London,Northumberland,Producer,Singer Songwriter,Songwriter,Vocals

Blog interview: John Michie Collective

Hello John, how are you?

I am good thank you. Just another day in the house which seems to be the norm for the last 12 months. I am in good spirits despite slowly getting fat. I am looking forward to the warmer weather so I can start running again and getting my bag of bones back in shape. Looking a bit of a mess though like a heavy metal fan. I haven’t shaved for a year now and haven’t had a haircut in about three… but if I was Roger Sterling from Mad Men I would say “it adds to my mystique”.

You are a musician, songwriter and singer from the North of England how did it all begin for you?

I started learning guitar and writing songs aged 15 when I probably got it into my head that I could be John Lennon. I wish I could say that I started in a band and went gigging from this point onwards like David Essex in “That’ll Be The Day” but unfortunately “being sensible” took over. There was no meeting Ringo at Butlins holiday camp. I was in fact never surrounded by people that played instruments strangely. If they did, they just did it to relax and nothing more. Even at university no one actually seemed that good at music so forming a band was never on the cards… Endless games of pool and snakebite were. I have spent probably over 15 years writing songs in my head and just keeping them there. Now that I have started letting them out I feel like I have a purpose.

You’re multi genre, what did you listen to growing up?

I have had very strange experiences with music which probably has rubbed off on what makes me tick. My mum did a pretty good job at filtering my exposure to the TV for the first decade of my life. I vaguely remember Gorbachev on the box but was so isolated from the mainstream. Probably afraid I would get square eyes… The only acts of the time I knew existed were Madonna, Michael Jackson and U2. Those acts were unstoppable in the late 80s and very early 90s and my older sisters would have brought them into the house. My mum liked Patsy Cline, Chuck Berry, Dusty Springfield, The Bee Gees and the Beatles so they were there early on.

My first “personal” experiences would have been just after my dad died in 1991 when I was 5 years old. He had converted the loft before he died and I used to go up there. I would play his cassette tapes which I still have today… So, I would have been this 5 to 9-year-old listening to Rumours or Dark Side of Moon on cassette and wondering why there was all of this silence on side A before “Money” kicked in… I know I was quite frankly freaked out War of the Worlds. I was actually scared of that cassette tape as a small child to the extent I couldn’t go near it. Those sounds really got me. There was also this rubbish keyboard up there. I only ever got as far as playing the Citizen Smith theme tune with one finger. I wasn’t a child prodigy.

Then in 1994… the lights were turned fully on for me when Oasis arrived with Blur, Pulp, Verve, Elastica, Radiohead and slapped everyone in the face. They completely stuck two fingers up to the established music industry, something that I feel unfortunately is needed today. Especially Oasis. I do actually think people forget how ubiquitous Oasis were from 1994-1998. The attitude and songs blew me away and these new guys on the block were genuine. Jarvis Cocker mooning on stage at the Brits… I loved how outrageous it was and they didn’t care what people thought about them. Celebrities have so much vanity now that they don’t dare rock the boat. Seeing all this unfold I used to save up my lunch money and pocket money to buy CDs down Andy’s Records and Our Price in the chuck out bins… All these shops that don’t exist anymore… I was completely addicted to listening to music.

Even though all this was going on I do remember being completely out of step with my mates. They didn’t start getting into music until later when Eminem and Limp Bizkit started breaking… I wasn’t interested. Those “Brit Pop” era bands had got me reading their interviews and exploring increasingly the 1960s and 1970s era… revisiting my dad’s tapes… and making my own mixtapes off Radio 2.

Congratulations on the pending release of your new album, how does it feel?

It sounds corny but I can totally appreciate that saying that making an album is “like giving birth”. I am very proud of that record because every single element on it is me and only me. From the mixing to the artwork. The album represents everything I have taught myself in two years with no help just pure failure, struggle, sweat and experimentation. When I listen to it it’s hard to believe all of it started from an acoustic guitar. Even the shoddy vocals I am proud of because it is do or die I will make this work. It is genuine. But I am glad to have it escape as it is old news for me. This album has been recorded and done since the end of April 2020 and has been a slog getting traction for it from zero fan base and no connections during a pandemic. It will be weird too as some people have heard it already and songs I thought were rubbish they are saying are great. Hopefully I will sell a few CDs of it on Bandcamp but it isn’t about the money. I actually feel guilty when I wake up to an email saying someone has bought a few tracks. The whole process is humbling.

What’s the story behind it?

The songs on High Vibrations are written over a very long-time span and in different locations around the country from Tooting to Morpeth. They have zero meaning. They are not about anyone or anything. I am not Bob Dylan. The real story though begins a few years ago when I was stuck teaching six different subjects in a secondary school in Norfolk from History to Economics from year 7 to A level. The school asked me to take on 8 subjects and that is when I decided to throw in the towel and change a lot of the structures in my life. I was sick of working 7 days a week and pulling 14-hour days only for people above me to take advantage whilst they eat biscuits and drink coffee in meetings. The kids are brilliant in a school but it is the adults that cause all the trouble. Coupled with family events I decided to move to the part of the country my mum is from and change career path for one that was focused on living and not about working and money. I chose life… but not the effing big television as Irvine Welsh would say.

During this time period I heard Grimes album Visions and that made me fired up. She had recorded and done every aspect of the process on her own. Discovering her catalogue and then having Art Angels land was like a bomb going off under me. I realised that I could buy a few pieces of equipment and put down all of these songs I had written in my bedrooms across the UK since 15. Democracy had started to land in the music industry.

This also sounds cliché but the album is probably one of the cheapest records ever made. The mic I used is terrible and I had no mic stand or pop filter during the whole recording period. I had to record all the vocals in two takes under a mattress at my mate’s house in Lowestoft which is a building site. Whatever vocals I got in those two takes are on that record. I think I majorly underestimated the number of things I would have to learn and do to get the album sounding the way it does. It is better mixed and mastered though than the first few Grimes albums so I am pleased by that.

I do sometimes think if I was signed when I first started down this road then my album would have sounded amazing but the reality is it wouldn’t. The level of experimentation in that record would have been stifled by “experienced” producers and a machine focused on profit over substance. I also think I would have had less of a clue about who I was as an artist and where I intend to go if I had have been influenced in those key formative stages.

You are part of a growing community of international indie artists online what’s your favourite part of this? 

There are many things I love about it and its going to be hard for me to sum up in an elegant fashion. This community has definitely come to life because of the pandemic forcing everyone on to the internet… and I think it has formed solid roots now as well. We are increasingly operating like a team.

I think my favourite part of being in this musical community on Twitter is that it is international and we are all incredibly decent people. I have met some real friends for life online like OrangeG, Genetic Effects, KnowGood and Nunny to name a handfull. There’s every genre mixing in chat groups behind the scenes that have the same level of enthusiasm… but also the exact same problems of being the little guy, no real budget and being ignored by the musical sausage factory.

I also enjoy how it fires up my creativity… It amuses me… I don’t know if it does for the others, but putting the power, lofi aspects and tiny numbers aside… these guys are actually better than what is being pushed in the music shops. I am really not surprised that record labels aren’t making a profit when you hear Cardi B and these new “Rock Stars”. It’s not era defining so why push it? You always get the “physical format is dead argument” … I say that’s a lazy argument… go and listen to Tertia’s “Overly Emotional Woman” and tell me that it’s not a number 1 record and wouldn’t sell loads if she had a machine behind her. It is light years ahead of Rhianna and Dua Lipa because it’s all her. She has no army and record label shoving it to their network of radio stations which in turn pushes it onto to the public on mass. I also would be blown away hearing what they would sound like with real help. I feel privileged that I am able to talk to these people every day and it gets me stimulated. I am picking up recording techniques and production tips which are changing the way I approach music making. It has inspired me to push myself and to do better. I know for a fact I wouldn’t get that if I sat down to chat with Adele or One Direction. I might get great business advice but really? Is that what it’s about? It’s about the music and always will be.

Covid affected the creative industry in a big way, what’s kept you motivated? 

Covid has really shaken things up and there are two sides to this era we are in. I feel really sorry for the owners of pubs, bars and clubs that were the arena for live music. I feel sorry for the staff that made these events happen. If I owned a recording studio I’d be incredibly worried that everyone is now setting up home recording studios… That is a whole network of careers and knowledge in jeopardy. It does worry me how things will look for culture at the end of this. From all sides of the equation there has been no help or consideration for the arts on the lower tiers by all levels of the establishment. The guys in all the arts are left on the shelf through no fault of our own when the big guys, minus a tour are business as usual.

It is difficult. I am starting off and I am lumped in the “no fan base” category when it is virtually impossible to get one from a laptop during rolling lockdowns. But… Despite this… despite these rules to the game… I am incredibly upbeat in other ways about my position as well as for the others. I think for me the Twitter community has been the glimmer of light keeping me sane and has been my compass. Knowing that I am not alone has helped me and kept me in good spirits. We are helping each other when no one else is as such. I have laughed so much in the last few months with those guys and I am thankful for that. I am also thankful for coming into contact with people that have small positions of power that are willing to fight our corner. I honestly can’t see this pandemic ending for at least another 12-15 months… There will also be a very slow return to normality after that as we wait for the world to be vaccinated. With this all in mind… I genuinely believe if “music” as a way of life is going to happen for me or the others then no amount of promotion will do it… The industry will come to us eventually. It is just a case of who has the guts to give one of us a punt first… And if I don’t see that happen I can at least say I have enjoyed the ride.

You’re multi genre, what inspires you?

Music making is highly addictive and is the best drug you can get on next to cigarettes and coffee. I don’t smoke anymore but I wish it wasn’t harmful to your health as I seriously enjoyed a cigarette. I adore the whole process of starting and not knowing how the painting of sound will end up. I think that the music I have written for High Vibrations is as good as anything that has been released by a big act. Some of the recordings may be dodgy due to bad equipment but that feeling that I am making good music is like a self-sustaining force. I really like listening to complex music and thinking how can I top that. I don’t know if I do but I enjoy the whole process of giving it a shot. I like music to have a heart but I also have a real love for experimental and weird music. I am probably one of the few people that listens to John Lennon’s Wedding album for enjoyment.

You are a multi instrumentalist so how does writing usually begin for you?

Usually the melody comes first on an acoustic guitar and I mumble over the top or hum a tune. Then it is a case of working out the syllables and writing around that. I haven’t experienced writers block but I do fear it. Even though I like experimentation I do feel you need certain things on an album to make it work and worry that I might not find those elements. Since 15 I tend to just go upstairs to wherever my bedroom is and knock out a tune and have the outline in a few minutes with words being filled in as I go. Once I have that outline I get the first layer recorded in place and start grafting layers on top until things become cohesive.

The one thing that has changed for me this time is I have finally purchased a bass guitar. The bass line is no longer something I fit in last at the bottom… I actually cannot believe I drew in all the bass lines for High Vibrations with a mouse. The number of hours left clicking and dragging boxes on a grid! I am sure Tom Jones doesn’t do this. Though it would be amusing to watch him try. Four songs for album two have been constructed totally around bass lines first which has been incredibly liberating and also allowed me to explore new ideas. Already I know album two will have my hall marks but will be sonically different. I am still yet to write a song on a piano but that may be album 5.

What artists are getting you excited at the moment?

Out of all the established artists the ones that I actively look forward to an album from are Grimes, The Chemical Brothers and Nicolas Jaar but to be honest the mainstream music industry has been pretty bland for quite a few years now. Some great live acts but the albums have been a bit half baked. Bands have gotten in to this terrible habit of an album to support a tour and not a tour to support an album. As soon as money is thought about the spirit is killed and things take a nose dive. It kills what made the music profitable in the first place which is the art. The artists that excite me are genuinely all unsigned. Genetic Effects, Granny Smith, OrangeG, Kyetoba, HD Bradley and Tertia should all be signed overnight. If I had a record label I would be cutting off my right arm with a spoon to nail these acts. There are many more but those guys are at the front of my head.

You are from the north of England what are your three favourite things about it?

Northumberland has more castles than any other part of the UK. That is money in itself having history at every turn dating back hundreds to thousands of years.

It is the least populated part of England which after spending a section of my life living in London I am pleased about. I didn’t like in London how you couldn’t get away from people.

The final thing I love about here is that the people are incredibly friendly and people who don’t know you will stop and chat to you. When I lived in Norwich I lived in my home for 5 years and I think I said hello twice to my next-door neighbour. People have an appreciation for what is important here which is ultimately each other.

What are you looking forward to next?

I have just gone through a bit of an equipment upgrade as I become confident that music is the only path for me coupled with the availability of some money. So, I have a bass, a new Les Paul, electric piano, a decent microphone, a mic stand and a lot of new plugins to play with. Ideally, I need a new computer but I think I will have to just make do with constant system overloads. I have written album two which took about 3 weeks as the melodies are in my head and just need pulling out… and I am currently recording it. It has the working title “Pain Killers” which may have to be changed. I have two done and the 3rd song is proving really difficult to record and I think may take a few weeks to get right. I am also forming album 3 and album 4 in my head. Ideally, if I can pull it off I would like to have 4 albums up by middle of next year but that all depends on how much time I spend polishing the rough edges.

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