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Micah P Hinson - Interview

  by Sarah Mwangi

published: 21 / 9 / 2008

Micah P Hinson  - Interview


Accclaimed singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson speaks to Sarah Mwangi after a series of melancholic records about both his more optimistic-sounding fourth album, 'Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra' and how his recent marriage has changed his songwriting.

In the smoking section of the Social’s alleyway, Micah P. Hinson attaches his Marlboro Reds to a cigarette holder and lights up. Sitting next to him, his wife Ashley fans the first puff of smoke in a different direction as Micah adjusts to meet her needs. The couple are joined by band mate and Micah’s friend for life Nick Phelps, who sits opposite them. Micah and his humble band are in Nottingham touring in support of his fourth album ‘Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra’. PB : With overtones of Communism’s Red State, is there a meaning behind the title ? MH : Not particularly. It’s just a name that sounded pretty and I also thought that it sounded pretty overbearing and dark and I liked the sound of it. But to be honest all my record titles, when I thought of them, they didn’t mean anything. It just took a while before the meanings found me. PB : So has the meaning found you? MH : No, not yet. It will take a little while longer. People ask me all about a communism/communist connection and I know I look like a communist but I’m not. I just like green. As he responds, Micah takes another puff from his cigarette holder and glances down at his Fidel Castro outfit understanding why those comparisons where made. PB : If not Communism, what was the approach for this album? In an interview a little while back, it was said that you took a Charles Bukowski approach to your earlier songs. Who influenced you on this occasion ? MH : I’m not sure if I actually said that. You can never trust journalists. I think it kind of got misconstrued. I took more of a Bukowski approach to my existence as opposed to my music itself. I love journalists. I don’t remember that, but I guess the way that I approached music from the beginning was just to try say the shortest/smallest amount of words that have the most impact. To make it quite simple and make it pretty irrationally personal at times. I think that it is so personal at times I think that it has a bit of a universal sound to it. I think that someone listening to the songs wouldn’t happen to think ‘oh it’s just this guy Micah speaking about himself.’ I think that they could see themselves in the songs. I think people could see their experiences probably match up with mine. It’s just talking about human existence I think. That just maybe a hard reach for some of Micah’s audience, as his past experiences are music biopic material that would probably get the leading actor an Oscar. Drugs, bankruptcy, living in motels, an affair with a Vogue model and rock star widow, family abandonment and some jail time for forging prescription pills would all feature within the first 45 minutes of the movie. It surely seems that Micah had one of Bukowski's books under his pillow every night. But that was then. How about his life now ? Having proposed in front of his Union Chapel audience in December last year, Micah seems quite happy and stable with his wife, Ashley. Did she have any influence on this album ? MH : Absolutely none, no influence. I think a good way to answer that question is, when there are songs about love on the album, I’m able to write them from a different perspective because I feel that now I actually know love. In the past it was probably just infatuation or lust or any of these things that are really not worthwhile at all. I’ve had a handful of terrible relationships and I think it’s because they weren’t based around love. They weren’t based around anything true and honest and I think I have that with my wife. We’ve done some pretty interesting things together and the fact that we can still sit next to one another is a pretty big deal. So I think that’s the way I see this album. It’s written from a more mature point of view as opposed to some kid shooting his mouth. PB : Who else left a mark on the album ? What did producer John Congleton (The Polyphonic Spree, Modest Mouse, Smog, Erykah Badu) bring to the table ? MH : When I went in to finish recording, it was probably half way done already, so he didn’t (have a lot of) influence on the record. But I guess he tried to pull the best out of me so he made me do takes over again, which was strange because I’m not used to being told what to do. I’ve always been proactive with my music. I don’t like giving away responsibilities to people. But he’s an amazing guy and I don’t think the record would sound the same without him. Maybe his main influence is the fact that he has the knowledge and recording skill and I think that we ended up getting some pretty amazing recordings out of it. PB : Are you happy with 'Red Empire Orchestra' as a final product ? MH : I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with it. I mean there are some things on it that I wished I would have done differently and recorded differently, things that I left out that I should have left in. PB : Anything in particular ? MH : At the end of the first song, ‘Come Home Quickly’, the original recording had snare drums that sounded like a marching band and it kind of went along with the idea of come home quickly, this marching kind of thing, but then we got some different drummers to come in and record that they couldn’t do it and we just left it out. I should have just done it myself. I have a strange timing, I don’t do songs on click tracks and so the rhythm wavers and this is the only guy (referring to Nick) that can actually play along with me, as far as recordings go. In the end I think it’s probably good to never be happy, if I ever find myself content with my music, that’s probably not a good thing. PB : You have to strive to be better. MH : Yeah always, you have got to always want to do better. PB : Have you noticed a difference between 'Red Empire Orchestra' and your previous albums ? MH : I would say so. I think when I made my first record I was just pretty scared. When I got signed they brought me over to England and I was meeting all these strangers and working on my album. And so I guess from that point to now, I feel I’ve learnt control over how I want the album to turn out and how I want the sounds. I don’t keep my mouth shut as much and I feel like I’ve matured. I think I can write a half decent song. I guess if I – well no that’s not true – I was going to say, ‘I guess if I didn’t write half decent songs I wouldn’t have a label’, but there’s thousand of bands with record labels that are totally shit so... PB : Care to mention any? MH : Ah no, I’ll leave that out. I’ve put my foot in my mouth too many times with that kind of stuff. People claim terrible things that I’ve said about hating bands, even if I don’t. So... PB : Since you started touring for this new album, how have you found the response to it ? MH : It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about. It’s been a while since I really toured. I took a good year off, I guess I thought that coming back after I while the shows would be a bit less a tender or but I thinks it’s really good. But I guess I consider even fifty, seventy people in a room a success. But then we played Leeds and it was full. People seem to dig it you know, so I’ve been pretty happy with it. It’s interesting getting back on the road after such a long time, I like it. PB : Despite your distrust in journalists, I read that you wouldn’t force Ashley into following you around the world touring and deny her a career of her own after watching your parents go through that. Is there any truth in that ? MH : Yeah. PB : Does that mean you’ll give touring a rest sometime in the future ? AH : We did that last year. MH : Yeah I did that last year. Ashley’s a counsellor. That’s how we met. My father is a doctor of psychology and she was taking a masters degree from him. So we took a year off, we did her stuff, we’ll do this for a while. It’s just a matter of what she wants to do and when she feels like going.” I saw my mum follow my dad’s dreams to the point where she didn’t even have her own dreams. It breaks my heart and I don’t want to be 60 years old and look at her in the way I look at my mother. Because first off it would be creepy and second off that would be sad. AH : What’s important for us in the first year of marriage is to be together and to do that I would have to follow him around. PB : Do you mind touring ? AH : I don’t mind, I like being with him. That’s why I’m not working right now. We want to always be together during this vital part of our baby relationship. PB : Talking about touring and live shows, who is onstage with you tonight? MH : A full band. It’s me on acoustic and electric, it’s Nick on drums and banjo and lapsteel. He plays bass drum while playing lap steel and that pretty kickass, you know, left brain right brain shit going on. And Ashley’s on Wurlitzer piano and Hammond organ. Ashley’s only been playing the organ for about three weeks now, maybe a month. She toured with us anyway so we thought that it would make sense to utilize her. I actually prefer the sound of distorted keyboard to a (professional) bass but other people may think it’s weird. So there are about seven instruments between us. I think that a pretty full band. The thing with me is I want to feel very comfortable around the people that I take on tour. It’s very much like a family, you have to get along with them you have to fight with them, you have to do all sorts of stuff. So that’s why we’re a three piece. I guess it's a bit rough because my albums are always so full. There are always like 20 instruments on every song but songs don’t have to be exactly like they sound on the album. They take on a life of their own. Some songs we play loud we play quiet on the record and vice versa and we try to do everything we can. I think I would get bored if we didn’t do that. But to play the London Scala later in the year, I’m thinking of hiring some string players for that gig try and make it a little bit bigger and grander and shell out some cash for that. PB : Do you have a favourite song you like playing live ? B : How do you guys feel about getting some exposure ? MH : We’ve been trying to do 'Later with...Jools Holland' for fucking years. You never know how they pick this stuff. I was on tour with the Earlies and a band called Half Cousin and KT Tunstall was in in and we watched it on TV the night they played and had this feeling like she was going to get enormous and the next thing you know she’s fucking huge. NP : So exposure’s good. MH : I’ll even let Jools play piano with me. I don’t care. Tell me what to do. Just tell me, I’d do anything you want. But if it doesn’t happen, we’ll release a record next year and we’ll try again. But I think it’s (exposure) happening in a very reasonable... AH : ...natural... MH : : ...pace. Nobody’s selling their souls. We're just playing music and people tend to enjoy it and I think we get some pretty diehard fans. These will be people who will hopefully listen to us till the day they or I die. I like how things go naturally. I’d like to but we’re kind of slow-burners. We’ve been releasing albums for four years and it’s been a steady but slow rise I suppose. But I like the idea – I would much rather be 60 one day and still make albums instead of these bands like he Ting Tings that release a song and are enormous and the next thing you know the only business they’re getting is on compilation albums for like Alternative Rock 2000 or whatever. PB : Well they haven’t reached that point yet.They’re still riding on their debut album. NP : He’s predicting. MH : It will happen. We can be pretty mean about music sometimes. But there is some modern music that is pretty kickass. I really like Beirut. They’re incredible. AH : I really like Camera Obscura. Who do you have Nick ? NP : The Twilight Sad. AH : We like a lot of oldies too. MH : Yeah you can’t go wrong with that, the Supremes, the Ronettes. NP : Still can’t get that Sigur Ros album out of my head. MH : Finally despite the speculation of the press, the world didn’t end today... NP : Was it supposed to end today ? PB : Well, apparently with the whole atom-smashing device in Geneva Switzerland. MH : Some fucking drunk was talking about this to me outside Liverpool, some drunk bastard. He sounded really concerned. He said that it was going to start a black hole or several black holes and we’re all going to die. I thought he was just drunk. It’s true ? PB : Yeah, it’s speculated that the device could create a black hole or two that would destroy the world. AH : There are so many predictions of the world ending and you don’t hear about them until the day it’s supposed to... PB : What would you do on your last day on earth if it were to end ? MH : Actually, I would probably fly home to Texas. NP : Would we probably cancel the show and go home. AH : I’d go see my little crazy dogs. MH : Yeah, we have two little Chihuahuas and I’d probably want to see them right as it blew up. PB : Thank you

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Micah P Hinson  - Interview

Micah P Hinson  - Interview

Micah P Hinson  - Interview

Micah P Hinson  - Interview

Micah P Hinson  - Interview

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live reviews

Broadcast, Glasgow, 27/4/2014
Micah P Hinson  - Broadcast, Glasgow, 27/4/2014
Tony Gaughan watches Texan-based singer-songwriter Micah P Hinson play his new album 'Micah P Hinson and the Nothing' in its entirety in a stunning show at Broadcast in Glasgow
Stereo, Glasgow, 4/6/2010

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Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress (2014)
Micah P Hinson  - Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress
Tony Gaughan reflects on Texan-based singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson's 2004 brooding debut album, which has recently been reissued


Micah P Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs (2010)
Unfocused, but ultimately surprisingly uplifting miserabilism on fourth album from Texas-based singer-songwriter, Micah P Hinson
Micah P Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra (2008)

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