Mischief BrewMischief Brew is a wicked concoction by Erik Petersen – a musical feast falling somewhere between the categories of pirate punk, Celtic folk, gypsy swing, devilish jazz, American olde-tyme and country. It’s good music to stomp, kick, pogo, jitterbug, waltz, drink, twist and shout to – whether the performance is solo acoustic or with a backing band of accordion, drums, and mandolin.
Erik started making music at a young age, but it wasn’t until age 16 that he started playing shows with his punk band, The Orphans. Influenced by “Fresh Fruit”-era Dead Kennedys and “Worlds Apart”-era Subhumans, the band had released a 7” (“Anthems for Doomed Youth,” 1996) before half of them were even old enough to drive. They officially disbanded in 2000 and Erik continued to make music…digging into the past for a more traditional sound to mix with punk ideals. The result was “Mirth,” a demo of acoustic punk influenced by medieval dances and raucous Romany dust-raising ditties (2000). The tape was rough and scratchy - yet it was clear that there were solid anthems buried under that hiss, which was evident by the scope of the tape, spanning city and state. Logically, a live show was expected – and despite the drums and extra instrumentation on the tape (all layered on a four-track recorder), there was no band. Over the years, seeing “Mischief Brew” on a flyer meant you were just seeing Erik Petersen with an acoustic guitar or mandolin. There was no PA in the beginning, just a roomful of West Philly’s finest rabble-rousers singing along to the “Mirth” songs. And for quite some time, this is how things stayed until it was necessary to deliver a proper recording.
“Bellingham & Philadelphia” (2003) is a split LP/CD with Washington state’s roving songcrafter Robert Blake. Meanwhile, Fistolo Records (the label Erik co-founded and runs with his wife Denise) released the “Bakenal” CDep. It was hard to believe that all the songs were recorded in the same session and split between two releases, as they were completely different experiences soundwise. “Bellingham” was more Phil Ochs/Bob Dylan-style political folk, while “Bakenal” delivered gypsy-punk swing, Poguesy drinking songs, and even a drunken tango. Two years of touring followed, from punk bars to basement shows. Meanwhile, Erik visited the studio here and there to record a few acoustic tracks for the Orphans discography (“Raise the Youth,” 2004), and the Mischief Brew “Oh Sweet Misery b/w All About the Class War” single (2005).
For an official full-length, Mischief Brew needed a non-traditional studio (by punk standards), since the songs required a more varied instrumentation to bring forth the gypsy melodies and circus beats. Impressed by the work of Israeli producer Tamir Muskat (Balkan Beat Box, Firewater, Big Lazy…), Erik visited the Brooklyn studio that he runs. Vibromonk has produced records by such festive acts as Gogol Bordello, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Firewater and more…the kind of place that knows how to mic a marimba. For this record, a backing band was assembled consisting of bass, drums, accordion, clarinet, and junk percussion. Guest appearances by Sturgeon (Leftover Crack), Peter Hess (Guignol), and Franz Nicolay (World/Inferno, The Hold Steady) bring the album even more character. “Smash the Windows” (2005) includes the folk-punk anthems “Nomads Revolt” and “Roll Me Through the Gates of Hell” – but also the epic tale “The Gypsy, The Punk, and The Fool” and the klez/ska rendition of “A Liquor Never Brewed.” The album closes with “Departure Arrival,” a sweet folk lament about leaving the comforts of home for uncharted cities and towns. “Departure” was also featured on “Up the Stairs and Through the Hall,” a 2xCD compilation of independent artists and bands from Philadelphia.
But wait, there’s more! Meanwhile, Mischief Brew released a split 7” with David Dondero (an influence on Bright Eyes) and another with -Bread & Roses (Boston-based labor folk at its best). The newest recording, “Songs from Under the Sink,” is a batch of anarcho-folk songs written between 1997-2002…finally put on LP and CD once and for all. If it had to all fit under one banner, it would read, "Carnivalesque!"