“You know right where you are when you get here, the big black ominous awning outside, the sign is a sharp centerpiece for the room right when you walk in; it has character which I think is very important for a shop like this. I’ve worked in other shops over the years where it needed something like that; it’s a music shop, it’s about the arts and It needs something like this,” stated Charles Laurita confidently as he discussed his soon to be open Mischief Studios in Pennington, NJ. “This definitely is the widening of The Mischief brand in an interesting way.”
Yes, that is correct, The Mischief brand is one that those in the Mercer County and beyond music scenes as well as establishments are very familiar with and for those who know Charles, his band Charles Laurita & The Mischief and the talents they possess; this latest endeavor comes as no surprise.
One of the finest guitarists, arrangers and writers the Trenton, NJ area has to offer and one who uses his abilities to enhance the lives of the students he teaches; Laurita has decided to take these skills and use them on a much larger scale and it should be known that despite its location that there is nothing “Fishy” about it at all.
“I’ve been coming to Pennington for years and I’m very good friends with Charlie who owns Sumo Sushi which is right behind us and he had an opening here,” he began; “There was another part of his restaurant here but it had to close due to the pandemic. So, I asked him; what are you doing with the space? He said there was nothing at the moment but there were a few ideas floating around so, I said; what about a music or lesson studio? He loved the idea and we got rolling because I left the music teaching job I was at for five years because they were not too good to their employees and cut all of our pay by 50 percent to make up for their losses. So, I decided well, maybe I will just do it myself which has sort of become my mantra in recent years.”
Faced with turning what was once a Hibachi restaurant into a house of music for most would be a daunting task but forever the visionary, Charles Jr. along with help from a band mate and a fellow musician (a.k.a his father Charles Laurita Sr.), they turned an empty room into an artful yet comfortable space.
“Oh boy, for sure this place needed TLC,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “When we came in it was just one giant empty room and my dad and I did the whole thing. We had steel studs and walls to put up and carpeting, painting and all new sheetrock and everything; we were here for six months trying to make it look anything but like what it was prior and give it some mojo and character and I think we accomplished our goal of making it look like quite the eccentric kind of place. We have five lesson rooms, one main live recording room, a big lobby section, the control room for the studio, which also doubles as my office and then we have our employee lounge in the back with our repair shop in it.”
Located at 12 South Main Street in Pennington and with an opening set for January 23 at 2 p.m. via an open house, Laurita is more than ready to let his current and any potential students know what he has available to them; including some creative recording ideas.
“We’ll be doing recording here for bands and other artists; Will Sarver our drummer for The Mischief will be running the studio portion with me. We already have a bunch of clients who have already had their interest piqued and we are going to start arranging with them; if they are solo musicians we will work with them where if needed we can do all of the backing stuff with my guys helping along too and there’s also a few full bands who have discussed coming in to record as well. One of the big things that we want to do for our students, if they are doing well with lessons is open up the recording process to them. This way they can see how the whole industry kind of thing works as far as recording goes which I think is kind of fun because they can come in and record and have the teachers back them up; kind of a really fun project for someone learning music and I think that it will really help them stay interested. I wish there were more things like that when I was younger to show that there is an applicable skill for music, this is something really cool that can be done like that. So, I think it will be really fun to open that up and hopefully interest a lot of younger players and I think that is very, very important.”
“We will also offer all brass and woodwinds, the fine strings, violin, viola, cello and that sort of thing. We’ll have guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, drums and vocals; a whole lot of stuff here. When everyone talks to me about opening a “Music Shop,” they think it is just a guitar shop and I really wanted to open up and broaden the horizons and offer everything that we possibly could and I think that is also important.”
A well-rounded musician, Laurita writes, composes and charts all or most of the parts his band mates use to perform his music. So, being a teacher who has this skill set and understanding that not everyone knows how to read music; will there be any emphasis on teaching students how to read music?
“I started on violin which is where I learned how to read music and then I went to guitar; reading is very important and all of our teachers read and do teach it. Reading sheet music is incredibly beneficial; every day I’m not dropping sheet music in front of myself but it is incredibly beneficial whether you are doing studio work and someone drops a sheet in front of you or you get hired for shows or to gig with someone. So, all of the teachers here do read and do teach it; it is up to the student if they want to go into those fields but as far as musicianship goes it is important because it gets you into the theory realm which is super important if you’re looking to write or arrange or to just be a better musician. I’ve always said, especially in the guitar world that there are three levels; you play the guitar, you are a guitarist or you are a musician and they are all completely different things. So, for me reading was very instrumental, no pun intended; OK, maybe a little bit of a pun intended (laughs) for my band and for writing. I have between three and five horn guys in my band and they are all reading the same part or close to it or some kind of harmony or chord voicing and I have to write all of those kind of things because that’s the easiest way to get everything going. So, reading for me helped with arranging and writing; it really is like a language when you break it down but even though I stress reading I’m also very big on improv as well. I’ve had people I’ve played with who are fabulous sight readers and if you take the sheet away they can’t do anything; it has to be 50/50. Learning to read is great for structure and theory but you also need to improv and to be able to come up with things on your own and also learning to memorize is important so you’re not stuck in the sheets. I’ve gotten great studio gigs where a guy will come in and say, here’s the sheet, we’re going to do this in four different keys, you’ve got five minutes to look it over and let’s see how it goes; it’s horrifying (laughs) but it’s really cool and it’s a good skill to have. I’ve done tons of different musicals and shows that I was hired for and if I wasn’t able to read I couldn’t do that because you show up to a practice and they drop it in front of you and you need to be ready to go. My old high school hires me every year to play in the pit orchestra and it is a great gig! I love going back every year just because it’s really cool and even inspiring. I was that age once and to see all of these younger adults be so into music as they are is cool. I wish that the kids who were my friends were into it as these kids are now; everyone has their own band and they’re all playing together. Everyone is kind of gelling and doing their thing and everyone is writing and they actually care; I love playing with those guys because they’re great.”
A potential conflict in today’s point and click world is when you get those raised on tried and true “Old School” teaching methods in the same room with new age students. With so much electronic and technological influence on the current generation and its music; how does Mischief Studios plan on bridging the gap between old and new?
“That’s a really great question because in the studio world and the recording industry that’s a huge thing. I always break it down like this; you drove here so much faster in your truck than I got here in my horse and buggy. My horse is very slow and I should probably upgrade, maybe I should get a truck and I’d probably get here a little faster. Now, as stupid as that anecdote is; times change and it’s hard because music is able to move with them. I’m very on the fence with the idea of progressing with electronic stuff or keeping it old school and holding an instrument kind of thing. Obviously it’s very important to play and physically hold an instrument but what I and a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of people who do drum machines and electronic music and write things like that are brilliant composers. There’s the one gentleman, I believe his name is Skrillex who does electronic music, he is a super cool dude and does a lot of dance music and the EDM kind of thing and I never knew that he went to college for all sorts of theory; he’s literally like a Bach as far as it goes for arranging. I always used to write people like that off thinking; what does this guy know? He’s putting drums into a machine and things like that and then I come to find out that he would use the Fibonacci Sequence for writing as far as a pulse and that is a super old school classical kind of thing which is amazing; it’s his golden ratio to see where the peak of the song is going to be and how it builds a crescendo and how it affects the human body which is also a mathematical equation which is nuts. I never knew how smart a lot of these guys are and that opened my eyes where I thought, you don’t have to physically hold an instrument to be a musician. That was always the one thing that I realized when talking about the old school composers; a lot of these guys weren’t playing on stage they were just conducting or they would write stuff or they didn’t play and they would just write. So, they weren’t holding an instrument either but they knew how it was done. I think that’s very important because I know lots of people who play instruments but they don’t know a damn thing. They know a couple of chords and that’s it and if I were to drop a theory on them to try and figure out where we were going it kind of falls on deaf ears but it’s funny how progression works with that kind of stuff. People are writing electronic music off as it’s not music but what they don’t realize is that way back in the day when Beethoven and Mozart came about that prior to them was the Baroque period and coming out of that was this renaissance and the people hated that stuff. People thought it was too poppy, this isn’t good, this isn’t what we are used to and people hated it and composers like Liszt and Shubert but it’s that thing where music is always going to change and evolve and even if it’s something that I’m not super hip or crazy into it is always going to grow whether it’s going in the direction that I’m hip about or not; it has to grow.”
“I think the biggest thing for me is, I hope whatever it may be in any capacity, is that you came through and you’ve learned; I think that’s the most important thing in whichever regard. I learn every single day when I play or when I do something with music; I am always learning. I have students whose parents do the thing, “Ooh one day you’ll be a master like Charles” and I say absolutely not, I’m not a master and I will never be a master. Whenever I hear people say that they are a master it is always a self-proclaimed title and for me, if you ever master something there is no point in doing it anymore because you don’t have to learn anymore and the learning and the journey is the whole point; it’s not the destination. It is the idea that you are constantly growing and when I do this every day I am constantly learning, when I’m writing I’m learning and I think to be able to have that notion in an actual place in whichever capacity, whether it’s with an instrument or the studio or with arranging, theory, performing; I think it is so important. That is what The Mischief brand has always been and this is a widening of that and the biggest thing that I try to stress is imagination and growth. That is such a huge thing for me in the arts and progress is so important and I think that anyone who comes through these doors that is able to take something away from that and bring it to what they do and learn and grow from that; I think it is totally worth it in my eyes.”
Mischief Studios opens to the public on January 23 but to find out more about Charles, Charles Laurita & The Mischief or the new shop, please visit www.charleslaurita.com .
Unfortunately from last week’s musings of our area musicians, this space had a glaring omission; we left out our very good friend and supporter Rick Winow who coincidentally enough will be the featured artist at “Danny Coleman’s Rock On Radio” Happy Hour on February 4 at The Nottingham Tavern in Hamilton Square, NJ. Rick had this to say about the current state of affairs: “As challenges arise, musicians will adapt to survive as they always have. That’s the power of music.”
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!