Interview: Danny Michel

(May 2018)  Singer songwriter and performer Danny Michel considers himself A.D.D. when it comes to his musical offerings. Find his records in the folk, pop, world and even classical sections of any playlist, and you’ll be drawn to the common thread that is the passion for what he’s doing. Nominated for 3 Junos, a Polaris Prize and recently named CFMA’s “Producer of the year” his music has captured the hearts of both industry and fan alike. With a penchant for philanthropy, he established the “Danny Michel Ocean Academy Fund” which raises money for a small school in Belize, his second home. Last year, Danny was invited to join “Generator Arctic” by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield who assembled a small group of scientists, photographers, writers and musician to capture a unique perspective of the north. I caught up with him from the studio, while he was mixing his latest tunes back here on earth….

Mb: Hey Danny, how’s your day?
Danny: Good, I’m in the studio recording.
Mb: Everything going according to plan?
Danny: It’s going great, ya. I’m working on a new record and it’s going better than any one I’ve ever done. It’s great!
Mb: Learning lessons every time you make a new one?
Danny: Exactly.
Mb: So what’s this record going to be about? Are you flying into outer-space to make it?
Danny: (laughs) No, this one has no crazy theme like going to the Arctic, or anything like that. It’s a good old fashion Danny record from home. I moved up north and I’m living in the country. It’s been a great change and a nice head-space. Ya, I’m doing great.
Mb: So having read your bio… what an interesting life you’re leading!
Danny: (laughs) Ya, I guess. A lot of great wild things have happened in the past years.
Mb: Let’s talk about your travels and work in Belize. You made a record…
Danny: Ya, that’s probably the coolest thing that’s happened in many years, making a record down there. It was life changing and taught me a lot, and it was such a beautiful experience. I changed the way I record and do everything…
Mb: Changed the way you look at life?
Danny: Ya for sure. I do a lot of work with a little school down there, so that’s really been rewarding and a great reminder of what’s important in life and how lucky we are here in this country. I now have zero tolerance for complaining. (laughs)
Mb: Musically, what did you take away? You were working with local musicians steeped in another beat…
Danny: Ya, I worked with a group there called The Garifuna Collective and they’re like legends in that country, and a great producer there, who has produced all the music coming out of that country. I learned all about their culture and music and then we made a record and they came to Canada and we toured… It was just fantastic! I guess, over the years I’ve grown pretty… I don’t want to sound too negative, but I’m kinda over rock and roll, you know? (laughs) Of course I’m just joking, but I think there’s so much music in this world, I find we don’t really… people aren’t into other culture’s music as much as they probably would be if they knew how incredibly awesome it is.
Mb: Part of maturing as a musician and giving up shooting for the stars? You’ve been able to craft a solid career for yourself, lead an interesting life and get to make the music you want to make without worrying whether it will sell a million records?
Danny: Oh ya. I mean, I quit shooting for that target a decade ago. If I wanted to win Junos or be more successful in the industry I definitely wouldn’t be playing the kind of music I play. I would be writing different music completely. I’ve been in the music business long enough to know, it’s all smoke and mirrors, you know?
Mb: And spending so much time in Belize must have made you rethink what was important and how people can be happy without all the trappings?
Danny: Exactly. Luckily I learnt many years ago, if I just make the art that I truly, truly want to make in my heart, I will reap the rewards way more. Loyal fans and people who are really with you. Then if you have a hit one summer… you know? Ya! I sound all mature and shit. (laughs)
Mb: You do! Do you have kids?
Danny: I don’t!
Mb: Married?
Danny: No!
Mb: So, you’re a free thinker! Thinking the big picture, rather than the microcosm of the family?
Danny: Ya I guess! I never really thought of that, you know? I don’t have the day to day lunches and stuff so maybe… (laughs)
Mb: Ok, so you leave the 40 degree heat of Belize and then go as far north as you can to make your next record inside a Russian icebreaker…
Danny: (laughs) As far as human beings can possibly go. It was crazy. I was in this old cabin, that was basically the size of a motor-home bathroom, and hanging towels and bed sheets around me to make sound baffling.. it was a super cool adventure.
Mb: And that record “Khlebnikov” is basically a symphony piece.
Danny: I wrote the songs and recorded on the ship with just a guitar and then brought them back and added all the strings and brass.
Mb: So very different than the Clave you were hearing in Belize.
Danny: Oh ya, it’s funny because the guys I made the record with in Belize, I often think, if they heard my next record they’d be like “What the hell? Is this the same guy?” The sounds of Belize to Russian classical music. (laughs)
Mb: Well the question begs, what do your fans think when you make a leap like that? What happens to fans that discover you as a folk artist and then buy a Russian symphony CD?
Danny: Ya, I think the Russian symphony scared a lot of people, but whatever. I’ll be back with a normal record to remind them. But I would like to think that my fans… I have fans that have been with me for years and years and many records, so I think that they are the kind of people that have the adventurous spirit and an open mind to music to follow me on my crazy adventures. If they don’t like one record as much as another one that’s fine. My favourite artists put out records that I love, and a few records I don’t like. I still follow them and still like them. It’s part of being a fan.
Mb: It’s like Bowie releasing Low and it being panned and in the end becomes one of the most iconic recordings.
Danny: When I think back, when he put out Low and Heroes, I couldn’t believe a record label let him do that! I can’t believe someone paid for that! (laughs) Half of side two doesn’t even have any singing on it. I wonder how many records that sold? I bet by standards it wasn’t a successful record. So he puts out Low and 5 years later releases Let’s Dance and he’s selling more records than anyone in the world. I grew up being a huge Bowie fan and what he taught me was to just go for it. Take chances, make weird records… I love that he made records that were just insanely weird and different. I didn’t like Young Americans that much, but I thought “Whatever, there will be something cool again.” I remember when Let’s Dance came out, I was furious. I cashed in my membership card and I was done. Bowie was dead to me. To me it was a massive sellout. Now I listen to that record and think “That’s a great record!” (laughs)
Mb: Speaking of fan base, you’ve obviously built one up here in Peterborough, over the years.
Danny: I love playing Peterborough. I’ve never had any gigantic shows there, but they’ve always been charming. They’ve always been great. I love Peterborough, I wish I could be there more. I’m looking forward to returning.

Danny Michel returns to Peterborough
Thursday May 24, 8pm performing at
Market Hall Performing Arts Centre