Friday, January 27, 2012

Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

It is too easy to underestimate art.

Take a painting by Roy Lichtenstein, which seems to merely amplify what was buried in the back of the newspaper every day, or John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, a story about two uncomplicated characters told in the simplest prose. Though it is easy to sense the weight of each seemingly pedestrian composition, it is easier to ignore this sense and enjoy each based strictly on surface aesthetics. Of course, there isn't an incorrect way to appreciate these or any pieces of art; there is, however, some tragedy every time art goes unrealized.

The same might be said about the Ontario-based band Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, whose rusty brand of rock 'n' roll seems easy to categorize with bands that combine the youthful fury that epitomizes punk-rock with the twang and bucolic balladry that makes folk so accessibleLike Steinbeck's story and Lichtenstein's canvases, there seems to be something beneath the surface of their songs—something more than a mere message, something constructed by the collage of melody and lyrics and the act of their assemblage. On the band's recent contribution to Run For Cover Record's Subscription Singles Series, the band exhibits two tracks—”Living Weakness” and “Ignescent”—whose murky moods and tenebrous melodies suggest such a subtext.

At its core, Mockingbird Wish Me Luck is comprised of bassist Bishop Wierzbicki and guitarist Mike Arnott, who started the band with their friends during their transition into adulthood. “The band started right before everyone started going to college or getting jobs,” Wierzbicki remembers. “It, more or less, kept going as an excuse to really keep in touch. Every three or four months, we'd play a show and practice a handful of times.” The band didn't feel as substantial to Wierzbicki until 2009 when they released Goodbye Debris, a four-song EP later re-released by Dine Alone Records the following year. “After it came out,” he recalls, “I think I knew the band was going to become a real project for me. At least songwriting was.”

With Goodbye Debris, songwriting became a more complex creative process for Wierzbicki, who toils over his words—carefully selecting lyrics that convey a story, arranging and re-arranging them until the story can be felt if not followed. “I always write with a narrative in mind,” he explains, “but I don't make anything too cohesive—like, 'and then this happened, and then this happened.'—mainly because a song is not the best platform for ideas like that. You've got to be quick.”

Orphans of a Storm”, the most urgent song on Goodbye Debris, seems to best capture Wierzbicki's splintered style of writing. The song opens with pummeling drums and a torrent of grainy, grey chords that tighten and split into tense duel leads before descending into its foggy first verse. With Kyle Krische's floor tom thumping behind them, Wierzbicki and Arnott bark back and forth at each other, scattering images that seem dark and dense: an unwanted rainstorm, a sense of abandonment, bloodied lips, and shades of black. Despite these oblique lyrics, the song's chorus seems sunny, like a crack in the clouds during a summer storm; a twangy guitar lead rises and curls around the gritty growl of both singers, who snarl, “When the fences came down, / we were left to our own devices / I didn't pray for rain but it felt good on my skin.”

It follows this weird narrative where I say something but the rest of the song doesn't really go with it, so it's like a fractured narrative,” Wierzbicki explains. “But there's a line in there that that goes, 'My sister loaded up my pocket / with my mother's jewelry, / told me not to look so fucking sad / because this is a requiem.' You hear it and you're like, 'What the fuck is he talking about?' But that line tells the whole story.”

The writing process for Wierzbicki is exhausting but rewarding. “It's really hard and daunting,” he admits, “There's so much waste for everything that I end up keeping, and it takes just so fucking long, but pays off in, I guess, a cathartic sense. In the end, when a song's finished, it's because it's something that we're satisfied with. I don't know if it's good, or if people can relate to it or anything. For me, I'm just writing until there's something on the page that feels like a complete thought.”

Like Wierzbicki, Arnott's songwriting is both stylistic and artistic; he perceives his process as similarly visceral, only more visual and less narrative. “I come from a visual background,” he says, “and tend to approach songwriting in a similar way. A lot of times, it's the process of visualizing an idea or the embedded imagery of certain words rather than constructing the components of a story.” These images, Arnott argues, need to be vibrant and evocative and, most importantly, meaningful to him before they can be breathed to his listeners. “I'm a quiet guy,” he adds, “and the things that usually come out onto the paper have to feel significant enough in order for me to want to express them to anyone. I have a hard time thinking of myself as a writer, and, a lot of times, it's a struggle.”

The song “Branches” from the band's 2010 single on Dine Alone exhibits Arnott's images excellently. Against the bright, stretching wall of trebly Telecaster and Rickenbacker chords, his images hang like impressionistic paintings, one next to another, only they express more than the merely visual.There's a wild beast howling / over the hills tonight,” Arnott gnarls during the first verse, “The smell of foreign air / in familiar light. / And in the broken homes / your arms could never mend / lay the ghost of ages / nestled hard inside your bed. / I was always jealous of / all the time it'd spend.”

The most memorable line of “Branches”, however, paints a visually vivid picture: “And your hair seemed brighter,” Arnott sings, “from a hopeless winter.”

Though Arnott and Wierzbicki's songwriting styles are similar (at least aesthetically) the separate processes combine to contribute something abstract to Mockingbird Wish Me Luck's music. “The amount of time that we've known each other definitely contributes to our ideas and aesthetics being, at the least, compatible,” Arnott states. “The differences, though, are what make it interesting. My process generally involves constructing images from whatever particular ideas or feelings I'm trying to express. Nothing is initially too preconceived and what comes out comes out. I think, for Bishop, it tends to be a lot more calculated, though not straightforward.”

When Jeff Casazza from Run For Cover Records asked the band to contribute something to their monthly Subscription Single Series, Wierzbicki and Arnott used the opportunity to challenge themselves and create something they otherwise wouldn't have. Recorded with Kenny Meehan and Ian Romano, who record bands in their barn under the name “Tapes and Plates”, the seven-inch is somehow slimy and gritty and mesmerizing in its simplicy. “Living Weakness” grunts during its gloomy verses and, during its instrumental intro and outro, steadily and dizzily spins. “Ignescent”, easily the band's darkest song to date, relies on muddy clods of chords and quiet, cavernous vocals to convey its mood.

Recording in a barn was kind of interesting because it had a lower-fi quality,” Wierzbicki explains. “It was a blast. We got to fuck with a lot of different things and, since we knew it was kind of a limited release, it was cool to push each other in different directions artistically and just let the chips lay.”

This is what makes Mockingbird Wish Me Luck meaningful, and this is the abstract element that simmers beneath the surface of their songs. It's the toil, the trial, the approach that the band takes when stalking a song; it's the process. Like Jackson Pollock, whose splattered canvases were an outcome of some creative operation, Wierzbicki and Arnott write music that is as fascinated with its own method as it is its melody. The outcome, of course, is both unforgettable and fleeting. Their music is so raw and rich—melodic enough to which to hum along, moody enough to sense some difference within when the wax stops spinning—which leaves listeners satisfied with the surface, but suspicious that the might be missing something more, something remarkable.

Which is why it's a shame that art is so easy to underestimate.

Wierzbicki and Arnott recorded these songs from their friend Steve Sloane's house on a cold but snowless mid-winter evening. Sloane played drums on one of the tracks, Arnott played an acoustic guitar, and Wierzbicki played his bass distorted through an amp.

"Ignescent" appears on Mockingbird WIsh Me Luck's 2012 single for Run For Cover Records' Subscription Single Series. "Newborn Life teething" is a Novi Split cover; the song originally appeared on the 2003 album Keep Moving.

Visit the band's Bandcamp page for more music.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Three for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2012. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

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