Ten years gone

Middle Class Rut is wise—and Sac’s answer to David Hasselhoff. Huh?

Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez (left) and Sean Stockham at 2008’s Concerts in the Park.

Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez (left) and Sean Stockham at 2008’s Concerts in the Park.

Photo By Andri tambunan

Middle Class Rut plays on Thursday, July 30 at Harlow’s, 2708 J Street; 8 p.m.; $10; this is an 18-and-over show.

Zack Lopez repeatedly jams the straw into the ice of his Jägermeister and Red Bull—the third such drink he’s downed this afternoon. It’s hard to tell if he’s amped on too much caffeine or just naturally antsy, but the 28-year-old singer-songwriter can’t sit still.

No time for rest. Lopez and best friend Sean Stockham have a new EP, 25 Years, out and they’re already deep into recording the first full-length album for their band, Middle Class Rut.

“We’ve been recording for so long now that it doesn’t feel any different from normal,” Lopez says wearily.

MC Rut takes a break from the studio to perform this week at Harlow’s. In August, they’ll board a plane for the United Kingdom, where they’ll play several shows, including the prestigious Reading and Leeds festivals.

More than anything, Lopez says, it’s the chance to finally release a full-length album that feels like an achievement—a validation of the hard work and, perhaps, vindication for all their old mistakes.

The story goes like this: Previous band Leisure signed to a major label and spent months recording but never even released a single, much less an album.

Lopez places the blame for Leisure’s failures squarely on himself and Stockham. The Sacramento friends moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and snagged a deal with DreamWorks before they even had a singer.

Yes, that would be mistake No. 1.

Lopez and Stockham eventually recruited a friend who “was more of a guy who looked the part than could be the part,” and then spent a year recording an album, only to have DreamWorks turn it down.

The rejection, Lopez says, was actually a relief.

“It took so long to finish, it sounded dated by the time we finished.”

Of course, that wasn’t the real issue, he admits now.

Mistake No. 2?

“We were just this entity in a studio, on a label. We’d never really played [live], never really toured. We were just a band that had money and hung out.”

Leisure disbanded and Stockham returned to Sacramento while Lopez remained in Los Angeles. In 2005, they decided to give it another go with Lopez traveling north every weekend to write songs and practice.

This time, they cut out the middle man.

“We just set up a mic and started singing and once we heard it, it was like ‘Whoa, it took us 10 years to get to this point?’” says Lopez, who eventually moved back to Sacramento.

Now, with Lopez on guitar, Stockham on drums and both on vocals, MC Rut makes music that’s thrashing and angry, if not quite hardcore. The sound isn’t particularly original, but it’s polished and familiar with flashes of expertise and freshness—a pop melody buried beneath a wall of strident guitars, a keen turn of phrase wrapped up in an emo wail.

The band has self-released two EPs and earned heavy local radio rotation with its “New Low” single which, in turn, got them a record deal with the Oakland-based indie Bright Antenna Records who, in September, helped them catch the ear of a BBC Radio 1 deejay. The Brits loved ’em, and in the months since, Lopez and Stockham have been on a steady European ascent.

“I don’t know why they like us over there,” Lopez muses. “They like David Hasselhoff, so I don’t [know] if that’s really a compliment.”

They’re just trying to take it all in stride, he adds, especially the upcoming festivals.

“You watch those festivals on TV with 80,000 people in the stadium, and then you get there and realize those 80,000 people are there to see Prodigy. They’re probably not going to show up at 1 p.m. to see you.”

Lopez orders another drink and immediately sets about stabbing at the ice with his straw.

“We’re more realistic now,” he says, fidgeting restlessly as if the future couldn’t come soon enough.

“I just want to release an album, and if it flops, well, at least we finally put one out.”