It's not often that any band, let alone an experimental heavy-rock duo, are earnest enough to put portraits of their great-grandparents on their debut CD. But the visages of cousins Chris Ando and Donnie Shoemaker's maternal great-grandparents are exactly what grace the cover of Mikaela's Fiend's We Can Driving Machine (SAF Records). Though the Seattle group's seizure-inducing rock 'n' roll seems like an odd fit to such a quaint, familial image, the sincere joy present in the band's music makes the contradiction seem irrelevant.
We Can Driving Machine's untitled songs are a full-frequency assault from Ando's thickly processed guitar and Shoemaker's proficient yet shambolic beats. Displaying the same kind of bludgeoning rock tinged with levity pioneered by groups such as Karp and Lightning Bolt, Mikaela's Fiend deviate from any sort of metal dynamic into a world of hyperactive, futuristic tones. While most of We Can Driving Machine consists of the overmodulated, driving rock that characterizes their live shows, the music unexpectedly dissolves at times into ecstatic whorls of noise.
Catalyzed by one of the final Botch shows at Redmond's Old Fire House, Ando and Shoemaker dove into the local music scene with zealous vigor. "After I played drums for four months, I saw Botch and that was our first show," says Shoemaker. "So Botch was a motivation to play more, but pretty much for the first while [we went to shows], month to month to month Botch was like our favorite band to go see and then they broke up right after that."
After a year or so of attending events at the Old Fire House, Mikaela's Fiend formed—out of a series of interlocking friendships on the Eastside—as a five piece in 2003. Through the Old Fire House's Band Pool program, a resource-sharing group for young groups interested in the all-ages music scene, Mikaela's Fiend became a regular opener for shows at the Redmond teen center/venue.
But getting a show in Seattle proved a challenge for the band, a problem soon remedied by an offer from DIY booker/DJ Eric Grandy (AKA Fucking in the Streets) to play a house show in the U-District. Soon afterward, the band could be found playing several house shows or alternative venues around Seattle. Mikaela's Fiend began to self-record and release seven-inch records on clear vinyl encased in lusciously DIY packaging.
However, on the cusp of the group's first West Coast tour, the band faced the prospect of having to back out on the dates due to school obligations. Not wanting to cancel the group's first out-of-state performances, Mikaela's Fiend became a pared-down unit consisting of guitar and drums, with occasional bursts from cassette tapes cribbed from local thrift stores. To Ando and Shoemaker's surprise the crowds along the coast were overwhelmingly enthusiastic toward the power duo's skree. Upon returning from tour, the condensed lineup stuck.
Having known each other for most of their lives, the duo found Mikaela's Fiend's stripped-down configuration to make sense. And despite new limitations, the shift created new opportunities for a change in sound. "We wanted to be more experimental, but more powerful," says Ando. To fill out the group, Ando began running his guitar out of a separate bass and guitar amp, with another amp dedicated to tape collage. After the lineup change, Shoemaker's drumming came to the forefront, taking on a lyrical quality that hit with such force as to merit the band's increasing wall of amps.
Despite their live show's impressive volume, Mikaela's Fiend seem unconcerned with vulgar displays of power. Shoemaker observes, "A lot of people say [our music is] real brutal, and that makes me feel weird. I feel like it's more electronic and really energetic. Not like big muscle brutal power [music], it's just like [us going] crazy [and] having a lot of fun."
Refreshingly, Ando and Shoemaker seem to be motivated by a pure fandom of bands with the same kind of youthful drive that supplies the perpetual motion behind their firstname.lastname@example.org