Mischief Brew: Still Making Mischief.
Mischief Brew began at the end of the world. Well, almost the end of it. Erik Petersen was in Baltimore at a Y2K (New Year’s Eve 1999) party, one too tame for an “end of the world” party.
Petersen handed his friend a bucket to bang on and paraded around the house, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing punk songs. The music spilled out of the house into the street, creating a public singalong. And thus, Mischief Brew was born.
“That was the point when Mischief Brew really started,” Petersen, guitarist and singer, says. “You can create chaos without any electricity.”
When Petersen began Mischief Brew, very few other punk musicians were playing the acoustic guitar. It was the first time now-bassist Sean St. Clair had ever heard anything like it, at a show in State College, Pennsylvania. St. Clair didn’t know what to make of Mischief Brew, which was then a solo project by Petersen.
“At the time, that was really strange,” St. Clair says, reflecting that shows were less diverse when Mischief Brew started.
Today, they are a three-piece punk band that has continued to try to push the limits of what the band can do and sound like.
Right now, Mischief Brew is in the process of re-releasing old albums, including Smash the Windows. It will be the first time the punk album will receive a United States vinyl pressing. They also re-released Bachannal ‘n’ Philadelphia and, in 2015, they dropped a new album, This Is Not For Children.
The band has managed to accomplish what it has largely through DIY means. The members of Mischief Brew all work day jobs in order to sustain themselves. The band tours whenever they are able to make time. Petersen says the satisfaction of doing it that way is one of the most rewarding parts of Mischief Brew’s journey thus far.
“There was no point when a big label took us under their wing, or a manager or publicist tried to hype us into something we weren’t,” Petersen says. “It seemed more natural to do it our way, not necessarily out of defiance, but more instinct and ethics. Today, we still own it all and while it’s hard work, the rewards are greater and we reap them all.”
Mischief Brew has released albums on Fistolo Records, as well as through other labels. Bachannal ‘n’ Philadelphia was released on Square of Opposition Records and This is Not For Children was released on Alternative Tentacles Records, something Petersen considers one of the band’s best achievements. Fistolo, the record company Petersen runs with his wife, not only has put out Mischief Brew’s music but they have also released music from other artists and friends of the band.
Franz Nicolay has worked with Petersen and Fistolo many times over the years, both as a solo artist and with his band, Guignol, releasing a small collection of music on Petersen’s label over the years.
Nicolay has also seen and occasionally filled in for Mischief Brew. He feels their musicianship is under-rated and that they continue to get better, remembering seeing them years ago at Kung Fu Necktie when he first heard the band incorporating other, non-punk elements into their music.
“I just remember watching them thinking, ‘Wow. They’re really making a play for not just the best punk band going, but the best band full-stop,’” Nicolay says.
“That’s shit I dreamed of when I was little,” St. Clair says, speaking of Mischief Brew’s fans who know their music and sing their songs back at them when they play out.
In the tradition of punk rock, Mischief Brew has written protest songs over the course their career – songs that may be just as relevant this year as they were when they came out.
“Three steps forward and one step back,” Peterson says. “We tend to focus on the one step back. It’s sad when you look at it like, ‘Oh, this song written in 1999 is still relevant in 2016.’”
Regardless of the state of politics in the world, punk rock will continue on and Mischief Brew will endure to see, hear and play it.
“Scene’s gonna change. There’s always gonna be people who think it’s dead,” Petersen says.
“Mostly older punks kinda go away,” St. Clair laughs. “We stick around.”