"There are so many things you can't control about people's perceptions," says Wormwood. "It's better off just not to acknowledge those things, and we just go for it."
Five hours into the drive with the band from Boston to New York, we see the city's skyline stalk above fields of highway congestion and nonsensical overpasses. The band are delirious with cabin fever.
"I'm going to take a bite out of you, Big Apple!", exclaims Ounjian, who's met by a shrill chorus of "New Yooork!" Whereas Mean Creek habitually sell out clubs in Boston — from the Middle East downstairs to Great Scott — New York's oft-vacant clubs are met with a distinct anxiety.
"Usually I'm calling all my friends just to get a few people into the venue," says Wormwood, who like the others has played shows in New York's clubs for nearly a decade now. "We pretend like it's our first time coming here."
We arrive in the city around six. Sound check is in 30 minutes, and the band still need to get copies of The Sky (Or the Underground) from their label. An argument over traffic and timing has lasted 20 minutes; it ends with a decisive turn at an intersection that takes us back to the Mercury Lounge, where Mean Creek will play that night with Boston '90s alt-rock heroes Buffalo Tom and fellow openers the Candles.
Touring for a regional band is anything but glorious. With just 30 minutes till show time, Holland still can't hear anything through the stage monitors; he grows flustered. They run through the same song for the fourth time and then decide to call it a check so they can rest and recharge. Ounjian runs outside, bleary-eyed, to write a set list, or maybe just to escape. I disappear to get some food and return to find them milling with beers, waiting to play.
For all their pre-show anxieties, Mean Creek prove their sound is capable of dwarfing cities. The bashful Keene accepts his role as frontman, ax slung low, head held high, charged, in his element. He can find it hard to maintain eye contact in conversation, but on stage he could conquer nations. From the first distorted bass notes of "Sky (Or the Underground)," the crowd is hushed and looking toward the stage. Hyperbole aside, an absence of conversation in a sold-out club is an audible, remarkable thing.
Before the trip, Wormword tells me, "Having a good show that is even moderately attended is the best feeling in the universe. I feel elated." After the show, that feeling remains; everyone has a beer and is happy. We see the Candles walking away in separate directions, gear in tow.
"Whatever happened to a band hanging out after a good show?" asks Ounjian. "I'm pretty sure I saw the drummer leave with his own gear."
Mean Creek met Agnello, the producer behind the forthcoming TheComedian seven-inch, through their manager at a Confederate recording session in Hoboken last February. They were drunk, and he liked their style. The drunkenness, not the playing. He had yet to hear their music.
"He said he liked us off the bat, that we were drunk and stupid and we looked like we were having a good time," says Ounjian. "Then he heard our music."