Interview with Gig Michaels of Swamp da Wamp
Lamitschka: Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you for the first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you play to someone who has never seen or heard you?
The most common thing we hear from our fans, long-term and new alike, is one word: fun. When you come to a Swamp da Wamp show you’ll get the feeling that you’re hanging out with us in our living room. I mean, I talk to my audience and relate to them not only thru song, but also thru banter. Every night I am inspired by something new and I enjoy expressing myself, be it good or bad. It’s all a story, man, ya know? We’re all in this life together for the time being. What you’re not going to get is a bunch of acrobats pounding noisy guitar bar chords as fast as they can play ‘em! The guys in the band are all very talented players and we have a ton of fun with that. I am always fucking with our guitar players - putting them up against one another, bringing the song up and down in intensity with them, like a competition. All of my songs ring true to life with cool riffs and solid melodies, and a lot of passion. Simply put, we love what we do and we love doing it for you!
Man, the last year was a roller coaster ride from hell! We started out the year with the highlight; we were on the Rock Legends Cruise for the 3rd consecutive time alongside Alice Cooper, Doobie Brothers, Ten Years After, Uriah Heap, Marshall Tucker Band and a barrel full more. Swamp da Wamp has become such a staple on that cruise that I was asked to actually be the voice of the cruise for Rock Legends IV in January of 2016. I have humbly accepted. Another highlight would be the fact that we released our first single from the new upcoming album That Easy, the video for “My Drinking Song.” The video is doing well and the radio is now starting to pick it up, both in the U.S. and in Europe (especially Italy). Music.com selected the track for a dance remix to the video and will use it as the anthem for the Electric Daisy Festival 2015 in Las Vegas. The highlight of that is coming later in June when we will attend the VIP party at the Mansion at the MGM Grand in Vegas! Can’t wait for that!!! So that’s all exciting but the first half of the year… getting here was a true bitch, man. After tolerating bad management dangling carrots and open ended opportunities that were never closed (or just disappeared) we finally got out of that contract. Of course, that dumped everything back in my lap. We had to replace a guitarist and then our drummer who had been with me for nine years. It was pretty tough; having to school another player just seemed like the end of the world. But things really gelled at the speed of light and the band is much tighter now because of it. Change is always scary, but in the end it turns out to have been the best thing that could have happened… I dig that.
Lamitschka: How did you choose the title for the CD? Is there a story behind the name?
Our latest CD is titled That Easy. It drops in about four weeks so I don’t have any numbers to report yet, but…I can tell you we are expecting a very warm reception for it. “That Easy” is also the title track on the disc. A very eerie, almost “vampiry,” modern-retro, bluesy, arena-rockfish type thing. It’s like watching a black ‘n’ white western that’s been colorized, like what they did to The Wizard of Oz years ago. I will tell you that making this record was not at all that easy, which is why we settled on the name for the album. We spent over eighteen months in and out of the studio, working between our road schedule and getting the financing pulled together to get it done. That another part of the whole tough year I spoke of earlier, it seemed like we’d never finish. Our fans were getting very antsy and I’m sure we pissed off a few people during that whole period. We definitely earned our patience wings through that whole process. So, the story behind the name is that it’s a humorous look into the making of that record that the band will never forget; it was anything but “that easy!” Lol.
Lamitschka: Do you write the songs yourself? If not, how do you go about finding the songs for your CD?
For the most part, yes, I do write the songs. Out of our past five records we have only had three songs that we used from Nashville writers. We have one track on this record that was written by a couple folks in Nashville. It’s strange for me because if I don’t write the lyrics I find it extremely difficult to sing the song. I have to be truly passionate about what I’m singing, if my heart ain’t in it, it’s going to suck. I spent my entire career avoiding playing anyone else’s music mainly because I couldn’t focus long enough to learn it! When I pick up my guitar I am immediately compelled to write something new. I never set out to be a guitar hero, for me, my guitar is the tool I use to make the song, after that I may not even play on the song live. Once the band learns the song I can then focus on refining the lyrics without the pressure of having to play at the same time. I do write some rather difficult parts that are tough to play let alone sing to.
As far as finding music to record, just go to any bar in Nashville and there’s a song writer waiting for you to record their song! In all seriousness, there really are some great writers in Nashville and you can simply go to any publishing company and review their catalogs of songs ‘till something catches your mind. In our case, I was friends with the writers so I didn’t have to go thru any other channels. Writing is my outlet so I can’t stop and the goodness just seems to spill out on the paper. I do hold a mountain of respect for the songwriters who are able to make a living at it.
Lamitschka: Please tell us about the songs on your album (influences, etc).
Well this is a ten song disc and the follow up to our last full length record Short Stories From A Long Road, which was so aptly titled, a colorful variety of stories that’s still doing well. With that comes the challenge within myself to top that record… Now when I listen to the new record I can honestly say that I am very pleased with the outcome. I’ll give you an example of what I meant earlier when I said about writing “true to life” and having to be passionate about what I am singing. Take the track “Rollin’,” for example. We’ve had haters and former band mates that will pop up and sling a few barrels of mud at us on Facebook.
Lamitschka: You did a duet with Adreinne Nixon. How did that happen to come about?
Yes - the duet “Happy Anniversary” is very cool, that’s Adrienne Nixon, our backing vocalist singing with me. How it came about is quite the story. I actually wrote this track back in 2011 when we were in pre-production for the record Short Stories From A Long Road in Nashville, Tn. At first, I was going to do a full blown ballad-esque rock style song and there was just something that never felt right, no matter what we did or how I sang it. I finally went back and listened to my initial writing of the idea, before it had the real structure. It was me playing acoustic and I played a violin track on a Korg Triton LE. It was genius! I had gotten so lost in trying to change the delivery that I had forgotten about the real passion of the song. That’s when I decided to go with a duet and have it played on a grand piano. By this time, we were in the studio close to finishing the tracks – at the eleventh hour, if you will. I scrambled to get the right female voice that was already in the biz. There were actually several female vocalists who wanted to sing on the track, but unfortunately there were insurmountable scheduling conflicts. Well, long story short we had to finish the record on the existing recording schedule with what little money we had left. I ended up singing the entire track myself and we let it go on that record as is… When Adrienne came along the record had already been out for a while but I thought what the hell, let’s do it anyway! Needless to say, Adrienne brought it to a new life. Adrienne’s voice compliments my singing style and vocals. We’re focusing more on Adrienne now, and I often write with her in mind. She’ll have a more involved role in some songs; maybe we’re kinda heading for Broadway eventually!!
Lamitschka: How much creative control do you have over your music?
We have 100% creative control, but do we welcome input and ideas, yes we do. I’ll admit our label has pushed us to go a bit more country but we lean that way as is and we have fun with it. I have always felt that sometimes the artist is just too close to the song to be the best critic, so I have welcomed producers in the past. Some were full of shit with big smiles, agreeable personalities but really just wanted a paycheck, and some have been pretty cool but in hindsight weren’t the right fit for us. On this record we worked with a great producer, Glenn Tabor, at GAT3 studios in Charlotte, NC. Glenn is a fricken’ master at the helm of the control room console. He knows how to keep the players interested and engaged in the creativity of writing. I connected with Glenn in such a way that he knew where I was leading most of the time and he helped me get there without getting frustrated. We have built a solid relationship thru music for sure.
Lamitschka: Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your music?
The most touching one I ever received was from a 13-year-old boy. His letter started out pretty simply with, “Hi, my name is John (we’ll call him John for the sake of anonymity). I am a big fan of your band (it was clear that his hand was shaking as he wrote). I just love the song ‘Fat Boy,’ it is my very favorite song ever.” And as I began to laugh a little at the cuteness of it, I read on. John continued with, “I wasn’t able to play sports in school and the big boys called me names a lot and pushed me around. When my hair started falling out they all made fun of me. I don’t go to school anymore because I have cancer and I have to be at the hospital all the time. My Mom brought a CD player to my room so I could listen to ‘Fat Boy’ every day while I’m in here. Every time I listen to it I JAM JAM JAM! I’m going to get all better and wait to see those bullies then and say, ‘How you like me now!’” Man, I was touched hard by his words, talk about tearing up… We communicated a couple times by mail and his mother also gave me the whole story and thanked me for lighting up his eyes every time he heard the song. That, my friend, is my greatest reward.
Lamitschka: What inspired you to become a songwriter?
I come from a very large and loosely knit family. As a kid music was my best friend. I found strength in music, I found comfort, I worked thru anger, grieved with it, found closure thru it, expressed my sadness and celebrated my victories all thru or with music. I always listened to the lyrics and paid attention to the story being told thru song. I honestly don’t know if I’d be here if it wasn’t for music. I was an overweight kid and very self conscience about it. I began writing in my early teens as a sort of escape and at that time it started out as poems. It wasn’t until I picked up the guitar at the age of sixteen that I began putting my words to music. Some of my biggest inspirations were Phil Collins, Skynyrd, and Zepplin (of course). On the country side it was Willie, Waylon and Merle Haggard mostly because my Dad used to play their songs on acoustic guitar. Every Saturday night for a couple of my pre-teen years Dad and our neighbor would sit and play traditional country songs. Again, everyone felt great while they were playing; it brought joy into the home, if only for an hour or two. So anyway, I also consider music a healer. I have always written in the spirit of what it did and still means to me. I write about real life and try to spin a story into your world so you can get something out of it that will in some way help you. I get a lot of fan mail about my songs and how they helped someone get over the death of a father, or a brother, or how they had it cranked up at a party and it rocked the house, etc… I’m a veritable song well at this point!
Lamitschka: Is there any place you haven't played that you would like to?
Absolutely. I can’t wait to go to Europe, Australia, India - you name it! Scotland is a must for me because my family tree grows from there - at least a portion of it! I have Native American in me as well as Viking stock! That’s right.
The festivals over there look amazing and they have thousands - sometimes hundreds of thousands - of fans attending them. I feel a connection with Europe; yes, it seems weird, but I do. They seem to have held onto their cultures over there far more so than the States, which nowadays seems so homogenized. You can’t go anywhere with out seeing a Walmart or a McDonalds - it’s pretty sad, man. That’s one of the reasons why as a band we support Mom and Pop businesses when we can. Anyway, I see photographs of some of the landscapes in those countries and they simply blow my mind. I must play the world before I die! I am happy to say that plans are in the works for 2016 tour of Europe!! HELL YEAH, y’all get ready!
Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de )
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