with Michael Wood of M is We
QRD – You started M is We as the solo project M is Me& then it grew into a full band in Myrtle Beach & shrunk down to a solo project with occasional guest musicians after moving to Carrboro. How did those two changes effect the songwriting?
Michael – Once the solo project went a little bit less experimental & more into structured songs, I got some friends together to do the songs live, including backing tracks... so that would have kept to the original form of the songs, except once we got together, we happened to have a drummer around & the songs came out rather organic & much different than my recorded songs. & then the more we played together, it became less of my project & we all started writing songs collectively & some songs were even written by other bandmates. The only recording we have from that time period is the Octopus Jones/M is We split cassette put out on Turnip Farm Records, out of SC. If you listen to that, versus the record that is out on Silber… it’s very different. I’d say the cassette was more of a straightforward indie sound with some new wave influences... but when left to my own devices things come out a bit more raw. Live, I now have some people from this area that I play with, but while I try to give them all the freedom to add whatever they want, we are playing to the core backing tracks which keeps the original concepts of the songs intact.
QRD – At this point, what would your ideal band line-up be?
Michael –I really like how I’m doing it now, playing live with a couple awesome people. We play to a drum machine, I play keys & some random noise making things & sing, then we have my buddies Michael Madden on guitar & Nick Newby on bass. Both of them are also in a really good local punk band called Heavyweights. I thought it was ideal to get two guys that play punk & throw some kind of electronic stuff at them & see what happens, as that seems to be the aesthetic that M is We has been grasping. Brian McKenzie, my long-term musical partner, also plays live with us whenever possible. He just runs my vocals through his pedals & manipulates my vocals in ways only he could. The idea seems a bit much, but he really makes it work. The funny thing about him living hours away was he actually met the rest of the band minutes before playing with them. “Hey Brian, these guys are in a band with you!” The live outcome is sometimes just as much a surprise to us as it is to the audience.
QRD – On “M is We” despite recording on a computer, you got a real dirty 4-track cassette sound. What was your secret to getting that sound?
Michael – It was done by bypassing an interface & just using the computers built-in mic. Some of the organic noises can be both happy accidents & huge headaches. I do use an interface sometimes, but most of the guitars, keyboard & even vocals on the album were done without one.
QRD – How many of the sounds on the record were made &/or manipulated in the box versus how many were real?
Michael – Almost all sounds were manipulated a bit. I can’t help but mess with tracks & see what kind of weirdness I can get out of something that might have at first sounded pretty normal.
QRD – On “Something’s Burning”, what is the line “It’s Not New England” about?
Michael – I honestly do not know. I do tend to write in kind of a “stream of consciousness” type way... but I usually have some sort of idea what I was thinking. I really like this process because it leaves things up to interpretation & hopefully the listener can take what they want out of it & make it there own... but this is a very specific reference... that I really don’t know what the hell I was talking about. My only offer is this: my dad’s side of the family is from that area. When I was younger I spent my summers there. I developed my first crush there & did a lot of discovering there. & I do believe that the song was written at a time when a relationship was falling apart. So I was referencing a place that is very comfortable & positive to me. Maybe? That’s all I’ve got.
QRD – What instrument do you generally write your songs on?
Michael – On the album, some songs were written by me just playing around with keyboard & keyboard sounds & experimenting, then later adding guitar & vocals. But some of the more structured songs were written on bass or guitar. i.e.: “Something’s Burning”, “Family Reunion”, & “Lying Lie” were all laid out in my head somehow & then written with bass first, while all the other songs were more of an experimental development.
QRD – I knew you predominantly as a frontman & vocalist for SAVAS & The Wet Teens, when did you start playing guitar more seriously?
Michael – I’d say I’ve been playing bass or guitar in bands since the mid 90s. But I ended up being more of a singer live because I find myself to be a better frontman than a musician. I play a little of everything & never got great at anything. I feel like I write good songs, but would rather just show better musicians my songs & let them turn them into something even better. A lot of the songs that I just sing for live, I actually wrote some of the music to as well.
QRD – Will the unreleased SAVAS & The Wet Teens songs ever be released? Are those projects permanently dead?
Michael – God, I hope so. SAVAS is sitting on a ten song record that I just think is amazing. But it’s really unfinished. It would take a lot more studio work & I don’t know how much time can be committed to it. I wish Brian McKenzie was here to chime in on that question!! But as far as The Wet Teens, I think the unrecorded songs are probably gonna stay unrecorded. Most band members live in different parts of the country now & I doubt we could even remember them. But we did get a good chunk of the songs put out on Let It Pee on Silber Records!
QRD – For years it’s seemed like all of your music projects collaborated with Brian McKenzie. Is M is We your first project without him?
Michael – Well, I have played in a few bands without him, but he’s actually even involved in this one too. As I mentioned before, he does some live stuff for it. I do sometimes wish we still lived close & he could be involved in more of the songwriting process with me, as I feel we work great together. Although, when I record something, I always send him the first draft for input & he really helps with that.
QRD – Myrtle Beach has a pretty healthy music scene, but it seems like not very many musicians are able to make it out of the area. What’s the secret to successfully making it out?
Michael – I have a really long answer for this. Please feel free to edit. It’s healthy because it’s a social scene. In most cities you get all your scenes of music divided up into communities of ten or so people each. But in MB, people will come out to see each other & they may or may not like your band, but they are there. If the scenes got divided like they do in other cities, there would only be 1-5 people at each show. The key to that scene is to keep it small. If you try to add too much culture & there’s too much to do… then it’s all over saturated & it just doesn’t work. For instance... I’d go to see a show at House of Blues when a band came through because that was the only bigger show coming to the area in months. Then I move to Chapel Hill & there’s amazing bands playing every night. It’s too much, so I just end up missing bands that I would have been really excited to see in MB. The one weird divide that happens though is this: bands that end up in the cover band circuit versus original. It’s tempting to make $100 a night per person to play music… which seems to be a dream come true… but then you have to give up your dreams of being an original musician. So the fact that you can do this in Myrtle Beach, keeps people in Myrtle Beach, playing covers at restaurants 6 nights a week. For me, the secret has been my involvement in almost every aspect of the music industry. If I wanted to just play guitar & nothing else… well, I don’t think I’d have been able to have the freedom to do that creatively & profitably at the same time.
QRD – Going from a small & tight scene like Myrtle Beach to a sprawling scene like the Triangle, has it been hard to find your place in your new local community?
Michael – When my buddies Octopus Jones moved from Myrtle to Raleigh, they experienced a big hit. They draw hundreds of people in Myrtle Beach. They headline the House of Blues there even. But in Raleigh, no one knew who they were, so they were basically starting over. But I feel like ultimately that’s better for them because there’s just more out there than playing the same couple venues in Myrtle Beach, even if it’s more of a struggle for a bit. Now they have developed more of a versatile following, & there seems to be more opportunity out there for them. For me, I felt like I had the big fish syndrome going on there, where as here, there’s so much going on & no one knows me or cares... because there’s 1700 more bands in the area & I’m no big deal. I love it. I really do, because at the same time I’m still new & exploring this scene & meeting awesome bands & people. It feels fresh, & no one seems to be sick of me....... yet!
QRD – Your music has always seemed to have a lot of angst to it, but in person you always seem a pretty laid back guy. Do you feel there’s some kind of division between the person Michael Wood & the artist Michael Wood?
Michael – Most people do seem pretty surprised when they see me live after knowing me for a bit. But some of my crazy stage antics & more energetic live performance might not be possible without alcohol though. Ha! Seriously though, I feel like for some things, like The Wet Teens, there’s a persona that has to happen. But if I didn’t turn that off after we played… well, I’d be a very annoying person. As far as M is We though… I feel like this project, even the angrier songs, feel like me.
QRD – What aspect of music is the most fun for you & what aspects of it are the most tedious work?
Michael – I love the creative process, playing live, & even some of the business stuff. But what I can’t stand is social media. I feel it’s a really important aspect to keeping your name out there, but I just have the hardest time keeping up with it all.
QRD – You often talk about more bands needing to figure out how to be simultaneously serious & playful. What do you mean by that & how do you do it?
Michael – Well, to me, when a band is trying too hard to be funny, it’s just boring & cheesy. When a band is taking itself way too seriously... well that that’s pretty fucking boring & cheesy too. You & I have discussed how sometimes there’s a thin line between funny & serious. Like you, as Remora, singing in a serious, kind of gothish tone, “we came to party”. I love it. It keeps people on their toes. When you see someone up there & have to actually pay attention to what they might be doing or saying, that keeps me with you. For me... I could be singing about wanting to die, or covering middle school cheerleading song, but either way I want it to sound like I mean it, desperately. So to answer the how do you do it part, I’d say just try to own it. Even if it’s camp, completely fall into whatever you created.
QRD – Over the years you’ve run a record store, had a label, been a reviewer, run numerous venues, been a booking agent, been a touring merch guy, & of course been a musician. So you seem uniquely qualified to answer the question, where does the future lie for musicians trying to make a living off of their work?
Michael – I’m worried. Record stores are closing left & right. There was a vinyl boom, but I think that’s seeing it’s end because new releases are $25 or more, which is just way too much when you can get it for free online. When my record store first started seeing a major decline in sales (early 2Ks) it was because of the internet. You don’t know how many special orders I’d get for people to just have them say “never mind, I downloaded it.” CDs are dead, tapes made a comeback but are still a niche market, & vinyl is just way too expensive. I don’t know, I suppose there are ways to adapt & make a living off of your music, but I haven’t found them.
QRD – What do you think was the big challenge for an indie band in the 1990s & what do you think is the big challenge for indie bands today?
Michael – In the 90s there seemed to be a more diehard market for indie music. If you wanted it, you had to go out & find it & it became yours. Now it seems there is just so much everywhere & it’s everyone’s. It’s great that it’s easier to promote records & shows via social media, but now it seems like throwing a record into the world & hoping that people will want it is like buying a lottery ticket & expecting every one wins. I think tasks like booking a tour, getting your music reviewed, & promoted were more of a challenge in the 90s, but now it’s the same challenge because it’s gotten too easy to find these outlets.