Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Mitch Rocket. Together we discussed; rockets, space travel, petting zoos, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
Doing good! Spent most of the day working with my drummer Alan to get a home recording setup for drums going in his basement venue (known as the Spacement).
2. Mustard wonders what type of rocket is Mitch Rocket? What inspired your name?
The Mitch kind! Rocket is my real middle name, so there wasn’t a lot of imagination involved there. The stage name just came built in for me.
3. If your music could travel to anywhere in the galaxy, where would it go and why? Would this be a NASA-sponsored trip?
I love the image of it traveling to the center of the galaxy, disappearing into the huge black hole spinning there. I’m guessing NASA wouldn’t greenlight that.
4. According to your Spotify profile you create “every type of rock and roll, then some.” What is the extra kick you add to your brand of rock and roll? Who are some of your influences?
If you listen to a Mitch Rocket set or album, you’ll hear folk rock, hard rock, pop, ska, free jazz… we have trouble sticking to just one genre for more than a couple songs at a time. I sometimes describe it as “kitchen sink” rock for that reason. My biggest influences would have to be Andrew Bird, Steely Dan, Silversun Pickups, Dawes, Chairlift… but the rest of the band brings in other influences too, from metal to punk to straight ahead jazz and funk.
5. What role does music play within Ecuadorian culture? If visiting Ecuador, what do you recommend humans check out?
I was born in SF, but I lived in the Ecuadorian Amazon for a year when I was 18 and another 6 months during college. My host family there is very musically talented, so I would have to say my greatest contribution to Ecuadorian music would be having taught my host brothers Miguel and Wily to play guitar while I was there. In the future I’d love to work in some more influences from Amazonian Kichwa music into Mitch Rocket tracks, it’s a very cool 2 against 3 rhythm that underpins it.
If visiting Ecuador, I highly recommend that anyone go to Sinchi Warmi, a beautiful complex of cabins and a restaurant in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. It’s one of the most peaceful spots on the planet – there’s nothing quite like laying in one of the hammocks there, surrounded by the jungle and kept cool by the breeze over the ponds.
6. What is your creative process?
Sometimes I’ll get a feel a spark of inspiration, kind of like an upwelling in my chest, and I’ll try to get to a guitar or piano as quickly as possible because I know something good is coming. Usually I’ll start by just messing around with some chords and a melody will suggest itself. I almost always start with chords and harmony, then melody, then write the lyrics last. Writing songs can be very cathartic – whatever I’m struggling with in life will usually make its way into the lyrics of the songs I’m writing, sometimes even before I’ve consciously realized that I’m struggling with it.
I have a bad habit of writing half a song and then getting distracted. I have tons of songs or voice memos are just one verse and one chorus. So if anyone out there is good at finishing songs, hit me up, let’s collaborate.
7. 2019 saw the release of “Fading Away.” Could you share more about this release? How did the ocean influence and inspire this single?
It’s actually funny that you should ask about the ocean – this song was written in 2015 while I was living in Quito, in the Andes mountains, so on one level it has nothing at all to do with the ocean picture you see on the cover, which was taken in Tel Aviv in 2014. But on the second verse there is an extended metaphor about walking along the waterline on the beach and watching the waves wash away your footprints. The ocean is time, erasing the traces of our brief lives. The heart of that song to me is a question: what’s left of us when we’ve passed on?
8. What are some things humans should lookout for when walking on the street? Is it true humans can receive a ticket for crossing the street? Was this single inspired by actual experiences?
The song probably should have been called Street Running or the Devil’s Music or something like that. The lyrics were written immediately after I woke up from a nightmare about being pursued through the streets by a nameless, faceless horror. And then realizing, having run home and shut the door, that something of that horror is living inside of you. So that would be something to look out for while walking on the street. I wouldn’t worry too much about the ticket.
9. You get the opportunity to build your own Petting Zoo. What animals would you have in it? Could you share the process of putting “Petting Zoo” together?
Well obviously the rhinos and flying pigs from the album cover would have to make it in there. You can also see my cat Julie on the new cover, but I don’t think she’d do well in a petting zoo – too shy.
Petting Zoo was a 4 year process. I started working on the album with my dad in Fall 2017 – he’s a recording engineer and until 2020 the only place I recorded was in his home studio. That process was very slow – I was building a career in affordable housing advocacy and volunteering with the Silicon Valley DSA, plus I lived in San Jose without a car and he was in San Francisco. When COVID-19 hit, my dad was taking care of my 92-year-old grandma so seeing him in person was out of the question. So I started recording at home in San Jose, learning as I went. In late September 2020 I took a week off of work and that’s when I wrote and recorded Street Walking, which I put out as a single a week later. The response to that song was so positive that it gave me new energy to record, and I started working on what became Never Gonna Change and Keep It Simple.
In April 2021 I moved to San Francisco, quit my job, and started a mad dash to finish recording the album. At that point it had already been almost 4 years and I was anxious to get the project done for fear that it wouldn’t happen otherwise. After a lot of recording, mixing, and lessons learned I put Petting Zoo out in October 2021. We had our album release party at Bottom of the Hill and I think that night will always stand out in my mind – all kinds of friends from all different parts of my life showed up to support, even on a rainy Tuesday. It was truly a dream realized.
10. How can humans combat the Earth from killing them?
That’s a big question! Less consumption of natural resources and less pollution would be a good start, but it’s hard to do much as one individual. Real change needs to be collectively demanded from the world’s biggest polluters – large corporations like Chevron, Exxon, and Dow Chemical. We need to have strict standards about carbon emissions, mining, and other exploitation of the environment to prevent us from destroying our planet – or at least our planet’s ability to support our civilization. The capitalist growth machine will always demand more consumption without regard to the dwindling and precious natural resources we have. Aiming our economy toward sustainable growth would require restructuring not just our economic system, but our political system, especially to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics.
Also, as an international community we should put strict restrictions on gain-of-function research – it could create viruses even worse than COVID-19. There’s even some evidence that COVID-19 originated as a result of gain of function research carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, though the jury is still out. Habitat destruction and hunting of wild animals also brings humans into contact with animals that can transmit new zoonotic diseases with the potential to become pandemics.
There’s a lot more we could do, but that’s a couple things that are top of mind. Sorry to get on the soapbox, but in all fairness, you asked!
11. A human gets the chance to see Mitch Rocket perform. How would you describe your live performances?
It’s a really energetic show – we’ve got a lot going on! The band is now a 5 piece – drums, bass, guitar/vocals, lead guitar, and keys/sax. We feature Geoff on saxophone a lot because he is a killer soloist, with jazz chops and rock and roll fire. Oscar on the lead guitar is also an incredible soloist. I’d like to think the songs and lyrics are pretty darn good – we keep it varied with a lot of different genres, time signatures, and textures throughout the set. Depending on the show we like to open one of two ways – 1) with a cover of our homie Bromf’s song The Knife, which is a blast of fuzz guitar with lyrics about being stabbed by a shadowy figure in your dreams, or 2) with The Farallones, which is the album opener and is one of our calmest, most shoegazey,chillwave-type songs.
When she’s available, my fiancée Helen will sing a few songs with us – she’s an incredible classically trained vocalist, and she can also belt with the best of them. You can hear her vocals on the intro of Never Gonna Change on Petting Zoo.
The climax of our set is almost always a one-two punch of a crowd sing-along political anthem called Dirty and Wrong into Street Walking, which in the live setting has morphed into an ominous free jazz rager with a dueling sax solo that never sounds quite the same twice.
When I start playing on stage I often feel like I’ve entered a kind of fugue state where I become an entirely different person who is much bolder and wilder than the usual me.
12. What is next for Mitch Rocket?
We’re releasing Live at the Art Boutiki on March 17th, and the single “Year of the Deer” is already out. After that I’m very excited about releasing a song called Worry Less that we’ve been playing live for a few months now to excellent audience response. It still needs mixing so maybe around May. I think we’ll be focusing on singles for the next while. I’d love to do a west coast tour soon – we have some friends in Portland, Seattle, and LA that we’d like to play with, but so far the logistics have been a bit beyond me.
13. Where can readers listen to your music?
Anywhere! We’re on all the streaming services, and of course Bandcamp is the best platform for artists. Here are some links:
Live at the Art Boutiki – Bandcamp: https://mitchrocket.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-the-art-boutiki
Live at the Art Boutiki – Streaming: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/mitchrocket/live-at-the-art-boutiki
Petting Zoo – Bandcamp: https://mitchrocket.bandcamp.com/album/petting-zoo
Petting Zoo – Streaming: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/mitchrocket/petting-zoo