Photo by Jack GouldThere's this thing that Mirainga singer Craig Poturalski does when people give him unwanted music-industry advice: he imagines going into their house and looking at their CD collection. Then he thinks about whether he'd own any of those CDs. If he wouldn't—and usually he wouldn't—he disregards the advice.
He's learned quite a few coping mechanisms. He's had to. Since the OC band formed 10 years ago as a joke in Arizona, they've been dicked around by record labels in ways that would send most bands screaming back to their day jobs. Take, for example, their latest album—which, actually, you can't because it has never been released. A shimmering slice of Latin-flavored pop/rock, the album, ironically titled Nueva, has been finished and ready to go for about three years now. For three years, the musicians have been waiting for it to be released. For three years, they've been on hold.
But no longer. Like that person who wants to get married and stays in the relationship with the idea that some day it'll happen despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Mirainga are finally ready to move on.
"It was originally supposed to come out in April 1998," asserts Craig. But it hasn't, "so we're looking for a new label." You mention that someone at the label, Trauma, made it sound like the album—stalled due to the label's financial struggles, along with the album's lack of a sure-fire single—still had a good chance of being released. "I don't think that's going to happen. That's just another lame excuse to put us on the back burner," he says.
"I think we're pretty much unofficially dropped," says guitarist Reno, whose soft-spoken logic and persistence serve as a good counterpoint to Craig's centrifugal zaniness. "They never came out and said it, but they said we're free to go to another label."
"Idiots," says Craig, smiling.
Craig has this amazing smile that seems wholly disconnected to his actual mood. Big, friendly and seemingly effortless, it's the kind of smile that says no matter
what happens, everything's going to be okay. If he's telling a story that's getting serious or sad, and maybe you, the listener, are being affected by the serious or sad story, he'll smile, and his eyes will crinkle up, and you'll instantly feel better. When Craig was in ninth grade, he got the whole ninth-grade class banned from the new auditorium for the entire year because he threw eggs at the principal during an assembly held in this new auditorium, and not only did they crack and ooze all over the principal, but they also did the same thing all over the new carpet. Craig bragged to all his friends about this, and then during sixth period, the eggy principal announced over the PA that until the culprit was found, there would be no more ninth-grade assemblies. For each week for the rest of the year, Craig and a group of four or five other kids were brought into the principal's office, and each week, they would find a new way to infuriate the principal by doing stuff like saying, "Well, I'm not going to say any names. . . . [cough] Rob. I don't know who did it. . . . [cough] Rob," basically blaming someone different each week.
"We kept fucking with them the whole year," says Craig, laughing. "Finally I just went in and said, 'Hey, we were clowning with you—it was me all along.'"
Craig's body heaves with laughter. And then: "It's good to fuck around with people; life's too serious. People take life too seriously."
Craig, Reno and bass player Hedge met when they were working at a print shop in Arizona. They played one show and decided to move to California to avoid the hot Arizona summer. At that point, they were called Mr. Mirainga and were playing something a little sloppier and more alternative/ post-punk than their current vaguely Latin-tinged rock. Also, they'd drink a lot and cover the stage with fake bamboo and palm trees, which they say bummed people out, but in a way they found amusing.
(To get an idea of their mindset at the time, consider that the name of their first EP was Fuck the Scene—but you might have seen it written like this in articles: F&*% the Scene).
But obviously they weren't too much of a bummer because they were quickly signed to MCA subsidiary Way Cool, their single "Burnin' Rubber" came out on the Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls soundtrack and was played frequently on the radio, and their eponymous first album was released in 1996. They toured nationally for about a year, playing shows with everyone from 311 to Sublime to Space Hog to Red Five to God Lives Underwater. They did the Warped Tour. But their album didn't sell that well, and about a year into recording their next album, they were dropped by the label.
"They didn't get it. They wanted, like, a Green Day band," says Craig.
"We were just doing what we do, and they wanted us to do what we didn't do," adds Reno.
Two months later, they were signed to Trauma, which brings us to the present frustration of being strung along for years and years. "They promised us the world," says Craig in a way that, if anyone else said it, would sound bitter and rueful, but because he's saying it and because he's smiling, it just sounds kind of matter-of-fact.
To be quite honest, the guys in Mirainga thought they'd be in a different place by now. "We thought we'd be touring and recording albums," says Reno, who works at a Trader Joe's and who, along with Hedge, decorates malls for the holiday season. They're all back to subsisting on day jobs. Craig's a telemarketer, new drummer Tony works at Remo drums, and horn player Robert works at Round Table Pizza and is a music teacher for a local school district.
They're back to playing smaller shows at local venues, too. But they're quick to point out that this doesn't entirely suck. "Yeah, it's a bummer not to be able to play professionally anymore —that is a bummer. But our shows at the Tiki Bar and around Orange County are just as fun as they were across the United States," says Reno.
"As long as we're playing," says Craig. "All of us love playing live."
"Our OC fans have become so strong and I don't want to insult them, but I mean, yeah, we do wish we were on tour," adds Reno.
And then Craig: "I want to tour and then come home and play here."
Tony reminds them that you can lose the connection to the crowd when you're playing big venues. As the newest and youngest member, Tony is responsible for much of the band's newfound energy. Here's a typical Tony scenario: we're all sitting in Reno's living room talking, and the name of Mirainga's first drummer, Luke Smalley, comes up.
"Luke Smalley?" asks Tony, smiling, genuinely excited. "That's the raddest name, dude!" And he continues to smile about it even after the topic of conversation has changed.
"See how great it is to have him in the band?" Craig says to you. "He's all excited —all fired up. It's good; it really is."
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Here's something funny that maybe has to do with everything and maybe doesn't. Before Craig, Reno and Hedge decided to be a fun-loving band called Mr. Mirainga, they tried to be a serious Cure/ Pixies/Smiths band. Hedge came up with a name he thought was wild and self-destructive and rebellious: the Fatalists.
"The thing is that Hedge didn't know," says Reno. "He didn't know that being a fatalist means believing that your fate is predetermined and unalterable and already planned out. He thought it meant self-destructive and destined to die and wild and not giving a fuck and drinking and partying into the ground. We didn't know, either. It wasn't until years later that I found out what fatalism really meant."
"After that, we said screw being deep and stuff—we just wanted to be lighthearted," says Craig.
And then, with a smile and in a way that's entirely facetious and maybe kinda sorta something of a cop-out: "Because we're shallow."