They're an American band

May 5, 2010 at 12:00 am

Derrick Mallory owns three station wagons in three different colors. He lives in Willis, not far from Ypsilanti, where the other three members of his band live.

"One of them is burnt orange, inside and out," he says. "The speakers are two alarm clocks that I hooked up. It's so ugly."

We're talking about cars because Shane O'Malley Firek, the band's lead singer, just took his into the shop in Allen Park, his hometown, where, to hear Shane tell it, it was thronged by mechanics.

"You know that saying, too many cooks? They're like too many chefs. Around my beater car," he says.

"Every time I go back there, I feel like I should be more manly," says Matt Mathis, the band's lead guitarist, of Allen Park.

"Oh, yeah. I feel like a boy," Shane says.

"What did we say our influences were? Besides cigarettes, whiskey and dogs?" asks drummer Justin Fox.

"R. Kelly," Derrick says. "And Li'l Wayne."

"Add station wagons," Justin concludes.

Meet the Ferdy Mayne, born of drunk Michigan grit, hard truths and straight-no-chaser ambition to get the hell out.

Ferdy Mayne (real name: Ferdinand Philip Mayer-Horckel, 1916–1998) was a mid-century German actor who achieved minor fame with his role as Count Von Krolock in Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers. 

The band of the same name has no particular love for European B-movies and their villains — just a fast finger on the Wikipedia "Random article" button.

"I wanted people to hear my music, but I didn't have a name for it," Shane says. "I kind of feel bad now using this guy's name."

"He only died like 10 years ago too," Derrick adds.

Shane started writing the songs that would become the Ferdy Mayne's repertoire as a freshman at Eastern Michigan University, where he roomed for a time with Aaron Diehl, now the drummer for pop trio Lightning Love.

"Aaron would always skip class all day and just sit in the dorm and record," Shane recalls. "So I started recording with him. Aaron played drums, Matt played guitar. And then we called old D-Rack up."

"I lived two doors down from Aaron in the dorm," Derrick says. "They always called me the Metal Kid, because I was always wearing leather, I guess."

"And a Grateful Dead hat!" Shane says.

"I did have a Grateful Dead hat," Derrick says.

And so the Ferdy Mayne was, sort of, born. Aaron eventually left the band to pursue Lightning Love with his keyboardist sister; Matt spent a couple of weeks in jail. In between, Derrick and Shane made do with a stand-up bass and an acoustic guitar, playing profligately around town — sometimes 12 shows or more in a month.

"It didn't matter," Derrick says. "We played at the Factory with emo bands. And you could hear a rat pissing on cotton in China, it was so fucking quiet," he laughs.

Meanwhile, Justin Fox was living in Nashville, where he'd moved when he was 18. But he was thinking about moving back to Michigan — mostly for a girl, but the Ferdy Mayne had something to do with it too.

Justin had found the Ferdy Mayne on MySpace. He and Shane had been in jazz band together in high school, although they were never friends. ("I thought you were an asshole," Shane says to Justin in front of the writer.) Liking what he heard, Justin sent them a MySpace message to say he wanted to play some music.

"And I was like, hell yes," Shane says. Justin moved back in September 2009; they were playing shows by November.

"I think the first time I ever saw Justin in my life, we were playing a show," Derrick says.

And what shows they are!

You probably won't see the Ferdy Mayne swapping instruments during a performance a la the Replacements (though tons of groups also do it now), or layering on strings, brass or keyboards, or donning costumes. ("I think our only outfit coordination ever was Hey, wanna not wear shirts?" Derrick says.)

What you will see is honest to god rock 'n' roll gospel, unassuming but powerful (and usually soused). You could call it folk rock, blues rock, or akin to Exile on Main Street-era country soul. Shane's slur is low and unhinged, his songs full of guns, girls and liquor, feverishly crooned against lurching rhythms — the stuff perfect bar bands and half-remembered party revivals are made of.

Their six-song EP, Chase That Jackrabbit, is currently available for free online, and they're planning on a self-released full-length this summer. Justin has a degree in audio technology from the SAE Institute of Nashville, so they're doing the recording all themselves.

"We're still using pretty barebones equipment," Justin says.

"Will you ever stop using 57s?" Derrick asks him.

"No," Justin says. "It's the best microphone ever made. That's why it's still round, and that's why it only costs $95."

"This guy's the Rhodes Scholar of the bunch," Shane says.

Still, it's those live shows this band lives for — and the more shows, the merrier.

"I'm just such a sucker for it," Shane says about performing. "This is what happens when you have a four-piece up there just doing it. The whole point of playing live is to make people feel good. Even at our worst shows, there's one person out there who's like, yeah" 

The elephant in the room (that is, up on the patio of Motor City Brewing Works, surrounded by pitchers of Ghettoblaster) on the night of our first interview is the band's somewhat sudden plan — almost so fresh, at that point, as to have seemed decided on the spot — to move to Nashville, with unabashed hopes to strike it rich in a town more conducive, they hope, to their mangy, wild-eyed vision of American music.

In mid-April they made it official and announced on their Facebook fan page that they'd be Tennessee-bound by the end of the summer. A week later, Shane took a break from tracking at the studio to discuss the move in more detail.

"I love Michigan, but playing in a band out here is hard," Shane says. "Down South, there are people that will manage you, that will take the sound you're making and spread it further. It's just about opportunity.

"I'm not worried about the scene," he continues. "That's not my motive. I'm not really looking to obtain any pissed-off hipster fans. I want to create pure honesty with my work. I want to release something that is going to blow people away."

The new material on the forthcoming full-length, he says, takes an even wider step toward more traditional country songwriting. But ultimately, that's not what it's about.

"The Ferdy Mayne," he says, "is an American band. The music we play — it's just an attitude. I'm a blue-collar motherfucker. That's just who I am. I like being an American. Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits — those are real, American men.

"We need to be more American. We're all younger guys. We want to see what we can do. I'm not fucking worried about anything."

And the Ferdy Mayne — fearless Michigan town boys, indefatigable performers, crazed and uncanny musicians — probably don't need to be, whether they make it in Nashville or not.

Ferdy Mayne plays Friday, May 7, at the Elbow Room (6 S. Washington St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-6374), with Derby Mama and Brass Tacks. They'll also play the Last Resort Campout (4080 N. Chapin Rd., Merrill; on Friday, May 28, a free weekend of music and camping. With Chris Bathgate, Lightning Love and others.

Freelance writer Amy Elliott specializes in music and pop culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]