Mark McMillon, guitarist for the The Story Changes, is a busy man.
When he’s not in the studio or touring with his best friend and drummer, Poppy, in his own band, he’s on the road, sometimes internationally, with another Dayton, Ohio-rooted band, Hawthorne Heights.
Earlier this year, The Story Changes released an EP, This is Your Moment, which features a solid single in “Tidal Wave” and a spirited edition of Nirvana’s “Breed” in time for the 20th anniversary of the release of the original Nirvana album.
The duo released their debut album in 2006, and they’re as hungry as ever and ready to get back in the studio for another full-length album. That is, after Mark finishes touring with Hawthorne Heights. Hopefully there are enough hours in the day.
GUITAR WORLD: Your new EP, This is Your Moment, was released on vinyl earlier this year. Tell me about it.
We’re real excited. It’s our first release on vinyl. The two of us have been huge vinyl nerds for years, and I've spent way to much of my own personal money collecting vinyl on tour. This was the first time the opportunity arose for us to do one (on vinyl). We’ve done our a last two full-lengths on CD and iTunes, and it’s done well, but we’ve definitely noticed the biggest chunk of our sales are digital. But we started to get asked more and more about vinyl, so we kind of took a gamble on it this time and decided to do it just on the vinyl as well as having it available digitally, more of like a vanity project for fun. We’ve been so stoked about the actual response; we’re almost sold out of the actual vinyl, so we’re excited that kids are into it and collecting it. It’s just been really cool.
Is this EP going to be a prequel to a full-length album?
We’ve done two full-length records. Our last one came out at the end of 2007. Then we released a split album in 2009 with a band called Let Go, who we toured with. And then this was more or less we were in that position, a great position to be in, but it’s really hard as an up-and-coming band. We were getting offered really cool supporting tour slots that we couldn’t turn down because they were great offers. Being a solid band, you can go out on your own and play to 50, 60 kids a night, but being offered to go out to open up for other artists, being guaranteed that a thousand people are going to be there, we just couldn’t turn these opportunities down.
So the next thing we knew, two years had gone by since we did a full-length because we were so busy touring. With This is Your Moment, we finally had some down time toward the end of last year when we got home from Europe. We decided that since we were home for two months, let's get in the studio and knock out what we have because who knows when we’re going to get a break again. Then we got it done and kind of just did it for fun.
It was the first time since we started our band that we went into the studio not knowing where the songs were going to go. Normally we go in knowing we're going for the full-length or whatever. So we recorded it and we were really happy with how it came out and we kind of decided a few months later to do the vinyl. The plan is now to shoot for full-length. We’ve actually been demoing quite a bit and we're looking to get into the studio at the end of this year to do a new full-length.
You did the "Breed" cover on the EP, which was grungier than your songs prior. Is that a new direction for the band, or were you just paying your respects to Nirvana?
A little bit. We never really dabbled in covers a bunch until recently. We did that and this band Braid that we really like. We got asked to do a tribute compilation for them, so we recorded a song for that. It was a challenge because you want to make it sound like your band and put your own twist on it, but then you want to pay respects -- because it’s not broke, so you don’t want to try and fix it. You want to pay respects to the artist and do it right. So we tried to ride that line between making it rock and sound like us and making it rock and sound like the original. I think it definitely came more grungier than I expected. It’s hard to believe Nevermind came out 20 years ago.
How do you think The Story Changes has evolved since your first album, Last Night a Rock Band Saved My Life?
I actually listened to our first record two days ago for the first time in a while. We’ve been paying off our van for years now; we had a five-year loan on it. I came home and I went to pay it, and I realized it was the last payment. So to celebrate, we drove around and listened to our first record, front to back, because we got the van when that record came out. We listened to it to spark some memories of back in the day and stuff. It was cool because I think from where we were then to where we are now, we’ve grown quite a bit, particularly just being smarter musicians and a little more honed in our craft. But it still sounds like our band, and I can kind of see the seed of where we were going. Part of me feels we were a little more aggressive back then as far as our style, but at the same time, some of our newer stuff is even more hard-edged. That stuff was just a little more raw. Maybe a little more punk rock too.
Is there difference in your playing between Hawthorne Heights and The Story Changes?
Yeah, definitely. The Story Changes is just me, and my best friend plays drums. When we first started out, we had a try-out for base players or other guitar players, stuff like that, with friends filling in. But we’ve been playing live just the two of us for a while. So it was just me and the drummer. On top of that, I’ve always been self-taught, so for the most part I’ve had to play by ear, over the years picking things up.
To go from that situation where I’m the only guitar player in a band to playing with Hawthorne, who are great dudes that I’ve known for a long time, and there’s me playing a lot of rhythm and then Micah Carli in lead and then JT, our singer, also plays rhythm guitar on parts. So just in that band alone there are three people just playing guitar. That’s a big change, kind of learning when to hold back and when to open it up as far as guitar playing with that much going on live.
As far as the overall shows, it’s definitely a change. With The Story Changes, we’ve been at it long enough and we feel super-fortunate and blessed that we’ve been able to, for the most part, do this for a living for a few years now with just the two of us. We don’t have the biggest fan base, but the kids and the people that come out and support us are super-supportive and it feels great. We’ve had success with it, so to go out with Hawthorne and see what it’s like with a band that has a gold record and that kind of following, it’s definitely a whole other world.
Do use different gear when you play with Hawthorne Heights than you do with The Story Changes?
It depends. Sometimes its easier to keep a pack in each van. Just so I’m not moving stuff. Lately I’ve been on a huge Framus kick. Growing up, I probably toured with the same Marshall 900 SLX. I probably toured on that thing for six years. I loved it and always played SG’s was a total SG guy. Then within the last year, I started playing Framus stuff, and I’ve been playing that with both bands. I was over in Europe last year and rather than flying stuff over, they offered to provide all the back line and the guitars. Then I just fell in love with Framus. Their guitars are so great. So I got back to the States and I’ve been talking with them and playing their stuff for the past year. It’s just awesome, very versatile. Between the two bands, I have to get a lot of different tones, but it definitely gets it done.