In the spirit of the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival October 16-17, The Bay Bridged had a chat with Will Sprott, frontman of The Mumlers. The San Jose-based band is one of the festival’s handful of local acts, and will open the festival Sunday. Stay tuned for more interviews from this year’s artists leading up to the festival.
TBB: The Mumlers seem like a group of guys who go way back. Tell me how you know each other, how you got together. Did you all develop you musical tastes together, or did you play horns and listen to jazz and old RnB on your own?
We do go way back. Back to the ’80s. Andy & Felix were in 1st grade together. I first crossed paths with those guys in middle school & we became friends because we all enjoyed flailing around on skateboards. That was the main basis for our friendship. We messed around playing music every once in a while but we never tried to form a band until years & years later. I wouldn’t say we developed our musical tastes together. As I remember it, they were more in tune with what was going on in the ’90s & I was always congenitally at odds with the present. When everybody thought Nirvana was the greatest thing ever, I was more drawn to Weird Al making fun of Nirvana. By the time I was a teenager I was pretty lost in the past. To this day our musical tastes are pretty disparate.
TBB:Speaking of jazz and RnB, you draw from older sources than a lot of bands on the indie scene. How and when did you discover that music and what musicians made a big impression on you? Who are some of your lasting or current influences?
To my mind then, & to my mind now, the ’90s were a pretty dark time for music. The best thing about the ’90s was hip hop & the greatness of that music owes a lot to being built out of pieces of older songs. My house was full of old records that my mom had been hanging on to since the ’60s. She had lived in New York City then & would tell me stories about seeing Wilson Pickett & James Brown at the Apollo. I just liked the energy of those bands. They didn’t seem corny like all the stuff that was on the radio then. I liked songwriters too. I got into the Velvet Underground & Leonard Cohen & Bob Dylan & followed the roots of that stuff back into folk music. I got really into Nina Simone at that time. When I was in high school my friends & I drove all the way to LA from San Jose to see Nina Simone play. I heard lots of other stuff too though. My good friends were really into the Cure & My Bloody Valentine at that time. The first songs I learned to play with other people were Cure covers we played in my friend’s bedroom. My friend would sing & play guitar, his girlfriend would play the cello & I’d play organ.
TBB: Where did you get that cool old guitar â€“ is it a Harmony?
It’s a Guild, from 1958. I was actually looking for a Harmony when I bought it. I had borrowed a Harmony Rocket from Andy (the drummer), & liked it. My friend found out about this guy that was selling a couple hollow-body guitars. We went over to his house but when we got there he didn’t want to sell it. He was really sentimentally attached. He told me the knobs were made of elephant tusks, which is not true. Then he made me listen to him play for 45 minutes—–one last jam in his garage for old times sake—–before he finally let me take it.
TBB: What current bands are your favorites and which local bands are you guys close to? Whatâ€™s it like having San Jose as your base of operations?
We did a tour with the Black Heart Procession. They’re definitely one of my favorite bands that are still in operation. We might be doing some recording with Pall, the singer, soon. The Morning Benders are our good buds. We’ve played a lot of shows together & I like what they’re doing. I like the Growlers. I like the Donkeys, Vetiver, Papercuts, Beach House, Kelley Stoltz. Those ones spring to mind. There are lots of bands I like now.
San Jose is our hometown. It has its blessings & curses. We play in SF more than anywhere & I think we’ve always kind of had the mentality of barbarian hordes invading civilization. It keeps us feeling like outsiders, which I think is good for anyone trying to be creative. A lot of people are too cool to take chances. We’re sort of nerdy barbarians.
TBB: Tell me a little bit about your songwriting and arranging process. Whatâ€™s it like working in a large group? What goes on at a typical Mumlers rehearsal?
I write the songs at home then I bring them in to the band & they fight over who gets to play what instrument. We try to practice every Sunday. We just tweak the arrangements until we feel like they’re interesting. The songs generally morph until we’re happy with them, then we record them.
TBB: You posted some hilarious stories about trying to pitch a tent in parking lots etc. on your national tour. How did that go all in all? How did it expand your audience?
We had heard that Walmart let people with motor homes park overnight in their parking lot so we tried to sleep there in Austin. Our van isn’t big enough for all of us to sleep in so we tried to pitch a tent on one of the little grass islands under a tree but the security guard gave us the boot. Then we just drove to a church & did the same thing & got away with it. The church was right next to a school & we had little kids investigating us in the morning. Little gangster kids. We slept all over the place. In Athens, Georgia I woke up on a linoleum kitchen floor with a Great Dane licking my face, in St. Louis the bar we played in let us sleep in the bar, & I actually slept on the bar. Most of the time we just slept sardine-style in some generous person’s living room. We didn’t make enough money for hotels.
Overall touring was a blast. We made a lot of friends & had lots of funny adventures. I wish we did it all the time.
TBB: What, in your wildest dreams, would be the pinnacle of success for the band?
Our main goal with this band has always been to have a treadmill on stage with a large horse galloping on it at full speed toward the audience. We figure that would make for a really intense audience experience. Maybe if we got really successful we could have those horses all over the venue.
TBB: Treasure Island is a big gig â€“ in terms of prominence and just plain size. What are the bandâ€™s thoughts or how are you feeling about that? How have your chosen and arranged your set to reach a festival crowd?
Well, since for now we’re a horseless operation, we’ll try to fill that void of excitement with our own furious galloping. Of course we’re very thrilled to be taking part in this festival. We hope everyone gets there early, because we play first. We’ll be playing some new tunes & some new arrangements. We have a new one with a merengue beat. We’ll avoid our mellower songs probably. There will be a full laser light show but nobody will notice because we play at noon.
TBB: How do you prepare for a big show like this? What will you guys be doing the Saturday before?
We’re playing a show! We’re opening for Rogue Wave at the Independent Saturday night for one of the Treasure Island night shows.
TBB: Who else are you excited to see at TI? Who will you guys be cozying up to backstage?
I like a lot of the bands. I’ve heard Monotonix puts on a crazy show. I’ve never gotten to see Belle & Sebastian & I’ve liked them since I was a whippersnapper. A couple guys in the band are most excited about The Sea & Cake. It’s sort of nice that we get to play first and then just hang out and enjoy it.
TBB: It has been almost a year since your awesome last album came out. What have you all been working on since then and when will we hear some new material?
Well, we put out an EP in 2010 that you can only get on iTunes. I don’t really know how many people have heard that. We recorded it in a single day. It’s re-recordings of songs from both our records. But the new songs are piling up. We don’t have studio time booked or anything but something will happen before too long.
TBB: What one or two other things would you want to say to give the world the true flavor of The Mumlers?
Mumlers is flavor country. Incidentally the Marlboro man was my cousins’ neighbor in South Carolina. He lived in an ornate yellow house with his boyfriend before he died of lung cancer.