Not All Those Who Wander...

Mishka navigates through calm waters and deep meanings on his new album, Above The Bones    

Story by Jon D’Auria

    t sounds like the beginning of an exciting adventure novel: A boy, born in Bermuda, grows up on a 40-foot boat built by his parents to sail the world and live at sea. Raised on the Caribbean breeze, the freedom of the ocean, and familiarity with many different cultures and customs, he begins playing guitar at age seven, incorporating all the sounds he’s been exposed to into his songwriting. He finds his voice through music, and eventually, he leaves the boat and begins to tour the world, intent on spreading his message of peace.     
    Except that this is no bedtime story. As remarkable and somewhat unbelievable as it may sound, this account of free-spirited adventure is just a preface to the extraordinary story that is the life of Mishka. If you don’t believe me, listen to his new album,
Above The Bones (j.k livin’, 2009), and ponder how deeply he has imbibed the mellow vibes and calming mood of the Caribbean. The album’s flow of rumbling bass, one-drop beats, and warm 12-string strumming make for some amazing summer listening that’ll bring the beach right to your ears. It’s no wonder that it is now the #1 reggae album on Billboard charts.

    After hearing Mishka live—by accident, no less—actor Matthew McConaughey hunted down the singer/songwriter and signed Mishka to his label, j.k. livin’ records. Fueled by McConaughey’s passion and Mishka’s soul, the two made quick moves to release the new album and spread it as far and wide as possible. Subsequent spots on popular television shows and media outlets pushed Mishka into the spotlight and have extended his tours and his demand for new material.

    While he remains a simple man of good intention and positive message, Mishka takes everything slow and never lets his fame precede his purpose.  Even amidst the chaos of a long-winded tour, Mishka took a moment to talk with us about his new record and the excitement surrounding it. It was during our mellow meeting that we found that he is now, as much as he ever was, simply a wandering soul on a peaceful mission.   

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First of all, congrats on the success of Above the Bones. How does it feel to have the #1 reggae album on Billboard charts right now?

It’s nice, very unexpected, but nice. I guess it was a little expected, but just because we are all really happy with how the album came out. I don’t think you come out of the studio thinking that your record is going to top charts—you just think more about how you feel about it. It’s definitely a boost to get that much love from it so quickly.


How does it feel to get all this attention?

My first album was really big in England, so I’m pretty used to it by now. It’s not something I really think about. I’ve been through a few stages of it; the first record label I was on went down, so my first time being noticed was a little short-lived. Music is why I do this, so it stays like that with or without the success.


The album and title track are called “Above the Bones.” What does that mean to you?
The song was the origin of that name, and it is very special to me because my wife co-wrote it with me. She initially wrote the lyrics as a poem and I wrote the music. The meaning is quite literal—it’s about life and death and being conscious of both. When she wrote it, she was thinking a lot about the suffering that people go through, things like slavery, genocide, murder, death, and hate. But it’s hopeful because it’s like, ‘Where do we go from here?’


Tell me about the writing process for this record and the evolution of the chosen songs.

The writing process was a very long one. The songs have been written for a long time, some for up to ten years. Some of the songs I test out live and others just sit around until I decide to record them. Some of the songs evolve more than others. The older songs definitely evolve a lot, because the more they are played before they are recorded, the more time I have to make them sound exactly how I picture them.


Your lyrics are very outward and inspiring, but also very inward and reflective. How do you go about writing your lyrics?

My lyrics are all observations that I’ve collected over time. I’m trying to make sense of it all and I use music as my platform. It’s all about asking questions, like this interview with you right now. I ask myself the important questions and try to answer them. More often than not, the song will ultimately answer them.

“My lyrics are all observations that I’ve collected over time...I ask myself the important questions and try to answer them. More often than not, the song will ultimately answer them.”

While your music embodies very traditional reggae roots, your guitar work features some distorted, rock-ish lead and solo lines on this album. Where is this influence from?

That kind of guitar playing is in a lot of music that I listen to. Bands like The Doors and The Beatles really inspire my playing on top of all of the reggae music that I listen to, so I guess it was only natural to merge the two worlds. Darryl Thompson, who has worked with Sly & Robbie and Peter Tosh, produced the album, and he’s a blues/rock guitarist, so that really helped let that side of these songs loose.


How was this studio process different than those previous?

We did about a month of pre-production at the Daryl’s studio, where we laid out the format for the record. It was very barebones at that point, mainly just guitar and vocals. After the first month we left the studio for a little while; we came back to it after I started working with Matthew (McConaughey) and then we brought in the band and spent a couple of months finishing the record. I was a lot more refreshed at that point. My writing hasn’t really changed or evolved, but the production has. My musical ability has improved and my band has stepped up, but the essence is exactly the same as when I started. I guess it just sounds and comes across better now.


Describe your relationship with Matthew McConaughey.

Our relationship is very easygoing. He’s into surfing and mellow living, as am I. Matthew and I have a very similar love and respect for nature, so there are so many things that we can do together that share our passions. We’re both very into living healthy lifestyles and being happy. We clicked immediately, but we’ve grown a lot closer the longer we’ve been around each other.


Were you surprised to find out that he was such a big fan of your music?

By the time we met, I had seen a magazine article where he said he was a fan of mine. I wasn’t up on his career, though; I think I might’ve seen one of his movies before that point. Regardless of his fame, he’s a really great person who is nice to be around.


How is it being signed to his record label, j.k. livin’ records?
It’s great. They’re really enthusiastic, eager people who are amazing to work with. I think that it is a lot nicer to work with them than anyone else, because they have good intention behind everything.


You were raised on a boat that your parents built near Bermuda. How did your unique upbringing shape your outlook on life?

I’m not sure, because it’s the only outlook I have (laughing). It definitely allowed me to observe different cultures and experience a variety of important lessons at a young age. It probably makes it easier to constantly tour now, too. I’ve never known what it is like to grow up in one place, so I guess my experiences are all I know. From my perspective, the ‘standard’ upbringing is unique.


How did you get into music?

Man, it was something that was always there for me. I got my first guitar at the age of seven and I began seriously songwriting at the age of eighteen. It had always been a part of me before that, too. Traveling around so much as a kid, I got to experience so many different cultures and all of their forms of music. That kind of stuff can’t help but stay with you and influence you.

How does the constant traveling effect your time for songwriting?

It really depends on the intensity of the trip. I never seem to have the same schedule for two days in a row. A lot of times I’m just all over the place. This tour I can’t write at all because it’s so hectic with that release of the record. I’ll find my time, though.


What are some items that you always have with you on the road?

My guitar, some vitamins, and my band. Dirty laundry, too. There’s always dirty laundry (laughing).


What prompted you to choose reggae music as your platform for musical creation?

It just resonates so deeply for me. It’s more than a feeling or choice; I just have to play it. It’s hard to explain really; I guess it’s just what came out of me naturally when I allowed it to. 


And what keeps you doing it now?

Everything. Life in general, the Creator, my family and friends. I’m trying to connect with the Creator and connect with people on a higher level. Just seeing the effect that music has on people and the consciousness that comes with that–it’s a powerful thing.


What do you do with your time away from music?

I enjoy anything that has to do with water–boats, surfing, swimming, you name it. I live a very active life, I love to hike and do anything that gets me outdoors no matter where I am.


What do you still wish to accomplish before you hang up your guitar strap?

I wish not to hang it up. I just want to keep playing and make this a self-perpetuating thing. I want to help other musicians, meet new people, experience new things, and just keep loving it and enjoying it. I can’t wait to put out another record and keep touring in the meantime. I’ll just keep this cycle going as long as it will go and hopefully never hang it up.


                                                                                                                          -GX-

Matthew (McConaughey) and I have a very similar love and respect for nature, so there are so many things that we can do together that share our passions. We clicked immediately, but we’ve grown a lot closer the longer we’ve been around each other.

“I’ve never known what it is like to grow up in one place, so I guess my experiences are all I know. From my perspective, the ‘standard’ upbringing is unique.”

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Photos provided by Mishka