Kyle Poissonnier, the sweet, enthusiastic, muscle-bound organizer of the upcoming State of the State II, invited me to sit in on an event production meeting a couple of weeks back. The event, which takes place at The State Theater on July 11th, is a much anticipated followup to last year’s nearly sold out event. The Mallet Brothers Band, Spose, The Wrecking, The Other Bones, Model Airplane, The Kenya Hall Band and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra will all be performing.
This interview is long and sprawling, but it captures a lot of amazing nuggets about Maine music, elements of the Portland scene past and present, and a great deal of love for the iconic music venue.
The cast of characters includes:
- Kenya Hall
- Kyle Poissonnier (Organizer)
- Luke Mallett (The Mallett Brothers Band)
- Will Mallett (The Mallett Brothers Band)
- Brian Higgins (The Mallett Brothers Band)
- Loretta Allen (The Other Bones)
- Lara Sullivan (Stage Manager, The State Theater)
- Darren Elder (The Wrecking)
- Kevin Oates (Maine Youth Rock Orchestra)
- Matthew Day (Sly-Chi)
WARNING: A few salty words, but surprisingly few considering these are a bunch of rock musicians.
“IT WILL BE A BIG EXPERIENCE FOR ONE NIGHT.”
STEED: So how did all of this come about?
SPOSE: Kyle was like, “Do you want play at the State Theater and get paid?” And the answer to both of those questions was yes.
STEED: Can you explain Kyle to someone who doesn’t have any frame of reference for who he is?
SPOSE: Absolutely not. Inexplicable. That’s my explanation. People ask me that and I couldn’t explain him if I tried. I hope you brought some adjectives because I don’t know.
STEED: Sensitive triceps?
SPOSE: Yeah, for sure. We’re closer, for sure. I don’t know. He told me he was going to do a show at the State Theater and I doubted him, but I said okay, good luck. That was before the show last year, which nearly sold out. He thinks big, man, and he does it.
DARREN ELDER (The Wrecking): Kyle is a good friend. He and I have worked on a few things together artistically. Any opportunity to work with him is a good thing. And he is a big supporter of fighting human trafficking, particularly the forced prostitution of children, which is something that is very precious to our band.
WILL MALLETT (The Mallett Brothers Band): Kyle has always been a good dude. He is enthusiastic and gets stuff done. He’s a cool dude who brings people together and pulls it off. He’s a buddy, you know?
KYLE POISSONNIER (Organizer): State of the State is a concert, but I always describe it as an event. It is a representation of what Maine can do. You have all of the musicians, the community aspect, and the local sponsors. That Down East Magazine is involved is really cool. Baxter Brewing has been so helpful over the past couple of years. For me it is great to make something bigger than a concert. It is fun to make it more than what it would be otherwise. It needed to be bigger than life. That’s just how I like to do things.
LARA SULLIVAN (Stage Manager): There are a lot of moving parts and really talent bands under one roof, bands you can’t normally get under one roof. Either they’re gigging together somewhere else or they’re in different states. You can see them all in one night. They’ll have the kids from the Youth Orchestra there.
KEVIN OATES (Maine Youth Rock Orchestra): Maine Youth Rock Orchestra is a program run by the Maine Academy of Modern Music. It is a program that provides orchestral string students ages 12 to 18 the opportunity to work alongside and perform with Maine based bands. They get the opportunity to perform with these musicians and the musicians get the opportunity to be accompanied by a string orchestra. The kids are pumped to play this event. We have one girl who is only 12 and she is playing this big show at the State. I don’t think they’ll all realize how big it is until they get there and see it.
LARA SULLIVAN: It will be a big experience for one night.
KENYA HALL: It is going to be amazing. It is really exciting that such an eclectic group of people are coming together to put a show on. This will be a nice addition to all of the things we are doing as a community already. If you are a lover of music, you’ll totally love what we are doing that night. There will be so many different styles and so many walks of life.
“YOU WAKE UP THE NEXT DAY AFTER PLAYING THE STATE THEATER AND IT JUST DOESN’T SEEM REAL.”
STEED: Why The State?
KYLE POISSONNIER: Are there bigger venues in Maine? Yeah. Does any venue mean more? I don’t think so. You talk to Spose or the Mallett Brothers and it is just the place you want to play in Maine, especially now when there aren’t too many local shows that come through it.
WILL MALLETT: Playing at The State is still beyond surreal for me. I remember being 14 and hitching rides with my brother’s friends to shows. I remember going with older kids to see Incubus… Everything from them to Scissorfight to Jeremiah Freed. It has always been the big place. The Civic Center doesn’t have that same romance. You wake up the next day after playing at The State Theater and it just doesn’t seem real.
LUKE MALLETT (The Mallett Brothers Band): A civic center is a civic center is a civic center, but the State has that vibe, you know? You feel like you’re going to something when you’re 16 and standing in line on Congress. There is something to that, there is a lot to that. We’ve got a lot of venues and the scene thrives, but The State was always this unattainable thing.
DARREN ELDER: I saw Rustic Overtones at The State. I saw them and realized that they were from here and they were really doing it. It was really fascinating for me. The State is this holy grail of venues for all of us. The Civic Center is bigger, but it is not better in my mind. I would rather play this beautiful old theater with a bunch of people I am glad to call my friends and do our friends and family proud right here. I spend a lot of time on the road and getting to be home is an absolutely delightful thing.
SPOSE: It is the best venue in Maine. It is one of my favorite venues in New England. The first show I saw there was The Foo Fighters for The Colour and the Shape tour. I was 11 or 12. My brother fell asleep in the back but I couldn’t believe it, the fucking Foo Fighters. Then I saw Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious there. It was a transformative show for me in that it made me decide to do rap music instead of rock music. I didn’t get kicked or punched and my glasses didn’t get knocked off. Everybody was having a good time and that was when I decided I wanted to pursue rap instead.
BRIAN HIGGINS (The Mallett Brothers Band): I have gone to so many concerts at The State and I have worked there. It is like a big, old home. I grew up here. I know the whole history of how it was dilapidated and then a porn theater, and then it became what we now know it as. It is nice to see it come back to its full potential. I have seen so many things there and not just shows—theater and movies. It is great. Lauren [Wayne], who runs the place, is a peach. I work there when I am can when I am not playing. I would work there for free, it’s that cool.
LARA SULLIVAN: The State Theater means everything to me. It has opened my eyes to more music than I had ever known. The working cog of that place is amazing. Everybody plays their part while helping each other out. You feel the history when you’re in there. You can feel what has been through there. You see so many big smiles up on that stage.
KYLE POISSONNIER: The first show I went to at The State was the Holiday Bizarre in 2000. You had these local bands like Jeremiah Freed, 6Gig, and Rustic Overtones playing with the big bands at the time. And they played for Seether or Orgy or Disturbed. It showed you what you could do even when coming from Maine. For me, coming from Maine, I would come an hour and a half down South and show up at this amazing looking theater and packing it with 2,000 people. I thought, oh, this is what you can do. Youou walk in there on the night of a show and you don’t want it to end. It just looks awesome. You just want to live in that moment.
With its history, and how it looks aesthetically…
SPOSE: Part of it is just the aesthetics of how great the space looks. I attach the State Theater to the memory and quest for success. I have seen so many bands that I love there, even up to this day. It gives me something to strive for. Once I fulfill my personal dream of selling out The State Theater on my own, I don’t know what else I will dream for. That’s the biggest thing for me. I fucking love it.
“THE TALENT LEVEL IS INCREDIBLY HIGH AND RICH AND THE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE IS OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER.”
STEED: How do you characterize what is going on within the various music communities here in Portland?
LORETTA ALLEN (The Other Bones): Portland is incredible. When I first got here, I hated it. I was coming from Boston. I was fresh out of college and so when I moved here I didn’t have any friends and I wasn’t meeting anybody and it is a small city. Then I got over myself and started meeting people and getting into the music scene. The city is incredible. For such a relatively small city, the food and the bars and the coffee shops make it more vibrant where I was living outside of Boston.
As for the music scene, I can’t imagine starting a band anywhere else. It is a very welcoming and warm community. If we were to be the band that we are in Boston or New York or Chicago, I feel like we would be lost and no one would give a shit. We got to incubate as a band in the perfect place, where you have local people coming to shows. You have other musicians who are being supportive and who aren’t hating with things like, “People are coming to your show and not my show.” There isn’t that BS.
DARREN ELDER: Everybody I know at different levels, from recording to playing, you feel like you’re part of the same family. People choose to stay here for a reason. It is like no other place. The talent level is incredibly high and rich and the character of the people is of the highest caliber. When I see something good happen for them, I am probably more excited for them than they are.
WILL MALLETT: You usually see people’s success from afar, but being across the stage and watching Spose or Lyle [Divinsky of Model Airplane] or Kenya or anybody, the show that they put on and the way that people go nuts for them, it is kind of inspiring. Obviously there is so much more talent in the state than what will be presented at this show, but it is a community thing. It feels like a fun family party. It is so cool to be a part of it.
BRIAN HIGGINS: Portland has always been like family. I have been in the scene now for 25 years in multiple projects and it has always been really close. Everybody is really supportive. Everybody tries to play each others shows, everybody always goes to each others shows and it has just gotten better and better.
LARA SULLIVAN: Portland has a great sense of community. Anywhere else it can be dog-eat-dog. Here these bands are willing to help each other and give each other advice musically and professionally. That is great to see.
BRIAN HIGGINS: The vibe and community in Portland is one where, like Lara said, it is not dog-eat-dog. It’s not super competitive and it is supportive. It is not one where everybody is trying to one-up each other. It lets everybody’s art blossom more.
LUKE MALLETT: A lot of other places you go are different because you have a city scene and then everything else. Here, we are all Mainers and we really feel like that. Maine is Maine. It doesn’t matter where we go, there is always somebody who knows somebody that I know, or who went to school with my old man. Everywhere. I’ve even run into relatives I didn’t know that I had.
I have been in this scene for a very long time, and in genres that are very different from what I am doing right now. The cool thing about Portland is that genre doesn’t really mean much, which has always been a nice thing. Everybody is open in the community to whatever—from rap to rock to what we’re doing. Most cities aren’t like that where genres can mix. As a scene there can be a lot of separation around that, but Portland has never really been like that.
KENYA HALL: I have lived in both Portland and north of here, and there is camaraderie among the musicians. Everyone really wants other people to do well. There is not as much competition as there is nurturing. Of course there is a fair amount of competition, that’s what makes everybody get better, but there is such an amazing amount of nurturing. I know you don’t find that in bigger cities. All of the bands featured in State of the State II really care about their music community. We really care about our fellow musicians.
LORETTA ALLEN: It would be interesting to figure out how it came to a point where there are a bunch of different bands having barbecue, drinking beers and amicably planning a show together. How did it come together in conjunction as a city as a whole. I think it plays in with everything that’s going on in the city, with the restaurants, bars and everything else. It is growing as one, and everyone involved is very excited about that.
“THIS IS SOMETHING WE ARE VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT.”
STEED: Darren, earlier you mentioned human trafficking being an issue that is close to you and the Wrecking. How did that struggle make it into your consciousness?
DARREN ELDER: We played a festival where I met a guy called Zack Hunter. He was at an International Justice Mission table representing the abolitionist movement. He told me that there are 27 to 30 million people who are the property of other human beings, and about 15 million are children. It blew. my. mind. It honestly made me so unbelievably angry. It has shaped a lot how how I approach what I do. Anybody who is blessed with a platform has a chance to be a voice, and it is my choice to be a voice for the voiceless. We have traveled a lot with the Not For Sale Campaign. There is also Love146.org, which is an incredible organization. We have traveled all over the country and raised awareness and dollars. We have raised over $350,000 dollars for Not For Sale by raising money through sponsorships. The money is for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate as well as attack the economics of the slave trade.
This is something we are very passionate about. The abolitionist movement in the United States finished here in Maine, and so this is a great issue to bring home again.
“DAVE GUTTER IS ACTUALLY 67 YEARS OLD.”
STEED: Spose, you’re being backed by Sly Chi again this year, which is a pairing that seems to work exceptionally well. Do you know why that is?
SPOSE: I wish I could watch us from the outside, to be a witness of it from the crowd. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I think it works partly because they’re so damn good. I show up to band practice on days where I sent them an MP3 at 3 pm and by 7 they all know how to play the song. It’s amazing.
MATTHEW DAY (Sly-Chi): These sorts of pairings are happening more and more where there is a live band paired with hip hop. There is a group in New York called Lifted Crew and it is pretty much what Spose and Sly-Chi are doing. They do it really well. We listen to his tunes and put our own stuff in there. When Sly-Chi learns a tune we’re going to cover, we try to make it our own adding this and that or changing this or that. It’s the same deal with Spose tunes. We put our own spin on it.
STEED: I just realized that I met Matt and some of the other dudes in the early incarnation of the Sly-Chi in 2000—almost 15 years ago—so they’ve been doing it forever. Since I was a middle teenager.
SPOSE: They’re an institution. Obviously the Rustic Overtones have been around for 25 or 45 years at this point…
STEED: Dave Gutter is actually 67 years old.
SPOSE: 72, actually… He lied to you about his age.
I played State of the State last year with Rustic. Playing with them has always been a big goal of mine. Watching them at The State Theater… I used my stage cred to get right to the front row, and they played all of the old songs that I needed to hear. There is a certain amount of nostalgia with all of this.
KYLE POISSONNIER: That was an awesome show. It’s a lot more work this year. We are bringing it up a notch. It is a lot more work, but it feels more comfortable. When you have this many people involved in a show, there is a lot going on. We’re all friends, though, so that is pretty cool. It is nice to have a group of people it is fun putting this mega show on with. It is stressful, but not as much as last year, which was our first time pulling it off. I am able to enjoy it a lot more.
It’s exciting for everybody. Everybody who is involved with it is really pumped.