Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is set to release his fifth full-length album, Love Valley. The project is not only one that boasts an amazing supporting cast of musicians but also showcases his songwriting ability as the entire album was penned in his hand.
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Through the arc of the album, Fitzgerald tells a story the listener yearns to be a part of, with each song weaving his lifetime of experiences with the dream of a life yet to be seen. Simply put, Love Valley is much more intimate and expositional than what could have come from group sessions.
Fitzgerald teamed with Brett Resnik on Pedal Steel (Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price), Lyle Molzan on Drums (Kathleen Edwards, Emm Gryner) & Art Edmaiston Sax (Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Jim Lauderdale, Jonny Lang) and tapped the services of Juno Award-winning engineer Josh Rob Gwilliam to get it across the finish line.
Fitzgerald also came up with the Greenbriar Tent Tour as a way to promote the album, it has provided a way for him to stay in touch with his fans while also respecting the Covid pandemic. In a second effort to connect, he wanted to explain the writing that went into the album and shared a track-by-track with American Songwriter readers.
“Heart of It”
This is my favourite song on the record, I think mostly because it feels like arrival. ‘Our River’ begins to ask the question of what if we followed this dream – picked up and moved and this song answers that for me. I can see the details vividly and I love how it resolves on such a simple chorus. I think a dream destination in one’s life is pretty universal, and it is so nice to have a partner in that dream – the person at the heart of it. This song started in the studio with the higher octave acoustic, we then added the second acoustic track, Hammond organ bass and saxophone. I find with this song that people hear it and see their own vision – I think if we had a sketch artist map out the two places they would look nothing alike, but I love that the lyric allows for that.
“I Love That Sound”
All of these songs started off with something that felt good on the guitar. I love that current behind the lyric. I wrote this song at home in the kitchen of my little house. Like the rest of the record this song asks what life could look like for me. I’ve never taken the time to do that in any other medium, but it felt good to do that writing these songs over the course of the year last year. This song is about simple intimacy: buying a home together, moving in, skinny dipping, taking clothes off at the end of the day. I wanted to write about simple love. This song is the first introduction of Katie Stanton and Jessica Richie’s backing vocals. I opted to bring in the bg’s with their own lead lines – doing it that way opened up the story for me, I think. The lines from another perspective allow for the story to be told by anyone, or to have the story told about them. Lyle Molzan played the drums, Brett Resnick played the pedal steel.
Good plates honestly almost got cut a few times while we were making the record. Josh Rob Gwilliam (co-producer/engineer/mix) and I couldn’t figure it out. Lyrically I loved the idea of taking the time to tell the story of one small detail in this beautiful picture that I was hoping to draw. Production-wise we shortened up the song, ditched the second half of the second verse and added that drop of what seems like silence but is actually aniPhone audio clip of me walking outside on the acreage around OCL studios (Calgary). As we brought in the saxophone solo we meant to bring back the drums at the same time but the edit was a touch messy and that left us with that janky, beautiful, awkward and perfect moment. I love playing this song, and I think the message in it has a real home in the world this year. I long to gather and I’m sure many others are feeling that at the moment.
“The Best we Haven’t Seen Yet”
I think this record is well suited for a slow drive, in the early morning, with a cup of coffee in the cupholder. I love the idea of the best being yet to come, but not in a way where one is just looking forward to those times – more in the way of being resolved to the idea that life keeps getting better. I do feel that way (most times.. I’m still human) and the concept fits well in the theme of ‘Love Valley’. As the song slowly builds and the instrumentation gets bigger, the lyric stays simple and really cements the concept.
This is the second song I wrote for the record and the first one where I started to dream about having a farm. I wrote this song in the studio, the first studio days were spent trying to figure out what songs were working/not working. I hadn’t written at home much over the last few years and had grown accustomed to collaboration with other writers, artists and producers. I found it tough at first writing the record completely solo. I tried bringing in some previously written songs, some co-writes to no avail. Josh heard me playing this guitar line and told me to keep going, I had tried to record a quick voice note in the studio and move on but he was adamant that I see it through. We started tracking the acoustic and a percussion loop, and I spent the afternoon in the studio writing the lyrics. ‘Our River’ was the first song released from the record and I think it introduces the theme well.
After writing ‘Our River,’ I found myself in a bit of a rut. I had promised myself that in tandem with writing this new music I would go through the thousands of voice notes accumulated on my phone over the years. So many nights were spent looking at the guitar sitting on the kitchen island and listening to voice notes on headphones. I think it was a good exercise and kept me in the right headspace. I was so enamoured with ‘Our River’ and could see clearly through to this theme of arriving at this calm homestead that I found it difficult to write something that I felt could hang with the first two songs. This song came months later, anything recorded in-between will live on a hard drive somewhere. This song was still about finding that calm home and love, but it explored being in a cobblestone-lined small Mexican town, relaxing for a lifetime and letting go of the pressures of writing and driving towards this musical life/dream. I wrote this one out at Kalamalka Lake while spending time with some friends turned family members. Felt good to find a song that I was excited to bring into the studio. I love sentiment in the chorus – taking the pressure off.
I wrote this song in March of 2019 – Josh and I had already been in the studio a few times but had nothing to show for it yet. I wrote this song in the kitchen at home and to me it likened life to a mountain climb. There are twists and turns along the way, good chapters and bad as one ascends to the peak. It is only there that we’re granted a view of the calm valley. I could see the valley right away as I started writing – a river and a home. For me after all of these years of traveling and packing a suitcase, it felt good to dream about a place where there was calm and stability. I felt as though that place had to be earned, but that it wasn’t far off. Josh and I loved this song so much we instantly sent it south to have it mixed by Mark Needham (Killers, Imagine Dragons) with the thought that we could start talking about this song as we were writing and recording the rest. He did a great job with the song, but in the end as more songs started to stick, we decided to mix it again ourselves (this is the first record that I’ve ever had a co-mix credit). ‘Love Valley’ starts the second side of the vinyl.
“I Love You”
I wrote this to replace either ‘Good Plates’ or ‘Back on the Farm’ as I had my heart set on creating a 12-song record, and I wasn’t sure about including those songs yet. Twelve songs seemed to me like a complete thought. We hadn’t yet thrown in the towel on the other songs, and we worked on them relentlessly as we mixed the record. In the end they stuck, but I’d already decided to include this song so twelve became thirteen. I like this song because I think it’s simple fun – the chorus is catchy, and the concept of a love reminder makes sense to me. That reassurance given that one didn’t think to ask for. We flew in some ambient sounds, Lyle played the drums and the guitar solo is an effect on a recording of my voice and acoustic combined.
This is one of two songs that I wrote in Tennessee – when we were done tracking with the guest musicians that we’d found for the record I used the remainder of the studio time to write. It felt good to finish those days working on new songs. I wanted to write a song that explained why I loved being on a motorcycle so much. I figured if I described what it felt like, people might start to understand what the draw I feel to it is. I think a motorcycle offers the ultimate panorama, ordinary highway drives turn into vistas, the smell of impending rain floods the helmet, feeling the temperature change as the bike sinks into a valley. I have a Harley at home in Calgary. I kept it in LA for a couple years, and to get it home I spent 4 days driving through Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana. I’ll never forget that trip.
I wanted to write a plain love song. Something that didn’t need to be interpreted – something that didn’t require polish or shine. I thought that moment was in the evening when two people undress after a long day, in the most intimate room in the household. The room is plain, the decor doesn’t matter as one person relays the events of the day to another – every day getting closer. The song for me also conveys how beautiful the body of a loved one is. This easy, calm love is part of my dream, and I loved getting to detail it in a song. “You’ll go about, your evening routine, I’m the spectator, taking in the scene”
This is the second song I wrote in Tennessee. We’d just finished tracking the sax, and I’d been working on this chorus idea for a while. I had no idea of what I wanted the verses to be about, but we got a drum loop going and recorded the first version on that first studio day in Memphis. I had been reluctant to show Josh as I was worried the chorus was too cheesy, but as the lyric started fleshing out it started feeling like something. Sometimes the cheesy stuff ends up being the best part, the most heartfelt. I’ll never forget listening back to a rough version of the song at the Airbnb that night and realizing that I didn’t like the verses. I woke up at 5 the next morning and re-wrote them before our second day at the studio. That version ended up being the keeper. I love that this part of the story comes later in the tracklist, there’s no rush.
I wrote this song late last year in London. I went over to attend a writing camp at a studio in Shoreditch with other Canadian and UK writers. This song was the product of a few minutes in the hallway and the evening back at the Airbnb. I loved the concept of writing a song about having a baby. I’ve always thought that I would become a dad at some point in my life, and it seemed easy to dream about how the delivery would feel. I placed this song late in the tracklist as I thought that in the story of this record it fell where it should. I’d never used such a plain word for the title of a song, but thought that title was so descriptive without giving away the tension that builds in the first verse/pre.
“Back on the Farm”
This song was the last one on the chopping block – The verses took me a while to iron out and when the song rolled into the chorus, I wasn’t feeling it lift at all. We tried trimming sections, I re-wrote a bunch and it still wasn’t happening. The change came when I started thinking about Donna Lewis “I Love You Always Forever” one morning at home before coming to the studio. I thought maybe a second lyrical part in the chorus with that same quick syllable approach might give the lift needed. This was another moment in the record that I had to brace myself before showing Josh – but we ended up loving it. We added some bigger sounding drums and an overdriven organ with a panning effect to finish the song up. I love the visual in that Donna L inspired chorus part, I think it’s the right visual to leave off on – “I finally get what arrival means.”