I would love to inspire a digital privacy revolution. The model of participating on massive social media platforms for the enrichment of the few wealthy elite and the exploitation of our private data is simply unconscionable. There are privacy advocacy groups out there that focus on this very thing. No, I’m not worried about my iPhone tracking my whereabouts, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Those things are certainly happening, and I have no reason to worry at the moment. But the things that big data can and will be able to do are infinite. AI will only get better, and I think the emotional vulnerability of the human experience is prone to so much manipulation. If you’ve not watched “The Great Hack” concerning Cambridge Analytica’s role in manipulating thousands of Americans in key swing states to ‘swing’ Trump, you must. It sounds conspiratorial, but it’s quite compelling.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nick and Ari of New Orleans Indie Rock Band Mighty Brother.
Based in New Orleans, Mighty Brother carves a unique space in today’s modern soundscapes with a distinct mashup of styles that has been described as a “blend of Avett-Americana and Radiohead-esque art rock” (Offbeat Magazine). A menagerie of musical influences led Mighty Brother to develop an indie-rock sound that simultaneously pays tribute to folk, singer-songwriter, funk, and alternative soundscapes with soaring harmonies and striking melodies that knit an eclectic sound, guiding the listener through unconventional grooves and adventurous lyricism.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FFV0utzhXark%3Ffeature%3Doembed&display_name=YouTube&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DFV0utzhXark&image=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FFV0utzhXark%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtube
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
N: We both grew up in Indiana, and the whole band met at Indiana University in Bloomington. There’s a great music program there and a really collaborative young arts community. My family isn’t particularly musical but was very supportive of the arts and my artistic pursuits.
A: My parents were both musical in some way and encouraged me to pursue piano, sax, and later, guitar. We always sang growing up. My mom was and is still very religious, and while I really resented being made to attending church services, I did enjoy the music. I grew up singing along with old country songs by Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, of course, all the classics, as well as harmony-heavy groups like The Eagles. I always preferred the more bluesy and rock hits as opposed to the more comfortably gospel numbers my parents preferred, but all those years were formative, to be sure.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
N: I joined an 11-piece funk band my first year at IU which introduced me to the music scene there. I loved every moment of performing and meeting other musicians and quickly started collaborating and working with different folks. I had been writing songs and lyrics since I was 14 but didn’t end up singing any of my own tunes until Ari and I started this group in 2015. I think music has an incredible personal and community healing power and I enjoy sharing that with others.
A: Honestly, Nick brought me to this specific career path. I had long fantasized of touring professionally and taking a project as far as it could go, but I lacked a bit of the administrative know-how, as well as the drive to organize a project and see it through. Rather, I spent my time honing my craft, imagining skill would manifest this career shift one day. The bands I’d managed to cobble together often lacked vision and execution, and I don’t think I could have led effectively.
Then, as if out of the blue, Nick emerged on the Bloomington scene with his band The Peacock Effect. He had just returned from teaching abroad in Thailand, I later learned, and put a project together, tracked it, and held a release show all within a month or two. I wasn’t nearly as plugged into the music community like I’d wanted to be, but this seemed all very impressive and improbably. How’d he do it?! After a few perchance encounters, we finally got together to jam, and the writing could not have gone smoother. I felt I’d found a creative partner that possessed all the skills I’d wished for.
I learned that surrounding yourself with folks you want to be like goes a long way. Forming a band with them, well now, that goes a lot farther! Almost 6 years, and I’ve not looked back.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
N: As you can probably see in our recent music video for Summer Road, we love going on tour (especially missing it in these COVID days… ). Often on tour, little bits of what we call tour magic happen, a chance meeting or opportunity that can only be found on the road. One time we played in Butte, MT for an audience of about 5 people in the basement of a church. It was a weird show with three touring bands on the bill and very little marketing. Nonetheless, we made the most of it and played our hearts out. It just so happened that 2 members of the audience lived in Phillipsburg nearby. They loved the show and invited us to play the very next day in the town park there. We were skeptical but didn’t have anything going on, so decided to go for it. Turned out they owned a coffee-shop and clothing line there. They sponsored and marketed the show themselves and hosted it in their town park. We ended up playing for about 100 people, getting new Live Montanablyhoodies, hats and shirts to rep, and having some damn good coffee. Huge shoutout to our friends in Montana!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
N: While working on our double album we made a mistake that we will never repeat! At the end of our sessions tracking The Rabbit., we left the tracks with our producer to send on to the mixing engineer. We did not copy the files over to our own hard drive or anything so there was just one set of files in the producer’s hands. He was busy, as producers often are, and we were traveling so didn’t pay much mind to there being one set of files… Anyhow, there was some mix up in the file transfers and we lost the album for about 6 months. We felt so foolish about not having our own copies. Luckily we were able to get back with the producer and retrieve them, but it set the whole project back half a year and could have easily been avoided by bringing our own hard drive to the final session! Always save your work and keep a copy for yourself!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
N: We are currently on a month-long writing retreat on the Oregon coast already working on our next album. Excited to find inspiration and productivity in this difficult time.
A: I’m currently editing my second music video while we’re on retreat. The first was our tour video for Mighty Brother’s song Summer Road. I learned a lot working with a camera from the ’90s, but more so using Adobe Premier. Last fall, I began tackling a huge roadblock for me — dancing. After 6 months of attending contemporary improv classes and working with a close friend to choreograph, we finally shot a video for Inshallah, a song from my trio side-project Ari Carter. I’m learning a lot working through the edit, and I hope to release that this fall!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
N: Living in New Orleans we see how often culture bearers and workers are underrepresented, undersupported, and even exploited. What is needed in the entertainment industry goes beyond representing diversity in film and television into equitably treating and supporting these artists. Black music, Latinx music, immigrant music are the backbones of American pop and especially of New Orleans style music. We need to honor these histories and support these musicians and their styles as much as possible. Without them, we’d really have nothing.
A: Yeah, like Nick said, most popular music today has roots in minority communities that have been exploited historically and continue to face oppression today. Blues music is Black music. Rock and Roll is Black music. The artists that were launched into the national and international spotlight were usually white artists emulating these styles during that time. Labels scrambled to put together ‘race records’ featuring Black musicians and vocalists when the trending interest in Black musicians was emerging, not only to capitalize on the trend but to exploit those players financially and get rich from their music. Now more than ever, it’s important that we prop up the music of BIPOC, decide as consumers we want to do this, and signal to the greater music industry that THIS is what we value. The phrase “if you can see it, you can be it” rings true. Music has always been a practice of inclusivity and collaboration, and in a country built upon the oppression of BIPOC, the harmony of that is lost as white folks historically reap the benefits of those collaborative spaces, of borrowing from those cultural practices and traditions. It begs the question, in a society built upon the exploitation of BIPOC, when is emulation not culturally appropriative? It sounds stark, but there is a lot of work to do before we can rest easy knowing that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed in the music industry.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
N: I wish someone told me “Your band’s music is amazing, here’s a favorable million dollar record contract that totally doesn’t exploit you at all and gives you complete artistic freedom!” We always find ourselves with ideas bigger than our budget, both financially and time-wise. We all work side hustles in addition to pursuing our creative endeavors with this band, and it would be so nice to be able to dedicate all our time to the art without having to constantly find ways to “make it work!” Of course that’s part of the joy and challenge of being an artist. Wishful thinking… but you asked!
I also wish someone had told me the importance of not just playing shows but in going to shows and participating in the arts community. This is where inspiration is found and connections are made. It’s all too easy as an artist to get absorbed in your own work and forget to follow and connect with the work of others. The best advances I have made both artistically and in my music career, have come in times that I’ve been deeply connected with the “scene.” Mighty Brother itself was born out of a time that Ari and I were writing together and inviting all sorts of musicians over to jam with us and share musical ideas. We went to A LOT of shows, open mics, and arts events when we were first getting started and I didn’t recognize the value of it until later… especially now that these events are quite inaccessible or not even happening due to COVID.
A: Be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it. New Orleans, for example, thrives during the tourist season, but most of that money is spent enjoying drinks and phenomenal cover bands. The Original music scene is more buried dispersed, and convoluted. Everyone I know in the city that is performing music, making art, painting, costume designing, playwriting — they all so it because they love it. The art itself is rewarding enough. And that’s so impressive to me! And the creations that come out of that are more beautiful for it. Very honest and authentic. As creative individuals, we toe a fine line where we’re thinking, “wow, I just really love doing what I’m doing, creating from a place of joy and authenticity,” and the everpresent, “how can I make a living from this.” Unfortunately, the US doesn’t value the arts like it should. They’re underfunded, and most folks treat it as a commodity, not as something they are willing to support with coin. Finding a sustainable way to forge onward authentically is key. If your hearts in the money, your art will suffer. If you heart is in the art, then you might struggle for most of the time. Skill and dedication win out though, so take on the projects you can, the projects you’re drawn to with gusto! Make stuff you’re really proud of, and then push the hell out of it. Like Nick said, community and collaboration is so important. Some cities it’s easier to meet bookers and managers and promoters, etc. And that might be important to consider when building a homebase. Do your research and be strategic, but create from a place of the heart. Pickup side hustles to get ya through.
One thing that’s really been true for us, and I wish someone had told me at a much younger age, is, “take on endeavors and projects that build your skills!” Nick and I have always been project-oriented. That type of goal orientation is perhaps a symptom of capitalism, but it’s more useful to recognize that the goal is a moving target. Your goals will change. The work you put in may help you reach a goal, but it may not be the goal you initially set out to reach. Have a big goal, then chunk it into smaller goals, and be ambitious. After receiving a grant to record our EP in 2017, we decided we would make 5 music videos for each of the five songs. That turned out to be a bit more than was financially and administratively possible! But we learned a tremendous amount of things along the way, were able to work with a lot of filmmakers and musicians, and the skills we took away from the experience, along with a 5-track EP and 2 music videos, carry over into our future work.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
N: Stop! Collaborate and Listen! Seriously though, collaborating with other creatives on projects that excite us and them has been the way we’ve kept from burning out. It is easy to feel alone in the process, but there are so many wonderful artists to work with if you put the collaborative energy out there. Our music video for Naked Winter would have never come together had it not been for the strong bonds of collaboration we built with friends in the film scene in New Orleans.
A: Write from a place of authenticity. That doesn’t mean every song must be an opus from the deepest part of you soul, *clutches shirt dramatically* but it should bring you joy! If that’s covering the entirety of the soundtrack to Little Mermaid, then have at it!
Never cover Wonderwall. Although… A friend’s band performed a very unexpected cover, mid-set, sandwiched between amazing original tunes, and I found myself unselfconsciously mouthing “there are many things that I would like to say to you…”
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
N: If I could inspire the dismantling of our bipartisan system here in the US, that would be good enough for me. I think it leads too many people to think in absolutes of conservative versus liberal political ways of thinking instead of considering each problem as a human one. The way that COVID has been politicized has been incredibly disheartening. It’s a public health crisis and should be something that unites us to work toward the common good… but because of our system and politically charged climate, it’s become a divisive issue. That’s just what I’ve been musing on lately.
A: Hmm. You ask everyone this? Well, I would love to inspire a digital privacy revolution. The model of participating on massive social media platforms for the enrichment of the few wealthy elite and the exploitation of our private data is simply unconscionable. There are privacy advocacy groups out there that focus on this very thing. No, I’m not worried about my iPhone tracking my whereabouts, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Those things are certainly happening, and I have no reason to worry at the moment. But the things that big data can and will be able to do are infinite. AI will only get better, and I think the emotional vulnerability of the human experience is prone to so much manipulation. If you’ve not watched “The Great Hack” concerning Cambridge Analytica’s role in manipulating thousands of Americans in key swing states to ‘swing’ Trump, you must. It sounds conspiratorial, but it’s quite compelling.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
N: I’m grateful to my brother. He’s the first person who ever gave me a nod or any support as a songwriter or vocalist. Very early on I sent him a song I was working on but made silly faces and even voices the whole way through because I was embarrassed about my voice. He sent back really positive messages with some constructive criticism and basically told me it was sounding great despite the ridiculous things I was doing with my face. I think that was the first time I started considering it as something I could actually pursue.
A: My dad has been a big supporter, and I recognize I am very privileged to say so, as he too feels privileged to be so. He gave me my first guitar and amp, an old Fender Blueshawk and a Fender Bass Combo, I forget the medel. Anyway, that guitar had more switches than a modern washing machine, able to drum up some wild tones from a simple pair of single-coil pickups. The Bass combo, however, had chronically dusty pots, and dialing in a single, un-perforating volume of palatable sound was quite the feat indeed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
N: I always remind myself of the adage that “luck happens when opportunity meets preparation.” This keeps me focused and working hard. We haven’t had our “big break” yet, and it may never come, but if it does, we know we will be prepared. We’ve been doing the Indie thing for the past 5 years and have 3 albums, an EP, hundreds of shows, and a good handful of national, and even international, tours under our belt so we are well prepared for the next steps in our career..
A: “I feel like people have tried a lot harder and done a lot worse!” Seriously though, one of my favorite quotes is actually on by Camus. “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free yourself that your very existence is an act of rebellion” It has ever been a reminder to live life to the fullest. There are so many layers of accretion that come with living in any society, and it feels that a third of our life is spent dismantling thoughts so we can finally live a truly expressive life. My foray into improvisational dance has been one of utter abandon, a rejection of every way I’ve conceptualized myself. It challenged so many of my concepts of gender expression. It taught me grace and to not think so goddamn much.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
N: I would love to have lunch or breakfast with Danger Mouse. He’s most famous for producing Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, but has also worked with Damon Albarn, Parquet Courts, and most recently Karen O. It would be cool to grab a meal and chat production, collaboration, and artistry.
A: It would currently have to be Ijeoma Oluo. I’m reading her book “So You Want to Talk About Race,” and her writing and perspectives are so elegantly represented, so well articulated. In light of the recent protests for racial justice and equality, It’s become a personal mission of mine to explore the history or race and oppression in the US, to learn and listen and to amplify and support BIPOC in this time. And while I fear she would chew me up and spit me out, I think it is something I would be grateful for. The current political climate in the US right now is so abhorrent, and I want to know that I’m doing everything I can to support the movement and to cease any harm I may be contributing.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!