Saturday, 18 August 2012

A Band Called Mithras 2

While each year never fails to bring new and wonderful music to discover, it is still the case that it is only once in a while that your ears fall onto something that is above and beyond even that excellence. Music that from the moment you first hear it you know is extra special, the work of a truly major talent. The likes of Marc Mikel and Jeff Litman spring to my mind in this hallowed category as does A Band Called Mithras, who’s debut album so captivated me from the get go that I immediately contacted them for a Bucketfull interview without hesitation. Detroit based singer, songwriter, musician arranger and producer Bob Wilson (along with guitarist David Epperson) is the musical maestro behind the band name and what an excellent fellow he is too. After the wonders of the debut my anticipation of a follow up platter was always keen and now the simply named 2 is upon us and has been well worth the wait. The album opens with the melodically charming and deceptively breezy Robot Clowns delivered effortlessly and brimming with detail and majestic invention, it could easily sit on legendary producer Brad Jones wonderful album Gilt Flake it is that classy. While he excels at such melodic gems Bob has always painted his craft from an altogether more broad and eclectic pallet. American Demon with its laid back sunglasses cool swagger, buzzing keyboard slides, prog guitar break and controlled mania is a real treat for the ears and is a perfect example of the many musical surprises to be found on a Mithras album. Expect the unexpected is as ever the message here and while talking about the jubilant guitar driven power pop of I Know What I Know contrasted against the easy savvy urban funk leanings of Gigo or the jaunty bubblegum pop of Sell It To The Kids can on paper make the album sound disjointed and all over the place, but it is never that. It is the unmistakable musical personality of the band that holds it all so seamlessly together, whatever is going on you always know this is A Band Called Mithras that is doing it. Like seventies Todd Rundgren or Zappa it is both adventurous and cohesive made so by the very real and breathtaking standard of the sheer talent involved both in first class song craft, execution and production values. Lyrically and musically, the album is rewarding, witty, assured, astute and entertaining in equal measures, production wise its modern psychedelia at its finest. Altogether it adds up to one hell of an audio adventure brimming with catchy hooks and memorable melody lines that pull you in from the first listen and never let go. So this second album serves as another standout dazzling imaginative showcase for a major musical talent that you ignore at your peril. Highly recommended.

The excellent Mr. Wilson will now enlighten us with an exclusive track by track talk on the new album, so make yourself a nice cup of tea, sit back and enjoy.....

Robot Clowns
I needed something silly to write about because it has a very jangly musical, driving pop feel to it, and I wanted a little bit of bite to the lyrics. So I wrote this happy little tune about somebody that has this very odd phobia. A lot of people don’t like clowns and I thought robot clowns would be a perfect phobia to stick in there and add some meat to the lyrics. In the middle of the track I say something like, “what you have Mr. Larrabee is a garden variety psychosis” and its kind of funny because I had this good friend in high school Kevin Larrabee and I just picked his name out of a hat for this. I hadn’t heard from him for probably a good twenty years and just by chance he heard this song when I posted it on Soundcloud and got a hold of me and now I am friends with him again because of Robot Clowns.

American Demon
When thinking about American Demon I was truly thinking of politicians and that’s really the gist of the song. People with no heart and no mind, completely out for themselves. During this particular election season it is most appropriate I think.

I Know What I Know
That song started of with I wanted to get a pop kind of a punk feel kinda like The Hives have. It turned out a bit lighter than The Hives, they are far more hardcore than I am but I wanted that feel. The lyrics are about how we’ve just lost a lot of knowledge and we constantly repeat the past. You know what you know and its’probably wrong because the winners write the history books. We think we know about a lot of things in history but we’ve been taught a lot of myths and when you look into it you find you really don’t know too much. You know what you know and most likely it’s wrong and the sooner you realise it’s probably wrong the closer you are to finding the truth.  

Nobody’s Waiting
I had this song and I thought I really need a lead guitar for it and then Vinnie Zummo (Joe Jackson’s guitarist) said, hey I’d really like to guest on one of your songs, so I said , I’ve got this perfect song Nobody’s Waiting. And what I asked him to do was kind of copy the guitar style of Adrian Belew and I threw him over Elephant Talk by King Crimson and I think he caught it really, really well. Vinnie Zummo has a sixth sense with that kind of guitar feel, I think he did a genius job on it. The finished song came out with a kind of a Yes feel to it, kind of, and then right in the middle of it we break into that funk circus thing. It’s an odd song.
This features Sylkay Ksb on vocals. I heard her voice and she’s got that Nancy Wilson feel and I thought Cannonball would be good for a slow duet, a thoughtful love song gone wrong, so I asked her and I think she did a really good job in working on the harmonies.

If I Ever
This is a song David Epperson wrote. He had a version he wasn’t happy with so he gave it to me. I added harmonies, orchestration, bass parts and kind of tore it up and put it back together. He’s the main vocalist on it, I’m doing the background harmonies.  

Concrete is a song I wrote probably a good ten years ago. It’s a basic pop song; it’s a lot more orchestrated than it was originally. Originally it was just guitars but the more I got into it the more I think it called for a driving dance beat during the chorus. It’s just a happy song about not pretending as if you’re being held down, not defeating yourself, let’s give away the dream that our feet are ankle deep in concrete. GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out to give it its full title, is about a lot of things. It might not sound that way but it’s a song about banking and how the banking system is just destined to fail and how banks are inherently bankrupted and lend out more money then they have in the back. Hidden in there is a mention of Lew Rockwell the chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which is a libertarian foundation for free banking and libertarian thoughts. The tracks really about bad money in and bad money out, a bad system set up and you’re gonna end up with failure.

Sell It The Kids
I went to this concert by a group called The Black Kids with my nephew and they had this real happy young feel about them and I kinda cop that sound. This is not I would normally write but I wrote it after that concert just for giggles, catching bubblegum with the simplest lyrics I could think of, Justin Bieberish lyrics and I threw it down and I got a good response to it so I put it on the album. It’s the song that shouldn’t be on the CD but is.  

Call Out The Captain
I wanted to right a song that sounded nineties like The Vines. It’s about believing that there’s always someone in charge and there is not always someone in charge, you’re the one in charge. There’s really no captain at all.  

Zero is a song I wrote with David in a hotel room about ten years ago and I finally get a chance to really flush it out. It’s a song about what happens when everything breaks down. No water system, no banking and we have to start back at zero and you have to know where your at by the angle to a star because you don’t have any lighting no more, you have to rely on nature and a gut feeling to get along.

Ain’t No Hope For The Modern Man
This song is fairly obvious, it kinda goes hand in hand with GIGO and Zero. In general this album seems like a happy, upbeat CD, but if you listen to it closely it’s really quite depressing (laughs). It’s got a lot of social commentary in it. Ain’t No Hope For The Modern Man is just a remark about the general population and how we’re totally screwed. How in the end when things collapse we are not going to know what happened because we don’t know where it came from and we don’t know how to fix it.


 Like a blissful collision between The Pillbugs and Roger Klug, A Band Called Mithras’s debut album “No Bargain Or Reprieve” is a joy stuffed thrill ride adventure in hi-fi that will knock your socks clean off from the get go. A dazzling psychedelic power pop wonderland drenched in a profound production the type of which can only be realised by either a big label recording budget the size of an agreeable elephant or the luxury of time afforded by having your own top class studio set and boundless creative curiosity with talent to match. Detroit based Bob Wilson, the man behind the band name, falls into the latter camp having spent a year building a high spec but affordable studio space The Mithraeum, as he has named it, in his basement. The finished creative results of his labours are impressive, at times breathtaking and surprisingly eclectic, with stabbing guitar riffs slamming into proceedings and the sixties template smashed open with more contemporary songs and ideas when you least expect it. The songs are without exception uniformly excellent easily as strong as the kaleidoscope of musical landscapes they each come lovingly wrapped in, rich with the sweetest melodic invention, lodge in your brain hooks and classy lyrical playfulness. There is also a rather epic and delightful different cover of the Left Banke’s classic Walk Away Renee to bring a smile to your ears. As a showcase for his it appears considerable talents the album is a stone cold success, as a creative achievement it is even more so. Time we think to sit down with the man behind the Mithras magic and try looking up his sleeves.

The Beginning.
My parents were not inherently musical so most of my earliest influences came from listening to the radio, to fare such as The Beatles, Zombies, Jim Croce, Dave Clark Five, John Denver and Simon and Garfunkel. I should have turned into a peace-loving folk singer, but then Styx, Queen, The Knack, Bowie, and Kiss quickly followed. Queen blew my idea of what was musically possible out of the window. Queen songs like Dead On Time, Spread Your Wings and Bicycle Race completely reflashed my brain.
Despite my parents lack of musicality, we owned a piano which I was drawn to. I started making up chords, trying to put some progressions together. It was very instinctual, but I was alone in this pursuit and never have received any formal training.  I started seriously writing songs when I attended the University of South Florida. Working my way through a graduate engineering degree, I ran into an old friend from high school, David Epperson. We started playing together as an acoustic duo, got some experience in the Ybor circuit of Tampa in Florida and then decided to form a proper rock band. The Brickyard Poets consisted of Dave on guitar, Todd Lutes on drums and myself as bassist and main vocalist. Some local indie label asked us to come up with an album of originals, so Dave and I put on our thinking caps and started to write what would become " Shrink Wrap Buddha” in 1998. The recording, mixing and production were completed by this now defunct indie label called Copperplate, out of Clearwater, Florida. The label used a typical indie business model, gather as many bands as possible and send off demos to college radio and some majors. In the end only one of the bands, Touch The Sky, garnered any airplay and the label collapsed soon after. I believe you can still find “Shrink Wrap Buddha" on Amazon if you have a hankerin' for some mid 90's acoustic based indie tunes, though there are some songs on that album that I plan on revising for an upcoming album.

"Cows make milk, I make music." - Fiona Apple

Twelve years later and you may ask why I have started making music again? I always have a tune bouncing around in my coconut. I can't sleep if there is a decent melody up there that is not trapped in some form of recorded medium. By that definition music writing is a form of exorcism. To answer your question, I haven't started making music again. I have always been writing music. I simply have a better place to store it now. The Beatles are an influence on the album, plus a heavy dose of Jellyfish, XTC, some Chili Peppers, Incubus, Primus and Black Kids.
 Most of the songs that I write start with a feeling or general story theme. For instance "I Am The Great Wallenda" is based on a childhood experience from when I lived in Puerto Rico. While watching television, I saw Karl Wallenda fall to his death trying to walk a tightrope between two hotels in downtown San Juan. The lyrics "everyone falls down and you are no exception" and "arrogance is my name" came fairly easily. What did Wallenda look like? "A silhouette etched against a San Juan sky". So it's basically images that get tarted up with lyrics first, then I might pull some guitar licks from my library. If I start a song with the musical progression first, I usually come up with lyrics and melody lines in my car. There is a portable recorder in my car so I can sing either lyrical ideas or melody lines with the song playing in the background over the stereo. The recording goes into my computer via USB and becomes my scratch track. I then will deconstruct the scratch, replacing scratch tracks with finished tracks until the song is complete.
Lead guitar work is not my strength, but I know some phenomenal guitar players who were kind enough to lend their talents. Denver DeWitt played lead on "Night Rider" and my good friend Dave Epperson from the Brickyard Poets days took the lead on "Marjorie B”. Other than that the album is a solo project, eeked out in my basement night after night.

The Mithraeum.
When playing in college I was lucky enough to visit some great recording facilities like Tampa's Morrisound, but only having enough funding to get quick demos finished. I always dreamed of having my own space to record exactly what I wanted and take as long as I needed. So the basement studio was constructed for the express purpose of limitless creation. Sound is an interesting thing in that it is created from nothing, sculpted from air and transient. But to make it sound good takes time. The studio took about a year to design and build. It is fully soundproofed and conditioned with bass traps and mid and high frequency traps on the ceiling and side walls. I wanted to make a space that would not necessarily hold a full band, but would allow a solo project to move along well. There is a strong concentration on good equipment and software, especially in the channel strip. (For all you tech heads out there, the channel strip consists of a LA-610 from Universal Audio being fed by an AKG C414 mic. The A/D converter is an Apogee Rosetta, again just 2 channels. The signal is fed by firewire into a DAW called Nuendo where the magic all happens. The computer is a Dell 690 workstation with an UAD-2 Duo DSP accelerator card in it. All in all, a great single signal chain.) “No Bargain Or Reprieve” was a learning experience, kind of like a graduate thesis. I can't recommend Friedemann Tischmeyer's DVD's on mixing and mastering "In The Box" enough, they were a guiding light in the process. The next album will be much easier. I learned how to record, mix and master on this album so there will be some errors, but I'm happy with it in general.

The Future.
Being a one-man-show is great for getting albums finished, but you can't perform, much less support the music as a solo act. I will be trying to get some musicians together to showcase the songs on “No Bargain Or Reprieve”, especially keyboardists. Know any? Shopping tunes for motion pictures is on the agenda. Also, I am currently working on a second album to be called "2" and there are already a handful of songs complete and plenty of sketches to work with. It will be a grade heavier than this album and more alt rock than pop.
Mick Dillingham

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