WITH MICHAEL NEAL
During this interview, I change seat, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to American composer Michael Neal. The pianist takes some time to tell us about himself and his first album Lapse; an opportunity for the composer to talk about his musical growth and career as a versatile composer.
Michael, tell us about your background. What came before Lapse?
Well, I had been involved in music in a few other ways before piano work. I was in a metal band in high school as the singer/frontman, I did a lot of solo acoustic music for a while and I also composed and sang for a spoken word project. Those projects all sort of overlapped into my creation of my scoring pieces and I then released a few albums and singles comprised of my piano work, before starting on Lapse.
Lapse is your latest album and release with Blue Spiral Records. Tell us how this project came to life? What is the story behind it?
Lapse was always meant to be a collaborative effort. I originally was going to have guitarists feature alongside me on various pieces, but over time that shifted into me asking two composers to feature on two tracks. I did a small campaign where I released a single—Diminish—off the album and donated the proceeds to victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris back in 2015. The artist who created the graphic work for Lapse is located in the United Kingdom, as well as the late George Christie who composed alongside me for Adrift. Tomoya Naka also wrote alongside me on The Harmony of Contradiction, so there are Asian elements to the album as well.
Your musical background is very diverse—you have worked with many different genres, from acoustic to metalcore—how does that influence your creative process?
I think it keeps me fluid. I try to remain diverse, and that’s one thing that helps me avoid writer’s block. Sometimes I’ll sit down and work on a post hardcore song with some friends, sometimes I’ll write a lo-fi rap when I have some time, or sometimes I’ll crawl out of bed at 3am and compose at the piano.
Your compositional choices are sometimes very surprising—I am thinking about Intention or Techniq—, especially in your melodic decisions. What is your approach in creating musical tension?
I really enjoy dissonance and sometimes that can be risky. Teckniq was created to stretch my abilities of creating tension and dissonance, while still maintaining some cohesion. Intention was very impulsive when I was writing it, and sort of lended itself to a catchy melody. I really just picked chords that I enjoy and I sort of instinctively hummed along to the chords to create melody lines. I think writing top lines for songs over the years has helped with that.
What influences you the most when you compose music?
Lately, it’s been people in various locations. I would say overall, emotional experiences drive my desire to express. As I travel more and more, I’ve been gaining a lot of perspective and insight into other’s lives, and I think I’ve been drawing on those experiences a lot lately as well.
Am I mistaken in hearing an improvisatory feel in your pieces? Almost as if you were exposing your musical explorations. Is there an element of improvisation in your creative approach?
Yes, I would say there is an overwhelming element of improvisation to my pieces. I really enjoy improving much more than playing written pieces, and I generally just sit down and start creating impulsively. I’ll then go back and revise my ideas until the piece is completed.
So after Lapse what’s next?
Well, I’ve already begun the follow-up album, but before that I plan to release a bit of a different piece entitled, Stitch.
Thanks very much Michael. Last one for the road—one book, one album, one film—tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
Sure thing! Let’s see; my book would probably be Eragon if I’m picking something fictional, or Mere Christianity if I’m picking something philosophical. My album, right now would be Bloodied/Unbowed by Oh, Sleeper or perhaps Treehouse by I See Stars. I also really like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late by Drake. It’s very hard for me to narrow that down. My favorite film—perhaps Inception? I’m not much of a film buff, but I really liked the score for that film. I also love The Brave Little Toaster as that’s a nostalgic cultural classic that everyone should enjoy. Thank you so much for your time!
Bouncing on Michael’s words; I strongly recommend the Scottish shower of Lapse followed by Bloodied/Unbowed! Read my review of Lapse.