MiZ Biz: a Q&A with musician Michael Mizwinski

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Jason Riedmiller

Janel Naro, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

The River Street Jazz Café in Plains is hosting a concert fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 19 benefiting the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition of NEPA. Money raised will be used to bring in national experts on hydraulic fracturing and for producing media to educate the public on the negative environmental effects of gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Scranton native Michael Mizwinski, also known as “MiZ,” is one of the featured artists playing at the event. He has spent much of the last year touring and recording his recently released new album, “East Hope Avenue.”

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How and when did you get started playing and writing music?

I started playing guitar when I was about six or seven and I started writing my own stuff when I was about 10, I would say. At first it was just music. I would sit and play guitar and I noticed that I was coming up with different things different ideas. Then eventually, when I was 15, I started trying writing lyrics and it just kind of grew from there, just morphed into what it is now. I kept playing and kept trying to work at it and get better at it.

What is your writing process like?

It used to be the music first, always. That’s how I started writing music, writing my own songs. I would first hear a melody in my head, then I would grab my guitar and try to translate that melody to guitar, or I would just be sitting around the house, practicing or just playing for fun, and I would just come across a cool chord or idea and I would extend on that.

Lately, almost the same thing has been happening with lyrics. I would just hear someone say something or I’ll just think of a phrase in my mind and think “Oh man, I need to write that down”. I wrote this song recently called “Tornado Minds,” which I think is one of my best songs. I just saw those two words together, so I just took that concept and the whole story unfolded in my brain and I started writing as fast as I could.

What was the recording process like?

It was long and painful. It was a really, really good time but it was also miserable. It took, I would say, six months longer than I thought it was going to. And I toured so much; I recorded the album over the course of the last year. I toured 261 gigs last year, which was really a lot. It was very, very difficult to record a full-length album and play that many shows. It’s very difficult. It was worth it, though. I think it came out very nice and I’m definitely happy with it.

What are some of your musical influences/inspirations?

Most recently, I really like Tony Rice as far as a guitar player; I listen to him a lot. Ryan Adams always comes to mind; I’m very influenced by him. Early on it was the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Phish, stuff like that. But lately I’ve been listening to more jazz and more folk and more bluegrass. I pretty much listen to everything.

I think that’s where I’m at right now in my musical evolution. Sometimes I think it’s even hard for certain people to swallow because I grew up playing a lot of jam-band music and now we play a jam-band song, then we play a bluegrass song, then we’ll play a rock song, then we’ll play a straight-out country song. I think it’s hard for people to swallow all of that at once because it’s so many different styles but I really do think it’s a good thing in the long-run because I’m hoping it’ll kind of fuse into my sound, the sound that I’m looking for, my own unique sound.

What would you say is most rewarding about writing, recording, and touring your own music?

It’s kind of a cumulative thing, but I think one of the most rewarding parts recently has been when we drive a very far distance. For example, this past Saturday we drove seven hours to northern Vermont and we got up there and we played, and we played a good show and there was a few hundred people that were really into what we were doing. And that’s rewarding because obviously in the area here people have been so great to me over the last five years.

We’ve been having some amazing shows at the Jazz Café and other local venues. It’s great when we drive a really far distance and people react to our music. It makes it worthwhile; it makes the seven-hour drive really worthwhile when you get there and people are really enthusiastic about what you’re doing.

How and why did you get involved with the Gas Drilling Benefit Concert?

I actually played Gas Stock which they had two summers ago. That was up at the Luzerne County Fair Grounds in Dallas. I started getting hip to what was going on, around that time, with a lot of the gas drilling and stuff like that. And I’ve talked to a lot of different people, a lot of different musicians, activists and things like that. And all I can say is I strongly support taking care of our environment. I strongly support things that don’t have a negative effect on the planet.

I try not to get too into the core of these things like a lot of other people do. I appreciate that they do that, but me as a musician, I just try to promote positivity in any way that I can and I feel as though that this is one way to do it. Anything that’s polluting the environment can’t be good for us or the human species.  I was happy to do the Gas Stock show and I’m definitely happy to do this one too. It’s great.

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