Posted: by The Editor
Michael the Band are a band built on friendship, synths, and cinematic layers of indie-pop that we haven’t seen since the oughts. If a band that brings to mind Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and MGMT all at once sounds good to you, check out their new album, Tough Trust. I spoke to the band about their origin story, the recording process, and their favorite Halloween traditions.
What was the inspiration for the album cover? It is strange in a good way.
MIKE: We were really searching for something that felt like the songs…I sat down with Hannah Schmidt who made the collage art and listened through the album… I was looking through a book of album covers for some inspiration while Hannah was looking through this box of magazines and clippings she had. By the time the album was done playing Hannah said “what do you think about this?” holding together the textures she had cut out. It was pretty undeniable to me.
How did you all meet each other? What made you say “hey, we should be a band!”?
HARRY: Mike and I met after I saw his high school band perform in the EMP Soundoff! Competition and I was absolutely smitten. I saw so much of a likeness between our ethos as artists…I saw his untainted spirit and I wanted to know him. It was no surprise when we actually started playing all-ages shows together that we hit it off. We’ve been collaborating ever since, but this is the first project we’ve been fully helming the ship. We always wanted to try managing our own project because we worked so well together. His presence accelerated my vigor for the craft, and vice versa. We had no idea how well it would work until we started this band and became best friends forever!
MIKE: I remember playing a show in Anacortes with Harry’s old band in 2011 or so…We instantly hit it off. I absolutely loved his songs and we more or less started playing music together around this time. We played in various projects together over the years, always kind of threatening to do something just the two of us… It took the pandemic to happen to give us the time we needed to try it out.
What was the recording process for this album? I know you were just going to make b-sides, what changed in that process?
HARRY: The skeletons of the songs were sitting in a folder on Mike’s computer, spanning 2 years of random sessions we had done. The way we like to experiment is to create a whole-ass vibe in a session, sometimes even more than one, but usually one song in an 8 hour session. That will include instrumentation and lyrics and vocals and everything created within that session. We view everything as experimental and temporary and we are willing to scrap anything at any time, not being too precious in any direction. We let the song lead us on a journey, similar to taking a long hike. We don’t like to go on the same hike twice, we like to see new things. We realized when we looked back on these songs that they deserved the attention and love necessary to see them through to finality. In a one month period we spent countless hours doing that…3-4 deep revisions on each song, letting the songs bloom into their beautiful flower selves.
MIKE: Yeah we stuck with a similar process to LP1 to start it off…We’d get together and chat for an hour or two and then try to make something that represented whatever we were feeling that day. I think originally I was feeling self conscious that they were too similar to LP1… Then a bit of time went by and I realized I actually really love these songs and that they were worth finishing! It just took a couple days for us to dig in and start revising/adding things for me to fall back in love with the songs.
What were you listening to while you were writing these songs?
HARRY: So much random shit! Mike and I get our music recs from much different sources so it’s interesting to bring our two worlds together. He’s coming from the producer world side of things, I’m coming more just from the lover of songwriting and craft side of things. We show each other a lot of stuff and listen in the studio while we’re writing for reference and such. From Peter Gabriel, Prince, New Order, Bjork, Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, Midnight Oil, to Solange, Kendrick Lamar, Public Enemy, Janelle Monae, to Nation of Language, Wet Leg, MIA, Big Thief, etc., TMI? It’s all over the place.
MIKE: Yep, Harry said it well. For this album I was definitely influenced by a lot of music production from the 80’s. It’s so dramatic and cinematic – I love all the synthesizers.
Who are some of your music heroes?
Harry: David Bowie, Karl Blau, Talking Heads, Bjork, Fiona Apple, Dolly Parton
Mike: Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Emily Haines
Do you remember the first album you bought yourself?
Harry: “Big Willy Style” 4th grade
MIKE: In all honesty It was either Sum 41 – “does this look infected” or Ashley Simpson’s “Autobiography”…
What are your favorite studio snacks?
Harry: We usually order some Thai food, Mexican, or Greek food. We drink coffee until the later hours we commonly have a beer or two!
Mike: Coffee, coffee and/or Coffee…
What are some artists from the Seattle scene you are involved in that you think should get more attention?
MIKE: I love Racoma. Their songs are gorgeously constructed. Very creative presentations. Glenn’s an incredible singer and communicator.
There are a lot of sounds going on in this album. I love that! I’m so uneducated about electronic instruments. Can you tell me who plays what in the band?
Harry: Mike plays everything! (Keys, programmed drums, guitar, bass) Especially keyboards. I play a bit of the guitar stuff and contribute to the writing and production of everything else but mostly I focus on vocals and lyrics. We brought our friend and collaborator James into the mix to record acoustic drums on everything which changed the game! Before that Mike played drums, too, he’s a prodigy!
Mike: Yeah I do play most of the instruments! James replaced a lot of the original programmed drums with a drum kit. The drum kit gave the album a real cohesion that it needed! I wrote/recorded a lot of the bass lines while James was playing the drum kit which gave it a little bit more life/excitement I think.
What would be your dream venue to play at?
Seattle: Showbox Market
The World: Iceland Airwaves
If you could tour with any band or artist, who would it be?
HARRY: Daft Punk
MIKE: Tears for Fears
Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, what is your favorite spooky time activity?
Harry: Yes! Pumpkin carving and scary-aoke for sure
MIKE: Horror movies throughout October for sure…I love to just totally fill my brain with terrible shit for a month.
Do you have a favorite spooky movie?
HARRY: Hocus Pocus
MIKE: It’s probably going to be Rocky Horror for me…
Can you tell me about the song “Michael’s Thriller?” What was the inspiration for it?
Harry: For me, the song is about struggle with ego. Mike and I talk a lot about how we can’t stand rockstars or the idea of fame…this mirage of greatness that surrounds us. We just wanna be good dudes and respect others. But there’s also the part of our artist selves that longs to be “heard and had.” The reference of “Michael’s Thriller” kills two birds with one stone. Both the story of my life and the Michael Jackson record that represents so much. For me it’s fame and fortune and recognition. Those things will ruin your life. It’s so complicated being inside the head of a creator, I’m sure you know! We constantly doubt ourselves and second guess when people don’t immediately flock to it. It’s all our ego and this band seeks to guide each other through those weird places and remind each other why we’re there in the first place. It’s to have fun and to express parts of our souls that wouldn’t otherwise be seen/heard.
MIKE: Instrumentally, This was one that came out of the search for something that felt relaxed. I listened to the loop of the synth and drums for hours and didn’t get sick of it… I thought this was a good sign. I often go for drama and theatrics with music production…I tried to keep this one more minimal… It worked out because then Mikey started writing lyrics like “How can I say less – When I mean more?”. I love it.
Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
MIKE: Yes! Video Production/Filmmaking has always been a lot of fun for me. I’ve been making weird amateur videos since I was a little kid. My partner and I love making music videos together. Also traveling – I love getting out of the Pacific NorthWest and seeing other parts of the world.
Harry: dad boarding (surf and skate), gardening, carpentry!!
Jami Fowler | @audiocurio
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