100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Twelve: Mike Downey
instigated by dave heaton
Formerly Chicago-based, Mike Downey is living in Sweden these days, continuing to following his distinctly independent approach to songwriting/performing. His inclination to follow his own path led him from the youthful pop-rock band Wolfie to the more keyboard-based Mathlete to his solo project The National Splits to the arena-rock band The New Constitution, and now to performing under his own name. Downey's new album Adventure, Bless and Don't Be Sorry (Recordhead/Mr Whiggs) takes the troubadour leanings of The National Splits' Fontana album and updates that approach for the new millenium, recording on computer and sometimes incorporating electronic beats and textures. Mp3s can be found on his website/blog.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
Right now, definitely the idea of moving away from writing all of my songs on the guitar. For probably the last 10 years about 90% of what I've written started with me and the guitar. Within the past couple of years, and way more frequently in the past 6 months, I've been writing around loops and samples, using the guitar as an afterthought, if at all. I still enjoy playing it though, but turning left when you would usually turn right so to speak, was the exact move I needed to make to help me regain my excitement for making music.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
Probably the fact that there's so many amazing musicians out there that don't get any time in any sort of limelight. Maybe they don't know the right people or have had bad luck or something, because there's so much great music out there that isn't getting heard. But of course with this thing people are calling the internet, this can change if you get creative in marketing yourself.
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
I'm in the midst of recording my second full length. So far the writing process has been completely different (see question 1). I'm also working on some remixes and collaborations with other people. Not being associated with a band and "going solo" has opened me up to so many different forms of creativity and collaboration. Through these avenues I hope to get to work with many of my friends who I've never had the opportunity to record with in the past.
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
I can't say I've played anywhere super unusual or recorded anywhere odd. But I can say that I've played my fair share of house shows and have usually thought that those shows have the opportunity to be really special experiences where your standard club can be easy to go through the motions if you don't feel any sort of connection with the audience.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
Wherever I'm living and wherever I've moved from usually dictate what I'm going to be writing about. The idea of traveling and/or picking up your life and completely moving it somewhere else are huge topics for me because they've been my reality recently. Last year I moved from Chicago to a town just north of Stockholm, Sweden. I guess moving to Sweden has affected my creative process in the sense that I didn't have that many distractions here. Moving to a country where you know your girlfriend and a small handful of others means that your phone isn't really ringing off the hook with people trying to drag out out on the town. I've really just had a lot of quiet time in a basically quiet and beautiful country to write and do exactly what I've always loved to do, record music.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
The last song I wrote was called "I Paint Dark Horizons". It's about a possibly quick relationship between a pigeon-holed artist type who hasn't moved outside of the realm of creating gloomy art. In this song he meets someone who more that peaks his interest; he asks her to step into the light.
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
As I get older and more experienced with my craft I find my boundaries expanding in some ways as far as what I like to listen to and am influenced by. I can't say I'm seeking out more new music than I have before, but like always, new music isn't hard to find. Sometimes I'm in the mood to click a few links and find out more about somebody, sometimes I'm not.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
I actually just discovered Brian Eno within the past year. It's one of those things where you ask yourself how you could've gone through life not knowing about such amazing music. Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy and Here Come the Warm Jets have been essential as of late.
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
There's a guy named Michael Lenzi who used to drum and sing in the Chicago band Number One Cup. I've been a really huge fan of his and followed his career from Number One Cup through all of his side projects, various bands and solo stuff. He's got this perfect way of splicing together happy and depressing moments/melodies, etc...in the same song; pop music with dark tendencies maybe. I'm not sure if I'm explaining it properly or doing it justice here. Whatever he's done, whether it's Pavement-ish indie rock with Number One Cup to his more experimental solo material as Resplendent, he maintains this signature sound that I just associate with and can't say enough good things about. His most recent album is under the name Resplendent and it's called I Am Free.
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
"These Days" by Nico
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.