Zack Lopez at the Pub Rock in Scottsdale, AZ, on May 3, 2013. Photo by Jeffrey Olsen

Aunt Betty by Middle Class Rut

Since forming in 2006, Middle Class Rut—which consists solely of guitarist/vocalist Zack Lopez and drummer/vocalist Sean Stockham—has carved out a reputation as being one of the most bombastic duos on the scene. Their latest release, Pick up Your Head, looks beyond the confines of the duo configuration and takes an “anything goes” approach. During the recording, layers of additional colors—like bass parts, Morello-esque Whammy-pedal quirks, and percussive splashes—were spontaneously added as the album evolved. The result is a fresher, fuller sound for MC Rut.

Faced with the prospect of having to recreate a larger sound when touring in support of the new album, MC Rut had to find a new game plan for their live shows. “It’s a whole lot easier with just two people, on one hand, but it limits you on another,” says Lopez. Both he and Stockham were vehemently opposed to laptops or sequencers, so the other option was to hire additional musicians. Although they’ve flirted with having help onstage before, adding new members to the fray was not a decision they took lightly.

Scars remain from what happened with Leisure, Lopez and Stockham’s previous band, which was signed to DreamWorks Records in 2000 but then saw its dream quickly turn to nightmare. “We just couldn’t find the right dynamic with other people,” Lopez recalls. “We’d spend a couple of years building a thing with a singer, and then it would fall apart and we’d have to start over again. It was a revolving door of people—we had six different singers by the end of it. We were the only two consistent members, and we swapped a lot of people out up until our early 20s. It took us a long time to realize that maybe this wasn’t going to happen with other people.” Leisure disbanded in 2003, and Lopez and Stockham were so burnt and jaded from the experience that they both abandoned music and found day jobs—Lopez became a construction worker and Stockham became a studio runner.

Zack Lopez plays a ’57 reissue Les Paul Jr. through an Orange rig—an MKII Rockerverb 100W head driving a 4x12 closed-back cab. His pedalboard features a DigiTech Whammy, Boss DD-2, MXR Carbon Copy, MXR Micro Amp, and an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. Photo by Jeffrey Olsen

After about three years, the two realized they much preferred power chords to power tools and teamed up again. This time around, however, they were adamant about not repeating the same mistakes. “When we got back together, we knew we couldn’t look for a singer because we’d end up in the same boat. We decided that we’d try our hand at it ourselves,” says Lopez. “We figured the only way it would work is if we didn’t have to involve anyone else. Instead of trying to convey your ideas to someone to hear what you want to hear, you just do it yourself. I don’t know why it took so long to come to that realization. It took a lot to find the confidence to decide that we can do everything from start to finish, but once we did, everything became a thousand times easier.”

Thus Middle Class Rut was born and signed to Bright Antenna Records after their song “New Low” was picked up by several radio stations, including the now-defunct Sacramento station KWOD. The song hit No. 5 on alternative radio and got more than 4 million hits on YouTube. In 2010, MC Rut’s demo was released as No Name No Color, an album that garnered the band serious buzz as the next big thing. They’ve since shared the stage with the likes of Alice in Chains, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, and Weezer. SXSW 2013 marked the debut of the band’s new touring lineup for its just-released sophomore effort, Pick up Your Head, which adds another guitarist, a bassist, and a dude bangin’ away on automotive parts. “It’s so much easier now,” says Lopez. “Before I would stress out, like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ Now there’s actually another human I can play with. We’re going to be bringing out older stuff that we can now do. It opens up more doors.”

That newfound freedom hasn’t just made it possible to do older material previously deemed too difficult to pull of as a duo—it’s completely rejuvenated the band in its preparation for the Uproar Tour this fall with Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction, and Coheed and Cambria. “We’ve got a new excitement that we didn’t have before,” says Lopez. “We were pretty fried at the end of the last record—on touring, on everything. But at the show we did a couple of weeks ago, it felt like, “Holy shit—this is fun again in a way it hasn’t been in a while!”