MouseRocket, a five-piece indie pop group based out of Memphis, is the poster child for generations of local musicians intent on rethinking and re-creating garage rock.
Since its inception in 2001, the group has mastered the technique of reshuffling the hallmarks of the subgenre in question. In addition to classic rock style guitar work, MouseRocket explores various modern textures: upbeat melodies; New Wave keys; prog drums; and even a cello, which Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist Jonathan Kirkscey makes child’s play of as he sneakily weaves through Hemant Gupta’s bass and Robert Barnett’s drums.
The group – lead by guitarists-cum-vocalists Alicja Trout and Robby Grant – began as a home recording project between Trout and Barnett. Shortly thereafter, the band dropped a keyboardist and expanded into the quintet fans know today.
With its self-titled debut (Empty Records; 2004), MouseRocket merged an early-’90’s lo-fi, four-track aesthetic with the noisy guitars of Sonic Youth. Albeit, it wasn’t until their 2008 sophomore album, Pretty Loud, that MouseRocket gained significant-enough hosannas, with a 7.0 rating from Pitchfork.com, the everyday hipsters online Bible.
While MouseRocket has maintained its dark weirdness, the new release sees a more professional cohesiveness that was lacking when the band was merely a group of friends screwing around in a studio.
Cicada Sounds retains their playful spirit, but juxtaposes an intimate, no-bullshit sincerity. The ominous “Ghost In A Jar,” for instance, is an escalating, creepy ride of dark tragedy, effectively brought to life by Grant’s vocals.
The more upbeat numbers (my personal favorite included: “Flying Saucer Home”), are left up to Trout. Here, she humorously addresses her new role as a mother in “How To Say No.” In fact, the tension between Trout and Grant’s songwriting quirks is precisely what keeps MouseRocket from losing their creative propulsion.
This may explain why they’re on a playback-loop through my car stereo, too.
MouseRocket’s appeal might also be credited to the fact that every member of the quintet is involved with other music projects — thus, there is less pressure to produce chart toppers, yielding an unusual degree of freedom to experiment. Consider Trout’s thoughts, for instance, in a recent interview I conducted with her via email:
“MouseRocket is my longest running band, well over 10 years, so to me there is no pressure to make something huge of it this moment. It is easier to work when no one expects there to be a certain formatted song style, and that has helped.”
As a former Lost Sounds band member, Trout’s present extracurricular project is River City Tanlines, a garage-cum-new wave outfit. Grant, conversely, plays in Big Ass Truck (a rock, funk and psychedelia group) and Vending Machine. Gupta and Barnett released a self-titled debut in 2004.
But perhaps most invaluable to MouseRocket is Kirkscey, whose compositional strengths hail from the aforementioned Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Kirkscey’s elegant cello work arguably adds the most conspicuous textures to MouseRocket’s collective sound. They not only succeed in reinforcing Trout and Grant’s vocals, they also embolden Gupta’s bass.
Still, while these mousy rocketeers remain busy with various flight missions, none of them place extraneous priority on any particular project. They just want to create. In Trout’s words:
“Music is still my number one pursuit and all my bands are part of the pursuit — whoever the current attention is focused on. I think that sentiment is true for all the members.”
Kate Anthony is a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she earned her BFA in Print Journalism and discovered her passion for photojournalism. As a freelance journalist and photographer, she spends much of her free time in wanderlust or in what Ayn Rand calls a state of “longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion.” She can be found in the photography section of Books A Million, jacked up on coffee & ferociously taking notes, or by visiting her photography website.
This article was originally written and published for OxfordEagle.com.
[YouTube video uploaded by ShoulderTap on Dec 15, 2010. “Mouserocket closes their set with Tim Feleppa/Mink Lungs tune “Flying Saucers Home” at the Buccaneer, Memphis TN, Dec 4 2010.”]