Interview by Kai Hayashi | Photos by Todd Cooper
If you haven’t heard Macklemore (aka Ben Haggerty) yet, this may be the year he finally rolls through your playlist. The Seattle-based hip-hop artist created quite a stir in 2010, and has watched his popularity and fan base grow substantially over the year. The hard work he and his producer Ryan Lewis have put in has paid off, spreading their music though word of mouth and the Internet minus the help of a major recording deal. The duo performed March 1 to a sold out crowd at Eugene’s Historic WOW Hall, and prior to the show Macklemore graciously spoke to me about his life, music and the direction he sees his life going.
Huge parts of most interviews never end up in the finished article(s),
even Q&As. In the case of my email interview with Naima Muntal,
vocalist/accordionist/go-to-girl for The Bad Mitten Orchestre, it was
too late to add any of the interview to this week's music short. So here's the full text, for your reading enjoyment.
EW: When did Heather Neilson depart the group? Did she record with the band on Garden of Eve?
NM: I believe Heather left some time at the end of July. She now resides in New Orleans. I'm not exactly sure what she's up to, except that I can guarantee it involves making new music. She is a music making machine. She was with us when we recorded our first 11-track CD in July. We spent 5 hours in a studio in Veneta, and cranked out 11 live recordings that we slapped onto a CD. We burned versions of that CD on our home computers and sold those at the Country Fair and at Saturday Market. We even had a catastrophe where about 50 of them ended up not working on most CD players. We still haven't heard the end of that blunder. (It was my fault, I bought the wrong kind of blank CDs. I still feel pretty guilty about that one.)
Ila joined shortly after Heather left, learning our songs, including words and harmonies, within days. Not only did she rush to learn our songs in an impossible time period, but she even had a band-practice related injury that landed her in the hospital the night before her very first show with us. (Long story.) She limped onto that stage the next day like a champ.
EW: From first encounter to finished CD in eight months is pretty impressive. How did the songs on Garden of Eve come about?
NM: To tell you the truth, I personally had written maybe two songs before Heather and I began toying with the idea of starting a band. I had been playing accordion for a few years, but only ventured beyond classical and traditional pieces when the local bluegrass group, the Conjugal Visitors, kindly invited me to sit in with them during some of their shows. Due to my stage fright and lack of experience, that didn't last long, but playing with the Conjugal Visitors inspired the hell out of me. Within weeks I had about 12 songs written, and Heather was also pulling songs out of her hat like a madwoman. Once Heather left and Ila joined, we completely revamped, adding a bunch of songs by myself, Ila, our cellist Sarah and our uke/saw player, Baylin. It feels like the songs are a result of the formation of the band, rather than the other way around. Even when one of us presents a song to the band, every member contributes equally to the musicality to the piece. We really feed off of each other, creatively.
The songs weren't really meant to tie together into any sort of concept. At least that wasn't the plan. In mid-November we recorded our new, twelve song CD at Sprout City Studio with the kind guidance of Thaddeus Moore. Ila and I came up with the Garden of Eve concept after listening to the CD in its entirety and realizing that it tied together surprisingly well. We designed the CD cover art (produced by Ila) in two days, found a place the next day that would quickly print a batch of our CDs, and had them printed just in time for the new year. It was definitely a time of stress for us, but the DM3 show came so unexpectedly that we wanted something that would reflect the changes we had been through. We lost a guitarist and our original bass player Brien McMullen, gained a new guitarist and our current bass player Virginia Luff, added new songs, improved old ones, and wanted a CD that more properly represented us. Of course there are bits and pieces of the new CD that we wish we could have done better, but it was a great opportunity to learn, and we're better for the experience.
EW: I've seen many incarnations of your band name. Everything from Bad Mitten & The Shuttlecocks to Bad Mitten Orchestre to just Bad Mitten. Have these names represented the stages the band has been through the past six months, or has it just been hard to settle on a name?
NM: We got tired of having to explain the pun in our name. A few listeners who either don't appreciate or don't understand plays on words criticized us for being "named after a lame sport." We tried Bad Mitten and the Shuttlecocks for a while, trying to work with the pun, but it just didn't fit. We came up with The Bad Mitten Orchestre during our first day in the studio, as we joked about how much of a nightmare it was to mic all our instruments. Third time's the charm, so don't worry, we don't plan on changing our name again.
Is a tour in the works (I mean, outside the Eugene area)?
We hope to hit up the West coast this summer, though no dates are planned yet. I have yet to really figure out how to arrange a tour, as my original designs for this band didn't exceed house parties and bonfires. We don't even have a functioning band vehicle, and we are currently in the hole financially. Personally, I'm still in the "I have no idea what I'm doing" phase. But it's a heck of a ride, and I'm sure we'll figure it out.
The Bad Mitten Orchestre opens for The Devil Makes Three at 9pm Wed., Jan. 2 at the WOW Hall.