Interview

Mild America

Mild America

Monday 9th August, 2010 9:23PM

Mark Brenndorfer, formerly of This Night Creeps, sat down at his computer to discuss his new project Mild America and his (finally) released debut EP, Coriander & Heaven.

Can you give me some background on how Mild America came about?

I've always been recording music in my bedroom, and eventually I came up with a name for my recording project(s). The first song that I recorded under the name Mild America was written for a This Night Creeps project that never eventuated. In 2002 we were going to make a website for the band, but it was supposed to be more of a collective art project rather than a practical website (the other three original TNC members were art students, so this kind of thing was inevitable...). The song I recorded to be downloaded from the website marked a turning point in my recordings - I actually started to feel a little satisfied with the songs I was writing. After writing and recording a couple more songs, I decided on the name Mild America.

My first release was a 6-song cassette tape that I put out in 2003. I made 50 copies on cheap cassettes sent over from my friend who was living in China at the time, and mostly gave them away to friends. For the next 3 or 4 years, the project didn't get much attention.

How would you describe your sound?

A little bit bitter and a little bit hopeful. With Coriander & Heaven I made a real effort to mix a nostalgic mood with a celebratory mood. So, there are a lot of really fun, upbeat percussion bits mixed with sad, heavily-reverbed slide-guitar leads - that kind of thing. There are elements of folk and alt-country music mixed with another element that (hopefully) sounds like I'm trying to get away from those genres a little. The new songs I've been working on are a bit sparser and moodier, and not as upbeat.

What does the name Mild America mean to you?

I've always thought that people shouldn't choose band names that mean something really specific. Instead of trying to come up with a title that's full of meaning, it seems better to let band names accumulate meaning more naturally by, you know, having people associate their own meanings with the band through the songs the band writes and the feelings that the audience feel. Band names are almost always pretty dumb, so, embracing that fact, I chose the name Mild America because I like the word "mild" and I like the word "America", and I like how they roll off the tongue when you say them together.

Was it something you did alongside or after your previous band This Night Creeps? It's something I did alongside TNC, but it wasn't until around the time that TNC was moving towards breaking up that I really started to focus on Mild America. When TNC broke up in 2006, the last thing I wanted to do was start a band or do music. But somehow I couldn't help myself; I missed doing music a lot more than I thought I would.

When did you record the songs that feature on the Coriander & Heaven EP?

I started writing the EP around the time TNC were breaking up in 2006, and finished it in 2007. I was hoping to release it in 2007, but it didn't happen. I ended up living in Hong Kong and Japan in 2008, so I waited until I came back to NZ. A year or so and a million dodgy mixes later, Mole Music put out the EP in October 2009.

Your mother sings backup vocals on all of the songs. Did she influence your interest in this kind of music?

Mmmmmm... maybe. She definitely likes the kind of music that Mild America makes, but I think I found my way to this kind of sound on my own, in a roundabout kind of way. It's probably more the case that I started to get into musicians who were influenced by the kind of music that my Mom likes. I don't listen to a lot of old music, and Coriander & Heaven's sound probably better represents a highly filtered, 3rd or 4th-hand folk/country sound. The last thing I want to do is be a revival musician, and luckily I don't know enough about folk or country music to be one, even accidentally.

Why hasnít it been released until now?

Well, as I said, I was overseas for a year around the time it should have come out. I also just sat on the recordings for a long time to make sure they were good enough to be released. I didn't feel hurried to get the songs out. I figured if the songs were any good, they would be good now and they would be good later. If I couldn't sit on the songs for a long time and feel good about them, then I didn't want them to be released. The EP was also remixed about 6 or 7 times. The first couple of times by me (when I didn't know how to mix), the next few times by my younger brother (who didn't know what he was doing the first few mixes, but by the last mix had finished studying audio engineering at SAE). It also took a bit of time because we weren't sure how to tour or promote it. In the end, I put together a live band, which took longer than it should have because I refuse to play with any other drummer but Steve Uren (the original TNC drummer, who now plays in Songs). Unfortunately, Steve lives in Sydney and can only come over when I have some means of blackmailing him.

We've learned a lot through putting out this record, and other releases will happen a lot quicker and smarter.

Who / what is the biggest influence for Coriander & Heaven?

Musically, I think it's all over the board. I don't think I'll ever shake off influences from bands I listened to as a teenager (The Promise Ring, The Weakerthans, Mineral, etc.). And I definitely feel that folk/alt-country bands like The Be Good Tanyas, Wilco, Songs:Ohia, etc., influenced my sound when writing the record. It's actually a bit hard to remember what I was listening to at the time, since I don't listen to a lot of the same bands these days. I've also been writing new material pretty intensely recently and have almost forgotten how I ended up writing songs with that particular sound for Coriander & Heaven.

Lyrically, most of the words and themes of the EP are based on a short novelette I wrote in 2004/05 called "Coriander & Heaven". It was heavily influenced by writers and poets such as Clive Holden, Catherine Hunter, Gary Synder, and Kerouac - though obviously nowhere near the quality of those geniuses. There were also some vague references to East Asian culture and aesthetics, Daoist and Buddhist ideas, and Chinese poetry (Han Shan, Du Fu). I majored in Chinese Studies, so those kind of influences were probably inevitable.

The title "Coriander & Heaven" comes from a passage in the novelette where a bird I've been watching for a month or so from its birth ends up being killed. I bury it in our garden, and coriander grows where it's been buried. It might sound a bit morbid or overly sentimental to write about a bird being killed, but something about the dead bird's body and energy turning into vegetables and herbs that grow towards the sun seemed nice to me (however hippy-dippy that is). That kind of sad/hopeful/wabi-sabi mood was transferred to the EP.

On a personal level, it was a time in my life when bands, relationships, and living situations were ending or changing. Sometimes I think I made the record to fill these sudden gaps in my life. There's a quote I read once, I can't remember who wrote it, maybe Bukowski. (As I remember...) the gist of it was that the writer found that there was nothing good in life, so he started writing to fill that gap, to create something worthwhile in the emptiness he was presented with. I might have felt a bit like that when writing the songs for Coriander & Heaven.

Who makes up the live band?

We put together our first line-up to shoot some videos of us playing live. It was: Steve Uren, Samuel Walsh, Nick Walsh, Shannon Walsh, and Gemma Walsh.

On our last two tours the line-up included: Steve Uren, Luc Mcpake, Shannon Walsh, and Nick Walsh. This feels like a pretty steady line-up, but don't be surprised if it gets added to or altered the next time we play live.

What kind of response did you get to your mini-tour earlier in the year?

The response has been really positive. I'm not sure how people even heard about the shows or decided to come, since most people have never heard of Mild America at all. I think we've really been relying on other bands to pull crowds for us. Many thanks to those bands.

Did you come away with any fond memories from the shows?

Aplenty! One of the greatest joys of touring is talking smack and telling jokes in the touring van. Those are usually the memories that stand out most - those inside jokes and stories that no one else can ever fully understand or appreciate. There are also always plenty of great people and interesting characters that come out to shows that make playing live worthwhile. Another thing is that I think we all find it exciting to be playing a style of music that's nothing like that of the other bands we've played in previously. That, and we are able to play with a lot of interesting bands that we probably wouldn't have ever played with in our old rock bands. It's been a real pleasure playing alongside musicians and bands like Albert Polaczuk, The Body Lyre, Seth Frightening, and Alaska.

One thing that I got sick of doing with TNC was playing shitty bars and pay-to-play venues. There is no reason not to put on shows in gazebos, art spaces, kitchens, community halls, churches, or other places with unique atmospheres that suit certain styles of music better than whatever the most obvious or easiest choice of venue is. The Wine Cellar is always a pleasure to play, but even more intimate and special was the show we played at The Frederick Street Sound and Light Exploration Society in Wellington. It's a building that used to be a church, with great acoustics and super-friendly owners. Any venue that emphasises intimacy and creates an atmosphere that feels like a musical event rather than a party will always stand out to me.

Is Mild America something that you now want to do full-time?

Everytime I log on to Seek to find more substantial work, I get depressed and open up Pro Tools instead. I don't suppose I'll ever be able to survive off Mild America, but it would be really nice to get to a place where we can put out records and tour the world without creating debts that no honest man can pay.

Do you have any plans to do more recordings, or do you have any recordings that havenít been released yet?

I started doing my Honours last year, but put that on hiatus to really concentrate on writing new music for once. We have a handful of demos that we'll be re-recording in the next couple months, and releases already planned for 2010.

Do you have any other musical endeavours that we donít know about that you will one day unleash upon the world?

I've been playing drums in a new band called "Deer Park" for the last few months. I've also been working on something with a friend who is doing his Honours in classical guitar performance. But most important to me are my various glam-rock and rap recording projects (that's a half-joke).

What are you listening to at the moment?

A lot of Dirty Three, Wilco, Sun Kil Moon, The National, The Dirty Projectors, MF Doom, and a shameful RnB mix featuring Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, and R. Kelly.

In your opinion, the state of music in NZ isÖ.

Something I don't think about much. Given its population, I often think of NZ as a medium-sized major city with a lot of empty space. Just like any city, we have a handful of good bands. But sometimes I wish we were all crammed together in a city with the land mass of Auckland (or smaller). Somehow I think that kind of situation would make us all a bit more productive and interesting with our music. It's pretty crazy to think that Japan and New Zealand have about the same land mass, but Japan has 120,000,000 or so more people than us. If NZ were to increase our population, would we become as cool as the Japanese?

Gareth Meade




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