If you are anyone somehow involved in the New Jersey music scene – whether it be a casual music lover and show goer, venue owner or musician – there’s a good chance you’ve at some point ran into or experienced the roots, rock, reggae of local Garden State staple Mike Oregano. If you haven’t been swooned off your feet by his eccentric, yet engaging and unique live performance that incorporates everything from reggae and hip hop to jazz and punk, you may have found yourself attending one of the countless open mics across the state he ambitiously hosts.
I met Mike a few years ago playing a show in South Jersey and I haven’t forgotten him since – his solo set was him playing with a bizarre contraption that consisted of a plethora of guitar effects pedals, a loop pedal, and a makeshift bass drum and snare setup that Mike controlled with his feet, playing the percussion in real time as the loop plays. Having been a bit familiar with using loop pedals to create engaging solo sets, watching Mike play was something else. He takes the traditional idea of the loop pedal solo set and turns it sideways, creating something that is completely original and his own. That night still sticks out in my mind as being one of the first nights I was influenced to attempt to begin my own solo project which eventually would become Dead Language.
Having spent the past few years working energetically to establish himself as a household name in the DIY and open mic Jersey scenes, Mike has recently taken on the task of starting up his own indie label – Oregano Records. The label has been working alongside local musicians and venues to create open mics, shows and events that are helping strengthen the community and open up more booking opportunities for everyone, and with no shortage of events to book the label is actively searching for acts.
I reached out to Mike who was nice enough to take some time to answer a few questions about what he has been up to, some details about his set up, and the present and future of Oregano Records:
REYREYALLDAY: You may not remember this, because I know you are one of those musicians who is insanely active in the community – always playing and putting on shows, working with and meeting other musicians, and hosting open mics just to name a few – but I played in a ska band called the Damn Long Hairs for a brief period of time, and you and I met playing a show at the Stone Pony with Chilled Monkey Brains. I still remember how absolutely impressed with your set I was, and that was maybe 2 years ago. What have you been up to since then? Any new releases/projects?
MIKE OREGANO: Yea man! I remember that show! I bought a shirt from them. Thank you for the compliment. I have been working hard as always, and since we last met I have added a ton of new features/pedals/instruments to my setup. I’ve also released a ton of material! A couple years ago I released my EP entitled Criminal and followed it up with a music video for the title track and later a live in studio type album. I also released an electronic/rap EP entitled Dance Your Face Off! In 2016, as well as a live radio performance EP, and most recently I released an EP entitled Hustlin’ which I’m really excited about. And the big news I have been telling everyone, I have a new album in the works which will be released on January 30, 2019! It’s entitled Livin’ On Love!
RRAD: Can you explain the set up and gear you use when playing live? You play this really intricate one-man show that fuses everything from hip hop and reggae to rock and jazz. I assume you use a loop pedal of some kind? And you also have a kick drum fixed in. Did you makeshift this setup yourself?
MO: Yes I did build my whole setup! It is ever-expanding and basically my brain in a physical form. I have modified pretty much every single piece of equipment I play on. From making additions like lights, mics, etc. on the drums to mounting special clamps and connections for the cymbals, even the amps have lights and modifications on them! And yes I do use a looper pedal! 5, actually, when I have my whole stage setup going. I can record on the spot my rhythm guitar and bass in one looper, vocals in another, drums in another, keys/synth/external sounds in another, and finally mandolin/banjo/dulcimer/etc. in another. It’s a huge sound and really takes on the definition of “one man band” but with a modern adaptation.
RRAD: So Oregano records – for all of my readers (and the dummy interviewing you) that may be ignorant to the process, what is it like starting up your own label? Where did you begin and what were intentions? Is it expensive? Where do you see Oregano Records in the future?
MO: Starting my own label has been a goal of mine for a while. I’ve always felt that if you want to be successful in the music business, you have to start a scene. And by getting Oregano Records up and running, I’ve been able to start doing that. We host shows all over the tri-state area for bands/artists of all genres and we work with all types of venues so everyone has somewhere to play. There are so many talented artists that aren’t getting the exposure, respect, and opportunities that they deserve, and I make it my mission to fix that. As far as expenses go, any time you start a business, there will be costs. We had to invest money in some equipment, and I currently invest a lot of my time in outreach, scheduling, Promo, etc. but it’s for the love of art, right?!
In a few years time I aim to have Oregano Records working nationally to book our artists, and help everyone make the most of their music career.
RRAD: Is Oregano Records currently seeking artists and bands to add to their roster? And what genres, styles, etc are you looking for?
MO: Yes, we are always looking for new acts to book! Anyone can contact us, we are open to all genres. GOOD VIBES ONLY! ️
RRAD: So back to your music. Lets go back to your humble beginnings – how did you start playing guitar, and eventually begin to do music on a serious/professional level? And what have been some of your biggest influences musically and lyrically? What themes/subjects are you adamant to sing/write about?
MO: I started playing guitar seriously when I was 13. I remember my first lesson, I learned the riff from “Dammit” (Blink 182) and when I got home I remember taking the guitar out immediately and practicing that riff for a while. I just didn’t stop. And I was just making a ton of noise with the thing. but I was totally in love with the instrument and music in general. As I grew older I kept getting my hands on more instruments, and when I was in college studying music I tightened up my knowledge and skill on various instruments. I’ve been playing professionally for a few years now, and growing my fan base everyday. As far as influences, for Reggae – Tribal Seeds, Rebelution, Black Uhuru, Collie Buddz, Jazz – Wes Montgomery, Norman Brown, Joe Pass, Hip Hop – Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, T.I.
I like to write about conscious themes. We need more love and positivity in this day more than ever and I feel like nobody is really saying that in the mainstream. But people are starving for it. I’m bringing it out!
RRAD: OK and finally, a big part of this project that I am doing is to create resources for other musicians, and as someone as talented and embedded in the scene as you are, what is some basic advice you can give to struggling musicians? Such as handling social media, networking, playing in a band vs. solo, etc. The biggest question on my mind is how do you get and play so many shows??
MO: Advice I can give to a struggling/new musician – never say no. Say yes, shut up and take the gig. If you’re good, you’ll get more work. It takes 5 seconds to send an email or fill out a questionnaire, so keep shooting. But don’t harass promoters, and always show up over-prepared. Isn’t that obvious though? Treat your band as a brand. Advertise it and engage with your fans (social media) but do it tastefully and always leave room for more.