Mike recently released a brand new album titled Blue Skies Black, which is unlike his previous solo releases (read the interview below to find out why).
Lisa Selvaggio: Blue Skies Black is your first solo release since your last album Wrote Myself back in 2004. Any particular reason you took such a long break between releases?
Mike Grosshandler: Well, after Wrote Myself, I released Station with The Velmas on City Canyons Records in 2006, and we promoted that for quite some time. I was writing songs all along, though, and getting antsy about putting out new music almost immediately after Station came out. I like to be releasing new music every year or two, at the longest, and it wasn’t happening with the band, so in 2008 I began working on Blue Skies Black. I actually finished mixing it in 2010, but I wasn’t as satisfied with it as I wanted to be, so I brought it to Tim Lynch at The Recording Company to help me remix it. So that added some time. Throughout the process, life happened (figuratively and literally – I’m now also a dad!), but over three years later, the album is finally out and I’m beyond excited to have some new music to show the world!
LS: This record, like all your others, displays your immense talent for songwriting and instrumentation. Are there any new musical influences that had an impact on the songs on this album?
MG: Thank you for the kind words! Yeah, there are some newer influences on this record. Of course, my love for Nirvana, The Beatles, Alice in Chains, and Type O Negative continues unfettered, but over the last several years I’ve also gotten more into Muse and Chevelle as well as some indie stuff like Death Cab For Cutie and Nada Surf. I sort of rediscovered Harvey Danger as well. All of those, plus nearly everything I’ve listened to in my life, has influenced this record in some way.
LS: What makes this album different from your previous releases?
MG: Well, for one, this album was conceived from the start as an “album.” My other solo releases really began as a series of acoustic demos that took on a life of their own. But the obvious difference is that Blue Skies Black isn’t just acoustic guitars and vocals. I went out and got six of my best drummer friends – Melanie Krahmer (Sirsy), John Brodeur (The Suggestions), Chris Fisher (Conehead Buddha, Brian Kaplan Band), Ricky Little (Split 2nd Alibi, Above The Flood), Tom Sposato (State of Nowhere), and Michael Maenza (The X's) – to play with me, and then I went and added bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, keyboards, and some hand percussion myself in my home studio. I even had a friend (Bill Scholl) add some live horns on Drive Me.
There are a few songs on the album that would’ve worked as Velmas songs, but I was also able to explore and experiment a lot more than I did with them, style-wise, and try out some more grunge and indie rock stuff.
One of the biggest thrills was to have Phil Taylor (from Future Leaders of the World and Machina) sing harmonies with me on “Status Quo.” I was a big fan of FLOW, so when he agreed to sing on one of my tunes, I jumped at the chance. His voice is huge and he brought that song up a level or four for sure.
LS: What about lyrical influences for this album? Did you draw from personal experience or just write songs with themes many people would be able to relate to?
MG: Each song tells a little chapter or story from my life, with a couple exceptions where I thought it’d be fun to approach them more from someone else’s point of view. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the listener to figure out which ones. Some of them are about relationships – some old ones and some current ones. Some are more about how I felt about my life/situation at that point. I even wrote my first “love song” of sorts in “Without You.”
LS: How have things changed for you as an independent artist through the years? We know of some artists who are creating albums with the help of donations from fans. In your experience, is it easier or harder today than it was in the past (whether it has to do with cost, ability to promote, etc.)?
MG: In some ways, things have gotten a lot easier over the years. Once upon a time, to make an album like this, I’d have had to spend a ton of money on studio time to record everything. Thankfully, I know my way around Pro Tools, so I was able to do pretty much all of the recording myself except drums (since my little home studio isn’t quite big enough). That helped me save a ton of money on the whole process, so I didn’t think it was necessary to go the donation route. The hard part really is still to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing. In many ways, the Internet and home studios have lowered the bar so much that it seems like everyone has an album out, so getting people to pay attention to what you’re doing is as much a challenge as ever, if not harder. How do I convince someone to check out my new music instead of that new funny viral video or whatever? I did just shoot a music video for “Blue Skies Black” (the song), which should be released in the next few weeks, so maybe that’ll help!
LS: Can fans anticipate you playing live to support this album? If so, do you have anything booked as of yet, or plans to do so?
MG: I’ve been trying to put a band together to perform these songs out live, but it’s not there yet. With all the other things I’m trying to do these days, finding time isn’t easy. I’m still playing with The Velmas and I’m also in a new band, Above The Flood. ATF is in the studio now recording a new EP, so that’s been taking up some time. Someday, hopefully.
LS: Where can fans purchase your music, and in what formats are you making it available?
MG: Right now, it’s available in digital download and, of course, on CD. A ton of places online have it, including iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, Emusic, Rhapsody, Google Music Store, as well as a few local stores around Albany, NY, including The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza. And you can always get a copy from me. If for no other reason, pick up a CD for the album art. It was done by Vince DePorter – the same brilliant artist who did the cover for Station. He made me a rockstar superhero!
LS: Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?MG: A big thanks to Paragon for always being so supportive of my music and independent music in general! Please check out my website – mikegrosshandler.com – to keep up with my musical on-goings. And get in touch with me via email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. If you like my music, I’d love to hear from you! That’s what keeps me going.