- October 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH MIGHTY FOX
Mighty Fox isn't just a musical project but rather a journey. As an up-and-coming group based in Chicago that already has industry professionals stirring, it’s clear that this project is more than just a “band” – it's a way of life for the musicians involved.
In June, the band released its debut EP Oceans, an impressive six-track compilation that includes the standout single "Wild Ones." We caught up with the guys before their August 30 show at The Beat Kitchen to talk about their intensive writing process, music as a creative investment and plans for a future full-length record.
Drinks of Choice: Johnny Walker, bass (old fashioned); Jon Lewchenko; drums (gin & tonic, merlot); Mike Jansen, vocals (IPAs); Markham Jenkins, guitar (negroni, manhattan)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: You guys are all originally from here?
Markham from Mighty Fox: Three of us come from Atlanta, Georgia, but Mike grew up in the suburbs.
Mike from Mighty Fox: I haven’t been there since I moved back to the city two years ago.
Markham: We Southern folks.
Kristen: I like Atlanta. It’s a great city. Why did you choose Chicago?
Mike: It’s just a central hub. It’s a huge city. We were also asked.
Markham: We were asked by a producer named Marc McClusky. He’s a dear friend of ours. He wanted to start a new project. I was down for it. I asked Mike if he wanted to do it. Obviously, it wouldn’t happen if Mike said “No,” since his voice is gold. Then we asked Johnny Walker if he wanted to come with us. We moved up here and started writing music with him. That’s why we’re here.
Kristen: That’s awesome.What do you guys think about this scene here, the music scene?
Johnny from Mighty Fox: From the beginning, we’ve always had good shows. In the city, I don’t think we’ve ever really played a bad show as far as turn out, people coming out.
Jon from Mighty Fox: In general, I think the local scene is a lot different from what it used to be. You have to really give people a reason to want to come out and listen to live music.
Markham: It’s over-saturated though. Anyone and anyone can be in a band. There’s so much out there. Where are you going to put your money if you’re a kid or if you’re young, in your mid-to-early 20s? You don’t have a ton of money so you’re really, really sitting down and asking yourself, “What am I going to spend my money on?” When there are so many shows happening and so many activities going on all the time, it’s difficult to try to get people to come out. Why are they coming to see you when there are so many other things going on? That’s that what we’re still trying to figure out.
Johnny: When I was between 17 and 22, going to a show was what you did. Any day of the week that you weren’t working or off it was like, “Let’s go to this venue and hang out.” It didn’t matter if the band was good or bad. It was about supporting the scene in general. It dwindled off a little bit. I don’t have a lot of friends who are younger anymore, so I can’t say for sure exactly how it is now. But it seems that way.
Markham: We played a show just very recently in Joliet. Maybe 15 people watched us play and we sold eight CDs. We played in the city for over 100 people and sold no CDs.
Jon: So you’re trying to figure out what the difference is. How do we get people interested?
Mike: In general, I would say I love the Chicago scene. As far as comparing Chicago and Atlanta, people care about music here more than they did in Atlanta. In Atlanta, we bit our fucking lips and tongues off trying to get our friends just to come out. Here, people come out to support or watch you 10, 15 times over again, which is amazing.
Kristen: What’s your favorite show that you’ve played here?
Johnny: Our first show at The Beat Kitchen was incredible. It was amazing. That was about a year-and-a-half ago. We had never played a show, and the place was packed. People came out to support.
Markham: My favorite show that we’ve played has to be the one at North Central College with Yellowcard. I was really skeptical because it was an all-seated show. I was like, “This is going to really suck. It’s going to be awkward.” It was really dark so I really couldn’t see anyone. Then during the bridge of the first song, the lights came up. Everyone was at the front of the stage and I was like, “What? This is really cool.”
Kristen: It’s nice when your expectations for a show are exceeded. Let’s talk about your creative process. What’s it like?
Mike: Redo it.
Kristen: Redo everything?
Mike: Yeah, do it again.
Markham: We have somewhat of a process. We usually try to write a song. Mike and I will write a song. Jon Lewchenko provides some instrumental tune.We take it to Mike if it inspires Mike to write something – melodies, words. Then we show it to Marc, our producer. If he likes it, he says, “That’s great. Just send me the vocals. Delete all the music.” We write all the music and then Mike has to go back …
Mike: And after all that, we won’t even have a song because everything will be scrapped.
Markham: That’s pretty much how the songwriting goes.
Kristen: Isn’t that frustrating sometimes?
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Markham: But it’s always really dark before the dawn. It usually ends in people being very frustrated and irritated. But then that one moment happens where you go in and it all comes together and the song is amazing.
Mike: Then we re-record it three times.
Markham: Yeah, we get it remixed eight times, re-mastered three times.
Kristen: You need a lot of patience. It’s really nice though to have an outside perspective – someone like your producer – really listening and weighing in.
Markham: I couldn’t imagine not. It really makes a big difference. You’re making your art stronger, better. Being someone who has the mindset of “I’m going to do this all by myself.” That’s not the way we are.
Johnny: It’s like that with anything creative. Writers have somebody else proofread and edit their writing. Tons of people read their books and articles plenty of times to give perspective on it. Everyone needs outside perspective. You’re always going to love what you do, but it doesn’t mean it’s good.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Mike: I stayed up the other night to re-watch Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica
Johnny: I stayed up until 5 a.m. last week watching Season 3 of Game of Thrones. I don’t know if that’s nerdy or not.
Markham: I passed up sex to play videogames.
Johnny: Oh, I’ve passed up sex plenty of times now.
Markham: The levels are an hour long.
Kristen: Oh my God. That’s hysterical. I love it.
Johnny: I remember years and years ago, my old band did four days on tour with another group. WE were in their van playing video games and I was talking to their drummer. He had been married for a year and he was like, “Everyone talks about being married, how awesome it is.” He was like, “The sex is … Sometimes I just want to play PlayStation.” I was like, “Wow.” At that time, I was 21. Nine years ago. I was like, “Really? You’d rather play video games than have sex?” Now I’m like, “Yeah, sometimes.”
Jon: I really thoroughly enjoy cleaning my house. I hate living dirty. It just sucks.
Johnny: I would say that I’m more of annoyed of messy now than clean. I’m always picking up. Mark and I live together. I always pick up stuff but I’m not really the deep cleaner. I’ll come home and he’ll leave dishes. He’ll put them on the dishwasher or unload the dishwasher. I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the tiles. I’m in the shower and I have a scrubber. I’m washing myself and scrubbing the tile at the same time.
Kristen: It’s hard sometimes to balance the creative stuff and pay rent.
Mike: Oh, yeah. The paying rent thing. We have bills for this band that will probably be equal to rent.
Jon: It’s an investment.
Markham: You’ve got to be willing to invest.
Johnny: With any business.
Kristen: Yeah. That’s a good way to look at it.
Johnny: You have to look at it that way. There’s no difference. Essentially, making music and being in a band…you’re making a product. A lot of people that don’t play in bands think that everybody’s in the band wants to be a rock star and wants to be huge. Yeah, obviously if we were playing arenas that would be amazing. But if I can make enough money to support a family for the rest of my life playing music, then hell yeah. That’s what any artist wants: to live off their art.
Markham: When we started writing music together, we sat down and discussed what we wanted to do. In the beginning, Mike and I had no idea what we wanted to write. We were asking questions like, “How do we strike a balance? How different can we be while still having it be accessible so that most people will press play and listen to it?” It’s a balance. You want to reach a broad audience without hurting your artistic integrity.
Kristen: What are your plans for the future? Are you working on a record right now?
Mike: Well, we just released an EP.
Markham: But our schedule right now is one song week – one demo a week.
Kristen: That’s actually a lot when you think about it …
Markham: I’d say it’s more like a library of ideas.
Mike: Pulling ideas out of thin air is really hard, so by doing that every week we now have huge box of ideas.
Markham: Mike and I are going to L.A. soon to do some co-writing with some people out there. We’re excited about that. It’s something new for us to do.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Markham: Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t. It will happen if you stick to what you love doing.
Jon: There’s always someone out there that’s working harder than you are. I think that’s why most people fail because they give up. Then there’s this book that talks about the 10,000 hours rule.
Johnny: Yeah, that after 10,000 hours, you’ve mastered the craft because you have 10,000 hours of doing it.
Markham: Legitimate hours.
Mike: Legitimate, yeah. After 10,000 hours of doing something, you’ll pretty much be a master at it. Keep doing it. Keep practicing. That’s why we’re writing one song a week. We probably won’t use 90% of the songs that we write, but it’s practice.
Johnny: I remember recording with Marc nine years ago. He said, “I write a song every day. I finish it. I don’t care if it’s good, if it’s bad or if I hate it. I still finish it. I write a song every day just so I can get better at it.”
Mike: When we moved here we brought about 35 songs to work on. One of them we recorded the way it was. Only half of that song made the record. Half of one idea out of 35 made the record.
Kristen: Holy shit. You guys aren’t kidding.
Markham: Since we decided to do this project, we’ve probably written 400 ideas. Ideas, not songs. Not completed songs. A verse and a chorus. One guitar riff, one little tiny melody could spark the entire song.
Kristen: How do you know? You just feel it?
Mike: Sometimes, you don’t know… Some of the songs that I thought were amazing never made the record. Then “Wild Ones,” which was our single, was one of the songs where I finished and thought, “All right, there’s another idea.” Not thinking anything of it.
Kristen: It’s nice when something can surprise you in that way.
Markham: I was nervous when we first started playing. Our first show here, the first one we ever played as a band, I remember thinking, “I know the next 30 minutes will determine whether I made the right decision or not.” WE come from a punk background. Writing this music is completely stylistically different. You’re not playing just very aggressive. When you play punk music, you’re hitting your guitar as fast and as hard as you can. With the music we’re playing now, you really have to take a step back. When you perform on-stage you let the music do the talking instead of your body.
Mike: I get the same feeling when we’re done playing. I’ll say, “Man, this is amazing.” Immediately after that first show, I knew it was the right choice.