This month, Hari Mari rolls out its brand-spanking-new full-grain leather flip flop called Lakes, and for its launch, we produced a truly spectacular web video (coming soon), or more like a modestly-good web ad made spectacular by the fact that rising electronic pop group, Ishi, agreed to provide the music for it.
With the coming launch of Lakes and celebrating our collaboration with Dallas-based Ishi, Hari Mari sat with JT Mudd, the group’s long-mustacheoed, charismatic front man to talk about all things vegetarian, folk music, Michael Jackson, and of course, Ishi, ahead of its pending west coast tour.
For the interview, JT selects his go-to lunchtime eatery, the ever-eclectic Cosmic Café in Dallas’ Oak Lawn neighborhood, a shrine for curried vegetables, dahl and spinach enchiladas, not to mention its eastern feel.WHY DID YOU CHOOSE COSMIC CAFÉ TO MEET FOR LUNCH?
I come here a few times a month. I’m a vegetarian and the food here’s great, always refreshing. The décor here is pretty amazing too. It’s always great to take people who aren’t from Dallas to Cosmic Café. They don’t expect to visit a place like this in Dallas, so it’s interesting to see their shell shock. WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A MUSICIAN?
When I was fourteen, my dad bought me a bass guitar. As soon as I put it in my hands, it was like a light bulb went off in my head, and it was really clear to me that this is what I wanted to do. It’s what I’m good at. TALK ABOUT THE BEGINNINGS OF ISHI?
Before Ishi, I was in a band with my brother. He decided to move to LA, and after his departure, I was looking for someone to fill-in. The girl I was dating at the time said I needed to meet one of her college friends, and that’s how I met Brad Dale. From there, it didn’t feel right continuing on under the same band name without my brother, so Brad and I started a new group, and called it Ishi. I had some folk tunes and Brad came from the house and electronic scene, and that’s how Ishi started, meshing folk tunes with electronic backbeats, and aiming for a hybrid between the two, like Simon & Garfunkel meets Daft Punk. DID IT TAKE YOU A WHILE TO FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN MUSIC STYLES?
Not really, it came pretty naturally to us. Brad’s really good at producing and I had some good folk songs, and the two melded together pretty effortlessly. If you listen to our first record THROUGH THE TREES, the first half is heavily electronic with acoustic & organic instrumentation, then you have a second half that’s flipped, more acoustic & indie rock-focused with some electronic production. HOW DID YOU GET INTO FOLK?
I grew up in a very sheltered home, and I didn’t discover a lot of music until my 20’s. I was lucky if I was able to listen to the Beatles, and was really lucky if I got away with Michael Jackson, so my self-discovery in music really came out later. And, when I did start listening to a lot of music, I also started writing music in my bedroom with an acoustic guitar, writing music with a consciousness of bringing about self-awareness. To me, folk music is about self-awareness. HOW WAS YOUR FIRST RECORDING EXPERIENCE IN STUDIO?
As a musician your first LP, should be as good as it gets. It should be the most valid reflection of what you're doing as an artist. We recorded in 2010, but started writing for the LP in 2007, so it took almost three years. It was a great learning experience that taught us to focus on some of those things you don’t think about while you’re writing or developing a track, like sound quality. We’re sticklers for production and want everything to be top notch, so we took a lot of time to make sure that happened. TALK ABOUT CREATING A NEW TRACK, HOW DOES THAT PROCESS WORK FOR ISHI?
Pretty easily. I write a song’s lyrics first or Brad writes the instrumentals first, and then we’ll give those parts to one another, and the other guy fills in the blank with either lyrics or instrumentals. Seems to work pretty well for us. SINCE “PASTEL LIGHTS” IS THE FEATURED TRACK IN HARI MARI’S SOON-TO-BE-RELEASED ‘LAKES’ VIDEO, HOW DID YOU ALL COLLABORATE ON IT AND WHAT’S THE GENESIS OF THE SONG?
For Pastel Lights, Brad wrote the instrumentals then handed them to me and I wrote the lyrics and melody. For me, Pastel Lights is about losing a lover, and really how we could maybe experience that same shared feeling for one another again, but maybe in a different time or a different life. DOES GOING THROUGH HARDSHIPS LIKE THAT OR EXPERIENCES LIKE THAT MAKE YOU A BETTER ARTIST?
Yeah, if your heart’s in the right spot & if you have a good attitude about it, pain & struggles make you a better person. Great songs always come out of that. WHERE DO YOU SEE ISHI’S SOUND GOING?
I like dance culture, and I’d like to create a sound that’s really looked up to in that space. Dance & house have been the underbelly of mainstream music for the last twenty years, so to achieve value in a national & international way along those lines is something we really strive for. DO YOU MISS FOLK MUSIC?
No, I still write folk songs all the time. I’m just always looking for a way to implement them back in to Ishi. WHEN ON STAGE, IS THE PERFORMANCE AS IMPORTANT AS THE MUSIC?
Yeah, I think so. I love performance art, and I think it’s lacking in most music. So, yeah, I’m a big advocate of it and I think that shows when Ishi plays. WHO ARE YOU CURRENTLY LISTENING TO?
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Twin Shadow and Atoms for Peace are a few of the groups I’m currently into. A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH SHOWS “ISHI” MEANS “MAN” IN NATIVE AMERICAN YAHI LANGUAGE. HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THE NAME “ISHI” AND IS THE NAME A NOD TO YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE?
It means different things for every one in the group. For me, Ishi does point to my Native American blood and heritage. I don’t think it’s embraced in pop culture like it should be. It’s a beautiful culture with so much esoteric knowledge that our society has shunned to the side, and ultimately music and art are what really harness the traditions of the Native American culture. HOW HAS DALLAS AFFECTED ISHI’S MUSIC?
I like Dallas because I feel like we’re always the underdog, and it’s a great city to foster your dreams. It’s a city that allows me to truly focus on my craft as an artist, and it’s been a supportive environment, especially since nothing like Ishi, and our sound, has really come out of Dallas. BEST LOCAL DALLAS VENUE FOR SOUND QUALITY?
There are a lot of good ones, but Trees does a great job of zeroing in on sound quality. NEXT ALBUM?
It’s coming soon. We have eight songs we’ve already written for it. After our west coast tour, we’ll be spending some more time on it.
Ishi’s west coast tour starts in January of 2014, including stops in Phoenix, San Diego, LA and Portland. Check the group’s website, IshiMusic.com, for dates and information, or catch them in advance of their tour on New Year’s Eve (if you’re lucky) in Dallas/Fort Worth at The Dram. Ishi’s two albums, THROUGH THE TREES and DIGITAL WOUNDS are both available on iTunes.