Thief River – small town penchants…
On the scene for about a year and half now, Thief River is a country/punk/rock ensemble composed of: Mike Mitchell (vocals and acoustic guitar), Mike MaKKay (guitar, mandolin and vocals), Chris Dockter (guitar and vocals), Geoff Orwiler (bass and vocals), and Craig Dubin (drums). I recently asked Mike Mitchell a few questions about this new-ish group…
Q: What bands did you all come from?
Mike: I played in a band called Rexway for about 6 or 7 years with Dubin and Dockter until around 2005. Mike MaKKay currently plays in the band King Rat when he’s not rocking with us, and Geoff Orwiler also plays in the band Cure for Pain.
Q: The dreaded, obligatory question: where does the name come from? Any specific theme here?
Mike: We got the name Thief River from a town in Minnesota with the same name. It’s a small town where people don’t have much to do other than drink, fight and fuck. All things we enjoy and like to write about. Seemed fitting.
Q: “Country/punk/rock” – does country come first, or is that just an alphabetic thing? Is it a natural collision of genres, or is one more dominant?
Mike: It’s hard to use any of those terms to describe our music because I don’t think any one of them really fits, but when you put them all together it almost makes sense. We are all influenced by those things. Country, punk and rock.
We don’t really limit what we write we just write it. All our influences and the things we enjoy seem to come across in the music. Some people might listen to it and not hear any of those genre’s in the music but that’s the way we see it.
I tell ya to picture a bottle of whiskey and everyone will recall a different experience for that bottle of whiskey. Some see fighting, some see Jack Daniels, some see Wild Turkey, some remember puking….I say, have a shot of us and see how it sits on your tongue.
Q: I’m hearing some Peter Gabriel-esque vocals in your tunes. Is he an influence? What are the predominant influences here?
Mike: I like Peter Gabriel – as far as a predominant influence I wouldn’t say he’s a huge influence but for sure a great songwriter. Personally and vocally I am influenced by alternative stuff from the 90’s: Jane’s Addiction, Blind Melon, Smashing Pumpkings, Tool, Live etc.
Musically I love all sorts of things. I grew up listening to 70’s country which was my dad’s thing. He was a big fan of David Allen Coe, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson etc. I also grew up loving some 80’s hair rock and went through a pretty solid Punk Rock phase so my taste is all over the map.
Q: Country is a pretty successful cover genre in Colorado. Do you think it’s helped make your original tunes more accessible to the masses?
Mike: I think Country music is successful as a cover genre everywhere. Personally I think it’s because country music is written to speak to everyone. It’s about writing a catchy hook that’s easy to sing along to with a message of some sort that everyone can relate to and feel.
The songs themselves are accessible to the masses just being in that genre to begin with. I guess we try and think about that when writing music a little. Keep it simple, keep it hooky. I always think “would this song catch my attention or would I listen to it?” So to answer your question….sure, maybe, yes, no.
Q: Who does most of the songwriting, and can you describe your process (if you have one)?
Mike: I think I probably do most of the songwriting so far simply because I had a back log of songs I had written for Rexway but never used and had a bunch of other ideas brewing around when we started up the band. We all contribute to the writing process though.
Typically I get hit with a melody vocally. Then I try and find some chords to put under it. Then I’ll seek out a word or two that seems to make sense. I’ll pitch it to the rest of the band and we’ll jam on it for a while. Lyrically it’s a long process. It’s almost like the song is already there, we just keep chipping away all the bullshit until it’s finished.
Q: What are some of your favorite venues to play around town? Where have you had the most success?
Mike: We love the 3 Kings, Benders, Soiled Dove Underground, Herman’s Hideaway. Those are about the only places we’ve played in Denver with Thief River. We’ve hit many other venues with other bands that were great here in town as well and look forward to getting into all of them.
Q: I see you’re playing Carbondale and Grand Junction – have you done any out of state touring? If so, what’s that been like? And how’s the western slope for gigs?
Mike: This will be our first time over on the western slope. Mike MaKKay has played over there with King Rat and says it’s a great time. We’re really looking forward to it. With Thief River we haven’t done any out of state touring yet. We did lots of it with other bands and it’s always a great time.
Q: Any major plans for the balance of 2012? What’s the main thing you’d like to accomplish this year?
Mike: We plan to continue writing new music and playing shows. We recorded a 3 song demo at Strickler Studio last year and we’re hoping to get started on a full length album before the end of this year. Really our goal for this year is just to start playing more and getting our name out there and write, write, write…