Mishka Shubaly says he’s a lot of things: a recovering alcoholic, an ultrarunner, a monster, a loser, and a failure. But above all, he’s a writer’s writer.
In Coward’s Path, his first album in about five years, he’s a writer whose words truly shine — and that’s alright, because he’s certainly not a singer and he’s passable on the guitar he sometimes strums as an afterthought or a lifeline. (He’s a bassist too.)
The Brooklyn-based writer turns his disastrous life into more music fodder in the upcoming, October 2nd release on Invisible Hands Music. Already an established author with six best-selling Kindle Singles and a handful of gritty, sort of true confession recordings, Shubaly went through hell as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict to make it this far and make this record, his third.
According to the promo-bio, “Mishka also spent nearly 20 years of his life as an alcoholic and drug addict. In 2009, he got sober and went to the other extreme – becoming an ultrarunner. He’s also a songwriter and musician who has shared the stage with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and The Decemberists.”
Upon closer inspection, Shubaly is a curious, contagious mix of a reluctant, true romantic who doesn’t know how to sugarcoat the difficult, he’s unapologetic, unfailingly, brutally honest, a self-admitted waste case, and an original voice that levels the playing field based on the funk of the story and a way with words, such a way. Think, the next Tom Waits, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, or even Bob Dylan (before “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” proved the folk singer could actually sing).
Shubaly’s never going to be confused with Paul Melvyn Carrack (Squeeze’s “Tempted”) that’s for sure. But that’s okay. The juice is in the lyrics, which the Coward’s Path artist delivers unflinching, like several shots of tequila on the last bender, on 12 original “drinking songs, snapshots from a life careening out of control — tunes about death and darkness and failure and the cold comfort of oblivion. Somehow, it’s also incredibly funny. [Missing Piece press release].”
“The title refers to a time in my life where I took the path of least resistance to the end of the line,” Shubaly (once a part of the New York City Freshkills) described for the release. “In one of the first copyrighted blues songs from 1912, Lee Roy White says, ‘The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad.’ Coward’s Path is the sound of a bad man feeling bad.”
For the longest time, Shubaly had it made. Comedian Doug Stanhope placed a lot of faith in his friend’s ability to perform. In 2007, that’s what Shubaly did, c/o Stanhope, touring the States. Unfortunately, along with the tour, Shubaly picked up a bad habit, one that cost him dearly in friends, jobs, gigs, and love. By the spring of 2009, Shubaly started to get his act together.
Even though he first laid the outline of the album on an eight-track reel-to-reel out of a condemned, freezing corner of Long Island City a year prior, he wasn’t quite ready to take the next step.
“My life fell apart and it took me a couple of years to put it back together. Once I was no longer out of my head, well, I was sober and I wasn’t sure what my relationship was to these songs. So they just sat on tape while my writing took off,” Shubaly continued. “After four years sober, I knew that I was proud of the writing and that the songs didn’t have the power to derail me.”
Another bit of a departure for him is the surround-sound of other instruments — not just guitar — on this new record. You’ll hear an accordion, upright bass, an assortment of sound effects from the maracas, bells, and the mellotron, even an airplane overhead.
Shubaly’s first single off Coward’s Path hits the right mood for anyone fed up with the usual status quo of a meaningless happy, shiny existence. On August 10, Maggie Serota of Death and Taxes featured the musician/author, who premiered “New Jersey Valentine’s Day Orphan Blues.” Every stanza is loaded with quotable lyrics, like a sick Monty Python movie. The lyrics are pure Mishka Shubaly, liable to make you stop and laugh, or stop and think: “‘Cause I’ll be cutting my milk chocolate heart out for you…” “Happiness is as dull as it seems and the company loves misery. You’d be happier being unhappy like me…” “Everybody’s made a few mistakes, everybody’s buried a body or two, or three…” “I’ll pull my head out of the toilet long enough to say that I disagree.” He even inserts a twisted Greek chorus in there, and it’s almost… melodic.
The anti-Valentine’s song had a purpose, which went horribly awry — a downward trend Shubaly’s used to by now. In his Death and Taxes interview, he explained the single’s origin: “I wrote this song for a girl I kinda loved, trying to talk her out of caring about me. I didn’t see any good coming out of it — my drinking was pretty bad. But the song didn’t work — she still loved me. It ended between us, as these things often do, with her lying to an attorney and trying to sue me for over a million dollars. Whoops.”
If you still haven’t gotten the gist of this musical anti-hero’s point, there’s this — plucked clean from that Missing Piece release.
“With Coward’s Path, well, you’ve drank the bar closed, they’ve kicked everyone else out and pulled the gate down so it’s just the bar staff and their friends. The drugs come out. You’re drinking top shelf liquor for free but it’s costing you more than if you paid for it because you’re tipping so much. Everything gets better; everything gets worse. The party turns weird. The party turns bad. Sh*t gets totally out of control. And then you have to stumble out into the daylight and confront what you’ve done.”
Intrigued? He’s coming to Seattle in September/October.