It’s always a treat to be able to sit down and pick a willing musician’s brain.
Michael Reed, aka Mikey Guitar, the axe man in Bauer, one of Manchester’s premier bands, offered his up willingly in this two-part interview conducted via Twitter.
If you want to learn more about Michael, read this previous piece written around the release of “Fables,” his debut solo project. https://r8singer.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/music-in-the-making-michael-reed-aka-mikey-guitar-does-it-all/
So, get comfortable, with drink in hand, and enjoy the conversation:
You are originally from Denmark. When and how did you come to the U.K.?
I was born in Esbjerg which is a fishing city in Denmark, I think it’s possibly the third biggest in Denmark (which isn’t very large) My parents brought me over when I was very young sometime in the 80s. The most likely reason is that my father missed going to watch Manchester United football games …. and maybe Boddington’s Ale.
So do you consider yourself a Mancunian?
I have a Danish passport and live five miles out of the centre of Manchester, so technically I’m not strictly a full-on Mancunian, but I guess a lot of my attitude comes from the Mancunian thing. The reason why so much music comes from this area of the country is that it rains all the time.
You have nothing better to do that stay in being creative, or sitting inside pubs probably quite similar to the Seattle things. It’s probably not a coincidence that Manchester and grunge happened within a few years of each other.
Ah, the rain. But Seattle’s sound is quite different from the Manchester sound that I am hearing. Both are distinctive, but very different. Have you been influenced by grunge? Who specifically?
Maybe not similar in sound, but spirit … and anyway, grunge wouldn’t have happened without punk, which started in London but really blossomed in Manchester as a scene.
Grunge wasn’t my thing growing up. By the time I’d got to my mid-teens, the pop punk bands and nu metal thing had taken over.
I am curious: was there much of a hair band scene in Manchester in the 80s, as it proceeded grunge here?
There has never been a famous metal rock band from Manchester … for some reason it has never happened. All the big British rock bands tend to come from Birmingham, which is in the middle of the country.
Manchester has a little too much taste and perhaps a hint of snobbishness about it (Cheers Tony Wilson!) anyway … Manchester, SHHHHManchester!
So what was the deciding factor that led you to want to get into music, and play guitar?
Like every other boy, I wanted to play football, failing that do anything to avoid having a full-time miserable job that I hated … I wasn’t good enough at football … and one of my teachers was offering free guitar lessons … so, I took him up on the offer in the hope that some girls might be interested in me.
It didn’t work out … although I was playing blues guitar pretty well a couple of years in. Thanks, Mr. Tuck.
He seems to have been a good teacher, you play quite well and I am sure the girls notice. So, Manchester is a good place for aspiring musicians? Plenty of places to see bands play and be seen as a musician?
It has been in the past but has changed quite a lot through the years. There’s a massive influx of students now, quite a few venues have shut down and it’s quite disparate music wise. No real obvious scene and part from possibly, at the moment, lots of people pretending that it’s still the 60s listening to psych and wearing retro clothing. I’m sure that’ll change next year though … and some other fad will come along.
So, is there excitement now that Bauer is working on new music?
Well, I’ve been working on the writing with Greg (Matthews) for two to three years and the album is coming along really strong now. I’m proud of the early stuff with the band, but I think this new collection is much stronger, more streetwise and musically a bit more diverse.
All the obvious things are still in place though — memorable melodies, good musicianship and production.
That’s great. I was just listening to “Starting Again” and I love the smooth flow of the song and the guitar work. Will the new songs have the keyboard influence or more guitar?
Cool! I hope you weren’t watching the video. I look like Harry Potter filtered through an alcoholic haze in it and about two stone lighter … and much more handsome. Oh, to be young again!
Oh, but I was. I thought you were quite fetching, actually. We all grow and change. It comes with life.
I think Bauer has always been about that fight between the guitars and the synth stuff, so they’re both out there in force. It’s my job to come up with the riffs … cool musical phrases … Greg’s job to find those melodic vocal hooks. Neil and Lee keep the whole thing underpinned with their tight rhythm section partnership. One of the best and most undervalued couple of musicians around, them guys. I blame me for being such a limelight-hogging show-off and Greg for being the ladies’ choice.
So, do great riffs and hooks just come to you? Do they ever wake you up?
It probably sounds quite pretentious, but I think music is sort of a spiritual thing really. In terms of stuff like that, I’m a firm believer that most creative musicians are just channeling the melodies that are just passing through the aether — you have to be open-minded enough and ready to catch them as they’re passing.
The hardest part comes later on — after that initial hit of inspiration — this is when the craft comes into play. With that, it can either take you 10 minutes to finish a song — or 10 years.
I don’t think it’s pretentious at all. More intuitive. Like lighting striking. Do you have many 10 year songs lying around?
There’s probably countless melodies and little riffs I’ve been tussling around with for the whole time I’ve been playing guitar. It’s unlikely they’ll all ever get used, as with these things, new things are constantly leap frogging older half-formed ideas.
In the past year or two alone, there’s been probably 150 song ideas — under 10 percent of which get used. There’s been a very high quality filter with the Bauer record. With my own instrumental stuff, less so. It’s more just about creating an interesting atmosphere with that stuff.
Did you find doing “Fables,” your solo project, to be a freeing experience? One that gave you total control? Did you like that?
At the time, I just needed to do something of my own, regardless of how good it actually was or even if it was successful or not — a lot of the identity of myself that I’d built up in and around that had been related to Mutineers, and that came crashing down.
So, just from the point of wanting to maintain who I am and my worth to the world, I needed to do it.
None of it has really affected the thing I do in Bauer. That music just comes to me so effortlessly and it had already been a couple of years in the works by the time I started making “Fables.”
It was also an exercise in learning to play in a different way. I got given an acoustic guitar by a kind company called Nineboys and I started getting into the whole folky fingerpicking, some of the jazz sort of chords, different sorts of arrangements, and frankly, some pretty weird hippy-dippy spiritual nonsense.
Soooo … now you do yoga and drink wheatgrass blends?
I wouldn’t take it quite that far. I sit in pubs, drink lager and put lots of music on the jukebox.
That sounds much better actually. And what kind of jukebox music do you prefer?
The cheesier the better. Pubs are to have fun in and play music you wouldn’t listen to at home. When you wake up with a hangover — that’s the time to dig the Nick Drake out.
OK, so Bauer is in the studio, making new music. When can we expect to hear some?
Mike’s first part of the answer was a visual, written on paper:
“We are launching a pledge music campaign in a week’s time. Me and Greg have been writing pretty nonstop for 3 years. It’s all real high quality material.”
We’re looking to release the album to the pledgers before the end of the year. This will then lead to a proper release next year with press/plugging/video to go up on iTunes/digital distribution. etc. Loads of exciting things planned for the pledge campaign, including behind the scenes footage, demos, deluxe stuff … cover versions, funny stuff … etc.
Which will be followed by a tour?
There will be some live action, but very much doubt we will tour it. We prefer to make the shows special and rare.
So, has Bauer ever really “toured”? Or just all low-key smaller shows?
We did a lot of shows in the early days. Between us we own a recording studio, run club nights, teach music and have different projects running. The last thing we want to do is be stuck in a van going up and down the country at this point.
Do you ever play other countries?
Yes, there was a very memorable show in Copenhagen a while back around the time we were picking up national airplay in Denmark. We do love playing live but I’d say things have gone much more over to Bauer being a studio/writing project recently. It could change though. I guess it partly depends on how the next album goes over.
Have you ever been to the U.S.?
Not yet. There’s a possibility me and Greg could be going over as part of the Red Sided Garter Snakes project.
That would be an all-star line-up. Have you already played any shows with them to promo that album?
There are no live shows happening until after the next Garter Snakes album. Not enough material as not including Chameleons material or any other material from people’s other projects/bands. It’s not really my thing personally to be just playing other people’s songs. Would feel like a tribute band or something.
Yes, that makes sense. So do you ever play covers of anyone’s songs, or strictly original music?
We did a reworking of the Fiction Factory song for the first Bauer album which was pretty cool and had a load of YouTube attention, and we’ll probably do some fun stuff for the fans with the pledge release, but generally for me it’s all about original music. It’s what keeps things relevant.
Yes, I’ve listened — repeatedly — to your version of “Feels Like Heaven.” It’s quite ethereal sounding. Lush is a words I keep coming back to when describing Bauer’s sound. And that’s a good thing.
You’re gonna love the new album then. I think it’s the strongest thing we could have possibly done at this point.
Are you most comfortable on the stage? Hogging the limelight, as it were?
It’s real weird sometimes onstage. The music usually hypnotizes me and I’m in a different world. I rarely remember much about the shows I do … unless something goes wrong … like an amp blowing or something.
Do you have any rituals before you play? Certain things have to be a certain way, etc.?
I take my shoes off … it’s nice to feel the stage. Other than that, I always like to leave the venue and have a beer somewhere else.
Speed round short answer questions to finish up — favorite food?
I’ve never had a job.
Favorite vacation spot?
C O P E N H A G E N … or Moss Side.
Whoa. Tough one. For today I’ll say “Lost in Translation” … Bill Murray … a hot actress (Scarlett Johansson) and good music.
Favorite band (other than your own):
The Beach Boys.
Last question …. You can invite four people (anyone at all) to a dream dinner. Who do you invite and what do you serve?
I serve pie to @sexydavereed / @jeremycorbyn and @bez_Beerspotter – Anti Fracking Truffle for afters.
OK, Well, I want to thank you for spending time chatting. Any closing remarks?
Yes, never eat yellow snow.
*****Bonus questions added after the fact, when Michael felt like chatting a little bit more:
So … blonde, brunette or redhead?
Ha ha, when I was younger, it would have been blonde. Now, I don’t really care.
I am more interested in people’s record collections and whether or not they enjoy partying.
Boxers, briefs, or … ?
And with that, it’s a wrap …. Thanks Michael, the pleasure is all mine …