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Saturday, 09 November 2013 09:00

Crisscrossing the St. Louis music scene with Middle Class Fashion

Crisscrossing the St. Louis music scene with Middle Class Fashion
Written by Brian Benton

When I asked the members of Middle Class Fashion how involved they felt they were in the St. Louis music scene, most were hesitant to answer. "I guess we're pretty involved," bassist Brian McClelland said apprehensively. "Yeah, I guess so," singer Jenn Malzone added.

After a few seconds of silence, Katie Lindhorst, the newest member of Middle Class Fashion, jumped in. "I'm going to be honest," she said. "You guys are so, so involved. I mean, really, really involved. Admit it."

Humbleness of that nature ran through my entire conversation with the piano-pop quartet, whether they were talking about their goals as musicians, their thoughts on their most recent album, "Jungle," or in this case, their presence in the St. Louis music scene, a presence that anyone who follows the scene casually would know is a pretty big one.

Part of why Middle Class Fashion has such a visibly large role in the St. Louis music scene comes from the fact that most of the members are actively in two, three or four bands at the moment. Malzone, for example, lends her powerful yet chipper vocals to St. Louis bands Tight Pants Syndrome (McClelland is also a member), the Paper Dolls, and occasionally Town Cars. Lindhorst, who was asked to join Middle Class Fashion after another one of her bands, the Glass Calvary, played a gig opening for Middle Class Fashion in Columbia, is another example of a Middle Class Fashion multitasker.

"I think an important part of being in multiple bands is having different roles in each bands," Malzone said. "When I go to play with a different band, I make sure I'm not doing that many lead vocals and instead doing backing stuff or synth parts. I have a couple bands where I'll join them for live shows and sing harmonies, and it's fun to get to play a set with a band one night and know that it's not a lot of pressure."

In addition to the members of Middle Class Fashion collaborating on a number of outside projects, there is also a lot of collaboration within the band. In September, they released their sophomore full-length, "Jungle," and Malzone made a point to clarify that although she was the primary songwriter, she was not the only one responsible for the catchy keyboard lines and upbeat pop vocals.

"I work at my piano at home and write the pop format of the song, the words and melodies and a chorus and verses, and then I bring it to them and they help me arrange the order of it," Malzone said. "I can't imagine ever saying, 'Katie, play this note' or 'Brian, do this.' I front the band, but I don't want it to be just my music. I want it to be the collaboration of all the parts."

Perhaps it's because of the multiple members contributing to the songwriting process that the songs on "Jungle" each have their own flair or distinctiveness. There are plenty of lush, piano-based tracks, but also some that are more unexpected, like "YR Wrong," which is falsetto-heavy, highly-manipulated and almost "Bohemian Rhapsody"-like at times.

"It's the weird song; one of the ones we thought would maybe be cut in production, because it's so silly," drummer Brad Vaughn said. "But it ended up actually being one of my favorites."

"Perfect Person" is your more typical Middle Class Fashion song, giving off allusions to Regina Spektor or Metric with its romantic piano line and a catchy, bubbly chorus. Still, the band was surprised by its success and the response it has gained from fans.

"That was one that we weren't even sure would be on the album because we were kind of on the fence about it, but I love the way it turned out," McClelland said. "There was an entire instrumental intro section that we totally cut, basically all after we recorded it." A few other songs received similar consideration from the band while the album was recorded. Middle Class Fashion recorded around 20 songs, but only 14 made it onto "Jungle." Some were older songs that the band had been toying with for a while, and two, "Wanted" and "Golden Rose," were written while the recording was taking place.

"It was nice to record that many songs and then be able to choose," Malzone said. "Sometimes you record a song, and then it doesn't sound as good as you hoped it would. And sometimes the opposite happens. It's always surprising which ones you do cut."

In a way, the track list for "Jungle" is akin to a set list for a show. The band had a collection of songs to choose from, and then just had to choose which ones they thought would get the best reaction from the audience. When Middle Class Fashion plays live shows, the process of choosing songs gets even harder. The band likes to play as many songs from "Jungle" as possible, but also has even newer songs, and older tracks that St. Louis fans have grown accustomed to.

Middle Class Fashion played a few shows immediately following the release of "Jungle," but now don't have any scheduled together until the end of November, but that doesn't mean you won't see the members of Middle Class Fashion around St. Louis before that next show. Some of the members will be working on music or playing shows with their other projects. Others might be at shows, off the stage supporting their fellow local bands.

"We don't consciously try to play a big role in the scene here; we're just involved because we really like a lot of bands in town," McClelland said. "It's not just saying, 'I have to promote my friend because they're in a band and they're my friend.' We're so lucky to be in this community where we're all so supportive of each other."

Middle Class Fasion performs with Née at Off Broadway on November 29.

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