Shot, slated for release in early 2024, is even bigger and hookier than S/T. While Maple says he wouldn’t call it a concept album, the songs are all tied together by a common thread of youthful, suburban boredom and restlessness (it also contains the best Coldplay reference in a song I’ve ever heard, in which Maple sings, “You pissed your pants and they were all yellow”).
“Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot is an obscure sightseeing/art piece this guy in Gladstone, MI made a while ago before some teenager drunkenly cut it in half one night,” Maple laughs. “I’ve always thought it was funny how many Midwest towns claim to be the home of Paul Bunyan or have some sort of connection to him because they’re always the smallest little towns. The album is about living in a place like that.”
Today, Liquid Mike release what the band calls the thematic centerpiece of the record “Mouse Trap,” a grungy, Toadies-riffing lament about Midwestern living and wondering whether there is something more out there than a house, a dog, and some bullshit promise about the American Dream. On Paul Bunyan, Liquid Mike sound like a band ready to embrace the sudden attention. They also sound confident as hell.
Back in September, Liquid Mike posted a flex on Instagram, announcing “Lp5 is wrapped this album shit is easy.” I had to laugh, mostly because I truly believe this shit comes easy to them. Before we hung up, I asked the band about the post and if they thought making records was easy. They kinda just looked at each other and laughed, chalking the post up to some beer-fueled shitposting. “It’s fun to be cocky on the internet,” Maple claimed. But I got the sense that they were holding back, like they were hiding their true feelings behind a Midwestern politeness. I get it. Sometimes, you gotta keep a bit of mystery alive.