Against all advice | Mistura

In a musical scene populated by bright-eyed young artists keen to garner mainstream exposure, the crusty quartet Mistura go against the chipper grain, with an eclectic sound fusing blues and progressive rock which certainly makes good on their name. TEODOR RELJIC speaks to the band in the wake of the release of their second studio album Regħbus and discovers a simmering pot of glorious anger


Could you tell us a little bit about Mistura’s journey? What led you to come together as a band, and how has your sound evolved since?

Antonio Olivari: The band started as an acoustic duo with Malcolm and me writing some songs in Maltese and trying to find places where to perform them. This was 2012, when we participated in a couple of editions of L-Għanja tal-Poplu. We then changed from the original acoustic duo set-up, first to an acoustic band and then to a rock band. It was always the next logical step for us to kind of upgrade the sound until we could play gigs as an electric band.

Matthew Agius: When I joined in 2013/4 Mistura’s sound was very Pink Floydy. Since then we’ve shifted into a more proggy direction thanks to the addition of Mark [Andrew Azzopardi] as drummer. I like it, it’s more challenging to perform.

Mark Andrew Azzopardi: I joined Mistura together with Matthew with the intention of kicking it up a notch with a more electric sound, which was a new sound altogether compared to the first album. As the youngest member of the band, I try to push it in innovative and new directions, specifically adding some progressive elements into the mix.

Maltese-language music that appeals to a younger crowd is certainly – and thankfully – not a novelty anymore, but this wasn’t always the case. How did this development evolve, in your opinion, and do you think that choosing to sing in either Maltese or English still has
socio-political weight?

Agius: In a way, it does. To me, singing in English would mean wanting to gain international acclaim and tour. That was me five years ago with my previous band, Five From Zero. Mistura’s approach is very different. We’re focused on Malta and have a connection with our audience’s shared experience.

As much as we’d like people to love the tunes like we do, we’re not overly bothered if they don’t. We’re a bunch of fat lads, making political dad rock in Maltese, for fuck’s sake. We’re having a laugh, not aiming to be the next Muse. We’d be lucky to be the next Freddie Portelli.

Olivari: The things we speak about would be lost in translation if we had to sing in English. It’s not about patriotism, but about finding the correct tool for the circumstances, and the one we’re more comfortable with. It shows even in the way we write the songs and sing them.

Sometimes you hear a song in Maltese and if you don’t listen intently you’d think it was in some other language, such as English or Italian, with exaggerated accents by the singer. With us, for better or worse, you get the vernacular sung in a very Maltese way – a bit like Walter Micallef on steroids.

“We’re having a laugh, not aiming to be the next Muse. We’d be lucky to be the next Freddie Portelli” Matthew Agius

Reghbus will be your second studio album. Lyrically, it hits on some pretty explicit targets when it comes to the discontents of contemporary Maltese life; as exemplified with some potency in the album’s first single, ‘Tuna Isimkom’, which takes a clear dig at the construction industry. Would you say you’ve become more bitter over time, or is this simply a matter of becoming more comfortable with attacking what you feel needs to be attacked?

Malcolm Bonnici: I believe it’s a bit of both. Personally, I’ve become older and more cynical. So yes, over time we’ve become more bitter, but we’ve also become more mature.

Agius: Regarding theme, the clue’s in the name: the album is an indictment of the greed that is consuming Maltese society. Sure, I’m bitter. Time has also allowed me to see the bigger picture and I want to do something about it.

Olivari: I think the album reflects the current times. Very impatient and loud. The lyrics, especially, are much more sardonic. They are the creation of digital immigrants who over the last couple of decades saw the world going postal with what were supposed to be unprecedented technological advancements. We used to have village idiots and now we have global village ones.

Going by the general thrust of this album and the commentary you’ve offered up on it so far, you appear to be of the opinion that too many Maltese bands are striving for appeasement – of the popular media, of the general public all the while, perhaps, straining for an international attention that is never likely to come. Would you say this is an accurate description of your position?

Agius: We didn’t really make any effort to make it a commercial success, in fact it looks like we did the opposite somehow. As Antonio wrote on the Facebook page: “In this context of not giving a shit, we’ve just decided that our first single from the new album, Tuna Isimkom, is going to be one that takes one full minute for the first verse to start, doesn’t have a chorus, it has a minute and a half long solo/musical interlude in the middle and is a nice direct letter to heartless building contractors. It’s against all advice we’ve received so far.”

Olivari: Good sense dictates that “you need to have a radio-friendly song to promote the album!” and “you need to get people to dance and have fun!”. But so what – this is what we think is more relevant at the moment and not some happy go lucky fun song for idiots who will not like the rest of our songs anyway. And I think this song is one of those that makes us…. us, warts and all. And people who get this song will get us as a band.

Bonnici: We obviously have a couple of sarcastically happy songs as well in the album, but let’s not jump the gun here.

Azzopardi: I believe each band has an identity, and Mistura’s is to jab at social constructs, socio-political commentary and tongue-in-cheek songs against close-minded individuals. To that extent, we are ultimately an underground band, with no intention of commercial success. We know our audience, and this is what they appreciate and look for in Mistura.

What do you hope listeners will get out of your album, ultimately?

Agius: I hope listeners will get the motivation to go out and change things for the better. And by motivation I mean anger because there’s nothing like a baying crowd to get things moving. I also hope our listeners will get laid, because that’d be a great thing to happen.

Olivari: There are people who are on a strict sugary sweet diet, and those are not our audience. If you dig the sour, the salty and the bitter, then you’ll find plenty of ground to discover and hopefully enjoy.

What’s next for you?

Agius: Mine’s a bourbon. Oh, you mean musically? We still need to discuss the finer points of future-planning, but it should include a few gigs and more songwriting. We’re open for bookings by courageous venues.

Olivari: We’re definitely looking at launching the album now, which is being finalised and going to print as we speak. We’ll provide more information about it as soon as we officially announce the launch. We’re also looking into creating a couple more videos of songs from the album as a follow-up to Tuna Isimkom.

Bonnici: We’re also looking at playing more gigs – it’s been a while now since we last performed together and it’s something we’re all looking forward to.

Agius: Eventually a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Or a handprint in some wet concrete footpath in Mqabba. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” etc...