Punk Pariah

MxPx survives image problems to build a career.

MxPx Agora Ballroom Monday, August 14
MxPx got crucified by punk rockers.
MxPx got crucified by punk rockers.
MxPx has never really fit in. Though its energetic pop-punk draws on the same influences as many of its West Coast brethren, it has always seemed between crowds. Neither as successful as Blink-182 nor as credible as Bad Religion, MxPx has been a victim of prejudice in a scene that supposedly prides itself on open-mindedness.

"It's always been sort of one person at a time, whether it's musically or personally," says singer-bassist Mike Herrera. "They'll be 'I don't know about those guys,' and then we hang out with them, and they're like, 'He's all right.'"

The band got started when its members were innocent kids in junior high. It was '93, before Green Day's Dookie changed the punk-pop landscape, but the three had already latched onto a similar sound, fueled by the anxious punk melodies of bands like the Descendants and Social Distortion.

They didn't know anything about Christian rock when they signed with Tooth & Nail in '95, after an audition in Herrera's backyard. They weren't even out of high school.

They were too naive to realize that they might alienate both punk rockers and Christians by admitting they were both.

"We didn't even realize it was an issue," says Herrera. "We had no idea. All we wanted to do was make records."

It was a tough yoke, but they won fans over by dint of their energetic live shows and relentless touring.

They've persevered, thanks to a hardy spirit that matches their DIY ethos: They recorded their second album, Teenage Politics, during spring break of their senior year. The day after their high school graduation, they piled into a van and left for their first national tour -- without any label support.

The financial situation improved the next year, when they released their third album, Life in General, and scored an MTV-fueled hit with "Chick Magnet." Before long the majors came calling, and MxPx was being called a sellout.

"We're in a van playing shows, and you're going to call me a sellout? At least wait until I get rich," recalls Herrera. "It still pisses me off."

After a stint with a major label, MxPx has returned to the indies with Panic. The group's first record since it split with Universal, Panic was released on SideOneDummy. It has been hailed as a great comeback, though Herrera objects to that characterization and defends the band's final major-label effort, Before Everything & After.

"We're stuck in this musical genre. Our fans really like what we do, and every time we try to step a little out of that, it hasn't been taken very well," says Herrera. "For Panic, we just didn't want to repeat that; it's two years of your life, and you want people to respond well to it."

Panic certainly qualifies as the best punk album MxPx has recorded in years. Tracks like "Young and Depressed" and "Heard That Sound" are steeped in hooks, and Herrera's songwriting feels richer than the ballad-heavy efforts of previous albums.

"Lyrically, I tried to put some ideas in there that aren't on every record," Herrera says. "I actually went to L.A. and got a hotel room, and went out every night by myself, though I'd eventually meet up with friends. Getting a new environment, like getting a new guitar, is a great catalyst for changing up how you write."

While Herrera's spirituality still sneaks into song subjects occasionally, it's hardly overt. In the band's wake, however, a whole industry of Christian rockers sprang up, from the metalheads of P.O.D. to Canton's pop-punk Relient K.

Still, he's philosophical. "I don't even know if we'd have a career, if we started now. Obviously we'd sound completely different -- we'd probably be wearing girls' jeans and screaming half the time."

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