Posted On 01 Aug 2019
He is a songwriter fond of big dogs and bigger guitars. He hasn’t let being born with a club foot in a small – shitty one store town or a divorce stop him from pursuing his passion for music. Early on, Riley picked up the guitar when all his friends were skateboarding – music was his way into the crowd. Though he didn’t know it at the time, Riley was a natural songwriter and soon dropped the Dashboard Confessional covers and started writing and recording in his high school bedroom.
His upcoming album Divorce is a collection of songs chronicling home-town reunions, marriage nuptials and their eventual demise. The songs are what come when you mix your own stories with the made-up bits you imagined could have been instead.
The lead single off his forthcoming collection is called “Drug Dealer.” It is written from the heart, dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and love. The genuine lyrics fit well over the folk-inspired rock track.
Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/mikeriley/02-drug-dealer/
Connect with Mike Riley Here:
Learn more about Mike Riley in the following All Access interview:
Now that we are over half-way through the year, how has 2019 been treating you? What are some goals that you have for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them?
It’s been great! I spent most of last year and early 2019 working on my record and it’s been very gratifying to start releasing the music. My plans for the rest of the year are to get the EP out and then really get back into live performances. I only played sporadic shows through most of this year while my head was focused on recording. I’m really excited to translate these songs to a live setting.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Music was always a big deal to me. I remember walking around with a walkman and then a discman always bulging in my pocket. I didn’t have a ‘bad’ high school experience, but I was very aware of the fact that I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged. I spent every second I could listening to music. Walking to the bus, getting to school, hallways, library or cafeteria at lunch. I started going to concerts in the city when I was 16 and got my first guitar that same year. I started writing songs within a couple months of getting a guitar. When I was 17 I took a career-studies class and they asked us to prepare a project about our desired profession. I said, ‘rockstar.’ I’m still working on it.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
I have worked many other jobs to support music. I always thought I’d love to work with my hands; maybe a trades person or a game warden or something but due to mobility issues that just isn’t in the cards. I’ve started sitting when I perform live because I can’t stand for a full concert. Jobs I’ve worked have always had the caveat that I need to be able to sit down. I think I would still be fulfilled though. Even if no one listens to my music, I would always be creating, writing and recording. Whether I’m recording in my home studio or a beautiful room like Catherine North, I’m still always going to make music. I have lots of varied interests (scuba diving, fly fishing, canoeing, I read a lot, I’d like to try writing, I watch a lot of movies, I build models, I want to learn to ride horses again like when I was a kid etc) so music is kind of my way to document how I feel while I go through life experiencing all of these other things. It’s definitely preferable to have people listen to it though.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I started making music right as digital and social media were becoming the main way to do it. I had some decent success during the Myspace era and it was very surprising to me how easy it was to do it all from home. I lived in a very small town and the internet was my only connection to the real world. I was able to find band-mates, studios, producers, other bands and promoters to really get a music career moving forward.
At one point I fell out of touch with the modern music community and I think the challenge has been learning how music is processed in 2019. When I was 17 walking around with one CD in my pocket and listening to it front to back over and over, I never could have imagined driving around listening to Spotify and having limitless access to every song ever made at any point I wanted it. That’s a big surprise and a big challenge. It’s amazing being able to hear whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s amazing being able to discover new music so easily. But it’s a challenge because you’re not forced to digest anything. If something isn’t immediately agreeable to me, i skip over it. In hindsight, there are some records I really really love now that I hated when I first heard. I remember a friend showed me the band Copeland when I was young and i just didn’t get it. 5 years later someone tried to show me The National and I hated it. My dad always tried to get me to listen to Neil Young and I couldn’t handle it. Now, I love all three of those artists deeply. I hope that someday I can say I love something that I originally heard online and didn’t gel with right off the bat.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming album, “Divorce.” What was it like making this collection? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
Drug Dealer came around really quickly, everything else was a chore but a labour of love. I freaked out several times and Dan had to reel me back in. The first time we thought we had ‘finished,’ Dan sent me the rough mixes and I hated them instantly. I thought we got EVERY part of it wrong. Tempo, keys, vibe, instrumentation etc. Dan told me to relax and it was all part of a process. We basically started from scratch with all of the songs (excluding Drug Dealer) and kept working ideas until it all clicked. I’m eternally thankful that Dan insisted we keep working until it was right. A lot of people wouldn’t have done that.
How does your already released single “Drug Dealer” prepare listeners for more music from you?
Drug Dealer gives a listener a good idea as to what I’m about. I think it’s catchy, it’s moody, it’s vibey. There are some songs on the EP that are more upbeat and there are some songs that are more low-key but it hits right in the middle. If you liked it, I think you’ll like the rest of the songs. I hope so. If you didn’t like it, then just do me a favour and listen to the other songs anyways. Maybe you have to keep listening over and over and over until it grows on you 😉
Where can people see you perform next? Do you plan to tour at all this summer or later this year? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far?
I’m playing the Taste of the Danforth Festival in Toronto on August 10th. I played last year in another band and it was great so I’m honored to get to do my own thing this time around. Most of my shows over the last year have been playing guitar in another band and there have been some awesome moments opening for our friends in The Dirty Nil and Pup. I’ll be playing guitar in that band again in October opening for Ruston Kelly and that will be a real treat. You can expect to see me performing my own music more so towards the end of 2019 and definitely into 2020. I’ll be looking to bring out lots of surprises like instruments that didn’t make it onto the record, lots of vocal harmonies etc.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I am actively challenging myself to be a better musician these days. Learn some theory, learn some new tricks. When I started writing songs I got really lazy as a guitar player and just played the minimum I needed to get by. I’m working on my piano chops right now and I think you’ll hear a lot more piano on the next release. I write less often than I did when I was younger, but I’m more critical and edit my work more these days. I keep the parts that are raw and work, and I go back to fix things I’m not happy with.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now? What has social media done for your career so far?
I wouldn’t say it’s hard.. just different. Once upon a time ago everything went through Myspace. Now it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube etc. I do think smartphones have made it a lot easier by centralizing notifications. You don’t need to keep an eye on 5 sites, just watch 1 phone and you’ll stay up to date. It’s easy to get caught up in the follower game and try to chase big numbers. Since Drug Dealer has come out I have been really thrilled to see people reaching out and following me on a daily basis and letting me know what they think of the music.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
The Killers are my favorite band, Taylor Swift is my favorite icon. John Mayer is my favorite musician. Jason Isbell is a huge inspiration as a person/writer/all around cool music guy. Ruston Kelly’s record was my favorite thing to come out in 2019. I’ve got tickets to see Kacey Musgraves on her theater tour this fall and I can’t remember being more excited for another concert. Working with anyone on that list would be incredible.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
I guess I’d have to use the video as an excuse to go to outer space. Or maybe get Pixar to animate an entire movie set to a record?
What has been the coolest place/TV show/commercial that you have heard a song of yours? Where would you still love to hear a future song of yours played?
I’d love to do an NPR Tiny Desk show. My girlfriend has turned me into a Grey’s Anatomy fan. I think my music would work well in any scene where a surgeon is trying to save someone while it keeps cutting to other surgeons awkwardly asking each other out.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
You can’t run away from life. Take the good with the bad, be thankful for experiences and do some reflecting.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers about your music?
Thank you for listening. That’s a big accomplishment in this day and age and I am eternally grateful.