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mightyOaks 2021

Mighty Oaks: We didn't do much jamming this time

We discussed with Claudio Donzelli about the new album of Mighty Oaks and their post-pandemic plans.

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Mighty Oaks released their fourth album, "Mexico", a couple of months ago just a year after their previous one. The pandemic played a role in it, both in the context and in its release date; three years per album is what we had been use to since they set off in 2014. They're already in their European tour these days and we found Claudio Donzelli in one of his breaks to ask him about their new music and the post-pandemic plans. Read our discussion and listen to their new music below:

MixGrill: Where do our questions find you? How are you doing during this almost-post-pandemic summer?

Claudio Donzelli: I'm writing from a hotel room in Feldkirch in Austria, where we spent the last two days off. We're playing a show here tonight. It's a place in the mountains, not far from Lake Constance. My room has a beautiful south view over the town and the mountains surrounding it. We're at the beginning of our summer tour around Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and really excited to be playing live shows again!

MG: The new album came out a year after your previous one. Would you say your creativity was affected by the lockdown? If so, in which ways?

CD: Absolutely. Our album was written and recorded during the pandemic and has been affected in many ways by the lockdown, from the topics it deals with and to the way its been recorded. 2020 has been a year of extraordinary health emergency and political turmoil and you'll find in Ian's lyrics many reflections about what was going on and people coped with it. On the other hand, because of strict lockdown in Germany we haven't been able to work in a traditional recording studio, but we still recorded the whole album in a home studio built in Ian's basement.

MG: One of the concepts I sense in the lyrics is about hard times (e.g. in Mexico and with "the things are getting heavy now" in Heavy). On the other hand, I receive your music as optimistic. How do you feel about the near future, as musicians and as European citizens?

CD: I think the gravity and complexity of the current situation in Europe and the world is such that it makes no sense to try and sum it up in a few sentences. We have political conflicts, an immigration crisis, and climate change. But you go out in the world and ask people you will find all kinds of stories, from the most terrible stories of death, discrimination, separation to the most inspiring stories of love and compassion among human beings. I think everyone is responsible for picking the stories that will make themselves and the people around them move forward towards a better future. In that sense I consider myself optimistic. But the good stories are not as loud as the bad ones, that are more likely to become headlines. You have to look for good stories, and help spread them.

MG: How do you deal with such feelings when it comes to your music? Do you filter your emotional state at the time of writing in order to reach certain feelings; or induce them to others, with your music?

CD: I have to admit, there is not much reasoning or planning around making music. We usually start with a musical idea and recognize a particular emotion in it. Then we try to support that emotion with a musical arrangement so that it has the right context to be conveyed intact to the listener and recognized as such. But sometimes people hear what you play in a different way, interpreting the song in their own terms.

MG: You are based in Berlin but your escape location sounds like being far away in Mexico. In the new album there are additional references to locations in the US. Are such lyrics a deliberate choice or do they emerge from your past experiences?

CD: The stories of the US resonated really loud all over the world and being Ian American, he participated in the political chaos as a US citizen living abroad. Mexico is quite an interesting US contradiction. On one hand it's one of the main escape lands, but on the other hand has a long history of immigration troubles. We really liked how the song "Mexico" and it's official music video were playing with this oxymoron in a sarcastic way so we decided to name the album after it.

MG: Back to Europe, the tour is already settled for 2022 and this year you’re playing mostly in Germany, while the UK is currently not on schedule. Have you tried booking shows across the canal and dealt with any Brexit-related difficulties?

CD: No, we haven't, to be honest. It feels like between COVID and Brexit the situation is still pretty unclear and it would require a lot of additional logistics that it didn't really appeal to us at the moment. Hopefully in a post-pandemic world, and if Brexit does not translate into high visa fees. Let's see! It's sad though, we loved to play in the UK, and Craig is from England.

MG: On a similar note, you have rarely played in South and East European countries. The logistics are usually harder, but would you say that this correlates with your listeners’ location based on streaming data? Do you take such parameters into account when planning a tour?

CD: We're still a live-based band even in a world dominated by online streaming. But in countries where we haven't played yet, the streaming data is the only way we can measure our presence there and to be honest things are going pretty well in South Europe from Portugal to Greece. I guess we were supposed to start touring Spain and Italy more in 2020 but then everything got cancelled because of COVID. Again, in a post pandemic world where border policies become more clear and stable, we'll seriously consider coming to Greece!

MG: How do you think that live streaming concerts will alter the way traditional concerts are happening, if at all? Are you planning to (live) stream any of the summer concerts so that fans from all over the world can enjoy your music; as close to live as currently possible?

CD: My view and also my hope is that live streaming was only a sort of crutch for the live music business during the pandemic. It helped the industry a lot and if there is a new market opportunity besides the market of live shows then welcome. But if more online shows will result in less shows in real venues, then I think it's going to be pretty sad.

MG: "Devil And The Deep Blue Sea" reminded me of the 1995 movie with the similar title, based on a novel by a popular Greek poet. Though I can't trace any other connection in the lyrics of this song, are there any films or books that have inspired you for the songs in this album and your music in general?

CD: - There is no connection to the movie but I'll check that out! As for inspiration, I know Ian took inspiration from "A Terrible Beauty Is Born" by the Irish poet W B Yeats.

MG: In some of the songs, there are additional instruments that expand your sound, such as cello, trumpets and pedal steel guitar. Have there been any other instrumentation ideas that were not completed, or maybe recorded but not released?

CD: I'm glad you noticed, I think these additional instruments are a very important contribution to this album. No, there are no other outtakes, every recording session we had with external musicians was pretty well planned and targeted to a specific song / part of a song. We didn't do much jamming this time. :)

MG: Thank you and hope to see you in Greece soon. Is there anything you would like to share with your Greek audience?

CD: We are really amazed by the amount of positive feedback and interest that we've been receiving from Greece and we really hope that we'll be able to come and play shows in your beautiful country someday!