10-year sabbatical gave Macey a fresh perspective By JAY N. MILLER You don't have to await the ‘‘Next Big Thing'' from across the pond, or the Big Apple, to get your garage rocking fix; a Boston rocker has turned out a remarkably gritty album this spring, the electric Dylan-meets-Velvet Underground edgy rock of Jon Macey.
Macey's ‘‘Actuality in Process'' can stand proudly beside any of the more hyped major label bands-of-the-moment, and carries more thematic resonance than most.Macey led Macey's Parade from the late 1980s to 1994, an edgy alternative outfit closely akin to the Velvet Underground sound. Before that he was a member of such Boston rock bands as Foxpass, and Tom Dickie and the Desires.
The album channels the past, but does so in an intensely personal way, with fresh and meaningful takes on life as one hits middle age, and particularly as a rock 'n' roller hits that stage of life. Macey had given up on his music dreams after Macey's Parade dissolved in 1994. Having conquered a serious drug addiction from his earlier rock years, Macey had developed a solid career in counseling. That led him into the field of public health, and today he's a grant writer specializing in programs that help the addicted.
Although he had an urge to build his own home recording studio, he felt the years of leading a rock band were far behind him. ‘‘After Macey's Parade, I took a step back,'' he said from his Boston office. ‘‘I'd concluded it was impossible to make a living in the music business. I never thought I'd be playing the Paradise 10 years later. Obviously music was still my passion, but I had spent 10 years trying to create another career for myself in public health. In a strange way that is what is so nice about the success this record has had; we didn't do it hoping to make a living from it, we just did it from the heart. We were not worried about how hip it was, or if it was too retro; we just played to please ourselves.''
Macey's idea for his new material was simply to gather some pals and record a solo album at his own pace. But since the CD's release and groundswell of support, mostly by word of mouth since it is self-released, Macey has had a band coalesce around him.The new group includes Michael Roy, who played guitar in both Tom Dickie and the Desires and Macey's Parade, and John Jules, who played drums in both. Steve Gilligan, the Milton bassist who was an original Stomper with Sal Baglio, filled out the quartet. While Gilligan has been playing in the acoustic trio City of Roses, everyone else had considered themselves retired from music. ‘‘We all got the bug again,'' Macey said with a laugh. ‘‘It just proves you don't have to quit making rock 'n' roll just because you get older.''
Macey's album covers a wide stylistic palette, but does so with assured grace. He produced some good work in the past, but this album is certifiably his best rock statement. ‘‘She's the Groove'' starts things off with a smooth, '60s pop sound, sort of a hipster's reverie that might just be about watching kids at play. The mood changes radically with ‘‘The True Lost Soul,'' which uses Byrds-ian folk-rock to frame a heart-rending tale about a rock casualty, while also wondering why the singer survived despite some of the same missteps. It's an affectionate look back, but also a glimpse of the exasperation a friend feels when someone persists in self-destruction. ‘‘That song was written from a real situation,'' Macey admitted. ‘‘I had a girlfriend in New York 20 years ago, when I was still involved in drugs, as was she. We had been out of touch for years and years, when I heard she'd died of AIDS. It hit me hard, because we had been caught up in the same situations, the same drugs, yet I survived and she didn't. ‘‘That one song seems to hit people, and it is the most real story on the album, almost word for word from the actual story. And her name was Susan, like the song.
‘‘The theme of the album,'' Macey continued, ‘‘while I'm being cheeky and serious at times, is looking at my past from different angles, and walking in someone else's shoes. I subtitled it ‘Dreams, Memories, and Prayers,' because it involves healing and acceptance in many cases, but this is what really happened.''
A more general reassessment of a rocker's life comes with ‘‘Cool Dreamer,'' a song whose glossy melody should be haunting radios all over New England. Subtle guitar work, wistful lyrics, and gorgeous harmony vocals from Mary Hott and Mimi Rohlfing make this gently rocking ballad positively glow. When Macey's voice breaks on the unadorned ballad about love lost, ‘‘Into the Silence,'' hearts can't help but break. That theme of looking back at love continues with ‘‘The One in My Dreams,'' but here Macey has a buoyant tone, the four-part vocal harmonies riding a gritty, Tom Petty-like rock groove.
Did Macey ever wonder if the garage rock revival we're enjoying came too late for him? ‘‘I did feel that,'' he said with a chuckle. ‘‘Macey's Parade was very out of fashion a decade or so back. But that band never gelled like this one has. By stepping away I found how to be more true to what I really want to do.''