North Adams resident McNair part of The Mommyheads' third act

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NORTH ADAMS — By day, Jason McNair works for Integrated Eco Strategy, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable building. By night — well, on the occasional night —the North Adams resident is the bassist in The Mommyheads, a progressive pop outfit that once landed a Geffen Records deal during the 1990s. The group tours sporadically these days, but on Saturday, Nov. 9, it will make one of its rare stops in McNair's backyard, playing an 8 p.m. show at HiLo North Adams. Though McNair has been with the band since 2010, much of the group's history predates his arrival.

"I'm the newbie," McNair said by phone Monday.

Helmed by Adam Elk, The Mommyheads formed in the late 1980s. In the mid-1990s, the band's "Bingham's Hole" album established its prominence in the indie world.

"I think that was their peak," McNair said.

McNair was in a multitude of bands outside of The Mommyheads' realm at that time, but he could still admire the group's work from afar.

"They were incredibly talented musicians and had a quirkiness about them and a scattered-ness that I enjoyed," McNair said.

"Bingham's Hole," which was remastered and rereleased earlier this year, led to the contract with Geffen. The label had signed Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Weezer, among others.

"We got half a million dollars for one record. It was like a six-record deal that added up to millions. And then they realized, 'Wait a minute. We signed this band? This band is not a hit-making band,'" Elk told Jordan Adams of Seven Days. "We were ... too intellectual for our own good."

The group's eponymous 1997 album barely went anywhere; distribution was not pushed. The band broke up. Elk pursued solo work. McNair started backing him when they were both in the Bay Area and, later, in Los Angeles. Almost a decade after The Mommyheads' split, the group's original drummer, Jan Kotik, died, leading to a tribute show and the group's permanent return. The band quickly learned that, in its absence, a fan base had grown in an unlikely place: Sweden. The Geffen album had apparently made its way to the country and into the hands of some influential music buffs — hence the group's several Scandinavian tours. When bassist Jeff Palmer left the group during one, Elk gave McNair a call. He subsequently joined Elk, drummer Dan Fisherman and keyboardist Michael Holt on more European adventures.

"Imagine going on a musical vacation," McNair said of the tours.

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The bassist landed in North Adams about 15 years ago. "Life simplification" brought him to the Berkshires.

"I can own a house here," McNair said.

Since arriving, he has played in The Wandering Rocks and Good Good. The income from his day job allows him to pursue musical opportunities, like The Mommyheads, that fulfill him, but aren't necessarily lucrative.

"I would much rather get paid nothing and play stuff that I believe in," McNair said.

McNair contributed to The Mommyheads' latest album, "Future You." Though Elk is always a driving force behind the band's music, McNair enjoyed the collaborative nature of the record.

"We had a lot of time to develop together," he said.

When he's not making music, McNair enjoys playing soccer and mountain biking. He also supports the Berkshires' live music scene, which he thinks can improve in North Adams. He's been to HiLo a few times for shows and is impressed with the new venue's bookings.

"The opening of the HiLo lounge is going to be a test for how much people support live music," he said.

They don't have to look far for acts, he noted.

"There's not a lot of opportunity," McNair said, "but I know there's an undercurrent of nearby talent."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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