by Joshua Miller
Mikael Jorgensen is no stranger to success or the life of a busy musician in a big rock and roll band. In fact, he spends most of his time playing keyboards in Wilco, a critically acclaimed band whose recent days are filled supporting their much buzzed about new album.
But even with Wilco’s success and schedule, Jorgensen’s desire to further discover what he can do with music doesn’t end when his full time band takes a break.
Enter Pronto, an emerging rock band touring in support of their own critically acclaimed debut, “All Is Golden,” released this past spring. The album, featuring Jorgensen and several friends, showcases a set of catchy pop melodies, rockers and ballads hinting of 70s soft rock while putting a modern spin on it. However, with the release of a new-old set of songs this month featuring a more experimental side of the band called “The Cheetah,” the band shows their sound is constantly on the move.
The band brings its multiple music personalities to Madison September 19th when they play the Forward Music Festival. Jorgensen managed to take some time out his busy schedule and talk with Maximum Ink through an e-mail interview about his band’s fascination with music exploration.
Maximum Ink: You’re quite busy with Wilco but you found a way to form Pronto on the side. Could you tell me how you met up with each the others?
Mikael Jorgensen: Greg O’Keeffe - We met in New Jersey in 1995 and played in a band called Movere Workshop. Greg’s solid time, natural feel, musical curiosity and dry wit are what initially attracted me to his playing and continues to do so. We share a space in Brooklyn where we’ve integrated all of our gear into a fairly respectable recording studio. This is Pronto HQ.
Chris Girard - We played music in the same Jersey Shore music scene in the early 1990s. We both moved to Chicago around 1998 intending to breed a Chicago-based Movere Workshop, but that band dissolved. It is about this point that Pronto is born and work on what would be “The Cheetah” also commences. Chris has an effortless and idiosyncratic
approach to the guitar which revolves around his deft finger picking style.
Tunde Oyewole - I was introduced to Tunde through my old friend and former Lizard Music band mate Erik Paparazzi, who played with Pronto for a spell in 2008-2009. Tunde’s rich and varied musico-literary influences provide him with the conceptual and physical abilities to consider, and shake your booty down. Tunde has been playing bass with Pronto for nearly a year as of this writing and we are very happy to have him on board.
MI: The band’s sound is quite varied if you consider the more experimental “The Cheetah” and the rock/pop of “All Is Golden.” How would you describe the band’s current sound/music?
MJ: The upcoming sound of Pronto is a bit of a mystery to me at the moment. Chris will be joining Greg, Tunde and I for the first time while we sort out some of the All is Golden songs as well as beginning to crack the code of what to do about The Cheetah material. In this questioning, I hope that we’ll all expand our musical vocabulary beyond the sound of a traditional rock band and blend the electronic and digital elements into something that is satisfying and engaging.
MI: How would you describe the practice atmosphere/band chemistry?
MJ: Since our rehearsal times are typically extremely limited, we have to make the most efficient use of everyone’s time. This means that everybody will have to do some “homework” on the songs and then we’ll iron out the details at rehearsal. Sadly we don’t have the luxury of being able to spend hours and hours working on music together, which I have found, through Wilco, to be the most satisfying and productive method of making music with a group of humans.
MI: What were you trying to achieve in All Is Golden?
MJ: All Is Golden was a challenge I posed to myself: To make a record based on songwriting. I would demo songs in my apartment in Chicago, and then email them to Greg in Brooklyn, and we’d generate ideas about what kind of sound they should have, which records to cite as influences, and then once I had 12-15 fleshed out ideas, Greg came to Chicago and we set up in the Wilco loft with Matt Lux (Isotope 217, Iron & Wine, Exploding Star Orchestra) on Bass and periodically, Jim Becker (Califone) to cut the basic tracks
During lunch or dinner, we’d cue up songs on iPods / laptops and share music that we really loved. I made a playlist in iTunes that grew and grew as the writing / recording sessions progressed. Sadly, due to a laptop meltdown, it’s vanished into the ether. But a few quick important touchstones from memory for those days:
Aphrodite’s Child - 666, Leon Russel - Carney, Plux Quba - Plux Quba, Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic, Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed, The Band - The Band, Broadcast - HaHa Sound, Captain Beefheart - Spotlight Kid, Emmitt Rhodes The American Dream. Of course there’s many more, but that’s a reasonable sampling.
MI: The Cheetah project differs pretty significantly musically. Could you tell me about what you wanted to get with that one and what that method provided for in terms of writing/recording?
MJ: The Cheetah was several separate projects assembled together. The first seven songs were written by Chris and I and recorded at SOMA [Electronic Music Studios in Chicago, IL] in 2001. We would get together and play, record and then evaluate the recordings and pull the best parts out. We’d then twist and stretch them through the computer, sometimes returning back to the original arrangements. The title track “The Cheetah” is a good example of that. It’s a great instrumental song and the only tekky thing we did to it was significantly maul the acoustic drum sounds here and there.
A song like “rRan” however was built completely in the computer by mangling a Yamaha TX-816 with the program MAX/MSP and playing an electric bass to the resulting accidental, or unintended, melodies.
MI: Could you tell me a little bit about what being diverse as a artist/band means to you and how it’s influenced how you and the band write now?
MJ: The best part of being a band is you get to make stuff up. It’s something I’ve learned from Wilco. Pronto is turning into a fertile proving ground for ideas and concepts that interest us. It feels like there’s way more stuff I want to do than there is time for. It’s a nice feeling that there’s this thing that can function more like a container, or conduit, that allows you the freedom and opportunity to try a whole bunch of different stuff. Why not?
MI: What does Pronto give you that you haven’t been able to do with Wilco or your other musical endeavors?
MJ: I love playing guitar - it’s unforgiving and portable. Songwriting is a much different process on the guitar than the piano. Besides, Wilco has the guitar covered between Jeff, Nels, Patrick and John anyhow. My intention with Pronto is to introduce a technological facet that doesn’t seem like it would be compatible within Wilco. I anticipate lots of on-stage experimentation going on at the shows coming up in September. Some of it will work, some of it will not - but better to try and know than not to succeed or fail at all. I’m looking forward to finding out what it’ll sound like as well.
MI: What do you think of the response the band’s gotten?
MJ: The response so far has been mainly favorable, and I’m glad. To a degree it’s empowering to have the things you do be well received and interpreted within the correct context. Every now and again we’ll get a review from a publication that focuses on a musical sub-genre that is aesthetically much different that what we’re aiming to achieve and those write-ups typically are the funniest.
MI: What should people expect to see and hear at your show?
MJ: They should expect to hear versions of the songs from AIG and The Cheetah that may or may not bear much resemblance to the records. It’s all up in the air right now - in a good way.
MI: What are your future plans for Pronto?
MJ: I’d like to continue to make music that is satisfying and challenging to us as musicians and artists. I hope to make a Folk-Dubstep record next.
CD: All Is Golden Record Label: Contraphonic Records
• Purchase All Is Golden on Amazon
• Download All Is Golden on Amazon