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INTERVIEW: Mike Riley

Hi Mike, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great thanks! I just got back from a trip to Europe and found lots of inspiration for the record I’m working on. It’s a good summer.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Drug Dealer”?

I lost touch with my music for many years. Felt like I wasn’t connecting with the songs I was writing for a long time so music turned into something I did alone at home. I went through some pretty major life changes and I think it must have jarred me enough to start finding something to say again. Unfortunately, I’d been away from creating for so long that I couldn’t recognize it. Luckily, through some serendipitous coincidences, I met my producer Dan Hosh. He heard Drug Dealer and convinced me that we had to get into a studio to work on it. Once it came together, we wrote the rest of the EP really quickly and now I’m writing more than I ever have.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Absolutely. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. For a lot of kids, the only thing to do was smoke on the steps of the post office. They were the trouble makers, the ‘bad’ kids. Growing up, they scared me. When I was older I started to realize that they were a product of their environments. Their parents were bad, their grandparents were bad, what chance did the next generation have? Before I went away to college I took 2 years off to focus on music. I remember feeling abandoned when my friends moves away and it felt like I might just get swallowed up and forgotten. Even if you live in a big city, you can feel that desolation. The song is about going through it, GETTING through it, and realizing that everyone struggles; even the drug dealers.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Yep! We did already actually; it’s on YouTube now and it’s a compilation of childhood footage from one of my birthday parties. 90s fashion at it’s best.

The single comes off your new album Divorce – what’s the story behind the title?

Well, I got Divorced.. ha.. but I take the title to mean separating from anything in life that you need to put space between. Bad thoughts, a bad job, bad friends, maybe a bad relationship. Sometimes we need to step away.

How was the recording and writing process?

We recorded the song at Catherine North studios in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a beautiful place to work and the time I spent their was really inspiring.

What was it like to work with Alex Newport and how did that relationship develop?

 I play in another band called The Drew Thomson Foundation where I back up my friend Drew. We’ve been friends for almost half my life and many years ago he used to play backing me up the other way around. He’s such an incredible writer and I feel very privileged to help contribute to any part of the final product. When it was time to make a full length record, the band flew to Los Angeles to work with Alex Newport who produced it. I hit it off with Alex right away and learned a lot working with him. It was a great process; some of my best friends in the world living together for 3 weeks and making this record. Alex is all about capturing a performance rather than editing it together. Sometimes it drove me crazy, but he also showed me how to chase down a good idea that I thought was beyond me.

How much did he get to influence the song?

I recorded Drug Dealer before I met Alex, but I did write the ideas for a lot of the rest of the EP while I was in LA.

Do you tend to take a different approach when covering an artist rather than working on your own original material?

Totally, I can’t think of any songs I’ve ever covered that I didn’t have to change around. No one can do a song exactly like the original performer and I think the most engaging covers come when you put a spin on it. I usually put 1-2 covers into a live set. I think it’s fun, challenging and a nice creative outlet. It takes so long to write and record a song for a record. It’s nice to pick a cover and arrange it for a show.

What aspect of marriage did you get to explore on this record?

My marriage failed but it wasn’t without lessons. While we didn’t end up being in love, there were definitely times where we leaned on each other. I remember once I was trying to complete my scuba diving certification on vacation. I’m a weak swimmer and was having a really hard time with it. I don’t know why I got so emotional – I felt like my mobility issues were holding me back (they weren’t) and I got really upset and in my head about it. I was going to quit and walk away. She wouldn’t let me. She told me that I was going to go finish the certification and then if I chose to never dice again, she’d support it but that I wasn’t allowed to quit before I’d seen it through. Now scuba diving is my second passion in life after music. I remember she wanted a job she didn’t feel like she could pursue. She was really beating herself up and I wouldn’t let her give in to those feelings. She ended up applying, got it and it changed her life.

It turned out we didn’t communicate well very often, we didn’t have enough in common, we wanted different things out of life and ultimately we weren’t IN love. But there were times we felt love for each other as human beings and I think we both brought some positive influences to each other’s lives. That’s the theme of the record and what the term “marriage” means to me. It’s about marrying two things together that are both better off.

How much personal would you say this record is?

Deeply. The songs aren’t autobiographical stories, even “Marriage” and “Divorce” aren’t specifically about my experiences, but the feelings behind the songs are certainly very personal.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

California inspired me a lot. That west coast finality, the end of the road. I’ve never felt more at peace than in LA and that felt really weird to me. “No Dogs, No Actors” is specifically about that and “LA” is kind of an answer to “Drug Dealer.” It’s about what happens when you go to the city, it doesn’t work out and you go home. Things aren’t always the way you left it.

I write a lot of thoughts down every day. Someday I might take a stab at fiction and use some of those ideas. Most of them get deleted, some shared with other writers in song sessions and some end up being building blocks for my own thoughts.

Any plans to hit the road?

I’ll definitely be playing a lot more in 2020. There will be some shows through Ontario supporting the EP as it launches in the fall of 2019 and then when the new year rolls around I’ll be playing a lot more, with a full band as well in some cases.

What else is happening next in Mike Riley’s world?

I’m in Europe on vacation right now (taking lots of notes!) So once I get home it’s back into the studio. My next show will be Taste of the Danforth in Toronto on August 10th!

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/mikeriley/02-drug-dealer/

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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