Sexy Pig Divas looking to feed from trough of fame

Nick Gregg and Katie Mikita have played together as Sexy Pig Divas for 2 1/2 years, but the couple has been together for eight. Although the duo say having a third member in their band would be nice, they find practicing and songwriting easy for the two of them. For now, Gregg and Mikita switch off playing drums, guitar and keyboard. Photos by Dana Beveridge.

Amy Cooknick

One Kent band has spent the past 2 1/2 years nosing the dirt in search of that elusive truffle: fame.

Not literally, of course. The pig puns just come with the name.

Youngstown natives Nick Gregg and his fiancee Katie Mikita, the duo behind the indie/rock/jazz band Sexy Pig Divas, are hopeful that their music will not fall like pearls before swine, but succeed in helping them to bring home some serious bacon.

The pair practices at least four times a week in the living room/recording studio of their Kent home. The place is cluttered with equipment and home furnishings, but it feels warm and inviting all the same; hardly a sty, as the name of its inhabitants would suggest.

In the living room, floor-length mirrors, a gallery of various paintings and drawings and a collection of candles line the soft orange walls. Tie-dyed curtains hang in front of a large picture window. More curtains hide the archways that serve as passages from room to room. A large, red plush frog stares questioningly at occupants of the couch.

The band looked right at home here, as they should, with Gregg in a ponytail, jeans, socked feet and a black T-shirt featuring a Native American on a horse. Mikita looked whimsical and neat in a blue peasant blouse, black leggings and colorful knitted booties.

Mikita graduated from Kent State with a degree in teaching English as a second language, and now works in that field teaching fifth through eighth graders.

Gregg pursued anthropology, fine arts and sociology at Kent State before deciding that a major in cultural arts anthropology would take too much time and money to achieve, and he dropped out of the university.

The two met nearly 10 years ago through Mikita’s cousin, the bass player in Gregg’s high school band.

Five years ago, Mikita and Gregg formed the band Birdbrain with Mikita’s brother Nathan. After Nathan left, Birdbrain gave way to Sexy Pig Divas in 2008 and has kept the name and the roster the same for the past two and a half years.

Their mutual love of music and desire to perform brought them together, but Mikita’s shyness threatened to keep that passion for music from coming to anything.

Gregg coached Mikita through her stage fright one day at a time. The duo would practice for 15 minutes before Mikita would walk out on the session.

The next day, they might last 20 minutes before Mikita became too frustrated to continue. Over time, Mikita managed to work through her bouts of nervousness to the point where she now feels more confident and comfortable on stage.

“I personally put a bubble around the two of us,” Mikita said. “And just try to fill it with good, happy energy and not let other things come in there that would bring it down. If something goes wrong during the performance, I try to let that stay outside of that little bubble.”

Mikita places partial blame on her classical upbringing. She began playing piano at age 5 and took lessons until she was 17. In all those years, she never had to compose her own music or really play from the heart.

Coming from that type of musical background to playing in a two-piece band like Sexy Pig Divas, was a major challenge for Mikita, and it affected her performance.

“Sometimes on stage I would feel like I wasn’t being shy at all,” Mikita said. “And then you would listen to a recording or something and you could tell that I was totally uncomfortable; (I) didn’t want to sing or play and I’m playing real quiet, but it’s really loud now. For the most part, I think we got over it.”

Gregg added that Mikita has come a really long way.

“We just try to get into the right state of mind,” Gregg said. “Usually one of us is nervous and the other one is really relaxed. It’s really random.”

All this talk of stage fright sounds a bit ironic from a band with Divas in the title, but the name and the concept behind it isn’t nearly as deep as one might be led to believe from a reading of their Myspace page, .

Gregg confessed that Sexy Pig Divas took their name from a commercial for cell phone wallpapers.

“It was like a cartoon of pigs wearing scantily clad dresses, like they were prostitutes or something,” Gregg said.

“It was really strange, and so we laughed and we said that if we formed another band that that’s what we would call it. We figured it would grab people’s attention. It was too good of a name to pass up.”

Sexy Pig Divas embraced their namesake whole hog in the Myspace bio Gregg wrote for the group, which philosophized on the similarities between humans and pigs, but it is entirely for show.

Rather than writing a serious, boring group bio, Gregg based Sexy Pig Divas’ grim outlook on life on the existential poetry of R.D. Laing. For a while, their music reflected that dark attitude.

“We had a really kind of dark, mellow sound,” Gregg said.

“Kind of like, hate the world, hate everyone,” Mikita added.

Now the duo describes their music as more “dancey.” They’ve progressed from cynical beats to a broader range of songs.

At Zephyr, where Sexy Pig Divas performed earlier this month, their style was described as “sad chick rock,” which Gregg and Mikita feel perfectly sums up half of their songs. The other half is the new, up-tempo jazz/rock dance tunes that the duo has just recently gotten into.

Sexy Pig Divas cite a variety of music as inspiration: From classical jazz to indie, world music to rock, Fiona Apple to Andrew Bird.

“We try not to pin ourselves down,” Gregg said. “Some of our stuff’s really kind of experimental and more jazz, and then some of it’s more mellow and kind of zone-out. The newer stuff is more fast and dance-oriented.”

Gregg and Mikita write all of their own songs together and have since the beginning of their career. They each also bring a wide range of instrumental skills to the songs they write.

In addition to the piano, Mikita plays keyboard, djembe and drums. She used to play the violin but hasn’t yet found a use for it in this group.

Drums were Gregg’s first instrument, but he later switched to the trumpet, then the guitar, which he has been playing for 10 years. He also plays accordion and bells for the band.

In Sexy Pig Divas’ early years, the duo would play all of its instruments on one song, with Gregg playing accordion and drums at the same time and Mikita on keyboard and djembe while they both sang. Eventually they quit this act¬¬, not because it was too complicated¬¬, but because carrying around all that equipment was difficult for just two people.

To spread their music beyond Northeast Ohio, Sexy Pig Divas recorded in the living room/recording studio of their house using a microphone and a Fostex eight-track recorder. It worked well enough for uploading songs to MySpace and Facebook

, but Gregg and Mikita knew they would need something a bit more advanced to begin making the quality of recordings necessary for a studio album.

Now when these Sexy Pigs want a more complex sound, they use a BOSS loop station, a device used to create layers of sounds from multiple instruments to fill out a song.

The BOSS will provide much-needed help for the band this week as they begin recording their first professional studio album. The album was originally slated for recording this past summer, but the Sexy Pig Divas spent too much time on tour to actually get started. Now they have cleared a schedule and are ready to re-record their favorite older songs and record new material for the upcoming album. They hope to release this debut CD no later than April—the same month as their next big show.

Before that show, Sexy Pig Divas is considering finding a real drummer, since neither is at the skill level they would like. That is one of Sexy Pig Divas’ biggest challenges, aside from the fact that both have jobs outside of the band.

Another challenge is find a balance between being a couple and being a band.

“It’s already difficult to work with other people when you’re trying to make music,” Gregg said. “But it does add another element when you’re dating.”

“It’s a lot easier to get frustrated quicker,” Mikita added. “We really don’t fight that much when we practice, but there’s definitely been times when we would not have fought, but because we were practicing it turned into an argument.”

Mikita admitted that she is usually the one getting frustrated when things don’t sound the way they do in her head. She said that Gregg is always there to encourage her at times like this, even if she doesn’t want to be encouraged.

Gregg offers encouragement to other aspiring bands as well. He advises other musicians to be creative and original, and “to be different from everything else that’s been played before; something that you really feel passionate about and that you feel is really representative of yourself.”

Sexy Pig Divas’ creativity got them noticed when they were students at Kent State playing as Birdbrain. Gregg would hand-paint posters to advertise the band, and found the strategy so effective that they still use it today to promote their shows, along with passing out demos, stickers and homemade T-shirts.

They do all of their own promotion because they feel that is the best way to ensure people will notice them.

This spring, Gregg and Mikita hope to go on a mini-tour, focusing on big cities like Columbus, Pittsburgh and New York.

If a record label begins courting Sexy Pig Divas, they have considered the possibility of signing with someone, but they are more content promoting themselves without the risk of being used by a third party.

The band wants to get as far as possible by themselves.

“We hope to rule the world one day and not have to work jobs,” Gregg said.

Until then, Sexy Pig Divas are enjoying all the groupies, money, glamour and raging parties of superstardom in Kent.

They’re joking, of course…for now.

“No, I mean, I think the greatest thing,” Gregg said, “is just being able to play music together and be able to be creative together and have something that we are passionate about and we can perform and share with other people.”

For Mikita, who laughed as she nudged her fiance, the best part is “being in a band with this Sexy Pig Diva!”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].