Naturally capturing the hearts of audiences far and wide, with her unique fusion of environmental activism, topical complexities, and contemporary folk songwriting, musician and artist Michele kindly took part in an interview.
We talk everything from the depths of the single Sunflowers, to her lifelong devotion to SCUBA and activism, to the live scenes of California, and plenty more. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Michele, great to be able to chat with you – thanks for the interview! For those new to your work, how would you describe your approach to making music?
Thank you Stereo Stickman for your beautiful music and important contributions to artists from all over the world, including myself.
Protecting the oceans and SCUBA diving are my lifelong passions. My best ideas come from observing nature in the deep ocean. To be the human voice for those amazing creatures is always my goal.
Active listening to music, ruminating ideas and weighing them out by tuning into my heart is my approach to making music. Agreed, I’m lucky that I can hear anything at all after all those years of waterlogged ears. Like most of us, I had to learn how to listen to nature, people and music.
I’ve always been a writer, but I’m tardy to learning/writing music. Wild poetry (I really have no idea regarding rules, etc.) is a fit for me because I’m terse. Few words that have a lot of impact is bliss. Music is the perfect way to serve up meaningful words then sculpt the stories I want to share.
Often real stories do not need imagination or exaggeration for impact but may summon our life experiences triggering an avalanche of content that also requires chiselling or refining. Sunflowers, my latest song, blossomed in this way. Pondering the flowers played a role too:
- Did you know that the spiral face of each sunflower is a fractal and the seeds follow the pattern of the Fibonacci sequence?
- Did you know that sunflowers are heliotropic? Heliotropic means their faces follow the sun.
- Doesn’t a field of sunflowers looks like a group of happy people facing the sunshine?
“Nurturing our humanity is imperative for protecting our ocean planet. Sunflowers plants the seeds we need. Music is our magnificent motivator.”
Tell us about the release Sunflowers. How did it come to be, and why do you think it stands out from your other singles? Did you write the song with the war in the Ukraine in mind, and if so – can you elaborate a little on that process?
Sunflowers exists for anyone who needs to get “unstuck”. People anywhere can get stuck. Traumatic events are terrifying. Sunflowers is meant to liberate anyone who needs encouragement to leave any shit / toxic / dangerous situation. Sunflowers is my only current event song. While I was inspired by the innocents of Ukraine, the song’s multilevel meaning transcends this destructive war.
For example, here in California during the fires many of us had to evacuate while some ignored their mandatory evacuation order; they remained paralyzed watching the fires raging through their own neighborhoods on TV news. They got stuck. They remained in their homes surrounded by flames. For self-preservation, sometimes we must go.
With this war, I have friends in the Ukraine. I know folks in Romania and Switzerland who are/were housing refugees. Arriving in Bucharest and Zurich was not easy. Imagining the millions of women with children that had to leave their families (the men could not leave) was gut wrenching. When I wrote Sunflowers, some of my friends were still trying to get out (flights were cancelled, some fled on foot). Today they are thankfully safe, but then there are other challenges like how to make a living, visas, etc.
The process? One early morning around March 1st while cleaning my kitchen, I was standing at my sink pondering all these things when the chorus with the melody popped into my head. We all know how easy it is to lose those ideas right? I quickly recorded it into my phone. I wrote the rest of the lyrics in the kitchen on a cheap paper plate. Sunflowers was art that appeared that just had to happen.
Sculpting the song was challenging. I wanted something upbeat that would optimistically stimulate survival. I wanted a song that got everyone that needed to move, moving towards a positive outcome. I didn’t want a dark song, a blues song or a bummer song. You picked up on this as evidenced by your kind wise song review, where you mentioned juxtaposition (good word!) “Instantly alluring bass-play introduces the intimate and organic sound of Michele’s single Sunflowers – a folk-pop offering of melancholic musings and juxtaposed instrumental optimism, which connects for its live-sounding authenticity as much so as its heartbreaking poetic contemplations.”
The stress of writing a song for current event was a new adventure for me. I had to recruit help from colleagues specifically available to help me finish the song quickly (who ever thought this war would last this long). We could have done more, added more harmonies, etc, but the goal was, “GET IT DONE.” Sunflowers was also my first remote collaboration.
After Sunflowers reflecting, I also wrote a poem to honor those who chose to stay to defend the Ukraine. Sunflowers is a “get the hell out of there alive” song. The Ukrainian patriots who have held their ground to defend their freedom are phenomenal.
All of the hurdles experienced to finish Sunflowers was absolutely worth it. Evidenced by the YouTube comments, the song has reached the Ukraine. Touching just one person, by letting them know they have someone on their side who believes in them, was everything.
“Strength empathy,” is a favorite lyric line in Sunflowers. Observing today’s lack of human empathy is exhausting. Nurturing our humanity is imperative for protecting our ocean planet. Sunflowers plants the seeds we need. Music is our magnificent motivator.
“The stress of writing a song for current event was a new adventure for me.”
Who do you listen to when you need to feel inspired or more optimistic about life, and conversely – do you ever turn to music to connect with difficult feelings?
Oh yeah! Singing it out is the way I love to belt out life’s challenges.
You might hear a “progressive folk” vibe from my songs so you’d never believe that I grew up as a full-blown Iron Maiden raging metalhead.
As a female tenor, I could never really sing the higher female lead roles (with the exception of Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, etc.) so before I learned how to change key, I would just belt out songs from exceptional rock male vocalists like Chris Cornell. Belty grunge era songs are fantastic.
Dancing it out is an artistic expression too-the funnier the better.
I was blessed to visit George Harrison’s yoga manor in Hertfordshire UK twice in my life. The Beatles are sunshine, but Harrison’s music is especially elevated.
Any rock music fan from California is elated to visit the UK!
What’s the music scene like in your part of California?
California for music is like Vienna Austria – you almost gotta be Mozart to get any tiny stage. Truly the Hollywood art scene is an overdue blues song. There is not enough art for enjoyment in California. It’s pay-to-play, few open mics, few stages, few opportunities to just play.
Honestly, I would have given up on music here as an adult neophyte, so I have a lot of gratitude for travel. From travel, I know that there are other places on earth where it’s ok to just play guitar at a park or beach. Austin, Texas has a lot of opportunities to play which inspires me, but California, not so much.
California does boast gorgeous outdoors farmer’s markets year-round and there is music at almost every market which is wonderful. I do love playing at the California coast to the ocean.
It would be uplifting to know of other places in the world where folks are encouraged to just PLAY. I have never performed anywhere yet, not even an open mic. I am blessed to be songwriting and expanding my artistic talents!
What got you started writing original songs?
As a storyteller, songwriting was the reason I started studying music because I knew I had songs in me. My grandfathers were both troubadours. I clearly remember the unanswered calling to do music when I was 5 years old. By the time I was a teen I knew I was an audio learner. Utilizing that skill coupled with experience, today I certainly know what I want to musically hear.
I’ve only shared one other original song available online, Fly Dandelion, so stay tuned because I hope you, Stereo Stickman, will review it soon.
Are there more songs on the way?
Yes!!! I have one more ready to share. I need to feel that the world has time to listen for me to share a song, so maybe in October 2022 or January 2023.
What are somethings about you that fans might be surprised to hear?
- While I’ve been a SCUBA diver for almost 40 years, I’ve only been studying music/guitar for about five years. Music is my “deep dive” when I’m trapped on terra firma.
- I’m an artist too; glass (because hot glass is liquid like the ocean) and painter. Art sales fuel my WIP www.OceanProtectionLeague.com
- Please don’t miss my art gallery on that page.
- As an artist who wrote two songs about flowers, I don’t feel that all my songs need to be about the ocean, to include my ocean activism.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I enjoy working with instrument masters who can solo for days but are not songwriters. Knowledge (theory nerds ok!) of interesting chord progressions, harmonies and substitutions are a plus. I’m an idea machine, so if you’re feeling flat, I’m your muse.
As a life learner I’d love to connect with any teachers/workshops. Know of any online open mics out there? Open calls to play anywhere?
There are never enough of us looking out for Mother Ocean/Earth. I’d love to connect with other musician environmental/animal activists too.
Blooming flowers to you all; the ocean has flowers, springtime has flowers. I hope you enjoy my songs featuring fascinating flowers that I learn more about everyday.
Thank you to New Mexico’s Jana Pochop for the introduction to Stereo Stickman. Sincere gratitude to you Stereo Stickman for selflessly supporting the arts.
“If anyone has any questions about our ocean planet, underwater flowers/critters or the underwater experience, I’d love to share!”
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