Listen to Missio perform and chat for WCPO Lounge Acts with host Austin Fast:
CINCINNATI - In a meteoric rise to popularity, electronic rock duo Missio had dozens of record labels come calling the same day Sirius XM's Alt Nation picked up their breakthrough single "Middle Fingers" a year ago.
Just a couple months later, RCA Records released the Austin, Texas-based pair's debut album "Loner" in May 2017.
"At first glance, most people will say it's a pretty dark record, but as you listen it's not just dark," producer/instrumentalist David Butler told WCPO Lounge Acts co-host Gil Kaufman last year. "It's taking an honest look, and hopefully people will feel an acknowledgment that life is hard and there are lots of dark parts to it and that this is the real s--t that happens in everyday life."
More specifically, it happens in lead vocalist Matthew Brue's life.
Loner's 11 tracks are filled with brutally honest looks into Brue's struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism after more than six years of sobriety. Exhibit A: "Everybody Gets High."
"Whiskey was his friend, he didn't have another. Vicodin his vice, his real and only lover," Brue achingly croons over wailing synths.
"Music became my way of writing in a diary. You have to do something so you're not constantly wrestling inside of your mind, just telling you to do stuff," Brue said in Missio's 10-minute "Skeletons" documentary produced by Jeff Ray. "You spend so much time focusing on money, success, goals, fans. But I didn't start writing songs for them. I started writing songs because it was my way to express how I felt."
And his feelings have certainly resonated with fans. At every show, Brue and Butler stare out upon a sea of middle fingers wagging at them, even once including Brue's own mother at a Houston festival.
"You would assume it's a 'f*** you' to the world. It's actually not. In a way, it's a song about unity. It's not f***you; it's f***this situation, which everyone can apply to their own lives," Brue said in the band's biography. "There's no better feeling than seeing hundreds of people from different religious and political backgrounds forget about everything and raise their fingers together. Flipping the bird can unite us."
Hook-y music and killer beats are important to Missio, but a vulnerable honesty lies at the crux of their mission.
"As a whole, all of the songs revolve around being in seclusion," Brue said. "There are so many people out there who feel that isolation. Being in a band with this sort of lyrical content, it's all about reaching listeners, meeting them at shows, hearing their stories and helping them feel like they can relate to someone. Maybe we can make the world feel not so alone."
Missio's next challenge will be to avoid the sophomore slump. In their Skeletons documentary, Brue revealed that struggle - whether with drugs, alcohol or conflict - has become a sort of crutch for his songwriting.
"Going into record No. 2 sober scares the hell out of me," Brue admits.
For all of the harmony between Brue and Butler, their backgrounds couldn't be further apart. Born and raised in Colorado, Brue studied classical piano as a kid and toured the world in a choir. In Houston, Butler "grew up in the least musical household ever" and didn't touch a guitar until he was 16.
Butler escaped the Office Space-style corporate world in order to pursue a career as a producer and audio engineer, while Matthew spent a year living in a remodeled 1974 Airstream, "learning how to write better songs." They had crossed paths many times in the Austin music scene, but their initial collaboration led to a larger commitment than most bands.
"When we were in the studio, we just started talking about our lives," Butler said. "Completely unplanned, I mentioned that my wife and I were looking for a roommate."
It just so happened that Brue was ready to move out of that trailer, and they've been roommates as long as the band has existed.
Since Loner, Missio has released two EPs with each containing four acoustic versions of their songs and a previously unreleased song. In October 2017, that new song was the heart wrenching "Can I Exist?" whose music video provides a tear-jerking and timely commentary on America's epidemic of police brutality against black men.
If You Go
Missio with Welshly Arms
8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21
20th Century Theater (3021 Madison Road, Oakley, Cincinnati)
General admission tickets: $15 in advance. $17.50 at the door. Buy at the website here.
More info at the 20th Century Theatre website here.
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