Grub Dog: pretty persuasion
Sac native Grub Dog brings new songs from Austin—and a changed perspective
Grub Dog moved to Austin in 2003, but even after six years living in the nation’s renowned live-music capital, the California-born musician looks forward to his annual return to Northern California.
For this journey back, the artist also known as Greg Mitchell returns with a collection of old and new songs, as well as two albums’ worth of solo tunes. Mitchell performs Friday night at Old Ironsides with his longtime Sacramento-based the Amazing Sweethearts.
Mitchell left Sacramento with the idea that, were he to really make a living making music, he needed to be in a city that not only encouraged live music but also valued a band’s music over its image.
Now, more than half a decade later, Mitchell says on the phone from his Austin home, the city didn’t disappoint but in fact gave him an even more optimistic perspective on the business.
“Six years changes you in a lot of ways. What it’s done to me is made me realize that, moving out of California, I don’t have to be young and pretty in order to do this,” says the 40-year-old musician.
“There is a life and a career and creativity that go beyond sounding and looking like every other band.”
In Austin, he adds, artists are pushed to grow—even when that means growing old and gray.
“Whether it’s James McMurtry or Jon Dee Graham, there are always people here who are older and making really smart and vital music, people who aren’t really playing the game,” he says. “It’s very inspiring to be a part of, to be where there is always an influx of incredible musicians just hanging around.”
Mitchell plays in several Austin bands, including the country-rock combo the Modestos and Heartsexplode, a jam band—well, Mitchell’s version of one, anyway.
“It’s very guitar-oriented and not as structured as my other stuff, but it’s not going to win over the jam-band crowd any time soon,” he says. “It’s kind of Dinosaur Jr. meets Nels Cline.”
In Austin, Mitchell’s music, known locally for its tears-in-your-beer, balls-to-the-wall country-rock sound, has expanded to include experimental rock and jazz.
“I’ve been getting into Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky—big, beautiful experimental rock—but I’ve also always been into free jazz and Jimi Hendrix and things that go out on a limb in a rock sense, such as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.”
Perhaps, but the music Mitchell’s written for two recent solo projects cuts closer to the bone, sonically speaking. The first album, Little Saturdays, was written over the course of a couple of weekends, and its sound is simple, spare even.
“I just sat out on my porch on Saturdays and wrote a bunch of songs; I wrote 13 in one day back in July ’07,” he says.
The second album is a collection of older songs, including several that Mitchell wrote while living in Davis and Sacramento.
“Some of the tracks were done with Slim Bawb from the Beer Dawgs, so we’re keeping the Sacramento vibe going, even out here.”
Besides the obvious lure of friends and family, why even worry about keeping it alive? Why would someone who, never shy about criticizing the Sac music scene, return again and again?
Mitchell admits he’s a bit dismayed by Midtown’s growth explosion, but he’s seeing similar trends in Texas.
“We’re going through the same kind of growing pains in Austin; they’re trying to impose decibel limits [downtown] now.”
And growth or not, he says, Sacramento still holds a nostalgic charm for him.
“This is family. I just really enjoy walking into Old Ironsides and seeing [bartender] Art [Rodriguez] or into The Distillery and seeing [owner] Jim [Barr],” he says.
“I still absolutely love Midtown. It’s my favorite place to be on a summer day; it just feels like home.”