Spotify Takeover: MESSMAKER

Every now and then, we like to know what music drives the artists we love here at Refrain.Music.Blog. With that in mind, we’ve asked MESSMAKER to take over our Spotify Playlist and curate it with their favorite tunes.

First, let’s start off with a little about MESSMAKER. Aggressively catchy melodies pair with soul-filled lyrics in MESSMAKER’s refreshing take on indie rock. Lighting up stages as a power duo, musical architect Michael McFarland and versatile percussionist Freja McNeal bring the energy of an arena show to every performance. Garnering comparisons to acts such as Panic At the Disco and Bastille, McFarland’s songwriting is frank, expressive, and clever, and joined by McNeal the Cleveland, Ohio-based act elevates the material on stage with a seemingly inexhaustible energy. Showing a maturity of style and sound that has developed through years of travel, relationships, heartbreaks, and reinventions, MESSMAKER’s music contains talent, passion, and lyrics that come from the heart. The result? A big, bright, and lovestruck slice of anthemic indie rock.

Michael’s amiable yet commanding presence on stage arose from years of experience paired with diligent study. He began performing with bands at age 14, accumulating ample experience under stage lights while still a teenager. Later, while pursuing his degree in Visual Communication at Kent State University, McFarland spent countless hours studying performance footage from any source he could find, from classic rock acts to modern pop stars. When it comes to songwriting, McFarland shows the same attention to his craft, which in 2022 earned him the Nashville Songwriters Association’s recognition as “One to Watch”. “I listen to a lot of music I don’t necessarily like,” says McFarland, “because I want to understand why the songs connect with their audience.”

A lifetime of attentiveness and continued learning has taught McFarland how to use MESSMAKER’s lyrics to tug at your emotions and leave you feeling like you’ve found a kindred spirit. When joined by Freja on drums, samples, and backing vocals, those songs expand effortlessly to fill concert halls. Whether you see MESSMAKER perform in a basement or a stadium, you can expect the lights, sounds, and raw energy of a world-class rock show.

So before we let the band have their way with our playlist, we decided to put their latest single, “Paying Attention” at the top spot. Check out the playlist below and read all about MESSMAKER’s favorite songs.

Switchfoot – Rise Above It

Michael: “Paying Attention” has garnered a few comparisons to Switchfoot, which I take as a huge compliment – Jon Foreman has been one of my favorite songwriters since I was a teenager. In the wake of those comparisons, I’ve been revisiting their discography, and the Vice Verses album took me by surprise with how much it just straight-up ROCKS. This song in particular stood out because it carries much of the same spirit as our latest single. “Don’t believe the system’s on your side” indeed.

MUNA – Silk Chiffon

Freja: It’s no secret I’m a fan of pop music, and what better song to choose than an upbeat sapphic love song that even has Phoebe Bridgers unironically singing the words “life’s so fun”. MUNA’s self-titled record was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022 and it did not disappoint. This song always hits me with summer vibes, even in the dead of winter when the sun hasn’t made an appearance in weeks.  

girl in red – Serotonin

Freja: If my first pick captured the highs, this one definitely hits on the lows, but is still wrapped up in a catchy pop package. The opening line “I’m running low on serotonin” is probably relatable for many of us who struggle with mental health issues, and the overall energy of the song perfectly captures that “I want to pull out my hair and/or scream into the void” feeling. It’s also a reminder that I don’t need to feel alone when it feels like everything around me is crashing down, and I think that’s the most important takeaway. 

Jukebox the Ghost – Brass Band

Michael: I love when songs make unexpected use of dynamics – in this case, lulling you into a false sense of comfort with gentle vocals and quirky piano, and then punching you in the face with trap beats and the titular brass band. Jukebox the Ghost have such an amazing sense of musicality to their writing and arrangement; Cheers was one of my favorite albums of 2022, and this is by far my favorite track on the record. Brass Band’s unconventional arrangement even inspired us to figure out how to play our song Get Down live. Until recently, Get Down had been entirely a studio invention, mostly due to the *cough cough* Tuba & Steam Calliope.

Bleachers – Rollercoaster

Michael: One of the absolute highlights of my 2022 was going with Freja to see a co-headlining show by Bleachers & Carly Rae Jepsen – easily one of the top 10 concerts I’ve ever been to. In addition to setting a record for sax solos (Freja took the under at 7 and lost that bet two songs in), the number of amazing songs Jack Antonoff managed to fit into a 90-minute set made it clear exactly why his name is all over other artists’ songs on the Billboard charts; he’s JUST THAT GOOD. I could have chosen any of a dozen Bleachers songs to include, but this is the one I most frequently find stuck in my head.

Paramore – This Is Why

Freja: This is well known to Michael because we’ve discussed it many times, but Paramore’s drummer Zac Farro has been a big influence on my drumming since I first saw the video for “Emergency” on Fuse back in 2005. While Zac and I are both in our 30s now and maybe don’t have quite the same intensity we once had, I’ve always respected the raw energy he brings to every performance. 

The Armed – An Iteration

Freja: On the topic of drummers with raw energy, have you seen Urian Hackney?! In March of 2022 I made the trek up to Detroit for a weekend to both spend time with some very special friends of mine and also to see The Armed play a sold out show in their hometown. It was by far one of my favorite live music experiences of all time.

The Band CAMINO – 1 Last Cigarette

Michael: The Band CAMINO is another act Freja & I got to catch live in 2022. They first grabbed my ear with their 2019 “tryhard” EP, which I listened to a few thousand times. Their writing is consistently top-notch, delivering bangers on bangers. There’s not necessarily a ton of deep meaning to this track, but when that chorus hits it demands to be played LOUD.

Frank Turner – Punches

Michael: I want to be Frank Turner when I grow up. More than any other act I’ve seen (though Bleachers comes a close second), the crowd at every Frank Turner show – with or without his phenomenal backing band The Sleeping Souls – is so entirely connected to the music that their collective voices often drown out the sound system. I credit much of this to how little artifice there is to Frank’s writing. This song captures perfectly the feeling of having that one day in the midst of a brutal week, month, or year, where everything goes your way. I aspire to write songs that will help pull people out of the dark places life can find us, and this song has done that for me on more occasions than I can count.

Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper

Freja: This one is definitely on my personal “Songs I Wish I Had Written” list (along with many other Frightened Rabbit songs). Scott Hutchison blessed this world with such beautiful songwriting, but tragically left much too soon. He and Frank Turner were good friends, and Michael and I had the honor of attending one of Frank’s shows back in 2019 where we witnessed him perform a solo acoustic cover of this track on the 1 year anniversary of Scott’s death. 

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