Interview with Neil Salsich of The Mighty Pines

Karin McLaughlin
By Karin McLaughlin / October 11, 2019

Karin McLaughlin: So we'll get right down to it - I love reading descriptions about bands on their websites, obviously and you guys are no exception - you're described as soul inspired roots rock. I love that description. From what I've heard, you guys explore a lo of different sounds and are able to change up the sound not only depending on your mood, or your album and songwriting, but also depending on the crowd.  I want to just touch on that. As far as the description of soul inspired roots rock and how much that is somewhat all encompassing - how you're able to go from, you know, the Midwest to the south to the north, and adapt your sound and keep everybody interested depending on what they're feeling.

Neil Salsich: ​I don't know how often I read our bio or description actually (laughs) but the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of being inspired by roots rock, for whatever reason, I'm thinking of two word: Van Morrison. I think he's a big influence on our band, because he's a very got a lot of Blues and R&B and Soul influence, but if you listen to his records there's quite a bit of sick instrumentation, in fact, predominantly so.  He's a big influence on us in that sense - it's powerful singing and a lot of blues influence, but not in a blues band setting or much more in a folk instrumentation way but totally has got this rhythm and blues blood inside of it coming through the wooden instruments.

I don't know, I mean, as a band, we are complete music fans and music lovers and we listen to pretty much anything and everything and it eventually shows up in our songs and our music.  Like it or not, it just happens.  If we get into something and go down a musical worm home and go down it as individuals, it just starts showing up. Our music is always changing and growing.

I think genre names are tricky because Roots Rock could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I guess we just had to pick something (laughs) and soul inspired roots rock kind of gets to the core elements of our soulful blues influence, but more so, definitely, our music is absolutely rooted in American traditions of folk, country and bluegrass very much, so that's where the roots rock comes in.

KM: For me, personally, just when I see that combination of words, it always plays out well.  When I hear soul inspired roots rock, I think of baby-making reggae slash ballads, where it's kind of like you get a little bit of everything in there.  Then you get the roots with the country in the Americana sound and you add the drum. I know that you guys didn’t start out as The Mighty Pines officially, right?

NS: Right.  Three of us existed in another band before that we toured under and that's how we eventually found our current drummer, Mike (Murano). Once that previous band dissolved, we really realized that the quartet had something really cool and so we became The Mighty Pines and have been working under that moniker ever since.  We formed the band four years ago, or wait, it could be three, man time is flying.  Yeah, 2016, The Mighty Pines was formed.

KM: Touching back on inspiration - you talked about Van Morrison and how you guys have listened to a whole lot of different music - you've also done a cover of "Wild Horses", which is one of my all-time favorite songs in general, are the Stones another big influence?  How did you guys come to decide that was a one you wanted to do?

NS: Rolling Stones are a big influence. It's funny because certain bands might be more of an influence on certain band members than others, but I would say that we all very much love the Stones. They’re cool because I think they inspire us to get a little bit looser sometimes.  We listen to music that's very tight and bands that are just executing things spot on - the Stones are a little bit different because they're sort of a more devil may care, rock and roll attitude that is a good influence on our band.  It’s important to have a very methodical tight sound, but there's a magic to this spontaneity and they really lived in the moment.  A lot of their recordings you'll hear like, out of tune things or flubs or mistakes, but it’s total rock and roll, so they keep it in there.  They continue to be a big influence on us.

I don't really know how we got onto the "Wild Horses" song, it’s funny because we play it so differently, which is why it's become one of our hallmark covers.  It ​happened during a soundcheck, I ​think, just jamming and I just started singing the song over it and we realized, ‘Man, it's kind of funky!’ so we started playing it a lot, um

In St. Louis, we are working musicians when we're home and we're not touring.  A lot of us play in, I guess you could say tribute acts, ​which sometimes sounds a little tacky, but three of the four guys in the band play in a Stones cover band occasionally.  Me and our drummer actually did a Van Morrison tribute show last night, so there's all these chances for us to study this great music in a setting where we're trying to actually copy it and then we kind of learn all these songs and then maybe weeks or months or years down the road, that influence shows up in our band in some way. I think that's probably how the Stones thing came about. We’re also really big fans of the band Old and In The Way, and they play "Wild Horses" on their 1973 album.  I know, that's probably how it started to get into our repertoire and it’s just a crazy combination.  It’s a totally, totally magical song and those are always happy accidents, those great covers that we do that we're never intending to make it sound different - we always hear the recording and we're like, ‘Wow, that original recording is so great, let’s try it like that and then just somehow accidentally, it starts to bloom into something totally different.

KM: Personally, "Wild Horses", "Landslide" and "I’m On Fire" are a few songs that I could hear a million different ways and they give me goosebumps every time.

"​There’s tons of people and opportunities and stuff but with a with a price tag that makes us able to be full time musicians and not have to work other jobs to supplement that, so that's kind of amazing."

So since I'm from DC Music Review, and you guys are coming back to DC, let’s talk about the city.  You guys have been a big touring act and been all over the place. What's something special or unique that you as individuals can look forward to about coming to DC again?

NS: It’s so funny, but the first thing that pops into my mind is Captain White's, is it floating seafood doc?

KM: Yes. Which you'll be shocked how much that area has changed.

NS: Yeah, I think we've only really known it, in what seems to be the modern representation.  I just know the first time I saw that - the seafood market - I'd never seen anything like it.  We are not coasters, we live in the heartland. There's nothing like that where we're from, and it was super funky. So that's a small thing.  I'd say that it's really, Pearl Street Warehouse is a fabulous venue that is in truly, you know, the upper echelon of just professional staff and great sound.  I mean, all the places we play are great, but Pearl Street is definitely in the top percentage of categories, so we look forward to that.

Also, it's really cool to be in such a lively setting as that – is it The Wharf? I know it's brand new, and it's a little clean cut, but to be honest, we don't know the difference. 

KM: Yeah, that area needed a makeover so it was long overdue.

NS:  I wish we could see more of every place that we stop in, but sometimes all we've got is that little bit of time and it's so nice to walk out on the water and it is nice to walk around and see people out, you know, I mean, just eating and walking.

KM: Ok, so this is sort of a little bit of a rapid fire. We can get more in depth if you so choose with any of the following questions, but I'll try and keep it short and sweet.

You guys have worked with a lot of folks - Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, you've toured with a lot of people or you've gotten to do a lot of festivals with people like The Dead South, who I just saw at the IBMA conference like five times in a row, love those guys, also acts like Fruition - is there someone left on your list that you want to do a collaboration with or even just hit a festival with that you guys would really like to get to get to know a little bit more?

NS: It's so funny, really, I can't answer that question because the list is like infinite, so I couldn't say. We're just so grateful to work with all those people. I'll tell you this much what comes to mind is like, we're such a freakin awesome live band that can really rock out and get people moving, but like, we're silent killers when it comes to the seated auditorium show too.  I would love to see us tour with a band like Mandolin Orange sometime in the future because we're huge fans of them and oftentimes, in the music industry, we get pigeonholed, like all bands do, as a certain type of band.  People think, ‘Okay, this band is like more of a club band and we're a festival band, so they should play with us.’  They might not think of us as pairing up with a band for those seated shows, but whenever we do those shows, the results are just awesome and it's really fun for us to play for listening audiences as much as it is for us to play for late night festival crowds or, you know, bar crowds or whatever.

KM: You guys hail from St. Louis and I've never been to St. Louis so I I don't know if this is what St. Louis in general is known for, but you said that a lot of what inspires you about St. Louis is the wide rivers in the red brick streets.  What are some things that are a little bit more out of the ordinary that people might not know about St. Louis, that's inspiring to you guys as songwriters, or just being from there you're proud of or even that other people may maybe not know about?

NS: Yeah, good question.  I guess two things come to mind - to be honest, it's such a wonderful city to live in as artists because it's affordable. That may not directly inspire creative songwriting, but that is what enables us to sustain this lifestyle. The city is also so rich with stuff to do and it's big.  To me, it's as big as any city just because I still could never discover all of it in my lifetime. There’s tons of people and opportunities and stuff but with a with a price tag that makes us able to be full time musicians and not have to work other jobs to supplement that, so that's kind of amazing.

The music scene there, you know, there are some national acts that people know about, but the actual working music scene that just exists within the city that doesn't tour, there are more amazing musicians than anyone would ever know. They’re just their making their living and they are working hard in the bars and clubs at St. Louis and that's really inspiring for us because when we're not touring, we're usually home being a part of that scene and learning from a lot of older musicians who have been around the block and they’re mentors to us. That's where we continue to grow.  We grow when we're on the road touring and those experiences, but we never really stop because when we're home, we are engaging in the music still, you know, maybe not as The Mighty Pines band but just as working musicians in St. Louis and that's really inspiring.

KM: I also really like and appreciate, especially nowadays, when I mean, I grew up on hip hop, but back when hip hop would tell a story.  That's kind of why I got away from it and started listening more to the Dead and all the Bluegrass and Americana music now, is because I appreciate the storytelling aspect.  Off the top of my head thinking about “No Falls Down” and “Drive” - you guys really are good at telling the whole story. Do you often draw of experiences as they are happening and think about it consciously or is it more of an afterthought as far as the real-life stories that become songs?

NS: We tour a lot and we were starting to write and as the years pile up and we have so many more experiences out there, we're starting the songs that are coming up about our experiences on the road. We never really know when those are happening or were never aware that they'll become a song one day, it just starts showing up later.  There's two songwriters in the band, me being one of them.  Me and Gerard (Erker) both write songs very differently and I can't really speak to his process, but I know that if a song is not about our own story, as a band or our own individual stories, I know that we're influenced heavily by folk music and the lyrics of Robert ​Hunter. That sort of storytelling tradition in American music that's not necessarily about the songwriters personal experience, but just trying to capture a moment and a story of something kind of mythical that we’re totally inspired by.  Those are sort of the main veins of our songwriting.

KM: I've been reading a lot lately and you know, as a writer, and as a person trying to expand my vocabulary and mystical is one of the words I think is going to go down and I'll try to incorporate that more into my everyday life (laughs).

NS: (laughs) Yeah, I mean when it comes to just the American songwriting tradition, that's always pretty present in there.  Robert ​Hunter is a huge influence on our lyric writing just and the (Grateful) Dead is a huge influence on us no matter what, especially songwriting. The way Jerry (Garcia) composed his songs is mind blowing.

KM: So last question and it's kind of timely because of the time of year as we sadly close out summer and festival season. I know that you’ve already gotten to experience a lot in that world but what else do you want to get to participate in as far as festivals? Let's limit it to the past, like maybe two years, what's one of the festivals you guys have gotten to do that you really had a great time and felt like you would want to return over and over to do? And then maybe what's one that you guys have on your wish list that you hope to play in the next year or so?

NS: Great question. Dark Star Jubilee was absolutely fantastic and we would be honored to be part of it again. We really clicked with the people there. I think the festivals that really do well for us are the festivals where it's a true music lovers festival.  Ones where there's not like 30 stages and it's not a party, but there's maybe one or two stages and, and the music is really intentionally chosen. That way when we get on stage, we know that this music fans are ready to hear us and we can just feel it's amazing.

So Dark Star Jubilee was great, but one that you may not be aware of is Roots Blues and Barbecue in Columbia, Missouri every year and it was just recently.  We've played it the last two years and that would have to be the most memorable one I think of the last couple years because it's a huge festival with headliners including John Prine, The Avett Brothers, Margo Price, Ben Harper – some pretty big names.  What really makes that so cool is not just the fact that it's in our home state where we have so many friends and family coming from a 350 mile radius - you know that we've just known for years and years.  Huge extended family shows up there to see us - but it's got this great vibe the other festivals don't have.  It's got a lot of old timers playing it and then it has young blood like us and Mandolin Orange this year were playing and Lucas Nelson.  Then it’s got The Mavericks and Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Doug Kershaw who is the oldest living Cajun musician.  It's just insane to be on stage and have so many generations of ​roots music or whatever, just the kind of music that we feel like we are, present.  Other festivals are more like whatever is kind of hot for the moment and man, just to be at a festival with some of those real living legends that are in their 70's and actually get to connect with them and talk to them is so cool.  So that festival is one of America's best kept secrets in my opinion and I can't speak highly enough that the taste and the curation of the music.  It’s just incredible.

KM: It’s like passing the baton.

NS: Yeah, it's good. It's special for us.

KM: Nice. And what about one when you guys would like to be included on next festival season?

NS: One next in your neck of the woods that we're always in the van and reading the schedule to each other and like giggling over it is Lockn.

KM: Yes, Lockn. Oh my god. I've had some great experiences.

NS: Yeah, we've never been but I mean, when you talk about a combination of well curated and well thought out, that’s it.

KM: You're right the lineup is always mind boggling.  I’ve been a couple years with quite a different experience each time based on the lineup and headliners paired with the crowd they each draw.  Highly recommended!  I hope I'll see you guys there soon.

NS: Oh my gosh, we do too trust me. And there's so many festivals that we couldn't even count that are just great, but that one's in your neck of the woods and I know that we've had our eye on it for a long time.

KM: Other than that, Neil, I want to thank you so much for taking the time, especially since you've been doing stuff all day and I will catch you guys in D.C.

​NS: Yeah, it was great. This is the highlight of my day so far, because I was on mundane, mundane business calls and you're obviously music fan, so it's just fun to talk music.

KM: (laughs) Yeah, definitely, it’s what I do! We’ll see you in DC at Pearl Street

NS: Great. See you then. Thank you!

Be sure to see The Mighty Pines at Pearl Street Warehouse on Saturday, October 19.

Performance Details

Performance Details



Saturday, October 19, 2019

Doors: 7:00 PM

Show: 8:00 PM

Pearl Street Warehouse 

33 Pearl Street SW

Washington DC 20024 (Google Maps Link)

$12 + $2.92 Ticket Fee

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.