Michou Looks To The Best To Make Something Incredible

Friday, 23 April 2010

Whether it's an interest in music, visual art, writing, philosophy, science, mathematics or any other endeavor that may require a young mind to think outside the proverbial box, there will come a point when, after being frustrated by failure after failure, he or she begins to wonder if all the good ideas have indeed already been thought up. The moment when that train of thought rolls in represents a crossroads; either the young mind will take that question as a challenge of ability and re-double the effort put in to find that elusive original idea, or simply give up in disgust. That outline has been upheld for years as the creative process but, in fact, there is another possibility; some minds realize that it's not an original idea that's missing, simply a form that's lacking. The secret is in the form and, most often in the arts, it's a matter of needing an accessible form to translate the idea. The great forms are easy to find in the work of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and more and, given their nature, applying those forms to new music doesn't necessarily make the new music derivative, only new music with a welcome and accessible element of classicism.

That clarity of thought is rare, but it's exactly what came to Michou with a little business-minded assistance and ultimately yielded Cardona; the band's sophomore full-length album. “The whole process behind Cardona actually sort of started when we met our manager, Michael Fox,” says Michou singer  Mike Hargreaves from the road between tour stops. “He approached us and asked us, 'Well what sort of band do you want to be? How big do you want to get? What caliber?' Our first thought was that we wanted to be as big as U2 and Coldplay. We want to be the biggest band we could be and at the time we were writing a lot of folk music. He said, 'Well, that's fine, listen to music you like and study the market and study all that stuff and think about how you can improve your work. Your songs are okay, but you can make them so much better.'

“He didn't tell us how to do that,” continues the singer, laughing. “He just inspired us to try and write the best songs in the world so we sat down to do that. When he asked, my number one pick for songwriting was The Beatles. One of the first rules our manager said to me was to listen to the song “Yesterday” by the Beatles ten times and, really, it takes about ten to realize how brilliant that song is because it's so repetitive but it's also very progressive. So we took that sort of stance: let it be catchy and poppy and repetitive, but also make it go somewhere musically by adding multiple melodies and things like that. I studied music all throughout history to learn how I could use melodies differently and be more creative with that stuff, and then we talked to a producer and learned how to make big musical moments. We just took all those ideas and then I wrote twenty songs, demoed them out and brought them to the band. I asked them, 'These are the twenty I've got, which ones do you want to do?' They picked the ones they liked best, we worked on them as a band and then we recorded them. That was the process.”

The rest, as they say, is history. The band worked in earnest for “about a year and a half” according to Hargreaves, fine-tuning the material that would ultimately appear on Cardona until it was a fine folk-pop masterpiece marked by delicacy and fine song craft. The songs each resonate with the same sort of post-post acoustic song dynamics made huge by bands like Attack In Black and about half of the current Arts & Crafts roster because listeners can feel that this is Michou's first time working this way; they're a little nervous, a little hopeful that it works, a little earnest as they try as hard as they can to make the best possible impression with this new idea and all loveable because it's also all genuine. Through songs including “Growing Younger,” “Eavesdropping” and “Summer Night,” Michou casts a captivating spell that listeners can't escape and, really, don't much want to as the dew-eyed romance of the songs envelopes them in a marvellous and reassuring warmth that is, if itself, both comforting and infectious; not infectious in the way that it might start a mosh pit, but it certainly may cause an entire room to sway along with them as fans find their own memories for which these songs would have been the perfect soundtrack. It's a powerful, beautiful feeling that Cardona taps into. Perhaps it is the strength of that emotional tie that has kept fans and uninitiated concertgoers so mute – according to Hargreaves, the band hasn't received a lot of live feedback from the shows; maybe the release of Cardona is one of those albums that really doesn't require a whole lot of conversation, just a whole lot of listening. “So far, the people at the shows haven't been particularly vocal about it because a lot of our fans are new,” assumes Hargreaves on the fairly mute but positive reception the new album has garnered. “It has been received pretty well. I mean, there will always be critics out there, but we keep meeting tonnes of fans at shows and those numbers have been growing, and the response online has been pretty incredible, actually. It's still picking up too; we're not platinum on iTunes or anything – I think we've sold a thousand in a month – but for us, being a small Ontario band, it seems pretty incredible and pretty crazy to us. It took us a year and a half to get rid of a thousand copies of our last record so to do that in a month seems like we must have touched something in people. What I have gotten from the fans that we had from the last record is that they're just glad to see that we weren't afraid to put out an album that sounded completely different from the last one. The response has been really positive; we haven't been confronted by people asking why we changed or anything, it has been more of an approach of respecting that we did what we wanted to do and it's pretty cool that our fans have stuck with us through that.”

With the hard work of making the record and the series of leaps of faith involved in both the writing and recording process, Hargreaves says that the band has emerged from it all inspired and energized to continue, and it has been taking a lot of effort to not continue jumping forward by leaps and bounds; as much as the band wants to keep on in their evolution, they know that they must first present this material to audiences in concert but, with the increased notice that Cardona has received, that too has proven to be an inspiration. “The thing we're finding now is that, as we're jumping on these bills with bigger acts – like we opened up for Dashboard Confessional a couple of weeks ago – as cool an experience as it has proven to be, we've noticed that we're playing on a much larger stage, through a bigger system to a much larger crowd and it's not that the songs I wrote in my bedroom feel smaller, but you can hear where your music could be and to what crowd you could be playing in what room so it's sort of inspiring because we're thinking in a larger space,” marvels Hargreaves as Michou's glances a high industry living seem to be growing longer with each passing show. “Of course, you want to make a good album because the recording isn't the live show but, to a degree, there's a lot of energy and power in a live show and if you can translate that into a recording and inspire people to come out and actually see it, I think that's really cool.

“I look at what we did with Cardona and, to be honest, I didn't think it would turn out as well as it did,” continues the singer, audibly swelling. “We're excited to make more records and I hope we always top our last one forever. Maybe not in the same way everyone does – like with increased sales or whatever – but continue surpassing ourselves from an emotional standpoint. We always want to make music we like but, when I sat down and listened to a record that I made with three friends over a long time, when I listened back to what we'd done with Cardona, it was pretty moving and pretty incredible.”



Michou – "Growing Younger" – Cardona


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