Poet, writer and musician, Luke Mitchem, is gearing up for his latest release, Which Wolf Will You Feed?, available on all DSP’s November 15. Previously, Mitchem has released five albums, and his latest with Which Wolf Will You Feed? savors his increasingly mature voice, lyrically and sonically. Working with the folk artist and producer, Joshua James, encouraged him to branch out with his voice. The album was funded through Kickstarter, where Mitchem raised over $8K from fan supporters.
In our interview with Mitchem, he shares insight into the writing and recording process for Which Wolf Will You Feed?, what he’s learned from working with fellow musician, Joshua James, the unique album title, upcoming music video along with his fun music and entertainment favorites.
What was the writing and recording process like for Which Wolf Will You Feed?
Luke Mitchem: I have been living with most of these songs since my 2015 release, For You, I Built a Mountain. “Cocaine Blues” has been a song list centerpiece for at least 3 years now and I finally decided that I needed to get these songs down on tape and out of my head so that I could move on from them, though I never truly move on from my songs. When I entered the studio on January 1st, 2018, I had a really good idea of what the album was going to sound like, or so I thought. We only recorded one song on the first day in the studio due to several factors; late flight, long night, and a serious case of jet lag. But the album really starting taking shape on day two and by day 7 we had a record. It is amazing how fast things move once you get one song anchored.
You collaborated with fellow singer and songwriter, Joshua James, on this album, including your previous album, For You, I Built A Mountain. What do you like most about working with James?
Luke: I’ve known Joshua for about 8 years now. We met at one of his shows at Jammin Java (Virginia) and he and his band called me after the show and said that their prior sleeping arrangements fell through. We chatted late into the night and I raised the question of recording with him and the boys. It took us two years to get on each other’s calendars, but the result was For You, I Built a Mountain. The thing I love the most about working with Joshua is that the raw, unfinished songs I write are going to sound completely different once he gets his hands and his mind circling in his head. Many of the songs we have recorded with one another are “images” of our collected minds and I truly love that blending of minds to produce albums.
The album title is intriguing and unique; what led to it being the album title? Were there any other titles you were considering?
Luke: I’d been kicking around a lot of different album titles for the past few years and Which Wolf Will You Feed? came out on top. I’m not sure when or where I first read the Native American parable about Two Wolves but it has been there, living and breathing, in my mind for quite some time. I’ve never been able to shake it, even after recording the album. The corresponding song dives into a few of the “battles” that have been going on inside me for quite some time and I hope that the listener will allow themselves to reflect on their own battles. There are several personal reasons for my choosing this title but in the end, it comes down to this idea of light versus dark, love and hate, good versus bad and that constant battle that rages in my heart and mind.
The original album title was going to be “All Those Mourning Hymns” but I decided against it for several reasons but mainly because of the central theme/song “Mourning Hymn #2, or for Lauren Shera” did not make the cut for this album. We’ve tried to record the song during the last 2 recording sessions but we can’t seem to get it right or more to the point, it just doesn’t match the song/sound that is in my mind. But the plan is to use this title for the next record.
Another title that I really loved and still do is “All Those Ships in the Harbor.” I got the idea from a Jason Isbell song and the title and corresponding song deal with all those dreams we leave behind and how I’m trying/working to keep all of my dreams alive, still floating but not setting sail just yet, especially those that don’t involve music.
This album was your second time using the Kickstarter platform. What led you to pursue the Kickstarter platform to help fund your album?
Luke: Kickstarter. That’s a tough subject to talk about. I love the platform and I love the idea of creatives working with their fan base to help bring a project to life. But I really struggled with the idea of asking folks for their money to help produce my music, especially after I released 4 albums with my own money. However, my work life changed in 2015 and I was no longer able to afford to pay for my records to be released so I turned to Kickstarter to help cover the costs of For You, I Built a Mountain.
I think the “second ask” was even more difficult for me to swallow. I had cashed in my 401K to be able to record the album but I still needed funding to release the record. But my doubts were vanquished rather quickly after launching. I doubled my supporters from my previous Kickstarter campaign and I raised over $8k to help with producing all the rewards and for paying some of the recording costs. My faith in the platform and my music was restored, you could say.
However, I won’t be using the platform for the next record. I’ve been rewarded, twice, by my small but loyal fan base and I don’t think I could bring myself to ask a third time.
You’re going to release a music video for one of the singles from the album in November. Is this your first time releasing an official music video? If so, why have you decided now is the time to do so?
Luke: Yeah, the plan is to work with D.C. filmmaker Harold Jackson III on a music video or short film for the title track. We may do a trilogy of music videos that tie in a lot of the recurring themes from the record but that is to be determined. I was hopeful that we would film and release the video by the album’s release date, 15 November, but Harold has been extremely busy promoting his new film “Unarmed Man” all over the country, so the intent is to film as soon as possible and start releasing the videos or short film in 2020 so folks can see a different side of my creativity.
You’re also going to tour for this upcoming album, as you’ve done with your previous albums. What do you like most about touring and being on the road?
Luke: The goal is to do a few album release shows along the East Coast in November and December with a much larger tour in the Spring. Graduate school and work keep me tethered to Northern Virginia these days and my goal is to shift more into music video producing and developing my short stories for publication.
I love touring. The world and the muse are ever-present and ready to be absorbed into a song or two. The best part and to paraphrase something my pops once told me, “You can’t see the country from the interstate, you gotta trek the backgrounds and experience the two lanes to get a thumb on America’s heartbeat.”
Who was your first concert, and do you have a favorite thus far?
Luke: If memory serves me, my first real concert, the type you get up at 5 am to stand in line for tickets, was Bob Dylan and Asleep at the Wheel in Salina, Kansas, probably 1999, give or take a year or so.
What was your first album on cassette, CD and/or vinyl?
Luke: Wow, I can’t rightly recall what my first cassette or CD purchase. I know I’ve made some regrettable purchases that I won’t go into here but I do remember being back home in Missouri on college break and watching Tom Waits’ video for “Hold On” at about 3 (AM) in the morning. I fell in love with that song and Tom Waits and bought that album as soon as I could. It is, to this day, one of my favorite albums of all-time and Mr. Waits is a continuous inspiration to my music, just listen to “The Man Atop Rebel Hill.”
Which five albums and/or artists would you not want to live without?
Tom Waits – Mule Variations
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Josh Ritter – The Animal Years
Feist – Metals
The Counting Crows – August and Everything After
Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?
Luke: Anyone that knows me well knows that I am pretty particular with my music selection and I don’t stray too far off course with what I like and don’t like. So I’m not sure if I had an album or artist that I would describe as a guilty pleasure.
It may surprise some folks and I don’t feel guilty about these “pleasures” but I’m a huge fan of “Insecure” on HBO and The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. These shows are led by some powerhouse female actors and I’ve fallen more and more in love with how these shows pull back the curtain on different cultures.
What are you currently listening to and reading?
Luke: I just finished reading “Pronto” by Elmore Leonard. I absolutely loved it and his writing style is very straightforward, to me at least, but his dialogue is amazing. And it didn’t hurt that his work was the driving force behind one of my favorite TV shows, Justified. But currently, I’m reading “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop” by Stephen Koch. It is a really good tool for an aspiring writer like myself and it has helped me immensely in shaping my stories.
I have a few CDs in my car that I can’t stop listening to at the moment:
Gregory Alan Isakov – Evening Machines
Colter Wall – Imaginary Appalachia
Damien Jurado – In the Shape of a Storm