Photos by Rachel Eisley
There have been plenty of times I have heard bands talked up around town, full of promise with stars in their eyes, and then gone to see them only to be massively underwhelmed. The buzz around Mittenfields was almost deafening only one show in, and it became difficult to separate what was the real word on the street and what was being generated by those close to the group. I happened to see their second show and was officially stunned. They were an intriguing mix of a myriad of influences that was quickly approaching something unique. I made sure to see them every chance that I could and then – as suddenly as they appeared on the scene – they were gone.
Now the core group returns this Friday at the Velvet Lounge (be sure to catch Mariage Blanc as well) with some new members in tow, in what will surely prove to be an exciting collection of songwriting mashes mixed with masterful playing. We had a second to do a little e-roundtable before the sheeew. Listen in:
Mittenfields burst on to the scene a year ago and stunned me in their amazing performances and then suddenly, they were gone – what happened to cause the long period of inactivity?
Sadie: Dave will say blah blah, lineup changes, busy schedules, etc. But the truth of the matter is that he was on a year-long, peyote-fueled vision quest. While trekking naked in the mountains of West Virginia, he received his life’s mission from his totem animal, the wilily hedgehog. That’s why hedgehogs appear in most of the new Mittenfields songs.
Dave: Vacation in Iceland. Honeymoon in Asia. . . lots of places in Asia. Side projects, side projects and side projects. Auditions for new vocalists. Auditions for new drummers. Trying out drummers whose first name is Dan.We are on our third Dan, whom we love. Starting ”indie rock orchestras” and leaving “indie rock orchestras.” Writing more songs/song ideas than we know what to do with. Never playing those songs/song ideas again.
Sam: I went to Asia, Erik went to Iceland, and we were supposed to pick up where we left off when everybody got back at the end of the summer, but we ended up taking a number of detours before things started clicking again. I like Sadie’s answer better.
Ron: I wasn’t even living in DC a year ago, so your guess is as good as mine. I’m going to guess that everyone was so excited about upcoming release of the new Halo game that the band became the second most important thing to everyone. That’s what life was like for me last summer.
nteresting aspects of the band is that the diverse styles of the members don’t blend as much as compliment one another. Everyone in the band seems to be approaching any given song from their own unique angle. What’s everyone’s background and how did you end up in the band?
Sadie: I’m a classical violinist that discovered, a few years ago, that it’s more fun to play in rock bands than string quartets. For one thing, string quartets rarely get free entry to clubs or free drink tickets; the groupies for rock bands are hotter, too. I was recruited into the band by my friend Dan Sachs, a drummer who seems to have since been replaced by another drummer named Dan.
Dan: I play the drums in Mittenfields.I’ve been in various punk/indie/rock bands for years. I grew up in Philly where I was in one punk band throughout high school playing covers and valiantly trying but consistently failing at writing our own material. I went through three more in Boston while in college – a electronica/sludge metal/powerslop band, another Indie /Punk / Rockabilly band called Pray for Polanski and my personal favorite, a metal band called Jäggëdfëtüs (pronounced, Ya-good Fay-tus). And finally now, enter Mittenfields. I met David on his epic quest in wilderness of West Virginia. We had a beard-off and I was savagely beaten.
Dave: When I put the initial ad out to start a band I wasn’t really sure as to what I was doing because I was already making music with a bunch of cool dudes who are now known as Crimes of Paris. All I know is that I am in a band with a cast of incredible musicians and beyond that I am just having fun making music with these guys. I think this “unique angle” is best shown by listening to a collection of our songs and knowing that the songs were written by the same band but also knowing that the songs don’t sound like each other.
Sam: I hadn’t played in a band for several years, other than a few stoner-metal jam sessions. I would say that I have more of a background in heavier music, but then again Erik used to be in a thrash band and can always be counted on to go to a Mastodon or Boris show. I like to think I’ve managed to channel the impulse to be loud into something that’s more focused on being overwhelming than being aggressive, and to tone it down when it suits the song. My main guitar is borderline embarrassing as an indie rock instrument, but I really like the tone. As to linking up with the band, I just responded to one of Dave’s craigslist ads (something along the lines of “seeking wall of sound”) and was pretty bowled over at the level of creativity and energy he brought to our first little session. I met Erik shortly thereafter on Dave’s recommendation; we hit it off right away musically, but I thought he actively disliked me for at least a couple of months. Turns out he’s just quiet, and I was intimidated by his Civil War General facial hair.
Ron: My mom teaches music, so I’ve been involved with music in one way or another since before I can remember. I started out playing jazz and even started college as a performance major, but somehow I ended up finishing with an economics degree. Yeah, it makes no sense at all, so just try to work with me here. Since I was in middle school, I’ve been playing in everything from ska bands to hardcore bands. Anyway, about 5 months ago I started looking online for something to get involved with. Dave got in touch with me a few months later and now here I am. I’ve only been with Mittenfields for about a month
A lot of you have multiple musical projects going at any given time – do you think your musical ADD is what brought you together in some respect?
Sadie: OK, you are so right-on about the members of Mittenfields having ADD. In practice, it’s a minor miracle when we all play the same song at the same time. And you should ask Rachel Eisley about how tough it was to make us all stand still at our band photo shoot.
Dave: Musical ADD? I’m sorry. . . I. Have. Too. Many. Things. Going. On. Right. Now. To. Answer. You. Please. Come. Again. Soon. All roads lead to Craigslist.
Ron: Could be. But I’m pretty sure I have regular ADD, too, so it’s kind of par for the course. Next question…
Sam: Mittenfields is it for me, but the ADD permeates the band pretty thoroughly. I have about 70 hours of tape of song ideas on my computer from a year+ of jam sessions; most of which we’d like to return to at some point, but we tend to get excited about a new idea and just rush forward.
Dan: I do not suffer from such a condition.n>One band at a time, my life is complicated enough.
Do you think that helps or hinders Mittenfields?
I have heard occasional rumors of recording – what does the future hold in that regard?
Sadie: We will be recording a really awesome EP in the next few months, assuming Dave doesn’t disappear into the West Virginia wilderness again.
Sam: We’re waiting for Phil Spector to get out of prison
You also come from a diverse regional background – where is everyone from originally?
Sadie: I’m from Tampa, Florida, an area of the country known primarily for death metal and theme parks. (Really)
Dan: I have no real home it seems anymore. .. The East Coast? I am originally from Philadelphia, PA and I do identify that as my HOME.<Here’s where things get complicated… But for the past 4 years, I have bounced back from Boston where I (still) attend college and the District.t;I have been working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Spacecraft Propulsion Engineering Group since the summer of 2008, designing and building spacecraft. So like Sadie said, I am sort of a rocket scientist. I haven’t finished college yet though.pan>As some of my bandmates have alluded to, I will be leaving the DC area at the end of August and returning to Boston to finish my senior year. Upon graduating, I will return promptly next may to drum in Mitten fields full time and also work at NASA full time.
Sam: I’m from a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, but I’ve been on the east coast since college. I just acquired my first pair of cowboy boots about a year ago though, which makes me a pretty lousy Texan.
Dave: I am originally from San Antonio, TX. Moved out and toured the country for a couple of years (not with a band). Eventually found myself here in DC with my lovely wife and two Chihuahua’s.
Ron: I’m from Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s a great place and everyone should try visit it at some point or another. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t eat lutefisk every night for dinner (whitefish soaked in lye–I dare you to read about it on Wikipedia). Still, I get told, “You’re the first person I’ve ever met from North Dakota,” almost every single day. Because of that, I think I’ve single-handedly helped 10 teams win at scavenger hunts
re some of the good things about playing music in DC?
Sadie: DC is such a transient place. That means that there’s a lot of smart, talented people here, but it also means that stable lineups are hard to come by. For instance, our new drummer Dan, who is a rocket scientist or something, may be returning to Boston sometime in the near future. Luckily, his girlfriend lives in DC, so we are hoping he comes back to visit a lot.
Sam: The DC rock music scene, such as it is, is small enough that it’s possible to know just about everybody involved, at least tangentially. That, and either there’s been a re-emergence of DIY shows over the past year or I just recently started hearing about them.
In five years you see Mittenfields where?
Sadie: After a meteoric rise and fall, we will be the subject of a VH1 “Celebreality” show. The premise: The five of us must agree upon a single person to date, selecting from a field of Tila Tequila look-a-likes.
Dan: ehhhhh… consider us the next Len…
Sam: We’ll either have recorded 10 albums or still be working on the first one.
Dave: Whew. Dreaming of mittens finding their way back to the fields
Thornley brother (John or Paul – we might accept Hemerlein as an answer as well.)
Sadie: Oh I love Matthew Hemerlein! What a talent. I think his songs are great — I especially love his Danny Elfman covers.
Dave: Well, I am proud to say that I asked John (a little over a year ago) if he wanted to start a residency at Sollys and it looks like it’s become a great first Monday night of the month. So it’s a tie between John and Matthew because I met Matthew a while back when I was bookingshows at Dahlak. It’s nice to see all the buzz he has gotten since then.
What should Dave’s next facial hair move be? (Dave – you don’t get to answer.)
Sadie: You know, he showed up to the last practice clean shaven, and we were all quite alarmed. Eric shaved off his fu-Manchu mustache as well! I just hope that our fans come for the music and not the facial hair, because Sam’s the only one currently pulling his weight in that area. Dave has enough and it grows at such a rate that he really could make it a stage act.
Dan: I just want to say that I don’t appreciate the fact that Sadie forgot I rock the beard as well. It’s not just Sam. Facial hair is well represented in this band with or without Dave and Eric. I don’t see her helping out the cause.
Ron: I think his goal should be to win the 2011 World Beard and Mustache Championships: beardchampionships.com/