Download a high res photo of Mitch Easter.
Photos © Enid Valu, 2007.
Go! Triad article about the making of the Let's Active tribute CD, Every Word
On this page:
MITCH EASTER PRESS BIO
MITCH EASTER DISCUSSES THE SONGS ON DYNAMICO
INTERVIEW WITH MITCH EASTER
MITCH EASTER PRESS BIO
On March 14th, noted producer, musician and songwriter Mitch Easter turned loose his first album since Every Dog Has His Day, the final release by his band Let's Active. Dynamico is not only the North Carolina native's first album in nearly two decades, but it's also the first to be credited to his own name. In other words, it is Easter's first true solo project.
A lover of band names, from his imaginary eighth-grade group The Organism to the more recent Fiendish Minstrels, Easter conceded it was time to uncloak himself and take the full frontman's credit he probably deserved all the time anyway.
"It just seemed like nonsense to try to establish a new band name at this point," Easter allows from his studio, The Fidelitorium, in Kernersville, NC. "Who's gonna know what it is, and time's a wastin', you know?"
Indeed, Dynamico exhibits the gale-storm intensity of a man making up for lost time, and it features some of the strongest songs of Easter's career, including more blatantly socio-political material than he's ever assembled in one place.
Dynamico was a word that Easter spotted in a Cuban restaurant on a handbill advertising dance lessons. The term, with its energetic insinuations, fit the album perfectly. For while Easter hasn't lobbed anything in the marketplace for quite awhile, he never stopped writing and recording new material. Dynamico skims the cream from the top of Easter's bulging tape archive. As a result, in an age where CDs are often frontloaded with a few good tracks and a great deal of filler—or "two hits and ten pieces of junk," as Phil Spector once put it—Easter's CD is rock-solid and startlingly inventive from start to finish.
From the instant excitement of "1 ½ Way Street," with its throbbing power chords, to the rococo pop-psychedelia of "Love Slaves of Paradise Lost," Dynamico doesn't let up in lyrical cunning and musical intensity. One of Easter's drollest offerings, "Sudden Crown Drop," likens a disease afflicting palm trees—whose tops fall unexpectedly to the ground, often crushing fancy cars in rich folks' locales like Beverly Hills and Palm Beach—to the deteriorating state of the world on many fronts. Behind the wit, he's deadly serious, and the pulsing, dyspeptic music illustrates his concern.
Not that he's a curmudgeon, by any means. "All of my gloomy songs are really pretty optimistic in the sense that, 'You can fix this. You just have to be aware of this,'" he explains.
Musically, the album is one mind-opening kaleidoscopic turn after another, fusing disparate things like Buffalo Springfield-ish acoustic solos with AC/DC's whomping big beat. Liberated from having to write for a commercial market that doesn't even exist anymore, relieved of having to make accommodations to other band members, and feeling no particular deadline pressure, Easter was totally driven by inspiration as he worked on his own material between all the production work he did. In the summer of 2006, Easter suddenly realized he had an enormous backlog of great songs and that it was time to get them out there. Thus, he began picking and mixing Dynamico's fourteen songs.
He played almost every part, including drums, which he took up in high school. Of course, Easter shines throughout on guitar—particularly on the ripping space-age love song "Time Warping" and the distorted, funhouse-mirror neopsychedelia of "The Phantoms of Ephemera."
Easter is, as he puts it, "trying to fly the banner for more 'instinctive' records, as opposed to something made to fit a commercial or stylistic notion." He succeeds brilliantly on Dynamico, which is one of the most dynamic and welcome releases of 2007.
MITCH EASTER DISCUSSES THE SONGS ON DYNAMICO
"One and a Half Way Street"
That opening riff is one of those dumb rock and roll-type things. I like the idea of having a straightforward rock thing, and then the verse-chorus starts going up in this funny chromatic way that sounds odd the first time you hear it. That's exactly what turns me on about it! The song is lyrically about being a stranger in a strange land, but the strange land is right outside your door. It's about modern confusion. Hendrix was really good at writing that sort of song.
I was playing a saxophone sample on a keyboard, and it made me think of the sound of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album, one of those straight rock songs with honking saxophones. The song is a bubblegum-style throwaway to me. I really love those kind of songs; bubblegum to me is worth taking a look at, but nobody does. The words are supposed to be a friendly nod to a young person with a lot of promise: "You're gonna break through." It's like, "It's gonna work out, it's gonna be cool."
The song goes from A to Em—a classic Major I to Minor V chord change. It is such a great change that anytime I can find a place to use it, I will. "Time Warping" is a slightly naughty space-age love song. It's about being bad and running off with a new person. That's what the line "It starts like that when you're a rat" is all about. I like rats, they're such successful animals. The idea is, we wanna move forward; the past is where people are mad at us, so we want to blast out of there and they can think what they will.
It has a riff at the very beginning that sounds a little bit like the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul." The verse is sort of Who-ish in that it doesn't move in a straight line but has these builds and fills and stuff.
"Sudden Crown Drop"
This was inspired by an NPR piece on "sudden crown drop," which is the non-scientific name for an actual disease of palm trees. There's no outward sign anything's going on but the tree is rotting, it becomes weak, and the whole crown falls off all at once. I thought, "This is the best disease name possible, and it's a wonderful metaphor for everything." So every verse is about the world going to hell in a hand basket with the last line being "sudden crown drop." It's like, what do you expect? I mean, this is what's going on. A lot of these songs have a quasi-political theme to them, and my assessment of politics is always negative. So if the top's falling off, which is the kind of the case, the rest isn't far behind.
"Ton of Bricks"
The idea was that the delivery guy's at the door, your gonna sign on the line, he's gonna dump this load of bricks on you and your house, and you're over. It's the logical extension of "Sudden Crown Drop," the darker day after. The last few years have provided plenty of material for dark visions of the future. The government has put out some of the most laughable stuff ever, and people have just lined up to do it. The image of a ton of bricks has always been appealing to me; all those weight-of-the-world type phrases are good. Sonically it's like that, too. It's got a quiet verse and then this sonic notion of a ton of bricks comes in loudly, like a big blob.
"Sights Set on Heaven"
That was my first anti-religious right song. I wrote it in the Eighties, probably about '87. My original demo was really terrible, so I tried to do a cleaner version in 2004. The Eighties-ness of it still amuses me. To me the religious right is just insane. They're real sure they're going to heaven, and they're real enthusiastic about being dead. The irony is these guys are sort of the same as those Middle Eastern suicide bombers. They're both death-cult people. It's too bad they can't wipe each other out and leave the rest of us out of it, because that's the problem. They drag other people down with 'em.
I was pleased with the music, 'cause it's truly Stone Age. I admire bands like the Troggs and the White Stripes for their commitment to Stone Age music. The melody gets on the third of the first chord, and then the chord goes down a whole step and stays on that note. When you do that, you get the flatted fifth of the second chord, which was called the "devil's interval" in medieval times. It's one of my favorite sounds in all of music. There's no note that wants to resolve any more than that, but at the same time it's kind of pretty. That interval set me on the path for the words, which are about how as things get crummier you start suppressing your real self. You start sticking the fun things you like to do in some sort of closet. As time goes on, the closet gets full of dust and forgotten, and you start to lose who you are. I'm saying you have to watch out for anything that knocks you down psychologically. People my age need to think about that, 'cause they can get sort of gloomy or boring or dull. I'm always on guard against that.
"To Be, Cool Thing"
It's a song of regret about something that didn't work out with somebody. You still like 'em a lot, but you know why it didn't work out and it's your own fault. It's an amicable parting, but you're still a bit sorry about it 'cause you thought they were cool.
"Why Is It So Hard"
When I made up the melody with the guitar part, I was really thinking of it as one of those loose Kinks songs that don't really rock too hard. But it didn't quite turn out that way, 'cause I forgot to sing it like Ray Davies. I sang it harder than that. Since the original point was to have that loose kind of feel with that folk-rock melody and chords, it became necessary to play it on a 12-string. I don't like to be formalistic about those old things, but I'm certainly not afraid of referring to them, 'cause I like them. The lyrics are another one of my political raves about why is it so hard to come up with the right answer and take the right course? We keep doing all these wrong things that are very expensive and terrible.
"The Phantoms of Ephemera"
That one is about baby boomers who get hung up on nostalgia for consumer things. The danger is if you become a product of all this highly refined consumerism, you can become sort of a ghost. The phantoms of ephemera are ghosts fluttering on about something they had. So many of them become effete consumers who get snobby about the grocery store they go to and so on. To me, that's not what defines you as a person. When you become real earnest about that stuff, you're fair game. Everybody's gonna get you, like those companies that want you to pay five times as much for a teabag.
A pleasant little guitar snippet started it off, then as I built up the track it became more psychedelic. The words were about this weird Sixties TV movie I saw that was clearly intent on showing how modern and swinging Egypt was. It was funny to me, 'cause it was full of stewardesses in Sixties outfits and modern guys in sports cars. "Glazed" has to do with the state you get in watching something like that. You don't even understand what's going on but you just keep looking at it. You're glazed over. That's really all it's about! I thought you should never write a song about watching TV, and then I did.
"I Want a New Scene"
As Americans, we like to think we can start over. It's part of the American myth. So this song is me declaring that "I want a new scene." It was really appealing to say that I would like to blow this entire surrounding universe out of here. I like the idea of it anyway. And declaring it, saying that you want it, is step one. I always liked the word scene, going back to the beatnik use of it. It's part of my lexicon.
"Love Slaves to Paradise Lost"
[British poet] John Milton was an interesting character. I love the fact he ruined his eyesight by reading by candles. And his Paradise Lost was the definitive account of the fall of man. There was always something attractive to me about the phrase "paradise lost." A lot of my songs are sort of moralistic, with me telling people what to think. But I'm not that serious about it. It's more like, "Here's something to consider." What I was trying to get at is the danger of thinking you had a golden period in your life and nothing's ever gonna measure up to that. "Love slaves" was a phrase used in those creepy prison documentaries. I liked the idea that you're a love slave to paradise lost. To me, it's negative to get hung up on something that's over. While it was great, it shouldn't be paradise. Move on and start living now.
I recorded and finished this in 1991 and thought, "This is completely useless. Nobody wants to hear this piece of foppish nonsense." So I forgot it existed. Then, around 2001, I came across a bunch of tapes I hadn't seen in awhile, and "Love Slaves to Paradise Lost" was one of 'em. I was like, "Holy crap, this is really kind of deluxe." It's a sprawling song that I did a pretty good job of recording and playing, and I thought, "I have to do something with this." Even then, I still couldn't imagine who'd want to hear it, but I just decided, "I don't care. I'll put it on anyway. Maybe somebody will."
INTERVIEW WITH MITCH EASTER
Why has there been an 18-year lapse between albums? Was there any uncertainty about how you fit into the music business after New Wave went away and the focus shifted so radically in the Nineties?
With the Let's Active records I made in the Eighties, I noticed that the promotion they did had a huge effect, and I thought, "This system is pretty good, it kind of works." So after Let's Active fell apart, I imagined the only thing to do was try to get another record deal. Those kinds of deals were still happening, but exactly what that meant kept changing and wasn't totally appealing. I had a lot of songs piling up, but the whole "biz" thing did kind of freak me out and I just didn't know what to do. I finally realized that any worries I had about fitting into a commercial scene had become moot, since the record business as I knew it was long gone. You just have to put something out and let it go where it goes.
Did all the production work you were doing keep you away from your own music?
Yeah, the studio paid the bills. Guitar playing and writing songs were always most important to me, and the success I had with production was a surprise. It was very flattering, but I never thought, "Oh, I'll only do this." I imagined that I'd still have my own music as number one. But in the absence of a band that had something going, the studio stuff filled in the gaps. I wasn't totally happy with that, but I let it happen because people would call and I wasn't doing anything else, so off I went on some project.
Was there downtime for you so far as writing/recording your own stuff? Or has it been virtually continuous, despite the absence of releases?
The output goes up and down, of course, but I never felt there was a period where I hung it up. This may have been ridiculous self-delusion, but I was always thinking of putting stuff out! Anyway, whenever it struck my fancy and I could make up a decent song, I'd slap it down on tape.
When did you realize that you could assemble an album from all the recording you'd done, and that it would be a true solo work and not a band project?
For a long time I still hung onto the concept that "a band" should go in and do "a session" and finish within a month to get the traditional effect you get from doing that. But it just wasn't gonna work that way. Every time we'd try to do that, the songs would sound too much the same or didn't quite have the essential thing they somehow needed. I'd go back to the demo versions I'd done and think, "This just has more to it. It might be sloppier, but it's got more of the mojo." Once I had this breakthrough with myself to forget about traditional thinking about what you have to do to make a record, suddenly I had a huge library to pick from. This record has got songs from all over the place on it. I compiled a list of titles and would go, "Okay, that one," and just start mixing it. When I got to fourteen, I thought, "That's enough."
This is the first album credited solely to you, though albums like Let's Active's Big Plans for Everybody were really one-man shows. Why have you preferred a band identity when so much of it is you?
It's some sort of nonsensical sentimentality based on my youth. I really think that's true. When I was a kid, it was the dawn of the groups. Before that it was Bobby Vee, and then there were the Beatles. The group identity was just a lot cooler because the music associated with it was a lot cooler. So it's probably just that. And when it turned into psychedelia, I just loved that you could have names like the Chocolate Watchband. That was a lot of fun, and proper names just seemed like squaresville.
What's it like being both producer and artist? How do you stay out of your own way?
Some people really need a person there to control them, but I don't think I do. I just don't think these decisions are hard. It's real easy for me to go, "Yeah, it's no good" or "That's fine." And I'm not going to worry myself to death about it, 'cause that's the big trap. Anybody listening to this record will know it's not all that meticulous. It's more trying to capture some little moment for each song. That's really what I care about.
What are your work habits like? When are you most productive?
I just love to come in here in the morning and make up a song and start recording it right then. That what a lot of these songs are. For some reason I can make stuff up in the morning. The morning is really good for making up the music or at least getting started on something. Then it usually takes some deliberate work after that to turn it into something. Words seem to happen when I'm a little bit more awake, so I'll start to write words in the evening. If I get in word mode at night, I'll wake up the next morning still in word mode and I can think of all these revisions and pull it together.
On Dynamico, there's straightforward rock intertwined with other things, like neopsychedelic elements. To me, it rocks a lot harder than anything in the Let's Active catalog.
That's probably true. We definitely started off trying to follow the formalist rules of the New Wave scene. Afoot has all these clean guitars 'cause that's what you were supposed to do then. It was a little bit weird doing that 'cause I'd been doing the "other kind of music" before, the stuff that was supposed to have been totally destroyed when New Wave came in. I was a bit too old to buy into that, but at the same time I did like the New Wave stuff and thought it'd be fun to play for a change. Because of the times, those are very much Eighties kind of records. The songs on Dynamico really don't have much calculation to them, because they were all done in the spirit of "Nobody will probably ever hear this."
That must've been liberating.
It was liberating. Who even knows what the current sound is? Rock is now just a tiny sliver of things. It's not "the rock scene" like it used to be. What I'm getting at is that anybody who's heard of me probably associates me with Let's Active, but that was more of an aberration musically, because I really was trying to check out that scene and fit into it a bit. It was the thing to do and it was a good move, but it was a little more of a calculation than what I'm doing now, which really is trying to be natural and think up something, and if it catches my fancy I'll just go with it.
That said, do you feel there's continuity between your latest release and the Let's Active catalog?
I think there is a connection to the Let's Active material. I think if you have a sound, it's always there. I've been listening to Todd Rundgren lately, and he sure is identifiable, and he's put out records over a long period of time. Maybe this is more apparent when you produce your own records!
Where does Dynamico fit in? Is it of its time, do its referents largely spring from another time, or is it essentially timeless—i.e., it could have come out any year and the issue of contemporaneity is irrelevant?
Not exactly paraphrasing Spinal Tap, but always holding them as an enduring standard of wisdom, it's a fine line between "timeless" and "completely out of it"! I may well be completely out of it because I'm not losing any sleep over whether or not my awareness of today's scene is sufficiently comprehensive. All I know is that commercial "modern rock" strikes me as humorless, trite, and overwrought. Casting the net beyond commercial music, I have no doubt records are coming out every day which I'd surely love if I stumbled across them in the impossibly vast sea of releases that characterizes the situation now. If I have a place in the continuum, maybe it's because I'm trying to fly the banner for more "instinctive" records, as opposed to something made to order to fit a commercial or stylistic notion. I don't think I'm wildly original or anything, but I hope this motive comes across.
If you could be transported to any musical scene or locale, what would it be?
I was fortunate to have had the experiences I had when R.E.M. was taking off and Let's Active was touring with them. But it was so brief! I think we had about two good years with I.R.S., which just whizzed by. And as much as I really mostly like the Eighties, it was declining fast by '85, even though there were good things to come. I think the most exciting time for me would've been the late Sixties through the late Seventies. If I could have been in the thick of it then, I can't imagine anything better. I think music was the most inventive then, and recording techniques were still pretty wide open. All of rock's famous periods were exciting, of course, but the transition from teen/garage combos to savvy studio rock was especially fertile, both musically and technically. Before that, it sometimes gets a bit too old-timey and afterwards, the looming specter of slickness starts to kill it.
A final question. Given that you had so much material to draw from for Dynamico, is there more good stuff in the can?
I could do another album about like this without too much trouble.
Check out Mitch Easter:
Check out Shalini:
If you are interested in covering or would like to attend a show contact: