Monday, August 11, 2008

Mitch Easter: Before Let's Active

Pioneering indie rock producer and former Let's Active bandleader Mitch Easter talked to me Saturday afternoon in his recording studio, The Fidelitorium, about his musical experiences growing up around Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Here is Mitch on Mitch, as told to me:


By the time I was twelve, I thought: I’ve got to play guitar!

I got a guitar teacher, who was a college guy. It was the summer of 1967. I remember he was a really cool guy. The important thing was he showed me what I really wanted to learn, which was the chords to Monkeys songs. I also remember he was a very excellent-looking guy, very ‘60s, with good sunglasses, floofy blonde hair, like a folksinger.
When I first played with other kids, I remember that sound still. It was so loud! It was amazing. I had never heard anything like that before. I thought, “This is better than anything!”

After a year or two I started playing with Sam Moss, an extraordinary, legendary figure around here. I met him when I was playing at a church coffeehouse. The churches did a lot of rock shows for kids, back then. But it was cool, not heavyhanded. They just let the kids have their thing.

This guy comes up to me, and he is talking like a jazz hipster, using all these hipsters phrases I had never heard before. Like, he’d ask, “Where do you hang your hat?” And I’d say, “I don’t have a hat.” And he’d say, “No, man, where do you live?” He seemed straight from the Village Gate, like he’d just got done playing with Miles. But he was actually only about a year older than me.

We played together, with a bass player and Robin Borthwick, a girl drummer who is still playing. I strummed chords. That was my clouds-parting moment. We had been doing songs that are easy to play, “Under the Boardwalk,” Ventures instrumentals. With Sam Moss, we played real rock songs that were more difficult: “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Purple Haze,” the electric “Revolution” by The Beatles. It was my first time playing with someone who was truly good by any measure, even if he was only fifteen.

He moved on. He’s dead now – he died last year. He never really did record. I remember him referring to music once as a “hobby.” And I remember thinking, “That’s so depressing.” He was better than any of us, but he just stayed around here. He was not ambitious about making records. But he had a guitar store for years. He was still receiving postcards from Billy Gibbons recently. He knew all these big dudes and he could hang with them, but he never went for it.

Then I started thinking, “I’ve got to write my own songs. It’s stupid to keep doing covers.” In those days, everybody played covers. The thinking was: Nobody is going to hire a band to play songs people don’t know.

My band was Sacred Irony. That was my feeble attempt to try to do it for real. That was the first band around here that played all orginals and could keep their crowd. We made some recordings. Then, there was a rebellion within the band – the other guys wanted to go back to playing covers so we could play a place in Myrtle Beach and meet girls. I was so crushed. I left the band. And, since then, I’ve only been in bands where I could try to write my own songs.

The punk years were important. By then, we were old enough to realize how hopeless it was to get something played on the radio. Radio then had this whole, “I’m with my lady and I've got my red wine and blow” vibe. Yuck! I hated all that. I was fixated on Roy Wood and The Move. And, then, those early Television singles came like a ray of light.

Around that time I started that band Let’s Active. It was right enough for the times.


The image is from the Sacred Irony MySpace page.

1 comment:

john m said...

Peter Holasapple wrote a nice piece about Sam Moss:here