One of the casualties of growing old is having your friends slip away. Back in the day, unencumbered by jobs, lovers, offspring, and whatever else eventually fills up your life, you and the boys had all day to hang, skate, and rock out. Then you go up the vert ramp of life and responsibilities tear your crew apart; if you are lucky, you remain close with one of the guys. And you continue to make new friends, maybe at college, then at work, then amongst the group of people who had sex the same time you did and ended up with a kid in your kid’s class. But these relationships are never the same. These new friends may like who you’ve become, but it’s your teenage buddies who made you into this person.
MxPx, on the other hand, formed when they were 15, put out their first studio album when they were still in high school, and—other than losing a guitarist to college two years later—they have remained together through marriages, kids, real jobs, and other turbulence. Now they’re in the studio cranking out a new album.
The pop punk band solidified in Bremerton, WA, in the early ’90s with Mike Herrera, Yuri Ruley, and Tom Wisniewski. While most of the bands across the country were desperately trying to sound like Nirvana (from Aberdeen, a two-hour drive from Bremerton), they found themselves drawn to the Ramones and the Descendents. “A lot of the grunge bands were playing bars and we couldn’t get into bars; we were too young,” Herrera explains. “When Nirvana, Mudhoney, and bands like that were playing big, big venues they were already huge. It was cool, but we didn’t get the influence in the same way as you would going to a little all-ages show.”
Although their influences were from places other than their own backyards, that doesn’t mean MxPx had no love for its hometown. While most punk bands sing about how much they hate where they are from (“This Place” by the Descendents and “The City With Two Faces” by Goldfinger immediately come to mind), MxPx sang the praises of home in their hit “Move to Bremerton.” It took a few years, but eventually the town embraced the song and the band. “They wanted to use our song in their web campaign,” Wisniewski recalls. “So I jokingly told them that we wanted the key to the city, duh. And they came back and said, ‘How about we take you out to dinner too?’” Punk rock is almost always anti-establishment, so some would view this as selling out. Wisniewski sees it a little differently: “The lunatics are running the asylum, and it’s pretty cool.”
Herrera and Wisniewski are very passionate about their ink, so much so that the passion bleeds into some of their lyrics. In the song “Chick Magnet” they sing about a modern-day Casanova: “The guy, yeah, he’s got style and it’s plain to see. Smooth shoes and cool tattoos, hair pomped as tight as can be.” Early on, Herrera had a lot of his work done by Sid Stankovitz in Santa Ana, CA. Since he spent so much time on tour, Herrera had the opportunity to get a lot of tattoos done in a lot of different places, with checkered results. “Over the years on tour I would get tattoos done—about half of which are very horrible,” he laughs. “So I’ve stopped going to randoms on tour.” These days Herrera gets most of his work done by Oliver Peck from Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas and Nate Woods from Lucky Boys Tattoo parlor in Silverdale, WA.
Most of Wisniewski’s tattoos are done by Katie Williams of House of Tattoo in Tacoma, WA. Wisniewski has experienced the perks of having a regular artist along with the occasional issue, such as the artist having too many ideas for his tattoos. “We talked about doing a back piece years ago, but then she drew something for my side. So I said, ‘What about my back?’ She said, ‘Your back will be fine, we’ll get to it, no big deal,’” Wisniewski says. Assuming that they would work on his back next, Wisniewski got another call from Williams saying she had an idea for his other side. While Wisniewski may have worried a little about never getting his back piece done, he knew that he was in good hands, and the tattoo on his side ended up being one of his and the artist’s favorite tattoos.
Eagles, sparrows, swallows, and hawks are all standard tattoo fare, so when Wisniewski finally focused on his back piece he wanted to do something a little bit different. “I was thinking of tattoos my friends had, and no one had an owl. I was looking at pictures online and thought, Oh man, owls are pretty creepy-looking monsters,” Wisniewski says. Now he is two or three sittings away from having his entire back covered with an amazing owl surrounded by maple leaves.
While MxPx’s sound has definitely become more polished since the times they were releasing music as teenagers, that shouldn’t diminish their earlier work. It is all part of the process. Herrera has that same attitude toward his tattoos, especially the less impressive ones: “As tattoos get trendier you see people with perfect sleeves and everything is planned out perfectly, which is cool, of course. But I feel that me piecing it together over the years gives me a better, or at least longer, story to tell.”
And as Herrera collects tattoos and MxPx live out their teenage dreams together, the real world has finally caught up. Wisniewski and Ruley no longer tour with the band, as their careers won’t allow all the time off, but Wisniewski thinks that being off the road has helped the recording process this time around. Previously, the band would hit the studio and record an entire album in 10 days or so. But thanks to the rigors of life, the band has to work around their schedules and is only recording a day or two at a clip. “We’re taking more time, as far as when we start recording and when we finish recording. We’re also taking a bit more time as far as working parts out,” Wisniewski says. “Mike and I started playing with this song; we had all intentions of just recording this one riff. Then we did all this crazy stuff and just started going for it. It made the song 10 times better in my mind. Now we have time to sit and figure out something that we may not have known even existed.”
See what can happen when you stay in touch with old friends? Facebook someone you lost touch with; and if you need an excuse for contacting him, say you wanted him to know that MxPx is coming out with a new album.