|John Mitchell - It Bites - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Russ P|
|Sunday, 15 April 2012 05:25|
It Bites have always been one of the more curious cases of the progressive rock world. Their first impression on us back in the 1980s was that of a pop band. But a pop band doing what no pop band had the right to do - successfully mix catchy tunes with complex musicianship and, god forbid, distorted guitars. They've had a lasting impression. And although the recently released 'Map Of The Past' does employ the 'concept album' philosophy there's still enough evidence to suggest that It Bites are still not a band so easily categorised. I had a chat with frontman John Mitchell about It Bites, past and present.
John, a lot of people's first memories of It Bites, including my own, was seeing the band performing on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the latter half of the '80s. What was exciting and unique was seeing a pop band with a seriously good rock guitar player. Tell us about the first time that you saw the band.
The first time I saw the band was on the Equinox programme 'Twang Bang Kerrang'. They were recording 'Once Around The World' at The Manor Studios in Oxfordshire and Francis spent a great deal of time sat in a chair talking about action and Stratocasters. To a 14-year-old obsessed with the guitar that left quite a lasting impression.
I remember seeing that programme too. Staying with that era of music for a minute, I must say that when Marillion and Fish went their separate ways I stopped following either. The same is more or less true with It Bites and Francis Dunnery. What are your thoughts on the latent fan base out there that have lost touch with the band?
Those people are seriously missing out! I can understand it to a certain degree. People have a misty-eyed nostalgia for elements of their youth and It Bites were a big part of mine as well. It Bites however, is a brand name for a band, and in my humble opinion you are missing out if you don't judge this current incarnation, and indeed the new album, on its own merits.
You're well known in progressive rock circles. Is there an element of truth that being labelled as progressive rock limits your ability to reach outside the genre and find fans who would like your band if they could only get past the label?
I agree with that to a certain extent. Progressive rock does have a stigma attached to it and that stigma isn't altogether unfounded. In an ideal world, a music fan would be a music fan, however we don't live in an ideal world and there seems to be the need to compartmentalise bands into genres even though progressive rock is a massively generalised term.
What's been the biggest single moment for you since you started fronting It Bites?
Completing the new album. It's the thing I'm most proud of writing to date and I don't say that lightly.
Which It Bites song from the first 3 albums gives you the biggest buzz when playing live?
'Once Around The World'. It's a challenge to play every night and the Willie Carson section gets my pulse racing as I believe it was designed to!
With playing and writing with so many other bands how do you find and keep the It Bites sound?
Two words - John Beck.
Okay, so who are your guitar influences? Listening to 'Ghosts' from 'The Tall Ships' would seem to indicate Gary Moore and Francis Dunnery to name but two.
Surprising as this might be, I'm far more influenced by Jeff Beck and Trevor Rabin with a dash of Gilmour.
Your new album 'Map Of The Past' is a concept album. How did you approach the writing? Is it something that you had to write in a linear fashion from the beginning to the end?
John Beck and I did the same thing we always do. He sits in my upstairs studio with his arms folded, and says: "so then, what have you got?" I then throw a verse and a chorus at him, we argue about a drumbeat for an hour, and 48 hours later, ta-dah, we have a song. We wrote the songs in no particular order, but as we wrote, the theme grew and it all seemed to fall into place when we sequenced it.
So what was the most fun part of recording the album 'Map Of The Past'? Was it playing the time signature on the title track?
The most fun part for me is and always will be, trying to outdo John Beck in the ridiculous stakes. The song 'Send No Flowers' springs to mind. John can never understand how I write lyrics so quickly, so it always comes as a surprise to him when I sing them for the first time. When I sang the line 'Hit rock bottom', he was literally rolling around laughing.
Were there any songs that you wrote during these sessions that got put aside for not fitting into the concept?
No, although John wasn't convinced that 'Send No Flowers' would fit because it's so over the top and straight out of a musical. But with this album, anything went.
You're touring the album in May. Any plans to add any dates in Scotland, Wales or the South West either this time or later in the year?
I'm not in charge of where we play unfortunately; I just get on the bus and go where I get taken (laughing)
On the website to your recording studio - Outhouse Studios - you're humorously described as "the Gordon Ramsay of the music recording world". Which of the following would you be most likely to say or do following a lacklustre take:
a) Scream through the foldback: "wake up dickhead, call that a fucking take big boy, Get it right, next time you're out!"
b) Physically throw up into the wastepaper bin
c) Say: "that was great, can we have it once more with feeling."
Oh it would have to be C. Although the comment was possibly referring more to my rubbery wrinkled face!
Sum up your band mates in 3 words:
John Beck: Tardy, loveable, genius
Bob Dalton: Blunt, nostalgic, gasbag
Lee Pomeroy: Comedic, Cockney, geezer
And I have to ask this one - Yes or Genesis?
Okay moving swiftly on. You're a busy man. What other projects are you currently working on?
A woodwork project - I'm making a nice table from English oak (laughing loudly)
And finally, limiting yourself to 140 characters, tweet us out with something about the new It Bites album.
@lordconnaught: A proud moment. We've created a masterpiece. Bombastic, totally fantastic. Buy or die! #genius - is that under 140? (laughing)
John, It's been very entertaining. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Thank you Russell
Group photo credit: Lee Blackmore