There’s plenty to find fascinating about Mike Mokotow, who describes himself as “the illegitimate son of musicians fleeing Cold War-torn Poland for the United States.” He shares a moniker with the “cool” neighbourhood in the capital of Poland, Warsaw, where plenty of foreign embassies and corporations are based. He's a guy who can’t help but take big gambles. He was deeply impacted by his father’s death, which happened during his teenage years. And he’s fronted the Butchers of Sky Valley, a blues outfit, which prepared him for his current music trajectory.
“Running On All Fours,” his latest release, is bleak, but rich in layers. The syncopated rimshots keep things moving and swaying. The video is lush in its scenery, but blue and black in presentation. We start with a quote from The Odyssey “…Why take me for a god? No, no,/I am that father whom your boyhood lacked/and suffered pain for lack of, I am he." It is a gut punch given the context. On this track, Mokotow did all the vocals, percussion, electric guitar, synthesizer, drum programming, and lead guitar work. And it’s part of a ten-song debut album titled Domino, from Heeled & Heavy records.
The song keeps things turning and swerving, like a wet log on the fire. It's always smouldering, but never exultant. The bearded subject in the video drops to his knees and then on his face. He’s by the ocean, but he can’t feel it’s healing power. This song would work real well in a dingy club after a few beers on a night that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There is a kind of sadness that men keep hidden inside or do not know how to express. There’s some of that showing through here.
Listen to "Running On All Fours" by "Mokotow" here and get to know Mokotow in our interview below!
Video directed by David Gross.
Edited by Rob Trela.
Hi Mokotow! Care to introduce yourself?
Hi I’m Mike Mokotow and I like soft things.
What is it like to have the same name as a famous neighbourhood in Warsaw?
What are some of your musical influences?
I’ve always gravitated to sensual doom and gloom, music that has a significant emotional undercurrent that can embolden me even if it’s performed in controlled melancholy. Specific records would say Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain, Neil Young’s On The Beach, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’s Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Most of what T-Bone Burnett spills out of his creative gourd. I also love me a bossanova beat.
How did you enjoy working with Jeff Berner (mixing) and Kim Rosen (mastering)?
Both Jeff and Kim are not only master class professionals but such good people. I trusted them with something that meant the world to me. I had taken a significant amount of time finding the right people to work with on these stages of the record, had burned bridges with past mastering engineer I worked with for not actually listening to the record and was lucky to find these humans to bring this record to where it is now. Its a rare thing to find people like that in music, that along the way don’t forget the reason why we got into it in the first place.
You played most of the instruments on a lot of your songs on the new album. Do you enjoy having control over the song-creation process, or do you see yourself being more collaborative as you go along?
When I first starting writing music many moons ago it was always a solo effort, and because of that a long learning curve. Over the years I’ve collaborated with people, most recently with my writing partner in Butchers of Sky Valley a few years back. Since putting that band on hold I felt my inner voice slip into place. I knew what I had to say, how I wanted it to sound even though I do not know how to play any of these instruments. I decided to patiently beat them to death in my attic, chasing what I had in my head regardless of any limitations. In truth it’s been very liberating. And now that this has been laid down I can feel myself opening up to collaborating again.
Why was it important for you to reference the death of your father in the text in the intro for the “Running On All Fours” video?
It is something that has kept with me since I was in my teens and will do so for the entirety of my life. I made this for my son to loosely exemplify what I have felt and gone through all these years, what my sons arrival has meant to me. I hope he doesn’t find it as terrifying in the future as he does now (he’s four year old and did not react well to the scenes of me in distress).
What do you hope people will take away from listening to your work?
The curiosity to dig into themselves and into me. If you’re still reading this and gave a tune a listen, consider us friends.
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