Mir German of Miriams Well Talks John Lennon, Portland, and SXSW

Portland is a city that's known for its amazing music scene. So much so that it's starting to give Los Angeles and Brooklyn a run for their money as a place bands looking to get discovered relocate. In such a crowded scene it can often times be difficult to stand out amongst the crowd -- especially if you have a beard and play folky rock in Portland.

 Miriams Well doesn't have that problem. While folky indie-rock seems to be dominating the scene in Portland right now, Miriams Well is doing a much more soulful rock sound.

The band is currently touring in support of their debut album, Indians and Clowns, and will be playing two back to back shows here in The Valley. You can catch Miriams Well Saturday, March 12 at The Compound Grill in Phoenix and on Sunday, March 13 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts when the take part in the Scottsdale Arts Festival.

We recently caught up with lead singer Mir German to discuss Portland, John Lennon and SXSW.

Up on the Sun: You're set to head out on a pretty lengthy tour, how are things going in getting ready for the road?

Mir German: You know it's the last touches before our big tour. I'm with Mark right now, my music partner, he's the lead guitar player and co-writer and producer of our album. Yeah, just getting all the last minute details done and we're still adding shows to the tour and everyone came in today. So it's all good.

UOTS: Do you have a ritual or a routine that you go through before heading out on the road?

MG: It's forming. Mark and I split the jobs up; part of it is logistics so I am busy on to see how many places we can get and not pay for it and meet wonderful people in the process. So I'm on all the time getting housing for half the band and the other half of the band, because there is five of us, we'd never want to assume that someone wants all five of us. So that's part of my ritual and then sending it all to Mark, part of his is literally logistics and mapping everything and finding gas stations. And the other part of mine is media.

UOTS: You're not originally from Portland, correct?

MG: I'm originally form Philadelphia, I lived in New York for a long time and I lived in Boston for a long time so I've played all over the east coast.

UOTS: What made you want to head out to Portland?

MG: A lot of my musician friends moved out here years ago and they've been telling me for years I have to come out here 'cause I'll stay. So I came out here one day in 1995 and fell in love with it and went back and packed up my stuff from Cambridge and moved out. I just left and came here.

UOTS: What's it like being part of the music scene in Portland?

MG: The interesting part of the music scene in Portland is on one hand the music scene is huge, on the other hand there is no one who is doing what we're doing. So it kind of makes things really interesting. There is a lot of blues here and there is a lot of jazz, there is not rock, there is also pretty heavy indie going on here which we aren't. So we have to kinda deal with all of that with what is our niche here? Just recently we fell into a really perfect niche, which is in my little town of St. Johns, there is a couple of great clubs and people there are loving us, we're packing houses. Everybody says they've never heard music like ours or at least they haven't heard it since the '70s, early '70s and they're loving it. So we're kind of riding on that right now and it's been great.

UOTS: You're music is a bit of a mixture of soul and rock and blues. Who were some of your musical influences?

MG: Well, there's quite a few people. In no particular order The Allman Brothers, The Band, Neil Young's Crazy Horse, like that particular sound of Crazy Horse. Early on I was into different kinds of folk music, coming from Philadelphia there is a really big, big really hardcore folk scene and I really dug Richie Havens and how he played his guitar and I use to say one day I want to play like that. So Richie Havens was a big part of that. But it's more of that Crazy Horse and Allman Brothers scene. Music that really gets through you. Santana too, we don't sound anything like Santana. Early Joe Cocker, stuff like that was really influential in me because it moved me, it would literally move my body. That's the kind of music I like no matter who is playing it. If I'm just listening to music and that's sort of what's going on I tend to not like it so much. I don't like to just listen, I like to feel it. That's what we do, so we play music that people can't help but feel. We're not a sit down and have dinner and listen to us kind of band.

UOTS: On your YouTube page you guys have a video of the band covering John Lennon's "Isolation," is that a song that holds any significance to you?

MG: What happened was we were asked to take part in a John Lennon memorial tribute concert this past December for his birthday. We don't do covers and if I was going to do it I was going to pick songs from John that I really felt and there were five and that we're appropriate for what we were doing. I kind of flow against a lot of peoples grain, I chose "Isolation," which isn't against the grain, and I really felt the power of what they were saying in that particular tune. How isolated they were and what was going on in their lives at the time. But I also chose to open up our set with "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" and my band was concerned about it. I said, 'you guys, you have to learn the lyrics because this isn't a song to be afraid of.' That's the whole point of the song, it's a song to this day that matters because woman is still the nigger of the world, we're still not getting equal pay, it's exactly as John Lennon wrote it.

I like singing politically, if there is something going on and I can match it to a song or I can write the tune, like "War No More," which is ours, I'm gonna do it. There is quite a few songs that go into issues that are current today. "War No More" I wrote when Bush was president and I had a feeling I was going to stop singing it when Obama became president but obviously we're still singing it, it's on our album. The other one is "Waiting On A Plane," which is about people starving all over the world waiting for a food drop which doesn't do anything except give them a modicum of food for a few minutes and that's it. So the situation is never quite dealt with. "Diamonds" is a love song and yet the chorus line keeps saying "I don't want no diamonds, I don't need no diamonds" and my reason for that is because I'm against diamond mining. So I kind of took that and weaved it into a love song.

UOTS: You guys are going be headed to SXSW this year, is this your first time at the SXSW music festival?

MG: It's our first time and we just got a third show there, it came in today, we're really looking forward to it. We're hooking up with quite a few musicians from Portland who are going to be there and we're grabbing a horn player from another band from here and he's going to come in on our Thursday showcase.

UOTS: A lot of bands jump start their career by playing at SXSW, is that the main draw for you when wanting to play there?

MG: It's that, it's really important and if you can get heard but at this point in I think for most of our realities the music world isn't so much about that any more. I mean it could be, but I don't ride much on the concept that we're going to get discovered at SXSW. For me the other part of it, there is definitely a cool factor with being able to say that you played there because it's such a cool event for the week and everyone in music is going to be there. The other side to that it's like an alternate universe. My universe for a week is going to be surrounded everywhere I go by people who either love music and either listen to it or people in the industry or the people making the music. It's kind of like being on acid and the world becomes only music, there is no one else there, so I'm looking forward to that, too. And of course networking, the networking part will be pretty major and full time. And the fun, it's just a fun time.

UOTS: What's next for you once the band once you wrap up this tour?

MG: We're working on our second album. All the tunes have been recorded, we're adding a few parts to different songs. I think what we're going to do is start to release two tunes at a time a few months down the road from now, starting in the summer time. So we'll be releasing two tune downloads until all the tunes are mixed and mastered and then we'll release the album itself. When we get back from the tour we have a bunch shows lined up in Portland, some pretty big shows and I'm looking forward to that, we're bringing in full horn sections for all of them. Then at the end of April we're going back out on the road again, so we'll be touring again through May. Then in June we're going to take our thing to the east coast and then come back here and keep going. But basically constant touring.

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Mike Escoto