Anthemic songwriting, impressive musicality and dynamic performances have turned the spotlight onto Michigander, a musical solo project by Jason Singer from Kalamazoo.
The band got started in December of 2014 when Singer met other musicians in the Kalamazoo community who were willing to help out by playing his music with him for cheap at local bars. Since its small beginnings, Michigander has grown into a well-known and respected name both locally and regionally, with features on NPR and bill slots alongside artists like Ra Ra Riot, Foster the People and Two Door Cinema Club.
Now, Michigander is set to release a new EP with his best songs yet this upcoming fall, alongside a couple of tours. We talked with Singer about how it all started and what’s to come.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve had to learn while pursuing a project like Michigander?
There's a fine line between the business side of things and the creative side of things, so you have to be very intentional about every move you make. When you try to take things seriously and want people to notice you, you have to be intentional about where you're playing, who you're playing with and choosing a team. Everything has to be thought out, because the minute you start lowering your standards or you start settling for less than what you actually want, I think it creates a snowball effect that changes the trajectory of what you really want for your project, and that can really screw you up later on and make you maybe not want to do it at all. I think being intentional is probably the most important thing I’ve learned.
What makes you keep going with Michigander?
There are a couple reasons. I feel like I can look back to a year ago and see that every aspect of the band and myself as a person has been bettered from continuing Michigander. Also, I have no idea what I would be if I wasn’t doing this. I’d like to say that I think I would know, but I really have no clue. That’s scary because I don’t really have a back up plan at all. If my hand got chopped off or I just lost the ability to sing, I don’t know what I would do. That is the only thing that kept me going.
There really have been times where I’ve thought about ending the band, and I’ve made the poster for the last show and designed those things — even though no one would even care that much — but it just kept me going. I guess fear is probably the only thing that it boils down to. I think that’s what kind of drives a lot of people to do a lot of things we do. It’s a healthy fear.
What's been one of the most memorable or best moments of Michigander that makes it all worth it?
We’ve gotten to play some pretty cool shows. Whenever I’m somewhere where I don’t expect people to actually know the music and I hear someone singing it back to us is always really cool. It’s cool to be recognized when you’re not playing a show and someone will come up to you and just say, ‘Hey, I really like your music.’ That’s been very rewarding to me. The interactions that happen outside the shows are definitely the most rewarding.
What influences your creative process the most?
It’s always changing, so you can ask me in a year and it will probably be different, but for a while I was really relying on my computer to make songs and beats. I felt like the songs I was writing were maybe good, but listening back to them a couple months later, I wasn’t really excited about any of them.
I watched an interview with Marcus Mumford, and he said that they always campfire test their songs, which basically means they play them on acoustic guitar for somebody, and if they’re good enough to be played in that environment, then they’re good enough to be recorded with full-blown production. So I’ve been trying to be a guitar band because that’s what I always wanted to be. I’m trying to make 15-year-old Jason proud of the songs that I’m writing today by just using a guitar and going back to the way I used to do it, because I feel like the best songs I ever wrote were written on a guitar.
What’s the best part about being a band in West Michigan overall?
West Michigan is cool because it’s kind of its own little thing, separate from the rest of the state. There are a lot of places to play and a lot of different genres of bands. West Michigan offers a lot of variety, and there are people in West Michigan outside of just the bands. We have a lot of radio people and publications and fans and venues who are very carefully curated to help bands play in front of different people. There are a lot of cheerleaders for musicians that are not just musicians, which is honestly very rare. There are people who have created outlets to specifically promote the art and culture in the area, which is really, really cool, and it has definitely benefited me.