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Almost A Dirty Dozen with FRITZ MICHEL – May 2021


According to a recent press release: “Artistic expression generally knows no bounds, and given Fritz Michel’s array of experience, that’s clearly the case. Born in France and based in NYC, he’s made his mark as an accomplished actor who’s shared his skills in film, television, and the stage. And now, as evidenced by his new single “Look Out (Botticelli Girl),” Michel’s ambitions have expanded to include making music that’s articulate, intelligent and instantly accessible. Like his previous singles “Darker Now,” “King of Corona” and “Stardust” – all of which accumulated thousands of hits on YouTube and Spotify – “Look Out” embraces a pure pop sound, similar in stance to Belle & Sebastian, Badfinger, and Big Star, with a flair for melodious melodies and a certain lyrical largess. The song was recorded with Michel’s producer and close-collaborator, guitarist Tosh Sheridan.” We get Fritz to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

“Look Out (Botticelli Girl)” was born out of a solo trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art one afternoon last fall right after the museum reopened after being shut for months during the pandemic. I studied history in college and love art history. Wandering the galleries and looking at all the incredible art always transports me creatively and calms me emotionally. Never more so than that afternoon. The song came to me as a meditation on reflection and renewal. There’s something in that clarity you get from looking at a great painting, say something like a Botticelli. You want to hang on to that, but that experience, like so much of life in impermanent. I’m trying to translate that in music here: looking back and looking out at moments, both joyful and difficult. I wanted the chords to move along that way, lingering here and there but still moving. So many of us have been deeply affected by the pandemic. Now we’re stumbling back out into our lives, making sense of what’s changed and what remains unchanged. I also thought “Botticelli Girl” had a catchy ring to it! Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” is not at the Met, of course, but the idea is the same. I put little references to that painting in the song. I wanted the percussion to conjure up sounds of the ocean and the guitars to filter in like sunlight. The bridge echoes back and I thought about listening to sounds through a conch shell. You see the cherubs up in the clouds, but I was also thinking of my own children there. That kind of stuff, I think you might hear on closer listen.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I probably wanted to be a musician before I started taking music seriously. I’ve been a performer my whole life and I’ve enjoyed a long career acting and directing. I’ve played and studied guitar but struggled to really understand the language and dance of music. I started playing in bands a few years ago on a lark but something clicked, and I kept at it. I turned to songwriting, almost out of necessity when the pandemic put the brakes on performing live and that outlet vanished. 23 last few years really opened my ears to the incredible panoply of sounds that’s out there from artists of all stripes. Moving through the fairgrounds, you see classic rock legends and modern jazz (I’m thinking of Terrace Martin and this bassist Mononeon I really dig) all in just a few minutes. Pretty amazing!

3. Who would be your main five musical influences?

My sound influences are pretty eclectic. I’ve learned about composition playing in a jazz band and learning standards. Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” or “Sister Sanctified” come to mind. I’ve always liked melody filled songs that speak of intimate human vignettes like Belle and Sebastian’s “Boy with the Arab Strap” because there’s something cinematic there. Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed; I love how plain-spoken vocally both of them are. They let the storytelling comes first. Because I’ve mostly played bass guitar these last few years, I’m always looking for a great bass line. John McVie from Fleetwood Mac has influenced me. His grooves are so strong and propel those songs forward, but I don’t think of him as a flashy player.

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

I’m so fortunate to have met my producer Tosh Sheridan. He’s also an amazing guitar player (check out his slide guitar on “Look Out”). I would not be doing this interview without his guidance. So, I’m sticking with Tosh.

5. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I’m looking for an accessible, indie pop/rock sound that tells a story. Maybe there’s something that reminds you of a movie in there, so I pull from lots of artistic mediums, whether it’s a painting or movie. My song “Darker Now” has a neo-noir feeling that I think of as movie-like. I’m trying for a cinematic sound that felt like a score to some intimate mystery. “Stardust” touches on chasing the California Dream while thinking about New York roots. In that song, I reference Ulysses lashed to the mast but, this time, in the sprawl of Los Angeles from San Fernando freeways to the PCH and up the Sunset Strip.  But I also remember one reviewer saying that he thought one of my songs reminded him of David Brent (Ricky Gervais) from “The Office” playing guitar and showing off his dubious lyrical prowess (!) for his office mates. That was pretty horrifying!

6. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Playing in a band reminds me of putting on a play. I’m a stickler for rehearsal. I’m pretty quick to call for putting in the time to play and generally doing what’s necessary to get the show together. I never sang much in performance. In my experience, playing bass very much makes you a team player in my experience.

7. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I was outside a Broadway theater in the early 90’s. At the intermission, Jerry Garcia and I were both standing around having a cigarette. I’d seen the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden the night before. I didn’t say anything though I was a huge fan. He was just such a presence.

8. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Getting to play music with others is a creative conversation and endeavor that energizes my life, I’m grateful that I’ve put effort into making a go of it. When the drummer counts off “1-2-3-4 and” suddenly everyone’s doing their piece and it’s a fully realized song, there’s nothing like that. I’ve pursued other careers in my life and it’s worked out so I think lots of dream jobs exist when you look hard enough and believe in yourself even times of doubt. Being part of raising my daughters has been equally fulfilling to playing music for me.

9. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

That dream job question is a tough one for me to answer. I’m pretty new to this so music’s a new dream for me in a way. I can’t tell you I’ve always been living the dream. You live with a lot of rejection and people say no all the time. I do like asking questions since I think we’re all creative beings. A conversation about your creative process is just as engaging as mine. Tell me about yourself?

10. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

Years ago, I got fired from one of my first jobs as a union actor. Getting my equity card was a big deal at the time as was landing this particular role. A week into rehearsals, the director told me that I did not have the acting chops and replaced me. She told me she’d made a “casting mistake” and I that I was not strong enough on-stage. Looking back, I can’t fault her. I did not have a grip on the character, and I wasn’t taking necessary risks out of combination of fear and intimidation. But, getting fired was a real blow and existentially difficult. Fortunately, I pushed on.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

I’ve been listening to Tom Petty’s Wildflowers a lot recently. He was such a versatile songwriter. Petty told his stories simply and knew his sound cold. I love that album because he took his music in a whole new direction from post-punk 80s rock into a more introspective place just as his own life was evolving. “Wildflowers” is such a different song than say “American Girl” but he’s still talking honestly about relationships and any listener can hear their own story into those brief, spare lyrics. “You Don’t Know How it Feels” has that sense of being building block for life. While so few of us will ever be rock stars of that stature, we all can relate to just trying to connect.  “It’s Good To Be King” gets almost dreamlike, like an electronic music trance. “Honey Bee” is angry and gnarly. So much is going on in all those tracks.



Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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