Mickey Schiff of White Arrows Talks Gaining Sight, Finding Out His Bandmate Is His Brother
Very few bands come close to boasting a story like Los Angeles' White Arrows claims. Formed in 2008 by Mickey Schiff, a talented multi-instrumentalist who happens to have been born legally blind (he gained his sight back at age 11), the band plays a marvelous amalgam of alternative music, electronic psychedelia and neo-soul.
Here's where White Arrows' history gets fascinating, though: After forming the band Schiff and bandmate J.P. Caballero found out that they were, in fact, biological brothers.
But even without the incredible story, White Arrows deserve some kudos for their genre-bending music and rowdy live performances. So far, the band has released a self-titled EP and they're currently working on a full-length. Tomorrow night, the band rolls through town for a show at the Granada Theater.
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In anticipation of that performance, we spoke with Mickey Schiff about his band's remarkable history and their equally intriguing music.
How do you think your music would be different if you had your sight since birth?
I had no concept of people looking at me, and that can be a good thing. That left room for my imagination. I had no self-consciousness. I didn't have to worry about what people thought about me. The whole experience of not being able to see and then gaining the ability has allowed me to make a different kind of music -- music that I think is more significant.
Have you had people come up to you and say what happened was some sort of miracle?
Yes, but it's not so specific to any certain religion. People have said it was a miracle and that I was blessed. My sister and I grew up going to an Episcopalian school. We went to chapel every Wednesday. But I've never had some evangelical running up to me saying that I have been saved. What happened to me is just not as uncommon as people think. Gaining my sight was the result of eye exercises. I do feel fortunate in some ways. But it wasn't like I was born with sight. I didn't know any different. When you don't know any different, it's not like it can be better or worse. There are some things it is better not to see. Not being able to see people judging you is a good thing not to see. It's a strangely liberating feeling to be deprived of that.
You cover Fleetwood Mac's "Save Me a Place" on your EP. That is a very esoteric cut [off the album Tusk] that many people are probably not familiar with. Why choose that particular song?
I don't want to go too far into why we do certain songs. I've always liked Fleetwood Mac and I think Lindsey Buckingham is incredible. I liked that song and thought we could do it in an interesting way. It's the same with Springsteen's "I'm on Fire." We do that, too.
Tusk is a very strange and remarkable album.
Yes, it is one of my favorite records.
What genre does your music belong in?
It's not so much of a thought out choice of genre. It's just that we have eclectic tastes. We all like different things. We just like to make things different.
You studied ritualistic shamanism at NYU. That's one crazy course of study.
I went to a school with individualized study. It just so happens that the advisor that was assigned to me was a PhD in shamanistic rituals and rites of passage. I just took his class on a whim just to get to know my advisor because I was going to be working with him for the next four years. Coming from catholic schools growing up, there were no choices in curricula. It was just the standards and there was no freedom to choose. In New York, I took the class on shamanistic rituals and there were no right or wrong answers. It was pretty mind-blowing and expansive for me. I was learning about things that were so far out of the realm I was used to. It was pretty special. It changed me.
Did that type of education influence the way you make music?
Definitely. Just the fact that things are open to interpretation influenced me. I grew up going to schools where you were frightened not to have the wrong answer. In college, just to satisfy my science requirement, I took a neurology class. I was way out of league, but you could have the wrong answer and still learn something. You could have answers that were not right, but were still not wrong for whatever reason.
How did you come to find out that your bandmate, J.P Caballero was your biological brother?
I didn't know that my father had another son. That's not something that would come up in conversation. My sister and I knew J.P. as a family friend. We grew up in two different worlds and our parents just happened to be friends. His parents had been together his whole life, as had mine. It was much later in life that we were told that we were brothers.
One reviewer wrote that White Arrows is a band that literally defies comparison. That's a pretty lofty statement.
It's flattering to hear that. That's what you strive for as an artist. With our songs and our live show, we want to be different. We want to be unique and unlike any other live show. We want to appeal to all senses, not just sound. We want to have a really good sounding set, but we want great visuals to go along with that. We want to keep growing. We want to be more visual.
With such a wild live show, is it a letdown to go into the studio?
I wouldn't say it's a letdown, but it's definitely a different experience. It's actually quite nice because we do all our recording at home. It's the home where J.P. and I live, so there is no pressure concerning time. We don't have to worry about some stranger running the board. It is the freedom to do whatever we want. We don't have to worry about how much we're spending.
White Arrows performs with The Naked & Famous and The Chain Gang of 1974 on Thursday, October 20, at the Granada Theater.
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