Interview: The Exbats

Kenny and Inez McLain are the father/daughter duo who make up two-thirds of the Bisbee, Arizona-based garage rock trio, The Exbats. Surviving the Golden Age spoke with Inez and her father over the phone about their latest album, Kicks, Hits, and Fits, as well as: what the band’s been up to since the quarantine went into effect, shifting their bassist into a producer role, their favorite episode of Flight of the Conchords, and getting the attention of The Rolling Stones.

Okay, are you ready to answer a few of my questions?

Inez: Yeah!

Oh, excellent, excellent! Okay, Kicks, Hits, and Fits came out in early March. Were you able to play any shows after the record’s official release before the quarantine went into effect?

Inez: We played one show, right? On the album release date.

Kenny: We played two.

Inez: Did we?

Kenny: We did one at Stinkweeds (2/29 Phoenix, AZ) and that was good, and then we did one for the album release in Tucson at this place called Wooden Tooth (3/6 Tucson, AZ), and it was killer! The place was a record store. It was packed, out on the street and inside, and we just crushed it. It was like … honestly, we had started…it felt like we were firing on all cylinders. Remember that show at [unintelligible], too, about a month before?

Inez: Mm hm.

Kenny: I mean, it was just…yeah, we were ready! We were raring to go, and now we’re…not. (laughs)

Aw, man. You and the rest of the world. Unbelievable. What have you Exbats been doing to keep busy during this quarantine?

Kenny: Well, we … um, Burger Records tomorrow has a thing coming out called Quarantunes, and anybody that’s associated with their label were invited to write a song about their experience of the last few weeks and record it and send it to ‘em. And that ended up being 130 responses.

Wow.

Kenny: Yeah, no shit. And it’s coming out tomorrow on Bandcamp. And we’re the first song on volume four, which was a nice placement, I thought. And, I can’t remember who else is with us on that volume. But, I mean, everybody’s on it, you know. It’s real cool. So, we wrote that. And then we’re working on …

Inez: Our song is called…um…uh, actually, I don’t know.

Kenny: I think it’s…”Kwaren”?

Inez: It’s “Kwarenkween”. I couldn’t remember if it was “21 and Quarantine” or “Kwarenkween.” Um, the song is about my 21st birthday in quarantine. (laughs) Uh, but, yeah, we’ve been doing that, and we’ve been writing a few new songs. We’ve got at least one video idea up our sleeves right now that we’re working on. But, yeah, just trying to pass the time. I’ve been … I’ve had a lot of schoolwork. All my classes got changed to online classes, so, lots of homework.

Aw, man. So, did you actually turn 21 during quarantine?

Inez: I did! It was on March 23rd.

Happy birthday! That’s very exciting!

Inez: (laughs) It was a very uneventful day. Uh, and by the end of it, I demolished my family in a game of Monopoly, so that was a good win.

Cool! Excellent! Your former bassist, Matt Rendon, he slid into a producer role on Kicks, Hits, and Fits. Was this an easy decision for you folks to make?

Kenny: Well, yeah, I mean, oddly … Matt’s kind of our best friend in the world of music. And, you know, at first, our first recordings with him … I don’t know, I mean, it was all good, it was great, everything’s been terrific. But what’s odd is, this time, and this really wasn’t an influence of Matt, but we were really influenced by The Hollies. We were thinking almost exclusively about The Hollies when we recorded Kicks, Hits, and Fits. And Matt loves The Hollies and speaks that language. So, when we’re sitting in there, it’s like a team effort.

Inez: Yeah, Matt is an honorary Exbat.

Kenny: I think he’s a full-on Exbat.

Inez: Or a full-on Exbat. He’s the fourth Exbat.

Very cool. Kenny, were you at all concerned that the slicker production on the new album might detract from the band’s garage rock sound, or did you have faith in what Matt had planned?

Kenny: Oh, well, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I’m always thinking three albums ahead, and I see, you know, for me, I always want to grow as a songwriter. I think this album is a little slicker sounding, but I think that it’s because of harmony, and that’s Matt and Inez’s department. I don’t participate. I participate in melody, and I come up with all that stuff. Matt and Inez do the harmony, and I just see it as growth. I can’t imagine trying to write, you know, the way we did a few years ago. I think, for me, it is a little bit slicker sounding, but it’s a little bit slicker because the songs naturally have a little bit more going on. That’s it! I don’t get, like, outgrowing Matt. I’ve often thought about, like, okay what if somebody was, like, okay well, I don’t know who, but, like, you know, some other next level up label said, ‘Hey, would you come…,’ like, you know if…Jagjaguwar or something like that was, like, ‘Oh, The Exbats should do an album for us. You should record it here, there, do this or that …,’ I would not do it without Matt with us. I don’t give a fuck if we have to record it at a different studio. I would not ever do anything without Matt. I would be really bummed out if we weren’t with Matt. Matt understands that, he loves us, we love him, and we love his music, he loves ours. And this is, like, no … nothing could be dangled in front of us.

Inez: Musical soulmates.

Kenny: Yeah.

Inez: Yeah, we would never record without, like, like, official recordings without Matt.

How did you guys find Bobby Carlson, Matt’s replacement on bass?

Kenny: He was out in the audience!

Inez: Yeah, he was in the audience.

Wow!

Inez: Uh, we played a couple shows with a band that he was in, TWGS, and that’s kind of, like, the official, official meeting. But we met him a few years prior unofficially, kind of.

Kenny: He’s super tall and we noticed him holding his beer up, singing along to “Hercules”. And he really was a cool bass player, and I was, like, “Inez, I think we should ask him.”

Inez: Well, yeah, I was kind of bummed that he was gonna be our bass player, just because I really enjoyed watching him sing along to “Hercules” in the crowd. But that’s alright.

Inez, I understand you’re a big Flight of the Conchords fan.

Inez: Very much so. That’s what I dream of at night. (laughs)

Do you have a favorite episode?

Inez: Oh my God! Um … that’s a good question. Oh my God, I don’t know. There’s so many good ones. Okay, uh, actually, I don’t know if it’s, like, uh, it’s a really good one. That’s a really good question. There’s so many good episodes. But in season two, uh, when Jemaine and Bret get addicted to hair gel? (laughs) I think it’s probably gonna be one of my favorite ones.

Kenny: I think that’s my favorite too, dude.

Inez: It’s sooo good!

Kenny: They’re at the table…

Inez: And then, like, when they run out and they’re, like, just in their house for, like…in their apartment for days, like, refusing to go out because they don’t look cool.

(laughs)

Inez: That was a really good one. That’s a really good question.

Kenny: I just bought the Flight of the Conchords’ album this week, and we were kind of talking about our favorite song, and I think that we agree that it’s “Prettiest Girl in the Room”?

Inez: “Most Beautiful Girl …”.

Kenny: “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)”.

Inez: Yeah, “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” is a really good song. We both also really like “Boom”.

Kenny: Yeah, “Boom” is really cool.

Inez: Uh, yeah. That’s a really good question. And, but, like, also, like, the first episode really gets me sometimes. And the character Dave, I really like. And I also, I don’t know…there’s too much of the show that I like. Because I love Dave, I love Murray, I love Mel. I just…yeah.

Awesome. Awesome. One of the standout singles from Kicks, Hits, and Fits is undoubtedly “I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts”, which I understand may have been…it was thought of, you know, as a possible title for this album, even. Has there been any word from anyone associated with The Rolling Stones regarding Charlie himself or any other Stones’ members hearing the song?

Kenny: Yeah.

Inez: Yeah.

Really?

Kenny: They did two things. Unfortunately, they were gearing up for a stadium tour this summer. And I think that that’s not happening anymore. But, Charlie’s drum tech, a couple months ago wrote me and was, like, “I fuckin’ love you guys. Your song is the best. I cannot wait to share it with the whole crew,” which I thought was great because I was just picturing, you know, a bunch of people on the road, working in a kind of a stressful situation, and, like, giving your boss a gentle and kind ribbing, you know, saying things like, “Ooh, Charlie’s still got it,” you know, which I love. But then there was another story. When we first recorded it, we put a snippet of it last summer up on Instagram. And somehow that got to Billie Joe Armstrong’s attention. And then Billie Joe Armstrong gave it to Ron Wood…forwarded the Instagram post, and that was just of the chorus. And then Ron Wood dug it. And then Ron Wood [gave] it to Charlie on his birthday.

Wow!

Kenny: And then Ron Wood got back to Billie Joe Armstrong, saying that Charlie loved the song. And somehow this whole thread of, like, of text messages got forwarded to Sean Bohrman, the guy that is half of the label that we’re on, Burger Records.

Sure, Sean Bohrman, yep.

Kenny: Yeah, so, and then he shared it with us, and we were like, ‘No fuckin’ way! That’s great!’

Wow! What a thrill. That’s fantastic. What a great story. Thank you.

Kenny: Yeah, we love the Stones, man. We’re writing a song right now [called] “Street Fighting Girl”.

Cool! Very good. Inez, would you say Charlie Watts is one of your favorite drummers?

Inez: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t have, like, I’m not big on favorite drummers, I guess. I don’t know why. Uh, but obviously Charlie Watts. I really dig Mickey Dolenz, who I just saw live for the very first time in my life. I’d never seen a Monkee, which was very important to me. I only cried, like, four times. (laughs) And, uh, I also, when I was growing up, I really, really liked Ringo Starr. Uh, and then also, like, as of today, Matt, of course, is one of my favorite drummers of all time.

Kenny: Are there any others?

Inez: Uh…no, I don’t think so.

Kenny: Have you ever tried to listen to, like, what John Bonham does?

Inez: Not really.

Kenny: Not really?

Inez: No.

Kenny: He’s pretty tight. He’s pretty, pretty, pretty titanic.

Inez: Yeah, you know, I’ve got my selection of drummers that I like. Charlie Watts is definitely up there.

Kenny: I’ll tell you somethin’.

Yes.

Kenny: When Inez was about ten years old, and we started this endeavor, we got her a drum teacher. And, one day, we told the drum teacher, or I did, or we both went, “Dan, we really like the drum sound in ‘Gimme Shelter’ And we think that, like, that’s something that’s awesome.” And the drum instructor, who had full-on wall-size posters of Neil Peart. [Inez] loves Neil Peart, but full posters of Neil Peart all over his studio. And then he had, like, a replica of Neil Peart’s drum kit in his living room that was, like, a hundred pieces. It was totally ridiculous.

Inez: It was under his TV, which was stupid.

Kenny: He said, “You know, I wouldn’t put Charlie Watts in my top one hundred drummers of all time. He means nothing to me.”

Oh jeez!

Kenny: And you know what? We never went back! (laughs)

Inez: Also, like, my comeback today is “name a hundred drummers.”

Yeah, exactly. (laughs) Kenny, “Maven of the Crafts” if I’m not mistaken, this was the first song not sung by Inez to appear on an Exbats album. Am I right about that, or am I wrong?

Kenny: No, you’re right. There’s two things I can say about it. One is that, my song–I listened to a lot–last year I listened to the Simon and Garfunkel album Bridge Over Troubled Water a ton. And, I think that “Only Living Boy In New York” is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever heard. And I’m very comfortable in this sort of quiet guitar world. And I had, I wrote that for my girlfriend. I was single for…ten years, or fifteen, or twenty years, I don’t know, for a long, long time, you know. And then I, you know…you know, the muse is…I would’ve been a real heel if I didn’t write a song to my girlfriend. (laughs)

Sure. Sure.

Kenny: It’s all true. It’s all, like, an honest sentiment. You know? I mean, you know, we have fun, and it’s cool, and I love that song, but I would say one thing as a point of clarification. You know, when we record, we do it with both of us singing. Like, you can’t really hear me because, we place Inez about ten…nine or ten inches directly in front of the diaphragm of the microphone. And then I go over her right shoulder diagonally about…around a forty-five-degree angle, about fifteen inches away from the microphone.

Okay.

Kenny: That’s the initial…that’s the basic track that’s on every song.

Okay, interesting.

Kenny: But uh, that’s just what Matt and I and Inez have come up with [that] works well.

Inez: Yeah, but on “Maven of the Crafts” it’s just him. I do a couple of oohs and ahs here and there, but it’s just (unintelligible)

Kenny: I record a lot of songs like that, and I’m working on a solo record, you know, that’s a totally different piece. It’s called Budget…when I play solo, by myself, I’m called Budget Tapes and Records. That’s the name of the head shop I worked at when I was in high school.

Oh! Right on. Right on. Yeah, that was my question, Kenny, whether or not this was a kind of teaser for a possible Kenny McLain acoustic album. So that might be in the works, is what you’re saying.

Kenny: Oh, totally! I love doing it and, like, I do it around town, and I think I’m really getting…honestly, I think I’m really good at it. And I really like singing, and I really like taking these songs and just reinterpreting them. I do a lot of Exbats songs solo. UI don’t make a big deal out of it, and I’m not sure the world needs it. But I really enjoy doing it so, definitely, there’s something comin’ in the next year. And Matt’s always trying to get me over to start doing it. Matt wants to rock together, too, so.

Very good. And I guess my last question was, what’s the first thing you two are gonna do when all this is over, as far as the quarantine. Inez, what’s your plan? What are you dying to do that you can’t do right now?

Inez: Um, more shows. I miss playing shows.

Kenny: Really?

Inez: Yeah, I mean, I also want to travel. I was, like, literally, planning a trip to Hawaii, and I was, like, oh cool, never mind. But, uh, I mean, something relevant is I do actually miss playing shows. It’s a bummer not being able to.

Sure, what about yourself, Kenny?

Kenny: Dude, I miss … this is gonna sound so dumb, but it is playing shows. That is the thing! Out here, we will play three weekends out of the month, you know, and probably four or five shows a month, you know, like, sometimes it’s two in one weekend. I don’t know. We play a lot, and we love it. I, for myself, it is the greatest thing in the world. I dearly love Inez, and I love our band, and I love our songs, and I love sharing them. And our shows are funny, and they’re a little outrageous, and they’re super high energy, and they’re always honest. We’re always real about who we are and how we’re feeling and the crowd at the time. I can’t…I hate to say this, but it’s therapy. You know? It’s the one time of my week or so where, I mean, I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m totally present, and I’m not obsessed in the back of my mind about money, or my car, or bills, or something dumb, or writing new songs, or whatever it is. I’m just a hundred percent myself, present, and it’s an incredibly immediate feeling. And I can’t wait to get back to it. I hope to God that we can. And I hope that when we..when every band, and everybody who loves it, I hope that when that door opens again, that it opens wide. And people are just dying to rock. You know? That’s so special. It became that somehow, through all this, live music and rock and roll, people realized a little bit of, like, you know, didn’t know what they had until it was gone. That’s my dream.

Inez: It’s really great and I agree. I also feel, like, I’m being very honest, and I’m not worried about anything else, and it’s a very, like, it’s a nice community, and it’s nice to see when the same people are coming to your shows and then you also meet new people, and then people are singing along, and people are coming up to you and saying hi.

Kenny: We’re just getting to that point. Right now, we’re just getting to the point where there’s a lot of people that we don’t know that know the words. And so, that is an amazing thing to be in a new place you don’t know, people showing up, new faces, and they’re singing just as loud as you are. It’s just the best. You know what’s next for us is…you know that song, “Try Burning This One” on the second side of the record? We love that one a lot. That might be our favorite, in a way. We’re making a video for that, like, in the next week or so.

Right on. Very good. We’ll look forward to that. That’s awesome. Thank you, both, so, so much for taking time to talk with me. I really, really appreciate it.

Inez: Thank you. I appreciate you asking me what my favorite episode of Flight of the Concords is. That’s my favorite interview question I ever got.