It’s the first official day of Bigsound and I’m hanging out with Mike Waters. He looks simultaneously tired, I assume from one of the many parties last night, yet behind the signature beard and baseball cap he’s somehow full of energy: he’s clearly a man driven. As we sit in the afternoon sun and start chatting, I realise that Mike is an unlikely mix of ‘realist’ and ‘dreamer’ and it’s this combination that makes him so interesting both as an artist, and as a person. It’s what drove him to escape from his life behind a desk and make his way in the world as a musician, he seized the opportunity to become the true embodiment of the much misused cliché (and I hate myself a little for writing this), ‘you only live once.’

How’s your day been so far?

Not bad. I got up at 1AM Melbourne time in New Zealand and then I got on a plane really early and flew here. I haven’t slept yet, don’t plan on it either.

I didn’t realise how recently you were in New Zealand, I saw some stuff about it on your Facebook but I didn’t realise it was this morning.

Well yeah, I flew out. Left my girlfriend there and I’m flying back tomorrow. I’m currently on holiday in New Zealand.

Not on tour in New Zealand.

Not on tour in New Zealand, just on holiday. A long time coming this holiday, it’s been like 6 years since my last 2 weeks off so…

Well you spent a decade working in a very corporate environment before you shared your music so that makes sense. But do you think that time has affected how you approach the industry?

Absolutely. Definitely. That was not even before I shared my music, before I started writing music. I went to university and I went and got a job and worked for a long time. It’s funny how much it affects my music because, from what I’ve been told from other people that I’ve been working with lately, there’s not a lot of musicians who actually are interested in the industry side of things but I’ve got a pretty keen interest in all the things that happen. I want to be in as many of the meetings as possible.

What were you doing in the corporate world?

Various things. I worked for a long time in sales and I’ve got a Bachelor of Information Technology which basically qualifies me to do something with computers, I still don’t know what, but I’m a web developer as well so I spent the last 4 or 5 years as a web developer.

When did you decide to start making music?

I reckon it would be just over 2 years ago now. I think it was July 2013 that I wrote my first song, my first complete song. I’ve played guitar on and off since I was 13 or 14, and by on and off I mean I would put it down for 6-12 months at a time and then pick it up and play the same 2 songs over and over. But I had a failed business venture that kind of opened my eyes. It was something that I’d put a lot of time and effort and my own money into and when it just kind of went nowhere and collapsed in on itself I kind of thought ’this is not even what I’ve always wanted to do!’ The thing that I always wanted to do was to write music and perform music so I thought ‘Why am I not doing that? Why do I not just start doing that and if I fail at that at least I’m spending my time doing something that I actually really want to do.’ So I started writing music.

It’s a great philosophy, just don’t waste time doing something you don’t want to do.

It took me a little too long to get there. I think I originally saw that concept in a speech by Jim Carrey who talked about his dad failing as an accountant. That kind of always stuck with me. Why spend time on things you don’t want to do, why not devote yourself to the things that you do want to do. It’s working out well for me so far.

Was it difficult to make the decision to get your music out there, taking your ‘secret’ recordings and actually putting them out in public?

Yes. Really, really hard. I wrote ‘Daisy,’ my first song, and I played it to a very close friend but I had no interest in playing it in front of more people. But he convinced me to play it in front of more of our friends so I did that and it was really nerve-wracking, and terrifying. But then I recorded a demo of it with a friend of mine, and made a music video with some friends but I really didn’t want to put it out there. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with it, I was just embarrassed by it. As someone who’s done a few different careers and started to build a name for myself in one way, I was really embarrassed to show my friends and family that this is what I want to do. I guess part of that was just being scared of ridicule or people not liking it. But yeah, I had some discussions with people about whether or not I was going to make it public or do anything about it. I had friends who wanted to like a bit of a launch party to release the song and I really had no knowledge of how this stuff worked, or how it should work or how other people do it. And it took way too long for me to get over that, and when I did stuff started moving quite quickly. Once you break down that barrier, you forget that it was even there. I don’t think about it anymore. I’m not concerned, I’m not afraid to play music in front of people or tell people about what I do. It’s such an interesting thing cos it’s something I’m really proud of now, that to have been so embarrassed about it that I didn’t want to share it with anybody was really strange.

It’s obviously been a relief, has it been a surprise the amount of positive attention that your music has been getting?

Yeah, it’s still surprising. I guess from my perspective, this is stuff that I put together in my bedroom about experiences that I’ve had and it’s so strange when other people resonate with it, you know, when other people hear it and it either speaks to them or they like what they’re hearing I just find that really odd. And in general, everything that I’ve done since this whole thing started, I never dreamed that I would be here. I’m constantly just blown away by anyone responding in any positive way.

Well I saw your reaction video to hearing your song in a hotel lobby in NZ, that looked like a really special moment.

Yeah it was! I never expected to hear that song, it kind of came out of nowhere, and I was definitely not expecting to hear it in another country. I was sitting in a hotel lobby in New Zealand and I heard what I thought was lyrics to a song that I knew. I heard it and I was like ‘I know this song, what is this song?’ And it was one of my songs. And it was not the song I expected to hear, and definitely not the setting I expected to hear it in, so it was a crazy experience.

Cool! Now you have a varied list of influences…

Very varied…

Two that stood out are Brand New, and Taylor Swift.

[laughs] You’ve done your research.

How do they fit together?

I think what they both are, Brand New as a collective and Taylor Swift as a solo artist, they’re both artists who take a lot of pride in what they’re doing and they strive very hard to make what they’re doing the best that it can be. And I think it shows, I think there’s a real craft to their albums and their songwriting that has a lot of thought behind it. I like them both for very different reasons, but if I had to explain why they’re similar to me I think it would really be based on their craft, their seeming attention to detail and their ability to tell a story in a reasonably small amount of words. Brand New I would say are my favourite band of all time, record after record that they put out is just absolutely incredible from start to finish. There’s not a song or a moment I don’t like on any of their records because I can see why it’s there and I can picture them agonising over it in the studio and that sort of stuff really shows through to me on those records. And 1989 is just a banging record. It’s just one of my favourites, Taylor Swift as a songwriter is just brilliant. She’s a fascinating artist to watch do her thing.

Given your varied influences, and especially the punk stuff like Brand New, Blink 182, how did you decide to go down this musical path with the acoustic, folk sound.

I didn’t decide that at all. I spent a little while fiddling with various things. I wanted to try and write songs like the songs I was listening to, and it all sounded really contrived to me, and really disingenuous, and I didn’t like what I was hearing from myself because I knew where it came from and I could see that it was fake. I wrote ‘Daisy’ as a song from the heart that actually had quite a lot of meaning to me. I just sort of let it happen one day, I just thought ‘what happens if I just write what feels good’ instead of trying to write a song, just let it happen automatically and that’s kind of how my songwriting style is now, it’s just ‘what do I think sounds good together.’ It’s not about going in and trying to write a song in a particular way, it’s just about starting something and seeing where it goes. And all these influences come together, in my head, to make what I think sounds good, based on a lot of punk rock and melodic punk rock and even musical theatre and stuff like Queen. All these sorts of things come together and play a part. And it’s kind of just where I land. I don’t want to try too hard to be a particular thing.

And that’s good, if you accidentally write the best industrial song of all time you might as well release it.

Yeah! That’s it! If I write a club banger, so be it.

Wes Fahey

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