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Interview: Jason Singer of Michigander

5 May 2021

Jason Singer of Michigander says artists only have one chance to make a first impression and when we first connect in a Zoom call, I tell him that I had an opinion on his band before ever even hearing them because I know a few hardcore fans and I know that my tastes don’t always mesh with theirs.

How wrong I was. Giving Michigander’s new EP, Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, a listen, I discover an emotionally-charged, reverb-drenched rock record that brings to mind acts like The National and The Sheila Divine. And I quickly consumed the rest of Michigander’s catalog on Spotify which consists of EPs and singles dating back to 2016.

As a Columbus, Ohio resident, I’ve been conditioned to have negative feelings about anything from the state up north, especially the college football team. However, I’m not the biggest sports fan, nor is Singer, and he shared that, just a few weeks before this interview took place, he had taken a short weekend trip to Columbus, one of his favorite places to visit. That makes this Michigander okay in my book.

A popular model seems to be releasing singles and EPs rather than full lengths, it gets music out quicker and fans don’t have to wait on the whole album cycle. You’ve been following that model so far. Is that calculated, release stuff when it’s ready to go?

JASON: I think everything I do has a lifespan. It always ramps up, when I put out the first EP it was like, “Cool, here we go.” And then once I start feeling it go down, I’m like, “Okay, maybe we should start prepping for the next thing.” It’s a gut intuition feeling. As things go on, we can ride it a little longer. I would love to put out a 12-song full length and do that whole two year thing, or, like some bands, even longer. I would love to make something so good that people can just hold onto it and we can tour on it for two or three years, that would be awesome. I’d love to get to that point. Right now, I’m all about the hustle; getting it done and keeping it going.

In the ’70s and ’80s, bands tried to fill entire albums with music but that often meant there was some filler. If you have six or seven songs that you’re passionate about, it makes sense to put them out as an EP rather than writing extra songs that you don’t feel are your best work.

JASON: Yeah. Everything I’ve put out, I’m proud of. Everything I put out takes a while. There’s never any songs that I’m like “Eh?” about, which feels rewarding.

Have you played all the songs you’ve released live?

JASON: Everything has been played live. I consider myself a live band. In normal times, we are always in the van, always somewhere, always driving and playing. We got to do a livestream together, me and the guys, a month ago and we played all the songs [on the new EP] for the first time in front of people, virtually. Nonetheless, it was cool to play. And we’re playing a big show here in Detroit, a pod thing, and we’re very excited to play them together again.

I definitely have some songs that I was nervous about pulling over live on this new record. Normally, I think that I’m not going to release anything unless I can play it live. This time, it was a little different and I pulled it off. But, there are songs in the back catalog that we’ll probably never play again. At the time, we needed all those songs to fill a 45-minute set, let alone an hour-long set. We occasionally got booked for those and I was like, “I only have 8 songs, I can do an hour.”

Now, it’s hard to choose how many songs we can play. We have a 45-minute set next weekend and we have to cut stuff that I really want to play. That can be a little annoying. But, it’s fun, no complaints really.

When they make the Marvel super hero movie about Michigander, what is your origin story? How did this all start?

JASON: When I was younger, I always loved music. My parents had a very small vinyl collection, I remember being younger and always being fascinated by everything in it like the liner notes. Then, as I got a little older, I started playing music at church and these old guys would teach me how to play guitar and piano. And then I got a little older and me and my friends kind of started these little bands and we tried to play White Stripes songs and Coldplay songs and Death Cab songs. We were just trying to play all these different things.

More and more, I was like, “Man, I love this.” All I cared about was playing guitar, so much so that when I would get grounded, my parents would take that away from me – like once or twice. All I cared about was music and learning about bands and watching performances of anything, like Dave Matthews to the White Stripes. I loved going to shows and watch people wrap cables and set up stuff. I would rent CDs from the library and rip them to my computer, sorry everyone. I was just fascinated by everything about it, the music specifically but even beyond that, the music business always was so intriguing to me. When we first started, I was emailing anybody I could and being like, “Can we open? Can we play this? Do you care about my band? Will you sign us?”

But I was really shy about it to people in my real life. I didn’t want people to know I was doing music, not for any reason, like thinking they were going to discourage me, but I just think I knew I wasn’t good enough at that time. I didn’t want people to watch while I was learning. I wanted to get it down and figure it out and get into a spot where, when people did hear it – because you only get one first impression with somebody – it was something I was proud of. Because, I have friends in bands and their first song sucked and now it’s always like, “Well, hopefully you get better.” My first impression of everybody is the first thing I hear. I used to not like Radiohead because of one of the songs I heard. Now, they’re one of my favorite bands. I just wanted to make sure everything was good before I went public with everything. It took a while.

There’s certainly a confidence and bravery in doing that. How many people are never going to take that next step and leave their bedroom to play their music for somebody? When did you decide it was time for people to hear stuff?

JASON: I kind of had a band that was playing shows and stuff but I was kind of keeping it all really low key and close to the chest and not posting about it much. I think my parents didn’t even really know what I was doing. I remember raising some money and recording this EP, Midland, and I remember bringing the EP to my parents, like physical CDs actually showed up and my parents were like, “What are all these boxes?” and I said, “This is what I’ve been doing.” I remember handing them a CD and being like, “Thanks, Mom and Dad” and they were like, “This is cool.”

I was just spending all my money on making music and driving to shows and being around music and I was always discouraged, “You’ve got to save your money.” But, really, I was looking at it like an investment into now where I have, not a lot of, money but a little more than I did.

Do you have people that, when you finish a song, you share it with them for feedback?

JASON: 100 percent. My friend Adam, he designs all the packaging, he’s one of the main champions of what I’ve been doing since I started doing this. He’s a good friend of mine and he’s always offered a blunt, unbiased opinion because we like a lot of the same music. But if he doesn’t like something, he’ll say it. Or, if he really likes something, he’ll say it, which is really exciting. He’s seen me since the beginning, since the early stages of my music until now.

You mentioned that you enjoy studying the business side of music. What is your take on streaming?

JASON: My take on streaming has changed over the years. At first, I was very anti-streaming. I think a lot of artists complain about. It’s really good for artists where I’m at, I think. It’s great for artists up to a certain point. A lot of the success I’ve had has come from, “Okay, I put out a a song on Spotify, somehow a lot of people heard it.” I put out my first song almost 5 years ago and that song, “Nineties,” somehow got a lot of traction and a lot of people starting hearing it. I was playing shows off it. Because of that song, I could tour. Because my music was accessible in it’s true form, like the recordings are accessible and the music is accessible, it’s accessible for people to listen to. Seeing how many people are listening to my music monthly, it’s bonkers. There’s almost half a million people every month that are at least listening to a little bit of my music. I don’t know how many would do that if they had to buy it or if there was a paywall. I mean, there is a paywall and, sure, I’m not making as much money off that, but if I was just making CDs, I don’t think as many people would be listening and as many people would care.

I’d love to get the music to as many people as possible, I guess it’s on pirating websites too, which is crazy. That’s fine with me, just get the music to as many people as possible and then, if they want to support me, they can buy a ticket, they can buy merch, they can do that kind of stuff. There are definitely pros and cons to streaming but I know I’ve benefitted a lot from it. It pays my rent so I can’t be too upset about it.

So you’ve seen the translation of streams into concert tickets?

JASON: 100 percent. For me. There are bands who only exist on the internet, they are internet studio bands and that’s fine but I’m a touring band and Michigander started as a live band. We were playing shows for two years before we put out any music and we were selling 200 tickets without having any music out. It’s cool, but it’s stupid. Michigander was built on the show aspect of it. This last year has been especially tough because that’s what we do, we are a band. I mean, it’s a solo project. We’re not doing anything groundbreaking, but that’s where I feel the most connection with people. I love talking to people and being in front of people and entertaining them. I love show biz.

It was cool to be a band that people just saw live. At first, you’re only playing for your friends, you’re making “friend rock” but then eventually you’re making something for a lot more people. It’s wild to me, when I put out the first song, I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to hear it. I was like, “If I get a couple hundred streams on this from my friends, cool.” It’s weird to see the validation from hundreds of thousands of people listening. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to see hundreds of thousands tickets in a year, but, the fact that my song is in their head in one way or another, that’s a cool feeling.

What’s it like when you make that first extended road trip, more than just playing a few shows on the weekend and you actually go out for like six dates?

JASON: The first tour we went on, we were opening for our friend Flint Eastwood, now named Jax Anderson. She had us out and we played weekends and it was cool. We’d play the Beachland in Cleveland and then the Basement in Columbus and then the Smiling Moose in Pittsburgh and then we’d come home. And then we’d do something like that every weekend. That was our first real tour, being on the road and playing shows, even though it was weekend runs. Then, the next year, I did a tour where I went out for like 15 dates by myself and I played a bunch of little small things. I think the longest we went out was probably in 2019 where we were out for a month and a half. That seemed like we were gone forever.

I feel like time is warped when you’re on the road. You can be out for a week and it feels like you’re gone for a month because you’re just in a different spot in the morning and at night usually. Every day is a travel day and every day you’re working hard. You’re emotionally exhausted and physically exhausted and you’re not at home. I’m really interested to see what it’s going to be like once we’re back at it and overcome all this fatigue that we all have. That’ll be an interesting feeling.

Where are you at with touring? Are you ready to accept any tour that is offered or do you want to ease into it and see if people are ready to return to clubs to see live music?

JASON: We’re not trying to jump into it. We’re in a boat where we’re planning on the fall. We’ve been planning a tour, playing some festivals in the fall, probably August at the earliest is when we’ll play a real show. Hopefully, we’ll get to ease into it a little bit before we hit it hard again.

Do you find that your music goes over better in any particular region of the country?

JASON: I don’t know if it’s a Midwest thing, but we love playing in Chicago and Indianapolis and Minneapolis and Columbus and Detroit. It feels really good. And then I feel like there are some spots in the country, like down south, where it doesn’t really work. And then the east coast, like New York, always rocks and L.A. always rocks. I don’t know though, that’s a good question.

Is there any place that you haven’t played yet that you’d like to?

JASON: We’ve played most of the U.S. I feel like we haven’t spent enough time in Texas. I think we’ve only played SXSW in Texas. We’ve never played any proper club shows, we’ve done random things but nothing amazing which I hope we can do. I love playing Canada, Toronto rocks. I think the music we make would do really well in the UK, so I’m hoping that is something next year that we get to do.

Do you have a favorite tour experience and maybe a worst tour experience?

JASON: The best is when I released Midland and I played an EP release show in Detroit at the Magic Stick. I’m not from Detroit, that was just the biggest city around and 500 people showed up all off of this one EP. It was a really special night, I’ll never forget it. There’s been a lot of good shows but that one is really important to me.

The worst show ever, I think, was in this town called Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s like a tourist town in the middle of the Ozarks. There are no major highways or roads that get to it, it’s just in the middle of nowhere and it’s up in a mountain too. The van was struggling getting there. Everything about it was terrible. The show was terrible. We made no money. No one there was there to see us. It was so bad. We drove way too far to play the show and then we stayed in Branson, Missouri, which is also a terrible place. It’s very corny and goofy.

That’s the contrast between best and worst.

What tour announcement would make you instantly say, “I’ve got to buy a ticket right this second”?

JASON: Coldplay. I haven’t seen them in a very long time. I feel like the bigger tours are a little ways off. I’m ready. Once anything is back open and feels normal, I’m going to go to any and every show. I just relocated to Detroit so I’ll be around a lot more stuff. Hopefully this fall things will be good.

What was the last show you played before lockdown?

JASON: We opened for Bernie Sanders in front of a lot of people. That was a while ago but that was the last show we played, March 8, 2020.

Was there realization at the time that that might be the last show you play for a while?

JASON: I think we all thought things would be shut down for a month max, maybe two months max. Once all of our summer stuff started getting canceled, it was like, “Okay, this sucks.” And then the fall stuff and everything getting canceled was a real bummer, obviously. I didn’t really think of it too much after the Bernie show. My manager was there and we were talking about things we were going to do in 2020 and I was like, “This is going to be great.” I took a vacation at the beginning of the year because of how busy we were supposed to be later in the year.

Was there anything you learned to do or any newly discovered hobbies during lockdown?

Michigander - Video Games

Jason: Video games. It’s horrible. That’s my hobby that I picked up. Truthfully, all I cared about was music and occasionally watch movies but I’ve enjoyed video games for the first time in a long time.

Do you use your social media channels just for band promotion or are you posting non-band related content?

JASON: There’s no real plan, there are scheduled things and that’s one thing. Then there’s just whatever I’m thinking about at the moment. Last year, I got a journal and I deleted my personal Twitter so I would keep it to myself more! It’s been a year and I’m almost done with my journal and it feels pretty cool to have the year documented.