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Mighty Mongo: The hardest-working new party band on the block

6

April

(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2011 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: Mighty Mongo.)

It’s the final day of mixing on Mighty Mongo’s first full-length album, and the band has decided that the final song — Campfire Ballad — needs a name change.

Alternate titles are thrown out, some serious, some not.

Sing To Me. To The Moon. Bite My Bluegrass. Daisy Dukes. Lieutenant Sunshine. Do Me. Rapsquatch (“Half velociraptor, half sasquatch”). Have I Ever Told You That I Have AIDS?

Every time someone suggests a good one, singer and bassist Alex Card jots it on a legal pad. Then someone pitches a better one, and Card laughs and scratches it out. The room is full of laughter, with zero bickering among bandmates.

“We don’t have any creativity left,” says singer and keytarist Lindsey Vitola. “It’s all gone.

Such is life in Mighty Mongo, a fun-loving, free-wheeling new entry in the Tampa Bay music scene. Their original songs could best be described as “party music” — a quirky, high-energy blend of ska, pop, reggae and jam, in the vein of No Doubt, Sublime, Smash Mouth or the B-52s. They cover everyone from Lady Gaga to Journey to Lil Wayne with unbridled joy.

If that doesn’t sound like music that any critic would dare take seriously ... well, who cares?

“When you see bands playing, they’re trying to be something,” said drummer Scotty Chmura. “But we don’t care. We care about sounding good, but ... we’re just a real band, a cheesy bunch of kids, who want to make music and entertain everyone.”

“We have more than one song about a fish,” said Vitola. ’Nuff said.

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Since forming two years ago, Mighty Mongo have performed relentlessly, occasionally booking two shows a night, and they have a devoted network of friends and fans that has helped them win every battle of the bands they’ve entered — more than a half-dozen in all. One of those battles resulted in a gig at last year’s Warped Tour stop in St. Petersburg.

Chmura and guitarist Anthony Isoldi were high school friends from Inverness; Isoldi and Card live in the same dorm at USF-St. Pete. The three of them started playing laid-back lounge and reggae music in local bars and restaurants, but didn’t take it too seriously until one day, at the urging of her friends, Vitola joined the band onstage for a reggae rendition of Coldplay’s Clocks.

They went on to jam for nine minutes.

“Eventually, we just knew: It works,” Card said.

Until that point, Vitola had only performed at a restaurant on Harbour Island. But her voice and vibe fit well with the band, so Card and Vitola decided to become co-lead singers. And when they found out she played piano, too, they bought her a keytar. “And now the keytar is the fifth member of the band,” Vitola said.

Vitola also helped reshape Mighty Mongo into an efficient, productive institution. She became the taskmaster, the one who would cold-call bars, asking for gigs. “It just sounds better when a girl calls a place,” Card said.

“We don’t have outside management, we don’t have outside help,” Vitola said. “Our parents aren’t funding this little project that their kids want to do. This is the four of us. We’re a business. We work our asses off to pay for everything ourselves. We’re very self-sufficient within the four of us.”

When it came time to record their debut album, Mighty Mongo scrimped and saved until they could afford to do so at Morrisound Recording in Tampa, a nationally renowned studio that has produced albums by the likes of Seven Mary Three, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Cannibal Corpse. It wasn’t cheap.

“We could have bought a car,” Chmura said.

“And a trailer, and maybe some new equipment, too,” Card laughed.

But in the studio, you get what you pay for. And while the process has depleted the band’s hard-earned savings, the end result, Let’s Make Serious Life Decisions, is distinctly polished, passionate and genre-defying. They’ll release it with a May 5 concert at Vintage Ultra Lounge in St. Petersburg. The’re calling it: “Cinco de Mongo.”

The name is fun. It’s catchy. And it fits Mighty Mongo. There is no debate about that.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo/video: Carrie Pratt, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 6:38pm]

    

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