Reggae singer-songwriter Mishka is a man who brings the positive vibe to the people, whether he's doing it with a full band or by himself with a humble six-string. Since he began his musical endeavor in the late '90s, his music has spread like wildfire among mellow-headed people across the globe. This has been partly due to movie star Matthew McConaughey discovering him and starting a record label, j.k. livin, in order to spread the love.
In 2009, Mishka was named iTunes Best New Artist (ten years after his debut album). Recently, he released his fifth full length studio album, 2010's Talk About, and signed on to an endorsement deal with surf giant O'Neill. This summer Mishka will embark on a tour with Donavon Frankenreiter, which kicks off with two nights at The Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale. Before he left his Hawaiian home, New Times had the chance to chat with Mishka about the music, the love, and the materialistic aspect of his recent endorsement deal.
New Times: Does the experience of writing and performing your music help you to maintain a positive mindset?
Mishka: Yeah, definitely. The songs are reminders to myself as I go through life. A lot of the energy in the music is coming from forces of nature, you know? It's how we feel Jah love in the nature. It's in everything. Sometimes the performing and recording of music takes you into some places kind of far from the nature--in the cities or out on the road, it's kind of bleak compared to where I'm coming from. So, the music is a way to transport that positive energy through all zones of life.
Have you always been into reggae?
I always listened to it, but it wasn't the main focus of music when I was really young. When I started listening to my own music, around the age of twelve or thirteen, then reggae was really it. I started listening to a lot of Bob Marley and Burning Spear.
There seems to be almost as much Bob Dylan influence as Bob Marley on your records sometimes.
Yeah, he was a huge influence on me in my really early days. Like, really, really early days. Like, as long as I can remember. It was the music my parents were listening to. I listen to a lot of Paul Simon too. I'm really into that mellow, folky thing.
Willie Nelson accompanies you on a song on your latest album. How did that come about?
Through Matthew McConaughey. He knows Willie from various movies and stuff. He heard the tune "Homegrown" and thought Willie should sing on it. We just recorded it while making the album then sent it to Willie. He did his vocal track on it and a little guitar and sent it back.
So you haven't gotten to hang with Willie?
Not yet, no.
Ahh, that would probably be a good time.
You've recently partnered up with the giant surf company O'Neill. How did the endorsement come about?
I was playing a benefit show in California and happened to meet the CEO of O'Neill. He was big into music and asked how I'd feel about connecting my music with an eco line of clothing. He dug the lyrics I was singing and decided they could match up what I was doing with what they are doing. Also, I have the lifestyle -- I'm a windsurfer and a surfer, a little bit. It's a natural synergy.
There are lots of old photos of Bob Marley decked out in Adidas jumpsuits, and a lot of the reggae cats around these days are sporting major brands. This raises an interesting question: One aspect of the Rastafari movement is a stance against modern Western society. Do these brands represent modern Western society, or Babylon, or not? Or is it a matter of there being some kind of balance?
Yeah, I mean, it's a tricky one. [We live in] an iniquitous system. Through the work that people do, they are not necessarily paid for it. You have multi-national global corporations that are enslaving everybody. So, really in this time, to survive, it's got everybody in the rat race for the dollar. So, you can't look [down] on a man for doing an endorsement. He's got his kids to feed. It's the way it is, man. It's not easy. The record industry ain't paying me the money, you know? Everybody's got to survive. That's what it comes down to. It's a reality. I feel blessed to be able to work with somebody like O'Neill who is trying to do a thing that is eco-friendly. At the same time, I'm not in favor of any global, corporate thing. It's a tricky balance. The thing is, the music is stronger than all the business. The inspiration of the music is what keeps it alive. Like I say, the forces of nature that really inspire it in the first place.
You play solo and with a band. For the shows down here, will there be some of each?
The whole tour with Donavon will be solo acoustic.
How's the experience playing solo acoustic compared with playing with a band?
I love both. One is more dependent on the crowd being receptive to the music. With the band you have a battering ram. You knock down the doors and everybody has to listen (laughs). It's loud and so it's more powerful like that. With the acoustic thing, it's a more subtle approach. Sometimes it can be really good if the crowd is mellow and into that. And sometimes it can be really tough if they're just kind of drunk and talking, you know? Because you don't have the amplification to bust through. I love both, though. One is really the root of the inspiration -- where the writing of the songs comes from, which is the acoustic thing. And one is more like the fulfillment of the music.
So, you still get people who aren't paying attention sometimes?
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I think a lot of it has to do with how much people drink. They can become very chatty people. You can get a stoned audience and everybody is real quiet and attentive. They're listening.
Well, I wish you a stoned and attentive crowd here in South Florida.
(laughs) Thank you very much.
Donavon Frankenreiter with Mishka, 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 30 and Thursday, July 1 at the Culture Room, 3045 North Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $19.99 per night, or $35 for a two day pass. Visit cultureroom.net, or call 954-564-1074.