Hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, Michael Birch is best known for his work as front man and songwriter for the Melodic Hardcore five-piece Coves. His eponymous project reflects a softer, more intimate side while retaining the raw and confessional lyricism he is known for. Now Michael is celebrating the release of his EP Have It Your Own Way and he drops by to tell us all about.
Is there a feeling of relief knowing your EP is done and dusted?
There’s definitely a sense of some relief. I remember writing I Don’t Care seven or eight years ago when I first finished high school. I was kind of walking around with this song recorded on my phone voice recorder until I just decided it was time to record it and get it out there – so I couldn’t be happier to finally share that song in particular.
There were still a stack of other songs I professionally recorded or demoed at home that I wasn’t really ready to share with everyone. There were one or two songs that I may still release in the future that sounded surprising like Polka music and other songs that had a massive Rockabilly/Western influence which I just didn’t think gelled with the rest of the EP. Overall, I’m genuinely stoked with the final five tracks I’ve shared with everyone and I hope they reflect my passion for music in each song.
Do you realise how much of yourself you have to put in to a solo offering?
Yeah, in my experience of working in a functioning band, you generally have someone covering general song writing, someone focusing on social media and another person does this and that. I guess I’m sort of doing all of that myself with this project and it can be a massive process. It can definitely be hard to challenge your own writing when you’re doing your own thing. Usually in a band, everyone keeps everyone accountable for creativity and will say something like, ‘yeah but we always do that’ or ‘that’s what you did in that song’ so it’s easy to reflect on your writing and share ideas in a group. As a solo artist – you kind of need to keep yourself accountable to stretch your own creativity and not get stuck in one musical area for too long – otherwise you just write the same melody or chord progression over and over again.
Is it a weird feeling going from a band to being solo?
Not at all. Sometimes it’s nice to lock yourself in the back of the house and sing terribly and obnoxiously for a few hours straight until something interesting finally comes out. Other times, there’s nothing better than meeting at a rehearsal space with four other musicians and just jamming through a set list or a bunch of unfinished ideas in a really social environment. It’s actually heaps funny because I thought I would enjoy having full creative input in my own music. The truth is that I stress hard about songs I’m writing and need even more input than before. I’ve now taken to heading out to close friends’ houses to play them anything new I’m working on and ask them for their input. Just like I do with any new Coves material, I rock up at my parents house, sit my mum down and show her what I’m working on. She tells me how it is.
Did everything go as well as you hoped?
I like to think so. I get very excited about music production, so much to the point that I can be impulsive. When a song is finally recorded, I just want to have it released and accessible around the whole world. My only struggle is that I often think to myself, ‘Ah I wish I’d put that harmony in’ or ‘Damn, this song really needs like, a whole percussion section’. So when I listen to the EP now, a few of these thoughts pop up and I think I would have liked to have addressed those things when I was first recording them rather than having my head up in the clouds. Having said that though, my live set will see some songs performed with a full band – which should fix a few things I would have initially recorded differently.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge was just really pushing myself to be vulnerable in the song writing process. Listening to music that you connect with is such a joyous experience but being on the other side of it and potentially exposing some really personal stuff to pretty much anyone is crazily daunting. Leading up to recording the five songs I had to just look at myself and agree to go 100% or don’t bother wasting everyone’s time. So I’m glad I overcame that hurdle and wrote exactly what I wanted to express.
It sounds a bit typical but the other biggest challenge I faced was writer’s block. When I’m upset about something – you know, someone makes you feel crap or you start questioning something truly profound in your life, it’s super easy to write a song because everything is right there in your face and all the emotions are kicking you right in the guts. That’s what I call the sweet spot and for most of the EP I was sitting right in that sweet spot. There were one or two songs that genuinely took me months or even years to properly finish writing because so much time would pass and I would simply get lost and disconnect with the emotion I was feeling at the first conception of the song. To fix the problem, I had to really get into the original mind set of why I was writing the song in the first place and from there I could complete writing the lyrics.
Has your band Coves influenced or shaped what you’ve done on this EP?
Absolutely. Coves released the Dying Light EP in 2016 which featured the song Underground on it. We then went on tour up the East Coast and played this song in every city and every single time we played it, we’d have a bunch of people come up and tell us how much they enjoyed that song. It was the first song I wrote for Coves that was purely sung without any screaming and it is probably the song I am most proud of. It was definitely the gateway song that can gave me the confidence to explore my vocal range and pursue the idea of writing more songs with singing. It was probably the feedback from that song that shaped the entire solo EP.
Biggest influence on your music?
The biggest influences on solo music would be Anthony Green of Circa Survive for his amazing vocal range and style, Anthony Raneri of Bayside for his honest and deep lyrics, Mat Kerekes of Citizen for his raw emotion and Chris Cheney of The Living End for his unmatched talent on the old Grestch guitar. These fellas all have ridiculously different styles and it feels a little absurd listing their names in the one sentence but I could pin point parts of my songs and talk someone’s ear off on how that artist inspired 3-5 seconds of one of my songs. I’ve been listening to all of these artists for years now and I feel sorry for all my friends and my family because I’m the type of guy that will listen to the same one or two records or artists at a time. But every time I listen, I always pick something else up, either in the way the songs are written or in the way they compose their lyrics.
Do you think you might look at an album down the track?
I can definitely see an album down the track. I have enough material as it is to record an album but I’m really eager to release a little bit more content and play some more live shows around Australia before working on an album. At the moment I’m just focusing on seeing how people respond to the release and refine my sound from there.
Are you looking to tour around the country?
I would honestly love to tour Australia again and especially with this project. Most budding musicians would agree that it can be troubling being an adult with a full time job and also trying to get your music to reach other places around the world. But I would drop anything I’m doing to use my music as an excuse to travel. There’s nothing like playing a show in a different state every night and making new friends along the way. I very much look forward to that again.
What does 2020 look like for Michael Birch?
Shows. Shows. Shows. I’m meeting and jamming with some of my best friends to create a full band experience of the EP. I have my first show booked for January in Adelaide and I’m currently in the process of organising two Melbourne shows. It’s super important to me to play shows because that’s what sets up the best foundation for any band and it’s the perfect opportunity to meet new or possibly lifelong friends. 2020 will also see more music releases. I’m a huge fan of artists that turn music out like there’s no tomorrow and I would love nothing more than to show everyone what else I’ve been writing.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Check out Michael Birch on Spotify…