Back inside, Nick Mitchell, singer and synth player for eccentric newcomers Revenge Piñata, leans against a brick wall and prepares to tell me about his latest band project and its debut release, Hungry Ghost, which came out last month. He’s smiling, late. He usually is. Next to me, Yosef Berger (guitar, vocals) sits on one of the shop’s mismatched chairs.
I take in the clutter — The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, checkers, ancient dictionaries, a labyrinth game, a dirty blackboard, a Royal typewriter, Trivial Pursuit, a blue vinyl couch. Like Revenge Piñata’s tunes, this place is busy, playful, quirky, artsy, charming and utterly unique.
Mitchell wears a T-shirt that reads, “Grizzly men,” and it fits — he looks kind of grizzly. Last night was rough, he explains, rolling his tired eyes and laughing.
With his trademark green-and-white flip flops, blue eyes and moppy hair, Mitchell discusses how much he loves to record. Well-known for work with bands Chick Pimp (Coke Dealer at a Bar), Wonky Tonk and The Terrors, Mitchell is also a DJ on the side.
Music grabbed him early on. Mitchell says.
“First thing I remember was recording Nirvana covers on the tape player in my room,” he says. “I was probably like 10.”
Mitchell was dedicated to his passion and worked (and works) with focus to improve his skills. He pasted inspirational notes to his door, sold his video games and decided to “stay in and be a nerd, get better … I sort of put a lot of pressure on myself,” he says.
For the past two years, Mitchell’s been creating complex electronic mixes on his laptop, calling them “dancy recordings.” To perform what would become the basis for Revenge Piñata, he started recruiting his “dream team” — friends who really dug the songs and were first-rate on their instruments.
Mitchell’s an undeniably talented musician/composer, but on this project he also sings.
He’s humble about his abilities, taking inspiration from “unconventional” vocalists like Neil Young or Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.
“I look up to the guys that also don’t have very good voices that sing pretty well, because they can actually get away with being a singer,” he says.
Mitchell’s bandmate Berger looks young, but his voice and manner make him seem much older. He’s the man in charge of the performances, sort of the musical director for RP’s live shows. Addicted to music since childhood, Berger — who previously played bass in the band Just Like Monsters — says he’s a fan of My Morning Jacket and MGMT. He describes Hungry Ghost as “Super Mario meets a church revival.”
Mitchell knew bassist Donovan Schlunt when The Terrors and Schlunt’s former band noctaluca had joint gigs (lead guitarist Shane Wingert was The Terrors’ bass player). Formerly of The Flux Capacitors and currently also a member of Sassy Molasses and Vaudeville Freud, drummer Michael Hamilton and Mitchell knew each other from jamming at open mics.
The five came together this past March. Among a spider web of influences, “videogamish,” layered, electronic sounds and a passing resemblance to Cake and Beck, Mitchell says he also took a cue from the outlandish Indie/Funk/Pop band of Montreal.
“It’s so weird … you can’t be serious and angry when you listen to of Montreal,” Mitchell explains, “That’s why I love that band.”
And you can’t be too serious when you see Mitchell bust out a kazoo. With experienced musicians from different bands working together, it seems an easy and intricate collaboration, bringing about what Mitchell calls a “Pink Floyd meets James Brown kinda feel.”
Mitchell’s lyrics can be Soul Coughing-ly blunt, but some are loaded with literary references. With his “state it like it is” voice, songs cover topics from “playing football with my best friend” to The Color Purple. He’s big on the concrete, making use of straightforward lines mixed with lighthearted sounds, bringing about a heavy irony in the delivery. But there is nothing clouded, no hiding — the lines are real. You believe it like it is.
Revenge Piñata’s members might have incredibly varied backgrounds, but they’re all gifted and versatile and, on stage, they seem to gel effortlessly. The songs are intricate, multi-dimensional, non-traditional and roaming, but they’re still incredibly tight. At live shows, there is less keyboard layering, but there’s an extra kick from having the rhythm section instead of solely programmed beats. “The drums are way better in our live show,” Mitchell insists.
Mitchell says his next goal is to buy a thousand pairs of sunglasses. When pressed, he goes deeper and reveals that Revenge Piñata looks to hit the local scene hard in the next six months, later expanding regionally.
As for how the band members describe the band’s genre-defying sound to those unfamiliar, Mitchell grins and announces, “We’ve been calling it Adventure Rock.”
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