“This definitely is the widening of The Mischief brand in an interesting way,” says Charles Laurita, who leads the band The Mischief and will soon open Mischief Studios in Pennington.
One of the finest guitarists, arrangers and songwriters the Trenton area has to offer, and one who uses his abilities to enhance the lives of the students he teaches, Laurita has decided to use skills on a much larger scale.
“I’ve been coming to Pennington for years and I’m very good friends with Charlie (Yeh), who owns Sumo Sushi, which is right behind us,” Laurita said. “There was another part of his restaurant here, but it had to close due to the pandemic. So I asked him, ‘What are you doing with the space?’ He said there was nothing at the moment but there were a few ideas floating around. So I said, ‘What about a music or lesson studio?’ He loved the idea and we got rolling because I left the music teaching job I was at for five years because they were not too good to their employees and cut all of our pay by 50 percent to make up for their losses. So I decided, ‘Well, maybe I will just do it myself,’ which has sort of become my mantra in recent years.”
Turning what was once a restaurant into a house of music would be a daunting task for most. But forever the visionary, Laurita, with help from a bandmate (his father, Charles Laurita Sr.), converted an empty room into an artful yet comfortable space.
“Oh boy, for sure this place needed TLC,” Laurita said with a roll of his eyes. “When we came in, it was just one giant empty room, and my dad and I did the whole thing. We had steel studs and walls to put up and carpeting, painting and all new sheet rock and everything. We were here for six months trying to make it look anything but like what it was prior, and give it some mojo and character. I think we accomplished our goal of making it look like quite the eccentric kind of place.
“We have five lesson rooms, one main live recording room, a big lobby section, the control room for the studio, which also doubles as my office … and then we have our employee lounge in the back with our repair shop in it.”
The studio is located at 12 S. Main St. with an opening set for Jan. 23 via a 2 p.m. open house.
“We’ll be doing recording here for bands and other artists,” Laurita said. “Will Sarver, our drummer for The Mischief, will be running the studio portion with me. We already have a bunch of clients who have had their interest piqued and we are going to start arranging with them; if they are solo musicians we will work with them where, if needed, we can do all of the backing stuff with my guys helping along, and there’s also a few full bands who have discussed coming in to record.
“One of the big things that we want to do for our students, if they are doing well with lessons, is open up the recording process to them. This way they can see how the whole industry kind of thing works as far as recording goes, which I think is kind of fun, because they can come in and record and have the teachers back them up … and I think that it will really help them stay interested. I wish there were more things like that when I was younger to show that there is an applicable skill for music. …
“We will also offer all brass and woodwinds, the fine strings, violin, viola, cello and that sort of thing. We’ll have guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, drums and vocals — a whole lot of stuff here. When everyone talks to me about opening a ‘music shop,’ they think it is just a guitar shop, and I really wanted to open up and broaden the horizons and offer everything that we possibly could.”
A well-rounded musician, Laurita not only writes but charts all or most of the parts his bandmates use to perform his music. So, being a teacher who has this skill set and understanding that not everyone knows how to read music, will he put any emphasis on teaching students how to do that?
“I started on violin, which is where I learned how to read music, and then I went to guitar,” he said. “Reading is very important and all of our teachers read and do teach it. Every day I’m not dropping sheet music in front of myself, but it is incredibly beneficial whether you are doing studio work and someone drops a sheet in front of you or you get hired for shows or to gig with someone. … as far as musicianship goes, it is important because it gets you into the theory realm, which is super important if you’re looking to write or arrange or to just be a better musician.
“I’ve always said, especially in the guitar world, that there are three levels. You play the guitar, you are a guitarist or you are a musician. And they are all completely different things. So, for me, reading was very instrumental, no pun intended. Okay, maybe a little bit of a pun intended (laughs).”
Though he stresses reading, he says, “I’m also very big on improv. I’ve had people I’ve played with who are fabulous sight readers and if you take the sheet away, they can’t do anything. It has to be 50/50. Learning to read is great for structure and theory but you also need to improv and to be able to come up with things on your own. And also learning to memorize is important so you’re not stuck in the sheets.
“I’ve gotten great studio gigs where a guy will come in and say, ‘Here’s the sheet, we’re going to do this in four different keys, you’ve got five minutes to look it over and let’s see how it goes.’ It’s horrifying (laughs), but it’s really cool and it’s a good skill to have.
“I’ve done tons of different musicals and shows that I was hired for and if I wasn’t able to read, I couldn’t do that because you show up to a practice and they drop it in front of you and you need to be ready to go. My old high school hires me every year to play in the pit orchestra and it is a great gig! I love going back every year just because it’s really cool and even inspiring. I was that age once and to see all of these younger adults be so into music as they are is cool.”
With so much electronic and technological influence on the current generation and its music, how does Mischief Studios plan on bridging the gap between old and new?
“That’s a really great question because in the studio world and the recording industry that’s a huge thing,” Laurita said. “I always break it down like this: You drove here so much faster in your truck than I got here in my horse and buggy. My horse is very slow and I should probably upgrade. Maybe I should get a truck and I’d probably get here a little faster.
“Now, as stupid as that anecdote is, times change and it’s hard because music is able to move with them. I’m very on the fence with the idea of progressing with electronic stuff or keeping it old school and holding an instrument kind of thing. Obviously, it’s very important to play and physically hold an instrument, but what I and a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of people who do drum machines and electronic music and write things like that are brilliant composers.
“There’s the one gentleman, I believe his name is Skrillex, who does electronic music, he is a super cool dude and does a lot of dance music and the EDM kind of thing and I never knew that he went to college for all sorts of theory. He’s literally like a Bach as far as it goes for arranging. I always used to write people like that off, thinking, ‘What does this guy know? He’s putting drums into a machine and things like that.’ And then I come to find out that he would use the Fibonacci sequence for writing as far as a pulse and that is a super old school classical kind of thing, which is amazing. It’s his golden ratio to see where the peak of the song is going to be and how it builds a crescendo and how it affects the human body, which is also a mathematical equation, which is nuts.”
For more on Laurita, the band and the studio, visit charleslaurita.com.
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