Featured Guest is where I interview cool people I have crossed paths with from artists to musicians, actors and more. This week we had a special, very rare interview with one of the greatest musicians to ever rock the mic: Toronto born and NYC bred, by way of the Florida, the great singer and author Alex Mitchell. Alex has fronted the pioneer swamp rock band Circus of Power since 1988, had a few kick ass bands like Plastic Gator Machine and others and also written a few books. I have always thought Alex was a world class frontman, blues singer and more. I always loved this band and it's been a gift to be in contact with Alex. Circus of Power has a big audience and their music is still being cranked up loud by many. Living in California and getting ready to launch a new wave of the band’s music, I did this interview with Alex where we talk about his life, new film project, writing and music. - G
1.Alex many people know your history from Circus of Power, I know you are originally from Toronto and also spent time in Florida. What was your history before you started Circus of Power in NYC with the band?
ALEX: Before Circus I had been in a few bands in NYC and one in Florida. The difference between them and Circus was the line-up, the chemistry. That doesn't happen a lot, so when it does it's like magic. the stars converge and all that. You can stick Keith Richards and Iggy Pop in the same band and it doesn't mean it's going to be great. Also at that time, around 1988, I was hanging around a record store called FreeBeing in NYC, I knew the guy who owned it and he would fly over to England and get the latest records, was really into music. The Cult were starting to rock, Guns and Roses, Zodiac Mindwarp and it really was an exciting time to be alive, NYC was awesome back then. I loved punk rock and I love soul music and country too but when it comes down to it I'm a rocker. that's where my soul lies. Hey, I have 'Freebird' tattooed on my stomach, 'nuff said.
2.So what brought about the formation of Circus of Power in NYC, was it 1987? Before that you had the Throbs and Crucial Truth is that right?
ALEX: I was drinking Margaritas in a bar named Bandidos in NYC with Rick and said lets put a band together, that's how it formed, I knew Rick from punk rocking in Florida and early on we had some other dudes in the band but people came and went until the line up that was on the first album came together. Gary was also on the punk scene in Florida and I saw him hanging around and at Ricks’ suggestion we brought him in. Those were the most carefree days of my life. If I could go back and re-live them I'd cut off a finger, maybe two. New York was amazing back then, late 80's. I was lucky to have been there, I think I moved there in 1980 and it was still a wonderful, strange and dangerous place. I was in other bands before Circus Of Power and after it, as well, but my heart lies with Circus. Old guys, new guys, it doesn't matter. There is something about the name, the sound, the culture it represents, the past meeting the present that endears me. I think from now on that's what I want to do- release a couple of songs every couple of months, fresh artwork and videos and hope that Bernie Sanders gets turned on to us and lets us play at his inauguration.
3.In the years with Circus of Power, what are some of your top memories of live shows?
ALEX: Well the re-union in 2006 was a good one, at Don Hills (R.I.P. Don) in NYC. One of the worst ones, well I don't think you'd call it a show but we 'showcased' for Rick Rubin at our rehearsal space and that was weird. He just sat there looking at us and we were like, what are we doing?
4.After Circus you did some fantastic bands, like the Plastic Gator Machine cd, Uncle Max's Cosmic band, etc. I know you have talked about doing another Plastic Gator cd? Hope so man, those were some great songs.
ALEX: No more PGM, I'm hoping to just do C.O.P. stuff.
5.Yeah that’s right. I know you read a lot and studied the work of Carlos Castaneda and others, what are some of the most influential books in your life from your early years to today?
ALEX: I like reading but I don't really study, I paint with broad strokes and don't adhere to any one belief system. That's too rigid for me. I see people that are religious as a form of insanity, although I grab for things like everybody else and I am afraid to die. That being said I think the Castaneda books are brilliant and have good medicine.
6.I can dig it. What inspires you to write songs these days and have you been writing new material?
ALEX: Being alive is enough inspiration to me, I am fascinated with everything like a child. That doesn't mean I'm always happy. Anyways I'm going in to record some new songs in a few weeks, I'm thinking of putting it out as C.O.P. I want to keep that trip going, I've shied away from using the name but now I'm like, fuck it.
7.Right on, look forward to hearing some new songs man. I loved the Circus, Plastic Gator Machine and Uncle Max Cosmic band records so can’t wait to hear some new stuff. I know you mentioned you have been working on an indie film, can you tell us about it?
ALEX: I started filming 'The Guest List', which is basically me being Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra. I cover songs like 'Easy Come and Easy Go by Bobby Sherman and I wear a tuxedo. It's a talk show format with a proper set and all that except my guests are very left of center. I got the idea from watching Kramer on the Seinfeld show when he finds the Merv Griffin set in the dumpster.
8.Sounds really cool, look forward to seeing it man. You have also written a few books, any new books on the horizon?
ALEX: The last book I wrote was 'Prairie Girl' about my relationship with and alien hybrid who wants to be a movie star. Before that I did 'The Strange Case Of The Flying Meatballs'. They take a long time and are a pain in the ass but I'll write more because that's what I do.
9.Are there any new records or bands you have been into lately?
ALEX: As far as new stuff I like, I hear things here and there but you have to remember I grew up during the 70's on everything from James Brown to Siouxie and the Banshees so I am spoiled. There was a gluttony of good stuff back then, you could barely keep up with it. Music started to suck in the early 90s and stayed that way. But the 90s gave us Queens Of The Stone Age and Rancid to name a few. Love both those bands. Tim Armstrong is a very talented guy. Like his other stuff too- the Transplants, his ska, it's all good.
10.I know you collaborated with Ian Astbury on the song "Shine" in the old days what was it like working with Ian, I feel like you two would have a lot in common. Did you meet him from both being in Los Angeles at the time and then end up writing together? I opened a show for him once with his solo band, hung out for awhile he was a great guy, really cool to talk to.
ALEX: I met him at English Acid, an L.A. club. It was like best friends right away but after a while we drifted apart. He's a great singer and I'm a fan of those great records way back when- Love, Electric and Sonic Temple.
11.I saw you guys once on a tour when we hung out and you covered Elvis Costello's "Peace Love and Understanding", man that was amazing, great cover. You should record that one day with a band. Any covers you are kicking around with new recordings or favorites you have done?
ALEX: My feeling about covers is that if you can’t bring something new to the table then they are best left alone. Like, I really love 'I Was Wrong' by Social D but I'm not sure I could do it as good as Mike does it. He sings the fuck out of that song. I also love 'When The Angels Sing' by them.
12.As a creative person are you writing more as an author or songwriter these days?
ALEX: Well I was writing more but writing is a real pain in the ass, long process, I think I’m going to be working on songs now.
13. Favorites all time films?
ALEX: Casablanca, Taxi Driver, It's A Wonderful Life, Goodfellas, The Pope Of Greenwich Village, Cool Hand Luke, The Wild Bunch, Sweet Dreams, Saturday Night Fever, A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, Gummo, Breakfast At Tiffany's.
14.Didn't you meet Coe? If I remember correctly one time you told me, what was that like?
ALEX: Yes, I told him that I thought he was a great songwriter, which he is. We bullshitted about motorcycles and women.
15.Of all your travels, what's your favorite country you visited, played in, besides Canada and the USA?
ALEX: I would say England, Scotland, Japan.
16.So what is the plan on your upcoming recording?
ALEX: Well after 25 years of asking those guys from Circus if we were going to do some recording and getting yes answers, no answers and then sometimes no answers at all, I decided do get some new guys and boogie. One of the songs I'm recording is Ricky’s, written back in '88. I don't know why it wasn't on the first or second album but we were somewhat dysfunctional so I guess that explains it. I called up a bunch of people and asked them what they thought about me doing this Circus thing and everyone was like 'fuck yeah, why are you even asking that question?' Life is a gift, it's here and then it's gone.
17.Living in California again, do you feel more isolated from bands and scenes now or are you still actively around it all? Are you still hitting shows often these days?
ALEX: I'd love to go out more but I'm always working on something and I took care of a wolf for ten years, he recently died but he was my best friend ever and such a wild fucker, too.I miss him and he is in every one of my dreams, always has been. Even if I'm slobbering over some girl in a dream he is somewhere close by, he was pure magic. To have the trust of a wild animal is something special. I'm against people breeding and having wild animals, but I got involved in it and it wasn't always easy.
18.Yes okay. Very sorry to hear about your friend man.
What were some of the concerts that inspired you most growing up before you were in a band?
ALEX: Concerts I went to that got me going, well I saw Bob Marley play in Florida for one. It was before he got really big and it was a couple of thousand seater. I was one of the only white dudes in there but right before the lights went down I walked up to the front of the stage. I'm not going to miss this, I thought. Funny thing was no one else joined me, it was so weird. So Marley comes out and as he's dancing his way up to the mike he looks me right in the eye and winks, he acknowledges the fact that me, one of the only whities in a sea of dreads is standing up front alone. He went into his trance and it was an amazing show. After twenty or thirty seconds everyone rushed up to the stage around me but I sure felt weird for a few seconds. I saw of lot of bands in their prime, whether it was the Damned or Iggy or Alice Cooper or Funkadelic it was all wild.
That’s an amazing story bro, I had never heard that one, too cool. Alex great to hear from you and thanks for taking the time to do the interview man. Look forward to your future music and film and stay in touch.