Mystery Loves Company
words by Tamma Hicks
This past November/December we took part in a promotion with ReverbNation. First, I have to say that I really didn’t know what to expect; certainly not 3,000 plus submissions! And second, there are some amazingly talented people and although for this promotion we only choose one group we had a stack of runner-ups that would fill a page! So how did we finally decide on Mystery Loves Company? Well, quite honestly it was their uniqueness. I mean really… How often do you go to a club and see a rock/alt/blues band comprised of a guitar, cello, and clarinet?
STEAM From what I understand Mystery Loves Company is your brainchild Carlos, so let’s get some background from each of you – starting with you.
CARLOS My family moved to Houston from Venezuela when I was 12. I got my first guitar when I was 18, so I am a late bloomer in that sense, and I started playing mostly as another outlet for writing. I was very interested in writing stories, articles, and poems. Picking up a guitar was just another outlet for writing poetry and after time it became the only outlet so as I was writing the song I would find that I needed another cord or part and have would teach myself; guitar was just about me learning and providing me an outlet. About 10 years later, I realized that I had taught myself how to play guitar and I was pretty good but I was alone. I decided to go to open mics for the experience and to get over the fear of singing in public and I found that I liked it the more I played. I also found that I had a great number of songs I’d composed, just not written down. After a while I began feeling the need to collaborate and I was thinking very specifically that I needed a cello for some songs I was working on and that’s when I ran into Madeline at an open mic. You never see a cello at an open mic so I gave her a card.
ALAUNA I started music at the age of six and in second grade I picked up the clarinet. I actually didn’t want to play clarinet, I wanted to play drums. For music class I had to pick a second instrument and I said drums, drums, drums and my parents were not thrilled with idea. However, while I was walking through the music store I saw this case that was locked and I said,”Look! It’s a musket!” and my mom said, “No honey, that’s a clarinet.” So that’s how I chose the clarinet – I thought it was a gun.
I started my first band when I was 13 and my first band job was at my bar mitzvah. It was a guitar player, me and a drum machine playing “emo” music to all of my family and friends. I went the whole clarinet classical route throughout school until I became bored with it, so I got into the a group called Nameless Sound, which is an organization helping people get into improv which is based on jazz, but is formless and I really enjoyed that. But after a while I got to where I wanted to get back into that metered music but not back to classical.
MADELINE I am a classically trained cellist as well as vocalist; I went to the Lawrence Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin. I am from Illinois and I went to school in Wisconsin. When I was preparing for graduation my orchestra director suggested that Houston might be a great place for me as both a musician and as a musical educator and I took her advice. I’ve been here for four years and I teach kindergarten through fourth grade orchestra. I played in symphonies, orchestras, quartets, ensembles, so I’ve had a great deal of performance experience; however, not as a small group in a club.
STEAM Alauna, do you play drums?
ALAUNA No, not really. I do play guitar, ukulele, some piano, and I’m learning saxophone.
STEAM Okay Carlos, going back to where you said you were looking for a cello. I’ve been around music for a long time and I can tell you that I don’t recall ever hearing of anyone who was looking specifically for a cello. That’s a very specific instrument and sound and, besides, a cello at an open mic is pretty rare to find.
CARLOS My thought was that the cello provided the exact sound I needed for the songs I was working on, none of which made it on this album, and with of my experience of just a few months of performing, I never saw a cello. I was beginning to consider violin as the instrument to collaborate with when in walked Madeline and I told myself that I had to give it a shot and we were fortunate that it worked out. But what will really surprise you is that as Madeline and I collaborated and developed our duet it became increasingly aware that we needed to be a group and we were both pretty convinced that it needed to be a clarinet.
STEAM Umm surprise would be a good term. I have to say again that I have heard
a lot of people say they were looking for certain instruments, but not many, especially a duet, say we need more clarinet.
CARLOS The way we came to this conclusion is that I am an architect and I would communicate with Madeline in these very architectural terms, and she would have to decode what I was trying to say. So I bought a music theory DVD and began learning the proper musical terms and about music. What we decided was that we were looking for a sound that could be the lead instrument to play rock as well as stay soft for the classical sounds we have. Clarinet just seemed right but we both thought finding a clarinet player wanting to be in a band-group and perform live would be very difficult. I said that after going through the experience of thinking cello-finding cello, we should just give it a little time. A few months later I saw Alauna warming up before a show. I told him what we were looking for and gave him a card.
STEAM So what made you want to go to an open mic?
MADELINE Actually, it was a friend of mine who was visiting from out of town. It was completely her idea; she decided we would learn three songs off the radio, go to an open mic, and see how it goes. She thought it would be a fun thing to do and that people would get a kick out of two girls singing with a cello. She really had to do some prodding and convincing that it would really be fun. I had had the idea that I wanted to play other genres than just classical, but I didn’t know what I was really looking for and I really didn’t know what to expect by going to an open mic.
STEAM I know you are a trio but do you bring in other instruments for shows?
CARLOS We do and it really depends upon the stage that we are playing. For example playing on a rock stage we may bring in a percussionist or an extra bass sound, which could be another cello. We also take set lists very seriously. We don’t just do five of our popular songs and throw in a bunch of other stuff, we actually build the sets toward the venue.
STEAM One of my favorite things is studio time. I just love that creative feeling that immediately resonates when I walk through the door. Tell me about your album, “A Mystery Yet Unknown” and how did you like recording?
CARLOS We recorded at Beebe Gunn Studio in Houston, it’s owned by Paul Beebe, who is an incredible musician and recording engineer. We went it with not a lot of money and two goals. First, we wanted the album to sound like a live performance; not over-processed, but that we were there performing for you. And second, we wanted it to be an experience not just a collection of songs. I’m sure I can say this for all of us... We feel that this album has its own personality and we are very happy with how it turned out!
ALAUNA This was a first for me as I have been a studio musician and
recorded, but never had had the experience of recording an album from the beginning and building up . The recording process for me was very interesting as I never recorded with the clarinet. In fact we were all very inexperienced on recording the clarinet. So what we did was put a U-87 under the bell. I started playing and it sounded really good! Then Paul realized that two other mics had been left on in the room so he turned them off and… it sounded really bad, so Carlos said, “Turn them back on!” We ended up using three microphones on the clarinet for the whole album. I think the album is a match to how the band got together; very organic.
STEAM Tell me about your summer to her plans.
CARLOS Actually in March were going out for about a week or so to get our feet wet and then this summer were doing a much larger tour.
STEAM One last question, how did you come up with the name?
MADELINE Carlos and I were the only members of the group at the time and we were just throwing names around constantly but we just couldn’t agree on one. We would call or text a suggestion, but none really fit. Then one day during the school day I’d come up with Mystery Loves Company. As I was texting him my explanation (a play on another phrase) I was preparing to hear him to say no, so I sent the name and he replied that’s perfect and the search was over.
Carlos A. Machado (guitar/vocals), Madeline Herdeman (cello/vocals), Alauna Rubin (clarinet)