There are few images more iconic and romantic than the vast, open road.
The feeling of embarking on a great adventure and not knowing exactly where one’s heart and mind will be taken is something that spurs on pragmatic road-trippers and spontaneous nomads alike – that gripping and incalculable wanderlust. And nobody knows the open road quite like musicians do; the road is a rite of passage. It’s a lifestyle. It’s the circulatory system in a great network of artists both established and unknown who take huge risks every day to travel to the ends of the Earth in order to bring their authentic expression directly to their fans – often for little to no monetary gain.
Even the humblest group of touring musicians inspires admiration – their resilience, sacrifice, and dedication to their art Is something worthy of emulation by those in all walks of life. I’ve met a lot of individuals who’ve surprised me with their work ethic, but some of the working musicians I’ve met easily take the cake.
The current pandemic is threatening the livelihoods of these special individuals who are currently unable to make their rounds to the different faces and places of America and beyond, and while it certainly seems tragic, New Orleans-based indie rock outfit Mighty Brother is back with their own homage to the allure of the open road and the working musician’s lifestyle with their new track and video “Summer Road” – a summery, upbeat tune that’s tinged with rosy nostalgia and a hint of bitter sweetness, possibly unintentional but certainly present in the wake of the pandemic.
The video for “Summer Road” shows the reality of touring with no frills. The video follows the band’s 2019 ‘Summer Road Tour’, where Mighty Brother passed through New Orleans to Denver to Chicago to the East Coast and back. Scenes of different biomes, cities, people, and places flash outside the windows of a packed van filled with musical equipment and, likely, an Infinite Jest’s worth of Taco Bell and McDonald’s paper wrapping.
The special thing about this video, I think, is that it manages to somehow capture on camera the true magic that happens during a tour – those impossibly small moments that end up being filled with meaning to the point of bursting, similar to those moments we experience by chance in our own travels through our lives.
We got a chance to chat with Mighty Brother about a myriad of topics including “Summer Road”, the band’s origins, inspirations, their experience with the New Orleans music scene, and unforgettable behind-the-scenes tour stories.
So I was hoping y’all could talk about the inception of Mighty Brother, and how you came together?
Mighty Brother began as a duo songwriting project of Nick [Huster] and Ari [Carter] in their college town of Bloomington, Indiana, quickly growing into a five-piece indie rock outfit now based in New Orleans.
We started making music together in 2015. Ari likes to point to a moment shortly after our first jam session. He woke up hiking in Alaska’s Denali National Park with one of Nick’s tunes stuck in his head. That felt like the “aha’ moment for starting the band. When he returned, we got to work on our first album.
Who are some of your primary influences and inspirations you try to emulate in your music?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few, but bands we talk about and reference all the time include everything from Grizzly Bear and Radiohead to Delta Spirit and the Avett Brothers. For this song we took cues from some of our favorite contemporary groups like The Decemberists, The Shins, and Fleet Foxes, as well as the classics from Bob Dylan and CCR.
Obviously New Orleans is a legendary music hub. But what has the music scene looked like in the past decade or so, and other than obviously you guys, what other local talent should get recognition?
New Orleans music often gets typecast as being all jazz, brass, and funk bands, but the scene is actually full of amazing musicians and songwriters in all genres. We were lucky enough to play with Tarriona from Tank and the Bangas shortly after arriving in New Orleans, and her stage presence was ridiculously good. Sweet Crude was an early inspiration too, and we even included some French in our songwriting on the EP. Their live performances are impressive and catalyzing.
New favs include People Museum and MoPodna, Matron and Kuwaisiana. All great performers and great people. That’s really the most inspiring thing to me locally, the people. Folks seem a bit guarded initially, like, “should I be knowing you? Are you sticking around?,” but when you’ve been here a bit, those friendships really flourish.
As locals, do you look forward to Jazz Fest, loathe it, or somewhere in between? (when Jazz Fest existed, that is)
Jazz Fest is a great time, and the frenzied energy of the city is wild around that time. Tons of amazing shows to attend. Other festivals in the city (eg. French Quarter Festival, Hogs for the Cause) do a better job representing local talent, but it’s great to live in a city with so many opportunities to see great music and perform for enthusiastic audiences. It feels really good to see our fellow musicians get picked for Jazz Fest. It’s a huge opportunity! We were equally sad to see it canceled this year. Still not sure how that shook out for them.
So you guys have your newest single and music video for “Summer Road” hitting airwaves today, May 26th. Can you talk about the inspiration and creation behind this track?
The initial spark for this tune came as far back as spring 2015. Nick and Ari were preparing to release the first Mighty Brother record while planning to relocate to New Orleans. Nick was set to attend grad school there. Ari was falling in love most inconveniently, and attempting to capture that feeling of finding a certain thing while realizing it must be left behind, that their paths diverged. A melancholic beginning, but the tune came to embody those wonderful interactions and experiences you have on the road. We love touring, but the fortunes are not often measured monetarily. They can be anything from finding a floor to sleep on, or a perchance appearance of an old friend at a gig, to hanging out with the bandmates’ families (they’re all so welcoming and generous). The road calls us even now. Even now…
What do you hope fans and listeners will take away from it?
Hmmm. Well, despite our best efforts to plan a very serious tour documentary, the second the camera turned on, everything went out the window. It was so interesting to watch the guys interact with the video and any proposed shots (we really only orchestrated a couple segments). So much personality! We hope folks walk away with a little taste of that, a sample of what touring is like for us. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also so rewarding. Our previous video for “Naked Winter” captures our more serious, art rock driven instincts, so it was fun to let things take shape naturally for “Summer Road” and to enjoy the process together. We love how it turned out and hope y’all do too!
Where was it recorded, was it a smooth operation the whole way through?
We recorded Summer Road at Bear America Records with our friend Joe Ceponis. The single is off the first half of our upcoming double album so it was one of the early recordings of the bunch (16 tracks in total). Working on a double album is a huge undertaking… Gonna let that simmer… and the track actually got left behind, lost in an exchange of hands, bounced between our producer and a couple different engineers before finally resurfacing. There was a moment where we wondered if the first half of this record was salvageable! That was about a year ago. Deadlines kept moving back, but it’s finally here! Needless to say, we learned a lot in the process, and we’re super pleased with the final track that Nathan Feler mixed for us. But a smooth operation??? Not at all, but still worth the cortisol.
How many miles did y’all cover for the music video/2019 tour?
The tour started in New Orleans, headed north-westward through Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado, all the way to a festival in South Dakota and then back east through Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, DC & NYC, finally back to New Orleans over the course of a month. With detours through Rocky Mountain National Park & the Badlands, we covered more than 5,000 miles.
Is that a band member’s mom around the 4:35 mark?
Haha, actually no! That’s our host in Rapid City, South Dakota. Her daughter has been running an amazing independent venue there called at different times The Nameless Cave and The Cave Collective, and by our measure they are one of the best hosts for indie bands in the continental U.S. and probably in the world. This was our third time staying with them so we had to share some video love.
Who’s the worst driver in the band? The best?
We probably have to say our drummer John is the worst by default because he isn’t even on the insurance, so we don’t really let him drive, and the one time he did he missed an exit and went the wrong direction (but we love you John). Jonah gets “the best driver” award for the last tour for navigating the streets of Manhattan (while crushing a Thursday crossword btw) at the end of a big drive day and finding us a FREE parking spot right by our venue. Amazing.
Who’s the first to pass out in the van? Do pranks and hijinks ensue?
I’ve never heard the word hijinks. But it was always John on this last tour. While editing the video, we found far and away more shots of John sleeping than anyone else. Quinn ain’t no stranger to catnaps and came in second. We are usually pretty nice about letting each other sleep, at most filming them for Instagram, but there’s hell to pay if you fall asleep co-piloting! Co-pilots have a lot of responsibility and get blamed for most things that go wrong. They handle directions, queue up music, orate the crossword, and DO NOT SLEEP.
We always have an awards ceremony near the end of tour where we hand out accolades for “best gig” or “most comfy couch to sleep on” or “most hydrated,” pretty much anyone can introduce an award for consideration. We usually dog pretty hard on each other, playfully of course.
Can we expect to see an EP or LP on the horizon?
Our double album “The Rabbit. The Owl.” is coming out next month! It’s been 2 years in the making so we are excited to finally get it out. Wish we could be releasing it with a tour, but sure that will come.
What’s the songwriting process like within the band?
Traditionally, Nick and Ari have been the resident songwriters when it comes to lyrics and vocal melody, but everyone contributes to how the melody is harmonized, the progression and terracing of the songs, introducing many ideas of their own. We usually try to introduce new songs while they are fresh puppies with a ton of space to grow and take on the character of the band. Jonah and Quinn really flesh it out and maneuver us around innumerable writing blocks. That’s been the way of things. We continually try to bring everyone together earlier in the process, to write together as a collective. The songs end up cooler that way!
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process?
Process? Is that where you have a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end?
As a band, it sucks. We were in the middle of shedding tunes for the next record while preparing a big release tour for this one. We were rehearsing at least weekly before the restrictions started coming in, and everything was put on hold. Most of it is still on hold. Without work, getting through the pandemic has become top priority for everyone.
We have each taken this time and space (so much space) to write. Nick and Ari started a songwriter series and are really involved with a couple open-mic streaming groups online. We have a bunch of new songs in the works but little to no opportunity to flesh them out together. We have a folder in the cloud with new song ideas… but it’s really not the same thing. You could say it has been an inspiring time, but not in the ways we were planning. That’s all you can do though, eh? See what opportunities there are while we wait it out. Everyone is coping differently.
Since 2020 is pretty much a wash, what do you hope 2021 will bring for Mighty Brother?
Immunity and the opportunity to tour safely, to boldly seek those simple fortunes of the open road.