Extended Q&A: Josh Verbanets from Meeting of Important People

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Led by singer/guitarist Josh Verbanets, local pop rockers Meeting of Important People will release the new album My Ears Are Having a Heart Attack with a Saturday show at Mr. Small's Theatre.

The pop music scene in Pittsburgh has changed dramatically since MOIP started in 2007. Since many bands have moved or no longer exist, what are your thoughts on the present- day local pop scene?
MOIP got very, very lucky in that we started out of the gate with a strong and supportive local community. We came from a large group of like-minded musicians that played all different kinds of music (garage, folk, dance-pop) and honestly got along wonderfully together no matter how you paired them up. At the time I remembered thinking, "We'd better enjoy this while it lasts, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," and I was right.

We're still dear friends with many of those folks, and while some have faded from playing, there are others that still seem very realistically poised to do amazing things (and are even more on top of their craft now).

We get along great with many of the younger bands and do what all nice "older bands" should do: stay out of the way of the Pet Clinics, Whiskey Hollers, Butterbirds, and Broken Fences of the world and offer some sagely advice if and when we can.

With such busy private lives, how difficult is it to keep this band so active?
[Drummer] Matt Miller and [bassist] Aaron Bubenheim are my two best friends and have a slew of real-world things that need increased attention as the years go on like families, houses, jobs, and school. I found myself faced with a very different path: opportunities to write songs for film and TV, a commission by the Montour School District with my pal Gab Bonesso to create a rock-n-roll anti-bullying show for kids (www.joshandgab.com), and offers to do solo acoustic shows. It all seemed to fall into place properly, and as a result, 2012 became probably the best year of our lives for all three of us. Matt is a true renaissance man, balancing a career, home remodeling, and drumming; Aaron and his wife Pam welcomed a healthy baby boy just this month; and I left my job at Carnegie Museums to focus on making a living from music, which has been a great decision.

Concerning the new album, it has a more (dare I say) mature quality to it both musically and lyrically (with loads of references about getting old) than past recordings. Would you agree?
Everything about my approach to music has matured a bit — I'm even writing three-minute songs instead of two for God's sake. The first album had songs that were written when I was still a teenager. I now have all those boring late-20s/early-30s things to think about. So it’s the perfect counter-piece to the first album, which was all about happy-go-lucky dreamy suburban times.

This album offers maybe a response to most of those older songs. We did an EP in 2010, Quit Music, which was mostly character songs, but this new album is more or less me speaking for myself for the first timeā€¦and not embarrassed to do so.

How else did this recording experience differ from making the last album?
We attempted this time to do less "three-piece garage rock" stuff and make a much more groove- oriented album (lots of shakers and controlled rhythms—almost like demented island music in places). These are songs that we have been playing for over a year now, and lots of friends and people in the community are familiar with them and (we hope) looking forward to hearing them properly recorded with plenty of reverb.

There's a lot more space on this album than on anything we've done before, and whereas our other albums have been attempts to preserve our live sound as much as possible, this was conceived from the ground-up as a stand-alone recording project. I recorded the album and Donora’s Jake Hanner mixed and mastered the disc; he has gotten simply amazing, and it was an absolute blast to work [with him] on our third MOIP project together.

MOIP used the Kickstarter site to help fund this album. How was that experience?
We had a full album written, but without any indication that people wanted to hear a "real" album, I would rather just make a sloppy demo and call it a day. In order to go through the process of making recordings that sound decent, we had to know that there were people who actually wanted to hear something (it would have been absolutely fine had we learned that nobody had any interest at all).

I had been a [Kickstarter] skeptic for several years, but we honestly had such an overwhelmingly positive response from our campaign. I'm still beyond words with thanks for the friends, family, community members, and musicians who contributed and allowed us to make what I believe is our best project yet.

Also, it gave me the chance to do all sorts of fun things. For example, the finale on the album contains this big backwards freak-out rave-up in which we read the name of each and every Kickstarter backer through a megaphone. You have to play it backwards like a Led Zeppelin album to hear your name and witness the MAGIC.

Finally, name me some details of this big CD release show.
It’s probably the biggest event we've ever undertaken in Pittsburgh. We want to hold an evening where people of all walks of life can actually come and enjoy a rock show.

We're also proud to be giving a portion of our proceeds to a great local dance troupe called Texture Ballet, who will be performing to open the night. We've got an incredible lineup of other bands: The Great Ants, that wacky reunited female trio that actually gave us our first MOIP show back in 2006. Young psych-rockers Pet Clinic will also be performing!

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