Interview with Jon Michaels from November 2005
1. At what age did you begin singing?
I began singing, like most people, as a child. And like most kids, my mom encouraged me to keep singing. - Especially when she was not around.
2. How and when did your big songwriting break hit when you came to Nashville?
I arrived in Nashville in December of 1992. I started going to 'Writers' Nights' at various clubs, seven nights a week. It was through these writers' nights that I met lots of fellow singer/songwriters. One of those writers was Marc Alan Barnette. At the time, Mark had a reputation as an up and coming singer, with a voice you could hear into next week. He was very complimentary of my talents and so I approached him with a song I had written called 'W-O-M-A-N.' I showed up at a writers' night he was hosting, got up on stage and told the audience I was there to pitch Marc a song. Nothing like feeding the ego of an artist. I sang the song; the crowed loved it; and Marc said "Should I cut it"? The crowed yelled "YES!" And he did. Marc made 'W-O-M-A-N' his closing number for many years. It was the first time I had heard someone in Nashville sing one of my songs besides me. I have to say, I loved the feeling. It was very rewarding!
3. How would you describe your style of music for those who have not heard you yet?
Very much the singer/songwriter genre; my influences are John Denver, Harry Chapin, Dan Fogelberg and Jim Croce. Anyone listening to my music today hears that storytelling style in my melodies and lyrics.
4. What kind of songs do you look for (or write) when you go into the studio?
Currently, I have only cut my own songs. I am not driven to sing 'formula' songs as the major labels and artists are. For my CDs, I am into singing my originals. That's not to say I am not choosy about which of my songs I would put on my CD. There are certain qualities that make a song much more commercial and marketable, like easy, flowing melodies and conversational lyrics that are easily related to by everyone.
5. Where do you find the ideas and inspirations when writing songs?
I find ideas and inspiration anywhere and everywhere. The ideas come from day to day conversations, telephone calls, reading, dreams... I always have an ear out for a story.
6. Do you have a favorite song on your album? If so, what is it & why is it your favorite song?
On my "Stones" CD, I know I am partial to the song 'The Smile.' It's one of those songs that given the right environment, I can 'hit it out of the park' as far as connecting with the listener. I love to play live and if the vibe is there, in the moment, I love singing it.
On my latest CD 'I Am Who I Am,' 'I Hear a Clock' is another song, given the right vibe I can really connect with the listener. I love that this is not an idea that comes along every day.
7. Can you tell us about your favorite song that you've written overall? What does it mean to you? Why did you write it?
I don't have a favorite song per say, as much as I have a favorite song for any particular time in my life. I would say that I have some real gems within my crown of jewels that would be songs like 'Stones,' 'I Hear a Clock,' 'Check Please.' As far as why I wrote them, it was their time to be written. Timing is everything in songwriting. Trying to force an idea is not the best way to write.
8. One of our favorite songs on this album is "I Hear a Clock." How did this song come about and what made you decide to record it?
I love that song and thank you for acknowledging that it is a favorite of yours. I turned 40 and found myself single and still struggling. I realized that I was headed for a lonely existence if I only thought about myself. I also started watching fathers with their children more closely and felt something missing in my life. I remember watching a baby listening to me sing one night and feeling joy from her joy. I knew in my heart it was something that I wanted to write about. Early in 2000, I had a writing appointment with my friend, Gary Burr. Gary is someone I really admire in Nashville and I was really excited to be co-writing with him. I came to the session and told him about the idea and that my clock was ticking, too. He said that's the title - 'I Hear a Clock Ticking, Too.' We wrote it that day and the reaction has been mind-blowing. As many men comment to me that they relate to it, as much as women share how much they love hearing a man express feelings of that nature.
9. "Stones" by Tracy Lawrence has such a powerful message. What prompted you to write such a meaningful single?
"Stones" is a gift an amazing gift from the song gods. As I mentioned, I am a big fan of Gary Burr. After many years, Gary and I decided to write together. I have always been an independent writer and he was with MCA/ Universal and normally only writes with other published writers or up and coming artists under contract to record companies. I was very excited that he accepted my invitation to write together. Since our appointment wasn't for several months, I wanted to come to the table with a wonderful idea. Pecking order is a real thing in Nashville. Since Gary was at the top, it was my position to bring something cool to the 'party.' I labored and labored trying to come up with something that I thought we could write that would be different and to which we could both really contribute. One morning, about a week before we were to meet, the idea came to me. I was taking a shower and BAM! Stones! I thought of all the different stones that we encounter throughout our lives. I started rattling off in my mind..birthstones, milestones, stepping stones, throwing stones, the Rolling Stones, getting stoned (I decided not to use that one in the song), everything that had to do with stones. I was excited. I remember coming up with the hook 'from the cradle to the grave, our lives are paved with stones.' I jumped out of the shower dripping wet and just started writing. Then I called my buddy Ray Herndon; told him my idea and that I was going to take it to Gary. He agreed with me. It had the makings of a great song.
The night before Gary and I were to meet, he called me to cancel. He was feeling ill and he really wanted to be at his best when he and I got together to write. I can't say I wasn't bummed, because I was, but I understood and he assured me we would reschedule. There's more so hang in there with me. My next writing appointment was with Kostas, another great writer so I brought the idea to our session. We started writing and Kostas was visualizing something totally different than I. I decided to go with him to see where it would lead. It was becoming a dark song, revolving around a cemetery. In my gut, I knew this was not what I was hearing in my mind or wanting for the idea. We broke for lunch and I spoke up. I said that I would like to try writing a different song; that this was not going in the direction I had intended. Kostas agreed; he felt the same, so we wrote a song called 'Too Late to Go Home Early.'
My next writing session was with Kim Tribble, a very gifted writer/producer. I called him, told him my idea and title and Kim understood what I wanted to do with the song. He said he thought the idea was great. I told him that I wanted to bring on another writer I knew would be a tremendous contributor to the idea. That writer was Jimbeau Hinson. The three of us got together a week later and that session was one of the most memorable experiences of my writing career. The three of us knew we had something. Not long after, I flew to South Carolina for a concert and debuted 'Stones.' After I finished the song, I received a standing ovation or should I say the song received a standing ovation. Like I said early on, timing is everything!
10. How would you describe the whole process of recording "I Am Who I Am", and what is a typical day in the studio like for you?
Recording 'I Am Who I Am' started out as a very rocky process; I was looking for a producer and I decided to work with a musician I respected very much. He had worked with me on several shows and I felt he would help capture my 'sound.' A major part of working with others is to trust them and let go. His vision was to get great players, meet in the studio and lay the songs down without any pre-rehearsals or run-through's. This is a very common practice in Nashville. The musicians show up; there a brief guitar/vocal demo and then the song gets laid down. It is a great way of doing demos, but I was reluctant. Still, I trusted him and went with it. There were two days scheduled at full scale cost, about $5000 a day. The first day, I knew in my heart that what was going to tape was not what I envisioned. As much as it killed me, I was not happy. I told my producer that I wanted to abort the project in its current stage. He was disappointed, to say the least, but he was very accommodating and I was grateful. At that point I contacted my good buddy, Bob McGilpin, who has a great understanding of the singer/songwriter/artist and the sensitivity of producing this type of record. We hired new players and had a sit-down prior to the actual recording to work out all the parts. By the time we got into the studio, the magic was happening. We laid all the tracks (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and acoustic at one time and then over dubbed the harmonicas, cello, violin, Dixieland band and vocals). Bob was masterful at producing my vocals. We really spent a tremendous amount of time and the payoff was the review from the fans. They were thrilled with the completed project. Even Robert K. Oreman, a renowned music critic, selected 'I Am Who I Am' as his 'Disc-overy' award-winning CD. By the way, if you are a singer songwriter looking for a great producer, contact Bob Mc Gilpin at firstname.lastname@example.org Tell him Jon Michaels sent you.
A typical day changes with what is happening. If we are recording the basic tracks (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards) there is a level of enthusiasm from the magic that is happening. If you are mixing, it can become a little routine, just getting all the blends just right. Funny thing, you really need a break from the music after the recording because your ears are fatigued and you literally need a break from listening to your own music over and over and over.
11. Who are some of the other artists/songwriters you have written with or for?
I have had songs recorded by Marc Alan Barnette, Paul Jefferson, Tracy Lawrence, Ty Herndon, Ray Herndon, Clint Black... I even wrote a song with Greg Crowe that was used for two seasons by the Tennessee Titans Radio Network. Other writers I have written with are Gary Burr, Jeffrey Steele, Kostas, Wood Newton, and a host of others. I've also missed opportunities with writers that I should have made time for like Chris Cagle, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Rory Lee Feek... So, I've made some errors in the past.
12. Do you prefer performing or writing?
I love both so much, however, I love the immediate gratification of performing.
13. If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter alive or dead... these people wrote classics and sit at a bar that is raised so high - I would love to see the view from up there.
14. Do you have any expectations as an artist and songwriter?
I did until I reached my 30's and realized that some of them were not going to be met. Like I said I thought I was going to be a household name. I am, but in my mother's household.
15. What goals have you accomplished and what do you still want to accomplish with your music career?
I have completed two CD's, seen my name on the charts - now I would like a number one... no, I take that back - several number ones. I would like to experience winning an award. I would really love to be invited to perform at the White House... that would be awesome!!! I would love to walk out on the stage of the Greek Theater in Los Angeles or the Hollywood Bowl; that would be amazing for me, so I still have lots to shoot for.
16. What is your motivation behind your accomplishments and what continues to motivate you?
It's is a compilation of everything I have experienced. I remember the first time I played at my elementary school and the prettiest girl in the whole school came up to me the next day and asked if she could sit with me. Now that was motivation to do it again. Then the first time I received a paycheck for singing - now that was motivation. The letters and comments from people whose hearts I've touched is the real kicker. Most artists/writers are so insecure and feed on accolades for reassurance. Lastly, I am motivated because music is me, my raison d'etre (that's French for 'my reason to be').
17. Who has been the greatest influence in your life? (Music related or not)
My mom, my dear friend Frank Dobbins, who was there as a mentor when I was growing up. My older brother, Bill who was a great big brother. They all had a hand in my development.
18. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in the industry?
If they want it bad enough to give up everything for it, be ridiculed, starve for it, lie for it, stand up and be humiliated for it - then go for it. Believe me the romance of it wears off real fast.
19. Is there anything you would like to say to all the fans who read this?
Please stop by my website, www.jonmichaelsmusic.com and sign the guestbook letting me know that you visited. If you are my fans, then thank you. If you're not, at least not yet, I hope you will give me a chance to welcome you to my world.