September 2012 - MIGHTY HIGH
Up until now, MIGHTY HIGH is a well-kept rock 'n' roll secret from Brooklyn, New York, but it seems that this will hopefully change with the aid of the new record 'Legalize Tre Bags' (review here). There is nothing new about it, but it's so well done that it's worth looking for, even if it's only for the explosive high energy riffage. You really feel like you're slinking down the street with the band, kicking trash and smoking a blunt with your one hand in a worn-down leather jacket. And that feels really good, trust me on this. There's also plenty of punk-infused fury, thus making it clear that men in their mid-forties do not necessarily have to be tamed family men.
MIGHTY HIGH also possesses a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude and a sense of fun which other hard rocking bands in these times lack. All in all, a package that suits me just fine. So I sat down and prepared some questions to ask "high priest" Chris 'Woody High' MacDermott (guitars/vocals). Besides being a musician, he also is a dedicated fan of rock history and a passionate writer for The Ripple Effect and The Obelisk. All the nicer then that Woody had time to answer my questions which touch on issues such as drugs, uncritical writers, cover artist Wayne 'Braino' Bjerke and, of course, MIGHTY HIGH. Dear reader off we go! (Photos courtesy of Theo Wargo)
What has happened since the release of your new album 'Legalize Tre Bags'? Did you play a lot of shows and how are people responding to it?
The response to the new album has been overwhelmingly positive. We worked really hard to make it a big improvement on the last one. We haven't played a lot of shows but they've all been very memorable. Getting the band up to Boston is something I had been trying to do for years. We finally got there in May and it was a blast.
Recently, we had a club in Brooklyn shut off the PA and call the fire department when we set off our fog machine. We refused to stop playing and eventually they turned the PA back on. There was an incredibly fun show we played in August in a giant barn in the suburbs of Philadelphia. On 9/11 we had to play without our bassist. He had an emergency at the last minute and there's no way we were going to cancel on 9/11. It sounded like The Cramps doing Foghat. There will be plenty more shows and good times in the future.
In times in which it seems as if rock 'n' roll becomes a lost art, your music is like a breath of fresh air. What fascinates you about the power of rock 'n' roll?
Thank you for saying that. Mighty High's an acquired taste and not for everyone. I really wish I knew why I was so obsessed with rock & roll and music in general. It's such an all consuming passion and interest of mine. It would be great to have a hobby that wasn't so damn expensive but it's in my veins. Can't do anything about it.
'I Don't Wanna Listen to Yes' is the title of the first song on 'Legalize Tre Bags'. I think this has to be said and I fully support your statement. But I would be interested to know why you don't want to listen to Yes?
Back in high school (early to mid 1980's) I had to endure endless hours of being subjected to Yes and developed a severe allergic reaction. They really are a horrible band to listen to when you're high. The funny thing about that song is that I originally wrote it as 'I don't wanna listen to you' about a former band member, but changed it after a night of listening to records at a friends house. One of my best friends lives 3 blocks away from me here in Brooklyn and we get together regularly to get drunk and listen to albums. When I've overstayed my welcome he puts on Yes to drive me out. The meaning of 'I Don't Wanna Listen To Yes' is two-fold - I literally don't want to listen to their music, and I'm sad that the night is over and I must return to normal life.
Why didn't you release the new album on your own label Mint Deluxe Tapes?
'Legalize Tre Bags' is a "joint release" (hee hee) between Mint Deluxe and Ripple Music. They have much better distribution than I do (which is none at all) and they've been great allies. We're all old men who should know better but we made a pact to lose money together. So far we have been very successful in that respect.
There have been plenty of changes in the MIGHTY HIGH line-up over recent years. What is the reason for this and how is the current situation?
Half the band quit in early 2010. I wish it happened a lot sooner. Half the band never got along with the other half and musically it wasn't working. It was a big waste of time for everyone involved. Thankfully it all worked out for the best. This line-up (the fourth in 10 years!) is the by far the best. Everyone's friends and we're coming up great new songs. That's the way it should be. It's worth noting that when I started the band I had only been playing guitar for about a year and not a lot of other musicians wanted to play with me. I made a lot of mistakes trying to improve and move the band forward. Oh well, live and learn.
I am a huge fan of Wayne 'Braino' Bjerke, who did the cover artwork for 'Legalize Tre Bags'. Somehow his work reminds me to the great Robert Crumb and the artworks would have fitted in a good old U-Comix. Where did you met him and what do you like about his style?
I met Wayne in Italian class when we were about 13 years old. That was over 30 years ago. His notebooks were covered with drawings of band logos (Chicago, Boston, Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band) and it was obvious that he didn't trace them, like I had to. Not long after that we both got really into heavy metal and smoking pot. To make money, Wayne was THE guy in our school to get your denim jacket painted by. Wether you wanted an exact replica of Iron Maiden's 'Killers' or something by the Jerry Garcia Band he'd do it in acrylic on denim and it would look fucking amazing. He did Zappa's 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' on the band teacher's jacket.
The band owes it's very existence to Wayne. I had the name Mighty High and this concept of weed oriented rock as a fictitious band for a few years. For my birthday 10 years ago he presented me with a denim jacket with the first Mighty High logo on the back. I felt it was a shame not to deliver the music his artwork was asking for. The jacket is on display behind us every time we play.
His style looks completely unique to me. I know he's a big fan of R.Crumb, Basil Wolverton, all of the guys from Mad Magazine and many others. We both love the way artists used to work with bands to make a package that worked perfectly with the music like Cal Schenkel with Zappa, Pedro Bell with Funkadelic and Derek Riggs with Iron Maiden. We have a similar sense of humor so I can give him a title or concept and he'll twist it into the insanity you see on our covers.
It's almost impossible to get a copy of your debut album '...In Drug City' here in Germany. Have you ever thought about a better distribution?
I'd love better distribution world wide. Ripple has distribution with Clearspot in Europe and they've picked up a few copies. I have tons of 'â€¦In Drug City' on CD and would love to get rid of them. Let's make a deal!
I will come back to that after the interview, Woody. Would you agree that MIGHTY HIGH is a very drug oriented group?
Absolutely. When I invented the Mighty High concept I specifically wanted to keep the subject matter drug oriented. I figure some artists only sing about love or politics. Why not drugs? We also sing about alcohol occasionally as well as hating authority.
Did you ever had problems with the hand of justice, because of that image?
Not yet. We're not popular enough for them to have noticed us. We did get shut down by the police in the middle of a set once when a club got raided. We were playing the song 'Buy The Pound' and our drummer Jesse was screaming about cocaine when a cop appeared on stage. That was pretty funny. Our guitarist Kevin gets a lot of parking tickets but I don't know if that has anything to do with the band.
Hahaha! Why are you for liberalisation and legalisation of cannabis?
It's legal to be stupid. Why not high? That would give a lot of people a better excuse for the dumb shit they do.
Apart of MIGHTY HIGH, you also write for the Ripple blog. When did you start writing about music and why?
I got in touch with Ripple when I was promoting 'â€¦In Drug City' in 2008. I stumbled across their blog and they were reviewing a lot of stuff I was into - obscure classic rock, thrash metal, blues, whatever. And they had a sense of humor, which is important to me. They asked if I'd be into writing something for them after they did an interview with me. I wrote up Grand Funk's Live Album. Then they asked if I wanted to do something else. Then if I wanted to review new stuff.
I think they've published something from me almost every week for about 3 years now. I keep doing it because there are no restrictions. If I want to write about a Bossa Nova compilation, an obscure metal album, a 50's jazz album and a new stoner rock album in the same month there's no problem. In fact they encourage it! Through my Ripple ramblings I've been invited by The Obelisk to educate their readers on underground music in the 1980's. It's fun. I have too much musical information in my head and it helps to spread it around.
I think that most reviews on most websites/magazines are pretty uncritical. Everything seems to be great and awesome, if one would like to believe them. What do you think about the integrity of other writers? Do you think they are a lot of sycophants around?
Tough question. One thing that I decided to do with my own writing was to try and keep it positive and only write about stuff I liked. There are a lot of blogs out there that want to do the smarmy rock critic thing and they'll bash whatever they're not into. However, there are a lot of reviewers who say everything is great. It's not. I'm pretty opinionated but try to be somewhat constructive. Everyone works hard on their music and getting a bad review can be a real buzzkill. Personally, I LOVE getting bad reviews. They're usually written by someone who doesn't get what we do at all and they REALLY hate it. Those are the best. In the indie rock world, I think everything gets a good review because they're all privileged morons. Life's a lot easier when you have rich parents.
Which bands have inspired you the most and what was your first favorite band in your childhood?
How much room do you have? I was very lucky that as a young child I was exposed to some great music by my oldest brother Joe. In the early 70's he was really into soul music and I used to spend hours with him listening to Booker T & The MG's, the Temptations, James Brown and Isaac Hayes. We would watch Soul Train every Saturday. He was also really into the original rock & roll so I was exposed to Chuck Berry at the very start of my life. There were some Johnny Cash and Dave Brubeck albums around the house that I liked listening to. For Christmas in 1973 my brother Joe gave me the album Apostrophe (') by Frank Zappa as a Christmas gift. He heard 'Don't Eat The Yellow Snow' on Dr. Demento and thought I'd think it was funny. It completely melted my 6 year old brain.
One of my other brothers was really into Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead, Yes, etc. I listened to some of that for awhile but lost interest pretty quickly. 'Live Dead' doesn't have quite the same impact as James Brown 'Live At The Apollo'. Later I discovered the joys of torturing my poor mother with Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and eventually Motorhead. That got me moving in the right direction. I discovered early on that I didn't like being mellow and I still don't. Magazines were also important. I realized early on that a lot of what was played on the radio was not for me. Creem Magazine helped fill in some gaps and later on the metal fanzine Kick*Ass introduced me to so many incredible bands. Classic Rock is the best magazine out there right now.
As far as inspirations for Mighty High, I always wanted to combine influences from all styles of kick ass, high energy rock & roll regardless of "genre." MC5, Stooges, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, The Cramps, Ramones, Dead Boys, ZZ Top, Dictators, Blackfoot, D.O.A., The Rods, Twisted Sister, Foghat, Black Flag are some of the more overt influences. And often I like to make it sound like two of those bands are playing at the same time. Hell, I like to steal ideas from a lot of stuff that's not rock, too. Freddy King, Lalo Schifrin and Duke Ellington have all made guest appearances in our songs.
What happens next with MIGHTY HIGH? Any tour plans? Have you given the next album some thought?
Given our ages and work/family commitments we'll never be able to really tour but we're always willing to go on adventures to our friends that live in other towns. For our next release, I have been thinking about a couple of things that I really want to do. One is some sort of a live album. Another thing I'd like to do is a 12" release with 6 or 7 songs on one side and an etching by Braino on the other side.
And I've always wanted to do some kind of collaborative split single with another band similar to the one Motorhead did with Girlschool. It all depends on funding. For the first time ever in my life I don't have enough money to make these things happen. Creating the vinyl for 'Legalize Tre Bags' with a gatefold sleeve and poster was something I had to do but it completely wiped me out financially.
Thanks for your time, Woody! Any last words?
"Denim and leather brought us all together. It was YOU that set the spirit it free."