What's striking about Mike Germano's music is his deft interplay of acoustic pop and jazz elements. Germano moves easily between light jazz vocal tracks to brushed, short instrumentals. His vocals often nod toward a sort of tin pan alley jazz style which is immediately likeable. Instrumentals like "Shorty Gets a Haircut" move close to Tom Waits territory, while Germano and his band break out into electric rock territory during "She Gets Her Way" and others. 17 tracks, plus a fun foldout "menu" songlisting -- this is a real keeper. -- Bryan Baker
Does the album represent years of band and solo playing?
Yes. I've been mostly doing solo singer/songwriter stuff for the last several years and really getting into writing. I've been in bands on and off over the years and am getting back into that again recently. I got involved with the NC Songwriters Cooperative about four years back and was the coordinator of that for two years and that really helped me focus on my own material. Supporting other people and active listening in the screeningprocess for the Co-op's annual song contest really forced me to listen to what was working and not working for other people and helped me to try and find my niche. I've played bass as an accompanist and in bands and also have been known to dabble with hand drums and I've always had a hard time focusing on a single instrument or type of music. I love it all and always really liked artists and bands that pushed the envelope by combining genres together to get new sounds. I guess I'm finally figuring out that a blending of styles is my niche.
You recorded parts of the album at home. How did that contribute to the vision of the album?
Studios are really intimidating at first. You're paying by the hour and when that record light comes on, the pressure is on and it's easy to try too hard and not just relax. Recording at home is just the opposite. You try something and if it doesn't work, then it's no big deal and you try again. If you have your arrangements worked out, then home recording can be a great option. The down side is that you won't have access to the same gear as a studio and you're not challenged by someone else's objectivity. The only problems I had with home recording was that some of the tracks had a bit too much background noise and I had used a drum machine instead of a basic click track for some of the early tracks. Re-recording isn't that bad because 90% of the work is done, so that's still worth it. The click track is a big deal since it helps the engineer sync up better and some session people really depend on a click to play to. Even if I use a drum machine, I still record a straight click track for the home recordings now. Let's get back to the vision thing, though. I knew I was doing a multi-genre project, so I had to find a way to tie that all together so they all still seemed to be part of a collection. The cafe theme with the songs as items on a menu seemed like the best way to pull this off as a concept album. The tricky part was deciding how to make the flow from one song to the next work. I had a basic idea, but until the songs were ready for mixing, it was still just a plan. Most of the way through, that came together and I decided on the transitional songs to go in and the final order of the songs was worked out.
You've said that working with Chris Wimberley at Nightsound Studios helped push you beyond your comfort zone. Talk about that.
This relates back to recording at home. A good engineer to me is someone who can balance between a project that is 100% what the artist thinks they want and one that is produced in the studio with the producer/engineer doing what they are good at and think the project should sound like. As the writer, you're used to hearing a song done a certain way and the first time you hear it suggested at a different tempo or with changes you're not very open to that at all. Chris respected my arrangements and ideas, but offered suggestions on a few things to try on some of the songs. Sometimes we agreed, and sometimes we didn't. In all honesty, when we didn't, he was right in a majority of the cases and I eventually came around. He also pushed me to improve every performance up to my potential. I wasn't going for perfection and both of us were against using any pitch correction or processing to fix problems. We did it the old fashioned way with multiple takes and punches. I developed a deep respect for Chris's opinions and talents after I saw and heard what he could do. He's doing some other hybrid home/studio projects and I'm looking forward to hearing them when they're done.
Talk about the reaction for the CD.
The reaction has been very positive. I know this wasn't a mainstream project or sound and I wasn't trying to appeal to everyone's taste. I was also a bit afraid that people that were used to the typical album where all ten songs sound the same would not like the amount of variety I was putting together. Those didn't turn out to be problems, though. People do want variety and aren't as easily pigeon holed as the music business and major labels would like them to be. People are always open to new sounds. The only problem I have had is that it's hard to pick a single track that is representative of the whole CD and it's not just rock or jazz or pop or whatever. That's made it harder to market than a single genre and it ends up in different top categories at different places. Sometimes it's called Adult Contemporary, and other times it's Rock/Pop, etc... What's been fun for me is that several fans have told me what their favorite two songs were and they're different for almost everyone. On most CDs, you'd expect them to be the same two or three tracks, but on this it's all over the map.
Good question. I wish I knew. I'm currently trying to put a jazz/world music band together where I'm playing mostly bass, so there's an opportunity to do a mostly instrumental CD with that. I just did a demo of an original Christmas song that I'll be trying to pitch this year to get someone to record for next year. I also have a side project that I want to record sometime of Indie/Alternative material that is totally just party music. Mostly, I'm playing a lot of singer/songwriter gigs and writing some good material that could go on a future CD, so I definitely want to do a follow up to the Side Street Cafe CD with another concept type project. It's more a question of economics than ideas or inspiration. Putting out a self financed CD is gratifying, but it takes a while to make back the investment or at least recover from it. Depending on sales and how well gigs pay this year, and whether I get any windfalls my way, I'm itching to get to work on something soon.