Take a singer-songwriter (Nikki Moddelmog), a gypsy jazz guitarist (Shane Marler), a classically trained bassist (Mark Foley) and a guitarist who’s temporarily traded in his axe for a mandolin (Dennis Hardin) and you have The Mischief Makers. The group was born late last year during gigs to support Marler’s CD Just A Fool. The quartet gelled quickly but Marler soon discovered they had a problem.
“We’d play all these shows and you get to the end of the show and everybody says, ‘Do you guys have a CD?’ We’d have to say, ‘Well, I have a CD and she has a CD but we don’t have a CD.’ It was really just kind of peer pressure that made us form this unit," he says. "We were gigging together anyway, so it just kind of made sense to go into the studio and do something.”
The level of musicianship within the band meant that the pressure to perform at a peak level was high. The individual members were only too happy to rise to the challenge, making for a very quick recording session.
“If you don’t perform, then everybody’s staring at you because you’ve made the same mistake 17 times in a row," Marler says. "We went in and in about eight to ten hours, knocked out six tunes and were basically done.”
For all of Marler’s accomplishments—including roughly 20 years as a performing and recording artist—he says that he couldn’t help but feel that his bandmates encouraged him to play better.
“I’m standing next to Dr. Mark Foley, who obviously knows what he’s doing; he’s been around for a long time, played with lots of people," he says. "And Dennis Hardin who obviously knows how to play and Nikki, who’s obviously a good singer-songwriter. And, you know, I’m just freaking out the whole time, going, ‘I hope I don’t overplay.’
The material on the group’s new self-titled EP features songs that were mostly collaborations between Marler and Moddelmog, though one tune, “Water,” was presented to the band by Moddelmog in nearly finished form.
“She kind of had the guitar rhythm and the words and ended up just kind of arranging it," Marler says. "We actually came up with a few things in the studio, little hooks and stuff that really kind of added to the flavor of the tune. I think it turned out really well.”
The divergent backgrounds of the two writers blend seamlessly on the song “Time for a Walk.”
“Nikki comes more from a singer-songwriter background," Marler says. "I come, originally, more from a rock and pop background, but then really got into gypsy jazz stuff. This is a tune that’s more in line with that. It’s basically a straight-up swing number—she actually had the lyrics written out with nothing intended for them.
“I said, ‘Let’s put some music to it.’ We just came up with a little swing number. She laid down the vocals. She does a great job on the vocal track on it. It’s kind of a swingy belter. She really gets to feature her vocal presence.”
For Marler, the record’s strongest track is “Pardon Me,” a tune that stretches the quartet’s stylistic boundaries.
“We never start writing, thinking, ‘I’m gonna try and write a hit.’ I’m not saying that this is a hit but if there’s one song on the album that’s radio friendly, it’s this one," he says. "We wrote it probably a year ago now and I still… when we play it and sing it I’m just as proud as can be. It’s still a little more of a throwback to a classic country feel. I just really like the way the tune came together. You hear the cliché all the time, but the ones that come easiest are usually the best. And that was probably 15-20 minutes and it was done.”
The Mischief Makers will perform at the Fisch Haus Saturday evening with The Tom Page Trio.