In the summer of 2013, Chicago singer-songwriter Mitar (real name Greg Sarovich) toured through Champaign-Urbana with Options and played at the Red Herring in Urbana. I remember that show for his set, but not his performance. Not that his performance was forgetful, but that it was one of the last real times I can remember hanging out with the Chicago musician and his storytelling in between tracks is equally hilarious and inspiring to listen to. It’s almost a guarantee to keel over laughing when you talk with Sarovich, and then it’s a safe bet he’ll say something to make you take a longer look at life around you. Mitar was touring off his 2013 album Dissolve Disappear at the time and gave me a CD copy of it before we parted ways for the night. On the front, there’s a classic big-wheel bike that evokes a Pixar-like emotion and reminds me of the songs etched on the disc inside. Then I open the case and there’s a gigantic weed leaf painted on the inside cover with the words “PEACE” comically, but genuinely written across the top.
This CD’s been sitting in between the driver and passenger seat in my van since he gave it to me. Occasionally I pop it in and remember how great of a songwriter he is, but I rarely switch out the discs in my car. In fact, Guster’s Keep It Together has been in the stereo for so long that I lied to someone that it had gotten stuck and I couldn’t get it out. Why? But while on the two hour drive from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana, I had one of those urges to pop Mitar’s disc back in. I wanted to hear the opening line “You don’t have to be Miss America” on the fourth track “You Don’t Have To” – a delicate minute and a half track that never changes melody and doesn’t need to in order to leave it in your mind for hours after, or in my case, two years.
Now, no one really knows the true depth of my love for that Guster album, but let me be clear: for an album to dethrone Keep It Together in my CD player is no small feat. If we’re going by wrestling terms (why not?), Mitar’s now the new World Heavyweight Champion inside my Mazda. You could say it’s the equivalent of Seth Rollins jumping Brock Lesnar and stealing the world title. Now, Rollins – a whiny villain in storyline – and Mitar have absolutely nothing common outside of their (often) long brown hair. In fact, they may be polar opposites. Mitar may be one of the most genuinely kind human beings I’ve ever come across playing music. His personality is so gentle that in the memory of hanging out with him at shows, there’s a glow that surrounds his image in my head. The beauty in Mitar’s songwriting is that glow is perfectly mirrored in each track. When his fingers pull too hard on a string, you can almost sense him saying “sorry.” And even when a song requires his voice to yell, the mix on the record is toned down to the point where it’s still a whisper (“No Going Back”). His indirect humor surfaces on these recordings too – just like the pot leaf I mentioned before. When the sixth track, “Make Due,” popped on, I initially forgot the words. Then slowly remembered them one by one as Mitar whispered them in the opening verse. When he sings “We could pack a fat bowl,” he softly emphasizes the words fat bowl with the beat of the song and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. In ways, he’s a living caricature and it makes you laugh, but it’s also another reminder of the honesty in his personality – the same one that translates directly to his songwriting.
If Mitar were to add a full band behind the recordings, there’s no doubt it would be one of the biggest emo bands in the DIY scene. The melodies to power a full band are there, in both guitar and vocal work – so much so that you often forget there aren’t drums to be found on the album. Part of me believes it could be one of the biggest tragedies in music, but another part of me is glad it’s just Mitar and a guitar. Especially as the sun began to blend in with heavy rain clouds when I drove south on I-57 in the middle of nothing but corn fields on each side of me. I’m not trying to make another notch in nature’s literary belt, but you can’t deny beauty when it’s right in front of your face. Or, in this case, when it’s right in your ear.