NO BARGAIN OR REPRIEVE A BAND CALLED MITHRAS
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.
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.
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.
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 for Bucketfull of Brains