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Narcissists and Nepotists
 ISSUE  8.4 FALL 1998 

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Christian Hurd of Templeton | Pretty Mighty Mighty

Rocking in a vacuum?
Band Shot
Neal, Jon, John and Noel (left to right)
   An interview with Jon Chinn, John Fitzgerald, Noel Sayre and Neal Schmitt of Pretty Mighty Mighty.

Brad Liebling is back again with another interview. Yes, the band is on his Derailleur label. But this time it's with the entire band instead of just a lead person.

Cringe: Could someone give a brief history of the band?

Jon: We started the band when we were in school at O.U. (Ohio University). Neal and I began with another guitar player and a bass player named Terry. But we dropped the second guitarist and worked as a trio for a while.

Neal: And then we had Noel come in to play on a song in the studio.

Jon: Yeah, I don't know if we even recorded it, but he came to practice one day and we worked on the song for a show and we told him if he wanted to sit in for the whole set that he would be welcome to. And right about the same time Cori came into the studio as well to sing on a few songs. And then that became a full-time thing as well. After that we had a bass player problem and we replaced Terry with John.

Cringe: Whose idea was it to have Noel come in and play?

Jon: Well, the name of the song was '"'Violin'"' so it seemed appropriate, and he lived upstairs from me in the dorms.

Cringe: Was that something that you always wanted in the band?

Jon: (After much general laughter from the band) No, not really. It was going to be just for the one song. But during practice he really seemed to have fun, and we thought that what he was doing for all of the other songs was really cool. And it just kind of developed from there.

PMM Cringe: Could you describe what it was like to play regularly in Athens?

John: Looking back on it, it was awesome. There were only two main clubs to play: The Union and The Dugout. But it didn't matter because all different types of bands played there. It was a pretty big scene considering how small Athens is and how closed off to the rest of the world it is.

Noel: And that's what was cool about it.

Cringe: How different from Columbus do you think it is?

Jon: I thought that a lot of the music was pretty original, and up here it seems like this band sounds like that band. I just thought that it was a little more exciting down there.

Cringe: You have quite a number of releases. Is there anything which particularly stands out to you now?

Jon: The first Burnt Sienna release [Burnt Blasts of Sienna] was really cool -- not that we really fit on the record. But there was some really cool stuff on it: Clay, Pet UFO, Bugman.

Cringe: The band underwent a major change when Cori left. What was that like?

John: It was really tough.

Jon: When Cori left we were going to audition other singers, but it's just kind of tough to talk to someone a couple of times and then ask them to spend a month in the van with you.

John: We just didn't find anyone who was right for us.

Jon: Cori had been in the band for so long that it had been a long time since I had sung by myself. When she first joined, she was singing backup and then it moved toward a 50/50 split with the vocals. In order to make the harmonies work when we started sharing vocals, I had to chill out a bit, and she had to step up. So when she left I really didn't have my chops up. It also became clear that there were certain songs that we weren't going to be able to do anymore, so our set list was cut in half. So we started writing new songs and in the development of that material I tried to get back up to par in terms of singing by myself. And after that we just decided not to get anyone else.

Cringe: It's pretty remarkable to think that you guys have been in a band together for over eight years now and that you still have such a good working relationship with one another. Is there anything in particular which you can attribute this to?

Jon: It's just a facade.

Cringe: Well, it's a pretty good facade since two of you are roommates and the other two own a recording studio together.

Jon: Recently it's been better, but occasionally you'll hit these dry spots where you'll feel that someone is being antagonistic about a song or a part of a song. But after it's all been hashed out you'll feel that that person was just working for the betterment of that song or that part.

Noel: Plus, we have a weird way of writing songs. Instead of just playing things until it sounds cool, we play a lot of verbal chess games and don't [always] end up playing a
lot of music.

Cringe: Is there anyone who comes up with most of the initial musical ideas?

Jon: I [often] have chord progressions or guitar parts worked out, but those are more often than not subject to change based on how it develops. For example, John might have a bass interpretation which has a totally different vibe than what I thought it was going to be. Some songs just kind of happen though. Like '"'Ski Instructor.'"' I don't remember there being much doubt about how that was going to come together.

John: Yeah, you pretty much wrote that one.

Noel: But the rhythm totally changed on that one. It [started out] pretty much with an L.A. punk rhythm in five. [General laughter].

Jon: '"'St. Louis'"' was 4-tracked, and [all I did was have] John do a bass line for it. [After that] we played it for some of our friends and they thought it was cool.

Cringe: And you write the lyrics Jon?

Jon: Yeah, but sometimes Neal will have a cool line that will be the basis for the lyrics to a song. He had a couple of lines in '"'Best Of The Worst.'"'

Cringe: It seems pretty clear that your songs are typically structured much differently from that of a lot of other bands. Could you comment on the accurateness of this statement and describe what impact if any you feel this has on the accessibility of your

John: Well, most of what you hear is in 4, and we do a lot of stuff in 3,5 and 7. And once you start getting into that [kind of writing] you can get stuck in it. If it's 4/4 it can sound boring.

Noel: But most of the stuff we write now is in 4/4.

Jon: Well, the key is that you don't want to write something that you are bored to play yourself. Sometimes we will be working on a song and someone will say that a part [that I'm playing] doesn't make sense. But to me that's how the part goes. But John might say that if he doesn't understand it then how is anyone else going to. So as far as accessibility goes, sometimes it's a consideration and sometimes it's not.

John: We know to an extent that we're not accessible.

Jon: The Poster Children were a big influence on me as far as timing goes. Some of the time signatures that they play are weird, but it totally jams.

Neal: Yeah. I think the point was that they could rock out and do that stuff. But I think that people have come around to that. There is a lot more stuff on the radio now for people to hear [that is like that].

Jon: Soundgarden has some songs in five.

Neal: Tool does a lot of different stuff.

Jon: It's just got to the point where so many chord progressions have been done that it's hard to be so original that you can actually reinvent something. And time signatures are one way to get out of that. And if you can come up with something that sounds cool in your head hopefully it can be accessible to.

Cringe: Both Jon and Neal are professional engineers who run Workbook Studio, so the band obviously currently takes advantage of that resource. For how long have you been recording your own material?

John: Five years.

Cringe: How are the recording duties divided?

Neal: Well, now that we have the studio, Jon can cut vocals by himself. But he likes other people to be there. But I was there for every moment of recording our CD Ugly.

Jon: As far as the mixing goes, both Neal and I do versions.

Cringe: Have you ever brought in a relative outsider to assist in the recording process?

Neal: We've talked about it, but it's never happened. I think that we're all interested, but without having tons of money to approach certain people we are kind of limited in what we can do.

Jon: One night we did go to another studio just so we could play and have someone else record it.

Cringe: How did that turn out?

Jon: It was pretty fruitless.

Cringe: Well, how does everyone feel about how the latest recording Bitten By Bulldogs?

Neal: It could have been better. It can always be better. We just don't know when to stop.

Jon: Some songs sound better than others. I don't know if that's because we paid more attention to some songs than others. Sometimes the ones you leave alone turn out best.

Cringe: Well, since you have unlimited access to the studio, how do you know when to stop tinkering?

Jon: You either stop or it'll never come out. It's been four years since our CD came out. There comes a point when you just say that it's done. And if someone says no, you ask why not? And if there is a relatively acceptable reason you do it over -- hopefully in a short period of time. One of the reasons our new CD isn't out is because we have all of this recording equipment. If we would have went to another studio it would have been done. It's definitely been hard not having [a new release out].

Cringe: I'd like to go back to the issue of band dynamics for a moment. Do you think that living and working together in such close quarters makes conflict resolution simpler or more difficult?

Jon: It's harder sometimes. You try to let things slide sometimes because you don't want to create a problem, but it does occasionally reach a point when someone has to say something.

Cringe: Yeah, I can see how it would be hard because there basically is nowhere to escape to.

John: True.

Jon: Well, the only way to escape is to leave.

Cringe: Well, you can leave, but when you do you are already home.

Noel: At that point you have to quit the band and move out. That's probably our secret.

John: Yeah, no one has that much energy.

Jon: It's like how are we going to pay the rent if we kick out him?

Noel: It makes it easy knowing that someday I'm going to kick someone's teeth in.

Jon: It's all building.

John: But then you'll have an awesome show and everything will be totally smoothed over. It's totally up and down. You just have to ride it out.

- Brad Liebling