This ramshackle eight-piece has gone from a quiet acoustic project to a band whose melodic mastery and joyous texture has given way to one of the best albums of the year. And now, head Extensioner Joe Michelini tells us about how he views people as brain food, his professional envy of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, and how the movie Avatar made him cry.
Always a bit jarring when your band goes from one member to eight.
Yet for Joe Michelini and his group River City Extension, that's exactly what happened. What started as a very small, minimal acoustic project in 2007 has slowly blossomed over the years, the group slowly picking up acclaim and fitting into the folk-revival scene that has lead to Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros making large mainstream inroads.
Yet, that's not exactly right either.
While River City Extension's debut The Unmistakable Man oozed a freewheeling, ramshackle charm, it's the group's latest set, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger, that's turning heads. Produced by Modest Mouse producer Brian Deck and featuring more city name-dropping than a Sufjan Stevens record, Michelini and his clan have honed in on a sound that emotive, colorful, full of life yet never once taking its mind off the details, the tough questions, and the hard-earned answers. While this is certainly an elliptical way to describe the album, it is already being talked about by the PopMatters staff as one of the best albums released this year. No, we are not hyperbolizing.
Thus, we were stoked to have Michelini sit down with us to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions, here revealing how he views people as brain food, his professional envy of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, and how the movie Avatar made him cry . . .
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Hmm. I need to think about that. It was definitely a movie. Probably Avatar, actually. I only saw it recently, out of theaters at a friend's house for the first time. Loved it though. And yeah, I cried a few times.
2. The fictional character most like you?
This is a weird question. Maybe Indiana Jones? I don't know that we are anything like each other at all but I would certainly like to carry a whip and hunt for buried treasure. I guess we both seek adventure, and that is it.
3. The greatest album, ever?
I'll take "Loaded/Biased Questions" for 600 please, Alex.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars all the way. I enjoy Star Trek from time to time as well, but I'm definitely a Star Wars guy. I grew up on it. It was my introduction to sci-fi if you could call it that. I always thought Star Wars to be transcending the world of science fiction, but maybe that's just my opinion.
5. Your ideal brain food?
I think people are my ultimate brain food. Meeting new people, understanding their perspective on things, all of that. Every person a unique thinker. That's a lot to take in.
6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I'm not sure that was a complete thought.
7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?
I'd like to be remembered as someone who helped others feel like they weren't alone. It's funny on tour there seems to be this running joke about what I want written on my head stone. One time I told Patrick I wanted, "Sounded like a cover, tasted like a tortilla" written on my grave. As for music, I don't know. I have no control over what people think or are going to think anyway, and by the time it matters it's going to matter to everyone but me, so maybe you could tell me how you'd like to remember me, and I'll try to take that Ito consideration when I make important life decisions down the road.
8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are . . .
First and foremost my Dad. He is the most inspirational individual in my life by far. Sorry if you get that answer a lot, but I legitimately have the best Dad in the world. Musically, I'm inspired a lot by Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, John Denver. People like that.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The Dust of Retreat by Margot & the Nuclear So and So's. It's a perfect record. I really love the songs, the production, everything. Absolutely the record I am upset that I didn't write.
10. Your hidden talents . . . ?
Music's all I got. I make a pretty mean eggplant sandwich!
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
This is a funny time to bring up advice. We're releasing this record called Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger, and the title is advice from my Mom (via the Bible). It essentially means to forgive. Let the issues of the day be the issues of the day. Forgive, resolve, forget. It has meant a lot to me over the past couple of years. I struggle with forgiveness, especially with forgiving myself. That's what a lot of this record is about.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I've never emotionally invested myself in any material item for more than a couple of years at a time. If I have a great pair of shoes for a while, they are no better or worse than the next pair. They serve their purpose in their time and when they no longer do what they are meant to do, it's time for another pair of shoes. Never really think much of it. That make sense?
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Since I am discouraged to take my parents to this dinner, I think I'd like to have dinner with Townes Van Zandt. I don't think he'd dress up and neither would I. My man.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
I'd visit the 1950s and learn how to dance. I don't know if I'd want to know too many ins and outs of any other point in time. I realize there's a lot of bad we're not privy to in these romanticized Hollywood versions of the past (or future), so why not just keep it fun.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
A bottle of red wine and dinner with my loved ones.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?
None of the above. Human interaction, probably. Touch.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Ahhhh, I don't know. I think about this a lot. I like it 70 and windy. Maybe San Francisco? (If you're looking at a map that's in Northern California.)
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
You're a stronger man than I am.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I'm working on a building, I'm working on a building. I'm working on a building for my Lord, for my Lord. Various art projects with friends. I'm exploring being a silent creative partner is various collaborative works.