Local musician Mike Brindisi has been playing acoustic sets in Ithaca for the past three years. On Friday Brindisi steps out of the solo realm for a performance at The Haunt with his new band, Mike Brindisi and The New York Rock. Brindisi spoke to Accent Editor Jamie Saine about his comedic background and how he became a recording artist.
Mike Brindisi and The New York Rock played live at The Haunt on Friday.
Jamie Saine: How did you get started with music?
Mike Brindisi: I started off doing theater … growing up I did community theater, and I was just big into acting. Then somewhere in between I got bit with the music bug. My father had guitars in the house and I wanted to learn. So he started to teach me guitar, but I’m left handed and I had to learn right handed because I had no choice. … I got hooked up with this managing company. I went down in Nashville [Tenn.] and recorded this EP, that you hear now on the radio, and they gave me all these promises like, you know, we’re going to make you a star, we’re going to sign you, blah blah blah. … I got screwed, you know, I mean [the company] didn’t do anything but I came back with a really good EP. So at that point I had to make a decision about what I was going to do.
I ended up doing stand up comedy. … I had a bad taste in my mouth after this Nashville thing. I didn’t really have a band lined up, I didn’t know where I was going, but I remembered I was always the class clown. … So I was like, “You know what, let me just try it.” So I started sweeping floors at this local comedy club, got on stage, ended up being the house MC. … Then I got on Saturday Night Live in New York. Now I was kind of torn. I was like “Alright, I love my music and I’ve got this great album, but do I stick with the comedy?” and I felt like the comedy didn’t allow me to really showcase everything I can do.
JS: Did you ever think of going into the singing-comedy thing, like Stephen Lynch?
MB: Absolutely, I’ve thought about that and, you know, I guess I thought about it too late because things already started rolling here. I was like, “Well, I could easily do this. I could sit down right now and write five songs that I think would be funny but things are rolling and I don’t want to stop it right now. … When you play live you can always make people laugh. So I always have that tinge of comedy in me. … But that is definitely always, always a possibility.
JS: I heard there’s an interesting story about you getting on [the local radio station] WVBR.
MB: (laughs) Yeah. When I first moved here I lived in my friend’s guest room. … I was working anywhere at the time. I had this album and I was listening to the radio and I heard the DJ say, ‘Coming up in 20 minutes we have a rock block of local music that we do every week.’ I’m sitting there and you know, things start brewing in my head like, ‘OK, how do I do this.’ Finally, I literally just walked into my boss’ office and was like, ‘Look, if you can give me 20 minutes, just 20 minutes, I want to get my EP up to the station, please [let me go].’ He was like ‘You know what, go ahead.’ I flew up there, I ran in there all out of breath, and the DJ’s sitting there and he’s just kind of looking at me dumbfounded, like ‘Who are you.’ I come in panting and like, ‘Listen, I know this is weird, but I just drove all the way up here from work. If you can just play this CD, play the first song on this CD. If you hate it, never play it again. But I really think you’ll like it. Please, please just give it a shot.’ He just looked at me and he was like, ‘Dude, that is rock and roll. I will absolutely play [it].’ I left and went back down to work and I heard my song on the radio. … I called [the DJ] back and thanked him and he was like, ‘Dude, no, that song was really good.’ They ended up putting my songs in regular rotation. … I’ve had people calling me like, ‘I just heard your song on the radio again. It was between Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.’ Anywhere else, if you were to get you’re song on the local radio station it would be like Sunday night at one in the morning. … So for me to walk into a radio station, hand them my CD and have it end up in regular rotation, that’s like what used to happen in the ’60s and ’70s. You know, it doesn’t happen anymore.
JS: How do you connect with the crowd when you’re on stage?
MB: I don’t know, I think they more connect with me. I’ve always been a believer that, if there are five people you have to put on just as good of a show as if there were 400. But ask any performer, sometimes it’s just so hard to give it your all when there are five people staring at you like, ‘Who the hell are you.’ The bigger the crowd, the more energy I have and I feed off that. … I connect with the crowd basically, I don’t know, it’s something that I’ve just always known how to do. Part of it is growing up and going to concerts. … I always put myself in the shoes of the people in the crowd. … You want the band to be tight, but you want to entertain [the crowd], you want to make them laugh, you want them to have their jaws drop, you want to go the extra mile, throw a drum solo in. Do things that will make people go, ‘Wow.’ … My motto is, I want people leaving going, ‘That was seven bucks at the door. I’d have paid 40 bucks for that show.’
JS: I have your CD and there’s quite a range of songs on there. How do you do that? You’re Rastafarian on one track!
MB: It’s good and it’s bad. I won’t even say it’s bad, it’s just kind of frowned upon in the “music business.” I’ve talked to executives on the phone, and people in the business who have been like, “I heard your CD and it’s really good but what are you trying to do? You go from hard rock to soft rock to like a reggae-ish rock.’ … It’s not that I purposely do that, it’s that I’ve got so much influence from my life, musically, that sometimes I wake up and I hear this in my head and I write it and it happens to be more of a reggae-ish tone. … It’s not like I’m doing rock then country then rap. I’m doing rock and sometimes it’s soft, sometimes it’s hard rock, sometimes it’s a little bit like Sublime. … I’m not ashamed of it, I think it’s kind of cool.
JS: Do you see different people responding to different songs?
MB: I do, I do. I had a guy write to me on MySpace. He lives in Hawaii. He’s like, “Everyday I listen to [‘Seymour’s Song’] on my iPod before I go surfing.” That’s so cool, like some dude all the way in Hawaii puts my song on to go surfing. Then I’ve got people going, “My four year old loves ‘Cigarette Burns.’” Now “Cigarette Burns” — it’s not a true story, get that out of the way — [its] a play on, you know, what if somebody liked their cousin and went through with it. It’d “stain them like cigarette burns on a dining room table.” Anyway, I’ve got people that are like, “that’s my favorite song.” Then I’ve got people that are like, “That’s my kid’s favorite song.” I’m like, “Oh god.” Then obviously, pretty much everybody loves ‘Crawl’ just because it’s a ballad and it’s something everyone can relate to. It kind of excites me because it’s like, well that means my album’s appealing to everybody. … It’s nothing that I purposely did, it’s something that just kind of happened.
JS: What’s your dream band to open for, dead or alive?
MB: Dead or alive, oh, throwing the wrench in. It’s changed over the years. If I’m going to go for authenticity with right now, in this moment, it would be the Foo Fighters because Dave Grohl is my god.
JS: Do you have your outfit picked out for Friday? Are you one of those people?
MB: Why did you ask me that, because I do! Nobody’s supposed to know that but I can’t lie to you. Yes. I do. Normally I don’t. The only reason I did for this show is because … it took a long time planning for this show, I just kind of had time to think about what I’m going to wear. I didn’t go to like the Carousal Mall with the boys. … It was more like, ‘I’m going to wear this’ and I went and bought a certain tie. It wasn’t too in depth, but yes, I know what I’m going to wear.
The other part of that is we’re doing a live CD/DVD of the show and there are certain things you shouldn’t wear when you’re being filmed because it won’t show up [well] … it just doesn’t work. … But I can’t lie, part of it was just me picking out what I want to wear.
Mike Brindisi and The New York Rock will perform at 9 p.m. at The Haunt, 702 Willow Ave. Check out the band’s Web site at www.thenewyorkrock.com.