of MISCHIEF BREW
By: Tyler Vile
This is the first face to face interview I've ever conducted for Punk Globe, so the phrasing and nuances might be a little bit different than my usual E-mail format. All the same, I interviewed Erik Petersen of the Philadelphia based folk-punk band Mischief Brew at the Ottobar in Baltimore on December 18th 2009. I'm sure you'll find Erik to be an interesting guy as I did. Hope you all enjoy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your band, Mischief Brew.
Erik Petersen: My name is Erik Petersen and I mostly am found playing guitar and singing in a band called Mischief Brew, although tonight I'm playing in band called Guignol with Mischief Brew. The project doesn't really have a cleverer name than that, but, you know, I find myself involved with various projects like this.
Punk Globe: How did you get involved with Guignol?
Erik Petersen: When we did the album Smash The Windows, Franz [Nicolay] and Peter [Hess] showed up to record a couple of tracks with us. We had known each other for a little bit before then, but that was when we really hit it off musically and we were able to kind of put the gears in motion to do this..
Punk Globe: Before Mischief Brew you were in a band called The Orphans, right? Tell us about that…
Erik Petersen: Back in high school, I was 16 or 17 and I was angry. Well, I'm still angry, but at that point I was angry at everything. It was a great way to relieve some of that anger by screaming in a punk band. I think it was one of the best musical projects that I'll ever be involved in because it was so pure. We didn't care about anything. The only merch we sold were spray-paint stencil patches and our seven-inch.
Punk Globe: You told me the last time we saw each other that you were straight edge during that time in your life. When and why did you decide to stop being straight edge?
Erik Petersen: I was for a while, yeah. I don't know if it was really a conscious decision on my part, but I just didn't want to have that as a restriction in my life. There came a point when I started drinking and smoking. I wasn't an alcoholic or anything, I just said "If I want to have a drink, I'm going to have a drink and if I want to smoke, I'll smoke." I think it's a great lifestyle, but I just didn't want to have it as a restriction.
Punk Globe: When you started Mischief Brew, did you feel like you were abandoning the pure punk rock sound for a singer-songwriter style?
Erik Petersen: It was done in that same punk spirit. You know four track recorder in the basement with beat up microphones and all. Not that it has to be crappy equipment, but only thing that changed was that it was a different style of music.
Punk Globe: Do you think that there should be more of a connection between what kids are calling "folk punk" and the music of old folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger?
Erik Petersen: I think folk music is a very general term, you can't confine it. It's basically people music and people songs, so anything that transcends the original artist who wrote it is a folk song. I also think the term "folk punk" is just another way to understand something like a punk band with an acoustic guitar or mandolin. For me, it was looking back on guys like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and saying "Wow, they were really radical, had ‘punk' politics, and they were really fighting for some strong causes in a time of turmoil." So it's almost like they were punk musicians and now we're folk musicians
Punk Globe: What made you want to rework Leadbelly's "Midnight Special"?
Erik Petersen: The story behind that song is that I was playing an anti-death penalty rally in Pennsylvania on the state capitol steps and "Midnight Special" is an old prison song. I decided to rework the song in fifteen minutes or less for this rally and those were the lyrics I came up with and I thought that song deserved a spot on the record
Punk Globe: You said that the song "Bury Me in Analog" wasn't autobiographical, but what about songs like "Coffee, God, and Cigarettes," which seem to be so heartfelt and personal?
Erik Petersen: Actually, that song was written as more of a joke song. It's sort of a satire on people who give up one addiction and take on another one.
But the lyrics seem so serious, though. "Turn off the road that ends at the cliff" is a pretty heavy line.
Erik Petersen: Yeah, it's a fun way of looking at a serious subject. I like dealing with fucked up things and then turning it around and making it fun, I think that's the job of the artist.
Punk Globe: Your lyrics have a distinctly poetic quality to them, have you ever written any poetry or prose?
Erik Petersen: Yeah, I've dabbled in it. Never thought it was something I could really do well, but I've done it.
Punk Globe: Do you have any interest in getting that stuff published?
Erik Petersen: Not right now, I'm more interested in music. Maybe down the road when I don't feel like playing music anymore, I'll look into that. I've dabbled in so many different art forms; I've done sculpture and 3-D artwork too, anything to keep the creative gears going.
Punk Globe: I've seen you once solo and twice with a band, but which do you prefer personally?
Erik Petersen: I like playing with the band more because it's a fuller sound, but the acoustic stuff is looser, it's a good way to release. I'm in charge and I can do what I want with the song like slow down the tempo or change up the chords when it's just me. When I play too many acoustic sets, though, I want to play with the band again. It's a nice luxury to have both as options.
Punk Globe: That's kind of similar to what Pat the Bunny said when I interviewed him. You two are friends, right? Tell us about that YouTube video where you guys are playing "New Mexico Song."
Erik Petersen: It was completely spontaneous and as you hear from the recording, I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I messed up a couple times, but it was all in good fun. Pat's a good friend of mine, he's a great guy.
Punk Globe: With the band, people seem more inclined to mosh. That increases the chance of people getting hurt like I almost did at Sidebar. How do you feel about fans getting hurt and moshing in general?
Erik Petersen: Well, I don't want anyone to get hurt and when it happens I'm not happy about it. I want people to have fun and I want people to cause trouble within certain reason. I definitely don't want anybody to get hurt, though.
That's great to hear. So, I hear you have a new 8" split out with Andrew Jackson Jihad, tell us about how that came about.
Erik Petersen: The record label Pirate's Press approached us and said, "Hey, we want to do a really funky kind of record with you guys, maybe a die cut record or an eight inch." They pitched all of these ideas to us and they wanted to do an album with concentric grooves which is basically depending on where you put the needle, it'll play a different song. We had recorded an electric and an acoustic version of [our song] "Punx Win" So, we suggested an album where each band does an electric and acoustic version of the same song. Depending on where you put the needle, you hear a different version of a song.
Punk Globe: The first time I met you, you said that Baltimore was one of your "four or five second homes." What's special to you about each city and what keeps you coming back?
Erik Petersen: Yes! (laughter) Anywhere we have a good relationship with people who listen to our records. Buffalo, Baltimore, Richmond, San Francisco, there's so many "second homes," you know, good friends. That's the beauty of not only touring, but touring as a punk musician where the network is so strong. It's like, instantly you roll into a town and you know what the people are about and they know what you're about. It's just about seeing friends and making new friends. That's how that whole "second home" concept comes about.
Punk Globe: Do you have any words of wisdom or final thoughts?
Erik Petersen: Hmmm….final thoughts…words of wisdom…I guess I'd have to say don't stare at the clock too much. Just enough, but not too much.