Ghost Town, released June 2023, is Danny Michel’s first full-length album in over five years.
Ordinarily a prolific music writer, Michel has struggled for years with writer’s block confounded by the isolation of the global pandemic. In the end, he was able to find inspiration in the discomfort of a socially distanced and isolated world.
“It’s a little darker than any music I’ve ever made before…It was probably the hardest thing I’ve almost ever done,” Michel said.
“That sounds a little dramatic, but artistically I was experiencing this wall of writer’s block, which I never even believed was a real thing…And then I experienced it and I had a really, really hard time. I couldn’t write anything. I didn’t really want to write anything. And then to top it off, the global pandemic came,” he said.
Trapped in isolation under the weight of writer’s block, but with an enviable home studio at his disposal, Michel passed the time multi-tracking music videos with his one-man cover-band, Social Spreader. It proved to be a fun diversion for his fans and a welcome creative outlet when life as a professional musician was fundamentally disrupted.
When new material finally started coming to Michel, it was not what he expected. At a time when he felt like people needed hopeful songs, everything he wrote was depressing and dark.
“I thought, I can’t put these out. But then I started playing them for people I know, and they loved it. They’d say ‘who cares if it’s sad, if that’s how you felt that day, that’s how you felt.’ The world loves sad songs,” he said.
Always obsessed with maintaining creative control over his work, Michel took his perfectionism to new levels with this album. He fully recorded and mixed every song on Ghost Town multiple times.
“I would record the whole song and then sit back and listen to it for a few days and go damnit, it’s too fast or it’s too slow, it’s in the wrong key. My voice doesn’t sit nice in it. I’ve started second guessing, triple guessing everything,” Michel explained.
The end result is an album that is nostalgic and vulnerable.
Michel is a skilled songwriter, but the process can still pose challenges. He said the impossibility of ever really feeling fully done is just a part of the creative process.
“Does a person who paints a gigantic painting ever really stand back and go, ‘it’s 100 per cent perfect,’ or do they think, ‘a little more blue over there, just a little more of this, a little flare of yellow…’?,” he said. “I would always want to change little things.”
He admits that despite having released the album, he would still make little changes if he could. He truly never feels like an album is done. The desire to control every aspect of the process is likely why he ended up an independent solo artist.
“I’m like a dog with a bone with my music. So, collaborating with people could be hard,” he said.
Of course, Michel does benefit from close collaborations, most notably with award-winning composer Rob Carli, a friendship that dates back to kindergarten. Michel acknowledges that Carli played a major role in Ghost Town.
“He really kind of lit a fire under me when I needed. I just had little ideas and then he came in and started adding his ideas and this is a perfect example where collaboration really helped and it got me really excited,” he said.
Michel is still swayed by the power of one musician standing on stage with a guitar. He recalls being a kid and seeing Bruce Cockburn occasionally perform alone.
“It was more powerful, more intimate. I always love a person standing there with a guitar, that’s the coolest thing in the world to me. So that’s where I feel most comfortable, I guess,” Michel said.
Michel is well-loved by musicians across Canada. The late Stuart McLean dragged him all over the country to play music on the Vinyl Café and astronaut Chris Hadfield handpicked Michel to travel to the arctic and record an album about the experience.
“I saw every inch of Canada, I played every little town. And I never gave up, and I never looked back, and I never really came back down,” Michel sings in “A Brief History of my Life”.
Now that the new album is released, Danny Michel is back on the road, touring Canada and Europe to promote it. Although he loves performing, Michel is increasingly ambivalent about touring.
“What I learned in the pandemic was that I do not miss airplanes, rental cars and hotels” he said. “That stuff’s tuff.”
While the five-year struggle to produce Ghost Town has weighed heavily on Michel at times, but now he is feeling more confident.
“It got to this point where, by the time the record was finished, I was like, now let’s start over, because now I feel I’m warmed up. I’m just raring to go. So that could mean that I might make another record sooner than another five years,” he said.
For information about Danny Michel’s new album, tour dates, and other projects, check out @dannymichelmusic on Instagram or visit dannymichel.com.
In this new column, Midtown Radio will contribute articles based on interviews they conduct with local artists to share these stories with TCE’s readers.