Monday, July 13, 2020

Mike's interview

I first heard Mike Tittel’s work with the Loud Family, but also with New Sincerity Works, his post Loud Family band. New Sincerity Works is a really good, somewhat prog, indie rock band, and like Tittel’s solo album, Sleeping In, well worth checking out.

Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Andrea Weiss: The sound of this album seems, to me, a lot like The Loud Family’s Interbabe Concern, which is great. How much of the sound is influenced by Scott Miller?

Mike Tittel: That is so interesting to me. (I’d love to know what you hear that is LF-esque!) To be honest I always thought Scott’s influence on me was not tied to the way my songs sound or how I write. Of course I loved Scott and his music, but for me he was a force of creativity and always stood for individualism and reminding me that you can only be who you are, and that if you do it with conviction there will be people who relate to what you are doing. But I never set out to write a song like his. His influence on me was more of a creative spirituality or philosophy I think.

Perhaps one thing you are picking up on is the way this record sounds or was produced? Interbabe is kind of a un-hyped up natural sounding recording that balances a lot of acoustic guitar with electronics. And that is certainly the recipe for Sleeping In: keeping things organic and real, but using a blend of acoustic, synth, piano, and treated electric guitars. But I never thought of a LF connection!
I haven’t been able to listen to Scott’s music since he died. It’s still a bit too sad for me to hear it and I felt like I needed to “move on.” But certainly he lives on in me. I do often think after I’ve made a record that “Scott would have enjoyed hearing this.”

Funnily enough this is the second review of this record where someone connected this work to Scott Miller. And thinking of it further I do orchestrate my New Sincerity Works band to have three guitars, synths, etc., so I guess I am in the same genre of wanting a huge rocking sound in that context of a band. So perhaps he’s influenced me in ways I never thought of. Thanks for asking that.

AW: Lyrically, I hear Scott, too, which is wonderful. How much are the lyrics influenced by him?

MT: I could never do what Scott does with lyrics. He, to me, is an abstract painter and I am probably more a romantic. lol. Like him, I do try to skirt the line of being literal and understood, balanced with enough ambiguity for people to build their own meaning and intrigue. But I think I want more to be understood than Scott did. I am much more direct. Less poetic perhaps. Scott was more ambiguous and listeners of his music really have to dive in to make connections or mine out meaning. I don’t think I’m nearly as sophisticated?

AW: Did anyone else influence this album?

MT: Hmmm. I’ve been listening to a lot of non-rock music over the past few years. Artists like Joe Henry, Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, Erin Rae, Aimee Mann, and diving back into a lot of really old country music. I would never aspire to write country songs, but what I do like is the immediacy and approach that all that kind of music had before the 1960s. I wanted this record to be sparse and immediate, not overblown or over-produced. At one point I had the idea of making a record with a single acoustic guitar on it, but I chickened out. I am getting confident enough to think I could pull that off but, I felt I wasn't quite there with my voice to do that. All to say as I recorded the record I began to add instrumentation to things. But I did try to limit the amount of fussiness. I recorded everything pretty quickly and aside from using a click track on most of it I didn't do much correction or editing. I pretty much stuck to old school analog recording techniques. I will say there are also a couple artists that always bring it back for me to what its all about. Neil Finn is one of those for me. From the way his records sound to his constant reinvention, I’d say he is a big influence on how I want music to be presented.

AW: I like that New Sincerity Works sounds so different. Was there a conscious effort to sound different on this album?

MT: I was quite worried about doing a solo record, because I didn't want to confuse people. The NSW records are a lot of me, as well, as I play most of the instruments and then have certain guitar parts or bass parts added by the band. At worst, I thought if I kept Sleeping In more acoustic-leaning the two brands would feel different and not just be a weird duplication of approaches. But I think the songs ended up being maybe more introspective and more mellow on Sleeping In, which in the end I think is a good use for an outlet such as a “solo record.” So to answer your question, I don't think it was a conscious effort, but I am glad they sound different. With this solo record I was probably less worried about the quality of the songs or if people would like them. Even when sequencing the record I was aware that perhaps that record was lacking some monster grooves or some driving rock. And I was okay with that.

AW: Is there another New Sincerity Works in the works?

MT: Yes. Strangely enough its been complete for two years. In fact I wrote Sleeping In immediately after I finished recording the fourth NSW record. (It will be released this fall.) We’ve been sitting on it because I upgraded my studio and wanted to mix it properly. Mike Landis, my NSW and Pretty Birds bandmate, is almost finished mixing it.

Because NSW was not ready to release, I got a bit stir crazy and had about twenty new songs that I really wanted to “document.” I have a strange fear that I will forget songs. LOL. Anyway last November I decided I’d just record a bunch of them and maybe put out a record.

These songs, by the way, were written in 2019 during the winter, where I tried this creative exercise of writing a song a day. I’d wake up super early and write at my kitchen table. I’d try to wrap a tune up after working for 2-3 hours. If it sucked it sucked. But I got a few that I thought were good, and those are what you hear on the record.

AW: With the pandemic making it hard to record a band in a studio, how was the album recorded?

MT: My studio is in my lower level of my house and is called Fruit Hill. I have done all my records there on various generations of gear and setup. This is really the first record I have recorded and mixed with really good gear. I spent a lot of effort and money to upgrade to something that is as professional as anyone really needs. Mike Landis and I share the studio. When he is there working I of course can’t use the studio, so I recorded most of the record during late night or early morning sessions. When the pandemic hit, the studio was totally unused. I am not, by any means, an engineer, but I know enough to be dangerous, so I decided instead of waiting for Mike or paying someone to mix it, I’d just do it myself. So March and April I hunkered down and learned how to mix. LOL. Mostly by watching YouTube video and calling Mike for tech support. It was harrowing and I struggled quite a bit, but overall I am happy with the results. I didn't want anything sounding too polished and pristine, so I think I junked it up enough to keep it in the realm of not overthinking it, and that is what I was seeking.

AW: If there are other musicians on the album, who are they?

MT: It is mostly me playing and singing everything. Lauren, my partner, who plays in NSW and Pretty Birds with me, sings on a few songs. And I had Bob and Greg from NSW play bass on a few songs. Bass is one thing that I haven't quite got the magic touch on. And the last song, “Birds of Murren,” has Eric Bates playing a violin part. Oh, and a pal that was in town over Christmas put a guitar part on “Own Your Own Dealings.”

But yeah its a one man band type record. That’s why I was able to crank it out and finish it in a just a few months. And the urgency was important to me. And it was the perfect time to be non-collaborative!

Andrea Weiss

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