The Mixus Brothers make pretty music, even if they're not family | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Mixus Brothers make pretty music, even if they're not family

"I like the old-time bluegrass. I like the way they presented themselves."

All dressed up: The Mixus Brothers
All dressed up: The Mixus Brothers

To answer your first question: No, The Mixus Brothers are not actual brothers.

Drummer Johnny Willett and banjoist/guitarist Jacob Stempky present themselves as Red and Jebbh Mixus, two hard-traveling Americana musicians dressed like old-time farm workers, as a way to "step out of ourselves as husbands and fathers and employees for as long as it takes to put on a show," says Willett.

"I like the old-time bluegrass," adds Stempky (who wants it to be known he's been playing the banjo since 1994, long before the rise of Mumford & Sons). "I like the way they presented themselves. It's all in the name of acting and entertaining."

Stempky and Willett actually have lives that are much more comfortable than those of the Dust Bowl vagabonds seen on their album covers and promotional photos. Both well into their 30s, Stempky is a grants and contracts officer for the University of Pittsburgh and Willett an occupational therapist. They met when they both took their daughters to the same playground in serene Frick Park.

"We were both laid-back guys with the same goals for music," says Willett, "so it made sense for us to form the band and have an outlet."

They have impressively found the time to churn out two full-length albums in about a year. Next week, they release the second, To the Far Blue Mountains. With the two sharing vocal duties, it's an even mix of romp-and-stomp numbers and slower, dreamier songs.

"I have always liked the way Beck has his albums compiled," says Stempky. "You need a lot of ups and downs and mixes of slow and fast." The disc features both the usual rural references of folk music (acorns, mountains and foxes) and a few moments that give away its creators' educated backgrounds; there are nods to the myths of Sisyphus and Ouroboros.

The concept of family is never far from the Mixus Brothers, even if the're not related. "When we started, we made a deal," says Willett. "We would only make music our daughters would like dancing around to, or would be good for bedtime."