Alice Coltrane

Quick Q and A with The Electric Farm

Let me tell you about The Electric Farm. This is going to get personal so hold on.

I first met Joey Mutis III of The Electric Farm at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) in November 2007….it was the last time that our folk organization held its annual meeting at Kutsher’s in the Catskills. You can go down a real rabbit hole by googling Kutsher’s to see it in its glory in the 1950s and 1960s but by 2007, it was pretty much a dive. But it was a dive where I spent one of the happiest weekends of my life. I had been selected as a judge for the “Tri-centrics” — a series of showcases for artists who were selected to present their music for 15-minutes before music business people like DJs, venue promoters, publicists, and other artists. Ron Olesko, who now operates the 24/7 streaming radio channel, Folk Music Notebook, was the judge wrangler and sent us dozens of CDs (before the days of downloading) and judges had to rate each artist on their songs. That’s when I first heard The Electric Farm and it was love at first listen. One day I will write a much longer blog about my love affair with this music but suffice it to say, I’m a big fan. I waited over 10 years for the next CD to come out and it’s now available and that CD is Unglued.

The Electric Farm is the brain child of Joey Mutis III. We bonded over our love of Thousand Island dressing in the dining room at Kutsher’s. We’ve remained friends ever since. The Electric Farm band on this new CD is Joey on vocals and guitar, Mike Frank on piano and keyboards, Adam Winokur on bass, and Roger Cox on drums. Tight band. Dreamy atmospheric music. Give the CD a listen. Please.

To learn more about The Electric Farm, visit the website.

Here’s a video of “Counting Stars” which will give you a taste of Unglued.

Your musical influences are wildly eclectic.  Could you look back and cite some of your top influences and which of your original songs resulted through musical osmosis.

It’ll be hard to keep this short. Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, John Martyn, Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan, Shirley Collins, Richard & Linda Thompson, Fairport, June Tabor, The Unthanks, Jessica Pratt, Gordon Lightfoot, Dylan, Arlo, Woody, Joni, Judee Sill, Rickie Lee, Randy Newman, Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Neil Young, John Sebastian, J J Cale, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Townes, Todd Rundgren, Gillian Welch, Lucinda, Iris, Victoria Williams, Ron Sexsmith, Laetitia Sadier, Margo Guryan, Milton Nascimento, Edu Lobo, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Vitor Ramil, Joao Gilberto, Baden Powell, Joyce, Nara Leao, Chico Buarque, Free Design, Ronettes, Badfinger, Bee Gees, Beach Boys, Big Star, Byrds, Bowie, John, Paul, George, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Stereolab, Elliot Smith, Belle and Sebastian, Paul Williams, Scott Walker, Nick Lowe, Kinks, T Rex, Zombies, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Modern Lovers, Talking Heads, Elton, Leon Russell, Small Faces, Who, Dead, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Donny Hathaway, Linda Lewis, Marvin Gaye, Staple Singers, Curtis Mayfield, Sly, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Aretha, Bobby Womack, Supremes, O’Jays, Bill Withers, D’Angelo, Blossom Dearie, Billie Holiday, Miles, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Bill Evans, Gill Evans, Gabor Szabo, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Nina Simone, Keith Jarrett, Mose Allison, Ornette, Sun Ra, Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Sr, Merle Haggard, Bobbie Gentry, Willie, Louvin Brothers, Delmore Brothers, Stanley Brothers,  Dolly, Loretta, Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightning, Hooker, Muddy, Slim Harpo – OK I’ll stop.

The Kinks subliminally taught me how to write character based songs. More than any other artist, Ray Davies was my greatest teacher. Especially the albums Something Else and The Village Green Preservation Society and singles like “Autumn Almanac.” In short, this transformed me as a songwriter. Didn’t like much of my early output until I wrote the songs “Julie Shop Around” and “Why Would You Want Him.” I took me years to realize that Julie was one the characters in “Waterloo Sunset.”

“On a Summer’s Day” and “Wild River” make me think of the Van Morrison album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. “Sometimes I Wonder” and ‘The Day” feel like Nick Drake. Ray Davies in “Jazzman,” and “Man of the Town.” Lou Reed – Berlin in “And She Dreams”.  Pink Floyd in “Days of my Youth”. Ralph McTell in “Wayward Wind.”

You describe your music as soft pop in a folky space rock situation. Whenever I read this description, I think of late 60s / early 70s radio hits!  Many of those songs from way back then may have crept into your psyche.  I know that you’re a life-long record collector.  Do you have any favorite songs from that era that may be one-hit wonders that grabbed your ear but didn’t necessarily influence your songwriting?  (long-winded question, I know!)

“To Know Him Is To Love Him” by The Teddy Bears (sorry for cheating, I think this is late 50’s), “I Love How You Love Me” – The Paris Sisters, “Reflections of my Life” by Marmalade. I love pop music from the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s. The way you can get lost in a song, and how music can take you away in a daydream is an important quality for me.

Tell us about your latest album Unglued. How would you compare it to your last album, the self-titled The Electric Farm?

We took a much different approach with Unglued vs. the last album. Unglued is mostly live with minimal fixes. The last record had two string sections and was a very labored over process. My bandmates Mike Frank and Scott Bricklin did an enormous amount of production work on that record. In comparison, when recording and mixing Unglued, we didn’t take advantage of or over use technology. I sing mostly in a higher register on Unglued and lower on the self-titled album. And Unglued is filled with short songs and the self-titled record was filled with long songs.

You had at least 20 songs written for Unglued .. so how did the eleven tracks make the cut?  I heard that there’s actually a kind of unplanned concept that came together quite magically. What was that “aha” moment like?

The concept of the album emerged naturally as I worked on the sequencing. It suddenly became evident that there was a story of a child growing up on side one. Sometimes it’s me and sometimes it’s Johnny. I knew “Days of My Youth” needed to be first, it set-up the beginning of the storyline. “Counting Stars” had to be second because that introduced the character Johnny as a child. “Sometimes I Don’t Like the Way I Feel” jumps ahead a little but brings out how depression is a part of our lives. “Jazzman” is about the genesis of Johnny becoming a musician. “Down” is about the time a friend and I saw a UFO clear as day when I was about 11. It lasted for about 30 seconds and was pretty close. It also reminds me of the effect the Bowie song “Space Oddity” had on me just a couple years before. “On a Summer’s Day” is about connecting with lost loved ones—the song was about a feeling I had while driving, where I was overwhelmed with the presence of my deceased grandma and my aunt who both took care of me. The song came to me while I was feeling this, and felt like my way of saying thank you for availing themselves to me. Side two is the child becoming an adult. “Wayward Wind” is about yearning for love. “Sometimes I Wonder” is dark and I think it represents a fear of dying. “Lover in Waiting” represents the hope that love will come. “Little Things” reminds us of the good things in life to hopefully prevent thoughts of suicide. The way that my childhood experiences and Johnny’s intertwined led to the last song, which is titled “Songs.” In the end, for both of us songs represent something spiritual and something good to hold onto. The instrumental outro of “Songs” includes snippets of melody from “Lover In Waiting” and “Days of My Youth.” And “Counting Stars” is referenced in the lyrics early on. Our lives are intertwined in songs and are our salvation.

Recording has changed quite a bit since you first started making music. Did you incorporate any new recording tricks on the new CD?

Unglued was recorded on pro tools but mixed on an old board from the 70’s. We went for live band recordings with few fixes, overdubs etc. I sang and played live simultaneously like I would at a gig—instead of putting instrumental tracks down first, then doing a separate vocal take. No autotune. We spent more time discussing and deciding not to fix things, than anything else. The first song where we heard what sounded like “the take” was “Days of my Youth.” I remember thinking how it had what Neil Young refers to as “the spook.” I remember Adam commenting on how there’s no need to manufacture a sound because the vibe is baked into the performance. It just happened when we played together. I could hear some spots where I may want to fix a line or a word or two, but didn’t want to lose what was captured in the original performance. The process wasn’t lengthy. And tracking mostly consisted of playing for a few hours, and not repeating songs over and over. Take a break, then continue the same way. This is not the way most records are made on pro tools. And it helped retain the sound of a band playing together, instead of an over processed studio recording.

Tell us about your songwriting process. Do you actively work on your craft on a regular basis?

I’ve learned to rely on inspiration. I don’t form an idea and write a song about something specific. I literally just wait for the song to come. My songwriting history teaches me that this is where the good ones come from. However, I get worried when too much time passes by and there are no songs. That’s when I work on my craft or try to conjure up some inspiration. But generally that just teaches me the same lesson over and over, which is I must wait for inspiration.

You’ve been a guitar teacher for some time.  Does teaching cool guitar chops bring you joy? Do you have any anecdotes about a great student success story?

 I do enjoy teaching. There was a student a few years back who I helped get accepted into both Berklee College of Music and Belmont University in Nashville. Her name is Sara J. and she just released her first single.

You were a long-time volunteer at the famous Godfrey Daniel’s Coffeehouse in Bethlehem, PA. What were the highlights of your time spent at that intimate and well-respected venue?

I started going in the 80’s and became a volunteer. There are countless memories of hanging with John Hartford, Loudon, Jonathan Richman, asking John Hammond why Mike Blomfield played piano instead of guitar on one of his early records. John Hammond is one of the nicest human beings I ever met. One night the sound man was playing the self titled Electric Farm CD at the end of the night. And Steve Forbert asked who’s playing. The volunteers pointed to me and he said, sounds like Nick Drake, I like it. But I guess my favorite memories are after Fairport Convention finished their gig, I told them my band was playing at the bar next door. This is one of my all time favorite bands. Dave Pegg was in the middle of a dancing audience singing along to “Hokey Pokey” while looking into my eyes and smiling. We played “Meet on the Ledge” as well. When the show was over, the band talked to me at length about the music. This would’ve never happened without Godfrey Daniels.

But maybe my strongest memory is being the MC a couple times for Townes Van Zandt. The last time Townes played it was a double bill with Guy Clark. Townes’ manager, Howard, wanted me to come to the bar afterwards, and there was a seat between Townes and Guy. Then we went to the hotel. When I left several hours later the sun was shining. I spent the night watching them gamble, making Townes laugh because I wouldn’t allow Guy to try on my coat or gamble for it. These are two of my songwriting heroes. Rolling the dice for Townes, listening to him tell me stories, the way the two of them joked and gambled with each other, my God! At the end of the night I got serious and told Townes at length what he meant to me. Letting him know I had every record and knew every song. Telling him I loved his music and thanked him for his life’s work and what his music means to me. He looked deep into my eyes, squeezed my hand as hard as he could as we both shed a tear, and shared something with me that I would rather not repeat, but meant the world to me.

How have you been dealing with the COVID situation?  Have you been able to dig in and find new ways to keep your creative spirit alive?

I have this old song called “I Remember.” I could never finish it. It’s about someone remembering when they would go see a band they loved. There is another old song I could never finish called “Home” about the sacred qualities that exist in the place where we live. I suppose that it’s not a coincidence that the circumstances of quarantine would bring forth the inspiration to finish these two songs a couple decades after I started writing them.