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Very Happy: Two’s Company (But Four Might Be Fun).

March 7, 2012

Text by Maddy Court. Images by G.W. Miller III.

Very Happy bandmates Michelle Ritondo and Maximillian Weinstein-Bacal II appreciate a good pun and enjoy fancy word play.

“We were going to be Very Very or something like that,” says Ritondo, the singer and guitarist, better known as Meesh. “But then Max was like, ‘Let’s be called Very Happy and every time we’re at a show we can be, ‘Hi, we’re very happy.'”

Meesh, a 27-year-old lifelong resident of Philadelphia, met Max, a 25-year-old recent transplant from rural Virginia, while both were admiring the Christmas decorations at Macy’s in Center City. They hit it off and in February 2011, they formed Very Happy.

Meesh previously played bass in a ska-punk band called The Illinois Enema Bandits – as in the Frank Zappa song. Max played in a punk band called Booboisie, named after a smug term H.L. Mencken’s coined for the uneducated masses.

“No one ever spelled or said it right,” Max says. “They called us Boobsie-Woobsie.”

Meesh started teaching herself guitar at the start of the economic downturn, when she found herself unemployed and on the verge of a quarter-life slump. She resolved to practice every day and consulted friends for help when she needed it.

Though playing guitar was Max’s foray into the punk scene as a high school sophomore, he admits that his knowledge of guitar is less technical than Meesh’s.

“I think my dad bought me a guitar because he wanted me to stop skateboarding,” he says. “I had a couple of lessons but I just had the guy show me how to play Ramones songs. To this day, that’s all I really know how to play.”

As a general rule, Very Happy doesn’t write love songs. Their music tackles the dangers of conformity and consumerism. The DIY punk ethic, which circumvents capitalism whenever possible and creates art just for the sake of creating, is a common theme in Very Happy’s music.

“I don’t know that we have a message,” Max says. “But we have associated ourselves with a community that is equitable and kind.”

Meesh continues, “‘Basement Floor’ is about my friend Jim’s basement, where he used to do shows. It was so dirty that wherever someone stepped, a cloud of dust would come up. People would say, ‘Why do you go there? Why do you hang out with those people?’ But I just loved it.”

Though Meesh and Max are wary of attaching too much gravity to their music, it is important to them that their music stand for something. One of their new songs, “Things I’ve Read and Things I’ve Bought,” is about the negative effects media has on women’s body image. Very Happy has played benefit shows and worked with organizations like Girls Rock Philly. They recently turned down a gig because one of the bands on the bill had a rape joke in their lyrics.

Meesh and Max collaborate on songs and lyrics. A typical songwriting session begins with the pair coming up with individual parts, working through them unplugged and then retreating into Meesh’s Fishtown basement to play them really, really loudly.

Very Happy was originally a trio. Then Sean Morris, 24, who played bass on their first album, All of the Times, split to volunteer with the 924 Gillman Street Project, the Berkeley music collective and punk venue famous for kick-starting the careers of  Green Day, Jawbreaker and NOFX, among others.

So, Meesh and Max are currently in the market for a third and maybe even a fourth member but they’re hesitant to screw up the band’s chemistry (Brendan Graham occasionally sits in, and Sean is back for now). The pair, who have been known to double-up beds on tour, want to be as comfortable with the any additional members as they are with each other (and as comfortable as they are with Meesh’s dog Lobster).

“When it’s bad, being in a band is like being married to four people you would never even date,” says Max, “My worst nightmare is being on tour and finding out that the guy is anti-choice or something.”

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