Awesomesauce Q&A

The John Michie Collective

by annbsJUNE 12, 2021

Marako Marcus pic

A multi-instrumentalist, producer, and versatile talent who captivates the Indiedom with marvelously fuzzy musical style is John Michie. He had so much to offer and less time to waste by being so immersed in re-inventing his music! His song "Wish You Were Dead" projects those innovative techniques that rule with a dare-devil appeal. I invited him to choose to answer from my list of prepped musical questions, which I am excited to share with you. 

Take note that John did the extra mile in answering here, and very much worth your time! 

Briefly introduce yourself:

"Hello my name is John and I am the sole member of The John Michie Collective.  I work 99% of the time in my bedroom but have done some recordings at my mate’s house in Lowestoft on the coast of England. His house is literally a building site so no glitz.  I have collabed with a few artists… most recently 'Chris James Willows' & 'Shaun Charlton' on various tracks. Mainly though, my collaborations have been silent and have been lending mixing or mastering help behind the scenes.  More collabs are to come but they will likely be out next year. 

I am operating in a lot of genres, so if you listen to my record, you will get anything from ambient to psychedelic rock.  I don’t tend to think in genres though.  If it sounds good it is good. Music is music. I have no label except my one set up with Distrokid… so no, I don’t have some old has been bloke mugging me of my lunch money, ha ha! I think they are only after spotty teenagers anyway."

Share your favorite quote or epiphany as a musician.

"'Epiphany' as in realisation? Hmmm… There is one. That was when I heard the album “Visions” by Grimes. That was the moment when I realised that making music was achievable in your own bedroom. Before then I wasn’t aware that the technology has become so available in terms of drum machines within a computer and artificial intelligence assistants that can help guide you through the musical make up department before going on stage.  Grimes recorded that album in a week and all the vocals were one take.  She had also mixed and mastered it herself.  That is when I started diving into her catalogue and was blown away.  Within a few weeks I had made the leap of installing logic on my mac and buying an interface and mic cheaply. That was then the start of my real musical addiction.  I have spent 2-4 hours every day since then learning how to mix, master and improve my skills and it has taken years to feel like I have some clue of what is going on.  There has been so much failure and frustration but somehow, I didn’t lose heart and I kept pushing. I was determined to find out how to do it for myself."

- That is truly inspiring, John! :) -- Ann 

How do you organize your thoughts and come up with great tracks?

"I wish I could tell you a straight forward answer to this question. The truth is that songs will come to me without much thought or effort or they won’t.  I am currently in the “they won’t” territory at the moment but I am still picking up my guitar and chasing it in case something ends up falling my way. 

When I start recording a song as well it can take a long while before I conclude the song is good or it is bad, i.e. I don’t know until it is nearing finishing.  That is mainly as massively altering fx can still be applied to the song and then it’s a case of following it if it is good. I am also doing two versions of each song I write at the moment just to double check if I am running at it the right way.  Putting that aside though, when I record it is basic acoustic guitar and a click track. Get everything down in time and then it is start applying layers to the song with bass and drums arriving last. When it is nearing finishing, that is when I will place it in the “album” or “b-side” category and they will sit there until they get there time out in the open, which can be years. 

Absolution my latest single had sat on my hard drive for 3 years until I decided to rerecord it and get Chris James Willows on board to help polish it up to standard."

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What exactly do you like about making music?

"I like the whole process of discovery.  In a weird sense, it is like going on holiday or going for a long walk somewhere scenic. Sometimes the weather is great and sometimes it isn’t but every day, something new is discovered.  It is also a phenomenal feeling when you hear a track fully done and you are blown away by this huge sound scape you have created. I am not interested in singing or playing live.  I know people love the rush of gigs and all that shebang but the rush I get is in “production”. When I am making music I am not thinking of Mick Jagger or Queen. I am thinking of Brian Eno, Brian Wilson, The Beatles and George Martin, Phil Spector, Alan Parsons and more modern acts like The Chemical Brothers, Grimes and Boards of Canada that are pushing the envelope in creation.

What instrument/s do you play?

I play guitar, bass, piano and drums… as well as sing… all incredibly badly. I am not even making that up either.  I am not Jimmy Page or a John Williams…  I have to rely on a lot of studio knowledge to get things sounding decent in all senses.  I have never had any music lessons or singing lessons… but at the end of the day I am an amateur artist that loves creating. If I was performing live every night or get signed to Columbia or 4AD I might then get music and singing lessons for 6 months before a tour but it is what it is.  I am not the son of Phil Collins, Bono or Liam Gallagher and I don’t have daddy’s bank card to help me launch my art.  Or their contacts to pass it off as DIY indie and get people to lap up the mediocre as decent.  It is do it yourself and see how far you get by your bootstraps with no budget. 

My musical set up is pretty basic really.  I have a Les Paul Custom and a crap Epiphone Dot that form the back bone of the electric guitar sounds. I usually demo with the Epiphone and then bring the Custom out when recording the final version of a song. For my acoustic guitar I have a Fender camp fire type guitar which gets the job done but I am usually using that rough sound as a pad within a recording. I have made a few upgrades to my equipment since recording High Vibrations. I have a Roland electric piano, Fender Jazz bass and a new Shure SM7B mic. All these are going into a cheap interface and ancient, ancient computer which is on life support at best. 

Most of the soundscapes that I create are formed mostly in my recording software Logic and plugins that I have picked up along the way. I have spent a fair bit of money on software and plugins to help form or distort different sounds and this is really where my sound originates. I tend to buy delays and tape fx in any shape or form when I see them and I tend to apply as many fx as I can get away with when making a mix. This is a bit counter to general theory of 'less is more'…  I kinda think everyone wants a larger slice of chocolate cake.  If it sounds good as well, it is good."

What or who made you pick up and learn your favorite musical instruments?

"I was in Italy when I has 15 and its hard to describe but I had a sudden urge to just learn guitar.  I think I had some image of becoming John Lennon in my mind.  The first thing I did was learn Oasis songs as they are quite frankly easy and then I upgraded to the Beatles for the harder chord shapes. From there I started writing songs and I have just collected songs ever since. I have a lot in my head but whether they can be pulled out is a different matter.  I honestly wish though now that at the age of 4 my parents shoved me in front of an instrument and said you’re learning this whether you like it or not." 

Which of your tracks is the most innovative or experimental? Why so?

"The track of mine which is the most experimental is 'Wish You Were Dead.'  It is the first track I ever wrote and it is also the one that really unlocked my sound and stopped me from sounding like carbon copies of other acts. It made me realise that 'I am not a live act' so why be restrained by the idea of playing live? That is when drum machines started getting added and turning the bass line in to an arpeggio.

Once I had embraced that idea that anything can be used it gave a lot of freedom to get my art created and made the songs sound done.  Before then, everything sounded a bit lifeless. I can totally understand and associate with the Beatles wanting to just be in the studio and create sounds that can’t be performed live. Don’t get me wrong I know that today that sound could be created live but I am waiting for Simon Cowell to cough up the cash for equipment and sound engineers." 

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If you go to Mars and are only allowed to bring 20 musical selections to play and nothing else, who would those artists be?

"Easy…  Beatles, Pink Floyd, Grimes, Brian Eno and The Chemical Brothers. That is the minimum that I would need to stay entertained and cover practically every mood and occasion."

What is HOT music to you?

"Hot music, hmm... there are relatively few major artists that I look forward to releasing these days.  I think some of these record label bosses took too many drugs in the 80s and 90s and it has seriously hindered their judgement.

I think it also shows how out of touch all of the record labels from large to the tiny are as they are all pushing lightweight material. But they are in the game of money, fancy photos, videos with red and blue lights of spotty teenagers with lip and arse filler.

Grimes… as I keep saying… even she has lip filler these days which I think is a shame… I get excited for when she releases as she seems to be one of the relatively few people pushing the boundaries in creativity.  I collect Noel Gallagher vinyl so I still listen to him but his releases are a bit two dimensional.

The hottest music that is being created is definitely in the underground indie scene.  The electronic acts like Tertia, Motorbike James, Arcade Skies and Genetic Effects are the ones that are sparking my interest the most.  But there are loads like Moonlight Parade, Lewca and Luke Roberts to Orange G. It is quite frankly inspiring how much creativity there is and how good the music is.  These guys are literally gold mines waiting to be picked up by record labels that 100% trust and support their instincts."

Who is the musician you could be best associated with the most?

"If I could carve out an image of me as a star/musician it would be 100% David Bowie.  He is the definition of an artist. He did what he wanted and he was not limited to a genre. He also struck that great balance between human…  the guy who paid for Marc Bolan’s kids schooling after he died in that car crash... and mystical eccentric star of say Ziggy. It is also an image that gets copied by anyone who is interesting going back to Grimes but also Madonna, Bjork and so on."

If by chance, who would be that one band or artist you would like to jam with and why?

"If I had the chance to collab with anyone it would be Grimes. As you can tell I am obsessed but the one musician I would like to just Jam with and hang out with would be Dave Gilmour any day.  I think I would quite happily play Em and A for a couple of hours as he plays the lead guitar to Breathe/Speak To Me on top.  That would be pretty special.  He is one of the most talented guitarists of his generation and his guitar parts are incredibly organic and melodic.  Forget your Elton Johns or Phil Collins… He is really one of the very few people I would be genuinely star struck over and nervous around.  Just cause he’s amazing."  

What would you tell your favorite band/artist if you happen to meet one day?

"If it was Grimes it would be 'will you marry me?'…  if it was Dave Gilmour it would be 'will you marry me and can I have one of your Fender guitars?'" 

- Hahaha!  Good one... :) -- Ann 

If you are not doing music, what are your other interesting diversions?

"I can’t get away without mentioning Twitter here, can I? I love that platform and has been a real-life line during the last year and a bit as a rock of sanity. In general, though I like the pretty simple things like cooking, walking, the odd spot of gardening and hanging out with friends down the pub. I am not one of these mental people that likes bungee jumping, pumping iron in the gym in tight lycra pants or going for runs by the side of roads to get my daily dose of car fumes in the name of health."

What is your most memorable experience as a musician?

"I think the most memorable experience is when someone made that first purchase on bandcamp of one of my songs. I believe it was the legendary and talented OrangeG as well. I am a tight arse so unfortunately haven’t returned the favour...  Really sorry, Orange, but I will buy you a pint when I meet you in person.  It kinda still blows me away when someone buys a song of mine on that platform...  I kinda think I am ripping them off as most of the material I don’t like.  I guess though us artists are the most critical of the body of work we create so I don’t know…  It is appreciated."

What is your funniest experience as a musician? 

"Hmm... probably my regular chats with Genetic Effects in twitter DMs.. when they get going it’s better that a house on fire…  Enough said on that one ha ha!"

If you could turn back the clock, which musical year/decade would you choose?  Explain.

"The musical decade that I wish I could turn back the clock to is the 1970s...  Especially in the very early 1970s.  That really is the time for me when music got interesting.  Long sides to albums that experimented like that Hawkwind album.  All the albums from Led Zep and Floyd as well in that era are just beyond belief.  You also had synths coming on line and better recording equipment so everything  sounded different from before, bar what the Beatles were doing.  I also think that the Vietnam war, the politics and disillusionment created a real great mix of rebellion and longing for feelings of happiness and something more.  There is a real spirit in that era of music."

Name your top 3 most influential musical figures of all time?

"The 3 most influential music figures to everyone? Whether they like it or not?  Hmm.  Sam Phillips of Sun records as he is the one that really fostered that whole Rock n Roll scene from Elvis to Carl Perkins. Without him there would be no Lennon let alone Justin Bieber with his “baby, baby, baby” and terrible tattoos.  My next  pick would be… George Martin. Simply because he is ultimately the guy who organised all of the Beatles albums bar one.  Without him we would have had to have waited years longer to get advancements around backwards sounds in music, tape speed experimentation and multitracking.  Lastly number 3 has to be Peter Grant as he is the manager challenged accepted norms, shared the same vision as the act he worked for and was ruthless in achieving it.  He is the man that created Led Zep into a giant and changed what it meant to be a famous musician."  

Name your top 3 most favorite tracks from your discography. 

"My top 3 songs in my discography are:

1) Wish You Were Dead as it is a real statement of what to expect from me…

2) When The Moon Breaks Up which will be off my next album “Toward The Rainbow” as it was an incredibly easy piece of music for me to come up with yet I think is innovative and has a real interesting set of layers intertwined.

3) I’ll Write Your Constellation would be my current third as I can’t really pick anything I have coming out next year.  I’d say that one as it has some trippy sounds on it and has some funk.  Better songs are coming through and if you asked me this next year I probably wouldn’t pick those 3."

What one word best describes you as a musician?

"The word that I think best describes me as a musician is 'inconsistent.' Nothing is ever played correctly or the same once it has been done. I also forget all the music to the songs once they have been recorded."


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