Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Mighty High

Many thanks to the Ripple Effect music blog for interviewing us as part of their "Sunday Conversation" series. Check out the interview here -

The Ripple Effect

Long before we knew him, and long before he joined us here at the Ripple, lending his practiced ear and pen to writing some dynamite reviews for the Ripple, Woody blew us away with the fuzzed out, punked up, adrenaline-filled wail of rock that emanates from his band Mighty High. First conjoled into writing with us, we next convinced the Mighty High Woody to join us on the red leather Ripple Interview couch and shed some light on his musical roots.

RIPPLE: When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

WOODY: I've had many musical epiphanies in my life but 3 really stand out. The first was Christmas, 1974 getting a copy of Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe LP as a gift from one of my older brothers. He thought I’d like the poo poo jokes, which I did, but I also loved the music. The next was Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. I read an article about them in Creem magazine when they were opening for Ozzy on the Blizzard of Oz tour in 1980. I just knew this band was for me, and they still are. Lastly, hearing Grand Funk’s Live Album in November, 2000 completely blew me away and gave me the inspiration and direction to create Mighty High.

RIPPLE: Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

WOODY: Usually music comes first. I’m not very original so most Mighty High songs begin with me trying to learn a cover song and not being able to figure it out. I’ll jam on a few parts and variations while watching TV so I don’t think too hard about what I’m playing. I read once that Joe Perry used to like to watch Godzilla movies when he was writing music for the first few Aerosmith records. Maybe he should go back to that technique.

Once I have a rough idea of how the music is going to go I start to think about the mood of the song and if I have any slogans or song titles that match it. I have a long list of potential song titles and keep a catalog of lyrical fragments in my head.

I’ll usually have about 75% of the song done before I bring it to the rest of the band. We’ll jam out on it and see where it goes. I’ll also have some spare parts in case we hit a brick wall. A song will often change direction once I hear it with the full band.. I like to try and play them live at our shows as soon as possible. If too many people start playing with their phones, then I’ll adjust the song right away. Lyrics are important and they’ll often go through a lot of revisions until I come up with the stupidest shit possible. They’re loaded with inside jokes that confuse most people but are hilarious to me and a few friends.

RIPPLE: Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

WOODY: I get tons of inspiration from discovering semi-obscure classic rock albums. About a year or so ago, a friend gave me Come Taste the Band by Deep Purple. I had no idea how great that record was. It helped me solve a few musical problems I was having with some songs I was working on. I have no problem admitting I steal a lot from other bands, Deep Purple especially. Lately, I’ve been listening to the 1st West, Bruce & Laing album Why Doncha. I’m sure some of that will wind up in our next batch of jams.

RIPPLE: Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

WOODY: I’ve always describe Mighty High as a loud hard rock band. Categorization has been a big problem for us. The stoner rock crowd says we’re too punk, the punk crowd says we’re too stoner. The garage rock crowd thinks we’re a metal band but the metal crowd doesn’t think we’re metal enough. The fact that the lyrics are humorous makes a lot of people mad, but the joke’s on them since they don’t know how to have a good time. I like to pretend that I’m Duke Ellington and say that we are “beyond category.”

RIPPLE: What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

WOODY: Our intention is to play louder than hell and to kick ass. We’d love it if our audience would go wild but it’s usually about 20 stoned dudes holding their beer cans and nodding politely.

RIPPLE: In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

WOODY: I never try to make the songs more complicated than they need to be. We keep the jams lean n mean with a few left turns here and there, but we’re not talented enough to get too progressive. In fact, we refer to ourselves as Brooklyn’s #1 regressive rock act.

RIPPLE: The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

WOODY: Luckily I have a good job so I’m able to finance this ridiculously expensive hobby. I’m thrilled that people all over the globe have discovered and enjoyed our music but it would be nice if a few more of them would pay for it. If there was some money coming in than we could make even cooler t-shirts and record more often. The economy is hitting everyone hard and attendance at shows is way down but we really appreciate anyone who shows up and gets loaded. I knew when I started the band that Mighty High would have an extremely selective appeal.

RIPPLE: Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

WOODY: A few years ago I lent someone from another band my guitar tuner to use. When they were done with it, they re-calibrated it to a different tuning so when I used it my guitar was completely out of tune. We start playing and I’m convinced that our other guitarist TJ Whippets is out of tune. I start yelling at him to tune his guitar during the first 2 songs. He keeps tuning and nothing changes. Finally I realize I’m the one out of tune. I felt about 3 inches tall. Luckily I had a spare guitar and the rest of the gig went great.

Another great one was the time we played a party using another bands gear. During the first song both guitar amps blew up and I broke a string. There was a big crowd staring at us while we spent about 10 minutes repairing everything. Our bass player used to unplug himself a lot on stage, but luckily that has happened in a long time.

RIPPLE: Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?

WOODY: Good question. In ten years I will be 51 years old with an 11 year old daughter. I will have a lot of explaining to do. The original concept of Mighty High was to sound like Black Flag playing Grand Funk’s Live Album. In a few years I’d like to make it sound like Black Flag playing BB King’s Live at the Regal.

RIPPLE: What makes a great song?

WOODY: A great riff and a good slogan. It should make you want to step on the gas or punch someone in the face.

RIPPLE: Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

WOODY: The first song I ever wrote was called “Slow Gin” but I never finished it. It’s basically a medley of “Slow Ride” by Foghat and “Cold Gin” by Kiss but came out more like “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground. The first song I ever wrote and finished was “Dusted” – track #1 on Mighty High…In Drug City.

RIPPLE: What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

WOODY: All the songs are near and dear to me, but it’s usually whatever song I’m working on at the moment. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 31 years old. I’m completely self taught as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter so finishing a song is always a huge achievement since I really don’t know what I’m doing.

RIPPLE: Who today, writes great songs? Why?

WOODY: Jeez, this is a tough one. There are a lot of bands I like out there but most of it is so derivative of older stuff (I’m including Mighty High in this statement). Off the top of my head, I’ll say Mastodon. I think they write great songs that you can rock out to but are also interesting musically and lyrically. Locally, I’ll give it up to Federale and the Brought Low. When they play new songs I’ll still remember them when I sober up the next day.

RIPPLE: Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

WOODY: All 3. I know it’s heresy these days, but I do think CD’s can sound the best. When ZZ Top remastered Tres Hombres I compared it to my old LP. The CD sounds much better, but the gatefold of enchiladas looked so much more appealing on the LP.

We’re already starting to see artists issuing their stuff on vinyl that includes a CD or mp3 download. This will probably be the choice of serious music fans, but the general public will take whatever they can get for free.

RIPPLE: What's the best record store in your town?

WOODY: My favorite store closed just about a year ago – Slipped Disc Records in Valley Stream. It was a metal/punk/hardrock specialty store out on Long Island with incredible selection. It’s where I was able to track down tons of imports and out of print stuff plus cool shirts, books and DVD’s. The owner was a great guy and had excellent taste. He sells at some record shows now, but it’s just not the same.

I wish NYC had a store the caliber of Amoeba in California or Waterloo in Austin, TX. Generation Records in the West Village is pretty good. Passout Records in Brooklyn is a small but good punk/garage spot that also has live music. J&R has the best prices but their selection is a little conservative. Other Music in the East Village has some great stuff but they insist on filing everything in frustrating little micro-genres.

Awesome, Woody. Great stuff. Keep the Mighty High madness coming our way and thanks for all your great writing for the Ripple.

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