Michigander only has two singles out, but that doesn’t stop the band from making appearances at SXSW, MoPop Music Festival and venues all over the U.S.
Jason Singer, the mind behind Michigander, talks to me about using live shows to gauge what music to put out, their new single “Fears” and how Spotify helped his band blow up.
The Indie Sound had the opportunity to speak with Singer prior to his tour with Flint Eastwood. Singer and his band Michigander will be making a stop in the capital city May 5 at The Basement as support for Flint Eastwood. The band’s new single “Fears” is out everywhere April 21.
The Indie Sound: So I read about the new single “Fears” and the fact that you wrote it during math class in high school. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Jason Singer: Yeah, it was during my junior or senior year of high school. I never really paid attention in class … I used to have a lot of notebooks filled with lyrics and one-liners and the chorus stemmed from a one-liner. I think kind of looking back it didn’t have a ton of meaning, but I feel like … as you grow older out of high school you realize that a lot of your friends don’t stick around. Not that they don’t stick around, but they move on with life, go to college, get other jobs, move to other cities, and I think that was the inspiration behind it.
TIS: What’s the songwriting process usually like for you?
JS: It’s weird, I feel like when I really sit down and try to write a song, I end up writing crappy songs. Like that tends to be the case, but I think the best songs are handed to me in a sense. I never really had a problem completing a song – I hear a lot of people say their songs take a long time to write, but normally it’s just there and I’ll be lucky enough to grab it. A lot of times, the melodies and the music of the song mean a lot more to me than the lyrics in a weird way. I’m just trying to be poetic in a way. There’s a band called The National, which a lot of people know, and he (Matt Berninger) writes a lot of abstract one-liners that you’re just like “What? That’s the coolest line…” and so I’m really influenced by Matt Berninger and that kind of music. People can take on their own interpretation of things.
TIS: What made you choose that one-liner to develop into “Fears.” What made you bring it into the studio and record it? I know it’s a fan-favorite at your live shows…
JS: There’s this producer named Jake Rye who did this track, and he was really excited to work with me, and I was just like “Okay, cool,” but he was very persistent and kept coming back and saying “Let’s work together, let’s work together, let’s work together,” and eventually he came to one of the shows and he heard that song and people really liked it and so did he, so we just said “Let’s do this one.” I don’t have much recorded music out, but we’ve been doing shows for over two years. It’s interesting that, without an album, a fan base has grown out of just live shows. It wasn’t on purpose, either, but it just worked out.
TIS: Do you think that changes the way that you gain a following versus if you were to release an album now and have that following build from that album instead? Do you think that live show experience shifts who your audience is?
JS: I think it does. We went a year and a half without having any recorded music, but we were having people show up to shows and there were people beyond just friends. It was interesting … we put out a single “Nineties,” last year and that relatively blew up with Spotify and stuff, so I think putting that single out helped build a base of people that are listening.
Building this fan base off of just a couple of songs will be really beneficial in the long run when we put out an album or an EP. It’ll be thrown out onto a lot more people than it would be just saying “We’re a new band, here’s our album that we just put together,” but it’s also cool because the songs we get to make we can tell if they suck or not because of how well they go in a live setting. The ones that go over well the best live, are the ones that stick around. There’s been 20 songs written, but our setlist still stays at 12 songs for a headliner. I’m really glad we didn’t put out a record right away.
TIS: So you use live shows as a gauge for what you throw on a record or an EP?
JS: It’s not just what the crowd thinks, it’s how we feel playing it. Or how I feel playing it. If the song is good on just an acoustic guitar, then I’m like “This is a good song.” If I need a whole production to make the song come across well, then I probably am not going to stick with that song.
TIS: That’s interesting, because usually you just hear of smaller acts releasing an EP or an album and then expecting things to go on from there. It’s an interesting way to go about it.
JS: It’s weird. We got a lot of flak for it at first, but then as time went on I was like “Oh, well this is actually going pretty well.” We did do a lot of live sessions like Daytrotter and things like that at the beginning, so some of those songs are still out there on the internet somewhere.
TIS: You said you caught flak … what were people’s reactions?
JS: Since there was no album, people were like “We want to buy your music. Where’s your music?” and I was like “Come to the shows.” It is kind of beneficial too because bands nowadays, especially bands that are where we’re at … we’re like low on the totem pole … the only way to make money is shows, and a lot of people bash streaming services but Spotify is another way to make money. I make tons of money from Spotify. Every month they send me a check and I’m just like “This is awesome.”
“It’s not just what the crowd thinks, it’s how we feel playing it.”
I was against Spotify for the longest time until they put “Nineties” on a playlist, then I was like “Oh, I love Spotify!” I woke up one day and there were like 30,000 plays on it. Watching that stuff grow is cool because that music is distributed all over the world.
TIS: I always love asking smaller bands about their opinions on streaming services because it’s all over the spectrum right now. If you see it as a way to promote yourself, then in a sense it’s helping…
JS: We got really lucky. It’s all these different algorithms and such apparently and it just put “Nineties” on an indie playlist or something and it’s been on that playlist for eight months.
TIS: I saw you’re going to Mo Pop Festival in Detroit this year. That’s awesome…
JS: Yeah, that is freaking awesome. That is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.
TIS: What’s you feel like when you found out?
JS: It’s crazy because for the last two years that we’ve been a band I’ve been trying to get us on it. The first year it made no sense for us to play it … we were literally nothing. We didn’t even have a song out. Last year I was really hoping we got it, and this year … it was really cool when I found out. It was very unexpected. Same with SXSW, that was also really unexpected. Both those things happening this year were pretty cool. I never really expected anybody to care that much, but we’re gonna be playing in front of a ton of people and it’s really cool to see our name on a poster with alt-J and Foster the People, who I’m big fans of.
TIS: This is a very cliché question to ask, but I’m gonna ask it anyway. What are your influences?
JS: Oasis. I’m really into a lot of British bands like I’m a really big fan … as lame as it sounds, I’m a huge Coldplay fan. I think they’re one of the greatest bands. There’s a band called Catfish & the Bottlemen, they’re one of my favorites right now. I’m also really into Spoon right now. That new album is so good.
I saw them at Shaky Knees in Atlanta and then I saw them at Eaux Claire the first year in Wisconsin at Bon Iver’s music festival. For the Atlanta show, we got to be side stage because my friends work for The National and so we got to go … I didn’t even know who Spoon was at the time. Now I’m all about them. That new album is on constant repeat.
TIS: So, what’s next for Michigander?
JS: We’re on tour this month and we also have a single coming out this month. We have a bunch of shows we’re doing all throughout the Summer. We’re going to be on and off in the studio between now and the Fall and hoping to have something out again soon.
“Fears” is out this Friday. You can check out Michigander on Spotify below.