The Mongrels: Tim Avram, singer, guitarist; Shane Swank, drums; Charlie Klein, guitar, singer; Joe Balbaugh, bass guitar, singer.
It was fourteen years in the making but The Mongrels have finally found the raison d’etre for slogging through the highways and the back woods to score a little respect. The original band consisted of Chris Phillips, Matt Nyquist and Tim Avram: Chicago, Milwaukee, Denver, and Flagstaff.
After a few false starts they hit the mark with the Mongrels classic lineup with Shane Swank on drums, Marx Dundas on bass and vocals and Tim Avram on guitar and vocals. From 2004 – 2011 they rocked the mid-Michigan music scene with some of the hardest rocking punk next to the Sex Pistols. Along the way they added Josh Jekel and Patrick Shaw for a short stint with the band. It was all good.
Last year the Mongrels did a brief Midwest tour that included Lansing, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago; but this year’s tour was huge. Starting with a show @ White’s Bar, The Mongrels headed west to the promised lands of Chicago, Southern California, and New Mexico etc. Avram’s enthusiasm is catching, “We sold records and we got paid. Generally, we got paid $100 or a percentage. We took merchandise to sell and we sold out. People bought the shirts and the CDs.”
Avram was enthusiastic about this year’s tour. “It was huge. I like getting out of here. I like touring because it’s not like it used to be around here. There are not as many bands out there. Josh Jekel and our first drummer Patrick Shaw left Sprout for the Mongrels.”
Chris Phillips is an important link to the Mongrels legacy. He played a couple of dates with the Mongrels in Denver and he played two old Mongrels songs Piss on the Lawn and Try Everything which he co-wrote. Those are the only oldies they still do!
Avram was ecstatic about the tour last year behind their CD entitled 4383. It taught them a lot about life on the road and giving the crowd a real show. They learned a lot on the last tour were prepared for whatever comes their way with their new tour.
Avram explained that the 2016 tour was huge and he began to appreciate a life as a touring musician. “We have friendships with bands and we have music in common but to go out and do punk shows, real live punk shows in punk bars, it’s uncommon. You got to go to Oakland California to work with real live punk bands.”
Avram admits that The Mongrels are really a neo-punk band and no longer function as an old school street punk band. “We have four part harmonies and we have these big sounds and we have more complex interplay between the musicians, singers and an actual rhythm section. Our songs are more complex, more is going on than three chords and a cloud of dust.”
Indeed, these musicians have been road hard and left out to dry, and it only made them better. Avram singles out Charlie Klein (from the Honky Tonk Zeros) as the catalyst for the band. “Playing with Charlie has made me a guitar player. I’m not just a songwriter and I have to keep up with Charlie, we need to stay fresh or we get bored. I see us as a punk band whereas Charlie sees us as a metal band. I just think we’re progressive. We are doing more change ups that are really complex, plus we are playing harmonized guitar solos like Thin Lizzy.”
The Mongrels are staying heavy and it’s getting a bit darker with minor chords. The band can now do tight three part harmonies without any problem. Joe Balbaugh sings high tenor; Charlie has a low grumble that he puts somewhere in the middle; Avram will layer his lead vocal according to how he writes it as well as how it fits the needs of the song. They are working on perfecting 2–tone unison vocals in the same pitch (like Terry Kirkman and Larry Ramos of The Association on Never My Love) .Avram even quit smoking so his vocals would be stronger and nuanced, but he had a tough three dates in which his throat was sore and rough. He did the typical gyspy spells, honey, lemon and salt water.
The tour began with the Michele Graves show @ White’s Bar and two shows in Grand Rapids the next day. The itinerary included ; Chicago, Milwaukee, Denver Flagstaff, Taos New Mexico, Las Vegas, San Diego, Oakland, Portland, Tacoma and Seattle.
Avram admits it was a shaky start but after the first three shows they were on point even though Avram lost his voice. The band was playing well but it wasn’t sounding right. Avram recalls, “Once they got to Vegas they were killing it and for the rest of the tour every show was our best show and after that we travelled to the mother side of the country and we were all in sync. And we killed it, we killed every show after that. We did all originals with the exception of Time by Pink Floyd.”
In Flagstaff, The Mongrels performed with a band that grew up on an Indian Reservation and were part of a tribe and all these people in the tribe were singing along with the lyrics. They knew all about the Mongrels. Avram points to the power of the internet, You Tube and social media. The crowd was yelling “Play Saginaw, Play Saginaw and singing along, having the time of their lives.
The Mongrels current project is influenced by old science fiction. It all about leaving earth and colonizing somewhere else, several songs are incubating. Typically, Avram write’s the lyrics, the melody and plays it on an acoustic guitar to teach the band.
“We’re a word band; we don’t writer songs just to rhyme. The most important part is making sure every word is getting into people’s heads. If you miss a word you may miss a meaning, good words, clever words, it’s got to be right. We are continuing to develop ideas to support our new songs. We want put it out on vinyl in the future.”
“In the meantime we are building up for the MARX Fest August 18th & 19th, which includes the reunion of STAMP’D.”