Interview with Mishka
09/22/2015 by Gardy Stein
Twelve hours time difference! While it's already pitch dark outside at 9:15 pm in Hamburg (Germany), the day in Maui (Hawaii) has just been born. My screen is filled with swaying palm trees, bright sunlight and the smiling face of Alexander Mishka Frith. As we start talking about his album Roots Fidelity, Shaka Movement and The Free Radicals Project, a rooster crows occasionally in the background. At one time there's even a kitten meowing for Mishka's attention, which, however, is firmly targeted on Reggaeville. Aloha!
Good morning, I guess. I can't really wrap my head around this time difference thing…
Yeah. You are in Germany, right? I was just in Europe two weeks ago. I did one festival and some smaller gigs in Portugal and another festival in Slovakia.
How was it?
It was great! The one in Slovakia was huge, it was a big festival, the Uprising Festival. It was my first time east of Switzerland (laughs). It's cool, Reggae has a strong vibe there.
So you just came back home to Maui, right? How is the Reggae scene in Hawaii in general?
Well, it's like a really popular music, everyone is listening to it on the Radio or on MP3s, whatever... everywhere you go, every car passing by you hear it, you know. It's just everywhere. There is some good shows, too. I mean, it's a pretty small population, so it's not possible to have like huge festivals here, but you have some good Reggae bands who come through, some pretty famous acts who come through every now and then. Cause it's far from everywhere. So sometimes, if someone is on their way to Japan or Australia or something they just stop in Hawaii and do a show. And then you have some really great local artists.
Drop some names, please!
Some of the bigger names, going back a few years, we have Natty Vibes in the late Nineties, bands like The Green or Iration... I haven't been paying attention the last year or two because I was so busy making my new album, but... You know, you have other artists who make like a crossover between Hawaiian music and Reggae too, artists like Anuhea and Paula Fuga, there are so many. And then you have some Polynesian artists, like Fiji, they are really popular here.
Is the vibe comparable to Jamaica?
It's very different. I mean, the music not being from here, it's like... in Jamaica you feel it's really the roots of the music. But I think it's more like climate-wise and culture-wise you have definitely some similarities, like how people live, how the climate is and so. a general felling, kind of island feeling, so that's similar. But there are differences as well and sometimes it's just worlds apart from the Caribbean.
How long have you been living in Maui now?
And how is it with your family, do your kids also take up the music, do they play any instruments, do you teach them?
I teach them a bit, but, you know, I kind of have more the philosophy of letting them take their own path, you know. I was like that with music too. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if my parents had forced their thing on me, so I just let them do their thing.
Turning to your album, Roots Fidelity: will there be a release party?
Yes, but not right on the date of the release, I will do it a few weeks later. I've just come back from tour, so I have to settle down a bit. It's tricky too because I'm entirely independent.
Yes, you financed the album through Pledge, right? And it was a success, you reached the goal...
Yes, we reached the goal and the funding we needed. I'm really really happy with this album because I didn't compromise with the vision for it. It's like I had the idea for it and it just… it's one of those things. I mean, I've been doing this for 16 years and I was just saying to somebody yesterday that this is the first album I'm really happy with the way it came. I think it's the best I've done so far. I just want people to check it out, I think my old fans will love it, but I also think the more hardcore Reggae fans will love it, too. I didn't crossover with this one. With different albums I've done acoustic and rock kind of vibes, so it's all over the map genre-wise, but this one is just straight up Reggae from start to finish. So I just want the whole Reggae Massive to hear it!
Do you have a favourite song on it?
I really love the second track, Face To Face, and More Greens and then I have another one called Want You Tonight. These three are special, but I really love all of them really. You can't really say, I mean it's like picking favourite children.
In More Greens you feature Horseman, how did that collaboration come about?
The way I recorded this album was in conjunction with Prince Fatty, the engineer and producer in UK, and he actually used a lot of his drum tracks to create the album. And the drum tracks that he has were recorded by Horseman, he's a pretty legendary drummer in the UK. So, we got the tracks from him, we recorded the songs, we worked on them for about four months here in Maui and then we sent it back to Prince Fatty to do the mix and some of the final edits and touches, so he had some backing vocals done, some extra keyboards, you know, just tying the whole thing up and give it a really good dubby feel... So Horseman did the drum on it, he works with Prince Fatty a lot, and he heard the song and said to me, "You know, I think this song would be great with Horseman." and I just said "Go for it!", so... I haven't even met him yet.
How was the rest of the music recorded?
It was all piece by piece, track by track. We just had a very small one-room studio that we put together just to make this album here in Maui, and like I said, we did a couple of the drum tracks in the studio here, but the rest of them were tracks from Prince Fatty. And then we built the bass, guitars and some of the keyboards and percussion here in Maui and then like I said we sent it back to Prince Fatty and he did the finishing touches, so... I mean it's definitely multi-track, a modern-style recording, but we did it with the sense of wanting it to sound like a full band live. Without having the means to do that, I think we did it OK.
It does! The track Fallen To Rise really spoke to me. How did you get the inspiration for that, how did you conceive of it?
(laughs) Man, it's funny that you should ask about that one in particular, cause it's one of those songs that I don't really know where it came from. I just sat down one night and the whole thing just came, almost complete, it's just a feeling. So that song is a remake from an older album, Talk About 2010 [author's note: other remake-songs included are tracks 8, 10 and 12]. The original version was an acoustic one, it's just percussions and guitar and vocals, no bass, it's a much slower song.
On the Pledge project description it said that part of the money raised will go to an organization called Shaka Movement. Can you tell us something about that?
So, in Hawaii in the last few years there's been a big uprising in resistance to Monsanto and the experimental farms here and also to the general use of chemicals on all the cane fields, pineapple fields and all of that. Hawaii being such a small group of islands, the ecosystem is very fragile with the reefs and the rivers and all. I mean, the whole world is fragile, but it becomes very obvious in a small place like this. So there's been a strong movement, a grassroots movement to raise awareness among the population of Hawaii that we can do without these things, without GMOs and without chemical pesticides, so it started as raising awareness and then it actually turned into a vote to try and get Monsanto out. People rose up and actually voted Monsanto out, this was just happening on the island of Maui. But then the state outvoted the county and said that we didn't have the right to outvote… to kick Monsanto out, so of course it's the corruption of a multi-trillion-dollar company just buying their way back in all the time. But the good thing about it is that it raised a lot of awareness in the general population so that, you know, hopefully that movement is continuing to grow and people are generally changing the way they live and what they consume. Because, ultimately the thing that keeps these companies out is the consumer dollar, so if we refuse to buy their poison then they don't sell it anymore! But I think it's part of a much bigger thing happening worldwide, it's an awareness that has to grow everywhere. We are not gonna have a future if we keep doing this to the land, you know. It's an initiative that means a lot to me and I hope it means a lot to a lot of people.
I have hope. I think that people are more concerned and better informed nowadays, and ultimately will make the right choices. Unfortunately, a lot of people still buy the cheapest food available and prefer spending their money on mobiles or whatever... it takes time and awareness to change, so really, respect for that commitment.
The more people look to healthier alternatives, the cheaper it will become. The thing about the chemical industry is they subsidize everything, so they make it cheap so we end up buying it... it's a perpetual cycle of madness.
Do you grow your own food?
I did up until like 6 month ago. We recently had to move houses, so since we moved in I haven't had a chance to really get going. So I have to settle down and start my gardens again, but yeah, I used to grow some bananas and greens and different things.
Apart from that and your music, are you involved in any other projects?
Yes, I'm a singer in another band called The Free Radicals Project. It's all original material, but it's more like a co-writing situation with the band, so I'm not really writing much of the music, I just come in as a guest singer. It's interesting, it's a whole different musical direction. A little bit Punk, a little bit Afro-beat, a little bit Rock... it's definitely not Reggae (laughs). It's just here in Maui; well, we've been to Canada once, there was a big 4/20 Rally for Legalization. It's really cool, for me it opens up more creativity, in everything, when I'm able to branch out and try different genres and stuff... So I love it, it's definitely a breath of fresh air.
Have you ever collaborated with your sister musically, Heather Nova?
We haven't done like an official recording or collaboration so far. She's done some backing vocals for me in the past and we've done a few shows together where we sing together. Like, I did a tour with her in 2014, we would do one song together every night, a kind of medley thing… and I'm going on tour with her again, October/ November coming up. We'll also come to Germany! I think we'll be in Hamburg some time late October.
Great, so we will see then!