written by Isaiah Wilson
Mitchell greets me upstairs at Caffe Frascatti with two iced waters, which were much appreciated. Even though it was a cold rainy day, our interview was in the hot, stuffy upper floor of the cafe. He runs back downstairs to grab his hot tea. I recall this is where I first met Mitchell; it was an Open Mic Night at Frascatti and he was playing some acoustic tracks that sounded like a cross between Ty Segall and Bass Drum of Death unplugged. He seems very focused and in good spirits, he has been spending a lot time in the studio working on multiple projects.
When I gave a synopsis of Mitchell’s Canned Worms (Demo) EP for our Best of 2018 list, I noted that the EP sounded like a soundtrack for a night of drinking, skating, and debauchery. So there was a contrast between the conjured up alter-ego that is Mulch and the Mitchell Licata who sat across from me sipping tea and nibbling on a cookie.
Mitchell Licata, who was taken on the pseudonym Mulch, is a musician, songwriter, and graphic designer who currently resides in San Jose. While there are multiple musicians in San Jose creating r&b, hardcore punk, and hip-hop, Mitchell has been churning out garage rock projects, pushing a different sound in the South Bay. Last year, he began putting out slow, easy-going rock songs onto Soundcloud that garnered a decent amount of buzz. Mitchell preceded to drop a surprise EP, Canned Worms, a self-depreciating, aggressive, punk-rock influenced work about a young man dealing with unemployment and maybe a little bit of heartbreak.
Mitchell has touted this as his proper first release and it’s a solid punk project. Before Mulch and Canned Worms, He removed his first few demos off his Soundcloud to rework the songs and polish unintentional sharp edges. After hearing some positive feedback from the local community, Mitchell felt he could do better as far as the mix was concerned, “There were a few things in the demo that I wasn’t pleased with,” Mitchell admits when deciding to release a studio version of his Canned Worms EP on multiple platforms. “And I feel like I could do [his songs] a little more justice as the first thing I show people.” Mitchell took Canned Worms and rerecorded it at The Cosmic Hippo, a music studio in San Francisco. He was grateful for the recording process. Not only did he receive great resources from a studio space, but he had a co-creator to help bounce ideas during the recording sessions, “It was great to get this wholesome experience of being in a space that I didn’t create myself.” Mitchell added.
Garage punk is the only justifiable name for Mitchell’s music because his first few demos were made in his garage, a makeshift studio and practice space at his house in the Washington-Guadalupe neighborhood in San Jose. “In my garage everything feels like it’s not finished,” Mitchell tells me. “Even if it’s a good mix. It’s just the nature of being in a garage.” If I am going to remain honest, I am a sucker for unpolished music, especially if it has the rawness that Mitchell displays in his vocals. However, Mitchell has more ambitious views on his final product, “That’s only going to get you so far with limited resources. I can be resources for my friends [with his experience creating a studio project]”
Some of his friends are Swells and The Lunatics a brain child’s of SJ artist Austin Avilla’s, which is made up of young talented such as John Lord on synths, Anthony Garcia on drums, Ryan Wall on guitar and Mitchell on bass. While Swells’ first projects seemed to be the sole creations of Austin’s, this future project appears to a comprised effort of the collected talents of the Lunatics. They also began working on a studio album in recent weeks. Swells and The Lunatics’ live performances are some of the best performances we have had for The Come Up shows, so we’re looking forward to their album.
The new mixing on Canned Worms improves the project, which was already solid in its demo form. The bass and drums are distinguishable, and the vocals are better mixed within the rest of the songs. The project’s harsh vocals, fuzzy guitar riffs, all complement the rage manifested and articulated in the project.
Mulch is a new moniker for Mitchell and it appears that it is a character meant to embody a more aggressive side of an otherwise chill artist. “I am a fucking slob, I need a fucking job” is the first lines on the EP and acts as the thesis of the project. Mulch feels like Mitchell in a manic frenzy- he is angry at his boss, the world, and himself- and it’s the energy you should expect over the next few songs. A notable refrain in the project describes himself as a worm “Crawling nowhere through the dirt“. Lyrics like this paint the imagery of Mitchell as one of many worms in the can, aimlessly meandering in soil trying to figure out his place.
After some listens, you realize how well thought out the EP is. All four songs on Canned Worms were written in the span of a week, inspired by his frustrations at a sub-par job. Feeling under utilized and under appreciated, he channeled his grievances into this project. “It is a feeling of guilt and lack of self-worth” Mitchell says, describing the feeling of unemployment, now currently enjoying his career in graphic design. That nuanced anger is laced on the tracks, something that is beyond a typical tantrum song on a angst punk project. Mitchell seems to be the master of the imagery that can be heard in the lyrics, seen on the lyrics videos he released to complement the release, and on the EP cover art designed by Mitchell himself. “I was feeling like I was crawling around that I wasn’t succeeding in the way I envisioned myself to do.” Mitchell tells him as he snacks away on a cookie. It’s hard to imagine an artist with this much focus had doubts of his self worth.
My favorite track Give/Take centers around the frustration with his employer. The song is about Mulch feeling like he was giving more than he was receiving with the relationship with his job. As suspected, Mitchell revealed the lyrics are partially inspired by romance. When it comes to the sources of the gritty record, Mitchell says the lines are blurred and up for interpretation. Discussing the song Alright, Mitchell claims “It’s a push-and-pull where everyone wants to be in-between casual and series all time and that’s a little reflection on that [modern relationships].” Mitchell has the writing style of a story teller who can paint a picture with his musings. It will be fascinating to hear his future projects now that he is in a better place. But based on his previous demos and his overall demeanor, I dont believe he will have to rely heavily on raw rage.
Mitchell’s musical influences include The Growlers, Neil Young, Fuzz, and Ty Segall, artists known to make unique sound while still being nuanced and introspective in their songwriting. Mitchell has spent the past few years searching for a grunge, surf rock sound that mirrored his influences. This led him to explore different genres and places to draw inspiration. Honing in on that sound required Mitchell to listen to work that captured the raw emotion reflected in Canned Worms, such as Minor Threat and The Dead Kennedys. It is that punk-inspired animosity combined with Mitchell’s garage rock swagger that make Canned Worms a unique fun ride for hipsters and Punks alike.
And on a sonic level, Mitchell describes his sound on the EP as “kind of dirty and in the mud.” And it contrasts greatly from his garage rock sound that can be heard on his demos and live performances. There is a through line in Canned Worms’ narrative structure, beyond imagery and sound, that works well in a four song project. That through line is the character of Mulch himself. Mulch’s Canned Worms is a relatable story that describes a common phase in a young person’s life; you are down on your luck, your romantic life sucks, and you have an axe to grind. Hearing the re-recording process and polishing of a short hard rock record paints a picture of the man behind the Mulch. A matured, thoughtful artist who is meticulous and intentional with his work. It’s digestible enough where it deserves multiple listens.
And this is only the start of Mitchell’s plans for this year. “I want to start establishing shows around here,” Mitchell asserts. He even has a small team to push his new EP with the hopes of securing shows, hopefully Burger Records, a Fullerton-based record label that has established a sound that has been an influence on Mitchell’s sound. “We think that community [Burger Records music community] would really accept and welcome the music… As far as other projects go, I’m already working on another EP, which I plan to release before Summer, and then hopefully a full length by the end of the year. I’m making a list and I have a lot of content I want to share with everybody.” After three years of writing and composing, Mitchell is relieved to have a project he can stand behind. Canned Worms was a genuine push for Mitchell to put something out and he seems impassioned on continuing the forward momentum.
Mitchell’s inspiration for the character Mulch provides insight on Mitchell’s likely trajectory, “The definition of Mulch is a protective layer that allows the nutrients to do there job underneath so it allows it to grow,” he says, “and that took on a different meaning because now I have something on which to build.” Mitchell feels confident that his foundation is laid out and the only move next is growth.