Something in the air, perhaps, but the forces that be on the Maine music scene have come together to forge an authentic, rip-roarin’ alt-country band. The Mallett Brothers Band has a strong-as-an-ox debut record on its hands, tearing through a Bull Moose near you. It’s no accident, and its barely serendipity. These guys like hanging out, and were born to pick up and play. As they roam around this good land, it’s worthwhile to catch a show, or at least pick up the record to see what everybody’s kicking up dust about.

The band’s made up of Luke Mallett (vocals, guitar), Will Mallett (vocals, guitar banjo, harmonica), Nate Soule (vocals, guitars mandolin), Wally Wenzel (dobro, guitar, vocals), Nick Leen (bass) and Brian Higgins (drums).

Will and Luke teamed up to talk to Go.

 

What is Mallett Brothers Band? Did you guys all come from the same playing background?

The Mallett Brothers Band comes from just about every end of the musical spectrum. The name, by the way, goes back to when it was just Luke, me and Nick playing acoustic stuff in Luke and Nick’s living room, but in the last year it’s really expanded beyond that and become a real team effort, with everyone contributing in a big way. Wally, Brian and Nate have all been playing professionally in Portland and beyond for the past couple decades, in everything from metal to funk to reggae bands. Luke, Nick and Nate played together in Boombazi as recently as last year, which was a funk-rock group. And Luke’s a member of the hip hop group Lab7. So we’re really coming at this thing from all over the place.

What does “alt-country” mean to you? How is it different than mainstream country?

Any label is, as you know, really pretty silly. But it seems like alt-country has just been the inheritor of the ‘outlaw country’ movement of the ’70s, which really just signifies anything that comes from outside of Nashville; Nashville the idea, not the place, you know. It’s grittier, it’s a little more honest, and you can tell people up here in New England that it’s what you play without them getting all uptight and pedagogical. That’s really the only difference.

 

How has the self-titled debut been received so far? Are you excited by the response?

It’s been huge, and we couldn’t be more excited. We set out to make a record that we could listen to in our trucks, pretty much, and as the pieces started coming together we put a lot more effort into it, but we still never thought we would get the response we’ve had. Sales at Bull Moose have been great. We’re five weeks at No. 1 on the local chart so far, and that’s really, absolutely blowing our minds. Huge thank you to everyone going out and picking up the album.

 

How does Portland nurture a young musician? How is the scene limiting?

It’s a great town for music, a really great town, but that does make it really easy to become complacent; it could be easy to get a few gigs and sell some CDs and think you’re the king of the castle. So it’s important to look outside town to see how relevant you really are — whether they’re listening to your music in Buxton or somewhere.

As songwriters, who are your heroes from the last 100 years?

David Mallett, Gordon Lightfoot, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and then all the folkies and blues guys and hillbillies writing and playing for fun.

 

What are you looking forward to most in 2011?

Album No. 2, every show we can play, spring fishing season and Thanksgiving.

 

Mike Olcott is a Portland freelance writer.