Advice for local musos: It’s not always about the money

Novocastrian record producer and musician, Mitch Cairns is best known for his work with Russell Morris. Mitch produced Russell’s platinum selling and ARIA winning record Sharkmouth as well as the ARIA Nominated follow up ​Van Diemen’s Land. We caught up with the local boy for a chat about his career, working with Russell and we also asked him if he had any advice for local muso. 

NL: First of all, how did you start out? Did you play in a local band?

MITCH: I played bass in a few high school bands until I was offered the gig in a cover band called Qwake, which had formed out of the demise of another band. Qwake went on to record some original material and had a run of radio success in the 90’s. Upon leaving high school I played with many cover bands and eventually wound up touring the country with Guitarist Bruce Mathiske.
I formed a band called Fumi Boca with an amazing guitarist called Adam Miller and played all over the place until I eventually moved to Melbourne in 2007.

NL: From bass player to award-winning producer, how did you get from there to where you are now? (What was your big break opportunity?)

MITCH: I’ve been playing bass for the best part of 20 years now so it’s hard to pinpoint an exact shift. I guess moving to Melbourne provided more opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. Many of the gigs I picked up in the first few years I was here opened up doors for others. I’ve had very long stints playing with Russell Morris, Leo Sayer, Brian Cadd and Jim Keays but those gigs led to me playing with the likes of Mark Seymour, Joe Camilleri, Richard Clapton and Daryl Braithwaite. Somewhere in the middle of all that I started to concentrate more on producing.

NL: What’s it like working with someone as legendary as Russell Morris?

MITCH: We have a lot of fun together on the road and in the studio. In the 7 years we’ve been working together we have become great mates and have both chalked some tremendous achievements. I got to be a part of his first Top 10 album and his first ARIA. However, I am still very aware of his legendary status and am very fortunate to be hanging on for the ride.

NL: Both ‘Sharkmouth’ and ‘Van Deiman’s Land have a powerful, earthy sound – was that a conscious decision as producer?

MITCH: It was a mix between myself and the artist. Most of my production tends to be earthy in its approach.. I like real instruments and good players. I also like using particular players for certain things. I apply the same approach to everything I produce be it Blues, Pop, Rock, Country… For the Sharkmouth and Van Diemen’s Land records, Russell was very particular about the brief. He wanted a simple, old sounding uncluttered approach.. Nothing too fancy and nothing that would detract from the songs. If you listen carefully you’ll notice there is no percussion at all on the Sharkmouth record. It is basically just drums, bass, one guitar and vocal.

NL: What are your favourite studio toys – mics, plug-ins, whatever?

MITCH: From a creative perspective, my two most favourite studio toys are my Rhodes Piano and Martin Guitar.. I do most of my writing on either of these and they’re always inspiring. As far as studio toys go, I have a UREI LA3A Compressor that regularly gets a workout.. Almost any microphone into my Neve V66 Console sounds amazing. I have a 1973 Fender Jazz Bass that is my trusty old friend in many situations. I’m not a huge user of digital plugins but most of the UAD stuff is great! I particularly love the Ampex Tape Machine and the SSL Bus Compressor.

NL: What can you tell us about the new album and when will it be out?

MITCH: The new album has been a very organic and creative process for us.. We have found ourselves almost back where we began when Sharkmouth was being created. It’s an exciting record with loads of vibe!! And of course, Russell’s incredible voice!! Hopefully it will be out mid October 2015.

NL: What tips would you give a young Novocastrian wanting to follow your footsteps into becoming a music professional?

MITCH: Do it because you love it, not because you think it pays loads of money. In the music industry, the most rewarding gigs and projects are usually the ones that pay the least. Most of my biggest opportunities have spurred from something that was paying well below what it was worth.

NL: Is coming back to play in your hometown (the Hunter) something special? (What do you look forward to most?)

MITCH: It’s always fun coming back to play, although I rarely have loads of time to socialise. I wish I did! I’d go to Bar Beach and work on my studio tan… I come up a couple of times a year to do Adam Miller shows at NIMA which is always a blast!!


You can find out more about Mitch Cains by visiting his website.