Michl: Lyrics Are Everything

There are songs that we dance to but then there are songs that require reflection. Singer-songwriter Michl has a reflective sound that you can’t help but soak in. With every listen, you stumble on a beautiful lyric that you can’t believe you missed. With every stroke of his paintbrush, he finds the perfect metaphor.

Based in Los Angeles, his latest single Holidays balances a chill Indie, yet Pop sound with poetry that gives goosebumps, the good kind. He intricately utilizes synths to take listeners on a journey to what feels like a different dimension. You can hear that Michl is grounded in his message. His previous self-titled EP, Michl, was one that gained millions of streams without conventional promotion. He prefers to not be in the spotlight, which gives him and his music a mysterious edge. He’s the artist you play for your friends to prove you have good taste and to hear that satisfying, “Thanks for putting me on to Michl” confirmation.

FRONTRUNNER spoke with Michl about his upcoming debut album, his relationship with music, and how architecture plays a role in his music process.

Photo credit: Kenny Okagaki

 

Your single “Holidays” gives me pandemic vibes but from a positive perspective. What was it like making this song?

I actually wrote the song a couple years ago, before the pandemic. I was going through a lot and my cousin was actually shot five times in Florida on the way home from work. I felt so frustrated. I think we’re always frustrated with people in power and people not doing enough for people with less power. I just felt really frustrated with the system as a whole for not being proactive in certain things. In this case, it was gun control. I was really frustrated especially in a state where there’ve been so many issues. So it wasn’t about the pandemic, at all. It was more about this tongue-in-cheek feeling. While some people are really on vacation, other people are really struggling. That can be taken in so many different ways, you know? The way I wrote it was from that particular situation, but I also put it in a way where people could take it any way that they want. They could see it as a relaxing song if they want to. It’s rooted in not having an answer and not really knowing what to do about it. Just sheer frustration.

You said in an Instagram post that you tend to let your music speak for you. When did you realize that music could be a medium for your voice?

I never thought that it could be a medium for my voice. I always knew I could sing since I was really young but I never wanted to be in the spotlight. Even to this day, I don’t really enjoy being in the spotlight. I like playing shows, but it’s completely silhouetted and backlit so you don’t even get to see my face. I just don’t really feel comfortable in those situations. For me, I have something to say and I think that’s the only reason why I do music. If I didn’t feel like I had something to give to people, then it’s just for money or fame. It wouldn’t work for someone like me because I don’t enjoy that part of the music industry. So, it’s always been something that I felt so I have something to give in some type of positive form.

How did you get into music?

I put out music online under an anonymous name. Someone reached out to me from a record label while I was in college. They gave me the confidence to try to do music because I was just doing it, literally, in my bedroom. I still make music at my house, but I don’t go to a big studio or anything. I was in my college bedroom just making music and putting it out online for no one to know. I didn’t tell friends or family. I don’t know how this person found it, but it gave me the confidence to at least try to do it because I always enjoyed it. It was always a passion of mine, but I didn’t think it was really something I was trying to do. That person kind of helped me gain the confidence to try to do it. I gave myself a year to see if I could do it, and I’m still here doing it.

“Holidays” is your first single since your EP dropped 4 years ago. Is this part of a bigger music project? If so, tell me everything!

Yeah for sure, this is the first single. I’m having my actual debut album coming out. I’m pretty much wrapping it up and this is the first song off the album. I think it was a good way to kind of showcase the aesthetic and themes of the album.

 

What are some of the themes of the album, if you can tell me?

I know my EP was more about heartbreak because I was going through heartbreak at that time. There’s definitely none of that on this album. People will probably be bummed about that because that’s what they want to hear, always. Also, political issues and who we are, through the lens of other people. The way social media has affected our lives in a more tangible way. It’s just everything I’ve been going through the past three to four years. I wrote the last EP in 2014 but I started writing the album about two to three years ago, so it’s been a long time between those two. You change so much, you know? It’s been a big change in the way that I’ve been making music compared to [what] I did before.

Your self-titled EP has only six songs, but those songs have racked up millions of plays. How did you do that? What was your reaction seeing the success of your first EP?

You know, it’s weird because the success kind of happened over a long period of time. It wasn’t like I released it and it just started getting millions of streams. It was and still is growing. I get people messaging me still saying “Hey, I just heard Die Trying this week.” That’s kind of weird because that song is so old to me, but I guess that’s the way we consume things now. It doesn’t have to be the latest release because people are still discovering music. Especially for someone like me who has never been an artist but just had this enormous, long moment. When you say, “How did I do it?” It’s like I never felt like it was happening. It just happened, you know? It wasn’t one day. This is a year-long process and I think that’s the type of artist I am. It’s more of a slow burn. I think people need to really sit with my music. It’s been a really weird ride. I think it was cool for the EP to connect with so many people just because I have zero expectations. I didn’t have any money for the project or anything. I’m independent. I think that was the beauty of it. It was based purely on people listening to the music over and over. It wasn’t shoved down anyone’s throat. People put it on their own personal playlist and decided to listen to it over and over again. That’s the coolest thing for me.

Can you tell me more about your relationship with music and what music means to you?

For me, it’s just an expression and another form of therapy to get my thoughts out in any sort of way. I’m a very reserved person, so I have a very intimate relationship with music because it’s the only time I’m able to be truthful to myself and have no second-guessing of anyone’s perspective thrown onto my thoughts. It’s one of those weird things because I talk to people who eat, breathe, live, and sleep music. I honestly can’t say that. I love music to the core and I’m so lucky to be able to do it for a living, but I have a lot of passions. I love design. I love architecture and I do it every day. Everything I love, I try to incorporate, every day. So if I’m not making music, I’m designing something. I’m either doing an artwork or doing something creative. I think when it comes to music, it’s being creative. Music is one way for me to kind of get out of my own head and not think and just feel relief.

 

What made you want to get into architecture? Do you ever see your love for architecture and design influence your music making process?

I don’t know why I got into architecture. I’ve always loved drawing and I’ve always loved art. I loved science and mathematics, so that seemed like the best way to do something productive. But there are a lot of parts of architecture that I don’t like. I like the design aspect of architecture more than the actual engineering part of it. Architecture school is really hard. Being in that type of program kind of gave me a work ethic that you can’t really get anywhere. That helped me stay productive. Architecture can sometimes be seen in some of the lyrics, but as a whole I think that I find them to be pretty separate. It doesn’t always come easy, you know? School was really hard. It taught me to keep going. I always tell people that it’s different from anything else. You can take an English or science class and have a test on a Thursday. Whether you studied or not, you’re going to take the test and you’ll probably fail if you didn’t study. But in architecture school, you can have a model due. If you don’t have a model in your hand, there’s no faking that. It’s one of those public shaming things. Other programs don’t really have that. So I think that type of pressure to do well in school gave me a work ethic that is super valuable to me.

Photo credit: Kenny Okagaki

 

What instruments do you play and/or want to learn to play? How did you learn that?

I play pretty much every instrument. I think I’m best at keys and the piano, but I play every instrument. That’s something I still want to get better at, but I play guitar, bass, piano, and all kinds of regular instruments. I wouldn’t say that I’m a beast at any of them, but I can play all of them enough to record music and play live. I try to play a little bit of everything. It was something I just picked up. I know piano because my parents put me in lessons when I was young. I really hated it so I stopped. I would just practice and play on my own. I’d try to play The Beatles and that’s how I taught myself. It was helpful because it taught me chords and chord progressions. Then in the same way, guitar was the same exact thing. I would just play the right songs and just by doing that for so many years, I learned. I don’t know any other way to do it. That was the only thing I could do. Just practice and figure it out.

Do you find yourself leaning more on lyrics rather than music production?

For me, I write songs extremely slowly. Holidays took me two-and-a-half years to really finish. So I don’t rush the process but I think it’s all one in the same as far as the way I write. I can always do the music first. I never have a lyric in mind but if I’m feeling sad, I’ll go on a piano or guitar and naturally the way that I play it is the way that I express feeling sad. So the lyrics will come out through that and it usually comes after that. It’s all the same. It all translates into the way that the chord progression is playing or the way the music is played and the way that I’m feeling. But I personally never write lyrics separately from the music. It’s always starting with the music and then that helps guide me through what I’m going to write about. But it takes me forever to write a song lyrically. I can write chord progressions and music all day but lyrically, I just put so much weight into it that has to be perfect for me to release it.

What songs helped you get through 2020, or just tough times in general?

I always go back to The Beatles, for everything. I always end up there but there’s so much new stuff that’s been great. I always go back to Lauryn Hill. I go back to Frank Ocean and Bon Iver. Those are the ones that when I don’t know what I should listen to, I put those artists on and I’m always happy with that decision. You know sometimes in the car when you don’t know what you want to listen to? For me those four or five artists are always the right decision. Growing up, my dad put me on to so many iconic, true songwriters. From a super young age, I appreciated a well-written song that could stand the test of time. So that’s what I try to do with every song. For me the lyrics are everything. The production is going to change very fast but if you have a well-written song, that production is what stands the test of time.

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