Danny Michel Goes Back To Basics

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

In these uncertain times for the music industry, an ever-growing number of musicians are choosing to remove themselves from the machine and have opted to do it for themselves. Each of those defectors remembers the days before a larger figure got involved and offered to help do on a larger scale what most bands were doing for themselves already: try to get their music in front of as many ears and eyes as possible via self-promotion and performance. Radiohead was the first escapee in 2007 when the band, who had sold multi-platinum numbers with Parlophone/EMI, elected to vacate the confines of a major label and release In Rainbows independently. Since then bands from all over the pop map – from Nine Inch Nails to Dandy Warhols and beyond – have followed suit in ever-greater numbers with consistently mixed results to see if they remember how to go their own way. What has all of this proven? That some bands need major label money and major label screens to ensure that they release the best material possible and don’t waste their time or resources. As well, these defectors are realizing that without an advertising behemoth to sell what might be a weak effort as gold, they have to bring their best games every time or stay home. In short, as the big names turn to indie in the name of creative freedom, those with the best luck thus far as also those with the best songs, the most talent and the most ardent work ethic.

Now having extricated himself from Maplemusic, singer/songwriter Danny Michel has begun to remember exactly what going it alone really means: in addition to all that he did before he was signed, now he‘s also doing the additional work required for maintaining his talent that has, since last releasing albums independently in 2001, been recognized as world-class.

Unlike so many of those aforementioned artists to go the independent route recently, Michel is one of the great few that can boast no change in the quality of his music too. The singer’s newest effort, Feather, Fur & Fin was written, produced and recorded by Michel himself between January and February 2008. Because he didn’t have to wait for any sort of approval other than the singer’s own standard, was on store shelves on March 26, 2008. While the singer’s final album for Maplemusic, Valhalla, did find the singer absorbing the atmosphere of his uptown confines and synthesizing that air into his fine, delicate and off-beat songwriting, in the spirit of his freedom, Feather, Fur & Fin marks a distinct return to the more laid-back approach of his earlier work. Songs including “If God’s On Your Side,” “Motorcade” and the title track all retain the quirky beats and instrumental motifs that have always characterized Michel’s work as well as Michel’s own romantic, soft-spoken vocal delivery but the difference here is that, now with less urbane surroundings, the songs have space to breath and grow on listeners rather than being right in their faces. With the help of such venerable names as Mike Garson (who has played with David Bowie – a favorite of Michel’s – for decades) and Bob Egan (of Freakwater and Wilco fame) as well as the benefit of a pretty spectacular batch of songs, Danny Michel has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that World-class talent can navigate on its own without the music industry tugboat.

Bill Adams vs. Danny Michel

DM: Hello?

BA: Hey Danny, how’re you doing?

DM: Good how’re you?

BA: Oh, you know how it is, so how’re things? I think the last time we spoke, you were on your way out to Vancouver just to tour all the way back again.

DM: Yeah, well I made it….

BA: Yeah, obviously you’re in one piece.

DM: That was in March or April I think…. Yeah, I’ve been touring a lot this year. I’m doing the Wine Festival and then the next day I’m doing another Stuart MacLean tour. You know, The Vinyl Café? The show on CBC? It’ll be the third one I’ve done with him where he takes the show on the road and packs all these little theatres – or I should say BIG theatres, he does really well – and I’m the musical guest. That tour starts the morning after the festival show.

BA: So really, you haven’t slowed down at all since the last time I talked to you.

DM: Not really, no.

BA: That’s cool, are you also doing more work in the studio? I know you’re chief, cook and bottle washer for your career now.

DM: Yeah I’ve been doing it all and actually it has been great. It really is like the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ I don’t want to sound nasty, but when you take care of business yourself, it gets done right you know?

BA: Sure, and if it’s something you can do yourself, why give a bunch of money to somebody else to do it?

DM: Yeah – and they might not have the same passion to do it too. It has been getting tougher though because I’ve kind of become s business guy sitting at his desk from nine to five doing the business of all this stuff and then at the end of that I remember that I have to go play. There are days when it’s a little too much and feels a little overwhelming.

BA: It’s reaching the point where you’ll need a staff?

DM: Yes! Yes and there will be meetings. I will have staff meetings.

BA: And eventually it’ll be a matter of needing a stand-in because you worked all day.

DM: Yeah. ‘Tonight the part of Danny Michel will be played by….’ So yeah, that side of it has been keeping me pretty busy, and I just put out a record this year so I’ve been slugging away at promoting that and then in the new year I guess I’ll be doing more of the same but I’m going to try and get over to Europe to do some stuff over there and I’m going to go down to Austin for South By Southwest. That’ll be the plan for the New Year, to get out of town and play some new markets.

BA: Yeah? How has the album been received so far?

DM: Really good. It’s been getting a little radio play on some different stations and the CBC has been playing it a lot. And, in this day and age where it’s amazing that people buy albums anymore, I guess it’s doing okay.

BA: Well, that’s good. And given the position that you’re in now, you’re actually able to see the numbers as they increase or plateau or whatever because you are running that side of it yourself now too.

DM: Yeah, and all that hard work comes with a little better pay-off too so that’s nice.

BA: Do you find it difficult though? I mean, you said yourself that you may need a staff eventually.

DM: Yeah, it’s hard to be the artist and the business man sometimes you know? So there are times when I have to turn them on and off but when it gets to be too much, I’ll hire somebody to help me out but I’ll do it for as long as I can. And I do make sure that I take breaks here and there, although that ‘s getting more and more difficult to do.

BA: Yeah, I suspect it’s a little more difficult to take time off if you’re perpetually looking at, ‘How’s the record doing/the record’s doing great/do I need to do another one soon?/Are there requests for tour?/how can I route that so that the finances don’t collapse?’

DM: Oh yeah, my girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to go away in November and have a break but of course now there are all of these great offers pouring in now and we’re left wondering if we should cancel the trip or pass up these great opportunities? Those kinds of decisions are tough.

BA: Okay, now, because you’ve been releasing your own records again, have you set up your own cottage label?

DM: No, not really. I still have the offer for distribution from my old record label so I can still keep it in the mainstream distribution river.

BA: But because you have you do produce records for other folks, has releasing other people’s material ever crossed your mind in that regard? I mean, you might make music forever, but would it be a bad idea to start a little label and release records from other folks too?

DM: Well, maybe that’s something I’ll do down the road, but at the moment is too full to even imagine taking something like that on. It might be a smart thing to do though, yeah.

BA: You said yourself that the record is doing reasonably well in Canada – people are going out and buying physical copies of it – is that also the case outside of the country?

DM: I don’t have a lot of exposure outside of the country and that’s the goal for next year: I want to change that.

BA: And you’re going to try and tour Europe?

DM: Yeah, I’m going to try and do some more stuff. I’ve been there before a few times, but I need to keep it up.

BA: Have the offers been coming in in that regard as well? I assume so, otherwise I imagine that you wouldn’t be entertaining the notion.

DM: Yeah, yup.

BA: Okay, what about writing? Are you still writing? Are you concentrating mostly on road work? Are you concentrating on the album? How does this work for you? You have to be working twenty-four, seven at this point.

DM: Yeah. Writing for me comes and goes. I kind of turn it on and off. I know people that write all the time – they’re always doing it – and I don’t do that. I write for a record; I allot time and I sit down and I work on it until it’s done. I find that to be how it works best for me and right now I’m not really in writing mode. For me, it’s a matter of following the progression; I write a record and then go out and do all the promoting of it and stuff.

BA: Okay, so it’s almost a matter of wearing a series of different hats; ‘Okay, I have to write a new record so I’ll go do that now.’ And then you switch hats to jump out on the road, then switch again to do office promotion for the record and so on.

DM: Yeah, exactly.

BA: God damn, that’s got to be difficult. I mean, I’m sitting here with the knowledge that I’ve got three hats: I have not working, I have interviewing which also includes public relations with labels and then I have the hat that finds me either with a pen in my hand being critical or at a computer typing furiously. That’s the end of my list, but it has to be very time consuming for you.

DM: Yeah, the hard part is never being able to turn it off mentally.

BA: I don’t doubt that. So what’s the next most obvious move? Obviously you’ve got the show coming up with Daniel Lanois….

DM: Yeah, which is awesome; he’s such a hero to me so I’m really looking forward to that. I can’t wait.

BA: Oh really? That has to be a trip as far as getting asked to join a bill with someone you’ve been listening to forever.

DM: Oh yeah, I’ve gotten to play with some of my favourite people in the world and that’s really awesome. Just a little while ago I was asked to play at this show called Canadian Songbook at Massey Hall which was a big event of songwriters. The deal was that you were supposed to play songs by your favorite Canadian songwriters. I chose Lanois when I did that.

BA: See, and I hate to keep harping the business side of it, but that has to be nice too because you don’t have to weather any kind of sales pitching or anything like that and aren’t pressured by someone on the outside to take something on that is only peripherally interesting to you.

DM: Yeah, exactly; that’s the wonderful part of it. I like dealing with people directly. I’m me and I know what I want, so why would I not you know?


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