In this review, I’m going to be delving into ‘Top of the World,’ the latest single from Jeff Michaels, an independent scene veteran with an extensive repertoire of releases, appearances, and prior experience. Thus, it wasn’t the least bit surprising to me that the new tune is one of the most coherent, well-crafted independent efforts I’ve heard in months. Let’s dig right into it.
Michaels’ music has a very dynamic sound to it, so much so that you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favors not tuning into it on a high quality sound system. The sonic intricacy of Michaels’ latest effort is boggling, and you’ll find yourself enamored by the sheer amount of instrumentation in the landscape he’s crafted. The music itself is indie pop rock, perhaps akin to Coldplay or the like. ‘Top of the World’ has a wonderful pop sensibility to it, but that sound isn’t compromised by kitschy lyricism or predictable tropes. All too often, independent artists that juggle indie rock with pop musings fall victim to that. Michaels avoids that cliche immensely well, defying the stigma and creating a pop-infused sound that still feels wholly original and genuine.
Some of the most rewarding pieces of ‘Top of the World’ are the varied levels of complex instrumentation. The thunderous, but tactful percussion matches Micheals’ piano elegantly as sparse string sections fade in and out of the piece. His vocals command your attention, but they’re soft, poignant, and instantly likable. Toward the latter half of the track, his composition takes several compelling turns, from the drivingly exciting bridge to the brief acoustic guitar solo, ‘On Top of the World’ provides an eclectic listening experience throughout its run.
‘Top of the World’ is one of the most lovable independent efforts of this fall season of music. It’s infectiously well written, performed, and recorded, breathing new life into a style of indie rock that critics such as myself have become jaded and cynical about. Check the song out; it’s very, very much worth your time.
By Brett Stewart
I’m a professional writer and editor, a journalism major, and I have extensive experience in musical review. I worked for two years as the Editor & Chief of an arts magazine, Strike Magazine, where I worked closely with writers and musicians. Through this, I was able to interact with dozens of acts including Heart, Holly Williams, Robert Cray, John Hiatt, and more. The magazine printed thousands of issues and was even recognized by Rolling Stone’s founder, Jann Wenner.
Exposed Vocals: How did you hear about Exposed Vocals? What made you decide to sign up?
Jeff Michaels: As with all good things, Twitter! (Follow me – @jmichaelsrocks!)
Exposed Vocals: So tell us your story. Where did you grow up? What made you decide to become an artist?
Jeff Michaels: I was pretty much born loving music. There are pictures of me conducting with a tiny straw in my crib at age two, although I didn’t really get into music seriously until college. I started playing piano and fell in love with the instrument because you can pretty much create an entire sonic world with just yourself. I taught myself to play piano, guitar, and drums, and the joined my first band out in San Francisco after I graduated university. Since then I’ve been playing and writing ever since.
Exposed Vocals: What do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why?
Jeff Michaels: I do, but not all of it. There is a lot of kick back these days about the digital music industry. The truth is that people no longer value music as they once did, and they do expect to get tracks for free. However, for anyone who is going to become a true fan, they will take the time to support you and buy your album, or merch. For those true fans, I don’t think it’s fair to then just giveaway your entire album when they had to pay for it. So really, it’s pretty much as it’s always been: give away a single (just like they used to hand out cassettes back in the da) and then get folks to become long term fans and support you.
Exposed Vocals: Since everyone was a start-up once, can you give any smaller or local bands or artists looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
Jeff Michaels: Getting gigs is something that takes effort, and many younger bands get frustrated early on and then blame the local music scene for their lack of success. The best thing you can do is start to network in your local area. Get added on as an opener, then work your way up to headlining a small club. It takes time—sometimes years for an act to get to this level, but the effort is worth it. Airplay is the same way. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Unless you are absolutely positive you can sing better than Adele and have a catchier track than Taylor Swift, your chances or getting immediate worldwide airplay are slim to absolute none. For most stations anyway you need to be on a major label, and again, unless you are Adele or TS, they don’t particularly care to even talk to you until you’ve built up your own following. Once you do that, your momentum will take you to that new level.
Exposed Vocals: Do you ever make mistakes during performances? How do you handle that?
Jeff Michaels: Nah. Mistakes are part of what makes rock so fun! I f’d up my one and only classical piano recital I performed in college, and realized that world was not for me. I mean I literally freaked out and began composing a new piece on the spot because I had lost my place so badly I had no idea where I was. I decided right then if music can’t flow through me, it’s not my cup of tea. Occasionally there will be a clam or a clunker when the piano keys get sweaty, but if you listen to the really great New Orleans piano artists or any old blues artists, those clunkers are every much a part of the raw emotion as the correct notes.
Exposed Vocals: Do you tour? Anything interesting happen on tour that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
Jeff Michaels: I have toured in the past throughout the States and we’ve performed multiple times at venues during the famed SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX. I think touring is really tough right now for independent acts, but I’d love to do more of this as we move forward. And yes, the only interesting stuff only happens on tour! Setting off rockets in a field of cows, camping to save money on hotels, playing football in the middle of the highway when backed up in traffic… you know, all the regular stuff.
Exposed Vocals: Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
Jeff Michaels: I write a lot, and basically try to capture every idea I have then go back and see what melodies are worth working into complete songs. I tend to write initially on the piano, then swap to guitar when working out a structure for a song. Once I have something that sounds like a full song, I’ll bring it to my band or one of my writing partners, and we’ll hash out the demo. I try to keep my job as just the initial creator of the melody and words, and let others add their own inspiration for chords and instrumentation. In fact, that’s pretty much how I did my most recent record, TOWNIE PARADISE with my writing partner Chris Teffner. I got some slack for this in some reviews because they said there wasn’t enough piano on the record, but if I recorded those songs with just my demos they would’ve come out dull and uninspired versus the epic rock anthems they are!
Exposed Vocals: Do you have a band website? What online platforms do you use to share your music?
Jeff Michaels: My website is www.jeffmichaelsband.com. I distribute through Tunecore and we’re on iTUNES and all the major sites.
Exposed Vocals: What are some really embarrassing songs that we might find on your mp3 player?
Jeff Michaels: Oh, God. You would think my iPod belongs to a 13-year old girl. It’s nothing but chick rock—Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Ingrid Michaelson, Britney, then the rest is all Springsteen.
Exposed Vocals: If you were given half a million dollars and a year off, what would you do? How would you spend it?
Jeff Michaels: I would be doing just what I’m doing, except I’d be pumping out records with a bit more budget behind them… and staying up a lot later!
Exposed Vocals: If you could perform anywhere and with any artist (Dead or Alive) where and who would it be with? Why?
Jeff Michaels: I would love to tour with Ingrid Michaelson. She’s the bomb, and I think my more acoustic piano rock style would complement her really well. And Elvis Costello. We would be the black glasses tour and it would rock.
Exposed Vocals: So, what’s next? Any new upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Jeff Michaels: We are launching several new videos for our new album, so be sure to check out our YouTube page!
Exposed Vocals: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Jeff Michaels: I’d be bored to tears!
Exposed Vocals: Do you remember buying your first album? Who was it? What was going through your head?
Jeff Michaels: My uncle gave me my first album – Born in the USA on cassette. I thought it was the most amazing piece of sound I’d ever heard, and frankly, still is.
Exposed Vocals: How do you juggle the rest of your responsibilities while trying to stay ahead in your music life?
Jeff Michaels: I don’t sleep much. I’m also an author and am constantly working on new projects so my days are filled with self-promotion pretty much nonstop.
Exposed Vocals: What should fans look forward to in 2016?
Jeff Michaels: Truthfully, I hope fans who have supported me for so long will be able to celebrate as we start to land some major TV placements and grow our brand worldwide. I really want everyone who has bought all our albums and come out to even our tiniest of shows to come along for the ride and see what can happen when you just keep going. I’m already gearing up for a follow-up record which is going to take a very special team to get it into the world, and I can sense people who have come in contact with our music can hear the future, and are already getting as excited about what’s to come as I am!