NO LEADERS: But the Macrotones are on point when it comes to micromanaging.
De La Soul believe that three is the magic number. My college girlfriend thought it was 55, not counting guys she only blew. But the Macrotones — a pleasantly excessive Allston-based instrumental outfit that rejects categorization within Afrobeat, reggae, and jam-band boundaries but will nonetheless be regularly lumped among those genres — believe the divine integer is 11. That's right — their group goes to 11.
Some might suspect that such a clan requires rigid hierarchical organization. The Macrotones, however, have decided there's no room for dominance in a non-political party of their magnitude. Founding members Nate Smith (bass) and Aaron Duffy (drums) arrived at that conclusion last year after joining a start-up Afrobeat alliance with a bandleader who fancied himself the bastard spawn of Sting and Fela Kuti. (Which might have been the case, you never know.) Instead of sticking out a painful Craigslist-facilitated shotgun marriage, the pair split with half the dude's crew and started fresh.
"We have 11 people now, which is a recipe for drama, but we've been able to weed it down to those of us who get along," says Nate Leskovic (trombone). "Looking back to the beginning, which wasn't very long ago at all, I'd say that we've been able to do it because we have no bandleader. That's on purpose. That was a deliberate move."
Surely everyone who's ever played in a massive outfit is grunting something to the tune of "Please — we did that same thing." No doubt somewhere in Staten Island, Method Man and Ghostface Killah are cursing the presumptions in this article. But they're all full of shit — as are you and that other dude in Bang Camaro. Orchestrating numerous heads is a heavy task every time, and the Macrotones are on point when it comes to micromanaging.
On the night of their Phoenix interview — which corresponds with the first snowstorm of the winter — they're taking turns yapping at the Middle East upstairs. It's unbelievable, but not one member seems to kick mad ego; instead of the usual not-so-surreptitious boasting, I get comments such as this one from Patrick Hurley (percussion), whose thighs are perpetually black-and-blue with self-inflicted tambourine wounds: "All of our songs are Macrotones songs — we would never really say that just one person wrote any of them. That's just not how things work with us."
They first tested their cohesiveness in public at the 2007 Hooker Street Block Party in Allston, where they played their cherry-poppin' gig. The line-up at the time — which included most of the current members — proved capable of creatively cohabitating, but there was still one major issue that threatened to undermine. "Back then we were calling ourselves Mzungu, which means 'whiteboy' in Swahili," says Aaron Duffy (drums). "And besides the fact that it was a stupid name anyway, they spelled it wrong on the flyer, so we knew right then that it had to go."
A brainstorming session soon after yielded the Macrotones handle, which unlike 99.infinity percent of band names actually applies to the broad texture that the 11-homeboy posse cover. To classify the Macrotones as anything specific would involve name-dropping at least three dozen arcane bands that most folks wouldn't recognize. On the other paw, to call them simply "eclectic" is a tragic understatement. Put these guys in tuxedos and they could rock a black wedding to the bone; keep them grimy and they'll continue smacking Boston's underground silly.
For proof of their successful synthesis — and for an explanation of why they've been asked to jam with local hip-hop, indie rock, and reggae acts — you need look no farther than their debut disc. Named after the converted A-frame barn in secluded Maine where they recorded its nine tracks in a 14-hour booze, barbecue, and rhythm marathon, Wayne Manor is a miraculous matrimony of funky preconceived ideals and effective spontaneity. "When you do it like we did — all together in a wide open space — you have to live with a couple of mistakes, but you get a lot more soul," says Jason Buhl (tenor, flute). Adds Duffy: "It's also a lot cheaper — with 11 people that's a lot of individual studio time."
We'll have to revisit the Macrotones after they hit the road together; right now they're getting along fine with weekly rehearsals and regular shows, but a near-dozen unwashed asses in any sort of van or bus is guaranteed to spark some fumes. Time will tell, though — especially if they keep feeding their communal "Macro Fund" with gigs like their upcoming Sunday-night monthly residency at Johnny D's. "We're all still pretty much amazed at how well we're able to correspond without one person having to be like, 'Do this,' " says Hurley. "Anyone who's ever been in any size band would probably agree that that's a major hurdle to get over."
MACROTONES | Johnny D's, 17 Holland St, Somerville | January 18 at 9:30 pm | $5 | 617.776.2004 orwww.johnnyds.com