Michael Wall Interview
When did you decide that a career in music was for you?
I was in 7th grade (12 years old) and in awe of my band director. He made playing in school band fun and challenging and gave us so many opportunities to perform in and outside of school (community events, senior center, etc.). I didn't feel like a music student, I felt like a young musician. I did all the high school band things that people do and then I went to college for music education and also studied composition.
Who are your musical inspirations and why?
Too many to name all of them...My favorite contemporary composers are Roberto Cacciapaglia, Ludovico Einaudi, Olafur Arnalds, John Williams, and Alexandre Desplat. On the classical side, I'm also a big fan of Debussy, Copland, and Chopin. For jazz, Freddie Hubbard and Miles are where it's at. I also like rock music--Chicago, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Foo Fighters--and any type of meditative music like Taizé music, Gregorian Chant, Palestrina, or Krishna Das.
I like music that has substance but doesn't feel too heavy--I'm not a fan of Romantic music (Wagner, etc.). Composers that can really shape something beautiful with a smaller palette impress me.
Can you tell me 3 things about yourself that people might not already know?
1. I have a day gig as a music teacher! I've taught music in New Jersey since 2002. I studied music composition as an undergraduate but only recently began composing again with the intent to write and perform full-time.
2. I don't have a cell phone. Don't want one either. I have an email account and a landline phone. When I'm out hiking, there's no way to contact of me unless you can catch up with me! I'm living it up like it's 1996.
3. I'm a nerd. I have a doctorate in music and music education. I started going to school, enjoyed it, and found out I was really good at it so I took it to the extreme. I'm not a thrill-seeker but I don't half-ass things.
What song of yours best describes you and why?
'Song for Dad.' It's straightforward, honest, no frills, and gets right to the point of what I'm trying to say. It's also (in my opinion) a pretty piece with a dose of melancholy and nostalgia. Happy and sad at the same time. I think that describes most people actually.
What has been the best gig you have done to date and why?
I played a gig in 2019 at Carnegie Stage in Carnegie, PA. It's a smaller theater and it wasn't the largest crowd, but the string players I performed with were out of this world and the audience was incredibly receptive. I would tour with those string players! The theater itself is amazing and everyone who works there was incredible, from people selling refreshments to the lighting operator to the owners. I'd play there every night if I could. We had a great after-party there too!
If you could perform a gig at any venue where would it be and why?
Carnegie Hall, hands down. People like to label my music as 'neo-classical' and there is a strong classical element to it, and, for a classical or neo-classical musician, performing at Carnegie Hall is the pinnacle of achievement as far as I'm concerned. It's such a beautiful concert hall with an amazing history and legacy.
What has been your best achievement to date and what would you like to achieve in the future?
My best achievement was deciding to compose an album and getting it written and recorded in about 6 months while working full time.
Tell me a story from backstage or after a gig?
No name dropping, but the owners of Carnegie Stage know some heavy hitters in the Pittsburgh arts scene. Some of them came to my concert there and we got talking afterward at the after-party. It was nice to have one foot firmly planted in the arts scene even if I had to have the other still in the teaching world.
What do you like best about being a musician and why?
Music is the best way I know to express emotion--even better than visual arts, words, etc. I can hear a piece of music and it will say something in a way that couldn't be said any other way; it's not translatable to words. And I love that music is art travelling through time. You can't hold onto it and display it like a painting.
If you were not in the job you are now what would you be doing?
Well the goal is to leave teaching and compose and perform full-time. I'd also like to compose for TV like how Olafur Arnalds scored 'Broadchurch.' I'd also love to write jingles and theme songs.
If I couldn't write and perform, I'd want to be a university professor. I enjoyed studying music and music education and I even like the stereotypical university things like school scarves and bad sports teams.
Outside of music and education, I'd run a bed and breakfast or pub in Ireland...somewhere out of the way...not far from the sea. And we'd have sheep and cows, just for fun.
What has been the best gig you have been too as a fan and can you tell us about it?
Ludovico Einaudi at Carnegie Hall. He's just awesome. He only performed with two string players but his pieces still sounded and felt full and intense. The best part? I had a contact there who got us backstage afterward where we got to meet Einaudi and take a picture with him. It was also nice to see the Green Room to get an idea of where I'd get to hang when I play there someday. :D
What would your ideal festival line up be and why?
Great question! OK, I'm playing last...so first Cacciapaglia, Arnalds, Einaudi, Max Richter, Philip Glass, Krishna Das, some people performing Taizé chant, Buddhist chanting, the King's Singers (they could sing a grocery list and I'd listen), Doc Severinson, Maynard Ferguson, Coltrane, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when Herseth played 1st trumpet. I don't know who else would want tickets but I'd be in Heaven!
What would you say is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
One of my friends is an actor in L.A. He's not had top-billing but he's worked for decades. He told me, 'just keep working.' It's simple but it rings true. Play where you can play--you're not too good!
What things make you happy and what things annoy you?
I'm happy if I'm with my family--doing anything--and if I'm making music. I like simple things like watching my kids play or sitting on the beach with them. I don't need anything crazy.
Unnecessary drama annoys me to no end. Just do your thing, let other people do their thing, and be a good person. I also hate when people don't get back to you. Just send an email if you don't want to call. It's not hard! :D
What things do you like to do when you are away from music?
Go to the beach, go hiking, travel. If I lived somewhere where I could go to the beach and hike...like Cape May, NJ...I'd probably not need to travel too much.
Do you think social media and the internet are a good thing in the music industry?
Yes and no. Social media and the internet, especially Youtube, have opened up opportunities for more people to get their music out to the public. You don't need to be 'a chosen one' to be allowed to record and push your music. It's also given people the chance to interact with fans on a new level. I did a Living Room Concert in May because my spring gigs were canceled due to Covid and I was able to have a discussion with fans between pieces. Cacciapaglia has been doing regular at home mini-concerts and it's been nice talking with him from the other side of the planet. On the negative side...I refuse to buy followers or have bots interact with my pages so I have fewer followers. In turn, I don't get recommended because I don't have a ton of followers. Is the music market oversaturated? I say no because it's everyone's right to make music, but it does make it harder to sift through and find out who is legit and who is scamming you.
How important do you think you look and image is when it comes to being in the music industry?
Personally, it doesn't matter to me, but I say that as a so-so looking white man. Are women held to a different standard? Of course they are. Is it bullshit, absolutely. I won't go off on a rant here, promise!
Can you tell us about any tattoos you have and the significance of them to you?
I have only one right now. It's a Celtic trinity knot on my left shoulder. My dad's family is 100% Irish and I'm a devout Catholic so it just made sense. I also want to get my kids' names tattooed on me.
If you run the country for a day what would you change about it and why?
It's impossible not to get political with this one. OK, in one day, I'd try to get universal healthcare passed as well as fully fund the National Endowment for the Arts.
What would your ideal day consist of?
Up early, maybe 0600. Decaf, I can't have caffeine. Do some yoga. Go for a run. Green smoothie. Make breakfast for the family and hang out together. Maybe a morning hike. Shower. Lunch. Spend time in my studio. Dinner. Watch a movie with the family. Scotch and ginger ale. Bed.
Or be on vacation pretty much anywhere.
Hat has been your experience during the Covid 19 situations.Can you tell us how this has affected you personally,how it has affected you
professionally and maybe a story from this time or a message for people out there?
Personally, it hasn't been all bad. I've been home with my family, which has been amazing. That part has been a blessing.
Professionally, I was just about to start playing some spring gigs when everything got shut down, including my NYC debut. That hurt, but it's given me time to work on new pieces. When I'm able to perform again, I'll be able to give people a 2 hour concert if they're up for that.
A short story...like I said before, Cacciapaglia has been giving mini-concerts and doing discussions online during all of this, so I made it a point to go to as many as I could and interact with him. Not just the usual 'you're great!' comments, but positive feedback from a fellow musician and questions about his compositional process, inspirations, etc., kind of like this interview. Most times he responded personally, either on camera or through comments. I won't say he considers me a friend, but he doesn recognize my name when I comment on his vids now. It's been nice to connect personally with an artist I enjoy listening to.
If you could say one thing to your fans what would it be and why?
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my music and support me. Time is finite and we never know how much we're getting, so for you to spend your precious free time with me humbles me. Also, I have new music coming that I think shows real growth. I'm proud of this new material and I hope you'll enjoy it. And lastly, what do you want from me? More gigs? Merchandise? Behind the scenes videos? Let me know and I'll see what I can do!
How would you answer the question ..... Who is Michael Wall and what are the differences between you as a music artist and you away from music?
Michael Wall is a family-loving nerd who loves music and tries to be a good person and do the right thing. I don't think I'm too complicated. I'm not very different as a person and a musician. I try to be open and honest with my fans--my music is so deeply personal that I've had strangers tell me they feel like they know me after a concert. I like that. I want people to listen to my music and know exactly what kind of person I am. There's no BS, no filters. The only real difference between regular me and performer me that surprises people is that I'm really an introvert. I have a performer-self that I can turn on when I'm on stage--and I love it! But day to day, I'm pretty quiet and don't need the spotlight. I'm not a drama queen or attention-seeker offstage and I think that surprises people because I'm so comfortable in front of a crowd.
What was the first record or song you purchased and why?
I think it was Jon Secada's self-titled album in middle school! It was all over the radio in the early 90s. You turn that on right now and I could still sing along.
What would say to someone thinking about becoming a musician and getting into the music industry?
Branding and business savvy are great but make sure you are a musician first. Study it. Really study it. Then study some more. Listen to other musicians, even ones in different genres. Maybe you're a hip-hop musician who finds a great rhythm from a symphony, or you're writing for a string ensemble and you find an amazing chord progression from a 1940s swing tune. Great music transcends genre. Go find what you think is great.
If you could collaborate with any other band/singer or musician who would you choose and why?
I've thought about this one a bit. I'd love to collaborate with Moby. His album 'Play' was life-changing. I'd be interested to hear if/how he'd add cool beats to my pieces and how he'd want to license the work together. I'd want to collaborate in both a music sense and a business sense.
If you could have written one song from history which would it have been and why?
'Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis' by Ralph Vaughn Williams. It's just perfection, absolute perfection.
What things make you uncomfortable?
As crazy as it sounds, I hate asking people to buy my music! I mean, I want them to, I want them to buy tickets to my shows, I want them to love my work...but asking for money has always made me feel uncomfortable. My dad was in sales and he was great at it. I did not inherit that ability!
If you wrote a book about yourself what would it have in it?
It would be a pretty boring book...small town boy loves music, marries his high school sweetheart, has three kids, goes to church, goes to graduate school for way too long, writes music...I would spend a good amount of space highlighting all the amazing music teachers I've had, from my Dad, an amateur trumpet player and singer, to my school music teachers, to the world-class professors I got to study with. I'd also need to spend time discussing my shift from teacher to composer. It really started when my Dad died suddenly in 2016. I was heartbroken. Months went by and I ended up composing 'Song for Dad' as a musical eulogy to him. It wasn't a question of whether I wanted to--it had to be done--and that got me back into composing after many years away from it.
What has the rest of the year got in store for you?
I wish I knew! Well, since the March Covid shutdown here in New Jersey, I've written and recorded five new pieces. I hope to finish my second album by the end of the year. If venues open up, I hope to line up performances. Either way, I'm continuing to write and better myself. The only thing you can control is your reaction to your circumstances, so continue making yourself a better person--more skilled and talented yes, but I'm working on being more patient, more generous, more healthy. 2020 has been one hell of a year for us all. I'm using it as a preparation to launch myself into greatness. See you there!