The Mighty Oaks: We Are Living Our Dream
The Mighty Oaks continue their road trip to the perfect folk-pop song.
Three charming men with beards, lumberjack shirts, mandolins and guitars, the Mighty Oaks came out of nowhere and yet were the perfect indie-folk band. Hailing from Italy, England the U.S., the trio met in Berlin, where they still live and make music. The 2014 debut Howl topped local charts instantly; their energetic live shows and mega-hit “Brother” charmed festival-crowds all over Europe and made them one of the fastest rising acts of 2014.
The band took a break after some exciting months on the road to rewind and reload their batteries in their home countries. A lot of things changed during these three years out of the spotlight, but the Mighty Oaks stayed true to themselves: “We wanted to concentrate on the happy moments in life,” says lead singer Ian Hooper. Like the debut, their sophomore album, Dreamers, is full of big love songs, bonfire romantic, road trip fantasies and space to dream big in times of doubt.
We met the band in Berlin to chat a little more about the new record.
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Who are the Mighty Oaks in 2017? What has changed since Howl?
Ian Hooper: We are definitely better musicians. We function so much better as a band in comparison to the recordings on Howl. We simply know more. We were on the road for a long time with the previous album, and learned so much while we were touring. These practical experiences are now on the new record and we are ready to play live again!
The only thing that is permanent in life is change. On Dreamers, a lot of songs revolve around this topic. What events inspired these stories?
Hooper: A lot of things happened to me last year. I got married and I became a father for the first time. That definitely influenced my perspective. Songs like “The Great Unknown” and “Be with You Always” are about these two events. Suddenly I found myself thinking about what is means to be a good parent and what a good role model is. Who are the good people in our world? Apart from that, we had the chance to spend a lot of time with our families at home. I saw my father a lot, and I always learn so much from him. The same goes for my little sister and also the band. We spent quite some time together. We are really close friends.
Claudio and Craig, can you identify with Ian’s experiences?
Craig Saunders: “Be with You Always” is a song that Ian dedicated to his son. To me it has a different meaning. My father passed away last year and the song appeals to me on another level. It is almost like the song is from the perspective of my dad, who tells me that he is still there even though he is not. That is the beauty of the songs and the lyrics. You find your own story in them.
Claudio Donzelli: For this album, the songwriting was an essential part of our day in Berlin. Every day we played with new ideas. When I listen to the songs now, I relive the moods and feelings I had while we were working on them. Every single detail and events from the recording sessions are crystal clear to me. During the whole process, I really found myself. I am much more comfortable in my own skin and spend more time with my family now. During the time with Howl we were on the road a lot and there was so much to learn. This time around I am more aware of what is happening and I feel prepared.
Tell us a little bit about the creative process for the new album. You all went to your to home countries for a while. How did you manage to come together as a band and unite the different ideas you got during that time?
Hooper: Whenever I am traveling, I bring my guitar. I think a lot of the creative stuff happened unconsciously while we are home. We reloaded the batteries, but not necessarily wrote new songs. The time off was important to find new inspiration for the creative process in Berlin. Coming home is a wonderful thing, I feel safe and comfortable when I come to the place I grew up.
So the actual creative process happened in Berlin?
Hooper: Well, many different places actually. We wrote in my home in Berlin, we spent time together in a country house and I wrote a lot at the Baltic sea. The places we wrote determined how the songs turned out. We could not be so loud in my apartment, that is how we wrote calmer songs like “Look Inside.”
Saunders: We had many different versions of each song. In the end, we had nearly fifty songs to choose from. Finding the final twelve that made it to the record was a long process.
Wasn’t it really hard to leave so many songs behind?
Saunders: When we were ready to record, we had sixteen songs that we took with us to the studio in the U.S.. At that point, we had no idea which songs would make it onto the record. We only knew by the end of the day: it had to be twelve songs.
During your time off a lot of political changes happened in your home countries: the U.S., UK and Italy. Did these changes have any impact on your music?
Hooper: It is true, a lot has happened. We wrote over a long period of time, so the songs were all ready when the big changes happened. The [U.S.] presidential election was not as close and we were convinced that [Donald Trump] could never win. Brexit hadn’t happened yet either. Many people told us we should write a political song because the time was right for it and it would sell well. Honestly, I find that difficult. Writing important songs for financial gain, that is not right. Music should definitely be a medium that can be critical of society. We made the decision to concentrate on the happy moments in life. I think that this is good in turbulent times. A record like this can hopefully be a short break from reality.
Do you have a favorite song on Dreamers? If yes, which one?
Saunders: It is true what Ian says: when you are on tour, playing the songs every day and getting to know them better, the relation to the songs changes. “The Great Unknown” really turned out great. At the end of the recording session, I was almost surprised by how wonderful the string arrangement is. “Raise a Glass” is also great.
Donzelli: My favorite is “Dreamers”.
Hooper: I also like “Be with You Always,” even though it is hard to sing. I also like “All I Need,” despite the fact that I am not playing the piano so well. At first we were not sure if this was our sound. On Howl, we didn’t have songs with this type of groove and flow. For a little moment it felt like we lost our sound, but soon it became a new part of us.
Was there a song that was particularly hard to write?
Saunders: Yes, “Look Inside.” We really liked the song, but we had our difficulties with it. We had different versions and could not really decide which one to go for. It was similar with “Don’t Lie To Me.” At that point it was really good to work with our producer Ryan Hadlock. We developed the songs as far as we could, and it is so hard to put an end to it when you are finally recording. Putting the foot down and saying enough is enough is essential at that point.
Hooper: Ryan was very honest with what he liked and disliked. That was very important. All in all, we had a wonderful time in his family studio in Washington; what a great place!
In “Raise A Glass” you sing about never being that young again. How do you feel about getting older?
Hooper: I like getting older, what is there to say against it? The only thing is that there is so much more responsibility and adult-stuff you have to take care of. But I mean, that is just a part of it. I think it is really funny that people in their forties are clubbing every weekend and live in shared apartments. Maybe this is how they want to live their lives and that is fine, but I want to be a happy and old man like my father. I am my father basically, just smaller. Sometimes you wonder, “Why my belly is growing, though? That was not like that when I was younger, what is happening to me…?” My granny always tells the story of her aunt who got stuck in the bathtub. My granny is so cool, she has so many great stories to tell..
Saunders: I have children myself and I really enjoy watching them grow up. I have nothing against aging. It would be a waste of time to fight age all the time. In the end, it is going to happen anyway. Staying fit in your mind and body, that is important and my kids definitely help me with that.
Last but not least, in reference to the album title, what do you dream about?
Hooper: I think we are living our dream at the moment and we really hope we will not wake up any time soon. It is really hard work to be a band in times of DJs and EDM. We rather write albums than singles; we think we should grow and get more established with every record we write. We are not in it for the fast deal.
Saunders: That’s right. We don‘t want to be a firework of hits that disappears as fast as it appeared. We are dreaming about a long career. I hope that we will sit here someday and talk about our tenth album.
Donzelli: I hope that we can dream more in the future.
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