Michael Small is a Toronto bassist who has been involved in music since his days with the high school band. He says he picked up the bass, basically, because he found the guitar to be too difficult to play and it was the least popular instrument among his pals, so he figured it would be pretty easy to find people to play with.
One of the first gigs outside of high school turned out to be the band that he would play with for the next ten+ years, the Meligrove Band.
If you are unfamiliar with the Meligrove Band, they are a 4-piece comprised of bass/vocals (Mike), guitar/organ/horns (Andrew Scott), vocals, guitar, piano, organ500 (Jason Nunes), drums/vocals/acoustic guitar (Darcy Rego). They have a crisp, yet dirty aesthetic in their production values, with a very Guided By Voices vibe. Lead vocals sound like their coming through a vibrating tin can, in the best way, possible. They utilize a choir-like harmony on almost every track, which also adds some retro flair.
It is a masterful record that saw the boys touring all over the place at a very early age and is the tour when I first met Mike out in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I’m happy that we were able to get together on a sunny afternoon in February to discuss all things music and some things feminism.
Here is a little bit of our conversation..
SZ :: How did you get your start in music?
MS :: I had plastic fisher price record player when I was a kid and I had a chipmunk record called ‘Chipmunk Mania’ and it was, like, them with Beatle hair on the cover. I wouldn’t have known that any of those were other people’s songs because I was too young, at the time. I also had a 7″ single of ‘OK Blue Jays’. And definitely ‘Thriller’. I listened to Thriller all the time as a kid. At some point I was scared of the music video and then something flipped and I loved it. I remember it was on TV a lot and I remember when Thriller lost it’s #1 spot to ‘Jump’ by Van Halen.. I probably had to be like 4 or 5.. and I remember seeing Van Halen on screen and suddenly being scared by them and not by Thriller anymore. Something about David Lee Roth? It’s a kind of a thing like, if ‘Jump’ era Van Halen walked into the room, we’d all be like, ‘protect anything that might break’! Anyway, I like Van Halen now. Ha!
SZ :: What is the first song you tried to learn on bass?
MS :: One of my buddies tried to teach me that one song by Green Day that was really popular at the time. It’s super slow and heavy on bass, so you have lots of time to figure out what you’re doing, but when I got my first bass and took it home, I taught myself ‘Moral‘ by Treble Charger.
SZ :: Can you tell me about your favourite show and/or tour story?
MS :: You know, I think that my favourite tour story wasn’t even playing with the Meligrove Band. There’s always a level of stress when you have an ownership stake in a project and so we (Meligrove Band) would go out and tour and there would always be something to be slightly on edge about, like “what if the show tanks” or “the van’s making a funny noise, are we going to have to spend $1,000 today”. So I’d say my favourite was the second big long tour that I ever did, when I was a substitute playing with ‘By Devine Right‘, another Canadian band, and we went out west in Canada and all over the southern and eastern U.S., and a bit of the mid west. I was so much younger than them. I was like 25, the drummer was 32 and the other two were like 36 – 37 and I picked up so much from these people on this tour, because I wasn’t actually responsible for anything in a sense. It wasn’t exactly a vacation, it was really hard, but I could really just enjoy the ride and I got to see so many parts of the world that I’ve never been back to. Like, we played a squat in North Carolina. I went to New York City for the first time with a bunch of people who had been a million times. I even met David Byrne on that tour, (some excellent stories followed involving former By Divine Right member, Colleen Hixenbaugh, but we’d like to wait until we can speak to her in person… we can’t wait to chat with you Colleen!!)
SZ :: What are some of the projects that you are working on now?
MS :: I just finished recording with a band called ‘Bankruptcy‘ with Rob Benvie, who was playing with ‘The Dears‘ from Montreal for a long time, so it was Rob and the Dear’s drummer Jeff and a childhood friend of Rob’s named, Wayne, and they had that project for a while. They had an album already and I just started play it live with them. So now we’re rehearsing a bit and I don’t know what their plan is for playing live, but that’s somewhere in the back of my head. I’ve got to be available for that. I’m about to start recording an album with the band ‘Overnight‘, which is Lynette and Carla Gilles, who had the band ‘Plum Tree‘ in the 90’s. Their new stuff is apparently is kind of like “Sabbathy” sounding because their both lifelong metal heads. I feel that this reflects their specific tastes a lot more because it’s two people instead of four making all of the decisions, so it should be good. But the project that’s been keeping me busiest and that has mutated my musical tastes more than anything ever is ‘Good Enough Live Karaoke’. I played about 90 shows with them in 2017 and we’re already up around 30 for 2018.
SZ :: For our readers not from Toronto, describe what ‘Good Enough Karaoke’ is?
MS :: Sure, it works the same as normal karaoke, but instead of playing to the screen, you have a full band backing you up. The way the band started was that our organizer, Tim McCreedy, was asked if he could put together a karaoke band for an event and he found some people and put together a list of like 20 songs to play and it just kept snowballing from there. I saw them playing at somebody’s birthday party and thought that it was a pretty cool idea. Then I found out that they had a residency at Clinton’s, which was a bar right near where I lived, so I started going every week. I had always hated karaoke, so I was like, terrified of it, but when it’s with a band and the music is loud and your singing sort of sits in it because someone’s doing sound, people are singing backups and helping you out, and plus, there’s a crowd at the front, it turned into this awesome, addictive experience for me. So I approached Tim and said that if his bass player ever quits, I don’t even know if I would have the chops to do it or be able to retain all this information, and then like a year later he got in touch. We’ve got like, over 350 in our catelogue now. Through learning all of these songs while listening to them on Spotify at work, I now find that I am loving all these bands that I used to really scoff at, like Alanis, I totally love her now. I used to have stupid kid opinions about Alanis that she was the sell out pop star, but there are just so many Alanis requests that I had to become intimately familiar with her and now I think she’s so awesome.
SZ :: Who are the women who have most influenced you in your life? Could be your mom? Could be a comic character? Whoever?
MS :: In my life, I was always very drawn to powerful women, and not in the sense like ‘rich and powerful’, but like actually powerful. I was young to know about tropes in fiction, for sure, but I watched a lot of the first Star Wars movies as a kid, when they would go and save this princess and when they showed up she would be totally unimpressed. I always sort of liked that push back against those sort of boys who were in over their heads… We had a VCR with like 3 tapes with a bunch of movies on them. They had the 3 Superman movies, Rocky, and Indiana Jones and all of those, except Rocky, had sort of the female characters in them who were doing there own thing, didn’t need anyone’s help, and if anything, were slowed down by men in the classic “man” role. Also, ha, I feel like my parent’s relationship is kind of like that. My mom is a lot tougher than my dad. I think in my grown up life, I don’t if I was influenced by that or if I was just prone to that kind of thinking. I think that there is at least a dental floss thin connection. All of the long lasting relationships that I’ve had in my adult life have been with entrepreneurial.
SZ :: How has the #METOO movement affected you and how has it affected your male friends?
MS :: I’ve seen it cause a few people to wise up a little bit and maybe rein in the inappropriate jokes. I’ve had personal friends who were targeted by some of the more high profile men in these situations and they’ve just been waiting for their predators to be outed. It’s also made me aware of how much I don’t see. I’ve sometimes known that certain people are not the kind of people that you should go on a date with, but I’ve never known the full extent as to why. It’s gross! It’s sucks that there people out there who are doing this stuff and you can’t talk about it for fear of being called a liar or accused or trying to ruin someone’s career, or whatever. The people who I know who have done things that became public, I had no idea about, other than that they may be creepy. I didn’t know that they were crossing the lines that they were actually crossing. Then there are people that I’ve heard stuff about that aren’t in the news at all about it and on one hand I’m kinda of like, when his turn/I guess he got away with it. At the same time, I understand silence, because I’m not going to go online and say guess what I heard about so and so. The step that it takes to go public is such a big personal risk to you because there are so many people just waiting to discredit you, and not just the people you are accusing. There’s people out there who almost seem to take pleasure in and make time for re-victimizing and preventing justice. They’re often on the internet not using their real names with a picture of Batman as their avatar. This thing being in the air now has made me quietly and internally sort of audit myself and my past and I think it’s good for anyone to do anyway. I think a part of human nature is to almost of unconsciously edit their own history, where things that you’ve done that you are wrong, you almost forget that they’ve ever happened, in a way. Everyone being the protagonist in their own movie, there’s always “well, I did that for the right reasons” and even that’s arguably true, that’s probably not the actual result of all your actions. It’s good for people to think about their behaviours, even when they are in the distant past and how they might still be effecting someone.
I had sprung the #METOO question on Michael and, although it something that is on a lot of our minds right now, it may not have been fair to tack it on as an afterthought. He took his time to give me a very full and thoughtful answer and I am thankful for his candour and honesty on the subject.
It was great catching up with Mike and, if you live in Toronto, you can catch with him too at the ‘Good Enough Karaoke’ nights (linked above) or at any one of a million gigs that I am sure he has lined up for 2018.
Michael Small is She Zine’s inaugural Dream Phone Boyfriend!!