Introducing Mark Mitten

FINE BY ME The music of Mark Mitten has been a part of my collection for a while now, both as a solo musician and with his band Atomicana. Our paths crossed via Twitter as he asked for me to check out his band which offered a blend of rock, Americana and a little country. I checked out Atomicana’s album ‘American Tragedy’ and their style of sound was great to hear. I highly recommend you check out the songs ‘Hero’ from the release which you can listen to in full HERE. After speaking to Mark I found out that he had released the solo albums Adagium (2010) and Boreal (2011) so I thought I would check them out. They offered a much different feel as it was him and his guitar sharing a wonderful acoustic sound. If I’m honest, I much prefer this side of his music and when you listen to the songs ‘Hell is Where’ and ‘Mexico’ you will understand why.

Mark has now returned with a new EP called ‘It’s Fine by Me’, but before I talk about this I wanted to get some more information about this talented musician. There is not much to be found about Mark Mitten around the internet so I thought I would go directly to the man himself. He was kind enough to let me into his world of music by answering the questions that I had. This is what he had to say:

Who or what moment made you realise that music was the path for you?

After taking classical guitar lessons for about six months, when I was in my late teens, I was given a family heirloom:  my grandfather’s acoustic guitar. Orange starburst Epiphone from the early 1980s. It had a serene sentimental aura, plus the fretboard was lower than my starter guitar and the sound richer, so it played way better.

Anyhow, I still play that guitar exclusively 20ish years later. It came with an old internal mic setup with a big plastic volume knob. When I plugged in, it literally sounded like a bizarre midi-keyboard. So, when I could afford it, I installed a much nicer pickup to get that clean real-guitar sound. That’s when I started writing songs, because I realized I could record my own albums. That got me going.

And of course hearing Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ for the first time was pure magic!

You seem to consistently create music of a high calibre. What is your secret when writing new music and when necessary, which musicians do you look towards for inspiration and why?

I try and write from a subconscious place, if that makes sense. I like lyrics that are internal and reflective, and open to interpretation, regardless of the author’s intention. This new 6-track EP, “It’s Fine By Me,” is no exception. That being said, only read on if you want to have your personal resonations with the album jeopardized!

Something usually triggers a creative vibe, and then I disappear for a couple days until the song emerges.  Sometimes it’s a book or book title. That happened a couple times.

The first song I wrote, “6000 Miles” was inspired by a book title:  6000 Miles of Fence, Life on the XIT Ranch of Texas. It’s historical, first-person accounts from one of the earliest cowboy ranches in America in the late 1800s. But the book has absolutely nothing to do with the song at all! The title conveyed such an immense distance, and it stuck in my mind, and it translated into a relational distance for the song.

Similarly, “Shot to Hell” was inspired by Shot All To Hell, another historical research book, this one about Jesse James, by Mark Lee Gardner in 2013. The chorus came to mind when I was driving one day, and I fumbled with my cell phone to figure out how to record audio, and somehow did so without crashing into a cornfield. I recorded the chorus a capella, so I wouldn’t forget it. The next day, the whole song came together. The stanzas on that track, as well as “Back To The Hills,” come from a different place—most of my life, I’ve lived in Colorado and I have a deep personal connection to rugged mountains, high prairie landscape, and authentic cowboy history. You can pick that up on this album, all over the place.

The title track, “It’s Fine By Me” was inspired by a 2011 book by Norwegian author Per Petterson, by the same title. He’s one my favorite authors—he goes to a deeply internal place, an absolutely brilliant writer. There was a scene around page 70 that I drew from for some imagery and inspiration. And the car/cigarette imagery came from one of his other books, I’m not quite sure which one. Many lyrics just kind of flow out, line by line, as I pick a chord progression, and try and tap into those murky, swirling, subconscious depths.

As for musicians, Tom Petty is a strong influence. I really dig Jakob Dylan’s two solo albums. But more than any other artist I have studied for songwriting styles, Petty’s albums Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, and Wildflowers were a big influence early on, and I think still are.

Talking about new music, which is your favourite songs from ‘It’s Fine by Me’ and why?

That’s a hard question, for this new album anyway. I don’t feel this way about everything I’ve written, and maybe it’s the polish of time or maybe I’m still too close to the music, but I feel like this album turned out rock solid. Maybe, it’s a case of self-delusion. Each time I wrote a song, I would run and tell my wife I just wrote my best song yet. She just shook her head, as all wives of artists know so well.

The new album, It’s Fine By Me , is a 6-track EP. The opening and closing tracks are both instrumentals, and serve as bookends for the 4 strong in the middle. Perhaps I feel good about the album as a whole, because I kept it short but sweet. Less is more.

I just really hope someone somewhere connects with one of the tracks and feels moved by it. That would absolutely make my day…!

If you go to the pub with any two musicians (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

Jakob Dylan and Todd Park Mohr. Both of these guys are alive and soaring through their respective stratospheres.

I admire Dylan for somehow emerging on his own, finding his own voice. From interviews I’ve read, I get the feeling that growing up in Bob Dylan’s immense shadow was more of a barrier than a blessing. I could be wrong on that, who knows. But maybe he’d tell me if I bought him a Guinness. Or a Kona Brewery Koko Brown…a recent discovery of mine!

“Big Head Todd & the Monsters” is the most well-known Colorado rock band today. They are celebrating 30 years as a band, and I’ve been a fan for the past 20 plus. They have such strong, strong albums, consistently, one after the other, it’s mind blowing. Sister Sweetly was one of their early ones, and it is still the cornerstone of their catalogue in my mind. AND…apparently, they recorded that at Prince’s Paisley Park studio in the early ‘90s. So, me—a Colorado boy—I moved to Minnesota a couple years ago, and somehow ended up at that last dance party at Paisley Park in April. I was right there when Prince said “save your prayers”…and died five days later. Then, Todd Mohr says they recorded Sister Sweetly right there of all places. It was a small world thing. So, I’d luv to share a stout with him and hear all about it. And then beg to be a roadie for Big Head Todd & the Monsters for the rest of my life.

What are your future goals and plans for your music?

At this point, I don’t have any plans, besides moving forward on the creative journey, as life unfolds. One thing I have learned, and want to convey, is that playing live is the best thing you can do to get better, develop a fan base, and make it “real.” Get out there and jam! And always, do it for YOU. Not to be a rock star, or to get on The Voice, but to make ART. Cuz at the end of the day, it’s your path that you’re walking on.

Anyone who knows me can confirm my love for music that is just a musician with their guitar as it has this wonderful natural sound. It doesn’t matter if its folk, blues, rock, soul, etc, there is something about the real connection they share with the listener. This is what Mark delivers with ‘It’s Fine by Me’ EP and one of the main reasons I am a fan of his music in general. When you listen to the EP you can’t help but admire his technical skill on the guitar which is probably helped from his classical guitar lessons. The songs ‘In the Wind’ and ‘Hinterland’ begin and end this EP with an instrumental sound. This gives the listener the opportunity to listen to his delicate and intricate guitar sound that is beautifully atmospheric.

This sound is supported by a delicate vocal tone which is used to share his lyrics which have a poetic storytelling quality about it. Each song takes you on a different journey and the lyrics are shared with an authentic tone which pulls you in. When you listen to the song ‘Shot to Hell’ you can hear how Mark’s vocals and guitar style blend together to give the listener a great showing of what his music has to offer. The song ‘It’s Fine by Me’ offers something special in my opinion as it has a captivating emotion that I can’t seem to find the right words to do it justice. It’s one of those rare songs that you feel more than hear if that makes sense. It’s a beautiful song which Mark should be proud of what he has created.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs which are as grounded as the musician who has created them. If you like your music in its most natural form then you need to add ‘It’s Fine by Me’ EP to your collection today. If you still require a little more persuasion then head over to Mark’s Bandcamp page (click HERE) and listen to this EP as well as his other releases in full (which can also be purchased from the page).

I do like the way Mark creates his music and is still striving to fine tune his craft. To me, this shows how important music is to him and you can’t help but to respect that. If you want to find out how Mark gets on with this goal or want to catch his live shows then check out his social media sites at Facebook and Twitter (under the band name Americana). If you appreciate the work created by this talented musician then don’t forget to tell everyone all about his music. With the help of his fans, we can help to make his music grow which means more new music for us (it’s a win/win situation for me). So, go and tell the world about the music of Mark Mitten today!