Mischief Brew Interview
Heya Erik! How’s it going? Your new album “This Is Not For Children” has just been released; your first full-length on venerable Alternative Tentacles Records. What sort of relationship do you have with the label? Do you have free run of the house with them?
So far so good! If by free run of the house you mean that we produced the record ourselves, then yes, that’s how it went down. We kept them updated along the way, sending them rough mixes. Jello and Jesse would throw in their two cents here or there but for the most part was like, “I trust you.”
You just finished a west coast tour with Ramshackle Glory. How did that tour come about?
We’d been kicking around the idea for a while; I don’t remember exactly where that acorn fell. I think Denise did a show for Ramshackle Glory in Philly years back and I played acoustic, and it sold out in advance. Kids were just so excited about the lineup. I probably drank a bunch of whiskey that night and was like, “Hey! Kids seem to like both our bands! We should do a tour together!” I had forgotten about it, but then Luke wrote us back in the winter and rekindled the idea. We’ve known Pat from Ramshackle since he was a snotty teenager singing songs about drinking 40s in a Brattleboro parking lot. He’s like a punk-rock-younger-sibling to Denise and me. So it’s been great to suddenly turn around and see an entire room singing along to their songs, and it was really rewarding to make that tour finally happen.
Can you give a brief rundown on some of the main themes of “This Is Not For Children”?
Our last record, “The Stone Operation,” was like a wild carnival, travelling everywhere from Romania to Nevada City to Paris. This is more of a home-based album, one that looks inward. Death played a part. Four very close friends of ours tragically died in 2012; it was a relentless year with a lot of funerals. We were gutted and exhausted, and that’s certainly going to affect you as a songwriter. That’s where songs like “Bad Heart,” “Slow Death Hymn,” and “No Candlesticks” came from. But it’s not all dark, nor a concept record at all, and there are a lot of fun songs. It covers everything from gentrification to baseball, from squatting to horror movies.
I’ve heard your first single, the rousing “No Candlesticks”, and my take on its meaning is that you should live life to the fullest (“Double wick, no candlesticks / until we burn and that’s the way to be.”). Would that be an apt interpretation?
Pretty much, yeah. It’s also about finding the joy in being irresponsible sometimes. You might get some bruises, and be tired at work the next day, but it’s more exciting than the alternative.
DyingScene.com is exclusively streaming your 2nd single, “Bad Heart”. Are you planning on releasing any more singles online to promote the album?
We are shooting another music video soon for “City Of Black Fridays,” which is the lone acoustic-type song on the album. We’re still nailing down concepts. It’ll be fun, chaotic, and different from the “O, Pennsyltucky!” video. That video told a melancholy story; this one will be more snapshots of us and our friends in South Philly. But we’re still working it out; it’ll probably be pretty spontaneous.
Would you say that “This Is Not For Children” is more straight-ahead punk in song structures and sonics than your previous full-lengths? Do you still manage to work in instruments like mandolin and vibraharp and other musical styles?
I’d say that it’s a record that, while making it, we let the songs breathe, form naturally, and didn’t throw anything on top of them that wasn’t necessary. So yeah, there aren’t a million percussion tracks like there was on “Dallas In Romania,” or all the wild instrumentation of “Three Chord Circus.” We tried adding a little bit here and there; some worked and some didn’t. To have a mandolin come out of nowhere on a song like “Bad Heart” would add nothing… In fact it would take away from the song. I think the lack of things like mandolin, vibraphone, junk percussion, and whatever else we’ve used in the past automatically leads people to say that it’s more straightforward. But there’s so much going on lyrically, and it’s actually a pretty diverse record with a big sound. In the end, it doesn’t sound like anything is lacking to me in the mix.
I love the album’s cover art! Who designed it and what do the 5 pairs of shoes below the horse skeleton represent? I’m assuming 4 of those shoes rep yourselves, but who is the 5th?
The artist’s name is Josh, who goes by JXRXKX. His style matches well with our songs I think… It’s a good mix of carnivalesque imagery, Crass-style aesthetics, and anarchist-Molotov-throwing anger. And lots of skeletons. He’s out of Denver; we met last time we were out there on an acoustic tour and hit it off immediately. I was blown away by his artwork so I asked if he’d like to design a hoodie for us, as we owed one to Interpunk at the time. And that opened the floodgates! He’s since become our main designer of merch, covers, patches, pins, etc… As far as the shoes go, I didn’t notice there were five pairs until you just mentioned it.
You’ve been releasing some of your output over the years on Fistolo Records. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this your own record label? If so, how has it been running a business like that while concurrently creating music and touring?
Yep, Fistolo Records is our label, run by my wife Denise and me. All the work is tied together whether we’re touring, recording, or releasing records. It was never really our intention to start a label – We started by dubbing the first Mischief Brew demo in 2000 and selling it at shows. We silk-screened shirts and patches for Mischief Brew and The Orphans, my old band. It kept growing and growing to the point where Denise said, “Well, it seems this is a record label. Let’s give it a name.” I’m so glad we did, because we’ve managed to keep 100% control over all Mischief Brew releases and finances. We are our own bosses.
You’re known as an anarcho-punk band and I was wondering how you define the meaning of ‘anarchy’ in relation to your worldview and music. Do you believe that there should be no governmental and/or societal laws or rules at all or are there specific mandates that you rail against?
Well we certainly don’t need cops or governments to tell us what to do or what to believe. Unfortunately most people feel like they do, so I guess the governments, laws, and cops have to stick around for now. I exist in this system but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Plus the stagnant conservative types are really just shouting from a sinking ship; they’ll be outnumbered, outmoded, and forgotten eventually. We are moving forward.
You’ve been at it for a good 15 years as Mischief Brew. What do you think of today’s ‘instant download’, file-sharing, social media (dis)connected culture?
I don’t think about it too much. You can’t possibly be an artist or band in this day and age and have a problem with any of that stuff. It’s like complaining about the weather. I’m still racing to catch up with these damn kids. When Mischief Brew started we only had tapes, and didn’t even have an email address for maybe half a year. We seemed to make it work.
You’re based in the wonderful city of Philadelphia and I’d like you to spread the love here and explain some of the things you admire/adore/enjoy about Philly.
They say it’s a big city with a small town feel, and I think that’s true for the most part. Philly is a pretty provincial place… If you’re born here, you tend to stay here, which means there are a lot of deep roots in certain neighborhoods and walking around can be like going back in time. There are lots of ugly things about it, but that’s true in every city. We just get more crap for it. Actually, what am I saying? It’s a terrible, uncool place and no one should move here. There is no music scene, it’s more expensive than Brooklyn, and we eat babies.