by Rob van Alstyne
In his 10 years on the Minneapolis music scene William “Bill Mike” Michel has largely been known for his work with others. Whether providing added crunch to the Love-Cars, limber melodies for hyper-kinetic MC Eyedea to bounce rhymes off, or funky rhythms for dance pranksters Iffy, Michel’s wowed audiences as a guitar gunslinger for hire with more Twin Cities notables than you can shake a stick at. After a long gestation period Michel is finally taking center stage for himself with the release of Better News, the debut CD from his own adventurous rock trio.
Download an mp3 of the Bill Mike Band’s song “Secure.”
started out as strictly a sideman, playing guitar in other people’s bands
as sort of a hired gun,” recalls Michel, 35, of his long and winding road
toward performing his own songs. “Eventually I reached the point where
I started writing instrumentals and from there moved into the whole lyric and
vocal melody process. It definitely took me a while to feel like I hit my stride
with all of that. I really want to balance the Bill Mike Band with side work—I
enjoy both. It’s taken a good four or five years to really find that balance
of feeling like I’m decent at both tasks.”
True to his word Michel still lends his guitar playing talents to Robert Skoro’s
band and to Matthew Foust’s new project The Few Nice Words when he can
find the time, but for the last two years his focus has been primarily on shaping
the eight-track epic-leaning rock opus that would become Better News.
Recorded with local production guru Ev Olcott (who’s lent his knob twiddling
and keyboard skills to the likes of Halloween, Alaska, 12Rods, Cowboy Curtis
and numerous other local notables), Better News shares a similarly ‘80s
indie-pop driven sound with the aforementioned bands with an added emphasis
on guitar fireworks and the occasional burst of prog-rock styled virtuosity.
The end result is an arty and challenging album that clearly aims for an all-encompassing
grandiosity. I would be quick to call bullshit on most artists that would type
up a press-release citing Mos Def, PJ Harvey, Led Zepplin and Bjork all as “influences”
on their music, but after several listens to Better News I can actually
hear the synthesis of these seemingly irreconcilably disparate sources of inspiration.
The thunderous bar-chorded crunch of “Surrender” artfully cops some
tried and true classic rock stomp whereas the opening effects-treated hooky
hypnosis of “I Need A Favor” favors a decidedly more ambient aesthetic.
song saves at least a little wiggle room for Michel to show off his dexterous
guitar skills, but none meander, thanks to the rock steady rhythmic foundation
laid down by bassist Chris Morrissey (known for his work with Haley Bonar and
Mason Jennings) and drummer Steve Goold (Look Alive).
Unlike many gadget-oriented rock groups, the Bill Mike Band never lets its usage
of loops or effects pedals come at the expense of emotional immediacy. Their
live performance set-up may feature more tech-y gear than your average Best
Buy window display, but it only serves to enhance the group’s commitment
to visceral rockitude—never has a man stomped on an effects pedal with
more gusto than Bill Mike.
“Loops are kind of in right now, but what people don’t realize is
they’ve been in since the ’70s,” claims Michel. “The
key for me is that everything is written on the acoustic guitar; the thing I
think a lot of people lose sight of now is that spending significant time actually
learning how to play the guitar should come first. That way when you get to
the point of experimenting with more of the technical side of things you’re
not just noodling with sounds. I try to keep those kind of experimental sounds
organic and musical. They still have to be grounded in notes and harmonies.
You can adjust that technology to make it more symphonic and make it necessary
to the song.”
One of the reasons Michel is so well loved and connected within the Twin Cities
music community (aside from his rather obviously stunning technical skills on
the guitar and always snappy fashion sense) is his contagious enthusiasm. Michel
credits his current impassioned outlook on music-making to time he spent doing
unfulfilling work as a roadie and occasional sideman for commercial pop-rock
acts in a far different music community than the current Twin Cities scene—Los
Angeles during the early ’90s.
“Los Angeles definitely wasn’t for me,” claims Michel, reflecting
on the city he called home from 1991 until his move to Minneapolis in 1995.
“The first thing I became aware of within that whole pop/rock industry
was how much waste there is, both artistically and financially. What’s
funny once you get out there is realizing that most of the people are from the
Midwest originally and a lot of what’s going on is Midwesterners sort
of losing their grounded values. People loved the fact that I was from Ohio
and was a good worker and even-keeled and respectful. I was able to find a lot
of work because of that. Overall, it was a semi-painful experience, though,
being around a lot of people sort of wasting their spirit. Most of these stars
were at one time really focused on music, but the ones I dealt with had completely
lost sight of how music affected them in a positive way. The experience helped
me realize the reasons I do music and reinforced what I didn’t want to
become so I definitely learned a lot from it. The experience influenced the
way I’ve approached everything regarding my music since.”
his brush with “the industry” Michel’s pursued a far different
path, one centered around community and giving back. When not busy making music,
Bill Mike’s teaching it (as a guitar instructor), or setting up benefit
concerts (he’s performing at and curating an upcoming series of charity
driven events at the Acadia Café showcasing high school-aged bands).
“I’ve found another sense of purpose for why I’m making music
is to help young adults,” claims Michel. “Whether that be through
making people feel good by entertaining them, teaching lessons or setting up
these charity shows. It’s all about jumping out of that bubble of yourself
and communicating. Hopefully on my end I can contribute a little bit to helping
people come together and contribute something positive.” ||
The Bill Mike Band plays the CD release show for its debut album Better
News on Sun. Oct. 16 at the Cedar Cultural Center with Tarlton (the new
project from Brett Bullion of Tiki Obmar). 5 p.m. $10 students / $12 adults.
All Ages. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls. 612-338-2674.
For more information on the Bill Mike Band check out
their official website at Bill-Mike.com.
Head on over to our mp3
page to download hundreds of tunes, including Bill Mike Band’s song