If Brook Thompson’s original plan had worked, The Mighty Fine would have been yet another eight-piece band sounding a little like the Dropkick Murphy’s without the Irish influence. Thankfully, that didn’t work out (imagine the nightmare tour logistics or simply trying to divvy up the cash at the end of the show).
Instead, the San Luis Obispo three-piece now plays a fantastic brand of roots-based punk rock, a nice mix of Springsteen and Hot Water Music.
In a fairly detailed interview, Thompson opened up recently about the founding of the band, discovering their sound and their latest full length In Revival (Solidarity Records).
Innocent Words: Had you guys all known each other before you got the band together?
Brook Thompson: One of the greatest things The Mighty Fine has given me is some really awesome friends. When I started the band, I didn’t know Chris [Scott, drums] or Mikey [Castillo, bass/vocals]. My former bandmates and I were introduced to each other by Nick from Heart to Heart. As soon as I met Chris, I told myself this kid’s got that fire that keeps burning. He’s one of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever met. We’ve been through a hell of a lot together over the past three years, cementing a strong and lasting friendship. There’s no way we could’ve accomplished the things we have without his drive.
Chris and Mikey go way back. They used to play in bands years ago and have a history of their own. When we had an opening for a new bass player a couple years ago, Chris suggested Mikey try out. I was aware that Mikey was a fan of our band, and his band at the time had even played with us a couple times. Completely open to the idea, we had him audition and it just fell into place. Mikey’s definitely the type of guy that you want around; he’s got talent, humility, and honesty. I can easily and proudly call these guys my mates, my brothers.
IW: Did you guys know what your sound was going to be, or did it evolve over time after playing together for a while?
Thompson: In the beginning I had a pretty concrete idea of what our band should be: a folk/punk band reminiscent of later day Dropkick Murphy’s without the Irish influence. The grand idea I had was that we’d be a six- to eight-piece band with various instruments. After the realization set in that it’s nearly impossible to get even four to five guys on the same practice schedule, we pushed the sound to be a more straightforward punk/pop/rock band. That’s when we released our first demos.
In early ’09 we got the bright idea to write a full-length record [Bad Timing for Everything, 2010]. By this point I found myself eager to challenge myself in the writing process. Songs varied in style, tempo, and texture. I recall car rides home from practice, discussing with Chris about the different moods and voices of all the songs and how the record’s schizophrenic nature was essential for us to decide where we wanted to go next. I guess we wanted to see what would resonate the most with ourselves and our fans. We had a pretty good idea after the recording of Bad Timing for Everything that what stuck the most with everyone was that the “punkish” jams fit best for The Mighty Fine.
IW: Can you talk a little bit about In Revival?
Thompson: Sonically, In Revival is a response to the unsure sound of Bad Timing. While In Revival does possess variety, we went into the writing process more focused on what/how we wanted to write. We hit the studio with 16 songs – a few of which were previously recorded – and picked the 12 we felt made most sense for the theme of In Revival. Unlike Bad Timing, this new record was written together as a band. We [including former guitarist Chris Lintner] bounced ideas off each other and thought a lot more about each part and how it served the song best as a whole. The great thing is that it felt like a natural progress. As a whole, we identified with the record much more in the studio as well as live.
One huge difference between records is how I sing. I’ve never really talked about it much, but my voice has changed from our 2008 demo to Bad Timingto In Revival. Early on I wanted to have the gruff raspy vocals, but since I was an inexperienced singer I’d often blow out my voice. So before we went to record Bad Timing, I took voice lessons in hopes that it would train my voice and define my sound. While tracking, I focused more on singing “properly” than singing from the heart. Pretty quickly after the recording, I found myself integrating the fierceness and desperation on songs that I lacked during the tracking. I promised myself I would push myself much further for In Revival, and I think it comes across well. I feel like this is the first time where I’ve delivered a style that is confident and sure of itself. And since the tracking the album, I’ve adopted some new techniques and stylings that I’m eager to try out for future recordings.
Lyrically and conceptually, In Revival’s content focuses on rebuilding oneself by discovering optimism through loss, heartbreak, hate, etc. The future is a bleak place when you lose yourself in those things. Getting back on your feet is one the hardest, yet may be the single most important thing you can do for yourself. At the time when I was writing, my home life was at its most uncertain. I had lost sight about who I was as an individual after struggling with an unhealthy relationship, finances, and self-respect. With most songwriters, capturing these moments of awareness not only stimulates creative pulses, it creates the release needed to move forward. Every song on In Revival captures various moods and perspectives that develop through the wild ride we call life.
IW: How was the recording experience different from the first record?
Thompson: The recording for Bad Timing for Everything and In Revival varied quite a bit on different levels. For the first record, we recorded at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, California, with Ryan Massey of American Steel. It was quite the experience. None of us had ever recorded at a nice studio, so we didn’t really know what to expect. We probably thought we were more prepared for it than we really were. Ryan really shed to light different angles that we never considered before. The challenges really pushed us, though it caught us a little off guard.
Recording at Sharkbite was a huge step for us because I feel like we took invaluable experiences away. Before pre-production of In Revival, we thought about our time with Ryan and how we could push ourselves to the next level. For In Revival, we decided to take a different approach by converting our practice space in Santa Maria, California, into a studio. We enlisted friend/engineer Nolan Perry to take on the project. Working with him was great because it didn’t require us to take time off work, and we could take our time with the record without the pressures of finishing within a deadline. Rather than charging by the hour, Nolan charged us a flat project rate, which made everything more flexible. Since we co-produced the record with Nolan, he was open to trying new ideas, experimenting with unfamiliar techniques. I think what we took from that recording is that The Mighty Fine definitely benefits from recording in different settings; each one brings to life new ideas and pushes us further than the time before.
IW: Did you find it harder or easier to write the songs for this one?
Thompson: All in all, I think In Revival came a bit more smoothly and naturally for us. As expected, we would run into some hiccups while writing. If we reached a roadblock during practice, we would place that song on hold for a while and keep our minds focused on something else. Then maybe a couple practices (even months) later, we’d come back to it with fresh ears and perspectives.
I always push myself when writing lyrics. Finding the right words/phrasings/syllables needed to convey a particular thought or idea can be frustrating as well as exhilarating. For the large majority of the songs, In Revival’s lyrics came out quite naturally. I did reach a massive writer’s block about half way through though. I remember trying to write lyrics for a chord progression that would later become “Fragments.” I hated everything I wrote. Unsatisfied, I became anxious, lost sleep, and constantly worried that I’d never recover from this rut. At some point, I was able to harness all those feelings that the writer’s block bestowed on me, and I used them to write the lyrics to “Fragments”. A very rewarding feeling indeed.