Recently, at a show, local rock 'n' roll person Spencer Kelley and I aided in fulfilling a young gentleman's wish to crowd surf. We watched for a while, waiting for the right opportunity to achieve his goal (it is very important to not force the crowd surf), and when the right song kicked in, in just that way, we each took one of this young gentleman's legs and hoisted him up onto the shoulders of his fellow attendees.
The band was Makeup Monsters, and this young gentleman was totally representative of the vibe of the all-ages audience that had come to the show.
Makeup Monsters will always garner a sort of "returning heroes" reception when the band plays to a crowd of Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) alums and current students. They've managed to strike a nerve with a certain generation of people much in the same way that, say, the long-defunct Mama Loves Daddy will always kind of be my favorite Tacoma band. There's a purity and a satisfyingly easygoing attitude to the music of the Makeup Monsters that can cut through the frustrating, bullshit inanity of youth.
And at just the right time for a certain number of those who come to dance like crazy on a Friday night at an all-ages club.
What originally started as a two-piece comprised of Isaac Solverson and Shayne Weeks in their sophomore year of high school at SOTA (the duo previously played together in the band Rahleigh) has since been fleshed out to a trio, with the addition of Jay Clancy.
In the beginning, there was a sort of an even-steven democracy within the group, with songwriting and instrumental duties split between the two members.
"The idea, basically, was that everything was split fifty-fifty," says Solverson. "We'd each play half of the songs and switch on guitar and drums. So, for the first few years of our band, we pretty much had everything divided completely equally, in that way. It was still collaborative, but we would basically write the songs completely separate from each other."
Those early days established a voice for the Makeup Monsters that was missing from the larger pool of Tacoma bands, and continues more or less to this day. Makeup Monsters' lyrics were gently confrontational and confident, while maintaining a relaxed sound that complimented the more pop-punk sounds of the band.
These guys were young, good-looking and talented, and while they didn't make an effort to draw attention to those aspects, their ease of performing and lyrical intent reflected them. As time progressed, the songwriting became sharper and more complex, with Makeup Monsters eventually incorporating a third member to the band. As good as their two-man act was, adding a third member has freed up Solverson and Weeks to create more fully-fleshed songs that show off their considerable musicality.
"When we were in Rahleigh, before Makeup Monsters, (Shayne Weeks and I) both played guitar, so we had written songs like that before, and I think it was in the back of our minds that we wanted to do that, at some point, again," says Solverson.
"2010 was the first time that we moved to two guitars and drums, instead of just drums and guitar," he continues. "(Shayne Weeks] is probably my number one influence, when writing songs, as funny as that sounds."
For the past few years Makeup Monsters has been basically an on-and-off project. Solverson moved to New York for college, which left Weeks behind to form his own project, called Slushy. Every now and again, Solverson visited from NYC, and Makeup Monsters would pick up where the band left off, likely accounting for the continued feel of fanfare at any given Makeup Monsters show.
"I always liked playing music with Shayne, so it's kind of hard not to keep the band alive whenever I'm back home," says Solverson. "We just like playing music together a lot, and I don't see that changing any time soon. (New York) was a good experience. I think I was exposed to something that I wouldn't have been otherwise. Other people, other musical influences.
"I had one band called Hologram that I did some stuff with," Solverson continues of his time in NYC. "It was definitely a way different kind of playing music, though, than Makeup Monsters."
For the time being, and for the indefinite future, Solverson is back in Tacoma and Makeup Monsters is up and running. Recently, the band released an EP on Tacoma's own Swoon Records, called Nervous Case, which is available on vinyl 7-inch as well as digital download. The four songs run the gamut of Makeup Monsters themes, from the jumpy Strokes-esque pop of "On My Own," to the perennially loopy "Spirit" (which that young gentleman crowd surfed to), and the quintessentially pop-punk-leaning "I'm Not Your Boyfriend," which effectively comes across as an answer song to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend."
As much as Makeup Monsters seem to have found a groove early and often, the band's most substantial years may still be ahead of them. Solverson is not sure if or when he will return to NYC, but, for the moment at least, Makeup Monsters is here to stay - in the most appropriate of times, when spring is coming around the corner, and sunny summer drives are only slightly further away. Makeup Monsters are at their most powerful when the sun is shining and one's only worry is finding the place where the music is good and the friends are even better. It is for those moments where the Makeup Monsters provide the best soundtrack.