Mitch McVicker laughs with total abandon. He speaks softly and slowly and wastes few words. Maybe itís because when he speaks he not only means what he says, he believes in what he says. His Midwestern good looks are mixed with an earthy flavor that gives itself to the Nashville or Seattle scene. In a nutshell, I like him. Moreover, I am inspired by him, and that is what lets Mitch surpass the passe or the ordinary; he inspires people and people like to feel inspired.
So I like Mitch. A lot of people do. The Christian music industry showed they liked him when he won a dove award for the song, "My Deliverer," which he helped write for Rich Mullins' last recording. Of course after his acceptance speech, the ushers wouldn't let him back into the theatre without his 'purple pass', award in hand and all. After the glitz and glamour of the biggest night in Christian music, he skipped the fashionable post-parties held by the biggest record companies and made his way back to the hotel with a dozen of Dunkin' Donuts' finest; true Mitch McVicker form.
And thousands of people from literally all over the world have spent the last few years meditating on, and praying for this man they have never met. Meditating on the car accident that had taken Rich Mullinsí life and severely injured Mitch.
I had a chance to spend some time with Mitch this last Spring, and my faith is stronger for it, much like all the people who go to his concerts across the country. Not stronger because of Mitch, but because of whose Mitch is, and that he lives a life of total abandon.
MM: Are you used to doing interviews? Did you write for Friends when you were going to school?
MM: Good, Iím glad you have some experience here, cause I donít know what Iím doing. (laughter)
KB: What are you doing now?
MM: We have been on tour since January (1999), and will be till this October, then weíll jump on the Ragamuffin tour and open for them. Weíve been doing shows with myself, Michael (Aukofer) and Eric (Hauck) and Shelli (Yoder). We call ourselves The Kid Brothers.
KB: So Shelli is somehow a Ďbrotherí (laughter)
MM: Yeah (laughter) we call her ĎBrother Shelli.í
KB: Where did you meet Shelli?
MM: I met her March of 1997 in Southbend, Indiana, we were doing Canticle and she was cast as Claire. When the accident happened, she came to the hospital, then she moved out to Kansas.
KB: Where do you play on tour?
MM: Mostly churches, a few coffeehouses.
KB: How has the response been?
MM: Itís been great. Stunning. I didnít know what to expect. The people seem to know the music and know whatís been going on.
KB: What has attributed to people knowing about you?
MM: Definitely Rich (Mullins). They heard about the accident and knew I was the person with him, and from that they go out and get my album.
KB: What do you play in the concerts?
MM: We play nine songs off my album, three songs from Canticle and some songs that are new.
KB: Do you have any plans for a second release?
MM: Weíve started one. I want to record later this year. Iím talking with the guy who produced my album with Rich and a few record companies to see if theyíll produce the album. I would love to do it here (in Wichita.)
KB: You are currently based out of Nashville. Youíre living there?
MM: Yeah, I live with Michael, Eric and one other guy. We live in a two-bedroom house. We use one room as a practice room and in the other we have two sets of bunk beds. (laughter)
KB: So, itís like going to camp! Do you have a manager?
MM: No, my parents and myself are doing my managing. Itís a real grass roots thing. I definitely couldnít come up with managers who are more concerned with whatís going on. Itís a lot of work for them, since theyíre full-time schoolteachers, but they like doing it.
KB: What brought you to Friends?
MM: I wanted to play basketball. Basketball is probably the only reason I went to college. I graduated in 1995 with a degree in Religion and Philosophy.
KB: You had a good experience at Friends. What were some of the things that made it so good?
MM: The number one thing was Jim (Smith). I took several classes that he taught. I particularly enjoyed classes with Verlin Hinshaw, he has a wealth of knowledge. So basically the instructors like them and Chris Kettler. And just the Christian group of people on campus. I was never really involved in anything else during basketball. I loved the courses, learning about God and Jesus and The Kingdom. I didnít know what I was going to do with it, but I knew it would be beneficial.
KB: You werenít necessarily involved in the music department.
MM: No, not at all. Every now and then I would get out my guitar and strum through in my bedroom, and I never, never took it seriously until I was done with basketball season.
KB: When did you start taking it more seriously?
MM: I started writing when I was young, but I donít think I wrote anything good until I got to college. And then being around Rich really helped the whole writing thing. He rubbed off on me.
KB: How did you meet Rich?
MM: In Jimís class, "Ministry of All Christians," and then we had a small group together. Thatís how we became friends and we hung out a year or so before he knew I could play guitar and sing. One time I was over at a friends place and theyíd asked me to play a couple songs and thatís how he first learned I could do that. I didnít feel like it was something to bring up, and it really wasnít that big a part of my life. I could tell that he wanted to live a life that wasnít centered around his music, so it never really came up.
KB: I was still in school when you were touring with Rich and overheard somebody say, "Mitch is playing with Rich? You mean the basketball player?" (laughter)
MM: It was like I had two different lives, once basketball was over, that was it, it was the music time. It was the same month I graduated that I did the first concert with Rich. And I did that for a couple years when Rich said I ought to be playing some of my own songs in concerts.
KB: What are your least favorite things about being on tour now?
MM: My least favorite thing is not getting the rest. And loading in all our equipment. And when sound checks arenít going well. I donít mind the traveling, and my favorite thing is doing the concerts and communicating with people.
KB: Whatís your favorite place to play in the country?
MM: Wichita is definitely my favorite. They are just super supportive. Also Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Green Bay.
KB: Why Green Bay? Is it the cheeseheads?
MM: I donít know, we did three shows in the Green Bay area and they were all sold out and I donít know how come, but of course I like that. If they like me I like them. (laughter)
KB: Whatís your relationship with the Ragamuffins? (Mullinsí band)
MM: I know they are friends, first of all. They are gracious letting us be a part of what they are doing. For a few years, I was just tagging along with Rich and when he would do concerts with the Ragamuffins, he would insist that I stand up there and play through songs on guitar and be a part of the band Ė so basically they were just tolerating me.
KB: As a kid, did you want to do this?
MM: Actually I wanted to be a pro basketball player, so this wasnít ever a dream of mine. It was just one of those things where it was presented to me and I thought itíd be foolish to ignore it and Iím kind of cut out to do it. It was like a dream I didnít know I had.
KB: Do you have any long-term goals?
MM: You just never know when things are going to change or where youíre going to go. Six months from now or five years from now I want to continue to give concerts, to being doing albums and communicating with people and pointing them to Jesus through the concerts and the music. That would be my goal. Probably a long term goal.
KB: What is the most important thing you want to communicate to people who may or may not be believers?
MM: I think that Jesus loves us desperately and compassionately, and heís not really concerned with where weíve been or where weíre going or who we are, but he will stop at nothing to make us his own, to save us. And to not be scared of Jesus and the whole Christianity thing or be turned off by it. Humans have fashioned Christianity, but Jesus is as attractive as he ever was.
KB: God created us in His image and we returned the favor.
MM: (laughter) Yeah. I think I just want to try and communicate with people in a non-threatening way. Not to come across as a preacher, non-believers are fairly threatened by the stuff they see on TV, I just want to let people know Iím just as messed up as they are.
KB: I definitely get that feeling through your music. Your solo album is a style that tells stories about God but doesnít necessarily scream "I am a Christian." What faith did you grow up in ?
MM: The Methodist Church.
KB: Does what you communicate on stage sum up your beliefs?
MM: Yeah. Itís just different phases and you have different goals. Like right now Iím just trying to keep my eyes open to the Kingdom of God and try and live in the Kingdom of God. I kind of analyze things when I go to bed at night and say "Did I become a better Christian today, or was my goal to become a better performing Christian artist? My goal should be to fall in love with Jesus more and more, and to try and be more aware of his constant presence in my life. Everything that comes my way is a gift from Him. The fact that I can believe is a gift. That I can drink a diet Coke is a gift. So much of it I took for granted for so long.
KB: So how are you physically? What do you think and what do the doctors say?
MM: What I think doesnít really mean much , because I thought a year ago Iíd be pretty much healed up. Sixteen months later I see with double vision. "The Experts" keep saying, "Give it six weeks, give it six weeks, give it six weeks." So I was just like, "well, some experts you are." And they probably are experts, but no one really knows. My singing voice is still not back to how it used to be, but if this is as far as it progresses thatís great. My voice was effected for some reason, whether it was tubes stuffed down my throat or collapsed lungs or head bonked, who knows, and I didnít know if Iíd ever sing again. I have my own theory that itís some nerve connected to the voice mechanism thatís taking a long time to heal. Itís progressing ever so gradually. I feel thankful itís progressed to this point. Iím also waiting for various nerves in my body to heal up. I had a head injury and there was a lot of swelling. I remember my balance was all out of whack. I remember I had to re-learn how to stand up and how to eat without slobbering food all over myself. (laughter) So when I think back on that stuff, being concerned about my voice seems kind of whiney. In the grand scheme of things life would still be great without my singing voice. Iím walking around so thereís a lot to be thankful for.
KB: The accident was in September of 1997. You were in the hospital for two weeks in Peoria (Ill.) and two weeks in Topeka. What were things like emotionally after the accident?
MM: Emotionally it has never been that traumatic as far as grieving over the loss of Rich. I was behind most people in the (grieving) process because I didnít find out about what had happened at all until two weeks after the wreck. I was finally starting to come in and out of my drug induced state and they wanted to wait until I started asking questions, so I asked, "I was in a wreck, was there anyone else involved? Whereís Rich?" When they told me I remember thinking, well that makes sense because I was pretty messed up. So I didnít experience the shock most people did. Emotionally I donít know where Iím at, or where I was then. I think I was thankful. I hope I was.
KB: Can I assume you and Rich were really close?
MM: I think we were. I think we were getting closer.
KB: Even with the huge age difference? (laughter)
MM: That was actually an obstacle. I wish that it wasnít, and I think it was mostly my fault. It wasnít an obstacle for him. It was hard for me to see myself as his peer. I learned more from him about being honest and being myself than I did from anybody. And I think thatís where we were, we were being more honest than weíd ever been with each other.
KB: At the time of the wreck, where was your album?
MM: We had just gotten done with it. Weíd just left Chicago and were coming to Wichita to do a concert and we were going to drive straight through the night.
KB: You were going to come to Wichita to do Canticle at Friends with Tapestry that fall. What was the future of Canticle before the wreck?
MM: We had plans to do it at five more colleges that fall. At that time I could devote my time to Canticle. But now with doing concerts and tour I canít do that, so thatís the catch now. I donít want it to sit there and a lot of people want to see it and a lot of people want to do it. I think that will happen.
KB: Tell me a little about Kid Brothers of St. Frank.
MM: The Kid Brothers of St. Frank was started by Rich and Beaker about 10 years ago and they just decided to startÖsomething. It was just kind of a foggy, idealistic thing, kind of a mock order. Rich used to say that it was "an order for people who were too chicken to become catholic." They were trying to follow the ideals of St. Francis as he interpreted Christianity. The Franciscans take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience so those were three central things and they tied in nicely with faith, hope and love. I started working with Rich and just by default I become a Kid Brother and it was still this big, foggy, idealistic thing. Just a month before the wreck, weíd all gotten together and outlined what we were and finally gave it some structure and it was just on the verge of becoming something and then the wreck happened; Rich, the leader was gone.
KB: Do you have any connection to the Legacy Foundation? (The Legacy of a Kid Brother of St. Frank)
MM: Weíve talked with David (Mullins) and Alyssa (Loukota) about doing some retreats this year where those ideals and values (of St. Francis) are stressed. And they are supportive of what weíre doing. It was disheartening after the wreck as people would talk about Kid Brothers as being defunct, but Kid Brothers is still a living organism thatís going on and itís more than just Rich, and that is how he viewed it; as everybody, not just him.
KB: What were your musical influences?
MM: Growing up it was the radio.
KB: Like top 40? Casey Kasem?
MM: Yep. I never listened to tapes. When I got into college I started on Bob Dylan, more folk kind of stuff. Rich was a huge influence. I had a lot of respect for him as an artist, even more after I got to know him.
KB: I asked Rich the same question about influences a few years ago and he said The Chieftains and Bach. (laughter)
MM: Iím taking performing much more seriously because itís more than coming up with songs, itís my chance to say something.
KB: Thatís cool. I think of pastors, because, who gets a chance to speak to 200, 500 people once a week and have them listen? Some of them donít take that seriously.
Whatís your favorite thing in the world?
MM: You know, I think I can honestly say that itís playing songs for people. Well, actually, that would be second to spending time with Shelli. Because if my arms got cut off today, I couldnít play guitar, but Iíd still be with Shelli.
KB: Plus sheíll probably read this.
MM: (laughter) So Iím covered!
KB: Do you have anything you hate to do?
MM: I donít like to talk over loud noise. (laughter)
KB: If you could have dinner with any person, alive or dead, who would it be?
MM: Jesus. Thatís kind of a pat answer for Christians, but thatís a real answer too.
KB: What about non-God people?
MM: (laughter) Non-God people! Um, Fredrick Beakner, have you read any
of his stuff? Oh yeah, and Rich again.