Mick McMains has known he would be a musician nearly his entire life. After all, his two older brothers were having a blast with their own rock bands ever since they were all growing up in Paris and Orange County as the sons of a career US diplomat.
Now the three men play together as the roots-rock band McMains, teaming up for a pair of impressive CDs and for shows across Southern California. The Altadena-based trio will be performing Saturday night along with fellow Altadena singer-songwriter Eileen Carey as the opening acts for the perennially popular group The Motels at The Rose nightclub in Pasadena.
“I don’t know if it’s weird or not, but I idolize my brothers because when we lived in Paris they had hit songs and were on French TV and radio,” recalls McMains, who was born in Washington, DC right before his family moved to France. “Now I work with them and try to be good enough not to have my chops busted too hard. It’s good to have my buddies with me keeping me sharp. We’ve rehearsed every weekend since forever.”
The Rose show will find “bigtime local steel guitar player” Charlie Peterson sitting in with the trio, as Moose McMains plays bass and Jim McMains plays lead guitar.
The siblings have been playing together since they were teenagers, with Mick starting “as an extra guitar player on the side for them.” He credits the experience with “helping me learn how to be an adult in a band, as I learned a lot learning how to transfer performance skills and energy from the garage level to the real stage.”
“Dad was a diplomat in the Foreign Service and had his office in the Paris embassy under Sargent Shriver before moving to California in time for me to go high school in the OC,” says McMains. “After high school, I put together a band called Snap with my high school buddies, even though we couldn’t play bars. We played KROQ radio parties in the mountains and [former Los Angeles hotspot] Madame Wong’s.
“Then I started another band called The Cocktails and we put a record out and became the house band at the Troubadour for a while,” McMains continues. “KROQ was playing our record, we were looking pretty good. But the more I got into it, the weirder Hollywood got to me. I didn’t enjoy the process of getting the record deal and playing the clubs. It’s probably more wholesome now than it was in the ’70s.”
Mick McMains moved to Pasadena and later Eagle Rock, working as a guitarist for numerous live acts and recordings in addition to teaming with longtime Altadena-based songwriter Joey Alkes to record a unique CD as a musical collective called DJ Monkey.
“That was a lot of fun, because we got my kids and his kids together and read poetry on top of all types of music,” says McMains. “My son played guitar, plus he had a buddy who had a record-scratching device, and we had a sax player. It was sort of avant-garde jazz-pop, but it was a lot of fun.
“I used to play the Ice House a lot when they had musicians, and I opened for Billy Crystal once, who was so funny and nice,” he continues. “We played the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, opening for bigger bands like The Knack and Average White Band. I also played the Whisky once, and have played hundreds of weddings and nightclubs, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
McMains’ current sound in his musical trio is lushly produced roots-rock, with crisply sung harmonies influenced by his lifelong love of the 1940s vocal group the Mills Brothers as well as the country vocal ensemble Sons of the Pioneers. Their debut CD “Guitar Love” was released in 2010, while the follow-up, “American Soul,” came out last summer.
The group farmed out the post-production work on their CDs to two local producers, Jim Scott at Magic Mountain and Dave Mouser at Mouse House. McMains believe the new album differs from their debut release because of the fact it prominently features guest steel-guitar wizard Charlie Peterson, lending the album “a little more back porch sound.”
“I used to be very lazy with my lyric writing and was more interested in the music, but then I became an adult in the past couple years,” jokes the 61-year-old McMains. “Now I feel like everything — every note and word — is crucial. I’ll have a lyrical idea I think is interesting, but it’s all going to be about what’s going on in my life because I’m not qualified to write about anything else.
“Sometimes it comes out poetic, sometimes straightforward, it all depends,” he adds. “I worked a lot longer on my tunes than I did in my 20s and 30s and I’m more pleased with the results. My songs are love songs, and I like pretty music, I’ll admit.”
Mick McMains opens for Eileen Carey and The Motels starting at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $24 to $48. Call (888) 645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.