Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Interview with Mike Nicolai

Mike Nicolai
Recently I reviewed Mike Nicolai's latest release, A Line Cook's Guide To Satanic Empires and it's a cracker of a record.

Definitely head over to Bandcamp to pick it up if you haven't already.

But for now, let's get to know the man himself a little bit. Nicolai was good enough to sit down with me and answer the ridiculous questions in my head.

Glacially Musical: Thank you for taking some time for us today.

Mike Nicolai: Of course. First I want to say thanks again to you for giving my record a spin and taking the time to review it.  

GM: Quite honestly, the title of your latest LP is what got me interested. Tell me how you chose the title "A Line Cook's Guide To New Satanic Empires" and what does it mean?

MN: That phrase came up in my head at some point when I was writing the songs. It seemed like a kind of funny "how-to" guide or something and it seemed to suit the mood of the tunes.

GM: How is the title reflected in the songs?

MN: I had that song "The Line Cook Way", and also some of the other songs I was writing contained images or memories from when I was a line-cook for many years.. 

I met a lot of people in kitchens and they started to show up in my lyrics, kind of as characters in the songs, so I began to look at it almost like a concept album about all of that. A group of service industry employees attempting to deal with the harsh realities of what our country has become these days, which in a lot of ways has become very distressing.

GM: That's some of the best artwork I've seen a long time. Walk us through that one.

MN: It's a painting called "The Devil Getting Dressed for Work" that a friend of mine named Steve Griffin did - he lives in Austin but I met him years ago through my brother who lives out in NYC, where Steve used to live also. 

After Steve moved to Austin a year and a half ago we started to hang out a bit. At this point I had nearly finished recording the album and I asked him if he had any ideas for cover art, and then I saw that painting on his wall and it seemed sort of perfect. 

So I asked him if I could use it and he said "Sure". He has a bunch of paintings that are both whimsical and disturbing at the same time. A photographer friend of mine took a picture of the painting right there on Steve's wall and that's what's on the cover.

GM: What made you decide to do vinyl pressings of your work?

MN: It's my favorite format as a listener, so I'm happy about this renewed interest in vinyl we are seeing.  And it seems to be enduring beyond just a momentary fad, somewhat surprisingly. 

A guy named Brad Marcum down in Austin started a small indie label last year called Rock Tumbler. It's mostly a mail-order and local record stores kind of operation. He releases only vinyl. He had done a couple of other records that I really liked (Randy Reynolds and Yard Work) and he said he wanted to put something of mine out too. 

I had been working on this album for a while, sort of on and off, so I resolved to finish it and get it to him so he could put it out, which happened in April of this year.

GM: Putting a finger on your songs was rather difficult for me. The album seems to have a delightfully useful case of Multiple Personality Disorder. How do you describe your music?

MN: When I do a record I like to have some variety of sounds and moods on there. But I'd say it's all some form of rock, essentially. 

Some of it is definitely punk-influenced, some is more to the folk-rock end of things, some of it is just straight up rock 'n' roll. Every song is its own animal I guess. 

Having some different styles on my records is a habit I picked up I think from listening early on to bands like The Clash and The Replacements, whose records tended to be total variety-shows.

GM: Do you find there's added pressure in releasing music as a solo artist rather than part of a group?

MN: I don't feel any pressure except sometimes from myself to come up with new songs. I don't like to sit idle too long with anything. 

There is a lot of freedom being solo too, because I can play with any number of different people, in different situations and places, depending on what the song is. I can play solo acoustic versions of my songs, or I can play them with full band arrangements. 

I like having that freedom. I have been in bands before, and that can be an awesome experience too of course. Lately I've been playing with a band here in Minneapolis called Rank Strangers backing me up. 

I'm a big fan of their band so it's fun. And there are some guys down in Austin who I will continue to play and record with from time to time, whenever I get down that way.   

GM: What's the song you heard that made you need to write?

MN: Probably either "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash or "Religious Vomit" by Dead Kennedys.

GM: What are the five most important albums of all time?

MN: Harsh, dude! There are so many... The first Ramones record. The first Velvet Underground record. 'Highway 61 Revisited' by Bob Dylan would have to make my list. 'Sgt Pepper' for sure, right? 

But that would leave out absolutely essential stuff by people like Black Sabbath, Chuck Berry, The Stooges, The Stones, CCR, Husker Du, Jimi Hendrix, The fucking Who and... uggggh the list just goes on and on. 

I apologize for my inability to adhere in any way to the spirit of this question.   

GM: What do we need to know that I forgot to ask?

MN: For anyone reading this who might want to check out my music - I'm gradually getting all my stuff up onto Spotify and Apple Music and so forth. 

Some of it's up there already. All my records are available for streaming and for sale on my website at along with show dates and all that too. 

Cheers, thanks for having me Nik. 

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