Unlikely Unity: The New Love Express gets in the holiday spiritWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When local musician Mark Mikel lost his best friend and band mate in The Pillbugs’ Mark Kelley six years ago, he was at a crossroads.
Kelley, who passed away after a nine-year battle with lung cancer in 2008, had been an integral part of The Pillbugs’ journey to be “the world’s most psychedelic band.” Providing bass and vocals, Kelley helped the local group gain international notoriety, which included mentions in USA Today, The Sunday Times and fandom from former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy.
“I couldn’t really even write a song,” Mikel said on the fallout from Kelley’s death.
After going on an indefinite hiatus following Kelley’s death, The Pillbugs decided to break up. Despite the loss, there was eventually new life for Mikel. Unity of Toledo was looking for a music director, and Mikel got the gig.
“He answered an ad to be a music director at the church, and I called him and we got together,” said Chris Joseph, who first performed at Unity of Toledo as a teenager in the 1970s. “We both had musical backgrounds, but mine was a little more classical.”
A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Mikel has been playing and recording music since he was a teenager. Now in his 50s, Mikel still prefers analog recording over digital recording and has an affinity for music from the mid-60s to mid-70s.
Joseph, meanwhile, has been singing since the age of four. His solo record “My Love Is Real” released in 1991, with Joseph being featured on WJR in Detroit, WERE in Cleveland and NPR, among others. His late mother, Helen Joseph, was an accomplished vocalist who taught voice lessons for 25 years and sang in numerous Ohio and Michigan musicals. She also sang with the Toledo Opera and the Toledo Symphony Band for “Music Under the Stars.”
Though they both came from different ends of the musical spectrum, there was a certain synergy that began to take place between Mikel and Joseph with the other Unity of Toledo members who performed at the church on Sundays.
“Chris is a very talented guy,” Mikel said. “We’re unlikely people to be in a band together. We are really only in a band together because we just work together at the church, you know? Normally, he wouldn’t be seeking out my kind of playing, and I wouldn’t be seeking out his type [of playing]. It’s just completely different styles, really.
“But [there’s] something about putting these people together, and all these different styles and influences, and having them all play together at once. It creates something that I can’t even put my finger on.”
Those people are Unity of Toledo’s Ellen Pizza, Christine Potter and Bonnie Shrider, who together with Mikel and Joseph form The New Love Express. The group plays inspirational sunshine pop on Sunday mornings at Unity of Toledo.
Utilizing Mikel’s musicianship and recording studio, in 2013 The New Love Express released its self-titled debut LP and the Christmas EP “Room At The Inn.”
“We get in the studio, and we’re so thrilled to be there,” Joseph said of working with Mikel. “Not only is he really a musical genius, he has production [skills]. Everyone is so impressed with not only the song he writes, but the way he orchestrates and will take something—an instrument—and get a different sound, something that no one probably has thought of.”
This year, The New Love Express has a new Christmas EP just in time for the holiday in “Celebration Angels.” The EP will feature some Christmas classics, as well as original Christmas tunes from the members of The New Love Express.
“It’s fun,” Mikel said of The New Love Express. “It’s one of those groups where everybody writes and everybody sings. It’s not an easy thing to find.”
In addition to “Celebration Angels,” The New Love Express is also working on a follow up to its self-titled debut, while Mikel just released his latest solo album—“A Peace Sign Is Only a Finger Away”—last month. The song “The Good Ones” off Mikel’s newest solo work features the members of The New Love Express on background vocals.
“It seemed like maybe I was exercising some demons maybe, having been through sort of a rough time before that as far as being in the music scene around here and then departing from the music scene around here, which people aren’t very happy about in some ways,” Mikel said of ‘A Peace Sign Is Only a Finger Away.’ “It’s like turning the ‘f you’ finger into [a peace sign]. It’s just a finger away.”
The New Love Express will have physical copies of “Celebration Angels” available on Christmas Eve at Unity of Toledo, 3535 Executive Pkwy. Mikel’s latest album “A Peace Sign Is Only a Finger Away” is available on iTunes. To stay up to date on The New Love Express, visit https://www.facebook.com/TheNewLoveExpress.