B&L: What animal (what mammal) do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Mike Merenda: We try to be representatives of all the best things Mammals are capable of being, namely making music and spreading love.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Merenda: I’ve always been a chronic dreamer. Early on, listening to music was escapism, but when I learned to play music it was like being able to enter the dream and once I crossed over, or knew I could cross over, I never wanted to come back.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show? What do you look or hope for as the folks setting foot on that stage?
Merenda: I suppose having an audience leave a concert feeling a sense of hope and empowerment about their own lives is the ultimate goal. Even if just one person leaves feeling that way then I think we’re doing our job.
B&L: The Mammals are about to drop “Sunshiner” on the world on April 20th. A brand spanking new Mammals record. What’s got you all hot and bothered about this thing?
Merenda: Being back and releasing music as The Mammals again feels great. But finally having a new record available will make being The Mammals feel real. The musicians on this album are pretty stunning, too. So touring this material with this band is a high water mark musically for us. From the beginning The Mammals music has been an evolution; this is our most highly evolved sound.
B&L: This is your first proper Mammals release since 2006, is it not? Time is a bastard…
Merenda: Yeah, we released five Mike + Ruthy albums over the last decade and we still play a lot of those songs in Mammals shows. I hope as new folks discover The Mammals they’ll also find the M + R albums. They definitely fill in the gap between now and the last official Mammals release back in the ’06
B&L: What is a sunshiner? Is it someone that bottles up the feel good rays of the sun and distributes them for people to get all feel good tipsy with it/‘em?
Merenda: Yes! A Sunshiner is anyone who cares to make a positive contribution to their world, in whatever field of endeavor, be it art, energy, food, music, politics, parenting, culture.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written?
Merenda: There’s so much. And if you asked me tomorrow I’m sure my answers would be different. “Across the Universe,” by John Lennon. “Strangers,” by The Kinks. “Unity,” by Operation Ivy. “Haley,” by Big Thief. “Summer’s End” or “Paradise,” by John Prine. “Why We Build the Wall,” by Anais Mitchell. “Life,” by Jeffrey Lewis. “Standing in the Doorway,” by Bob Dylan. “In Memoriam,” by Ian Felice. “Hang Down Your Head” or “Old 55,” by Tom Waits. “Talking Hard Work,” by Woody Guthrie. I mean, I could go on and on.
B&L: What’s the sate of roots music in 2018. It seems to be gaining a lot of steam. There are acoustic based “Americana” bands popping up like a kettle full of kernels subjected to a fair amount heat… Some of it’s quite good – addicting even. Some of its soggy and weighed down by a bit too much artificial butter. Some is a bit too salty… But anyhow, how are you feeling about it? What do the Mammals add to the soundtrack?
Merenda: That’s sort of a loaded question. There’s so much incredible music coming out today spread across all sorts of genres. I would like to see more authenticity and roots championed by the music industry in general. The culture would be greatly served if more people were exposed to less formulaic, computer created music. Acoustic based music is, generally speaking, more human. More life sized. More alive. I think it opens us up in a different way.
B&L: New Hampshire is home to a Mammal or two… How does the Granite State inspire and/or inform your music? What’s it like to come trottin’ on through from time-to-time? How do the critters of New Hampshire treat ya?
Merenda: New Hampshire will always be my home and I’m grateful to still be in touch with so many of my old music friends and mentors here. We recently did an interview for The Muse Podcast hosted and created by my old buddies Duncan Watt & Jon Briggs. It’s amazing that that we’re all still in the game. Those guys are like family to me.
B&L: What can folks expect this time around when return to the Word Barn on April 22nd? It’s a Sunday, so will any gospel be presented/played?
Merenda: My uncle recently said, “Mike, I hope you find a nice church to go to someday.” What he doesn’t quite comprehend is that my church is all around me everyday. And especially where there’s music playing. So, gospel music? Depends on whose gospel you’re reading from.
B&L: You guys have Vivian Leva & Riley Calgano opening up the show. That new record they’ve got out is prime. How’d you all meet? What excites you about having them in tow for a string of shows?
Merenda: It’s nice to have support on the road and to get to know new folks over a string of shows. I, honestly, don’t know these guys super well but I will by the end of the month! What I’ve heard of their music is lovely. Very connected to American roots music.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Merenda: A dozen brilliant new songs.
The Mammals make a return visit to the Word Barn on Sunday, April 22nd, two days after the release of their brand new “Sunshiner” release. A musical celebration will ensue. For tickets and further information, click here.