Mikey Erg on his latest solo album, playing again with the The Ergs! in AC, and more

The Ergs! are set to play ahead of the Frantic City festival in AC later this month, which features a stacked lineup including Yo La Tengo, The Bouncing Souls, Murder City Devils and more.

Hours before the Bouncing Souls’ annual Stoked for the Summer show was set to kick off on July 15, attendees were delivered a bit of bad news from The Ergs! guitarist, Jeff Schroeck, via his Instagram account: “No ergs tonight.” 

Unfortunately, Mikey Erg (drums, vocals) had fallen ill and the famed trio, originally from Old Bridge (Middlesex County), were forced to drop from the lineup. It was massively disappointing for the many Ergs! fans who had been anticipating the band’s reunion for months. The show, however, still featured a stacked bill and provided an incredible evening of music—Stoked for the Summer is a show you should really circle on the calendar every year.

For those yet to be introduced to their music, The Ergs! are members of a small pantheon of New Jersey bands that have plenty of adoring fans all over the map, but have amassed a sizable, cult-like following in their home state. When The Ergs! get added to a bill in the tri-state area, the collective hearts of Garden State show-goers skip a beat. Their popularity might not be quite as far-reaching as groups like Thursday or The Gaslight Anthem but, make no mistake, The Ergs! are Jersey legends. 

Championing a unique blend of power pop and punk rock, the band’s sound is unmistakable. Unlike many of their pop-punk contemporaries, The Erg’s fiercely avoided compromise and songwriting that was blatantly derivative of their influences. While it may be difficult to draw direct parallels to other bands, if you enjoy Buzzcocks or The Descendents, The Ergs! surely won’t disappoint.

Though the group officially called it quits in 2008, fans were never left wanting as multiple reunion shows and posthumous releases helped sate their appetites. Each member of the band has also been active with other notable acts, including Night Birds (Joe Keller, bass), The Sad Tomorrows (Jeff Schroeck, guitar/vocals) and Mikey Erg (Mike Yannich) has been prolific with his solo project as well as being associated with more bands than I can count on fingers and toes (that actually might not be hyperbole). 

While Stoked for the Summer was certainly a let-down for The Ergs! and their fans, yet another opportunity to see the band play in Jersey will come later this month at Frantic City, a new festival that’s bringing a staggering lineup of punk, indie and garage rock bands to Atlantic City. Slotted to play the opening night party at Bourré (9/23), The Ergs! will be sharing a stage with Night Birds, Samiam and host Natalie Cuomo (comedian) before a Saturday lineup that includes The Bouncing Souls, Superchunk, Murder City Devils, Yo La Tengo, and more, with Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia, Trenchmouth) hosting.

Ahead of that upcoming show in AC, I chatted with Mikey Erg about his latest full-length, Love at Leeds, reuniting with The Ergs! for Frantic City and The Fest in Gainesville, and lots more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Was sorry to hear of you falling ill before the Stoked for the Summer show; I’m sure that must have been brutal for you. I trust you’re feeling better and are all sorted now?

Yeah, it was a huge bummer. Not a show I was wanting to miss, but, these things happen to everybody, I guess. It’s just one of those tough things. 

I’ve thought this for some time now, and further research has all but confirmed: you’ve gotta be the hardest working guy in music. In addition to your solo project and The Ergs! reunions, you also play in Early Riser, The Slow Death, Worriers, All Away Lou… that’s more than most people could handle at one time but, with you, I feel like I could be leaving out a lot. Have I left any bands out? 

Yeah, haha, it’s always a little hard to remember. Well, I play in Doc Hopper whenever that’s a thing. Hmm, you know none of the bands are terribly, terribly active, so that makes it all a little easier to be able to [be in all of them]. It’s a lot. I mean, I kind of just spent the first six months of the year out on the road so I kind of wanted to take it a little easier the second half of the year. And I’ve been sticking to that a bit.

How do you get involved with all of these different projects? Do they all stem from friendships or do some of these opportunities come from your body of work and a reputation that precedes you?

It’s mostly friends. I’m going on tour playing drums for Roger Harvey and Paisley Fields. When I met Paisley through our label, Don Giovanni, that was like an opportunity where he just needed a drummer for South by Southwest; I was put in touch with him and did that, and now I’m doing this other tour with him. I’ve been getting a few different things where it’s, you know, just kind of getting cold-called but, yeah, it’s mostly just people I’ve been friends with for, like, 15, 20 years.

Love at Leeds, your fourth solo full-length, was released at the end of June and you got to record that with the legendary Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac). How was that? How did that come to be? 

It was awesome! Yeah, Joe (Steinhardt) from Don Giovanni Records had already kind of had a bit of a relationship with him. Joe had worked at Electrical [Electrical Audio studio in Chicago] doing some stuff and so they’d already been in touch. At some point I just asked Joe, “Would it be possible for me to do a record there?” And he was like, “Yeah, I’ll call Steve right now,” and we booked time for like a year or maybe eight months out at that point. We basically booked the studio time before I even wrote a note on the record just to get it kind of on the books. So, yeah, Joe already kind of knew him and set it up, and then I got the band together and wrote the songs. We went out to Chicago and we did it super quickly. We did the whole record, recorded and mixed, in five days. 

We got pretty much all of the basic tracks done the first day and then the second day we did the couple of songs we hadn’t finished. And then I did basically all of the vocals in one day. The third day was just fun overdubs and whatever we could think of to put on the record, and then the last two days were mixing. [Steve] works super, super quick, and we were pretty well rehearsed. We’d been sending demos to each other for a few months before the record was recorded so we had all our parts down. Once we got to Chicago, we took a day and just did a full, long day of rehearsal.

I read that recording in analog was really important to you for this album. Apart from sound quality, was there more behind the desire to record/mix this way? 

Yeah, mostly it’s sound quality, but, it’s just something I’d never gotten to do before. You know, The Ergs! recorded to tape, but then it was always mixed into digital, so, yeah, it was just something I’d always wanted: to have a fully tape recorded and mixed record. A lot of the stuff I listen to nowadays is either classic rock or, lately, I’ve been on a tear buying these all-analog jazz issues and they just sound so good. I wanted to make one record in my career that was a fully analog production. 

Full disclosure, before I could even give the record a listen I saw The Hollies’ “On a Carousel” on the track listing and had to play that track first because it’s long been a favorite. What made you choose that cover?

Well, one day while I was writing the record, I was just kinda in the mode of playing through shit and trying to figure out songs to write. At some point that song just popped into my head and I started playing it and decided [to include it]; I like putting at least one cover on a record, you know? Especially if it kind of reminds me of what I’ve been writing anyway. So I got it in my head, “I’m gonna put this cover on the record,” and then I texted the band and they were into it, too, so it came together.

Apart from recording, was there anything different about your process for this album?

No, not really. It was the first one that was written during that kind of heavy lockdown period, though. I mean, everybody’s all over the place: our drummer (Lou Hanman) lives in Richmond and Jeff Rosenstock (guitar, piano) lives in LA. Everybody was kind of spread out so we were gonna have to do this type of thing anyway where we’d send demos and have everybody record their parts and send it back to each other. Writing the record that way, that was not a way it ever worked before, but I think that really, really made it a cool process.

I’d send the tracks to Jeff and then he’d come back with a fully realized, lead guitar track and you know, I was like, “Wow!” Stuff that I was not even expecting to be there was there and making the songs that much better. It was a cool way to work.

Sort of like opening a present when you’d get the tracks back, no?

Yeah, absolutely! Because all I knew was what the melody and the chords were and then there were definitely times where Lou would send me back a drum track and it was like not a feel that I [was expecting]. I don’t actively write drum parts for my own songs if I’m not gonna play them because I like to see where someone else will take the song. That’s my favorite part about collaborating with different people: you don’t know how it’s gonna sound until you hear it. There were definitely some feels that I was like, “Oh, I never would’ve thought of that. That sounds great.” 

Love at Leeds dropped only a year after your self-titled album and just three years after Waxbuilt Castles. What I’m getting at is, you’re pretty prolific; constantly adding to this already massive catalog. Are you writing every day? Do you just have a huge backlog of tunes?

It’s funny, I only really write when there is a project to be written for. That’s kind of the way I like to work: set a goal, set a date and then it’s like, “Well, I better come up with some songs.” So that’s basically how the self-titled record and this record were written.

Speaking of writing new music, I really enjoyed the new releases from The Ergs! What was the inspiration behind recording these two 7”?

That was kind of another product of lockdown mode. They were doing those “Bandcamp Friday” things and at some point, at least in my mind, that’s how [our recording again] originally started. I was like, “Oh, maybe we should do that.” A guy who used to play with us—he Ergs! had a different drummer and I played guitar and sang for only a couple shows and then it just never really worked out—but that drummer sent the tape of me playing demos for him that I originally sent for him to learn. There were a couple songs, like “Ultimate Falsetto Book,” that I’d kind of completely forgotten about because we had stopped playing it fairly soon after I’d sent him that tape, I guess. Between that (“Time and the Season” 7”) and the country 7” (“Renovations”), which were two of my songs from back in the day that we never recorded, I kind of got the idea that, “Oh, these songs aren’t that bad. Let’s get back together and record ’em.” I think in August of 2020, we all met up in New Brunswick at the studio and recorded a batch of songs and turned them into those two 7”s. We decided that they came out well enough that we should probably use them and make an actual release, as opposed to just putting them up online.

We are all pretty excited that we get another chance to catch The Ergs! in Jersey before you head down to FEST in Gainesville. You’ll be playing with Night Birds and Samiam at the Frantic City opener. Have you shared a bill with Samiam yet? 

I don’t think so. No, I don’t think we have. And I think I’ve only seen them like once or twice so I’m really looking forward to that. 

Will you be sticking around for Saturday?

Yeah, definitely. Just getting to see Rocket from the Crypt and Superchunk… I mean, those are like two of my absolute favorite bands so I’ll be there.

Other dates for The Ergs! or tours for you in the works?

Nothing yet. We’re kind of open to whatever. We’re talking about possibly doing the UK early next year, or around like April and May. That would be cool. 

This isn’t really a new development but you and The Ergs! are sort of forever propped up on this pedestal of beloved bands in Jersey. I’m sure it’s not something you think of often but it’s gotta be kind of a trip to be so loved in your home state, no?

Oh yeah, it’s awesome. It’s funny because we’re proud to be from Jersey and, yeah, it’s just nice when you get a little love at home like that. I remember realizing, like, right when we put out Dorkrockcorkrod, that’s when it all kind of changed and people really, really started getting into us; playing a lot of those wonderful, wonderful New Brunswick basement shows that were such magical times. It felt really good to finally feel like we were making some headway at home and people were into it.