Mike Pinto, Reggae-rock’s beloved storytelling singer-songwriter, known for his writing ability and live performance, continues to draw fans in from all over the world. Mike Pinto touches reggae-rock-ska-surf as well as funk, folk, and soul. The Pier got the opportunity to meet with the multifaceted artist about his new album Truthful Lies, that was released back in May, as well as his thoughts on California Roots Festival, Unreleased Music & Collaborations. Pinto also delves into his ideology about writing and his thoughts behind the expansion of the reggae-rock scene.
Read the Interview below as we discuss Mike Pinto’s genre-bending talent, touring with Black Uhuru, and what he is doing with unreleased music he has on the back burner.
The Pier: You played 50+ shows over the summer introducing the latest album, Truthful Lies. Playing at intimate venues across the country, where do you find most of the fans singing your tunes back to you?
Mike Pinto: It’s gotta be Philly and SoCal, where I started and where I settled myself for the last 7 years. I can always count on San Diego and Philly to have high-energy shows. We’ve seen a lot of respect across the country though. I hate to single one spot out. There’s a connection between my fans and my lyrics. It’s really a trip that I have fans who appreciate the messages I’m trying to convey, and intimate is a good word for our show. I still enjoy a small packed club full of sweat and love. This last tour surprised me in a lot of ways. Fort Lauderdale, Corpus Christi, and New York City seemed to have new fans singing all the words, Colorado always comes correct…same with Florida and Arizona. When you play 50 shows on a tour it helps when the audience gives you that little extra. It’s all about the fan energy, no matter what the venue.
The Pier: What new stops on this upcoming tour are you most excited for?
Mike Pinto: I’ve never played Minneapolis or Washington, D.C. I look forward to anywhere new, plus I only have about 7 or 8 states I haven’t played shows in. Before it’s all said and done, I’d like to play all 50 states, so that when I’m an old man, I can rant about it and annoy my grand-kids with the same story about how grandpa used to be in a band that traveled all over the states.
The Pier: Your tour with Black Uhuru should pay dividends with reaching new fans! How did that tour come together? Have there been any talks of a potential collaboration?
Mike Pinto: Our booking agent just joined a new company, and they have a relationship with Black Uhuru. When he called me up to see if I was interested, I jumped on it. I know the lineup has changed in the band over the years, but it’s the songs that are important. Even if people aren’t sure of the name, they know their hits. Some of my friends, not hip to traditional reggae, ask me about them, and I found myself immediately singing “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…Natty Dreadlock!” [laughs]. I’m thrilled to grow as a musician watching their set every night. Looking forward to learning and sharing the stage with them. I’m always down to collab with talented musicians if they’re excited about the project.
The Pier: Since Black Uhuru is going to be there with their following, do you have any sort of game plan to reel in some Black Uhuru fans?
Mike Pinto: I’m definitely going to try to play our more roots-influenced songs. Maybe slow ‘em down a BPM (Beats Per Minute) or two. Let our band groove them a bit and see how it works out.
The Pier: Being a singer/songwriter, it can be difficult finding backing support to suffice a tour. What can you tell us about the current Mike Pinto Band line up? Any plans to keep a horn section for the tour?
Mike Pinto: Anyone who’s toured for years knows it’s hard to keep a band rolling on the road. Now I have Brian Daggett on Drums and Mike Hatton on Bass. Both guys hail from Atlanta, Georgia and joined me on the summer tour. We are looking to write some music in the near future. I will be having a horn section on this tour, and hopefully for as long as I’m playing with a band. The days of the power trio are over. I’ve got a different horn section this time. Out of L.A., Josh Molle is playing Trombone and has toured with me before, and Austin Diaz will be on Trumpet.
The Pier: For this upcoming tour, any new music or collaborations on the way? What should fans look forward to out of the live show?
Mike Pinto: The band is working on new songs, but they’re not reggae at this point. More soul music. I think the fact the guys are from Atlanta and I’m from Philly, we have a lot of soul influence to share with each other. It’s all fun and I’ll decide what to do with it when the time comes. This tour will have more of a roots and reggae feel. I mean, we opening for Black Uhuru! There better be some roots involved!
The Pier: So roots you say! Any cool reggae-roots covers (or any) you got in mind?
Mike Pinto: We spoke about a Buju Banton song, maybe some Toots, nothing set in stone yet. It’ll be a last second addition to the set, but we’ll do something fun that’s for sure.
The Pier: Since you’re adding that new soulful twist to your music, if you could add another instrument/musician to the band, what would you add?
Mike Pinto: If I could, I’d really like an organ/piano player that could sing harmonies as well. That would be the perfect fit for our band.
The Pier: Truthful Lies – You had a bunch of collaborations on that album: Junior Marvin, Jesse Wagner (of The Aggrolites). Not to mention the production with Lew Richards of 17th Street Studio as well as Chuck Treece and Dan Malsch at Soundmine Studios in Pennsylvania. How do you feel this album is different from your previous releases? What sticks out to you about this album?
Mike Pinto: Truthful Lies was an attempt to play more genres that I haven’t really touched on in the past. There’s still the Pinto vibe on some tracks, but I really just wanted to highlight my range as a songwriter. There’s the reggae influence in many songs, but there’s also that dirty reggae and ska with The Aggros’. Roots with Junior Marvin, folk in “Back in California,” funk in “Joy of Life” and parts of “Tornado.” Straight rock in “White Lies.” I think at the end of the day, I’m just a writer. I like to write any style that interests me at the time. I wish I had more time on this record, which most musicians do. We did most of the tracking for this record in 5 days with Chuck Treece and Dan Malsch in Soundmine Studios. That’s how I work, quickly. That’s out of necessity though. I’m fully independent, so that means I’m paying for the record [laughs]. Time is money. I couldn’t imagine how different my recordings would be if I had more time to develop them. They could end up worse though!
The Pier: What was the driving influence for this release that you felt had an impact during the writing/recording process?
Mike Pinto: For the last year, I’ve been influenced by soul music, old and new. I really enjoy the sound coming out of Brooklyn, with Menahan Street Band, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Budos Band. Give me some funky horns anytime. Then I love anything out of classic Stax Records. I always enjoy listening to great lyricists such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles & Neil Young, right before I start cutting. I feel more inspired to write better lyrics. To write your best, you have to listen to the best, that’s my motto. I was also driven by the fact that I had a huge tour to play this past summer! The record was literally pressed 2 days before tour. I honestly wish we had time for fans to listen and learn the songs before our tour. Life hardly works out exactly the way you want to though.
The Pier: I know you still have some new, unreleased music in the works, such as “Getting Older” – What are you doing with the unreleased tunes you have? Any special plans?
Mike Pinto: I haven’t given it much thought yet. I had to purge a little after the first 6 months of 2013. New record, new band, 9 week tour…it kicked my creative ass. I have 6 unreleased songs, including “Getting Older.” I have a track with Micah Brown that I really like that will be released. Most of it is folk-rock though. I’m still wondering if I should have a side project and call it something different. You damn fans are fickle [laughs]. Like I said, I just enjoy writing, and the more styles I play, the happier I am as an artist. Music is like food to me – Sometimes I’m in the mood for something different, you wouldn’t want to eat the same meal all the time, would you?
The Pier: California Roots! This growing festival is something special to be a part of. What do you think makes this festival so special and what makes it unlike any other festivals out there dishing out reggae-rock?
Mike Pinto: I have to commend California Roots because it’s very organized and well-thought out. The location in Monterey, CA and Battleship Park in Wilmington, NC are beautiful locations. It’s those players behind it that have made it so successful in my opinion. We’ve all been to or played a festival that was a serious cluster-fuck. Not fun! Dan Sheehan and the crew have also listened to the fans about who they want to hear, which is also important. When you give the people what they want, focus on all the details, and put it in the right environment, you’re more likely gonna get something special like California Roots. I love the spectrum of reggae they chose last year and for Carolina Sessions, and I’m sure it’s going to be even better next May (2014).
The Pier: What was your take on the Carolina Sessions? Did you notice any East vs West Coast differences having played both the festival in Cali & North Carolina?
Mike Pinto: I thought the festival was solid, I got to see a lot of my friends that are always on the road. Everyone seems to be coming up in the scene. Our hard work is paying off, and Wilmington, NC embraced this festival. I think bringing this to the East Coast is going to have the rippling effect towards other bands that are developing their own styles. Can’t wait to see how the youth grab this style and mold it as time goes on. It’s tough for me to compare mindsets of East and West, because I enjoy elements of both coasts. That being said, there was a warmth in the crowd in Carolina, it didn’t feel like a raging party as much as a peaceful gathering. Cliché as it may sound, isn’t that what you want at a reggae and roots-influenced festival?
The Pier: Absolutely, that’s exactly what it’s all about! As you’ve come up in the scene, you’ve become known as reggae-rock’s storyteller, with clear support from hits like “Bill’s Song,” “Tricky Nicky,” or “A Thousand Years Ago.” What goes into the process of creating & fulfilling the storyteller music you’ve come to be known for?
Mike Pinto: Honestly, there’s not a clear-cut method I use every time. I’m always searching for a subject topic in my life though. I’m looking for topics to relate to on a human level. I’ve done that to write stories since I was a kid. Recently, I realized that maybe I’m just a writer, and that I just so happened to pick up a guitar as a teenager and that’s how I got to write stories. Who knows, I may work on a novel or screenplay in the future. Sometimes, I don’t even consider myself a musician. I feel I have a lot of room for growth. I know I can be a clever son-of-a-bitch when it comes to writing though, so I’m excited to explore my potential for as long as I’m on this Earth.
Watch: Mike Pinto – Lost and Found” (Live Acoustic)