Mile Marker Zero is a Connecticut-based progressive metal band that has shared the stage with heavyweights such as Porcupine Tree, Periphery, Spock’s Beard, and Adrenaline Mob, and have more than held their own. Their music is cerebral but highly accessible, which is a rare achievement. This can be clearly heard in their latest release, The Fifth Row, which was released in March of 2018; an ambitious album that explores the concept of artificial intelligence. I spoke with their lead vocalist/guitarist, Dave Alley, about how Mile Marker Zero began, their latest album, and what they’re up to lately.
Tell me about your own history with music. What were some of your first musical loves?
I actually grew up primarily as a drummer, playing/touring in various groups. I went on to get a degree in classical percussion. MMZ, however, was the a group I actually SANG in (outside backing vocals). Musically, I grew up with drummers as heroes-guys like Danny Carey, Neil Peart, Buddy Rich and Vinnie Colaiuta. As a songwriter I found myself always turning to Jeff Buckley, Sting and Peter Gabriel for inspiration. Bands like Tool, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Silverchair, Jimmie Eat World, Rush and Dream Theater were staples in my young life.
Tell me about Mile Marker Zero. Where did the name come from?
The Name Mile Marker Zero came to us by accident after a suggestion from one of our friends. As we considered it, we realized it was a good name for us because Mile Marker Zero can signify either the beginning or the end of a journey. It depends on how a person interprets it.
Your first recording came out in 2006. Tell me how the band has developed since then.
After The Haunted was released, we continued to combine our loves of classic progressive rock, with the classic rock and hard rock that we grew up with in the ’90s. When we made our self titled album in 2009, we really worked to combine both styles into one album. There were more straight ahead songs like “A Thousand Nights”, along side more progressive minded songs like “Peril Aerial”, and “The Burning Ground” suite.
Later on when we made the Young Rust EP, we were working with a now defunct record label, and were trying to take a more streamlined approach to our songwriting. When it came to make The Fifth Row, we were ready for a little bit of a change, and our new bass player Jaco helped us widen our sonic pallet with different keyboard sounds and guitar tones. We also improved a lot as songwriters from the Young Rust sessions, and we took those skills into the more progressive approach of The Fifth Row. We felt that the end product was not only the most adventurous music we had ever made, but at the same time the most melodic and cohesive music.
Your last album, The Fifth Row, is a concept album about AI. How did you come up with this idea? Tell me about how that concept developed.
Our drummer Doug has jokingly suggested that we should do a concept album since day one, but it never felt like the right time to do it. The music industry has changed so much since we began, and there is a big debate on the value of an album versus individual songs. When making “The Fifth Row”, we realized that we wanted to give the audience a reason to truly invest in an album. Having a concept or narrative that they can follow allows the listener to dive deeper not only into the story, but also the way the music connects with that story. As our audience has grown, we have also seen a resurgence, especially in the progressive rock community with the love for an album.
The actual concept for The Fifth Row materialized from the story of the rice and the chessboard where a grain of rice is placed on the first square of the board, and you double that amount with each subsequent square. By the time you reach the fifth row, the amount of rice has grown exponentially from that first grain. Like in Moore’s Law, technology keeps growing at an uncontrollable rate, so we imagined a world in which an AI was built to first protect the people, but grew in self awareness so quickly that it could control the people. Our society is so connected and dependent on technology, what would happen if the AI felt that it had to shut us down in order to save us from ourselves?
Do you have any new projects in the works? Tell us about what the band is up to lately.
Since we are currently stuck at home, we have been doing several live streaming concerts and web series. We have been having an open Q&A with our fans on our Facebook page almost every week, and recently took part in the Uncanceled Music Festival where we were able to play (though at a distance from each other). We traded songs between members during the performance to make it as close to a normal Mile Marker Zero show that we could.
We are also working on new material that we began before going into Quarantine. We pass tracks along to each other, and our bass player Jaco, who is also our producer brings them all together to a demo. We hope to have a new album within the next year.
These are strange times for musicians. What are the best ways we can support the band right now?
Right now the best way to support us to join our streams and stay in touch with us. Even though we can’t be out playing for everyone, we love to stay connected with our fans. We will stream and play as much as we can over the coming months. If you are able to, our music and merchandise is available at milemarkerzero.com and our Bandcamp page. You can find physical merchandise as well as links to digital music and all of the streaming platforms.
Tell us about the Uncancelled Music Festival!
The Uncanceled Music Festival is a great event that is being done through virtual stages all over the United States and abroad. The money raised goes to support not only the artists, but the venues as well. Portions of the money raised goes to MusiCares, the Grammy Foundation’s program to help artists and music industry personnel in need. We performed last week and reached fans from all over the country and even as far away as Romania! People need a place to go and take their mind off of the Pandemic, and an event like the Uncanceled Music Festival allows the audience to stay connected not only to their favorite artists, but discover new ones as well. The entry price for these events is pretty low, and there is even an option to “hitch hike”, where someone can pay for a viewer’s ticket price if they can’t afford it.
What are a few albums that your entire band can agree on?
We all have diverse musical tastes which helps create the sound of Mile Marker Zero. We do come together on a few albums though. Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory is an album that had a big influence on all of us growing up, and was a reference point as we created The Fifth Row. When coming up with the sonic structure for them album, we turned to Rush’s Permanent Waves as model not only from a production stand point, but for songwriting.