By Joshua Colgan

One of the hardest things for local musicians and bands is to get your name out there and to leave a mark to attract an audience. Al Mitchell manages to stand out and then some. Beginning in local rock bands, he has grown his talent exponentially – moving into production, recording and writing – for himself and established local bands, including the prolific Snake Eats Boy. Al’s current project is Al Mitchell & the New Born Sinners which has echoes of Ariel Pink, The Psychedelic Furs, The Human League and Radiohead.

Meeting Al, you’re immediately struck by his candidness and friendliness and his passion for music. His latest tracks: Rubber for Cars and Pedal to the Metal, create an exciting new sound to comfort and excite the audience through the lockdown gloom – psychedelic, very indie and extremely hypnotic. The next helping of his New Born Sinners project is Payment to the Shaman – teased on his social media with a clip of the musician staring into the camera before taking a bite of pizza. Despite lockdown, Al seems unphased and inspired to keep going and show us all what’s he’s been working on.

So – Payment to the Shaman – what’s it all about? 
I wrote it last year, so it’s quite important to me. I couldn’t say it’s about anything in particular but more frames a time and mindset which covers the surreal nature that surrounded us – not knowing what’s going on accompanying the fear of the unknown.

The bulk of it was recorded and made here [his home] and the drums were done at Savage Sound where we did our Audiotrope session. I’m very excited for everyone to hear it. The video kind of works as a soft metaphor for Covid and the transformations we’ve all been through as individuals. We’ve all put on weight and the video is just me eating as much pizza as humanly possible. 

So is Payment to the Shaman a metaphor for Covid and lockdown and the surreal feel of it all?
Yeah, the phrase comes from being so desperate to make a payment to someone or to have something – it’s effectively like praying, I guess. I wouldn’t have written this song at any other time because we wouldn’t have been in this situation or mindset. I refer to the music I’ve been doing as ‘Covid-core’, which I feel sums up how Covid and lockdown have impacted us and created this desperation for normality. 

I like the term ‘Covid-core’. It sums up the overall feel of this time period – I feel it has impacted both negatively and positively on the way music has and will be made. 
Absolutely! In terms of the songwriting process, it’s been a blessing and a curse. I’ve always written about things that are happening or have directly happened to me, so I became bored very fast, but I started to write short stories, which in turn created themes and a skeleton for my music/songs. That, for me, was, and still is, a completely different creative process, and to be totally alone made me more brave and experimental with the recording and writing – I owe that to lockdown.

To be totally alone made me more brave and experimental
with the recording and writing

Would you say that lockdown has forced people to think differently about the music and songwriting process?
I think a lot of people have changed the way they think about writing. I’ve learnt a lot about how to engage more with people outside of playing shows, so I feel I’ve adapted more to music being an online experience – through livestream gigs and social media – how to keep the ‘presence’ of us around without physically putting posters up and playing at our usual spots. 

Prior to lockdown when I’d begin to write, I’d take it to a practice room and we’d all play it and see as we go, but now I’m testing it all out at home. I’m getting really brave and intrigued with what I can do, for instance I’ve been experimenting with more electronic sounds. That’s something I probably wouldn’t have done before because I’d be afraid to play it live, but I’ve discovered how to do it in a way that works for me. It’s opened so many doors for my writing, and I can’t wait to get out and play it live.

I’ve loved the two latest tracks you’ve released: Rubber for Cars and Pedal to the Metal. Is your new work going to be following this theme?
Same vibe as both of those tracks, almost what you’d expect to be played at an evening slot at a festival, which is quite a detour as I’m so used to playing in loud rock bands. It feels like I’ve matured in the way I approach my music, which is strange to admit, but a step in the right direction to where I want to be. 

Aside from the new music, I understand you and your partner started a recording platform prior to Covid for artists?
Yeah, we started The Underground Knitting Club about three years ago and the idea was to be an outlet for young musicians and creatives to put out what they wanted. If people wanted to record something they’d come to me, whilst Millie was on the visual side of it, so together we’d make a product for an artist who might not have the means to do it themselves.

It came from me wanting to get better at the things I love to do, and to help someone else at the same time was really satisfying. I’d love to do more when everything has blown over.

It sounds similar to what the guys at Audiotrope are currently doing – it shows how much the Hastings music scene is supporting each other.
Yeah, the work Audiotrope do, and Tina especially, is insane – it’s amazing what she’s done for the town and musicians. At first Audiotrope started with ‘at home’ acoustic sets, and then they were doing proper studio sessions, so I jumped at the opportunity. It was actually quite nerve-wracking and stressful (in a good way) because at that point we hadn’t played a show in a year, so we were playing new songs which I recorded in lockdown and which included Millie playing on keyboards. I was worrying – thinking they sound nothing like how my previous stuff – for the people who used to come to my gigs and listen to my older stuff. It was oddly scarier than live gigs, purely because at a gig you’re playing to maybe 50 people, but online it’s out there for the whole world to see. It ended up being the most people who’ve seen my band play, which was really cool. So, without Tina and without Audiotrope that wouldn’t have happened.

As excited as Al is to come back to the stage with the Newborn Sinners, you can bet his audience will share an equal, if not greater, excitement. 

You can find his music on Spotify under Al Mitchell & The New Born Sinners including Payment To the Shaman (available 23rd April). 

Be sure to head over and show some love on his Instagram
where you can get updates straight from the man himself.

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