Nobody in the United States, and certainly nobody in Michigan, is as uniquely qualified to rock a basement as Chase Macinski. Chase, or Pops as the Smash half of his friends better know him, is the bassist in the Detroit by way of Ann Arbor punk band Dogleg, whose debut record was recently christened Best New Music by Pitchfork. The album is named Melee, which is a play on both the raucous nature of Dogleg’s music and the name of the 2001 Nintendo GameCube fighting game which Chase plays at an almost professional level. When he’s not touring the country with Dogleg, playing shows from basement bashes to a recently rescheduled swing opening for their punk forefathers Joyce Manor, Chase hosts a bi-weekly Super Smash Bros Melee tournament out of his basement he calls “Pop’s Big Rodeo” and competes in high level SSBM tournaments across the Midwest. At his apex he was ranked as high as seventeenth in his native Michigan, pushing close to earning a global Smash ranking. Chase has garnered a mythic reputation for playing anyone who wants to play him in Melee after his Dogleg shows, promising free merch paid from his pocket to anyone who can beat him. Three years in nobody has been able to claim victory over Pops after a concert. He’s has spent the better part of his adolescence trying to get Smash friends to come to DIY shows and trying to get his DIY friends to actually play him in Smash instead of talking shit, and this album has been a unique opportunity for Macinski to combine his two passions. He has the respect of number one ranked Melee player in Michigan and the 21st ranked player in the world, Ginger, who sat in awe as Pops recently went to town on a Sheik on Ginger’s YouTube show. Meanwhile, his album has the ears of the number one ranked Melee player in the world Hungrybox, who logged on to Albumoftheyear.org to tell the world that “This album fucks.” We got the chance to chat on the phone with Chase about Melee, both the game and album, as well as the two communities he’s helping bring closer.
GSC: So Melee came out in ’01. How did you get into the game originally, both Smash as a franchise and Melee specifically?
POPS: I got into Smash growing up in a neighborhood with other kids who played Nintendo games. The Nintendo 64 was already out and pretty popular. Melee came out when I was four and I started around first or second grade, whatever age that is. Around fourth grade I started going to a summer program at my local Boys and Girls club and one of the guys there ran Smash 64 tournaments for fun, so that’s technically my first introduction to competitive play when I was ten.
GSC: Who’d you main back then?
POPS: I started off with Link because I was a filthy casual, but the more I watched people play the more I realized I wanted to play Fox. I didn’t have a 64 at home so I would practice Fox a bunch on Melee at home, then go to the Boys and Girls Club and try to play Smash 64 Fox in these tournaments. For how a nine year old operates at video games it translated decently, I wasn’t the best there but I was doing stuff, and that was my introduction to competitive Smash. Once I stopped going to the Boys and Girls Club it was definitely on the backburner until 2015, my senior year of high school, when I discovered the Melee documentary The Smash Brothers.
GSC: I love that documentary!
POPS: That doc is phenomenal. It definitely got a ton of people involved in the game, myself included. I was just like “There’s tournaments for this?!” I still had my copy of Melee, I had a CRT in my basement, I found Smashboards through the doc, and then I got to work. I learned what L cancelling is, what wave dashing is, and I just started practicing. I found a tournament in Michigan and I’ve been competing ever since.
GSC: Always with Falco? Or I guess you started with Fox and then transitioned?
POPS: I started as Fox in 2015 and then realized he’s really technical and was too fast for me to play, because when you’re just starting out it’s a lot to overcome so I was like ya know what I am just gonna play Falco it’s way easier. *both laugh* It was a very immature thought process at the time but the more I played Falco the more I realized he was more fun for me in general. Nowadays I could play Fox if I wanted to, he’s definitely my best secondary, but I still think Falco is more fun and better for me.
GSC: You’ve said your goal with Melee is to make it in the PR, how close have you come? Is that kinda on the sidelines with Dogleg taking off?
POPS: Yea, back when Dogleg wasn’t making big moves it was easier for me to compete and practice. I take a very active role in band management activities so that takes a lot of time and of course touring and playing shows. The past three Arcadian Tournaments in Michigan I’ve had a show the same day and I’m really upset about it. I wanna compete in them, I feel like I’d be a good contender, but with us going on tours more and having a more involved day to day with Dogleg I’ve definitely fallen out of my grind. I just got my controller fixed so I’m trying to adjust to the microtendencies and get used to it. With the PR, I was around a top fifteen to top twenty player in Michigan and PR is usually top ten so I was right around that threshold. I have wanted that since I got into Melee and feel like I could get there if I was to invest the time but it’s obviously difficult with Dogleg. But no Johns, I just gotta do it.
GSC: No Johns, exactly. So in one of your interviews you talk about three beers deep being “the money zone” for you for both Smash and bass. Could you talk about the difference between performing live and playing Smash in a tournament? What gets you in the money zone for playing bass and what gets you in the zone for playing Falco?
POPS: *Laughs* Okay yeah, wow. Basically “the money zone” is where you are able to purely focus on the thing you are doing where you are not worried about any outside factors or influences. Like when I have those three beers I don’t have any anxiety about what I’m doing. When I’m in the money zone playing music I’m focused on playing the song well and moving around a lot on stage. Also I find I don’t get tired as quickly when I’m in the money zone, maybe just because the adrenaline of performing the music hits harder.
GSC: I feel that.
POPS: And then with Melee I play a lot smoother, I’m less nervous so my execution is a lot, well, better. It’s easier for me to hit combos and whatnot. In that game, you have milliseconds to react to and input things, so if you don’t do them on time or you don’t do them properly you’re gonna lose. When you’re in that money zone it’s really nice to just be like “ok I’m gonna do it” and not have any hesitations.
GSC: Do you find the zen of each to be similar or different?
POPS: They’re a little bit different. I would say the Melee zen is more calm and collected where the live performance zen is more aggressive and passionate.
GSC: Oh! Interesting.
POPS: Yeah, like when I’m playing a song I wanna jump and scream and have raw energy and expression whereas when I’m playing Melee I wanna be a cool calm and collected zero-to-death machine.
GSC: You have talked about how after Dogleg shows you’ll play anyone for merch paid from your pocket if they can beat you. In your Pitchfork review it says that you play those matches on an N64 emulator on your laptop. That is not correct, right?
POPS: Yeah, that’s a typo. Ian Cohen, bless him, but he doesn’t play video games. I play on a GameCube emulator.
GSC: Gotcha, what emulator do you use?
POPS: I am playing off of Dolphin, an emulator that lets you play GameCube and Wii games that’s been out for a while. If anyone wants to play GameCube games on their laptop it is stupid easy to install.
GSC: Are you still undefeated in those after show matches?
POPS: Yes I am.
GSC: That is pretty remarkable. You don’t have anybody from your local SSBM tournaments like Ginger showing up to Dogleg gigs and going in?
POPS: Well one time when we were on tour I tried to get Axe to come to our show. He was unfortunately busy preparing for Genesis but he wished us a good show.
POPS: Ohhh yea! *laughs*
GSC: I saw Mover Shaker said one of them might have beat you once and that they were the only person in DIY music to beat you in Smash. So who in the DIY scene is good, who is bad, give me the whole, ya know.
POPS: The rundown?
GSC: Yea exactly.
POPS: So everyone is bad.
POPS: That’s the best way to put it. Everyone is bad at Smash. The only people I have met in the DIY scene all used to play Melee. And you know how I said I was falling off, anyone who did play fell off a while ago. This isn’t even just Michigan, but in Michigan or otherwise nobody plays Melee competitively that also plays DIY music, at least that I know of. With Mover Shaker, I believe that’s Jack and she’s referring to when she took one game off of me in Project M on her HDTV with her broken controller.
GSC: Gotcha, no Johns of course but…
POPS: It was PM! That isn’t exactly the same thing.
GSC: Ohh it was PM?
POPS: Yea PM!
GSC: Oh that’s a whole different kettle of fish there.
POPS: But she is a God at Guitar Hero and we still gotta play each other in Guitar Hero 3.
GSC: And then what’s the Charmer beef?
POPS: Haley Butters is our good friend from Absinthe Father. They were on tour with Charmer after they had been on tour with us, and Haley had seen me play Melee and was like “Damn you’re good” to which I said “I’ll beat anyone.” She’s good friends with David from Charmer and he was like “I don’t know dude, I can prolly beat him,” so I was like “Alright dude, run it. When do you want to play?” and he’s been dodging me ever since.
GSC: Oohh shit!
POPS: And he does not want to play me, this has been beef since way before Ultimate came out and I’ve just been like dude tell me and I’ll show up.
GSC: Damn so we’re talking multi-year beef at this point.
POPS: Yea, I mean we’re friends, it’s all fun beef. But now that Ultimate is out he won’t even play me in Melee, he’s like “play a real game, grow up and play the newest version,” and I’m like man, whatever, get outta here. *laughs*
GSC: Who are your favorite pro players?
POPS: I’m a big fan of Mango, he’s probably my favorite. Mango, Leffen, Magi is an insanely good Falco. I am a huuuuge KJH fanboy, I think he’s the best player in Michigan but he’s kinda on the backburner right now, which is really upsetting. I am a fan of Ginger. I’m a big fan of PPMD. I don’t think he’ll ever come back.
GSC: Maybe the funniest name in Smash history.
POPS: Yea Dr. PeePee, ya know? Classic. Fun fact, Hungrybox likes the album.
GSC: Oh hell yea he’s listened? That’s hype!
POPS: Yea, literally yesterday [Dogleg’s lead singer] Alex sent me a screenshot of a username IAMHungryBox and asked is this actually HungryBox, because it was on an album review site and he said “this album fucks,” and I was like no that’s actually him.
GSC: Hell yea that’s wild! You gotta hop in his stream or something. That’d be fire.
POPS: I know, that would be sick. We’ve also got great reception from the Michigan Melee scene. My friend Heartstrings who plays Melee in Michigan and all over the country has been hyping us up and helping spread the album via word of mouth, among others. It’s really sick to see people I don’t know who have SSBM in their handle tweet about the album and it is been really nice of my Michigan Melee friends to be so supportive of the music as well.
GSC: How is there still room for the Melee metagame to keep changing all these years later? Where a guy like Axe can win major tournaments with a character like Pikachu in 2020 where not even five years ago that would have been laughable, with things still changing twenty years down the line.
POPS: Oh totally, I mean for the first time in something like six years we have a player who is a solo Dr. Mario main ranked in the top hundred. But the reason the game is always changing is because of how complex the meta is. There’s always these tiny intricacies in the game and so many things happening at once and there are so many micro situations that need to be dissected and understood. Like there may be a thousand little things to do and know for a given match up up and the Smash community at large will probably have ya know 700-800 figured out but we still have like 200-300 to go.
GSC: Right right. And comparing it to Ultimate, there is a loud minority of competitive Ultimate fans who are telling Melee people it’s time to move on. What don’t you like about Ultimate from what you’ve played that makes it not as viable a competitive game as Melee?
POPS: I think Melee is good because it’s challenging but it rewards practice, I personally don’t like playing Ultimate because it’s not as rewarding for me. I feel they stripped away a lot of characters’ combo potential. You can do some combos but for the most part it’s just a very heavy neutral exchange, there’s not a lot of fluidity in your movement. You’re locked down to looking for one or two precise moves or a smash attack or getting a grab at the right time, there isn’t much back and forth or tension. It’s a much slower paced game which I’m not really a fan of because I like the high velocity of Melee. Ultimately though it really just creates a different challenge than Melee that I don’t personally find as rewarding.
GSC: What do you listen to while you play? Your album has been a good soundtrack for my Ultimate sessions.
POPS: I only listen to music when I’m practicing not when I am in tournaments, though I tried that out for a little bit. Back when I was in that Chicago Arcadian tournament I tried two different playlists. One was against floaties which was chill music and one was against fast fallers like Fox, Falcon, and Falco which was hype aggressive music. I thought it would put me in the mindset where I could play aggressive and get really good combos if I am listening to hype music against fast fallers, but would play really patient, calm, and collected against the floaties listening to chilled out music.
GSC: Right, but to no avail I guess?
POPS: Yea, I didn’t like that set up necessarily. I’d rather just plug in and play. I like the music in Melee and the sound effects. Its easier to react to audio cues than anything else for me and that’s a really nice benefit.
GSC: So the album is literally called Melee, did you pitch that from the get-go or was that something the band coalesced around?
POPS: When we were trying to think of a name for the album we wanted to keep it to one or two words, we just like something that’s brief but attention grabbing. I, as a joke, was just like “Hey can we call it Melee?” and Alex was like “that’s actually a really cool idea” because one it’s the video game reference but two it’s about a fight, a struggle, so it stuck. Also with the song “Fox,” I wanted to call it Falco and they were like no, but they were like but we can call it Fox.
GSC: In tune, another band in your scene I’ve talked with is Origami Angel.
POPS: They loooooove Pokémon.
GSC: Their love of Pokémon is well documented. What is it about emo music that is so inspired by Nintendo right now?
POPS: I definitely think it runs very heavy off of nostalgia. I don’t think our music is really influenced by the soundtracks or anything of that nature. The music writing process, our influences are basically those 90s emo bands and hardcore bands we listen to, but we write about things we like and things we thought sounded cool growing up. I actually want to name our next song after something from Kingdom Hearts.
GSC: Oh hell yeah!
POPS: I don’t want to say what but let’s just say if I have my way it’ll be named after an important Keyblade from one of the first two games and we’ll leave it at that.
GSC: You have started streaming on Twitch since the quarantine started. How has that been going so far? Will you only be playing Melee or are there any other plans?
POPS: Twitch has been great for us so far. I’ve been able to play fans who always wanted to play me in Melee across the US. We have an active and engaging chat who its been fun to play a bunch of other games with like the Jack Box Party Pack. It’s every Monday from 7-Midnight EST. The first night Jacob, our drummer, played some Pokémon as well. He is a huge speedrunner, likes doing Nuzlock runs with Pokemon, he loves speedrunning Luigi’s Mansion, that’s his favorite, and he runs Wind Waker and he wants to stream all that eventually, though right now its just Melee Mondays. You can check that out on our channel on Monday nights. Alex is also playing some Instagram Live streams so check those out too.
GSC: Any closing thoughts?
POPS: Basically this video game and this music are the two biggest things in my life and in my heart so it is incredible to have this album at the dead center intersection of the two. Much love to everyone who has supported me in either. Dogleg Forever.