With its eccentric blend of jazz, psychedelia, two-tone, pop and the odd punk riff, topped with absurd, yet wittily astute lyrics, Misty's Big Adventure's debut album, Misty's Big Adventure and Their Place in the Solar Hi-Fi System, has been causing a quiet buzz since its release last September. Live they're even better. The eight-piece band from Birmingham puts on a show a 1920s Berlin cabaret would be proud of, not least because of their resident dancing loony, Erotic Volvo. After finishing a UK tour and supporting The Zutons in front of 2000 people, the band's facing another tight UK tour schedule in June and July. Their third single, 'Hey Man', was released on May 9th, and their second album, 'The Black Hole', will come out on July 4th. Gigwise spoke to their frontman, lyricist and musical arranger, Grandmaster Gareth.
On stage Gareth appears oblivious to the mayhem around him: Slouched, hands in pockets, furrowed brows, a blank stare and an occasional smile. His dark, velvety voice croons: "They call me insane, but that's not my name...".
Gareth laughs: "I think of bad lounge singers. I rarely smile, it's always deadpan. Not to be me makes it easier to talk to the audience."
Off stage he has an easy smile, is relaxed, yet alert and enthused about his music. "People are into garage, indie, jazz or whatever, but I'm into all of that. I mix it all together," he gestures. "30s jazz is a favourite of mine, and I like the 60s because people were able to do weird stuff. And it sold."
The forthcoming album, produced by Brian O'Shaughnessy (Beth Orton, Primal Scream, Denim), takes the first, and adds a string section and a drop of commercialism ('The Story Of Love', 'She Fills The Spaces'). "I've always written pop songs, but the new album's got a few proper ones where I didn't mess much with sounds and ideas in the hope that we get more air play. I feel I got to compromise a bit."
He doesn't compromise in his stage appearance. Shoulder-long, brown, curly hair, ordinary T-shirt, washed-out denims and trainers - he's obviously not rehearsing for Pop Idol.
And it didn't stop him from revealing lyrically a darker side on the new album: 'Every time I see you / and every time I don't / you're always there beside me / hands around my throat.' ('The Story Of Love')
The album's called 'The Black Hole', "because I like its different meanings. It can be something that sucks everything in or a hole in the ground. Also it's darker. I didn't have a good year last year," he adds pensively. "I write dark stuff to get things sorted out in my head."
A smile forms again. "I also like writing about the universe and things like that, because if you try to think about it your brain kind of stops. You have to use your imagination to get round it."
A fan of low-budget 60s and 70s B-movies, he's planning an own low-budget film about Misty's, "something psychedelic". After all his favourite film's 'The Holy Mountain' (1973) by the surrealist filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowsky. He refers to it in 'The Wising Up Song'.
Gareth, who learned to play the piano and cello, founded the band nine years ago, at fifteen, together with the drummer, Sam (his father was in the 70s prog rock stalwarts Gentle Giant), and another guy, who left after a year. Everyone in the band has a musical background, and is a friend or related. One of his older brothers, Matthew, plays the bass.
The Grandmaster was adopted, "because Gareth is the most unhiphop name." Pushed for his real name, he says coyly: "I don't want to tell."
Instead of going to music college, Gareth continued gigging with Misty's. "I didn't want to stop working with my drummer. Sam's drums have always made my songs work. They're often unconventional and have different changes."
"I also thought it would be better for me if I teach myself. I discovered charity record shop land where you find all these odd things there and millions of ideas. I was buying tons of records, lounge, jazz, anything. It changed my outlook on music."
As a teenager, he got into local Birmingham groups Broadcast, Pram and seven-strong Novak. "I went to see Novak and thought it was amazing. There was so much going on. They made me realise you could have a lot of people on stage, and as long as it was arranged well, it wouldn't sound chaotic."
"I like to get people away from thinking two guitars, a bass and a set of drums make a group. I like to make them think there are other instruments and other ways of writing songs."
To bring order into his own band, Gareth writes all the songs and dictates what to play. "I control mainly because I have to. To have that many people playing at the same time, if everybody writes their own melodies, you'd end up with a mess. But once I've given them a part, they can expand on it, and if I like it, they can do it."
As for the band's future, Gareth has a clear vision. "What I want is to mix real instruments with technology. I don't feel I've gone into that with Misty's yet."
Gareth has already experimented with computer sounds on his solo album 'Monster Melody', a collection of 30 spontaneous one-minute pieces, which he describes as musical diaries. He's got 200 now and wants to get to 250, "because I said I would do so."
Anything else? Keep playing gigs and reach as many people as possible. "I once saw four mentally disabled playing 'Black Magic Woman'. I noticed although it was terrible, and there were only twenty people, and it was much of a nothingness, they were really happy. Now that we draw a crowd I'm grateful that people come and listen. You should never forget that's why you do it."