Illinois-based one-man band, busker, label owner and operator, and Scottish Lord Evan Mitchell has what he refers to as “multiple one-man band disorder” on account of his handful of endeavors as a solo artist. First, there is Evan Mitchell One Man Band, which is a garagey rock’n’roll and punk project. He is sometimes billed simply as Evan Ray Mitchell, the name under which he released his Budolpho Von Perfect album. Then, for a time he wrote, recorded and performed strange bluesy rock’n’roll and “cock-a-billy” songs under the moniker The Lone Rooster. As The Lone Rooster, Evan had a release on Germany’s Squoodge Records. Most recently, he has recorded a 7″ of folk-punk and uke-trash material titled It’s Easy! under Evan Mitchell’s Ukulele Party, which he released on his own Garbage Shop Records.
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Evan for my One-Man Band Series. What follows is that interview in its entirety.
How about a little background information on you, Evan, as both an individual and an artist?
Well, there isn’t much of a difference; they’re really one in the same. There are a lot of great artists who often say they grew up in a house with music, but I suppose my situation is a little different. My Dad was a military man and a band/general music teacher for St. Louis Public Schools. My mother has always been like a real life Mary Poppins; well-mannered and proper, yet delightfully silly and absurd. The first years of my life we lived just outside of East St. Louis in a trailer that had a grand piano in its tiny living room. I would use the keys to hold myself upright before I could stand on my own or walk. I know that sounds like some sort of cliche urban legend, but it’s the truth. With my father being a military guy and a music teacher, music was approached with discipline. I played trombone growing up, and the rule was at least a half hour of practice a day. If I wasn’t marching while practicing, I would tap my foot to keep time. My father probably was hoping for a virtuoso, but I was still my mother’s son. I wanted to be intuitive and ridiculous with it, but it was difficult living with an expert who regarded music as a science. Although we had a lot of instruments around, I wasn’t free to pick up and play whatever I wanted. I remember anytime my dad went to the bathroom, or to the store, or went outside, I would sneak into our music room and grab some crappy guitar with two strings and say the dumbest most ridiculous things while I just strummed away, terribly out of tune. I think that was really the start for me.
What inspired you to do the one-man band thing as opposed to playing in a band with other artists?
In my answer to your last question I mentioned the foot tapping/marching band routines my father taught me. It’s basically the same principle for foot percussion. I was always intrigued by the family friendly street performing one man bands with back drums, but it never clicked in my head that it could have been used for rock & roll until some friends of mine told me about a show I missed in 2008. All they said was that they saw a guy named Andy V who played drums and guitar at the same time and that it was fun. The wheels in my head were on fire almost immediately. I tried to find out whatever I could about one-man bands from the internet. The first thing that popped up was one of John Schooley’s records. I immediately bought it. A week later I was hocking off my stuff for drum pedals and a megaphone.
You did your latest recorded songs, It’s Easy!, as Evan Mitchell’s Ukulele Party rather than Evan Mitchell’s One Man Band. Of all the other instruments out there, why did you choose to pick up the ukulele and make uke-trash and folk-punk songs?
I think it gives my one-man band kind of a unique wind-up toy sound. It also is easier on my wrists/back than other stringed instruments. It’s definitely better on my back than a guitar when I’m using back drums. Most of all, it’s just a really fun instrument to play. That, and I love being ridiculous. You see these hybrids like folk-punk, Celtic-punk, psychobilly, etc., and I thought the concept of “Uke Trash” would be funny, along with the islander tourist persona.
There are some killer songs on the It’s Easy! record. “Uke and Destroy” and “Destroy Your TV” speak for themselves, but what is “I am a Scottish Lord” all about? And…”45 Keanu Reeves” makes me laugh. What was behind the writing of that one?
Well, I’m a legitimate Scottish Lord. I bought a piece of land over there, which I will probably never visit, to obtain legal rights to the title of “Lord” instead “Mr.” Just like when someone changes their legal title from “Ms.” to “Mrs.”, or from “Mr.” to “Dr.” It’s sheer entertainment for me really. If someone calls me “Mr. Mitchell,” it’s legitimately incorrect. My proper title is “Lord Mitchell.” Guest singer/songwriter on It’s Easy! Matt Steinbauer is also a Scottish Lord. We hope to one day place a Castle Grayskull on his land, place a cat box on mine, and cover both pieces of our land in the blood of Rob Oman. That, and I have Scottish heritage.
“Forty Five Keanu Reeves” was just 100% intuitive. I was just spewing garbage out of my mouth and played some chords around it. No thought whatsoever.
What have been some of your most memorable touring/gig experiences while traveling as a one-man band?
Oh Jeez. I was touring under the alias “The Lone Rooster” with Mosquito Bandito to promote our split on Dirty Ugly Records. Roboman (a.k.a. my arch enemy Rob Oman) was touring with us for some reason. He only brought thirty dollars and didn’t have a driver’s license. It was awful. ANYWAY, we came into Knoxville, TN to meet up with The Fly & His One Man Garbage for a show the following night. Some locals whom we trusted gave us an address to their house, told us no one would be home, but we were welcome to crash. We ended up getting lost in the mountains for six hours and almost broke into somebody’s house mistakenly. The next night we met up with The Fly and did the show. It was an awesome show up until the end of the night. The guy taking care of The Fly during his first visit in the States left him in the pouring rain of the venue parking lot. The Fly spoke very little English and was stranded thousands of miles from home south of the Mason-Dixon line. Our next stop on the tour was the Memphis One Man Band Festival, so we told him to hop in with us. We gave him a crash course in American culture by teaching him to shotgun beers, dance on a stripper pole, and say some curse words. He taught Mosquito Bandito and I how to insult Rob Oman in Japanese.When we got to the Memphis OMB Fest, everybody was totally surprised to have The Fly & His One Man Garbage headline. After that, we finished the tour, The Fly went back to Japan, and we all lived happily ever after. Except Rob Oman.
I would later come to find out that there was a loaded hand gun and a ten strip of acid in one of the guitar cases the entire length of the tour.
As I understand, you also run The Garbage Shop Records label on which you released It’s Easy! Do you release all of your own material? And do you release records by other artists as well?
I’ve been putting out my own records since 2008, but I’ve also had releases with Dirty Ugly Records and Squoodge. I use to put “no record company,” or sometimes not even any reference of a record company at all on my self-produced records, until I had an idea for a cool concept this past August. I pictured a record company that was also like an online flea market and bizarre pop art factory. Selling items like old school Nintendo games, action figures, used records, and vintage music gear to raise funds for future releases. The pressing plant was already manufacturing It’s Easy! when I came up with the idea, so I just made some last minute changes to the artwork and It’s Easy! became the Garbage Shop’s first release. As for other artists, having a record label where the owner was the only artist would be kind of lame, so I absolutely will be putting out records by others. Online sales for my weird collectables and whatnot funded a short run of 7-inch singles by King Cayman, a one-man band from Spain. I’ve also put out a cassette of a strange group called RETENDEX that fuses surf-trash with 8-bit. I have some other things in the works for 2015, which I’ll be excited to announce at a later date.
Any other projects in the works at present or coming up in the near future? Songwriting, recording, touring, etc?
Well, now that I’m in my thirties, I like to take it real easy. I’ll do a handful of shows here in the states over the next year, I imagine, but I probably won’t hit it too hard. Mostly I’ll just be spending time with the people I care about, playing small gatherings, and doing some busking with my back drums here and there. Songwriting will always be a constant, my imagination runs rampant. As for recording, I never plan it. It’s Easy! was recorded on a whim. If I get up one day, and know it will be a good day to record, all I have to do is hit the red button on the cassette 4 track.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover, or if there’s anything you would like to express or discuss, please feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Evan.
To the aspiring young one-man bands out there:
Don’t try to be like any other one-man band. Just be you. Another thing…build your own setups. If you have a one-man band setup that’s a lot like somebody else’s, tweak it to make it your own. If you don’t have any money, use junk. Everything has acoustic properties. Building the contraptions is half the fun of being a one-man band. It’s kind of like musical legos. Don’t be lazy or unoriginal with your setup design because you’re in a hurry to play. We one-man bands are a part of an extraordinarily imaginative art form that predates rock & roll and popular culture by CENTURIES. Let’s not cheapen that.