The All Mighty Senators: The Carpenters’ Yang?
The All Mighty Senators are a band on the brink. After years of grinding out a living in the hard scrabble bars of Baltimore, Maryland, the band began to expand beyond the limits of Charm City, and quickly became renowned for their high octane rock and soul review. Led by drummer/singer/superhero Landis Expandis, the Senators sound relies heavily on the spitfire guitar sounds of Warren Boes, the fat low end bass of Jack Denning, and a tight ear popping horn section. The All Mighty Senators treat each show like a religious revival at the Church of Boogie, each show, the crowd leaving in an exhausted but fulfilled state. For the Senators, 2003 was a landmark year; it saw the release of Music Is Big Business, the group’s most polished and well-received release to date. The Senators toured relentlessly, as per their road dog’ mentality, and played last year to thousands of fans who had yet to be exposed to the upbeat sounds of the Senators, including appearances at the All Good Festival, Big Wu Family Reunion, and a cross country trek with Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. I caught up with the band and we had a chance to chat about where the band has been, where it’s going, and yes, even the Carpenters.
Aaron Hawley: Last year seemed to be a breakthrough year for you guys. You played a lot of big festival bills, released a well received album and toured with Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. Where are the All Mighty Senators looking to go this year?
Landis Expandis (drums): Looking to go? I hope that we find as many crazy adventures this year as we did last year.
Jack Denning (bass): I’m looking to just keep on rocking, you know. You have gangbuster years you have relaxed years, it’s s all just another link in the chain, another step in the journey.
AH: You guys are from Baltimore, which has been called a lot of things, from charm city to the city that reads…
JD: To harm city
AH: How integral to the whole AMS sound is the city of Baltimore?
JD: I would say really influential.
LE: It’s where we get our edge.
JD: It’s kind of a harsh city in a lot of ways, but there’s a certain rundown aspect to it that kind of caters to the homemade way of doing things, it’s kind of unique in character.
Warren Boes (guitar): Yeah, I mean, because it is there are certain areas that are depressed, it makes housing cheap and resources and things like that are a little easier to come by than in a city, say like New York or Philadelphia.
JD: You don’t have to be a squatter in Baltimore because it’s cheap enough to live there without squatting.
WB: We all met under those conditions too. We were living cheaply so we could do our music, keep expenses low, so the only money we needed was to pay some rent when we weren’t home, we were on the road and stuff.
JD: Beer money.
WB: Beer money, exactly. There’s other aspects of Baltimore that come out in our music, it’s like a small town vibe in a big town.
JD: It’s got kind of a dark literary past too, with Ed Poe, so it’s kinda hard edged and a little down home too.
AH: Landis, do you consider yourself a drummer first or a frontman first?
LE: I consider myself a singer first. A songwriter, singer/songwriter. I don’t consider myself a drummer at all.
AH: Despite the fact you play drums.
LE: Yeah, it’s what I do. I do it. Like Karen Carpenter, she’s not often thought of as a drummer, but she thought of herself as a drummer first and a singer second. We’re like one of those ying-yang patterns.
WB: The yang of the carpenters
AH: You guys are festival warriors, do you have any favorites, or ones that were particularly memorable?
LE: The ones that don’t rain are my favorites.
JD: The Wu family reunion
WB: That’s always a good one. I don’t even know the name of it, that one we played in Fargo last summer…
JD: The Wham Bam Thank You Jam’.
WB: That was a fun one. That was a low budget one, it wasn’t a big glamorous festival.
JD: Despite the fact that it was a bunch of hippies, it was punk as fuck. Minimal sound system, not really a built up stage. We were supposed to perform on this huge stage, it started raining, and there was this garage shed thing, and you know, we played in a smaller area, and it rained, but whatever, we’re gonna play. We came here to play. It was good, it was intimate but a big vibe.
WB: A lot of times some of those bigger festivals, even though it’s great to play in front of a lot of people at a Berkfest or something like that, it’s harder to dig into the music as much as when it’s a more intimate environment. Plus you’re farther away from the audience at those big festivals, don’t get me wrong, I like doing those big shows too, but sometimes the more memorable shows are where wacky stuff happens. A lot of the time that’s at the smaller festivals.
JD: At the smaller ones, there’s not so much of a budget where investors are making it happens. It’s basically a commitment to having an awesome party and maybe it will be lackluster in a lot of details, like you know, production value, but in a lot of occasions, everybody’s so enthusiastic, it’s a good party.
AH: The term jamband is applied to a lot of bands. Sometimes it’s used to describe the music, a lot of times it’s the fans. It’s a moniker that has bee applied to you guys in the past. Do you feel that it fits, or that the terminology is constricting?
LE: Well, the term is so broad it’s gotta fit. They made the term broad enough to have the B-52s at the Jammys.
JD: At the same time, it’s also just a trendy name. This band was playing way before the term was coined and we’ll play long after the term has fallen out of favor.
WB: If it applies to any band that improvises on their tunes, than we definitely fall into that. But most of our songs are written in a way that we can perform them where we don’t have huge improvised segments. Or we get to an event like this where we have a chance to stretch out and we choose to maybe do that, and so it works out good. We’re always ready to take it there if it calls for it. But for instance when we were out on the Pretenders tour last year, it was more lets play a lot of songs in the forty five minutes we get’ rather than play two songs for 25 minutes. But then again, sometimes two songs for 25 minutes, at the right event, is what needs to happen at that moment. If that’s jamband, than yeah we fit into that and other times you might see us and say, they didn’t jam at all, what’s that about, you’re not a jamband’. If anybody’s gonna get upset about that, though, that’s a problem of someone really lookin’ at it like a label.
JD: That’s their problem.
WB: A lot of groups in this scene step in and out of it in a lot of ways. It can be restrictive, but it doesn’t bother me when people associate us with that, just like it doesn’t bother me when people associate us with more of a rock thing.
LE: We’ve been associated with many different things, some people think we’re a ska band. We’re playing a ska show this weekend. I mean, it’s not a ska show, but it’s two bands lined up that have horns, and ska kids are gonna be there. There’s one time we played the downtown Baltimore athletic club, same night we went to a rave and played that. The age difference was at least twenty years, if not the scene…
JD: Which one was that the gorilla rave? That was a good party.
WB: And there’s no other bands playing there, that was the thing. These kids had never even seen a live band before.
AH: The crowd at an All Mighty Senators show tends to be a mish-mosh of people who come together to for the Senators shows. They do not fit the typical stereotype of a jamband audience, with a lot of different kinds of kids coming out. What about your music appeals to such a wide range of people?
JD: It kicks ass.
LE: It’s rock n’ roll.
JD: We’re sincere.
WB: That’s a rough question. That’s the really the main thing. If you’re making music that’s not contrived, you’re just playing what you’re supposed to play when you get together, than people will react to it. Sometimes negatively, sometimes positively, but we don’t sit down and think…
LE: ...how can we make this have universal appeal?
WB: If we did that, than we would have no appeal.
JD: Like nearly every musician. we like a lot of different stuff. So we apply all of that different stuff to our own songs. So you know if you want to be analytical enough, you could find a punk influence and a country western influence in the same song, perhaps that’s part of it.
AH: What was touring with Chrissie Hynde like, and how did you get hooked up with her? I imagine you were playing in front of a whole new audience who hadn’t experienced All Mighty Senators before. What was that like?
WB: The quick answer to how we got the gig was that our booking agent at the time noticed that the support act for that tour was not going to be able to do it, and they backed out for whatever reason. So we sent our press materials and CD to their management company. They sent them to Chrissie. She told us that she went through a giant stack of CDs and ours was the one that she picked, at the end of it. She said, "I want these guys". She was real determined to have a band. A real rock band, not a sort of group that was supporting the lead singer. She didn’t want a singer songwriter. She just wanted a bunch of people that were really used to being in a group together.
JD: She also didn’t want a band that was like, "well our label did this favor or got a favor from this other label, so we’re going to put this band on to pay them back for the favor". She wanted a band that she liked. She also said that she thought we were so physically unattractive that we had to rock.
LE: She didn’t say unattractive. She said ugly. There’s a difference.
JD: What was it like playing in front of those audiences? The very first night, like the night before, I personally had a couple of jitters. I was contemplating, this is a totally different crowd, there’s a lot of attention being put on us, high expectations, you know, all those different things that will make a person nervous. But when we started playing, I was like, "this is what we do". I’ve been on stage a thousand times before in front of people who have never seen me before. This is no big deal, I know how to do this part. Yeah, we’re road dogs, playing in front of the crowds part was a piece of cake. And the crowds were really good to us too.
AH: How does her crowd compare to the average Senators show in a bar or festival?
WB: Well obviously, the ticket price was a lot more than most of the times you come and see us if we’re playing in a bar.
JD: It was a crowd of employed people
WB: The average age was probably older, but there were younger people there too. Maybe older in general than what we’re used to doing. The response, I said was good, we sold a lot of CDs each night. Every night we went out and greeted people in the lobbies of these places and thanked them for coming. It was fun, lots of good comments, lots of people on the mailing list, lots of people buying CDs. Who knows if they’ll come see us when we come through their town the next time, but they were very supportive on this thing, so that’s about all we could as k for.
LE: One big different thing that we noticed, was it was very nice to play these grand theatres instead of smoky clubs or a festivals. Which is all good, we love the smoky club, we love the festival, we love the big halls, but these were grand theatres with velvety curtains and smoke free atmospheres.
JD: She made a point to have the tour stop in theatres that were in downtown areas of cities. That was something that she made sure was part of the tour. And a lot of these theatres were places that had had a heyday maybe fifty years ago, were maybe rundown and then restored. We got to see a lot of historic places as well.
AH: Did you guys get a chance to break into a lot of markets that you otherwise had not had an opportunity to play in?
WB: We hadn’t been to Seattle, that was really good. Arizona. We did get to some places that we definitely hadn’t really been to on a regular basis. San Diego was really good, we went to Canada. We have yet to go back to Canada. Easton, Pennsylvania. I don’t know if we really broke into the market’ there, but we hadn’t been there before, that was cool. That was just a spot we had not yet been to as a band. We’re getting ready to head out to the Midwest in a couple of weeks, I guess we’ll see when we go through Minneapolis and Wisconsin and Chicago, if any of the people who saw us on the Pretenders tour are back, and coming out the smoky bars. That’ll be the test.
AH: What do you think the ingredients to a good Senators show are?
JB: Cold beer is important
WB: Dancing is important.
LE: The ladies.
WB: A good ratio, that’s always good.
JD: Because, hey c’mon man (laughs)
WB: That’s all that’s said about that
AH: I mean, that’s why there is a band, right?
LE: I mean, guys without girls don’t feel like doing much besides standing around. Unless it’s a hardcore punk band, then by all means, mosh mosh mosh.
WB: The dancing is choice, and when that happens we know that’s a good thing. Or let me say, when that doesn’t happen it’s really weird.
AH: Music Is Big Business is a strong statement, a strong album, and the most polished Senators effort to date. Do you guys have plans for another album?
WB: It’s almost done, we have some mixing and finalizing and stuff.
JD: It’s a little more raw this time
WB: Yeah it’s a little less polished in a way, I wouldn’t say it’s less well performed.
LE: We didn’t tweak it music this time. We wanted the raw power to come through
JD: With Music Is Big Business, that was probably the first record where we decided to push every idea as far as we could go and try to incorporate every sound that we felt needed to be on a particular tune. This time around it was closer to the tunes as performed maybe at a gig, or just the five of us goin’ at it. Production-wise we’re still using good microphones and good preamps and crap like that, but not over the top overdubs and things like that.
AH: One final question, where would this band be without the booty?
JD: Standing up. Where would we be without oxygen? Or our hearts?
Aaron Hawley never understood why people called Baltimore "Charm City".