Genre(s): Folk pop, alternative folk, pop
Instrument(s): Guitar, drums, piano, and violin
Micah Visser is a solo artist from Winnipeg, Manitoba. With a few scrappy EPs under his belt and a full length cassette released in April, he is both restless and meticulous; determined to perfect his brand of sleepy alt folk. Heavily inspired by legendary folk singers and infused with modern pop and indie rock influences, he keeps lyrics at the forefront of his music while ensuring melody is never buried. (--manitoba music)
Ashley: Do you use violin in your music?
Micah: In my last album when I first started recording, I almost completely based it off violin. I haven’t really been playing [violin] as much lately because I’ve gotten so busy with [songwriting] and guitar. I’ve been moving away from the violin a bit because I don’t rely as heavily on it now that I’m better at other instruments. It’s definitely something I’m still open to incorporate in the future; I just need to find good places to do it [in the music].
Ashley: Awesome, that’s so cool. I don’t know very many people who are really good at violin.
Micah: Yeah, that’s because it’s like so hard to get good at it.
Ashley: I’m told the first seven years are the hardest and eventually everything falls into place.
Micah: Yeah it’s exactly that. My mom said when I was learning the violin at the age of seven, everyone always told her it would take so long before it sounded good. I honestly don’t know why I kept doing it for as long as I did. It might be because I didn’t realize it sounded bad, but I’m not sure.
Ashley: What made you decide to do music?
Micah: It was always something I was really passionate with. Again with the violin, but before that I’ve always loved music. It just sort of happened because I always ended up picking up anything [musical] around me and that sort of accumulated eventually into what I’m doing today which is writing my own songs, playing most of the instruments, bringing them to a band and playing them live. I guess there was never really a moment I decided to do it. It always just seemed like a natural progression of what I was interested [in] at the time. You could say when I decided to not go back to school in the fall and do [music] full time, that could be the moment I decided to do music, but it’s always [felt like] a natural progression.
Ashley: Who inspires you musically? Who do you listen to that really influences you music?
Micah: When I was writing the last album, I was very inspired by Elliot Smith and Sharon Ban Etten and more traditional folk singers; but, lately it’s been that 80s new wave music. So I don’t know, it’s always kind of evolving. I really like all kinds of music. There are lots of pop music influences in my music as well, like catchy verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. I don’t know, really everything influences me.
Ashley: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Micah: I think the last album I did Okay Night, all the albums I put out before then had just been stuff I kind of had been messing around with in my bedroom, playing and then eventually releasing by throwing it out on the internet. [I didn’t have] much thought about how it all fit together. But Okay Night, was the first album where I actually decided to sit down and record the songs once, then rewrite lyrics so they all fit together thematically, and finally rerecord them all. Some of them I rerecorded them multiple times. It was a huge amount of work. I probably spent ten times the amount [of work I had] spent on my last two albums combined. It was just a massive amount of work and it’s a pretty small album; it’s only nine tracks and a half an hour long. It’s probably the thing I’m most proud of because it took so much work and now when I listen to it all the way through I can appreciate it as a good self contained piece of work that I can set aside now and move on from.
Ashley: What were some struggles of creating a releasing your EPs and now cassette?
Micah: [When the music starts] getting inside your head. Since I’m the one that’s writing all the instrumentation and playing all the parts, at least for my previous albums. I don’t think I’m going to do that again for my next album; but for my previous albums I was so, I don’t even know how to explain it; I just get locked into a mode where I really needed to finish these songs and I’d be thinking about them all the time and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It’s almost like it swallows you because you are so exhausted. And that can be a real struggle of getting outside of that box and making something good. Often the best ideas I have are the ones I kind of just get [out of no where and] then put them on paper and stick to them. Overthinking it can really kill good ideas.
Ashley: Why did you make the decision to record your most recent music on a cassette rather than a CD?
Micah: I did CDs for the last album, and it was nice. But I realized the only people who were actually buying them were people who wanted to support me anyway and just give me money to keep making music. I figured if people are doing that, and no body really uses CDS anymore - if someone is going to listen to it they are going to listen to it on the iPod or their computer. I released it on cassette to give people that tangible representation of the album if they wanted it. Also if they wanted to support me they can buy a cassette and have a novelty item. The EP is free online anyway so if people really want my music, they can get it there.
Ashley: How do you deal with nerves before a performance?
Micah: It just gets better, generally. It’s just going to happen and you get up on stage and it goes away eventually. The more shows I play, the less nervous I get, but I guess I don’t really have a real way of dealing with them at this point. During the day before the show, I’ll take it easy. I’ll make sure I’ll have lots of time to get into a relaxed mode before the show. I like making sure everything is set up, like making sure my strings are new on my guitar, that all my pedals are all in the right place. Stuff like that. Playing with the band helps too because they are a bunch of people that help me out with the nerves. I don’t really have any tricks, it’s just something that you get used to and you cope with and eventually they start not being there.
Ashley: How do you balance music with any other obligations you might have (work, school, etc.)
Micah: It’s nice because right now I have a steady job during the daytime so my nights are always free. I have a consistent schedule which really helps me scheduling things because I know how everything is going to fit together and I can do that as far in advance as possible. It’s mostly just a matter of making things work. Sometimes I’m out playing a show until 2 am and then I need to be at work for 8 o’clock. Which sucks sometimes but it’s just a matter of prioritizing and making sure you have the time to do both.
Ashley: What is your songwriting process like?
Micah: Generally, I let the songs write themselves and then go back and make sure it’s the way I want it to be.
Ashley: What does that mean?
Micah: Everything I’ve released up until this point was basically written by me in my bedroom with my guitar. I would just play and make sounds while playing chords that evoke a certain emotion to me. I would try to make the sounds of the words I’m saying, fit the sounds I’m making with my guitar. The more I do that, the more it sounds like real words and then I can start attach words to those sounds. Then I’ll go back to make sure the lyrics make sense with a specific theme that I’d like to write about.
So, I start with guitar and melody and then I just kind of let everything build around each other, as much as I can. After that I’ll start hearing the rest of the instrumentation in my head. I’ll have drums and guitar parts, then I’ll write the rest of the guitar parts and whatever else I need like bass, keyboard.
Ashley: What advice do you have for beginners?
Micah: I’d say just work really hard. Just do stuff as much as you possibly can, all the time and always think about how you can be improving. I think I might have been a bad beginner in some ways because I didn’t share things with people for a very, very, very long time. I was super shy about everything. I probably wouldn’t recommend that for people because if you are shaping yourself into something that is good, it’s good to have criticism. That’s something that’s helped me improve a lot too. I am a lot more open to criticism than originally because I’m more confident in the work I’m making. A lot of the time people think that it’s easier than it actually is when ultimately it’s just putting in the time and writing and writing and writing and writing until something is finally good. Well then, you aren’t a beginner anymore.
Ashley: You were saying how for live performances you have to hire a band. How do you do that? What is the process for that?
Micah: I’ve gotten really lucky with my band because they were just a bunch of people I knew. They were friends that I met in different places and it all kind of just came together at the right time. I knew I wanted to play with a band for way longer than before when I first started releasing music. I wanted to play with a band, but I also knew I wanted to sound good so I needed people who would be able to [play my music] well. Around the time I was recording Okay Night, I knew the songs absolutely 100% needed a band if they were to be represented well live. So I started asking around to a few people who I knew were good musicians and we had a few good practices. Then I agreed to a show that I said I would do with the band before we had even practiced once so we just practiced like crazy before and it turned out really well. Since then I’ve had to replaced a couple people because they left for vacation or for the summer, but I’ve just gotten really lucky with people who were excited about the project and who were also extremely talented musicians who really helped the music come out better then if I was by myself.
Ashley: And when you are showing the band the music, do you only show you’re your part and let them improvise their own parts or are your very specific with what they need to do?
Micah: I have very specific instructions because I am writing all the parts and because when I was bringing everyone in on this all the songs for Okay Night were pretty much written. Basically it was “Here is exactly how to play the part, you can improvise if you want to, but the songs basically need to sound like this.” I don’t really like doing that because I feel like I’m stifling other people’s creativity but –
Ashley: -but it is your music
Micah: Exactly, and that’s what it boils down to and that’s why I again got really lucky with the people I’m playing with. They are really creative and they offer great ideas and really great input and we have really great practices - all brainstorming new ideas on how to make the songs better - but ultimately they are people that are okay with the fact that I originally wrote the music and I get the final say. So yeah, my band is good.
Ashley: We kind of talked about it before but what is the most stressful part of being a professional solo musician?
Micah: You’re doing every aspect of a band alone, essentially. I’ve talked to people who are in bands and they have this really awesome [system] where they all designate whose doing what. They have somebody who takes the place of a manager, and they all designate all their specific roles. When you’re by yourself you are doing everything and your accountable for the same responsibilities that each band member would be responsible for. If you aren’t well rehearsed and something fucks up, it’s completely on you. It’s your name on the posters at the end of the day. That’s probably the most stressful part, you have a lot of responsibilities and you have to deal with it if something goes wrong. It’s your fault even if it isn’t directly you fault. You need to be crazy proactive about everything, organized and on top of everything all the time or things can go terribly wrong.
Ashley: What are your future plans, where would you like to see your project going?
Micah: Actually I was filling out grant applications the other day; which was really good for me because it was the first time I had written out my plan on paper. Basically at this point [my plan is to] just go to tour, and keep writing the new music we are making now. It is quite a bit different [than our most recent sound], it’s a lot more pop sounding, I use more synthesizers and I have more fun with it now. It works better for live performances and I’m really excited to see where that goes. As soon as I have songs that I feel good with, we are going to go into the studio and record them. I’m organizing a tour but it’s still in the early stages of planning and I need to figure out how I’m going to pull it off. So far, everything with my music has been falling that natural progression of opportunities coming up and I’ll take them and then I look for [more] opportunities and I find them and take them.
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