Chris Mitchell knows a thing or two about waiting.
He has been singing in the Boro since the 90s, and it took time for audiences to latch onto his music. As the owner of Pladd Dot Music, he sees the progress made note by note for the more than 170 students who are enrolled in private music lessons. As the owner of Chris Mitchell Guitars (CMG) and Devilcat Amplifiers, he’s watched his Statesboro factory produce some of the best equipment in the business, and has seen the company’s distribution stretch from Maine to California and beyond.
And as a songwriter, it’s sometimes taken years for him to finish a song — and he’s perfectly OK with that.
Mitchell’s first solo album, “the pieces of smalltown,” was released in March. The album, which has 15 songs total, takes a winding journey through his roots, and offers a peek in to Mitchell’s soul. Mitchell started the album about seven years ago, and says the material is a hodge-podge of his work: some of it was written years ago, some of it was on previous albums, and some of it is new.
But it’s 100 percent all Chris Mitchell.
Although it’s his third album of original work, Mitchell says this is the first one where he could do exactly what he wanted to do.
“You get a creative push-back in a lot of ways when you want to do a band album because you’re trying to work as a group effort, and trying to be creative together,” he said.
Mitchell, who is 44, says this album is very personal, and has some dark themes.
“It’s therapy for me, my music is therapy. If I didn’t write songs like ‘christmas nineteen eighty six,’ I’d be dealing with that problem a little later on down the road, you know?” he said.
While working through the material for this album, Mitchell says he found that he had to spend time thinking about where each song came from and why he’s singing it. He points to the song “old enough,” and remembers that on his 43rd birthday he was taking some Tylenol, and as he was looking at the package, found that his arm wasn’t quite long enough — he couldn’t read the label.
“I was like, wait a minute. Why can’t I read that?” he laughed.
That simple event led him to write the song’s lyrics: “I’m old enough to know that my eyes don’t always tell me the truth, old enough that my ears only hear echoes of youth, but I’m young enough to see the pendulum still swings both ways.”
“That statement is kind of a statement on today’s political climate. I’m not trying to pick sides with anyone, what I’m trying to say is that we need to get back to that point where it’s OK to be middle of the road. The pendulum swings both ways,” he said.
From the time he was 18 until now, Mitchell has spent time looking at the things that have been important to him in his life, and he chose to write about those things. He says these days, he’s kind of in the middle, and it gives him a different perspective.
For this album, Mitchell played all the guitars and most of the auxiliary percussion, and did most of the vocals, and says, “it was a lot more me.”
Mitchell said he spent a lot of time determining which songs would go on the album, and made careful choices, as he wanted the album to be homogenous.
“In other words, I wanted every song to belong on this album, so that nothing throws you. What I did intentionally with this, there were probably six or seven more songs. I thought about making it a 19- or 20-song album, but then as I really started looking, thematically it did not match the rest of the music,” he said. “With this album, I did have to look at each song and say, is that what I’m trying to say here?”
Now that the album is released, he’s hoping it will resonate with people who have come to love his music and his band, the Chris Mitchell Band (CMB). Well known in the Boro, CMB performs some of Mitchell’s music, but he says that the venues the band plays in town don’t ask for original music — they mostly want covers and things people recognize.
“I’m not saying there aren’t some songs that would certainly be welcomed in, but when you’re playing a wedding or Gnats or whatever, you don’t necessarily want to take them to this period of your song writing,” he said.
“So now, the challenge is, how do I get these people to say, hey, I want something new? The only thing I’m ever scared about with performing is them just not listening.
Mitchell plans to introduce his band to six or seven of the songs from the album to perform live. He wants to balance what his band does and is known for, with the addition of the new material.
“I love playing Aretha Franklin, and I love hearing my wife sing Aretha Franklin. But I also really like when people are singing my own songs, you know? It’s challenging. How do you take them from Aretha to me and put my twist on it?” he said.
But all in all, Mitchell feels that his fans will connect with the songs on the new album because “it’s all real.” Mitchell’s favorite song on the album — at least on this day — is “christmas nineteen eighty six.”
That particular year, which was a rough one for his family, was also shaped by his dad’s bipolar issues. Mitchell started the song when he was in college, after just seeing a Christmas tree with no presents under it on a rainy Christmas eve. That was all he had for a long time. It took seven years for him to finish the song.
“Seven years later, it was a rainy December day, and I finished the song in five minutes. So I tell people it took me seven years and five minutes to write that song,” he says, smiling. “I was bawling like a baby when I got done, because I didn’t know that I still had some issues that I needed to write about.”
Mitchell is aware that being so raw and personal on this album comes at a price.
“When you publish that kind of stuff about yourself, you’re being just as exposed as you can be. The interesting thing about it was that my sister (recently) sent me a text and said she had to pull off the road because she couldn’t see the road, because she was crying so much, because she remembers that year too. I thought it was just me. So for me, it’s probably the most important song on the album. I think that year was a defining year for me,” he said.
It was the year he realized that music was his calling, he added.
What’s next for Mitchell? He’s working on a Christmas album, which he says will feature several genres and a variety of songs. He’s also been in the process of remodeling Pladd Dot, which he’s been doing so that he can bring some small, intimate shows to the stage there for 20 to 30 people to come and hear singer/songwriters do their thing.
The “Tiny Stage Series,” Mitchell said, will be free of charge, and he sees it as a push-back from the over-commercialization happening on shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent and American Idol.
“It’s not that those kids aren’t talented. It’s not that. To create art, you have to be vulnerable. And they are, but that’s not how you do it. When you do these types of stage concerts, I hope that it will attract people who want to hear what these artists and songs are really about,” he said.
Mitchell will likely do the first show himself, he said, to set the tone. The first show is expected to be in the early summer. Then he wants to bring in other local and national artists.
“I look forward to seeing what they are doing and writing. What you would never play in a bar,” he said. “I don’t look to ever make a dollar off of this. I look to do something really fun that I want to do.”
The incredibly intimate setting won’t be your typical concert, Mitchell says. The shows will mostly feature original music.
“I just want to see people listening to and enjoying music again,” he said.
Mitchell’s album, “the pieces of smalltown,” is available through iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, and can be purchased at chrismitchellmusic.com and Pladd Dot.