On The Cusp: Young Mammals
Young Mammals. Photo: Trey Ferguson
Houston has always been a place where really good bands can make a name for themselves and gain a following if they put in the hard work. If you want to see a band who works hard, look no further than indie rock quartet Young Mammals. Starting off in their teens as The Dimes and graduating to a more focused sound, these guys have made the right connections and put in the time to gain a strong and loyal fanbase. Two years ago they came on hard with their beautifully crafted album Alto Seco, which proved that they had grown as a band with a more focused and straightforward sound. That said, I was shocked when SugarHill engineer and Grammy Award winning producer Steve Christensen told me in January that he’d been working on Young Mammals’ best work to date, an album that would eventually be known as Jaguar. The record is precise in its intent and the songs take a more concentrated approach in songwriting. Since the album is due for release this week and the fact that the band has changed so much in recent years, Free Press Houston sat down with Carlos Sanchez from the band to talk about Young Mammals’ past, present and future.
Free Press Houston: Everyone is from Houston, right?
Carlos Sanchez: Yeah. Well, me and Jose are from Indiana, but we grew up here. We’re both from an area about an hour northwest of Chicago where bands like CCTV and The Coneheads have created this cool little punk scene, which is really cool.
FPH: How long were The Dimes a band and what made you decide to quit doing it?
Sanchez: Well, essentially The Dimes still are a band, because we really just changed the name. I guess it was 2006 or 2007. We dropped that EP and we had to change our name because of another band from Portland called The Dimes. They called us because an article was written about them in San Diego and the paper used a picture of us instead of a picture of them. We were getting threatened with a lawsuit and none of us could afford any of that, so we just changed the band’s name to Young Mammals.
FPH: Do you still get people yelling out The Dimes’ songs at shows, or have most people put that to rest at this point?
Sanchez: Yeah, people still wanna hear that stuff sometimes, but they really want to hear stuff from Carrots it seems. I don’t know how we made those songs, they seem so foreign now. It sounds like we just had a bunch of ideas and we were just throwing them at a wall and seeing what would stick.
FPH: When you go back and listen to the earlier material, while it’s essentially similar, are you surprised by how different it sounds from your newer albums?
Sanchez: I think it sounds completely different. We’re constantly refining how we write and our overall sound. After Carrots, we had the Landlady 7” but it took a while for us to release Alto Seco. Right after Alto Seco was completed we started writing this new album because it felt like we had lost time between the two and I wanted to immediately have new songs ready for what was next.
FPH: The last record had a different sound as far as how you structured the songs, was that intentional or was it more because Cley had his guitars stolen?
Sanchez: The straightforward sound was definitely a goal when we made it. We’re trying to constantly refine how we write, we’ve tried to keep it simple while still attempting to make stronger songs. Now when I listen to Alto Seco, it feels more diverse and a little cluttered, but it felt the opposite of that when we made it. The goal when we made it was definitely to go simple with less.
FPH: The new album Jaguar takes a new direction where you’re songwriting is at the top of its game. What was your focus when you were writing it and what were you listening to during that time?
Sanchez: We were talking about this the other day, and I don’t really remember what I was listening to when we wrote it. I mean, I listen to a lot when we’re writing; stuff like Trio, Wire, I guess The Ramones, but I can’t really remember. The movie “Jaguar” was what inspired the title. It’s about these three guys who travel from Nigeria to Ghana to “become Jaguars” or to become successful. For some reason, the opening title where there’s a tree against a blue sky and the word “Jaguar” in white popped out on the screen to me, and I just started writing after seeing that. I wrote “Crane Song” and “Jaguar” when we were finishing the last album on the same day.
FPH: This is the sixth album you’ve done with Steve Christensen, it seems like the band and him are joined together at the hip. Do you see yourself branching out and working with different producers, or do you like the fact that you guys and he have both grown together?
Sanchez: I love that we’ve grown with Steve, and that when we met him he was just 26 years old. He’s awesome to work with and we’re really comfortable working with him. We might branch out some day and use someone else, but right now we have no reason not to work with Steve.
FPH: The direct feel of the songs from Jaguar really seems to showcase how cohesive you guys are as a band, but it’s coming pretty quick after the last one. Are you just a songwriting machine?
Sanchez: I think we just got into the rhythm of writing all the time and on this album we just went with it. There’s no reason to wait two years between releasing songs or albums. As a band we should be writing together as much as possible, so we do and we try to always have material ready to go.
FPH: You’ve gotten quite the reputation for a high energy live show. Are you planning to take it out on the road this time and get some touring done for this record?
Sanchez: I think we’re going to tour this time. I mean, we really want to. When the last album came out it was such an unorganized release because we didn’t have the vinyls in time. This time, we made sure to have everything done early so maybe in the winter or early spring we’ll get out on the road.
FPH: You’ve self released so much material as a band, do you ever see Young Mammals landing on a record label, and do you think you’d want that after doing it your own way for so long?
Sanchez: I don’t know. I don’t even know if that’s the goal anymore. It’d be nice if someone put out our stuff, but right now our goal as a band is to just write the best songs we can write. When we were younger, that was definitely the plan, but I don’t know if that’s even necessary anymore. In a lot of ways, our band is like a tree at the Menil, we’ve just been a part of the Houston scene for so long. We don’t get upset when we don’t get press or anything, we just do what we do and do it on our own. Maybe that’s how we’ll always do it.
It doesn’t feel like these guys have been at this for over a decade, but their upbeat attitudes and easy going nature prove that working hard can definitely pay off. I’d be lying if I said that their new album “Jaguar” wasn’t their strongest to date, because it’s precise and solid from start to finish. You can get your own copy of “Jaguar” when Young Mammals play their album release party this Saturday, October 8 at Fitzgerald’s downstairs. The all ages show will feature sets from Buoyant Spirit, Milk Leg, and Narrow Head with doors at 8 pm and a $10 cover.