Mischief Brew Bio

In June of 2000, after spending four years screaming in a punk band called The Orphans, Erik Petersen confined himself to a basement with an acoustic guitar, a rickety drum kit, a mandolin, and a four-track to stir a bunch of ideas together into a stew of songs.  The resulting concoction was “Mirth: or, Certain Verses Composed and Fitted to Tunes, for the Delight and Recreation of All,” an eight-song demo cassette of acoustic punk influenced by medieval danses and raucous dust-raisers. On the spine of the tape (duplicated DIY-style by partners Denise Vertucci and Erik, later forming Fistolo Records), it read: “A Taste Of The Mischief Brew,” and included a “Folk The System” patch. There were no names or press pictures. Just a couple cryptic woodcuts, circle-A’s, illustrations of jesters and goblins, and a PO Box as a contact method.

Since then, Mischief Brew has grown to include several more humans, a few pug dogs, a lot more volume, and a bunch of pots and pans to bang on. It’s not unusual to see members scavenging around for scraps of metal and pieces of wood before a show, to use as percussion for a live set. And it might be the only punk rock band to feature a vibraharp. Since that scratchy demo tape, they have done numerous U.S. and European tours and have played everywhere from the Electric Factory in Philly to old bomb shelters in Germany, from CBGBs (the original one) to ABC No Rio in NYC, from 924 Gilman in Berkeley to the Trumbullplex in Detroit...not to mention in attics, basements, barns, underneath train bridges, and on rocking boats underneath the Williamsburg Bridge on the East River.

The albums, meanwhile, have labeled the band as everything from “Gypsy-Punk” to “Pirate-Swing” to “Anarcho-Circus-Music” (all and none of these). “Smash The Windows” (2005) was a calliope from Hell. “Songs From Under The Sink” (2006) went back and churned out a collection of stripped-down protest songs written between 1997-2002. There was a split LP with Joe Jack Talcum (The Dead Milkmen), a carnivalesque collaboration with Guignol called “Fight Dirty,” and split records with David Dondero, Bread & Roses, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Robert Sarazin Blake. The latest is “The Stone Operation,” a mix of everything above with an extra helping of the early punk roots, Eastern-European riffs, Utah Phillips tributes and even a little metal.

In “Three Chord Circus,” the band sings: “If your children go to see our show, they’re never coming home!” Using Pied Piper imagery to describe one’s first Mischief Brew live experience is somewhat appropriate. People have climbed on stage to play an instrument or sing along… or, the band has jumped into the crowd for one final acoustic number. And in that crowd, the crustiest trainhopper is singing along arm-in-arm with hippies, folkies, freaks, anarchists, wingnuts, students, and a few surprised onlookers that just mosied into the bar for a drink and stumbled upon a menagerie of the bizarre.

And no matter how small that attic or basement is, there’s always room for more.

Erik Petersen: Voice, guitars, mandolin
Shawn St. Clair: Bass, voice
Chris “Doc” Kulp: Acoustic guitar, junk percussion, congas, vibraharp, timbales, voice…
Christopher Petersen: Drums and percussion
And sometimes, Tom Swafford: Fiddle