Mighty Oaks are one of the best new bands out there. Their music speaks to your soul, the three part harmonies are enchanting and live the guys are really engaging. They were playing at Zürich Openair at the end of August and singer Ian Hooper, bassist Craig Saunders and Claudio Donzelli (piano & guitar) were so kind to take some time to answer my questions about their music, their experience, their different cultures and a lot more to be discovered in this interview! Since Claudio is Italian I took the chance to say something in Italian to him to break the ice! Before the interview they told me how much they liked their show in Lausanne at Les Docks, we were there too and here’s our review!
Thanks a lot to Ian, Craig and Claudio and thanks to Rafaela Spitzli from Universal Music for making this interview possible 🙂
The Liberation: So your first album Howl came out in early 2014 and it had a great success. How do you feel about that?
- Ian Hooper: (laughs) Great obviously. I mean you know it was our first album it was the first thing we’d ever done really you know to try to put out into the world in a bigger scale and it was overwhelmingly positive for us to see how people responded to it. You know, you can’t complain when people like your music. Yeah, it was a wonderful experience and we hope that it just continue to go that way.
The Liberation: Ok, great. What have you been doing since Howl came out. Just touring?
- Claudio Donzelli: Travelling a lot.
- Craig Saunders: Playing lots of shows yeah. Seeing lots of different places, playing lots of shows but yeah it feels as if we’ve been around almost non stop since the album came out.
- Claudio Donzelli: We’re almost at the end of it now. This is the third last show of that chapter. We did like 120 shows in one and a half years.
The Liberation: Wow that’s a lot!
- Claudio Donzelli (laughs)
The Liberation: And how did you cope with that? I mean was it easy or tiring?
- Ian Hooper: I mean it can be tiring sometimes but it’s a big adventure and it’s fun for everybody and we’ve a great crew that we get to travel around with. And you know it’s a very privileged position to be in to be able to go on tour not just like a lot of bands that we know, we live in Berlin, a lot of these bands only get to play in Germany, Austria and Switzerland the German speaking parts. And we’re lucky that we get to go to a lot of other countries and play for a lot of different people. And yeah I mean obviously when you spend so much time on the road there are lots of ups and downs but I think overwhelmingly it was very positive for us the last couple of years. Being on the road is really healthy and it’s great to play music I mean that’s why we started playing it’s because we really enjoy playing live. You know being able to travel the world and do what you love, you’re lucky.
The Liberation: Of course, yeah! I’m jealous! (laughs) your album contains many autobiographical songs how do you feel when you write about things that happened in your life? What do you feel when you actually bring them on stage and in front of the audience?
- Ian Hooper: I think it’s important to write about personal events at times, not constantly. But you know, it’s a good way to kinda let out feelings for me, I guess especially but it’s a very personal experience as well, you sing about things that are close to you or events that have happened to you in the past and not necessarily like, you know, just songs that you want people to just listen to and not really think about. We like to write music that up until now people can kind of take time and absorb. When we play our own headlines tour it’s a really great feeling cause all the people are there for you they’ve already tried to understand the songs and they feel it with you so our shows are kind of like a nice little trip together with the audience when we play. At festivals it can be good or bad you know, like some people really just like the positive energy in the songs, or what some of them mean, but a lot of people are just there to get really drunk and you know pass out in the sunshine
- Claudio Donzelli: (laughs) Party!
The Liberation: That’s sad, yeah.
- Ian Hooper: So I don’t think we make your typical festival party songs. Some really work well at festivals we really like playing festival. I think generally we’re a good festival band. But we don’t play a lot of our slower songs or intimate songs on stage at festivals. You know there’s a time and place for everything.
The Liberation: Yeah, I get it. You come from three different countries, Ian from the US, Craig from the UK and Claudio from Italy. In which way does this multiculturality influence your music? If it does…
- Claudio Donzelli: I mean we all have different backgrounds, like life experiences but also different music we used to listen to. And also a lot of music in common, we found in the last years touring with the van you know you play a song that you like and sometimes people are like “oh this used to be one of my favourite!”. Like Led Zeppelin, an historical legend that we all kind of relate to. Yeah we’re trying to get the most off the diversity in the band, to somehow learn from each other and get inspired by each other. Try to be more than the sum of 1+1+1, try to somehow find an identity that is not simply three guys together or something. With the first album I think we started on the right path and with the second album I think we are trying to strengthen this constructive cooperation.
The Liberation: Are there ever any clashes because of your culture?
- Claudio Donzelli: Not culture, I mean, I think we just try to be understanding with each other as much as we can. (laughs)
The Liberation: Yeah that’s important. So you’re based in Berlin. Why did you end up there? Does Berlin influence your music in any way since it’s a very musical and cultural city?
- Ian Hooper: Aaah I mean we moved there for different reasons I went there to work initially, Claudio went there to do work on his PhD and we had met in Hamburg previously and we also met Craig there. When Claudio and I both moved to Berlin we kinda re-established contact to one another and started playing music together. I don’t know if Berlin necessarily influences our music I mean I guess maybe now more than it did with the first album ’cause we hadn’t been there that long it hadn’t gotten on our nerves for long enough to influence our music. But I think that just by virtually living in a big city it changes your mindset, you know, big cities are a bit hectic and you don’t have as much escape from the day to day parrols of humanity you know there are so many people, so much traffic and it’s loud and there are assholes. I think because of that it makes us kinda have a longing for the places that we grew up in or where we’re from, or what we enjoy more about our free time. And I think when all of us are given the opportunity we like to leave the city and go to places that are more characterized by nature, the natural world. None of us is from big cities to begin with. But also being in a big city is a very positive experience when you’re young and when you’re trying to learn a lot about maybe say the music industry and meet other musicians or whatever. If you leave in some little town in the middle of nowhere the Internet is kind of your encyclopaedia and your window to the world.
- Claudio Donzelli: Yeah, you’re right!
- Ian Hooper: If you live in a big city everything is there in front of your door and you can go outside and meet people from all over the world learn from them, cultures, the ideas. You know there’s good and bad and I think that Berlin is a city that allows you kind of to take everything in in a manageable way. It’s not too big, it’s not too crazy it’s still pretty tamed, yeah.
The Liberation: Right size. In your music you combine three part harmonies. Does it take a lot of time to prepare? Is it difficult?
- Claudio Donzelli: It comes pretty natural I think, yeah to harmonize.
The Liberation: Ok
- Claudio Donzelli: I mean we like singing, we put some work in it sometimes to arrange it in a less obvious way sometimes or to create patterns like question-answers. But for me especially I always tend to sing the harmony even when I listen to the song of another band. I mean, I always hear a kind of natural… yeah you know, in the shower I sing always harmonies to everything so for us it was a very natural way to put our efforts together.
The Liberation: Yeah! And how does your composition process work? Do you come up with lyrics or music first?
- Ian Hooper: Music first.
- Claudio Donzelli and Craig Saunders: Yes, the music.
The Liberation: Ok. Like you would play something on the guitar?
- Claudio Donzelli: Yeah it’s usually that.
- Craig Saunders: It differs. I mean a lot of the first album were sort of songs ideas that Ian already sort of had and that we would develop together. And now writing as we are now we’re trying different approaches sort of writing from the beginning all together. We’re just trying different ways to see what different ideas and things you can get out of it.
The Liberation: Ok. When I saw you at Gurtenfestival in Bern last Summer. I remember there was a huge picture on the back of the stage with the mountains from where you (indicating Ian) grew up.
- Ian Hooper: Yeah.
The Liberation: And as soon as you started playing I felt as if I was plunged in that landscape.
- Ian Hooper: Oh that’s nice!
The Liberation: I wanted to know how do you make the listener travel so much and also if your music is conceived while travelling.
- Ian Hooper: I don’t think it’s like a conscious effort on our part to write songs that inspire you know like this Fernweh or this desire to travel, wanderlust. I think it’s just something that is inside of everybody here, most people, you know this desire to see the world and travel a bit and then it finds way into our music somehow. I think our music is good for travelling, it’s nice to listen to when you’re on the train, when you’re maybe in the car or when you’re walking around somewhere. I don’t know that’s when I like to listen to music the most it’s when I’m out and about riding my bicycle, or on a plane going somewhere, when you’re excited and you’re filled with new emotions. You know, I don’t really go out to clubs or anything like that, if I’m in a bar I don’t actively listen to the music that’s going unless it’s like classic rock from the ‘80s and I’m drinking whisky. I don’t know I think it’s just something that fits well with our music, travel.
The Liberation: So Howl was more about the Pacific Northwest of the US
- Ian Hooper: Some of it, some of it yeah.
The Liberation: Some of it yeah. Will there be an album about Italy and the UK?
- Craig Saunders: Concept album. It’s definitely not planned.
- Claudio Donzelli: (laughs) Maybe we’ll see.
- Ian Hooper: Probably not this time.
The Liberation: No? (laughs) What are your future projects in general?
- Ian Hooper: Future projects?
The Liberation: Yeah.
- Ian Hooper: Ehm well right now we’re just focusing on the second album. And beside from that there is no future, that will determine our future.
- Claudio Donzelli (laughs)
- Ian Hooper (laughs)
- Claudio Donzelli: Yeah, we focus on writing now. We still have three shows and then we’re gonna focus exclusively on that thing for a couple of months at least yeah.
The Liberation: Ok yeah. and do you feel any pressure because Howl was so successful?
- Ian Hooper: Sure, I mean. I don’t know if the guys do but I do. There’s always pressure to deliver another great piece of music. I don’t know if Howl was such a wonderful album, it was our first try and we all really like it but you know we’ve been playing that album and travelling with it now for a couple years and we’re ready to move on. We hope that the next album we’ll be fresh for us and you know interesting for the fans that we already have and also for people that maybe weren’t so excited about the first album but still like the band. You know it’s kind of finding the sweet spot between people who already know about the band and finding new listeners, look around the world. It’s not easy to do, there are so many great bands today and the music industry is interesting world to be living in and making our living in. There’s pressure but it’s a healthy pressure.
- Claudio Donzelli: It’s a wonderful opportunity.
- Ian Hooper: A wonderful opportunity.
The Liberation: You’re very interactive on stage. Does it come natural or did you have to learn that?
- Claudio Donzelli: It’s all staged, it’s all fake. (laughs)
The Liberation (laughs)
- Ian Hooper: You should see when we play sober. (laughs) It’s really awkward.
- Claudio Donzelli (laughs)
- Ian Hooper: No I think it’s something that takes time to learn as well. I mean the guys had a band before this but I never had a band even before our band so I never really played stages or anything, so it’s something you have to learn. We don’t run around and jump around like a lot of other bands do but…
- Claudio Donzelli: It comes natural when you have a good sound in your hear, when people in front of you are good Gelaunt (in a good mood) and there’s a good vibe before the concert too like we build it up in the backstage like we start singing together and then you build it with a glass of whisky. When there’s a good mood before then it’s much more natural to be very connected there. But also I mean we’re a small society so we have all the ups and downs, kind of connections and sometimes the least you can do is just perform well and then if something more happens you know it’s welcome but you cannot always command it.
The Liberation: Ok, yeah. One last question: I’ll see you tonight and then I’ll also be at Lollapalooza in Berlin.
- Ian Hooper: Oh cool!
The Liberation: If I’m not wrong that’s gonna be your last show before a long time. Are you excited to play in Berlin, which is like your adoption home?
- Ian Hooper: Yeah! We play tomorrow there actually as well, there’s a little festival. We’re playing there and then I think Lollapalooza will be a nice stage. We also played Lollapalooza in Chicago this year as well, which was very cool.
The Liberation: Oh wow!
- Ian Hooper: We’re very excited to be part of the first one in Berlin. Also living in Berlin we hope that it’s like a hometown feeling, who knows.
- Craig Saunders: Maybe a little bit of a bitter sweet sort of you know. It’s nice to end up there because it’s your home but then afterwards it’s kind of you know. Playing live is great so there’s will be a little of you know… cause you won’t see the crew for a while, the guys you’ve spent time travelling with, to become part of a time. It will be kind of happy sad I guess.
The Liberation: Well, I’m done. Thank you very much!
- Mighty Oaks: Than you very much!