John Mudd's The Sole Founding Ishi Member Remaining. And He's Perfectly OK With That.
Ishi frontman John Mudd isn't really too concerned about the people he offends — neither onstage nor off.
This is a quality that has for better or worse defined his band since its initial formation nearly seven years ago, and what can be credited for both his band's biggest missteps and successes.
And yet, while Mudd's strong resolve and, at times, lack of trepidation, have led to some awkward, borderline offensive moments during the band's run (see: the questionable taste of Mudd's decision to name his band after a famous Native American and frequently appear onstage in a glowing neon headdress, or the number of musicians that have left the band's ranks on not-so-pleasant terms), none of this has really affected the band's nonstop upward trajectory at all.
“I know what I want and I'm strong-headed,” Mudd says a week or so before yesterday's release of Digital Wounds, his band's sophomore LP. “It can work for me and against me. It's definitely my tenacity that's helped us persevere through the trying times, and it's continued to pay off. I love everyone that's been part of Ishi and I feel grateful to have worked with them. But it's one of the toughest industries and businesses to be a part of. You just have to stick with it.”
As long as he stays focused on his ultimate goals for the band, Mudd says stubbornly, he doesn't really care too much what anyone else thinks, or who he decides to cut ties with in the process.
While Ishi's lineup changes have been well-publicized in the past — notably when Mudd's writing partner and synth operator Brad Dale quit the band before later rejoining as a “collaborating producer,” or when members Taylor Rea and Rob Bastien split to form Zhora in 2011 — none have been surprising as singer's most recent decision to part ways with his own brother earlier this year.
To hear Mudd tell it, the seemingly difficult decision to part ways with his brother JJ, who previously served as the band's founding drummer, was kind of a natural move, too.
Ultimately, says Mudd, the long-term vision of Ishi is his alone. And when someone loses sight of that vision not even blood ties are strong enough to keep them around.
“It's always tough,” Mudd says. “But I've expressed through other avenues that it's just a part of the game.”
And, to his credit, Mudd didn't get this far caring what other people think. No matter your opinion of Ishi, the fact remains that they are one of the biggest bands in town and the go-to dance act booked by any number of area promoters, scoring opening slots for such acclaimed acts as New Order, Snoop Dogg, SBTRKT, Phoenix, Chromeo, Pretty Lights, Big Boi, Neon Indian, Toro y Moi, The Bright Light Social Hour, Boombox, Twin Shadow and Marina & the Diamonds in the past couple of years.
Now, with the release of Digital Wounds, plus the band's signing to locally-based label Internal Records and launching a national publicity campaign, Ishi appears on the cusp of adding some attention beyond the borders of North Texas to their resume.
It's an aggressive album, one that finds the band shying away from the indie-rock ballads that defined the second half of their 2010 debut, Through the Trees. Gone, too, are much of the acoustic guitar foundations that have colored most of Ishi's previous output, as well as the band's insistence on using the term “folktronic” to define their sound.
“Our new record is definitely a progression from our debut record in the manner of being of just being a little more up-tempo and a straightforward dance record,” Mudd says. “The goal, regardless, is always to write good songs no matter what genre they would be in. That was definitely the goal — to write a banging sophomore record.”
Songs like “Disco Queen,” which first hit the internet back in September 2011, and “Mother Prism” are a definite step in that direction. The electric guitar sounds now played by Rocky Ottley still provide a huge part of the disc's flavor, and some acoustic guitars can still be heard buried in the mixes from time to time, sure. But nothing found Digital Wounds warrants being thrown into the folk genre on any level. Rather, the band has settled upon a nonstop, up-tempo sound that plays out more closely to their multi-sensory live show offerings than the broader cloth found on their debut.
“It was more a progression and evolution of having a really good response to the dance tunes from the first record,” Mudd says. “I like to dance, and I like to have a record that keeps going and is a solid record no matter if it's 'folktronic' or whatever. [Digital Wounds] is a solid record, and it has good songs, and you can hit play and listen to it from start to finish.”
And, if Ishi's proven anything over the past couple of years, it's that it's probably not a good idea to question Mudd's logic. Worst case scenario, doing so will get you kicked out of his band. Best case scenario, it'll just lead to you looking from the outside in at a crowded dancefloor and scratching your head, wondering why those who don't question Mudd are having such a good time.
The trick to Ishi's success, it seems, is coming to terms with not questioning much at all.
“It's tough to have everybody on the same vision when someone like myself knows what I want,” Mudd says. “But this is my creative vision, and my creative outlet and baby.”
Ishi celebrates the release of Digital Wounds on Friday, May 3, at the Granada Theater. In the meantime, you can stream the album in full below.