The Max Levine Ensemble
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The Max Levine Ensemble

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The best kept secret in music


"Anarchic Pop Savants (7/20/06)"

SPOONBOY, the Max Levine Ensemble's guitarist, singer and primary lyricist, describes his band as "weird pop-punk. It's really fast, it's not hardcore, it's not pop-punk you'd hear on the radio."

The three members of the Ensemble, all in their early 20s, thrill audiences with euphoria-inducing sprints from one unexpected melody to the next. The MLE plays Fort Reno tonight with Mass Movement of the Moth and the Black Cat on Tuesday with the World Inferno Friendship Society. Spoonboy talked with Express' Tim Follos about Fat Mike, an anarchist's perspective and Mass Movement.

EXPRESS: What's the band's bio?
SPOONBOY: We started almost 6 years ago, we were in high school. We started out a cover band. At the time we were just getting into punk and political music, radical politics, stuff like that.

I started the band cause I wanted to play cover songs that our friend Max Levine — who introduced me to a lot of that music and a lot of those ideas — suggested.

We played in a ska band that wasn't very good and he would be like, "Your band should cover this Propagandhi song." The point of starting the band was playing those songs. But pretty quickly after that we started writing our own songs.

Bepstein [who plays bass] has been in the band since the beginning, but me and him have been the only constant people. Nick [our drummer] has been in the band for 3 years. Now it's pretty much just the 3 of us, but there's been about 10 people who have been in the band.
EXPRESS: Did you get to talk to [NOFX singer/Fat Wreck Chords chief] Fat Mike when you saw him at the Goons' show?
SPOONBOY: No. I think he does really bad things with punk. I really don't like Fat Wreck Chords or NOFX ... for years and years Fat Wreck Chords was really apolitical, poppy and accessible and it became the face of punk, which is [a shame] because for me it's a lot more of a politicized idea.

More recently, since Bush was elected, it's gotten a lot more politicized but it's liberal politics that don't get to the root of it.
I don't feel like Rock Against Bush makes any sense when Bush is just the symptom of systemic problems.

Fat Mike did the Punk Voter thing, but it's just a recruiting campaign to get punk kids to vote Democrat. For me, punk is about rejecting power structures and having Punk Voter or Rock Against Bush is surrendering your power to these people. They're Democrats, they're a little to the left of Bush, but it's still like, "Work for the system, surrender your power to these people."
It doesn't seem punk to me. Punk Voter seems like an oxymoron.

EXPRESS: Does the rest of the band have the same politics?
SPOONBOY: Bepstein has different politics. I don't believe in God; he's pretty into Judaism. He thinks government is a good thing. More or less he wants to live the lifestyle he grew up in: suburban upper-middle class. That's a pretty different from my point of view. But two people should be able to get along regardless of their politics as long as they're not jerks.

EXPRESS: All your music's available on your Web site. Do you think that cuts into your album sales?
SPOONBOY: I don't care. I think music should be shared. I made an acoustic CD a couple of years ago and sometimes people e-mail and ask me if they can play the songs. I don't want ownership of songs. It's awesome when other people play them. It's cool to be like "No, it's music, it's for everyone, do what you want. Here's the chords."

EXPRESS: You're from D.C., but lived in Bloomington, Indiana, for a few years. Why'd you move back?
SPOONBOY: A bunch of complicated things. The reason I'm staying is cause most people in the world have it pretty hard and Washington, D.C., is hard city to live in. It's just difficult — there's obviously a lot of contrast between poverty and the people in power.
Having the most powerful government in the world centered here, I feel like it's bad karma or something, like bad vibes, not that I believe in karma or vibes or anything, but I kinda do (laughs).

So I don't know that I want to stick around here forever, but if I thought about a different place to live it'd be based on convenience, where it's more comfortable to live. Given that there's so much oppression in the world, I don't feel comfortable making that decision in my life, to be like, "Oh, I should be living somewhere that's really easy and comfortable."

For now it makes sense to live here where I have to face and be reminded about the things that upset me about the world.

EXPRESS: Is the band as big as it's ever been right now?
SPOONBOY: I think when we first started, that's as big as the band has ever been. At that time we were in high school; everyone from our high school and other high schools would come out. It was definitely different — now there's people who know about us all over the country. We played with a band from Japan that had our record.

But yeah, I guess the more you play, the more people hear about it.
The vast majority of people are not going to be into our music and that's cool. We're not going to reach everybody but there's gonna be a certain kind of person who listens to a certain kind of music and has certain ideas and they're gonna really like it. I guess like getting to more of those people is cool, it's a fun exchange. Probably those people have something to offer me that I'd really like also.

EXPRESS: What kinds of causes have your shows benefited?
SPOONBOY: Recently we've done shows for Green Scare Political Prisoners. We've done a lot of shows for small community spaces, like the Electrik Maid. We've done shows for a books-to-prisoners program and a food pantry program and a lot of various benefits, cancer research — we're definitely into helping out.

EXPRESS: What do you have in common with Mass Movement of the Moth?
SPOONBOY: Musically, we have a lot in common even if it seems different. We're both really into writing songs that don't follow traditional song structures, bringing in different elements, keeping it interesting, trying to do something that's challenging for ourselves.

Also, what our intentions are as a band. They're very into keeping it DIY and doing it cause it's fun and they love it. They don't have any aspirations to become popular — and they are becoming very popular. It's cool cause it's definitely not something any of them are in it for.

EXPRESS: Do you think that community is an important part of the D.C. scene?
SPOONBOY: Yeah, totally. There's parts of the punk scene and different communities. I'm more interested in a punk community than a punk scene. Cause just going to shows coming home and hanging out in your room, you can be isolated and one of the main things that punk is good for is helping people who feel isolated have something they can relate to with each other. And if it's not a community, it's just aesthetic. Aesthetic has its uses, but that's not really something I'm interested in.

People have strong friendships in the punk scene and the political activist community. That overlaps. Ties between people are the most important thing, more than like how good a band is.

EXPRESS: You've toured the whole country before?

EXPRESS: How many times?
SPOONBOY: Max Levine Ensemble, or me?

EXPRESS: You've toured solo as well?
SPOONBOY: I've toured solo and I've toured in Lava Lava.

Max Levine Ensemble has done one tour to the West Coast, I've done a couple of tours that went to the West Coast and all over the country.

Max Levine Ensemble has done a lot of tours that are on the east coast or the Midwest or down to Florida. We've played around the eastern half of the country a whole bunch.

EXPRESS: Do you have any idea how many records you've sold?
SPOONBOY: Both of our CDs we put out on CDR before we pressed them as proper CDs, so including CDRs we've probably sold more than 1,000 of each of our CDs. We have two split 7 inches. One of them sold 300, the other one, there have probably been 1,200 or 1,500 distributed. That was the one that was with Plan-It-X Records.

EXPRESS: Is there else anything you want people to know about your band?
SPOONBOY: We're not interested in being pigeon-holed. I feel like one of the most destructive things about how people perceive different scenes and communities is they like see it, label it, that's it.

Somebody said recently — and this is something that I feel weird about also — we play all the same places to the same people — and that's really fun — but it's just cause those are the people that ask us to play.

But as a band we're open to playing anywhere, to different people, and as a scene — whatever small subset of the scene that we're a part of — we're open to anybody coming in and hanging out that wants to be a part of it and definitely have no intention of dividing ourselves off into one scene or another.
Fort Reno, Chesapeake St. & Nebraska Ave. NW; with Mass Movement of the Moth, 7:15 p.m., free, (Tenleytown/AU)

- Washington Post Express


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