For bands, a bonus of rehearsing in one of those large multiplex rehearsal spaces is the colorful cast of characters who seem to come along with the room. When I first met the Mammal Virus’ Lance Sanders back in the early aughts, he was the resident lovable, if slightly spaced-out, trippy dude who was around so much I thought maybe he lived at the practice facility. He was ever-present, outgoing, cordial, and always ready with a beer or a cigarette to offer –– a sort of harmless weirdo, prone to long meandering anecdotes interjected with bursts of raucous laughter. Though years have passed and bands have changed, I’m pleased to learn that Sanders really hasn’t. I spoke with him about his project the Mammal Virus, their upcoming EP, and how he wants the band to be received. As expected, our conversation took many amusing twists.
“We want to be that live kind of band that can really rack it up on stage,” he said in his hillbilly-Spicoli drawl. “People can understand the lyrics, but they can also move a little if they want. Shit, I don’t know. That’s just the crazy shit I write, I guess.”
The Mammal Virus began in 2012 as a writing project between Sanders, who plays guitar and sings, and his cousin, bassist Jesse Brady. A couple of years later, they recruited experimental guitarist/keyboardist Deven Kampenhout (Coyote Choir Band, Invisible Signal) and veteran drummer Ray Villareal (Sweetooth, Roadside Preachers) to round out a band. Though the cast has changed a bit, the quartet has been showcasing its brand of acid-laced, Southern psych-rock around North Texas ever since.
This week, the band is set to self-release a new EP. The Rx caps a trifecta of EPs, which includes the Mammal Virus’ two previously released and critically lauded efforts, The Vax and Audio Ambulance. The new songs were recorded earlier this fall at Fort Worth’s Cloudland Studios with veteran engineer Robby Rux (Mean Motor Scooter, Fungi Girls). Sanders described a fairly easy recording process.
“We were ready, you know what I mean?” he said. “We’d been playing this shit for fucking three weeks solid, so we went in there and were able to get it done pretty quickly.”
He gives a lot of credit to Rux’s influence on the recording process as well.
“We’d do three takes,” Sanders said, “and he’d be like, ‘Aren’t you guys cool with that?’ And of course I was very happy with it. To have a guy like Rob, who I consider a sort of godfather to the community for all he’s done, if he was cool with it, I was cool with it.”
The Rx includes contributions from new lead guitarist Caleb Ditzenberger (Public Love Affair) and bassist Rob Owens (Red Admirals), who replaced Brady in June. The two have noticeably elevated the band’s musicianship. Ditzenberger’s tasteful guitar lines add depth to tracks like the jangly love song “The Crook” and the trip-pop track “Like You,” while Owens’ bouncing, roaming bass provides a grooving center. The highlight of the collection is “The Cage,” a morose ballad about Sanders’ experience being incarcerated for drugs.
“They trapped me in a corner, babe / Wish I could blow myself away,” he sings on the opening line.
“What I meant is that I wish I could blow away like dust right out of there, not kill myself,” he explained. “But people will take it as they will.”
The song is the best expression of Sanders’ brooding themes.
“It all came from a dark place within me,” he said. “I just felt like the best way for me to deal with these feelings was to sing about it and put it out into that atmosphere, to where maybe I can receive some healing from it. It’s emotional rock ’n’ roll. If people can’t handle it, they can go listen to fucking Bryan Adams or something.”
The Rx will be available in limited quantity at the EP’s release show Friday at Dreamy Life’s Happy Hour at its record store. It will also be your last chance to see the band for a while, as the fivesome will be taking an inexplicable sabbatical –– a move that, if confusing, seems appropriately eccentric for Sanders.
“I’m a man of mystery,” he said. “It’s a hiatus. Just tell ’em that ol’ Lance is going off to explore himself,” he added with a laugh, a response typical of what I’ve come to expect from the lovable, innocuous weirdo.
The Mammal Virus
8pm Fri, Nov 10, w/Tortuga Redfro at Dreamy Life Records and Music, 1310 W Allen Av. Free.