January 2008

Ready to Rock: Luke Mitchell to Release Debut CD

Author: Jim Reed

These days, it’s easier than ever for unknown rock musicians to make a record. Low-cost digital recording equipment now allows budding artists without label backing to make semi-professional recordings and distribute them directly online. Seventeen-year-old Hilton Head native, Luke Mitchell, has taken advantage of this for the past few years.

A prolific tunesmith and multi-instrumentalist who can hold his own on guitar, keyboards and percussion, Mitchell (a senior at Hilton Head Island High) says he’s been into music for as long as he can remember.

“I started playing drums when I was about three,” he recalls. “That was real fun for my parents. (laughs) I started guitar at around 13, and with that came the bass. Plus, I’ve always kind of messed around on piano.”

Mitchell, who some may recognize as the front man and rhythm guitarist of local quartet, The Great Escape, lists classic and alternative rock icons Lou Reed, Black Sabbath, Sonic Youth and Wilco as key influences. He began writing his own material a little more than two years ago after finding inspiration in a series of concert films and “rock-umentaries,” such as Martin Scorsese’s epic Bob Dylan profile on PBS, Led Zeppelin’s double-DVD retrospective and Pink Floyd’s psychedelic 1972 feature, Live at Pompeii.

“I wanted to make people feel the same way about my music as I feel about those artists,” said Mitchell.

After well-received local gigs with band mates Kevin Early (bass), Marco Frey (drums) and Yannie Reynecke (lead guitar), Mitchell felt ready to move beyond home-recording on a PowerMac, and attempt a serious record in a real studio with more experienced musicians. He settled on producer/engineer Kevin Rose’s Elevated Basement Studios, a cozy, yet state-of-the-art Savannah facility favored by Rock & Roll Hall of Famers and budding amateurs alike.

“Right at the top of their client list was Gregg Allman, and I thought, well, with clients like that, they probably won’t even respond to my e-mail! But they did,” Mitchell said.

Rose is effusive in his praise for Mitchell. “Luke presented me with a mix of home demos and live tracks, and my first impression was, ‘Wow!’ My second was how much I was looking forward to working with him,” he said.

Rose assembled a small group of pros to flesh out the tunes (along with some of Mitchell’s own band mates), and dove into the project. The 13-song album is now nearing completion, and a tentative local date has been set for the CD’s release: March 15, 2008, at Monkey Business.

Rough mixes of the album posit Mitchell as an almost preternaturally savvy tunesmith with a strong working knowledge of rock conventions. Rose says that shared vocabulary helped them collaborate easily (he estimates they will have spent no more than 20 days on the album).

“Luke’s an encyclopedia of classic rock and pop artists—from Neil Young to Tom Petty, to Hendrix and The Beatles. Plus, he works hard to understand what makes them tick,” said Rose.

Echoes of modern-day retro-rock fetishists like The Wallflowers, Lenny Kravitz and Ben Lee abound on this album, along with playing and inflections reminiscent of fellow home-recording drummer/guitarist/singer Jonny Polonsky and the funky grooves of another one of Mitchell’s favorite bands, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

That last touchstone is notable, given the inclusion of guitarist Jack Sherman on the sessions, who, in addition to working with major roots-rockers like John Hiatt, Peter Case and Charlie Sexton, was actually in the Chili Peppers and played on their debut LP. Rose coaxed Sherman out of semi-retirement to play on this album, much to Mitchell’s surprise and delight.

“This CD is a lot better than I expected,” Mitchell said, “mostly because of Jack. His solos are definitely better than any I could do! It’s humbled me to watch everyone come in prepared to do an awesome job.”

His first album barely finished, Mitchell’s already eager to begin work on his next, and hopes to start a follow-up with Rose by March, before leaving home for Appalachian State University.

“I have three more album’s worth of songs ready to go,” he said.

Rose looks forward to continuing this partnership, and notes that it’s “virtually unheard of” to find a young musician with as keen and developed an artistic vision.

“He never fails to surprise me,” the producer said with a chuckle. “I hate to mention his age as a qualifier, ’cause in many ways, Luke is like a seasoned veteran, but one with a fresh approach. He has a more open mind than most folks who’ve been at this for decades.”

Rose is wary of speculating on just how far this debut CD might go, but says that in the end, it will stand as an impressive document of a very talented songwriter and musician.

“As far as commercial success, that’s in the wizard’s hand. But, in a perfect world, I think people who hear this record will connect with it even after Luke has a long career in music,” said Rose. “He’ll never have to make excuses for ‘the first record I did back when I was 17,’ which, quite frankly, a lot of folks must. This is a good album, no matter who he is or how old he was when it was made.”

For more information on Luke Mitchell’s music: www.myspace.com/lukeband.

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