Artist Spotlight: Another Michael

    Another Michael started out as the solo project of singer-songwriter Michael Doherty, who recorded 2016’s Sans EP on his own before bringing in multi-instrumentalists Nick Sebastiano and Alenni Davis. Rounded out by drummer Noah Dardaris and longtime engineer Scoops Dardaris, the band released its warm, enchanting debut LP, New Music and Big Pop, in early 2021. As soon as they finished that album, they began working on a new batch of songs, which took shape over the course of three years at Headroom Studios in Philadelphia and the Ferndale, NY house where they tracked their debut. With over 20 songs to play with, Another Michael decided to split them into two sibling records, each with a distinct sonic identity. The first, a 29-minute collection called Wishes to Fulfill that showcases the band’s knack for hooky, playful songwriting, was released last week, while the more experimental Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down is set to arrive early next year. Whether leaning into familiar indie folk tropes or expanding into new territory, Another Michael’s music remains big-hearted, funny, and full of subtle left turns because it’s rooted in the same musical and collaborative instincts. It’s just a pleasure to hear them continue stretching them out.

    We caught up with Another Michael’s Michael Doherty and Nick Sebastiano for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about their relationship with New Music and Big Pop, what makes a good song, the making of their two new albums, and more.

    How has your relationship to the songs on New Music and Big Pop changed since its release?

    Michael Doherty: Something I really love about touring is getting to watch the music essentially live in all these different spaces as we go along. That really helps grow my relationship with the music, alongside seeing how they sit with the newer songs we write and how they communicate with each other. And a lot of the songs really just feel better to me as time goes on, which is a really good feeling.

    Nick Sebastiano: Putting out more music does definitely shed a different light on the previous work that we’ve done, like New Music and Big Pop. A lot of times, when you finish making something, you have a wide range of emotions about it; some of them good, some of them frustrated – it depends how much of a perfectionist you are. As a producer, I do some mixing as well for our stuff, and from a technical standpoint, it’s easy to be finished with something and be like, “It’s good, I wish this could have been a little different.” And I do think that that is, in this case, a wound that time does heal when you come back to an old record. I haven’t listened to New Music and Big Pop in a minute, but last time I did listen to parts of it, I just found myself letting go of those sorts of things and appreciating that little time capsule that was us. I think definitely we’re more forgiving in hindsight on stuff that we’ve done than maybe we would be immediately after making it.

    I assume that making this pair of records, Wishes to Fulfill and Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down, forced you to think about how they relate to and are different from each other. Did you also think about how they tie into your debut album and the identity of Another Michael as a band?

    MD: If we wanted to make a pop song, we made a pop song; if we wanted to make a folky country song, we made a folky country song. We tried not to worry about how it would all fit too much. We just really focused on how, well, if it’s us doing it in our voice, then I think it should technically be able to sit well with the debut.

    NS: I don’t think that New Music and Big Pop was something that was presently on our minds when working on the new music, and I don’t think measuring up to it was something that we ever really thought about. I think that maybe shows in the departure from it in some areas in sound, but there also are naturally elements on Wishes to Fulfill and beyond that are just going to sound like Another Michael. There are some songs that sound more like New Music and Big Pop than others, and it’s not necessarily by design that it happened that way. I do think that when working on the new music, our gaze was pretty much completely just forward and not really looking back at our last thing. But in hindsight, it is cool to compare and contrast and see what happened in that gap of time between making both. You read between the lines and fill in the gaps, and that part of it is cool.

    MD: We’re also lucky, some of the songs we recorded and wrote even before New Music and Big Pop came out. Like ‘Candle’, I look at it as the first song we recorded, and that was very much soon after we truly finished everything with New Music and Big Pop. Making ‘Candle’ kind of felt like a celebration of the new music that we can make. It was our first time working on a full song in a studio setting and really tried to broaden the scope of what kind of music we could make and how we could use a studio.

    NS: That’s actually a really good point. ‘Candle’ is the first thing that we recorded post-New Music and Big Pop, and it sounds nothing like New Music and Big Pop stylistically. I think we finished New Music, we knew what that was supposed to be, and then we’re like, now we are free to do whatever we feel like doing next. I don’t think we ever really felt attached to following up New Music and Big Pop in a linear way.

    Michael, you’ve said that the idea of a good song is always changing for you. What I like about the way Wishes to Fulfill opens with ‘Guitars’, though, is that what that means sometimes is that the idea of a good song individually, or the evolution of a band more broadly, can seem a bit funny and absurd to think about. Is it something that often gets to you when you’re writing?

    MD: Yeah. I think you’re pretty spot on with ‘Guitars’ there – the lyric that I have, “It’s gonna make my voice sound different,” that’s kind of me nodding at the idea that every time I make music, I’m technically getting older.  It’s cool you picked up on that kind of thing. Especially in the present, when you’re making a record or a song, where it’s very trapped inside you, it’s hard not to have like thoughts of, Oh man, is what I’m making good right now? Especially in the process of working on one song and then working on another song like a year later, and then trying to relate those two together.

    Is there something you look for in your own songs that helps you determine whether they’re worth keeping or revisiting after a long period of time?

    MD: I guess I’m always looking for there to be some small imprint of surprise. I do see songwriting as a very meditative kind of thing; sometimes I’ll be doing it and it’s very much a Zen moment with myself, so I really look to be able to see that after working on something, I’ll listen to it and be like, Wow, I can’t believe that’s something I did. I can’t even really remember the space around me when I was happening. I guess I try to look for moments like that in the songs that, and even the recordings themselves. When we were recording ‘Guitars’, that’s a whole day that we spent just back and forth layering the song, and I remember listening to it so much more when it was getting close to being completed than the moments of actually recording it. So I’m looking for any kind of sign that there was that sort of thing happening during the process.

    NS: I think I understand what you were saying when you’re asking about the song ‘Guitars’ and the lyrics being like, “Guitars get acoustic sometimes, guitars go electric sometimes.” It’s just kind of a vibe. There’s such a fine line between what makes a song good and maybe a song we’re not as interested in or I don’t resonate with as much. It’s hard to pinpoint and create a rubric in your mind about what makes it good or what is making it speak to me the most. There’s all these different forks on the road when you’re making a record; you can have acoustic guitar, you could have electric guitar, but ultimately is that going to make or break the whole thing? I guess you don’t actually know until it’s all put together and it all makes you feel something. But it’s definitely a funny concept that music can be good and bad, and it’s definitely funny that we have no idea really why that is [laughs]. At least I don’t.

    MD: I feel like a finished song or finished record, it’s really just the set combination of everything that we ended on. It’s like, we could have worked on this forever if we really wanted to, or we could make so many different versions of this if we really wanted to. But you always gotta be honest with it and move on to the next thing.

    How did you decide to separate these two albums?

    MD: The big thing was we knew we wanted to finish at least 20 songs before we decided what we wanted to do with them, whether we pair it down or make it a whole big record or make it two records. What we decided on with making two records kind of came out of trying to sequence things.

    NS: It’s true, we just started making songs – sometimes we would go into the studio to make a song, sometimes we’d have a block where we’d try to record three tracks. We didn’t have all of these songs written in advance, we were demoing and recording as we went along. I think the reason we didn’t want to just make one album is because when we finished a new song or two, there was always another one coming up and we didn’t want to leave any behind. At a certain point, we had to be like, “Alright, we need to cap this somewhere.”

    And then sequencing into two albums – hilarious. Behind me right now is a whiteboard in my room, and we had all of the people involved in making the record – myself, Michael, Scoops, Alenni, Noah – rank songs from our favorite song out of the 21 that we ended up with to our least favorite. We literally tried all sorts of things, we collected data, and we were really trying to figure out what to do with this music. Ultimately, in conversation with people we trust – ourselves, our label, management – we came to the conclusion of a format: We’ll make two albums, but we don’t want to make the same album twice. We don’t want to make two albums that feel the same. We want to make a relatively shorter album, one that’s longer. We want their energies to be different, even though we made all the music over the same sort of period of time. It took a second –we swapped in stuff, and there could easily have been changes. But this is what we ultimately felt good about.

    MD: It really mirrors the process of the song-making itself – it really is seeing what’s going to come out next through the demoing process, and then coming together in the recording process, it all could have been so many things. And with that being said, the sequencing and the types of records they could have been individually could have been so many different things.

    The rollout has also been interesting. You announced them together, but you didn’t reveal the tracklist for the second album or the exact release date, though you released singles for both. It definitely frames the two albums as being connected in some ways, as opposed to announcing Wishes to Fulfill and then surprise-releasing Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down.

    MD: It feels nice to not have it feel like a complete surprise that we made two albums. It was Run for Cover’s idea to release a different single from each one, and it feels good to know there’s more music coming that is related to this music.

    NS: I feel like it’s an honest way to do it. When you put out two records and there’s time between both of them, people assume that there’s time and space and growth and progression between each one, and we did make these at the same time.  We did curate, I think, two very different records, but it felt like an honest way to be upfront about what you’re going to get from us over the next year or so.

    You’ve said that Pick Me Up is the more experimental record, but there’s definitely hints of experimentation on Wishes to Fulfill songs like ‘Research’ and ‘Piano Lessons’, which feels particularly significant as the closer. Were you intentional about their inclusion and placement on this album?

    MD: I guess I see ‘Research’ as an intermission track in a way, and ‘Piano Lessons’ at the end feels like a finale/wink sort of thing.

    NS: Including songs like ‘Research’ and ‘Piano Lessons’ on Wishes to Fulfill was definitely intentional. It could serve as a taste of a different sound, but it’s kind of like, if you have Wishes to Fulfill and Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down, I feel like ‘Research’ and ‘Piano Lessons’ are like the yin within the yang. I think when you get to Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down, not to spoil too much, the inverse will be true, too, where there will be songs that sound like Another Michael traditionally.

    How did the “memes” part in ‘Piano Lessons’ materialize?

    MD: ‘Piano Lessons’ came out of two different demos that got spliced together to be one new song that we would record in the studio. The “memes” part – I mean, really boring answer, kind of, but that’s something that I wanted to just really jump out at the listener. Like I say, I like when songs have little surprises in them, especially to kind of just be like, “Are you still listening?” [Nick laughs] I don’t know really where that came from aside from just being in that meditative state of songwriting and feeling like that was the thing that needed to be what jumps out in the song.

    NS: The next logical step in the road of the song. Yeah, Mike had made two GarageBand demos, I liked both them, they were both kind of incomplete on their own. I was bugging Mike constantly to send me the stems from GarageBand so that I could put them together and make it into one thing. I’m like, “I want this to be one song.” I immediately loved the “memes” part. I love the lines, “You’ve gotta have a sense of humor/ I’m not talking about Know Your Memes,” and then it keeps repeating – repeated for emphasis is the way that I think about it. I think at some point there was maybe question as to whether or not we should do that. Maybe it subconsciously for Mike speaks to – you can scroll “memes, memes” non-stop, you know.

    There’s a lot of humour on this album, but on the song ‘Angel’, it almost sounds like you literally can’t force it. It’s grounded and there’s a lightness to it, but it also feels personal and moving. Do you remember what it felt like as it came out?

    MD: That’s the only song I can think of from this whole batch that dates back to the New Music and Big Pop writing. When I hear it now, I definitely think of a certain time of my life that I connect a lot to when we moved to Philadelphia and transitional phases of my life and always asking myself if I’m on the right trajectory. Do I know what makes me happy? That song came out of a lot of that kind of questioning.

    Can you share one thing that inspires you about each other?

    NS: Michael and Michael’s relationship with music is unlike anybody that I’ve ever met, and I think that’s really inspiring. Michael listens to more music than anybody I’ve ever met in my life and appreciates not necessarily in a way that manifests in tangible reasons. Like, something that Mike will resonate with in a song that he’s listening to or working on will be something that maybe doesn’t even make any sense to me, but it works for him, and he really enjoys it. A funny way where this manifests is, Mike will play something and be like, “I’m about to show you a new song, but I think it sounds too much like this.” And then he’ll play, and I’m like, “Dude, I don’t even hear at all what you’re talking about with what it sounds like. It just sounds like Another Michael music to me.” Or he’ll be like, “This sounds so much like my other song,” and then I’ll be like, “There’s nothing about this that’s the same, actually.” But through his lens, it means a similar thing to him, and that’s all that matters. I definitely think the way Mike experiences and understands a song is very unique and inspiring.

    MD: That’s really sweet. I think the biggest thing that inspires me working with Nick is, I see so much calmness and relaxed feeling in you and the way you work on things. That definitely just helps calm me down when I feel like I’m getting really crazy about a certain process of the work, and obviously traveling together, and moments on stage. I mean, who doesn’t need that in their life?

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Another Michael’s Wishes to Fulfill is out now via Run for Cover. Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down is due in early 2024.

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