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This is a bit off the normal path for me and Blogging Blue. But here is a short interview with local group Micah that was conducted via email in advance of their CD release party later this week.
Who is in the current lineup of Micah, what are their roles and how long have they been with the band?
Micah Olsan- guitar, lead vocals- bandleader/ songwriter (answering questions)
Adam Dosemagen (AKA “Dos”)- bass and harmony vocals (2 1/2 years)
Cody Calderon- drums and harmony vocals (2 1/2 years)
Dan Alexander- keys and harmony vocals (6 months)
How did the band form?
My last album, Off Beat Clappers and Hip Toe Tappers, came out in 2010. Shortly afterward the band that I had recorded it with started to fall apart due to travel issues, family matters and creative differences. I was already familiar with Cody and Adam from playing with and seeing them around the Milwaukee scene. Cody would sometimes sit in with my band on djembe at clubs like the Bad Genie Lounge or GDaddy’s BBC. I knew that Dos also played upright bass and I was really into the idea of having the bowed bass compliment the finger style guitar work that I do. Once they had learned the two hours of music I threw at them, we started realizing our own sound was developing that was quite different from my previous band. That’s when we started planning to record this album. After the recording was finished, I approached Dan about playing keys for us. He had been recommended to me by Steve Peplin, a teacher and mentor of mine. I sent him a copy of the album, charted out the songs for him, and he agreed to a rehearsal. He showed up and nailed every last song.
Who does the songwriting? Words first or music?
I do. Almost always music first. Then the band will get together and start working through the new piece. Lyrics are generally last. I like to work the song up to the point where it seems obvious where the vocals should go. I’ll often sing gibberish lyrics with more attention paid to pitches in rehearsal, and later find words to fit. We do most of the arrangements and harmony vocals together.
When I listened to the music on the Website, I was struck with the folk music influences and often with apparent jazz undertones. Not necessarily what I would have expected from someone listening to Paul Simon, Radiohead or Talking Heads. Any other influences that you’d like to share?
Love to. I played in a jazz/ bluegrass string quartet for years and that seems to have left a definite mark. We would do Chick Corea and Wes Montgomery tunes with a string quartet style, as well as more traditional bluegrass numbers like, “Blackberry Blossom” and “Angeline the Baker.” To be in that band, I listened to quite a bit of David Grisman, Tony Rice, Django Reinhardt and finger style great Michael Hedges. Even though my band sounds nothing like those artists, there is a certain sensibility that I got from playing and studying their music. I read an interview with Michael Hedges once where he talked about his years wood-shedding Pat Martino and other jazz greats. He explained that it was out of respect for them that he didn’t sound like them. The goal is to find your own sound, not to steal someone else’s. That really made an impression on me. Other influences are the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Ben Harper, The Beach Boys, Nick Drake, Iron and Wine, Van Morrison, Willy Porter, Dispatch, and Andrew Bird.
Where did you record “highs, lows, peaks, rivers, valleys” and how long did it take? Did you self-produce or work with a producer?
We hired Mike Hoffmann to produce the album and instead of renting studio time we made our own project studio in a big factory in Barrington, IL. We made a weekend out of it, and came home with over 200 minutes of music to sort through. Mike is great at making the band feel relaxed and free to experiment without slowing down the process. It was just a great experience overall.
After picking the best takes, we started doing meaningful overdubs (harmony vocals, keys, bowed bass, hand percussion, and whatever cool sounds I could conjure up with my pedal board). All total we spent four months doing the tracking, editing, and mixing. However, we only were able to work in four hour sessions once or twice a week, due to scheduling.
I am often curious about recording: did you come into the studio with set arrangements or work out the details as you put the recordings together? Did you have other musicians join to help fill out the sound you were trying to get?
Besides one or two, all of the songs were already written. Some needed a little more realizing than others, but they were worked up to the point where we could treat them like a set. We’d play all the songs we wanted to record in one order, then flip the order and play them again. Some arrangements changed as the recording went along. We had Cody add extra percussion to some songs which really helped. We also had Dos do layers of bowed bass in a few songs. Things like that helped to make the recording both bigger sounding and more lush. For one song (“Till Spring”), Mike and I made a day trip to Chicago and recorded our friend Jon Wade playing keys. He is the only non-band member we brought in, and were so happy with the results. It went from, “this song would sound great with Jon’s playing on it” to “yup we needed his playing on this track.”
What stands out as the highlight of the sessions? When something went totally right or when something started wrong and got worked through?
For me, the highlight was having the whole band plus Mike all standing around one mic singing harmonies. For one thing, it really made the song but it’s also just a great experience to sing four-part harmonies with your friends, especially when all the harmonies come together right.
Is there a centerpiece song for the album? Do you feel there is a common thread or theme you were expressing? And how was there any agonizing over the order the songs appear on the CD?
I have a hard time finding a centerpiece song for the album. I feel that “No Worries” and “Coffee” are more accessible to the mainstream and for radio airplay, but songs like “Take Care” and “11-11” really stand out to me as far as compositions that I’m really proud of. The theme of the album, at least to me is the ebb and flow of everyday life. Some things happy, some sad. Sometimes energetic and upbeat, but other times melancholy and introspective. For the track listing we envisioned a record with an A side and a B side. We even made Cody do his best DJ voice and tell the listeners where this imagined record flip would go. We ended up using the first track sequence we came up with. For certain transitions we composed little transitions to flow from one song to the next.
Have these songs been played in concert or are they all going to be new to your audience?
All of these songs have been played in concert previously.
You have a number of concerts lined up in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas after your album release party…what are you tour intentions for 2014?
I’d like to focus on as much regional touring as I can right away: Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis and college towns in between. I’d like to find a booking agent so that I can spend more of my time focusing on making the music.
Anyone you’d like to play with?
I’d love to play a gig with Willy Porter. He’s one Wisconsin artist who has really influenced my music.
And now that you have the album under your belt, what would you like to do next?
Hopefully we can land some sync licensing and book better shows. That would help re-coop what we spent on this one and start the next one. I’d also like to take my wife on a nice vacation that has nothing to do with me playing a gig.
Upcoming events for Micah:
Tuesday Nov 12 1:00 PM : Interview and acoustic performance w Erin at WMSE 91.7
Thursday Nov 14 9:00 PM : Hotel Foster, North Ave, Milwaukee Album Release for “Highs, Lows, Peaks, Rivers, Valleys” Crooked Keys open
Footnote: Back in the day, I wrote for a local free music paper…I don’t even remember the name of it anymore. It would have been around 1980-81 and my column was called Blue River Anthology. I reviewed the acts that appeared at the Blue River Café which was located on the southeast corner of Michigan and Water street. I think the paper lasted a half dozen issues and the publisher for some inexplicable reason gave me the back cover. Anyway I remember reviewing Grass, Food and Lodging, Corky Siegel, Bill Camplin and Spheeris and Voudouris. And maybe the early solo days of Paul Cebar…he played there…but I forget. But this is the first time I’ve written about anything except politics since.
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