Another Michael Discuss Their Rollercoaster Debut Record, ‘New Music and Big Pop’

Another Michael’s debut album, New Music and Big Pop—out February 19 via Run For Cover—isn’t always big, but it is always big-hearted, pairing singer-songwriter and guitarist’s Michael Doherty’s reflective songwriting with warm, breezy arrangements. The album’s ten tracks ebb and flow and swell and recede as Doherty builds intimate vignettes into sometimes soft, sometimes sweeping folk numbers.

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New Music and Big Pop arrives as the long-awaited follow-up to the Philadelphia trio’s breakout EPs—2016’s Sans and 2018’s Land. And though the band cites Chris Weisman, The Roches, and Kimbra as influences, their sound places them somewhere between Pinegrove’s heartrending indie rock and Field Medic’s scrappier “freak folk.” Guitarist / keyboardist Alenni Davis’s evocative backing vocals help set the trio—rounded out by bassist Nick Sebastiano—apart from other projects in their musical milieu. (Their latest single, “Row,” is a perfect example of this.)

Another Michael recently spoke to American Songwriter from Doherty and Sebastian’s shared apartment in West Philadelphia about their early days as a band, a freezing but cozy recording trip in upstate New York, and why it took so long to release their debut record.

Check out the full interview below.

American Songwriter: For some background, how long have you three known each other and played music together?

Nick Sebastiano: We met in 2015. Well, Alenni and I met before that because we went to school together at the College of St. Rose. So that would have been like 2013 that we met the first time. And then we met Mike when we were playing together in a different band. So we met in 2015 and that’s when we started playing music together.

AS: What was the band you were in at the time?

Alenni Davis: The band was called Immaculate Heart, and it was originally songs by our friend Brandon [Powers-Green] but we ended up writing collaboratively with that group, which was really cool.

AS: So when did you move to Philly?

Alenni: We were all in Albany until the summer of 2017, which is when we all moved to Philly together.

Michael: It kind of started out as just trying to gather some good friends together and play some songs for shows, and as the year or two went on we got to be so much closer as a group, playing-wise and arrangement-wise.

AS: When were the oldest songs that appear on New Music and Big Pop actually written?

Michael: The oldest song would be “Hone,” and that would have been late 2016. The album is just kind of stockpiling the songs that seem to fit the best as a group.

AS: What about the most recent writing?
Michael: That would be late 2018—songs like “Big Pop,” “What the Hell is Going On,” “I’m Not Home.”

AS: So when you decided to focus on putting this album together, were you whittling down from other songs or building up to the collection?

Michael: It was more of a build-up to a collection, because I typically tend to feel most confident in the songs that get completely finished, and I would say that a lot of these—like the ten songs on this record—are the ones that are extra-finished Another Michael songs, if that makes sense.

AS: There are quite a few references to exchanging music and listening to music on the record. How conscious were you of that thread as you were writing?

Michael: It was semi-conscious I would say. After the fact it became more of a thing I wanted to write about. “New Music” was kind of the centerpiece of the writing. That was written right in the middle of it all. And that made me feel more confident about writing about something so direct.

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AS: You also mention a few first names. Are those the real names of the folks you’re addressing?

Michael: Sometimes. Like on “What Gives” I say Christopher, and that’s a reference to one of my favorite songwriters of the last half decade or so, this guy Chris Weisman. It’s kind of an ode to him.

Nick: We all love Chris Weisman, by the way. Really cool musician. 

Michael: We literally talk about Chris Weisman all the time.

Nick: We’re always trying to find an excuse to name-drop him.

AS: Are there other songwriters or musicians that any of you sought to channel?

Michael: I would say The Roches were a big influence for us on this record. I was getting into them around the time we were really starting to form this lineup of Another Michael, like 2016. I was getting really inspired by all those harmonies and the variation of their discography. They start out like a really folky group and they stay that way but move with the times through the late 80s and early 90s—they get into drum machines and synthesizers. A project can really reference all different kinds of music, and I find all that really inspiring for sure. 

Alenni: I would say for me, in terms of my part writing with guitar, I mainly play electric guitar on the record and keys, and then sing harmony vocals. An artist that’s been really inspiring—especially during that time but also just in general in that kind of writing—is Kimbra. Her melody writing and part writing in her songs—and the production in her music, too—has always been pretty top-notch and inventive and inspiring to me since her first record came out years ago. But I think her last album came out in 2018, which would have been when we were digging into these songs as well.

Nick: I find that musical influences for me that come out when working on music are mainly subconscious. I find afterwards, if I play something or do something, I’ll listen to it and be like, “I definitely wouldn’t have done that before, and I think it’s because I listened to this and this,” but I’m not exactly sure where it comes from. I find that listening to a lot of music subconsciously expands the musical palette.

AS: Definitely. Music seeps in in certain ways. What led you to the place in upstate New York where you recorded the record?

Nick: Some family members of mine—an aunt and uncle—have a tiny little A-frame in Ferndale, New York. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like… really, really, really small. We were having trouble fitting the whole band set-up in one room. But we had access to it for a couple of weeks. I had asked them in advance if we could go up there to record, and they were down. 

Our friend Jake [Crofoot], playing guitar, and our in-house recording engineer, Scoops [Dardaris], brought a bunch of gear and instruments and camped out there for a little bit. It seemed like a fun, romantic thing to do. It was really snowy up there, and we thought the vibe would be creative. That was in December of 2018.

Alenni: It was like two or three weeks.

Nick: That’s when the bulk of the record was recorded… That was this large chunk where we got a lot of creative stuff done and a lot of things that were question-marks before then kind of fell into place.

Michael: I would say that was our opportunity to actually spend a bunch of time with the goal to be finishing the album, whereas before it was a lot of stop-and-go weekends and figuring it out in between doing little tours here and there and working. It was a really inspiring time. It was the first time we had to be in a world of recording that feels like, you know, you get halfway through it and it feels endless in the moment.

AS: Some of these songs are more quiet and pensive, others are more breezy and driving. What do you make of those different modes of yours?

Michael: I think of it as, like, “I want to write a this-kind-of-song and a that-kind-of-song.” I kind of wanna fill up all the spaces that a great record has, sonically, within the context of our particular band arrangement and influences at the same time.

AS: How would you describe some of those spaces?

Michael: Kind of like a rollercoaster, honestly. I like the idea of a record being a rollercoaster, getting minor dips and minor raises but also once in a while you might really hit a big loop.

AS: When you do hit those loops or those dips, does one of you tend to pull you in that direction, or do you all sort of oscillate?

Michael: I would say we all oscillate.

Alenni: It depends. I think there’s definitely some times where we feel like we’re all on the same wavelength and kinda riding the same idea, and then there’s also times where we come from different places, and both of those experiences can be really promising in their own ways, even if there are some disagreements along the way. There’s always good that comes out of those different opinions each showing their face.

AS: Were y’all surprised by any of the songs?

Michael: Two come to mind for me. The closing track, “Shaky Cam,” was recorded [over] the longest period of time. “Shaky Cam” started in 2017, but Nick and Alenni and also Jacob didn’t play on the initial recording. It was me and another rhythm section, and then everyone just built layers on top of it [over] a couple years of on-and-off recording. And that song became one of the more dense, layered tracks, which I didn’t really see coming.

And then “I’m Not Home” got a lot more experimental in the studio. When I had written that, that was me setting out to do a really simple four-verse, single-progression song. And we really got louder with it, which was awesome.

Nick: I was surprised with how the song “What the Hell is Going On” ended up sounding. When Michael had initially showed us the bare bones of the song, it was like, “This is interesting, this is not a song that we’ve ever attempted to do as a band before.” That was one that we hadn’t demoed and we hadn’t really practiced together before being in the studio scenario. So it just happened the way it happened, and I think we’re happy with it. It’s definitely weird for us. It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before, but that’s what we like about it.

Alenni: The first one that came to mind was definitely “I’m Not Home,” as well. For me, personally, it took a good deal of time to wrap my head around the fact that that was an Another Michael song. That goes to show how surprising it sounded to me. But all in all, of course now I’m very happy with how that song sounds and sounds on the record. It’s a really unique little piece in there. 

The other song that I would say felt like a surprise to me was “What Gives,” because that was a song that we had been playing live a bit even before we started recording it. We were playing that at some DIY shows and basements, and then kind of translated it to our recording. I think that song is a pretty unique song on the record too, having no drums but also having a more filled-out arrangement. I just really like how sunny that song sounds and feels, and it feels like a nice interpretation [of] the live version.

AS: Can you tell us about this image on the album cover—this glowing, pastoral scene?

Nick: Our good friend Jaime Knoth ended up drawing that for us. [It] was inspired by the area where we recorded the album, but obviously it’s more…

Alenni: Dreamy?

Nick: It’s definitely a more dreamy version of [the actual place]. It was winter when we were there. But having a lake really close by, and then the tiny little house on the hill… album covers are really important for some reason. I feel like my bandmates agree with me there. We’re super happy with how it turned out.

AS: Is there anything else y’all want to share about either how this record came together or what it means to you?

Nick: It definitely means a ton that we’re putting out a debut album and that from what we can see there are already people interested in hearing it. That alone is kind of a dream, and the fact that we’re on a label like Run For Cover, and that people have been listening to the singles… it’s kind of like affirmation a bit, you know? It’s something we love doing, and it’s cool that it’s finally happening.

Michael: As long-winded as the experience of waiting to put the record out has been, I couldn’t be more hyped to be putting it out right now. I feel the most comfortable with the music, just letting it sit and breath as opposed to rushing to put it out as soon as it was finished, I think that’s been a nice surprise for me.

Alenni: Back in the times where shows were allowed to happen safely, we had been playing quite a few songs off the record in different capacities and different arrangements, and it always felt really exciting and good to play those songs even though they weren’t out yet and share them with people that way. 

And there’s a lot of songs off the record that we didn’t yet have the opportunity to play live that I’m feeling really excited to play live now. Even though it is still likely a far-off ways away, the fact that the album is finally coming out and people will be hearing those songs is exciting in itself, but is also exciting because it means that we’re closer to being able to play those songs for people in person eventually. Which brings me great joy!

New Music and Big Pop is out February 19 via Run For Cover. You can pre-order it here.

Photo Credit: Julia Leiby

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