An 'Art' Official Individual: An Interview with Mike Brunacini
When delving into the introspective nature of homegrown lyricists, composers and musicians, there are few truer to form than Mike Brunacini. Working on his now fifth studio album, Mike as a musician and a man is working himself toward the true definition of a cult classic.
For your listening pleasure while you read.
The Official Individual
Q: Who do you feel you are as an artist and songwriter? A: I feel as though I'm a songwriter from another time or place... not like a past decade or anything, just like I haven't quite found my audience yet. I know you're out there somewhere! Maybe you're even reading this!
Q: What initially sparked your love for music? A: When I was a baby, my favorite movie was Disney's Fantasia. I think that might be where it began. By the time I was 3, I had watched that movie so many times that I wore out the VHS tape and I had to wait until it was re-released to watch it again.
Q: What sparked your interest for writing? A: My cousin Rand was (still is) in a band called Ookla the Mok. They did an album called "Smell No Evil" in 2001 that I was obsessed with at the time. I thought, "Someone related to me can do it, maybe I can too."
Q: Growing up, what artists most heavily influenced you? A: I'm not going to be scoring any "cool points" here... I'd have to say Barenaked Ladies (specifically Steven Page), Ben Folds, and Billy Joel are probably at the top of my list. I've always loved melody and I think all three of those acts know how to craft a great one! *You've scored "cool points" with us sir.
Q: Have those artists changed? Or have you added to your circle of influences? A: Well, Barenaked Ladies are garbage now, but that's why I mentioned Steven Page. He just released the best work of his career with 2018's "Discipline, Heal Thyself Pt. II". Ben Folds has been fairly consistent. Billy Joel is still an influence, but he hasn't really done anything new in a long time. I've added plenty of acts to my circle of influences. Most recently, it's been Stephen Duffy of The Lilac Time, Randy Newman, and Dent May. I heard a Dent May song at a Sheetz parking lot in 2018 and I thought it was an Elvis Costello song I had never heard before. My phone told me it was Dent May, so I looked him up. I listened to the entire "Across the Multiverse" album and then immediately bought his entire discography on vinyl.
*Just goes to show a Sheetz visit can be an educational experience.
Q: Progressing through from your first album “Return to Allen Park” to “Dreamstate” how do you feel your writing has changed? A: I think my writing has gotten better! More refined and focused. On that first album, I was writing
for therapy. Since then, I've been writing for love of the craft. Each album kind of progressed in that direction, little by little. 'Cherry Springs' is a good example of an album dedicated to the art of songwriting. I wanted to create self-contained stories in each song, as opposed to an overall story (like all my other albums to date). That made the process a little more challenging, but incredibly rewarding.
Q: Do you find yourself writing more comfortable when it is just you and a piano or a guitar? Or do you find arranging music for a multi-instrumental project more satisfying? A: I almost always start writing at the piano or guitar. Just chords. I just play through progressions until my ear hears something interesting. Then I start humming or playing melodies on top of the chords until something stands out. That's how I get the first section of new song. Then I start to use my critical brain a little bit more. What SHOULD go next? Where can this segment take me?
Q: Being a DIY recording artist, how do you feel that has benefited you vs. Working in a studio with a producer and engineer where your time frame and perhaps creative process is slightly restricted? A: I think I've been able to learn a lot of things I'd have never HAD to learn if someone else were doing it for me. I think my overall sound might be different. Lately I've been preparing everything as if I were going to record in a commercial studio, so that I can REALLY make sure it's great when it comes time to mix. I'd love to work with a producer sometime to challenge myself to do better and to get a different perspective on how my arrangement could sound.
Q: What is your DIY setup like? What mic’s and gear to you turn to most often? A: I'm using a PC with a combination of Reaper, Audition 3 (lol), and Harrison Mixbus. The computer has a MOTU PCI card inside that allows it to connect to a MOTU 24i/o device. That is then connected to a 24 channel analog mixer. I recently added a Focusrite ISA One preamp to the mix! That's been a game changer. I've got some Shure mics and some garbage MXL mics (that really aren't THAT bad for the price). I recently acquired an Alverez Archtop guitar that I've been using on EVERYTHING. I've been miking it acoustic and DI and blending the two signals. I've also started using Keyscape's Yamaha C7, Wing Upright, and Fender Rhodes samples. Holy shit are those good!
*If you question what gear to buy, what gear to use... Always ask the gear question... Ask every musician. Most will tell you different things and you'll come to the realization you can create masterpieces with the equipment that you have, or that suits your ear. Not every brilliant piece of work is created in a million dollar studio. Don't doubt the gear, explore it, add for exploration and necessity, repeat.
Q: What do you focus on when you write lyrics? Do you find yourself political, introspective, socially conscious or do you find yourself simply writing from observation? A: I always start with a melody. I let the melody lead me to the lyrics. I am usually pretty introspective, but I dabble in the political and socially conscious. The album Artificial Individual is pretty political. My upcoming album is very introspective AND political/socially conscious. It's hard to separate who I am and what I believe. Sometimes I write from a character's perspective, like most of the songs on Cherry Springs. I guess the common thread is sadness. I gravitate towards sad topics because the world is a sad place and my melodies are often sad. Even the happier sounding songs tend to have a hint of darkness.
Q: From my perspective you write an assortment of genres, from the almost 80’s/90’s retro vibe of “Take in the Night” to the minor 60’s soft rock ballad feel of the album “Dreamstate”. Even still “Millennium” comes with it’s own powerful, yet almost introspective essence with it’s orchestral backdrop. I just find the dichotomy from a songwriters perspective to be very sincere to what you want to portray for each tune. How do you view the genre changes? A: First of all... you called me out with Millennium! That's the one song that started with lyrics! But as for the genre changes, I just like a lot of different sounds. I simultaneously want to be Peter Gabriel fronting Genesis AND Nick Drake playing alone and barely speaking. I'm not the greatest musician, but I like to think that I can write and arrange a good song. So I try to write music that I like. I hear something that inspires me and I think "I could try something like that." I still haven't tired everything I want to try yet...
Q: I believe the sort of genre jump helps stir a massive creative outlet and really drives home each song as it’s own. Do you feel the same? A: It's certainly energizing to delve into a new project. That's why each of my albums/EPs has a kind of unique feel. Each one is trying to do something different while also improving upon what came before.
Q: I’m a big fan of the raw vibe of your album “Artificial Individual”, The jazzy piano start, the live feel of the drums. It seems to be a great album to really gain insight into you as a songwriter. What album or song do find is your most insightful? A: It's funny, I ended up being unhappy with the sound of Artificial Individual over time. I think it's probably my best mixed album (thanks Doug White). But the piano sample I was using was awful! Dan Davis did a KICKASS job on the drums and bass. That cannot by screamed loud enough. But as for the question at hand, I think my upcoming album is going to be the most insightful! As for the stuff available now, DreamState is lyrically the most insightful and Cherry Springs is the most musically insightful.
Q: So you have this very calming, almost go-lucky tonality to your voice, so when you write songs like “Genetic Castaways” that almost has the feel of the old prog bands of the early 80’s and “Living Electronic Emotions”, do you feel the dynamic between the music score and the lyrics is almost enhanced? A: I understand that my voice is a unique one. I can see that it's a kind of love it or hate it sort of deal. I've made peace with that. I wish I had a better, more powerful voice, but it could be worse. I often write songs with the completely unhinged idea that somebody else might sing them. I wish I could be a tin pan alley type of songwriter. An old out of tune piano and a cheap New York apartment, writing songs for stars of old to take to the top. That's not the world we live in anymore. I've heard that my voice is similar to Ben Folds' voice... not in timbre at all, but in the sense that my emotion doesn't really change. I can't fake that just like I can't fake laugh. I just sing the melody and the words. I can't stand when I can tell that a singer is using their "sad voice" or their "sexy voice" or whatever. I like an authentic voice. So... did I totally sidestep the actual question?
Q: Do you feel 2020 has been a year for creative focus? Or do you feel with everything going on in the world it has been hard to focus? A: Both. I wrote a lot of songs in 2016-2019. I was busy recording and arranging DreamState, so I had plenty of time to slowly collect new material. I haven't written much in 2020, but I've recorded and arranged A LOT! In 2020, I've written Millennium and a song called Monochrome. Those are both winners in my book. I wrote Monochrome the day Bernie dropped out of the presidential race. I was heartbroken. I'm at a point where I'm so angry and sad about the state of the United States that it's both hard to focus and easy to feel passionately enraged.
*'Monochrome' release date coming soon. Stay up to date with new Mike Brunacini Releases here
Q: What about your view and perspective on other artists? Do you believe 2020 is a time of creative, grassroots momentum in the music and art communities? A: I've heard a lot of 2020 songs. Mostly novelty, a few standouts. I think that people fortunate enough to stay home and work on music are doing well. I've watched plenty of live streams this year. That's really cool. I can't believe I hadn't thought of doing that before this. I've done a few this year myself. I'm planning on doing live stream concerts beyond 2020 if people watch.
Q: We both share a love for craft beverages! How would you compare that ‘art’ to music?
A: I don't just drink beer. I LOVE beer. I love to seek out different styles. I also recently started making my own beer. It's slow going. You do most of the work upfront and then you wait while it ferments and you hope you did it right. I LOVE music. I love melody. I love to seek out new and different music. Writing music is usually different though. It's a lot of work the whole time. Sometimes it's all at once, sometimes it takes years to finish one song.
*Like a nice barrel aged brew. Sometimes it only takes time to find the flavors blending together the best.
Q: What are your goals with music moving forward? A: I want to get better in every way. My songwriting, my singing, my piano playing, my recording and producing and arranging. I want it ALL to be better. I want my live shows to be better. I want people to hear my songs too, so I want to get better at marketing.
Q: What can you tell us about your live music experiences? Do you feel better creating in a studio, or do you find yourself more comfortable on stage? What would be your compare and contrast between the two? A: I feel WAY more comfortable in a studio. I'd love to be the late period Beatles. That's my dream. Just writing and recordings songs with no touring at all. I'd love that. However, I'd been playing shows with my band Three Philosophers before the shutdown, and we had a lot of fun. I need to step up my game and get out of my comfort zone before the release of my next album. I want to get a "touring" band together and really do it.
Q: I have to go back to this genre thing… “Edge of the Woods Suite” is this powerhouse of a song and shows you in completely new light. It sounds like a new exploration for you, almost a willingness to go beyond your other work. Incorporating what you’ve done in your other albums, just to their extremes. (The horn section, being my favorite dynamic change) What was it like writing a 13 minute suite? What inspired it? You seem to have used all you gained from tonal exploration in your other work and just threw it down to create this massive piece. Can you tell us a little bit about how you find tones for the instruments you choose and how they work together? A: Funny thing is that nearly all of that suite is from 2007! I was 15-16 years old when I wrote that. I was working on Dreamstate for so long that it kind of blends together, but I have recordings of the piano part from back then. It's crazy! It's like I had the creativity to do it, but not that musical talent. I had to work hard to get to a point where I could actually finish that song. I'd always wanted to write my own "Supper's Ready" like Genesis. I will never be able to do that, but this is as close as I'll likely get. I also really like Brian Wilson's modular approach to songwriting, where you write bits and pieces and put them together later. As far as horns are concerned... let's just say I've got some surprises ahead!
Q: What upcoming projects are you working on? A: I'm working on tracking my fifth album! I've got most of it done too! I'm really working hard to make sure this one sounds GREAT. I am using as many real acoustic instruments as possible. I am doing more takes, more re-arranging. I'm cutting more too. I don't want any scraps. I'm aiming for an extremely short-run lathe cut vinyl release. In addition to that, I've got a full length Three Philosophers album on the shelf and an instrumental EP in the works.
Q: What’s it like being a father and a musician? Do you feel like it improves your work? Or changes it in a way? A: I have to focus a lot more on being a father! Everything takes longer because I don't have as much time as I used to have. But I don't mind. I love being a dad. If only I didn't have to work 40 hours a week.
Q: Do you have any comments and suggestions to new songwriters coming onto the scene or just recently having explored writing? Anything to avoid? Things to focus on? A: Keep writing. Don't stop. It's probably not going to be good for a while, but don't stop. It'll get better if you keep trying. Try to take criticism well too. Nobody likes being told that their song isn't great, but it is just a fact of life. Not everything you do will be good. Try to use that criticism to improve your craft. Don't take yourself too seriously, but take yourself seriously enough! Focus on your melodies and your words. Don't let lazy melodies or lyrics slip out. And DON'T release all your music publicly as soon as it's done! It's not done yet! I released so much garbage when I was younger because I didn't have the ears I have now. I still don't think I've recovered from the negative impact those early garbage tracks dealt me. It's true what they say about first impressions.
*It's hard sometimes to listen back with new ears, but growth and change is a part of all of our lives. There is something to be said about listening back and knowing "I'm better now, I've learned a lot."
Q: Do you have any regrets in the music industry? A: I wish I'd have started earlier. I didn't start playing and writing until I was already in high school. I didn't get "good" at it until after college. That's too late. I missed my opportunities to be in bands and form the connections with local audiences and musicians alike.
Q: I know many musicians can be die hard analog or die hard digital. Are you an analog or a digital guy? Do you find mixing the two in a hybrid manner gets a better result? A: Both. I see the good in both formats. I love analog for romantic and unscientific reasons. I love digital for convenience and cost. I do blend a bit of both so I can have the affordability of digital with the tactile feel of analog, but I'm not really sure if it's any better. I listen to vinyl not because of sound quality or warmth, but because it forces you to sit and listen. Vinyl is an activity in itself. You've got to pick a record out, clean it, turn the stereo components on, drop the needle, FLIP IT OVER HALFWAY THROUGH! It's not something you do to put on in the background. Vinyl is for active listening. Digital is for background music.
*We have witnessed a resurgence of vinyl in the past decade or so, this is why I believe. Many of the younger generations now are discovering and enjoying the active participation that comes along with taking a deep breath and listening. Vinyl's cool, man. You should try it.
Q: If you were able to play one stage in the world what would it be? A: I've often dreamed of playing the Allen Park band shell... lol. But I'd like to play for a crowd that knew and loved my songs. I don't care where that is. They don't have to give a shit about me.
*As a gigging musician myself, I appreciate the humble nature of this response. Many of us have dreams of massive stages, but Mike... Mike just wants enjoyment and appreciation of the music. That is what we all strive for I think, regardless of the size of the stage.
The Allen Park Band Shell is a small open air theater with hill seating, nestled within the South-Eastern community park in Jamestown, NY
Q: If you could thank any musician for their influence who would it be? A: That's really tough. I'd either have to give that to Steven Page or Ben Folds... maybe Billy Joel.
Q: Beyond music, what projects do you enjoy? What gets your brain moving? A: I enjoy cooking/grilling/smoking food. I enjoy making beer. I honestly really like sitting around and doing nothing. Just slowing down and enjoying living for a little bit. I like looking at the sky, watching the clouds or stars.
Q: Do you find yourself listening to much music on your downtime from writing and recording? Or does it become taxing or an overload of mental capacity?
A: It depends. I don't have much downtime now, but I'm sure I'll get a bit more as the baby grows up a bit and doesn't require CONSTANT supervision. I wouldn't say it is taxing, but sometimes I like to deprive myself of certain albums for a while so that I don't wear them out or become TOO influenced by them.
One might ask how and why we choose our featured artists and who to interview. To be simple and honest, Mike Brunacini is the prime example of both the how and the why. An individual devoted to his craft and his admiration for exploration, creation and learning. A real man, with a 9-5 who has put out in a decade more fully composed albums than many musicians put out in their entire 30+ year career. He is not a household name, he is not a Billboard top 40 artist (Yet... Times are changing!) but he is wholeheartedly encompassing the reason we admire and delve head first into the infinite unknown space of art.
Mike Brunacini is a Singer, Songwriter, Composer and Father from the Western, NY Region.
Be sure to keep up to date with all of his shenanigans on his website (Here)