Just over a year ago, and less than a week after a Lancaster punk band had the incredible opportunity to play with Milo at the premiere of “Filmage”, a fresh local band’s demo fell into our virtual laps. The band is called Mid Rats.
Inspired by 80’s hardcore and punk, these guys play fast, hard, and pissed off. In addition, they each bring with them years of experience in the local music scene. That demo was recorded during their infancy and served as a good introduction to the band. Their latest EP offering, “Vandalize You”, comes out swinging.
Thanks to Chris Moss (guitar, vocals), Omar Cirilo (bass, vocals), and Matty Campbell (drums) for talking with us about how the band came together, their love for a certain local venue, and what makes them tick…or ticked off. Also, thanks to Ben Roth (recording engineer) and Jason Berlet (artist) for discussing their roles in the band’s latest release.
In their own words, this is the story of Mid Rats.
Matty: It was late summer of 2013 during a 7 Day Bender/Akrons show at ABG [American Bar and Grill]. Chris and I were drinking a bit and struck up a deal that if he would join Akrons, we would start a hardcore punk band too.
Chris: I was telling him that this was one of the last 7 Day Bender shows and that I really wanted to start a legit old school 80’s hardcore styled punk band. We were both pretty drunk and we were talking musical influences and Matty told me he played drums and was into starting a band. I was all about it because I had wanted to start and or join a roots, all out, in your face punk band for a long time. A few days later we got together at the Akrons’ practice spot and we jammed and everything meshed with the few songs I had been writing. We were looking for a bass player. I posted a comment on Facebook and Omar responded in just a few minutes.
Omar: Chris and I had been playing shows for years and I had heard of The Akrons, but only met Matty a few times at the bar. I contacted the guys and we talked about meeting up to jam. After about a week I hadn’t heard anything more about it. It had been a few months since I played my last show at that point. So I started texting and messaging them on an almost daily basis. I knew they were somewhat hesitant about working with me.
Matty: We were unsure of asking him in the first place because he’s a dick.
Omar: Let’s just say that I’m well aware I’m not the easiest person to work with, especially when it comes to music.
Chris: We hit him up one night when we were practicing and he showed up 10 minutes later.
Omar: Matty texted me asking if I wanted to play some songs. So I loaded up my gear and headed to the studio space they have. When I showed up to that first practice I was pretty convinced that I was walking into a mini-Akrons side project which I knew I didn’t really have interest in. I didn’t want to be a band with two members from another band, playing songs that sound like…their other band.
Matty: Chris and I play in Akrons, but Mid Rats are a separate entity entirely. We never really wanted to be billed as a “members of” band. More of a “members only” band, ya know? Both bands certainly work extremely hard to maintain our identities. It’s more of a coincidence that we share members. I mean, it’s way different for me. I play bass in Akrons and drums in Rats.
Chris: There are definitely distinct music styles going on with both. Mid Rats is more speed and aggression along the lines of 80’s hardcore. Akrons is more melodic and upbeat, similar to Descendentsy/90’s Fat Wreck Chords stuff. I also feel less pressure playing in Akrons ’cause I’m not always the lead singer and I get to goof around a little.
Omar: I love that band and love what they do. But I wanted to do something different. I thought, “I never want someone to second guess who they’re listening to.” It’s not the easiest thing to do. So when I showed up to that practice we dove right into two riffs that they had already been working on. And I was instantly stoked. The riffs were darker, heavier, just so bad ass and I had never really played anything like it before. I always find myself steering towards bass lines that run around a lot like Chris from Anti-Flag or Matt Freeman from Rancid.
Matty: I’m super influenced by Descendents and Teenage Bottlerocket and a lot of the local and regional acts constantly inspire me. Playing the real fast 2/4 drums is a fucking blast. No double pedal, but I cheat like hell though! We are all huge “Seinfeld” fans and that finds its way into our band persona. And we share a common passion for a friendly game of Smacky Box.
Chris: I’m definitely into the older stuff like Black Flag, Poison Idea, Dead Boys, Bad Brains, and DOA. I also like a bunch of newer hardcore/skate punk bands like Culo, Propaghandi, and Mean Jeans. I like a pretty wide range of punk music without much discrimination. I also tend to write a lot of songs with a lot of different chord progressions and parts thrown into them so I sometimes feel bad for Omar when he is trying to figure out what I’m doing when showing ‘em something for the first time.
Omar: The band formed the first day we rehearsed together in November 2013 and by January, we were tracking a 4 song demo. We tracked the whole thing at an old house in Marietta known simply as “The Shanty”.
Chris: We recorded our demo at my buddy Elias’s band room/recording studio/hangout/drunk tank in
the winter of 2014 for a nice bottle of whiskey and a few bucks. It was fairly early in the forming of the band, only a couple of months in.
Matty: We hadn’t even played a show yet.
Chris: No one knew who we are. Releasing the recording digitally for free was the best way for friends to like our band and get people to come out to our first show.
Matty: Just making your music accessible is key. Bands generally don’t make shit for money unless you whore yourselves out. Giving your product away at times allows you to level and connect with your crowd.
Omar: As much as we all might wanna turn a blind eye to the reality of it, the fact is we live in a technology based world. There’s a never ending debate about which is better? Old or new, digital or analog. The debate can go back and forth. The fact is having our music online is a good way to potentially get your music out there. But you want to be accessible to everyone everywhere. Our job is to get it out there, it’s up to everyone else to listen to it.
Matty: We played our first show at American Bar & Grill with Social Class Dropout, Lebowskis, and The Cryptics.
Chris: It was a pretty great line up for a 1st gig.
Omar: I don’t think anyone really knew how to react to us. It was different but we had a positive response overall.
Chris: Seemed like a lot of people were into us and I think we played decent. Always great times at that place!
Omar: ABG is just such an awesome venue and bar. The staff is great, the shows are awesome. Everyone that works there really takes their job seriously. There’s an awesome vibe to the bar from all the photos and artwork lining the walls. I always say the staff is one of the reasons I go back. Justin Lyons sings in Get in the Van, and another bartender, Jason Berlet, sings in Brom Bones. So they’re no strangers to the music scene let alone the punk scene. They support and respect everything about punk music, bands, fans and of course their own patrons. And on top of all that they’re drinks are great and they have a killer menu.
Matty: ABG revived the punk scene around here. We love Justin and the whole staff out there for giving us punks a home. Free shows, no pressures, no bullshit… all the bells and whistles. Newer venues like Fulton St Co-op and The Seed are doing it too, thanks to ABG.
Chris: ABG is by far the best place to see punk bands play in Lancaster. They’re always free, the shows are well attended & everyone knows each other in the scene. Bands set up on the floor in the dining area so there is that up close and personal feel going on between the crowd and the band. The owner Justin always treats the bands there really well too.
Matty: I’ve seen so much rad shit there, it’s hard to pick the fondest memory! Having beers with Blake Schwarzenbach [Jawbreaker, Jets to Brazil] was totally killer though!
Omar: One of my favorite memories is definitely a few months ago when Testosteroso played. Mid Rats wasn’t on the bill but we were all there. Halfway during their set they had an air guitar competition. My girlfriend Samantha got up front and ended up winning the competition. She hadn’t been to too many punk shows. She was sort of new to the whole thing. So to see her up there enjoying it and seeing the type of scene it actually is was pretty rad. I think she took the win towards the end when Matty lit the headstock of the cardboard cutout guitar she was holding.
Chris: As far as my favorite memories there it’s hard to say. I know that every time I see the Night Birds at ABG I am blown away. I kinda just get a nice spot in the corner where I can watch them just fuckin’ shred through their set list. They are so great, both technically as musician and as performers. As far as Mid Rats shows at ABG goes, our best experience was definitely when we played with Kids, First In Space and The Lebowskis. We played really well that night and the crowd was insane, got a great mosh pit going. People were spilling into the band and I even chipped my front teeth on the mic which wasn’t fun, but fuck it was worth it.
Omar: I do think Mid Rats bring a lot of intensity and energy to the scene. It shows in our music.
Chris: There was some authentic aggression missing from the punk scene that Mid Rats could offer up. Some of our tunes can also be more politically and socially conscious than other local groups that I know of.
Matty: Other than poppier bands or cover bands, there really wasn’t much fast, aggressive hardcore in Lancaster. TiGHT FITS! and Shitty Friends and Kids… but nothing like Mid Rats per se. We want to fuck shit up and stand up for our beliefs. As a whole, we tend to lean left, but that doesn’t mean fucking shit. A common denominator is the abuse of authority, government, money and the constant threat of a police state.
Omar: I don’t think for one second either of us, whether it’s Mid Rats or previous bands, have ever wanted to be on stage singing about something we didn’t have any idea about. One of the main reasons I got into bass/music/punk was because it was a platform to show and say what you think/feel.
Chris: A lot of the stuff that I write is both personal and political. There are a few songs that seem to be more specific in their social awareness but even those have roots in personal life. For example I have been writing a lot lately about issues pertaining to the criminal justice system and police brutality. Issues that have been in the news a lot lately, but on the other hand have been experiences in my own life and have affected people I’m close with. I have a buddy right now that’s serving time in jail that I based some lyrics around in a new song.
Matty: Social awareness does not define a punk band… it defines a punk ideology. Bitch about it, yeah, but offer a solution or remedy or idea. We’ve all been fucked with by teachers, cops, promoters, bouncers, assholes. We will fight to maintain our sanctity.
Omar: In my opinion, the band is just starting to take shape.
Matty: Musically, we are tighter and faster and we upgraded some of our gear. Lyrically, we are
more pissed than ever, although you’d never know it talking to Chris. He’s such a nice boy.
Chris: I’m super excited about the new songs on the EP, definitely proud of this piece of work. I think the songs are faster, the song writing is a bit more involved and I think my vocals got better. The EP is definitely more aggressive than the demo.
Omar: The demo had all of our influences and “ingredients” layered on top of each other. The EP has everything sort of threaded together. All the element are used together a little more. I’m pretty sure I can speak for all of us when I say it’s just awesome.
Ben: I became involved with the new Mid Rats EP at a picnic, actually. I had just finished recording the Shitty Friends EP “Crime Line”, and had put a rough mix on my iPod for the bike ride to the picnic. When I arrived, Matty was the first person I saw, so we began to shoot the shit and I showed him the rough recordings. He was stoked on what he heard and asked if I’d record Mid Rats.
Matty: Our good buddy, Ben Roth, came up to our practice spot, Le Stude, on the hottest fucking day in late summer of ‘14. He brought his nuclear-powered command-fuckin-center and hit record.
Chris: All of the songs were new with the exception of “Revenge” which was one of the first songs we wrote. We got together around 11am and spent the day drinking beer and recording. It was a lot of fun.
Ben: We recorded the EP live (except for the vocals), which means that the recording is actually the three of them playing at the same time, which gave the EP a really awesome, natural, and honest feel (which I think the music world needs much more of). We did music (bass, guitar, drums) first and then went back and laid down a second layer of guitars, and then vocals.
Matty: Ben engineered and mixed “Vandalize You” and Mark Peteritas of Working Man’s Productions mastered it. I had a bitch of a time getting the drum intro for “Silver Spoons”. It was so fuckin’ hot and I was seeing pink elephants. During the take we kept there was this one little weird hiccup in the intro that ended up sounding cool – like I tried it and knew what I was doing. I’m a moron.
Ben: When I listen to the final version of the EP, I turn that shit up loud and listen to the whole thing!! This EP was one of my first recordings so there are a few things I pick out every time I listen to it but, all in all, I’m very proud of it and of them and hope people listen and “get it”! Listening to this EP makes me want to record another EP with them. I want to record as many central PA punk bands as I can. There is an awesome scene of bands that needs to be cultivated, represented, and documented with more recordings! GIVE PUNK TO DA PEOPLE!
Chris: We decided that we were going to entitle the EP “Vandalize You” and base the album art around the lyrics. The song is basically about how much I had hated my job and how I wanted to follow by boss back home from work and vandalize his house.
Matty: Fuckin’ A!!! The great Jason Berlet, from Brom Bones and ABG, did the cover art and it’s fuckin’ slammin’! He designed the logo too, kinda based off the Bad Religion “Suffer” record.
Jason: The guys had mentioned they would like for me to be their artist, kind of like how Black Flag had Raymond Pettibone and Descendents have Chris Shary. I started on my own at home at the dining room table, pretty basic roughs. I think I had three or four to be exact.
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Omar: We took a few minutes to look at some sketches and pitch him the idea and he came through with something so completely awesome.
Jason: We talked about a solid idea I had involving a punker, a city scape, a boom box and a gas can. This idea I quickly sketched as I was BARTENDING at the same time. The guys were great. They loved the idea and even joked about using my five minute sketch for the final piece.
Jason: Honestly, I really get too grand sometimes with my ideas and this doesn’t always allow for the “what lies to be seen” to take shape. I also gave myself one week to have the piece finished. I work well under pressure, MOST OF THE TIME. The final I thought was stripped down, edgy and told a story without giving too much away, which allows the viewer to create their own story as to what is going on.
Omar: It’s chaotic. It’s subtle. It says a lot with very little. I couldn’t ask for a better cover art for this album.
Jason: The punk factor also was there, a great representation which mirrors how I feel about the Mid Rats and their music. I look at it and am proud of what we accomplished with the cover art and feel a slight bit even more over the top knowing that I was a part of, and included, in something that I feel represents the punk rock community honestly and with heart, blood, sweat and tears. Ok, maybe minus the tears.
Matty: Brother Jason is such an amazing artist and vocalist and family man and friend! Chris did the CD layout. The artwork depicts the consequences of fucking with the wrong punk- be it cops, the court system, the banks… To quote Tupac: “We’ll burn this bitch down, get us pissed.”
Chris: We pressed 100 CD’s and we’re gonna sell ‘em at shows. We also have them for download on our Bandcamp site.
Omar: It’s being released on Tiger Hawk. All of the writing, tracking, creating of this album done was basically done in one spot, our practice studio. Tiger Hawk is Matty’s new project.
Matty: Tiger Hawk Records is a totally DIY label that I started out of my house with a few friends. Our first comp just came out and it’s got some wicked cool regional bands that we love on it. Sherwin, Shitty Friends, Akrons, Seeing Snakes… and Volume 2 will be out in late March or so with bands like Brom Bones, Trio Agave, Hate To Say It… awesome shit like that.
Omar: Writing music is always on the agenda and with that comes plenty of shows with as much love as we like to give back to the local crowd/scene. And I’d love to start thinking about a Mid Rats tour.
Matty: More shows. Another record this summer. Some weekend touring. T-shirts, buttons, patches, stickers, fuckin’ beer koozies, boxes of kittens… name it. We’ll slap a Mid Rats logo on it.
Chris: We have been booking a lot of shows for this spring. We’re trying to branch out and play gigs in places like Baltimore, Philly, Harrisburg, York, and D.C. Basically, we’ll play whatever wherever. We also plan on putting out another recording this summer. Looking forward to some seriously royal times in the near future!
Matty: Big shout out to all the bands and studio dudes and the families and ABG. Super big shout out to my rad girlfriend Kimmie, and to our fearless leader Shuey! See ya in the pit!
Thanks again to Chris, Omar, and Matty for chatting with us about Mid Rats. You can download their first demo and stream/buy their latest EP, “Vandalize You”, on Bandcamp. Stay up-to-date with them on Facebook and ReverbNation. You can also see them play in York, PA on April 11 at The Depot.
In addition to recording local punk bands, Ben plays in Kids and You, Me, and Everyone We Know. Jason is a freelance graphic artist and singer for longtime punk band Brom Bones. Check out his doodles on Instagram and listen to his discography on Bandcamp. For your audio mastering needs, contact Mark Peteritas at Working Man’s Productions.
There’s more on the way! Thank you so much for reading my blog.