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What’s in a name, anyway? Mirk.

Sounds Familiar

Albany pop-soul band Mirk had to give up their original name— but they just roll with the changes

By W.T. Eckert

“These dudes were taking it mad seriously and we just tried to ignore them,” says Josh “Mirk” Mirsky of the Albany band formerly known as Mirk and the New Familiars. Recently, he and his band were forced to drop ‘the New Familiars’ from their name due to claims by another band, making them now, simply, Mirk. “They attacked our Facebook page and had it taken down, and had our YouTube page shut down by utilizing this federal trademark they had for the band name, as well as the cease-and-desist letter that we ignored.”

Mirsky must be beyond comfortable with change, because they are moving ahead full-throttle. He says that it would be a waste of time, resources, and positive energy to fight for the name. “We’re not interested in having anxiety associated with what we’re doing. It was all over ‘the New Familiars,’ and honestly, people only call us ‘Mirk’ anyway.”

Mirsky also says he no longer goes by his longtime nickname. “I am Joshua ‘Mirk’ Mirsky. Although people have called me Mirk for a long time, I am Josh. I even sign all my emails ‘Josh’ instead of ‘Mirk.’” Mirsky says that he feels this will help put everyone in the group at ease, rather than create the feeling that the band have gone back to being a solo project. “Whenever we discuss things regarding the band,” he says, “or whenever I introduce myself, I do so as ‘Josh of Mirk.’”

Music has long been Mirsky’s first concern. He says that he had plans for this project long before its conception. “I was running with a rap group in New York City called FCM,” he says. “We lived together and recorded together and just all built off of each other, but it was also like a power struggle and things never got done. [Mirk] became me taking control of my own music.”

His first solo album, Love, was recorded in two halves, the first in a studio located in Mirsky’s parents’ basement just off Lark Street in Albany, while he was recuperating from a trio of abdominal surgeries. Those operations changed his view on life.

“I stopped working for the man. My job at the bank had ended. A lot of my friends that I worked with are still successful in real estate one way or another. So I could still be doing that, but I chose to bounce from the industry and saw it as an opportunity to make music.”

Mirsky moved his family into a Myrtle Avenue apartment, and it was there that he completed the second half of the album.

Originally, Mirsky performed solo with an instrumental CD. But fans continually suggested that he form a live band, and eventually he was convinced. Though 2009’s Love is a studio album that was predominantly composed by Mirsky, he gives a great sum of credit to Mike Thornton, his longtime friend and Mirk’s guitarist. “Mike had worked on all those records that I was performing by myself. Mike was part of putting the band together.” From the studio to the stage, and with a few lineup changes, Mirk got what he wanted. After a performance at the College of Saint Rose’s Harvest Festival, the band members express nothing but certainty about the positive changes the group are taking.

“It usually starts with Josh,” says keyboardist Andy O’Brien. “And then, early on in the process, people start layering their parts, and a lot of times there will be certain ideas that will be very rudimentary and simple. That’s another thing, keeping a song simple at the very beginning really provides great structure. Simplicity is always good in music.”

Thornton, smoking a cigarette while loading his equipment into the band’s van, agrees that flexing musical muscle doesn’t make a great band, and that “muscle is in the songwriting.”

“It’s about restraint and keeping things very simple,” Thornton stresses, “because it’s fun to play. And I think that comes through when we play live. No one in the band is thinking about their crazy technical part when 90 percent of the people could hardly give a fuck when they’re not having fun.”

“What it boils down to is, we could give you a thousand formulas, it is just good music,” bassist Kate Sgroi says. “If you play good music, people are going to keep listening to it.”

Beyond that, backup vocalist Tara Merritt specifies, “It’s smart music. It’s music you can tolerate.” With their new album, scheduled for release in May, there is a different format. “It’s just more of a band album, instead of a producer who is getting a band together to play it,” says Sgroi. “So, we have the blueprint and it’s building everything straight up from there. Making it a band, and making it a band album.”

Steve Struss joined the band as their third drummer when they had had already established their live sound. He describes the direction Mirk are taking with the new album as more aggressive. “This album is going to be a lot more in your face then Love, which was more laid-back and lovey-dovey. This albums gonna be, fuckin’ punch you in the face from the beginning right to the end. . . . It’s gonna be a mature version of Love, I think. From what I’ve heard already, it’s going to trump Love in every way possible.”

Crowned in a yellow Buffalo Sabers hat, sax player Chris Russell packs away his horn while searching for the right words describing the band’s progress. “Everybody is adding even more of their personality to the music now. We’re all writing our own lines for the most part— some of the horn lines I wrote myself, some of them the band gave input on.” But aside from the work, Russell says that the sound is maturing as well, to which Merritt and Sgroi are in accord.

Mirk’s performance is full of energy—anyone who sees the band live after listening to Love would notice the difference in delivery. But there is also a difference in the way they compose their music in the studio now, and it has added to their feeling of growth as a band. Mirsky couldn’t be happier with the band’s new sound and direction.

“They’re all so good at what they do that they make it better,” Mirsky says. “They make what I’m writing better because they know what it is that I’m trying to write. They are able to put their own spin on it in a way that just steps it up. Some people say they like the studio versions better because they’re more synthesized. But personally, I wish that I could have made the whole shit sound live from the beginning.”

Find out more about Mirk at their new website,


Rough Mix

OUT OF THE WOODS This was hinted at in last week’s Rough Mix, and now we have the official word: Sean Rowe has signed to might-as-well-be-a-major label ANTI- Records. The California-based label has set Feb. 22 as the release date for the reissue of Rowe’s 2009 Collar City Records disc Magic. This is huge news for the Capital Region troubadour: He’s joining a talent roster that already includes Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Joe Henry, Mavis Staples, Billy Bragg, the Frames. . . . I could go on. Rowe will be touring through most of 2011 in support of Magic, which unfortunately means there won’t be any new music from him for a little while—but in light of such an announcement, we can cut the guy a little slack.

GO GET IT Somebody out there knows how we handle deadlines. Wednesday morning brought a matter-of-fact e-mail from local musician and promoter Andrew Sullivan, announcing a new band and album from Brent Gorton, followed by the phrase “free download.” And we’re passing the savings on to you, dear reader: Go to betterpills.html to grab I Hope You Feel Better in Heaven, the debut EP from Better Pills. Gorton is joined in the new project by Dead Friend members Sullivan and Phil Pascuzzo, with the singer dropping his native guitar in favor of a cranky-sounding synthesizer, giving the six minimalist indie-rock tunes an extra layer of good-creepy. And, again, it’s free.

GOSPEL GUMBO Producer and musician Jack Maeby left Albany 25 years ago to pursue his career in New York City and, now, Los Angeles. But he’s returning to the Capital Region this weekend to celebrate the release of Spirituals, the new record by his latest band, Little Faith. The project seeks to connect the African-American spirituals of the 1800s with 20th-century “Americana” sounds like bluegrass and New Orleans R&B. A host of excellent musicians played on the album, but Maeby’s top-flight organ playing is at the center of it all. Over the years Maeby has played alongside and/or produced everyone from Carly Simon to the late, great Solomon Burke; he’ll lead Little Faith into the Bayou Cafe in Albany on Saturday. More info at

NOT FORGOTTEN Country-blues and folk musician Tom Winslow passed away in late October of complications from a stroke, it was reported last week. Winslow moved to upstate New York in the early ’60s and became a member of Pete Seeger’s band, as well as the crew of Seeger’s boat, the Clearwater. (He recorded the song “Hey Looka Yonder (It’s the Clearwater)” for his 1969 solo debut album.) In recent years he could be seen performing regularly at the Troy Farmers Market in addition to his yearly engagements at Caffe Lena. His voice and presence will be missed.

BLAH BLAH Ralph Renna has been one busy man as of late. He just unveiled a major concert series under his Capital Underground Live banner, and now he’s announced a new album from his band, Black John Wayne. Serenade of the Black and Blues, recorded at Albany’s North Sea Studios with producer Brett Portzer, is due in early 2011. It’s the first full-length featuring 13 songs from this group of Troycore vets, and that recognizable sound is present—but, says Renna, they’re “not afraid to break the mold they all helped shape in the 1990s.” Hear for yourself when the band play Northern Lights on Nov. 27.

—John Brodeur

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