Are you happy with how your new release Hit Me Back (Rock Ridge Music) has turned out?  Couldn’t be happier. Took a wee bit of a different approach than the prior albums….for example….there were certain artists we couldn’t reference….it was out of bounds so to speak…to reference some of the artists that most singer songwriters. Mkight refer to …you know a  ” you know how on that Dylan record they did that thing with the keyboard?” Those types of statements were forbidden….. you know the line….”.if you always do what you always did, you will always get, what you always got .” That was kind of our launch pad.

Who is it for?  The whimsical, the unwanted, the mourners, the isolated, the desperate, the devilish, the defeated, the kick-starters, the matador’s, the penniless poets, the dogged, the lovers on morning trains, the searchers, the seekers, the outcast, the count, the clown, the mistress, the widowed, the forgotten.

Where did you record it? with whom?  CJ Eiriksson …who is fucking brilliant! I worked with him a few years back. Then on tour in Italy, I was in the back of a car and leafing through the U2 record liner notes and noticed CJ”s name all over the place…..I was thrilled for him. I figured he had graduated to a different level and would no longer work with low lifes like me…My wife Heather told me if i didn’t write him, she would…i still had his email address and i wrote him….and he was on the road with U2 for the 360 tour but it was wrapping up soon and I pitched him….

How does it relate in your mind to your previous record, Hey La Hey?  It’s quite a departure. Songwriting is songwriting…at least mine is……but it’s really just what colors you use from your palette. We approached that record (HLH) with a band in the studio……this one…..it was me and CJ for the most of it.

With so many records under your belt, does one develop a philosophy when it comes to going into the studio, or is that called ‘the budget’?  HA….well that certainly is a factor in the equation….truth be told it’s as confusing as ever…..we did this record with the help of Kickstarter so we did have it planned we had a certain amount of time and come hell or high water…..it had to be done….so our philosophy was…….work quickly !

michaelmcdermott_hitmeback_cover-2Did you have sound or general attack in mind going in for Hit Me Back or did it evolve as the material took shape?  I think the songs really dictate what you do. I had a batch of songs that I thought were ready and then I sent them to CJ and he started working on loops from Texas and we kind of molded the record over the internet……then he came to town and we did it in 8 days.

Is it all new material or did any older, previously unrecorded songs bubble up to the surface as well?  There was one song, ” She’s Gonna Kill Me “, that we recorded for Hey La Hey and weren’t quite happy with it……so that one kind of stuck around…..another song ” Scars From Another Life” was a few years older….and one we would play live…..but when I sent CJ 40 songs or so…..he gravitated to that one…..he rearranged it and it came out amazingly well……it’s really having trust in your producer that he knows what he’s doing…..and you gotta be willing to walk the plank with him.

Do you have a favorite track (or tracks) on the disc or should we assume that’s the ‘titled cut’?  That’s certainly one cuz it’s probably the most ” fun ” song I’ve ever done……we thought we could hide it on the record and start it with more serious stuff but, wanted to come out with a smile…..I wrote that song in the car on the way to and from the hospital to see my dying mother….worst time in my life…..so for the sheer sake of my sanity i wrote a pretty funny and light hearted tune.

Any new influences reflected on the disc that you hear as the author?  Being referential to an earlier question…….we tried to use female influences more than male references……we put to rest all the old ” Gods ” the old ” Legends” and would be more influenced by Sinead, Dido, Florence, Sarah, then say Dylan, Bruce, Waits, Van, U2

Is ‘Hit Me Back’ a threat? kinky chatter? the facts of life or just a text message? what does it mean to you?  Great question…..well it was strictly a lyric in relation to my hangover that my head was hurting so bad it felt as if the bottle literally hit me back. But just those three words have a very ambiguous connotation which i love……it’s the masochist the fighter, the lover, the loser……all things which I know quite well.

 Are your earliest musical influences the most pervasive or do others break through along the way?  The early ones in the formative years are still the Mount Rushmore for me of songwriting….but there certainly have been people that have shown up in recent years that can influence you. Things constantly influence me……the train outside my window, to the man at the counter in a diner…..songs are everywhere….you just sometimes go looking for them in different places.
Where do songs arts for you, with the lyrical content or the music?  Totally varies, sometimes it’s a riff on guitar or a piano melody. Otherwise you get a lyric idea and then try to meld that into a song or melody. They are just different colors, and you need all of it to make a great painting so it matters little which comes first.  You’re going to need all of it if you want the song to sing on it’s own.
What is the first song you ever wrote, do you still like it? did it resurface anywhere else down the line?  The first song I wrote was in high school, and we named the band after the song – “Missing In Action / MIA”.  Nothing of that song ever reappeared, for good reason LOL.
How does “Hey La Hey” differ from your past releases?  It’s a far more restrained album. Which i like. The songs breath in a completely different way. Part of me misses some of the frenetic energy of the past albums, but i think it was a big step with not getting in the way of the song too much. Sometimes you try and do too much with a song and you end up kind of choking the life out of it……this album each song breathes on its own.
How did you approach going into the studio for the record?  I never usually have an approach….i’ve learned whenever i go into the studio thinking its gonna sound like one thing….it ends up sounding nothing like i thought it would. i’ve learned to let the song take you….and i just go along for the ride.
What is your favorite song on it?  That’s a tough one……if i had to have Bob Dylan hear one song….i’d pick Forgotten…….its a song thats spooky and has elements that make me uncomfortable. Its a song i havne’t heard in quite sometime…..because of the way it makes me feel. There’ something other worldly about it…..and i’m not sure if its a world i’d wanna be in.
If you had to make an “Introducing Michael McDermott” EP, what 3 songs would be on it?  Forgotten, Charlie Boy, The Silent WIll Soon Be Singing (unreleased song).
What’s the best part about playing Europe?  The people are the best thing. Besides my fascination with Europe as a whole…..the people and how they listen to music is the most inspiring thing. Europe has taught me about myself, its taught me how to love and approach life in a different way. I love it.
What advice would you give to young artists getting ready to tour for the first time?  I had a blast as a young man on the road. But maybe too good of a time. I’d say be moderate on the partying. That time of my life nearly killed me and i still have the scars to prove it. Have a great time….but ” dyin’ ain’t no way to make a livin” ( Clint Eastwood)


1.0 – You’re new to the guitar, singing and song writing; what inspired you to go for it? 

I have always been immersed in music.  I had music theory at a young age, and writing interested me as well. Yet, I didn’t think of making music seriously until I moved to New York City, where I was lucky enough to be surrounded in a sea of guitars and drowning in heartache.  Logically, I grabbed an ore and started paddling.

At the time, I had newly discovered, through my lover or boyfriend (or not, depending on which of us and when you asked), that one could be dumped without “technically” being “involved” in a “relationship.”  I wrote the lyrics to “Goodnight Sweet” through a stream of tears, mucus, and lyrics blotted on the back of a ripped-open envelope.  The entire process was cathartic.  I mixed a quart of storytelling and a tablespoon of music with a dash of experience, which ended up being the recipe for Folksinger.

Nobody told me I should do it, but, more importantly, nobody told me I couldn’t…so I did.

2.0 – Did you have a sense of how you wanted to sound before you could actually do it? 

When I first picked up the acoustic, I only wanted to learn enough chords to write a song.  Once I did that, I wanted to gather the guts to perform.

Musicians often seemingly throw around the number one-hundred.  The aforementioned ex told me that after playing one-hundred shows, the butterflies in my stomach would diminish.  Likewise, Rhett Miller [Old 97s] facetiously mentioned that after writing one-hundred shitty songs, a good one finally manifests as one-hundred-and-one.  I like the idea of setting a goal and pushing myself to achieve it.  So, perchance I’ll pen 77 more songs before I commit to anything as far as a definitive sound or style.

3.0 – Is your goal to be ‘Just Another Folk Singer’ or is that just truth in advertising?

Perhaps it’s a little of both, especially considering how being an “underground” composer is even more notable, in some ways, than being a mainstream performer.  Describing myself is difficult, but I like how “folk” is synonymous with “people.”  I must be in that definition somewhere.  Starting from anonymity with the goal of being recognized as just another folk singer is a sensible goal.

Originally I took the moniker from one of my burgeoning songs, a story about a good ol’ boy who seeks out his own fame and fortune by living an exciting and corrupt life in order to create his own blues about which to sing.  It’s a mashup on the old Crossroads and Dorian Gray stories, which mimics the sentiments, “Be careful for what you wish.”  Raine Maida [Our Lady Peace] once told me not to become a musician unless I was ready to fight for my soul.  The gist stuck with me, and I realized I wanted to write songs regardless of fact that I had no prestigious name.

I like the modesty in the moniker.  When I was young, my mother told me, “Let others talk about you.  You can handle it, and if they talk about you, then they aren’t talking about someone who can’t handle it.”  Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will always amuse me.  I am “Just Another Folk Singer.”  What’s wrong with that?  It has a nice ring to it.

4.0 – Who are your key influences? 

Laissez faire singer-songwriters intrigue me.  I adore the rich and raw “unreleased” songs as well as bare-bones solo performances.

Lately I really love Aaron Lee Tasjan.  Aaron’s the hardest working musician I’ve ever met.  I’d like to interrogate him or steal his feathered hat.   Perhaps some of his talent will rub off or I’ll find some discarded candid poetry tucked in the brim. I’m definitely a hat-gal.

I doubt there would be a Mystie Chamberlin in the Folksinger sense if it weren’t for Michael McDermott.  Michael’s songs are soulful and resonant, a real soundtrack for life.  I recall a night in Jersey after a particularly passionate performance, including boot-stomping, sweat, and tears.  He was cooling down.  Between sips of beer, I played him a song for the first time.  I was sinking in a puddle of anxiety, but he smothered me with encouragement as I hung onto his acoustic for dear life, as if it were a floating device.  My fingers fumbled every note, but he sang along.  I’ll never forget that.

Jesse Malin’s music is a constant comfort in this confusing time.  Lately life has been hard-hitting. I’ve been laid-off, homeless, and beyond broke, but I survived.  Jesse has a uniquely optimistic way of expressing similar struggles in a way that makes me feel like he’s always standing right behind me, which is both intimidating and strangely addictive.  In February 2010, thanks to Jesse’s presence and generosity, I played my one-hundredth gig opening up for Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social.

Cameron McGill has been a brother to me.  I traveled in the van around the Midwest with Cameron McGill & What Army for a short time when I had a green mane and wide eyes.  I always unobtrusively observed everything from his drive to his craftsmanship to his showmanship.  He’s another Dust Bowl Troubadour, a wandering minstrel whose songs powerfully emanate politics, experiences and feelings.  I have Cam’s inspirational lyrics tattooed on the back of my neck: “All I know is Love and Rock N’ Roll,” and it’s as true for me now as it was then.

I worship Butch Walkers candor and wit, but I really want to be Rhett Miller when I grow up. If I can hone my craft to be as affecting and clever as these great American songsters then maybe I’ll feel like I’m home.

5.0 – What’s your favorite part of performing in the Village?

My favorite part is a tossup between A.) getting to see amazing musicians and performers in intimate settings of urban rustic ambiance, and 2.) not knowing who I will run into on the street.  There are always things to do and people to see, and vice versa.  As I wrote in Dramaville, “Nothing’s ever boring out here on the brink; you see the daylight coming, but the night’s still young.”

Part of the reason I moved to NYC was because of the support of the East Village art scene.  The Antagonist Movement existed four years by the time Jesse [Malin] introduced me.  Perhaps I was unknowingly searching for such a crusade with which to involve myself after I finished art school in Chicago.  I wouldn’t be performing if it weren’t for the Antagonists…and of course their Antagonism (one could coin the –ism).

6.0 – Do you cover any artists when you play live?

I currently cover 33 artists and bands.  I’ve done nearly every song by Jack’s Mannequin on the “Everything in Transit” album.  I’ve also played a number of Embrace (The English band, not the D.C. one, which is also outstanding) songs as well as a few by Okkervil River. I appropriated Mike Jordan’s “Whiskey and Water” after hearing Michael’s [McDermott’s] cover. The Long Winters have a poignant song called “Honest,” and I implemented that and Editors’ “Smokers Outside The Hospital Door” into my set because I identified with them.

Some songs I am still learning.  Tommy London [The Dirty Pearls] and I attempted to duet Cinderella’s “Shelter Me.”  Our doing was a memorable, monumental failure; I keep begging him for second chance.  Also, Silvertrick has a classic song called “Forget Hollywood.”  I’m still working it out for my acoustic routine.

I’ve covered multitudes of music from Missy Higgins to The Libertines.  Daniel Johnston and Whiskeytown get as much attention in my attention-book as Kenny Rogers and Jenny Lewis.  I’m not biased; I play what I like.

7.0 – What kind of guitar are you playing, any story behind it? 

My uncle from Memphis passed away in a motorcycle accident on March 17, 2010.  I’d been to Memphis merely to visit Graceland.  After he died, my father bequeathed his Martin to me.  It’s my only family heirloom, and it’s from an uncle I never knew.  The guitar is missing a pickup, however it echoes an opulent timbre.  Ironically the first song I played on it was “Guitar and Heart Strings.”

When I perform, I play a Daisy Rock Butterfly Jumbo acoustic-electric.  I like Daisy Rock because my hands are petite, and the Daisy Rock necks are easier for me to play (Daisy Rock isn’t paying me to say that…it’s true).  It’s lighter than my Martin, which is important for me and my back.  Besides the sound and weight, it’s pretty.  The butterfly motifs remind me of my mother, who sported a butterfly tattoo on her breast.  Perhaps it’s my way of keeping her near mine.  My first guitar was a pink Daisy Rock Wildwood Acoustic; I still have it, although it has been retired.  However when I compose or relax, I usually break out the lil’ pink guy.

My baby is a pink Squire Bullet Strat Electric.  She was a gift when I left marketing for music.  I received her after stumbling up five flights of stairs around 6 a.m. the night Hurricane Irene was scheduled to make her New York City debut. That sounds like a story to tell when she’s older, doesn’t it?

8.0 – What are your plans for the New Year?  

Besides writing 78 songs, I would love to get in shape and learn how to kayak.  Conceivably I’ll hit the road.

9.0 – Any hot tips on new acts in New York folks should check out? 

Brothers NYC is one of my new favorite bands.  They have this great whiskey-fueled, honest, old-style rhythm-and-blues rock-and-roll sound.  Carla Rhodes, a rock-and-roll ventriloquist and comedienne, puts on a hilarious and charming show.  Damon Daunno is a man of many talents.  The Ramblers, Mahoney & The Moment, The Madison Square Gardeners, The Dirty Pearls and about a  million others I  haven’t name-dropped already.

10.0 – A spaceship touches down across the street from Niagara; who steps out of it?

I imagine the job prospects on Mars are more ominous than in NYC.  Perhaps it was fired, dumped, and wanted a new beginning so it jumped on the next craft to Earth in order to couch surf Brooklyn with some recent acquaintances it met at a show.  Considering more than half of New Yorkers have come here from somewhere else, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I fancy it would be just another eccentric extra-terrestrial, who has come here following, with blind belief, its dream described in the words immortalized by Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.  It’s up to you New York, New York.”


1.0  How do you see yourself, as a singer? a songwriter? or a musician? Musician first, then songwriter.  I feel OK saying that I’m those things, or at least trying to be those things.  I never liked my own voice much.  It seems like most people don’t care for their own voices, and I’m one of them.  I feel more comfortable being the background voice then the lead voice….I have this fear that I’m going to be at a party years from now and an old friend or band mate is going to put something of mine on, that I’m singing on, possibly to be reminiscent, or even as a joke, and I’ll be running for the nearest sedative….or rope.

2.0  Which do you prefer most, writing, recording, or playing live?  I suppose that it depends on the situation, but writing and recording interests me more than playing live.  Although, I do enjoy playing live, sometimes very much.  Since I seem to play in different scenarios, either as a backing player, fronting a band, or solo, and I don’t do any of them consistently for long periods of time, there’s quite a bit of preparation needed which can be quite tedious.  I often feel like I’m under-rehearsed and on shaky ground playing in some of the situations that I play in. Often times very relieved, almost celebrating, that it finished without a major glitch or catastrophe…..The writing, and the demoing stage, is what I like the most.  Writing a new song, and doing the instrumentation on something that feels like it may be a good piece is always enjoyable.

3.0  Any “rule of thumb” advice for guitarists backing up & accompanying other artists on stage? First, and foremost, know the material extremely well, but still bring your cheat sheets or chord charts to hide onstage, in case there’s a brain cramp.  Second, is to remember that it’s not your show.  You’re there to help, add color, etc.  Not overshadow the person, or people, that everyone has come to see.  More times than not “less is more”.  Ease in and out.  Pick and choose your spots to play in and be seen.  Many times I’ve played in acts where there’s been several of us that are asked to accompany and someone is really over anxious to impress, but instead was up front so much that they’ve annoyed the audience and the people that they’re playing with.  Besides, those things, there’s the obvious other important aspects like proper gear, attire, being on time, etc..

4.0  How are The Orphans?  All seem to be OK.  It’s grown into quit a large club over the years, but they seem to be hanging in there.  I wish I had a chance to see and play with them more often then I do.

5.0  How many songs have you written and recorded? have a favorite?  Not as many as I should have for the amount of time that I’ve been at it.  Recorded 35-ish that have been released on records.  With another 10-ish that have been recorded for other media projects.  I’ve probably written another 40-50 or so that I haven’t recorded.  I’m fairly slow and laboring.  It’s a bad trait.  It doesn’t mean it came out better, maybe just beaten to death…..I think the last few things that I’ve released, “As You Fall,” “Good Enough From Here.” and “Not Far Behind,” turned out OK.  Usually, I look back at most of the stuff I’ve recorded and wish I had done it differently.

6.0  How does a song start for you?  Usually, songs start on a guitar or piano with chord progressions or a hook.  Then I’ll come up with a vocal melody and some scratch lyrics. Eventually changing and finishing the lyrics.  Sometimes I’ll come up with the vocal melody first and then write the music.  I always write the lyrics last – those seem to take the longest for me.  I tend to slave over that a bit.

7.0  How do you feel about a beer or two before going on?  It’s essential for me before a show.  Usually a second during the show. I’ve started shows with more in me, much more, but it ends up being more of a challenge then something that takes the edge off…..like the kid that smokes pot in high school, walks down the halls, talks to teachers, talks to other students, trying desperately to function, while hoping it wears off quickly…..I know, not a great analogy.

8.0  You have a sultry voice and spin yarns with your lyrics, do women ever throw themselves at you when you come off stage?  Woman throwing themselves at me probably would ease the pain of some of those shakier shows that I mentioned.  I’ve been using excuses, like I’m married with little kids, and that’s why there’s rarely any interest from woman in the audience.  The reality is that they don’t even know that about me….I recently did have a woman stop me and tell me that there was something about me that she really liked, but she couldn’t figure out what it was.  She went on to tell me that it may have been because there was nothing in me that she found attractive or sexy.  That she liked me because I didn’t pose a threat to her or her relationship.  All while sporting a big friendly grin, like she was giving me a compliment.  All I could do was smile back and thank her.  Didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, so I did a little of both…..That about sums it all up……I guess once in a while some over served woman will slur something my way, but not often.

9.0  What is your favorite stage acoustic guitar and why?  My favorite acoustic guitar, that I own, is a Larrivee L-05.  On stage and off.  It has a red-ish Mahogany top and I nice deep bottom sound that I personally like.  It’s a slightly smaller, more sloped shouldered guitar that I’m comfortable with.  I have a black takamine ef-341 that I’ve also used for years.  It sounds OK plugged in on stage, but not too good off stage.  It’s been battered and broken through the years, and I tend to bring it when I play out of town; not too worried about it getting ruined.

10.0  Does time behave differently on stage versus off?  It seems like time always moves very slowly before a show.  Maybe it’s the anticipation thing.  Depends on the gig. I guess it’s like anything.  If it’s going well and is a lot of fun, time moves very quickly.  Otherwise, not so much.  If the show goes well and I’m with a bunch of friends afterwards, that’s always great.  Maybe to the point of being a blur.  Equally fast.  Sometimes so fast that before you know it, it’s morning and you’re waking up with a stiff neck and a headache on someone’s couch ~