Ryan Maxwell and Wesley Nelson, singers-guitarists for the Seattle power-pop group Muzzle, have been through the wringer since their Reprise debut album, “Betty Pickup,” in 1996.
Original bassist Greg Collinsworth and drummer Burke Thomas were let go; Pete Donnelly and Mike Levesque filled in for them in the studio for the group’s follow-up album, “Actual Size.” Bassist Brad Nabors and drummer Jim Wilding joined the permanent lineup and recorded two more tracks, then Wilding was canned in favor of Michael Shore.
To make matters worse, the release date for “Actual Size” was pushed back several times. It finally was issued March 9, not a moment too soon for Maxwell.
“It felt like an eternity, especially when you’re writing material for the next album,” he said recently. “The last two songs on the album got added, those were songs that would’ve been on the third album – if there is a third album, knock on wood.”
Maxwell said “Actual Size” is “the culmination of two solid years of heartbreak,” but he tries to put a positive spin on it.
“I’m not going to say anything bad about any of those guys,” he said, “because they’re all really nice and good players. What it really came down to was a question of personalities meshing. We just had to find the right personalities, because we figured if we had to spend a lot of time on the road, we wanted to have it run very smoothly, and it hadn’t done that in the past.”
Muzzle’s quest for perfection pays off on “Actual Size,” which effortlessly moves from energetic rock excursions to compressed pop tracks. The Maxwell-Nelson vision is its most focused on “Drop the Needle,” an ode to the long lost days of vinyl.
“I wouldn’t want to be too nostalgic for it,” Maxwell said, “because I think any new tool that’s at our disposal is good. There’s going to be bad elements of any medium, but I miss vinyl. I miss the way it sounds, I miss the size of the packaging. It’s great to physically hold an album in your hands.”
Think of Seattle and the term “grunge” comes up. Seattle is much more than that, Maxwell said.
“Power-pop and Supersuckers rock is what’s pretty much going on in Seattle, and then you have Built to Spill, indie-type stuff,” he said. “There’s a huge common misconception about Seattle, and I’m sure I’m not the first one to say that grunge was never really present in Seattle. The bands that fell into the category ‘grunge’ just happened to be popular at the time. Before they became popular, they were playing with each other and other weird bands. It was a big community of groups playing together.
“It just so happens that the combination of punk and heavy metal happened to hit a chord with people. If you want to call that grunge, fine, but god I get so sick of that word.”
The band’s only mantra for the album was to write good songs, Maxwell said.
“”There wasn’t too much preplanning or pretension put into the whole thing,” he said. “We just let whatever best songs we had come out, and they just keep getting better. I’m excited to hear the third album, because our songwriting keeps getting better.
“I think (‘Actual Size’) will do well, but I don’t foresee gold or anything like that. I have a feeling we’ll definitely get a chance, an opportunity to bring it to people. Then it’s just really up to them. If they like it, they like it, then we’ll probably be all right, and if they don’t, too bad for us. Another casualty.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Kiss’ ‘Destroyer.’ I had the good fortune of having parents who listened to really great music. My first three records from them were Chuck Berry’s ‘Greatest Hits,’ ‘Meet the Beatles’ and Elvis’ ’69 comeback (‘From Elvis in Memphis’).”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Kiss again. For it to be my first rock concert, it was pretty amazing, because all rock concerts since then pale in comparison. I mean, there was fire, and it wasn’t a little bit of fire; there was 20-foot columns of fire, big flash pots. Ace Frehley’s guitar flew around the room, he shot Roman candles out of it and it burst into flames. He had this clear guitar with the lights lighting up inside. Gene Simmons spit fire and blood. Paul Stanley smashed a guitar. It’s pretty hard to top that.”
BWF (before we forget): Nuzzle up to Muzzle on the Web @ www.RepriseRec.com/muzzle.