A Tale of Two Artists, One City 

Myshkin and Mike Wet Collided in New Orleans but will soon descend upon SLC.

The world is indeed a small place, but that isn’t because of technology.

I was talking to Myshkin on the phone about her upcoming visit to Utah. She told me she met Megan Peters at the Wildflower Music Festival in Texas, and then went on to say that she and her partner Mike West will be playing the Walnut Valley Festival after leaving Salt Lake City. That festival is held each year in Winfield, Kan. “We have these friends in Kansas. They’ve been going for years, and they have kind of a thrash bluegrass band that we do shows with sometimes. We’re actually going to be touring with them in October—Split Lip Rayfield.”

Myshkin and Mike West live in New Orleans. Megan Peters lives in Salt Lake City. Split Lip Rayfield live in Kansas. Somehow they all came together. Split Lip Rayfield will play Liquid Joe’s Sept. 7—go if you can. Like I said—small world. (Anyone interested in the Split Lip Rayfield side project, The Kirk Rundstrom Band, can find out more by visiting MP3.com. The entire album, Wicked Savior, is available.)

Myshkin and Mike West both have solo recordings and performing careers; however, their careers are nearly inseparable. Myshkin plays on West’s CDs, and he plays on hers. They have a standing gig every Monday and Tuesday at what West refers to as a “tourist” bar—the Margaritaville on Decatur Street in New Orleans. Joined by a bassist, they play West’s music. During the rest of the week, they travel and combine the songs. Each artist has a history and an individual style.

West was born in Australia and grew up in England. He spent the ’80s playing with The Man From Delmonte, which he describes as a “Manchester cult band.” Hmmm. Manchester, England, and the ’80s. Who were some of West’s contemporaries? “Well, I don’t know if you’d even know them. There was a band called James, a band called the Happy Mondays, the Charlatans, a band called the Inspiral Carpets. We used to play the same gigs,” he says. “My band was one of those that could go, ‘Oh, you know the Beatles opened up for us in the ’50s. Whatever.’ It was a very kind of lively scene. England kind of got taken over by the club culture, particularly in Manchester in the late ’80s and ’90s, which is partly what drove me out of there. … The music’s good, but it’s not great for banjo players.” For more information about The Man From Delmonte, search for Japanese imports—West says the band is “big in Japan.” Of course, he has since relocated to the United States.

“I went to Texas first because all the records I was getting into were from Texas—Guy Clark and Townes Van Zant and all of that stuff. I arrived on a Saturday night. Sixth Street on a Saturday night is not that cool. If you went there with the expectation that you were going to see Townes Van Zant singing in a bar on Sixth Street, you would be disappointed,” West says.

Though he had landed in Austin—the “World Capital of Live Music”—most people, with the exception of a few drunken college students, won’t find much interesting live music amid Sixth Street’s Saturday night revelry. West left Austin for Nashville, a town he found even less inviting than Austin, and wound up in New Orleans. That’s where he met Myshkin—who gave him his first banjo—and that is where he remains. He has released five CDs under his own name, and one, Econoline, with Myshkin.

His songwriting on 16 Easy Songs for Drill and Banjo describes his neighborhood and the people who populate it. They are songs about bartenders, yard sales, wakes, infidelity, abusive boyfriends, gay folks, dogs, houses—and each is a riot of sound. West can pick a banjo in melodic fashion for a ballad, and then bring the energy level up to a foot-stomping, hand-clapping pace in an instant. He is a self-professed hillbilly addressing urban life through song-stories. Myshkin contributes harmony vocals, spoons, washboards and stringed instruments. New Orleans loves West. Off Beat Magazine voted him “Best Country/Folk Artist” three years in a row. He is hoping to have a brand-new CD with him when he arrives in Salt Lake City.

Myshkin was born in Indiana. She has lived in New Mexico, among other places, and worked all manner of jobs while traveling around the country working on her music. She landed in New Orleans, where she became a respected member of the local scene. The Kirk Rundstrom Band—her side project with Split Lip Rayfield, in case you’ve forgotten—will be at the South by Southwest Music & Media Conference this spring. In the mean time, Myshkin is donating a portion of sales from Why Do All the Country Girls Leave? to the national domestic violence hotline.

“Part of the theme of the record is a lot of leaving songs and a lot of escape songs, and I felt like I wanted to publish that number. I had a situation with someone I knew where they were in trouble and they didn’t really know where to go. I felt like that kind of stuff should be more readily available. Because I was publishing the number, I wanted to do something towards it.”

Indeed. Myshkin’s latest CD is filled with songs that tell stories—stories different from West’s, though. Her voice is kind of like Ani Difranco’s and kind of like Megan Peters’, and her music is jazzier than West’s—Flamenco and south-of-the-border and a cornucopia of off-the-beaten-tourist-path music revealing what a night of New Orleans might be like.

“I tend to write a lot about the road and Mike writes a lot about the neighborhood. We balance each other out,” Myshkin says.

Myshkin and Mike West will visit Salt Lake City for a house concert—using banjo, mandolin, guitar and washboard—Sept. 10. The address is 649 E. 300 South. Call 364-5159 for more information.

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William Athey

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