Road-worn, exhausted, wiped out. There's no way of getting around it: Devin Fleenor, frontman of Phoenix-bred glitch-rock band Mr. Meeble, looks like shit.
To be fair, there shouldn't be anything glamorous about someone who, less than 48 hours ago, hopped off a plane from Europe, where his band has been touring for the past two months. Fleenor booked the trip himself: no label, no publicist or booking agent, no management, and virtually no budget. Just Mr. Meeble — er, Mr. Fleenor. And at no small cost, either. The trip drained him financially and emotionally. And now he's agreed, puzzlingly, to sit down at Giant Coffee to discuss — before having a chance to decompress — the ordeal and whether it was worth it.
As frontman, producer, and vocalist, Fleenor is one-third of Mr. Meeble, a group he formed in 2006 with songwriter Mike Plaster. "The core of the music is mostly Mike Plaster and myself," Fleenor explains, fidgeting with a tiny mug containing his macchiato. Beyond the duo, guitarist Rick Heins and drummer Blain Klitzke, who is also an expert in motion graphics, contribute to the band.
Fleenor describes Plaster as a brilliant songwriter, private and introverted. Fleenor steers the direction of the band, incorporating industrial avant-garde electronics and ambient aesthetics. Meeble's hybrid style fits the current craze for any and all things electro. Ripened with erratic drumbeats, spacey synths, and airy vocals, Meeble music is intended to be a sensory mind-fuck, best experienced at one of their visually rich (think: full-color lasers, video projectors, and fog machines) live shows and, perhaps, a little stoned.
The group's recent EP, Nostalgic for Now, is its first release since 2009's Never Trust the Chinese (not a racist title, Fleenor will tell you), and Meeble's show this weekend at Crescent Ballroom is only their second in Phoenix all year.
It's hard to blame the band for playing so little locally; Fleenor spent much of 2011 organizing a tour that would start in Berlin, hit 17 cities — in countries including Serbia and Romania — and wrap up in London.
Fleenor included leisure time in Barcelona, too, but raised $2,769 (of a $5,000 goal) via www.indiegogo.com to help finance the tour. He estimates the tour cost about $15,000, including $4,500 to rent a van. Fleenor's technological tactics, skilled social-media maneuvering, and, most importantly, power of persuasion made it all possible.
Impressive? Sure. Crazy? Abso-fucking-lutely. Chatting with Fleenor, sporting bloodshot eyes and a pit-stained shirt, it's clear that even he feels the same way.
So, was it worth it? Fleenor hesitates to answer. It may just be rock 'n' roll road fever, a "Turn the Page" moment, but Fleenor seems sobered by the experience: towed vans, ill-attended shows, drained finances.
"It sucks because I feel like I need to get back and try to just focus on other things in my life. You know, relationships, finances, and stability — just things related to the other parts of my life that I've neglected for the past year."
Fleenor speaks slowly, his voice deep and melodic. He seems out of sorts, confused, and a bit paranoid. He's yet to talk to any of his friends since he's been home from the tour — unable to reflect and wrap his mind around the wealth of experiences.
"I have a lot of really good friends that believe in me. And I believe in them, but I seem to be the type of person who needs to be believed in more. A lot of my friends are really amazing, and super-generous with how they're able to help, [but] I tend to be the one, by default, who needs the help — it's something I often question myself a lot on.
"Am I really just a mastermind manipulator? Do I have some sort of Steve Jobs power, here to just make people do shit for me? I think that the reality is when it comes to my close friends, I would do whatever I can do for them, as well, so I don't feel like it's a selfish thing," he says. "But it is kind of selfish if you look at it from a third-eye perspective — uh, third eye? Whatever. I am taking a lot more than I give. But I think it's because I'm doing more. The bigger challenges [that] someone takes on, the more help they're going to need."
Big challenges seem to be what Fleenor lives for. With Plaster and Heins not wanting to tour, Fleenor drafted a Meeble lineup comprising Klintzke and backup singer Riana Riggs and set out for Europe with a bank of fan donations and an idea of what he wanted to accomplish: spreading the music of Mr. Meeble to the people of Europe. Some plans fell through, some stuff got weird, but other stuff made the whole trip seem like a necessary, even successful, adventure.
When relating a story about being forced to play without Klitzke (who was visiting his children in France) in Frankfurt, Germany, Fleenor lights up. Though Riggs was hesitant to perform without a drummer, Fleenor convinced her that all would work out. "It ended up working out really well, and I got really high before the show — really, really high. It was the first time I was really high on stage, and it was awesome," he says with a smile. "I got these really cold German people to finally loosen up and start responding, and by the end of the show, it just worked and actually ended up being one of our better shows, as far as connecting with the audience."
It was after this show that Fleenor experienced his first validating moment from the tour, a compliment he received from a first-time Meeble listener. Fleenor asked how he'd heard about the show, and the ecstatic fan explained he saw a tour poster that read: Massive Attack meets Depeche Mode. "But then this guy says, 'It was nothing like that.' So I asked him what it was like and he gave me the 'one finger.' It took him about 15 seconds [and he said] it was more like the first time he sat down to watch a David Lynch film. Then I took about 15 seconds and said, 'That's awesome . . .' David Lynch is fucking with boundaries and making shit that nobody else makes. It's an experience and it's not always supposed to be sensible, but it's powerful."
It's small moments like this that make the life of a traveling musician less grinding — a little joy hidden between the auto trouble and grinding tour life. Fleenor is beat, mentally spent, and broke, but by the end of our conversation, it's clear that even if he's not there yet, he'll eventually make sense of his strange trip, his endeavor to expand his audience, and a journey through Europe that found him living the dream of most never-went-for-it musicians.
"I feel like, in life, you have to do what you were designed to do," Fleenor says. "The closer you get to that sweet spot, the happier you will be. Sometimes you have to veer away, then you get a little closer, then you get a little closer, then you get so close you feel like crying because you're so happy."