By Alec Wooden
Born in Bermuda and raised largely on his parents sailboat, reggae-folk rocker Mishka‘s music career began by chance when a record executive heard a rough demo in the mid ’90s and quickly signed him to UK label Creation Records for a relationship that lasted two records and garnered a substantial buzz within the UK. Over a decade later, life has come full circle — the hype is back, thanks in large part to iTunes dubbing him 2009’s “Best New Artist.” Mishka’s attitude on life and music hasn’t changed much, though his home in the latter has. Residing now on actor Matthew McConaughey’s J.K. Livin’ label (a relationship also fostered completely by chance), the ever laid-back Mishka has a new record (Talk About), the golden touch of producer Butch Walker (two tracks on Talk About) and the makings of a musical resurgence he doesn’t plan on wasting.
So you’re checking in from Hawaii, right?
Ya man. Moved out here about seven months ago I guess. I love it. I’m a wind surfer, ya know, so it’s great for me. I love being by the beach.
Talk a little about your musical upbringing.
My musical upbringing was a pretty broad landscape. I grew up listening to a lot folk music and 70’s reggae and some rock, classical, everything. My parents were really into listening to music. So I had a strong musical foundation as far as listening. There’s a lot of musicians in my family. My big sister plays guitar and sings. My father can play harmonica, my mother liked to sing. There’s a lot of music in my family. It’s just sort of natural thing that I was always around, ya know? It just sort of grew and grew as I grew up. I love it. It’s part of life.
What’s your general philosophy as an artist?
I’m about one love. That’s the inspiration in my music. I really just look forward to being out there onstage doing the music. That’s what it’s about. There’s so much inbetween – getting there to that place where you’re actually playing your music. There’s planes, trains and automobiles and hotels and all the time in between, so it’s always just nice to be playing and that’s what I look forward to the most.
How does that fit in with the J.K. Livin’ (“Just Keep Livin'”) label philosophy?
JK Livin’ is Matthew’s [McConaughey] label that originally started as a movie production company. He started to branch out because he really liked my music. It’s hard for me to say what the actual philosophy of the label is other than that’s just the reality of living – you just keep doing it.
As the story goes, Matthew spent years pursuing you for his label after hearing your music one day. Were you ever aware of that?
I was only aware that he knew of my music but I didn’t really think very much of it at the time. I was just doing my thing. I had just put out a record in England and I was working on putting out another one in England. I was doing some touring in California and unbeknowst to me he had been trying to find me and couldn’t over a few years (between 2000 and 2004). I was doing a show at the House of Blues in L.A. and someone from his camp was there. They got my number and he called me. It’s been a gradual progression from there.
You’ve been pretty much on the move your whole life, so I assume you do most of the writing before you get together with your band. Do you ever get a chance to do it collaboratively?
I would like to, but the way the situation has been mostly is that we just get together when it’s touring time because everyone lives in different parts of the world. So we just come together before the tour and play and it’s mostly focused and the songs are already written and structured. So we don’t really write too much as a band, though I would like to in the future as time and space permits. It’s quite a different entity sometimes when you’re writing and creating to a drum and bass line as opposed to just a guitar and a notebook.
Tell us what we should be expecting from the new record, Talk About.
Across the board, it’s generally got that kind of rootsy/folky sound, but there are a couple of tunes on there that is more of a rock vibe, I guess, though rock is a pretty broad term. The album is kind of splayed out over quite a few different genres [laughs]. But somehow it all fits together in the end.
Did you enjoy working with Butch Walker?
Very much so. He’s an easy going guy and obviously a very talented musician. He’s easy to work with in the studio because he was never like, “You’ve gotta do it like this, you’ve gotta do it like that,” he never imposed any big ideas on the songs. He just wanted to hear what we had and just made some little tweaks and ideas and encouraged us to do our best. It was probably the easiest way to work with someone, because he just let it be what it was. Really, really, really good dude to work with.
iTunes named you the “Best New Artist” in 2009. Sort of funny in that you’ve been doing this music thing for about 15 years…
It’s always nice to get the recognition. And to most people, it is new. I’ve been playing pretty small clubs and just working my way up through the ranks. But that’s normal to me, really, that it takes a while to get the recognition.
Personally, what’s the biggest difference between Mishka of 2000 and Mishka of 2010?
I think I’m more focused now. Part of that is just knowing my craft a little better, but it’s just more enjoyable when you know what’s going on around you a little more. When I first started, I got a record deal out of the blue. Someone heard a demo of mine and was like, “We want you to come to England and make a record and tour.” So there was a lot of hype all of a sudden and it was kind of shock to the system for a while. I didn’t really know at that time if I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to be out there, but now I really love it and have been doing it quite a while. It’s been nice growing a fan base. There’s a nice exchange going between the music and the people listening to it.