Michael grew up in Washington state and started playing drums in middle school when he was thirteen years old. While in college at New York University, Michael was a clerk at East Village Record Shop, Other Music, as well as a founding member of the Captured Tracks band Widowspeak, recording parts and touring with the band for their first LP. A few years later, Michael joined EZTV, who are also signed to Captured Tracks. EZTV released their debut album, Calling Out, in July 2015, and will release their sophomore album, High in Place, on September 30, 2016. Currently, he is also a Digital Imaging Specialist/Archivist at New York University and frequently assists Captured Tracks with preserving original art for their reissue projects.
(Photo credit: Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh)
A couple of weeks after we sent Captured Tracks the final mixes of our forthcoming LP, High in Place, for mastering, the label asked me to take a crack at writing our press bio. I don’t mention this as a gripe. It’s work that I think I would have excelled at decades ago, when that effusive, adjective-crazy style of writing was slapped onto the backs of most LPs and called liner notes.
My first thought was a flashback to a conversation that my band mates and I had had last April with Chris Cohen, our label mate, who helped arrange and produce one of the songs on High in Place. We were standing on the roof of Braund Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, looking at the impressive, imposing skyline: Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, Empire State, that hideous, pencil-thin luxury high-rise right on the edge of Central Park — all lead gray and heavy against a delicate blue sky. Chris groused about a phone interview he had done the day before that he felt had gone poorly.
My three cartwheeling paragraphs can be more neatly summed up in two words: ‘It’s tough.’
“The interviewer was asking me, ‘What is this record about?’ and I thought, ‘Why does it have to be about anything?’” Chris said. “It’s just nine or ten songs that happen to be on a record together.” At that moment, I’m sure that Ezra, Shane and I all understood how he felt.
So, instead of inventing connective tissue between the songs and their relation to each other for the album’s bio, I thought about the climate in which they were created. I wrote about how I felt that our record was a ten-song paean to the pleasures and pitfalls of making art in New York City in the year 2016. My three cartwheeling paragraphs can be more neatly summed up in two words: “It’s tough.”
I mentioned two events that felt significant to our band’s history: first, the 2014 closing of Glasslands Gallery, the venue where we played our first show. Second, the 2016 closing of Other Music, the East Village record store where I started working in 2010, whose owners have championed EZTV since the very first badly dubbed cassette.
Over the two-and-a-half-year history of the band, the three of us have moved a total of five times and held about as many jobs. We’ve gone through three practice spaces. The forces at work behind the closing and opening of venues and record stores are the same forces that scatter us to cheaper apartments and send us hunting for better rehearsal rooms. Those very forces of construction and destruction seem to fuel our songwriting engine.
I consistently looped three movies in my head while we were making the record: Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015), and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). I realized that the main characters of all three films spend the majority of their time in New York City flailing wildly — or, at their very best, only pretending to have their shit together. When I listen to “High Flying Faith,” I think of Frances maxing out her credit card to fly to Paris to take an acquaintance up on an offer to “visit us anytime,” only to find that they are out of town. “How Long’s it Gonna Be,” a piano-driven tune at the end of the record, reminds me of Llewyn walking around the wintry streets of the city clinging to Ulysses the cat. The chiming, strident chords of a song called “Hammock” make me think of Brooke’s bluster, her façade of conman bravado.
It’s just nine or ten songs that happen to be on a record together.
At the same time, I was also reminded of an incredible record that is overtly about living in a city that seems intent on shoving you out: Temporary Monument by Woolen Men, released in 2015. In twelve spiky songs, Woolen Men rail gloriously against the issues that plague their home city of Portland, Oregon: condominiums spiking the skyline, gentrification from a tech industry that the city welcomes but the citizens abhor, bourgeoisie third-wave coffee roasters dotting every street corner, commerce that supersedes and sabotages art. They’re pissed, they’re disillusioned, they’re frustrated — and they know how to write a damn good nervy rock song about it. It’s an easy record for me to relate to.
Stop me if this all sounds too heavy, too political. Our record definitely is not. At most, it is only obliquely about the difficulty and joy of creation in a place where the forces at work can feel oppressive, unfriendly, against you. At the least, like Chris says, it’s just nine or ten songs that happen to be on a record together.
(Photo credit: Daniel Topete)