Up-and-coming country music crooner Michael Christopher spoke with Music City Encore recently during what has turned into quite a busy summer for the Pennsylvania native.
Michael talks about what he has learned on the road and in the studio from some of the bigger stars in the industry, where he sees country music as it stands today, and what fans can expect from one of his live shows.
He shares his motivations for his songwriting, self-analyzes his own music, and also tells us how he first became involved in country music.
Here’s our full interview with Michael Christopher:
Music City Encore: You’ve shared the stage and opened up for a number of national acts, including Jamey Johnson, Phil Vassar, and Colt Ford. What have you learned from watching them perform, interact with fans, etc.?
Michael Christopher: Honestly, you can learn something different from almost every performer out there but I think the biggest thing I’ve picked up on is how they engage their audience. Learning how to interact with a crowd to make them feel like you know them on a personal level is truly a craft. Not only does this make for a more entertaining show but it also raises everyone’s energy level.
Opening for a major act is always an honor in a lot of ways. The headliner is usually someone that you’d like to emulate your career after; you want to be able to see yourself being in their shows as a headlining act someday.
MCE: Ironically, you didn’t become interested in country music until college. How did you first become interested, and what made you decide that you not only liked it, but wanted to write and perform?
MC: Well, I was coaxed into going to a line dance club which I had never done before and it turned out that I really enjoyed it! Naturally, the majority of the music that you hear with line dancing is country. I found that I really took a liking to the storytelling aspect of country music. Also, having grown up somewhat in the “country” makes it easier to appreciate the hooks and storylines so often found within country music.
As I’d always been interested in music in general, sometimes a few friends and I would just fool around with singing along with acoustic guitars, karaoke, or something similar and the one night someone told me “man, you should really sing country.” I never really thought about it but as I started listening to the genre more and more it just kind of became embedded in me. In fact, I think it was probably always a part of my DNA but just kind of developed later.
MCE: In 2008, you put together a group of musicians to form your band. What does each of your band members bring to the group?
MC: I’ve tried to “construct” the best band that I can in order to perform MY style of country music which I consider to be somewhat traditional with a little bit of a rock edge at times. In doing so, the guys in my band each are an integral piece of the puzzle that is Michael Christopher. Rich Gibson provides the “twang” to my music while playing a whopping four instruments for us including pedal steel, banjo, dobro and guitar. Antonio Gatto provides the other end of the spectrum with a “heavier” lead guitar sound that you’d find on some of the best rock albums around. Perry Pinto on bass and Jim Behon on drums provide an excellent thump to our lineup as well as some harmony vocals that blend well with my voice.
MCE: Since that time, you’ve recorded a demo, and now a full-length album. In what ways have you changed as an artist from 2008 until now?
MC: First off, I feel I have grown immensely as an artist. While I will probably always have a somewhat eclectic taste for music, or style of country music for that matter, I feel I have kind of established more of who I am stylistically as an artist and a writer. Also, having worked with some very talented and highly experienced professionals, I feel I’ve found where my strengths are vocally and to use them to the best of my ability.
MCE: You wrote/co-wrote all twelve songs on the album. How important was it for you to have all self-penned tracks on the album as opposed to recording songs written by others?
MC: This was very important to me for my first album. In a nutshell, I had a bunch of song ideas which I thought would play together really well on an album. They were stories that I wanted to tell either about myself or just ideas that I thought would “sing” well and best illustrate who I am as an artist. I was also fortunate enough to collaborate with some extremely gifted and award winning writers who’ve penned songs that every country fan out there has heard at some point.
MCE: How has it been working with Kent Wells?
MC: Kent Wells is a consummate professional and a top notch producer. Having worked with some of the biggest names in country music his approach didn’t waiver when working on a demo with a newcomer like myself. Kent and his group of studio musicians are able to hear the finished product before the recording even starts.
In addition, I worked with Phillip Moore on the rest of the tracks on my album. Talk about talent! I’ve never seen someone singlehandedly pull together a song like he does. As an accomplished songwriter and musician, Phillip easily understood the “vibe” I was trying to achieve with each of my songs and made the process even better!
MCE: What message do you want to convey to country music fans with this album?
MC: Actually, I think there are several messages within this album. The songs “My Year” and “Looks Like Rain” convey a sense of renewal or rebirth. “Fallin’ for the Last Time” gives everyone hope for finding that one true love. Songs like “You and the Open Road” and “Sun Is Up (Tailgate Down)” suggest just enjoying summertime and life in general. I’m sure there are even more messages as well.
MCE: Describe yourself and your music to a country music fan who hasn’t heard your music before.
MC: I would consider myself a down to earth and fun guy. I enjoy being creative and love to entertain people with music. As far as the sound of my music goes, I think you could say it is somewhat traditional with a slight rock vibe. I feel that almost anyone can relate to the themes or stories within my songs and I hope listeners will be singing along after hearing my music!
MCE: Was the goal of the album to offer something for everybody, or was there a specific tone and mood you wanted to maintain throughout?
MC: I’m not sure there was a specific audience in mind. However, throughout the entire production process, I had one thing in mind. I wanted the finished product to be an album someone could listen to in its entirety, without skipping a bunch of songs, and truly enjoy it. I want people to sing along to my songs.
MCE: Artists have personal favorite tracks on any given release. Which song(s) stand out to you from this album and why?
MC: This is a tough question as I have a connection with each and every one of my tunes. Some of the rockers are just flat out fun to play (“All About the Chase,” “Daisy Dukes,” etc.). Then some others have a more personal connection like finding the love of my life (“Fallin’ for the Last Time,” “She Stood Out in the Crowd”). Plus, I love a good beach vacation so “Song About the Beach” really puts me in the mood to get away.
MCE: Country music is influenced by a number of different genres, and as the years have gone on, it’s becoming more pop, rock, and blues influenced. You offer a more traditional sound with your music. Where do you see the state of country music today and where do you and your music fit in?
MC: Over the past few years country seems to have gotten even more eclectic with the styles of music that influence it. Whoever would’ve guess that you could find traces of hip hop in a country song? Nonetheless, I find that rock is a very heavy influence in current country music which I actually like. My sound is somewhat traditional but it does occasionally have that slight rock edge to it which is very prevalent in mainstream country music.
MCE: What’s on tap for you for the rest of the summer and beyond?
MC: The rest of the year and beyond is shaping up to be pretty busy for my band and I. We’re playing all kinds of shows from festivals, fairs and rodeos to opening up for exciting new national acts Josh Thompson as well as Due West. Finding that elusive record deal is something that I will continue to pursue as well. However, just getting to play music that I enjoy is something that I am thankful for.
MCE: While you’re just starting out in the industry, getting your name and music out there to fans…from what you’ve been through and experienced so far, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the music industry?
MC: KEEP TRYING and make the best music you can make. At the end of the day that’s what it all comes down to no matter the level at which you’re playing.
Truly one of the more talented young singer-songwriters to emerge from the Keystone State, Michael Christopher has all the talent and drive to maintain an extensive run in country music.
A special thanks to Michael Christopher for speaking with us.
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