If you have attempted to follow the highs, lows, ups, and downs of the Bay Area's music culture, then surely Mike Sempert and affiliates have become a household name by now. You might already know him from his work fronting a little group called Birds & Batteries, and he is about to release his first proper solo album, Mid Dream, on May 6 from Velvet Blue Music. Another Bay artist who recently made the big move to Los Angeles, we bring you the debut of “Finest Line” from Sempert's deepest album-pop affinities.
With the learnings from the 1970s album rock gods of perpetual legend, Mike takes to the studio as his canvas to convey a pop arc of personal experience and testimony. Electric pianos and bass are contained in the song's undercurrent, as “Finest Line” grows to anthemic proportions, propelled by Colin Fahrner's percussion. An updated reading of the 70s Dion-Springsteen dichotomy that spells out confessional reaches for redemption by love/forgiveness/understanding with a religious fervor. A story song that chronicles getting lost, surviving life's swells, and tight commitments marches with a praise prepared to close out festival stages galore. Keeping these tales of experience honest, Sempert delivers it all with a genuine zeal through the lyrical extension of open arms in moments like, “spaced out in time, that's when you threw me a lifeline.” Mike preaches his own kind of gospel that brings down the house through a candid, ballad-baptismal.
We caught up with Mike Sempert to discuss his new solo album, Mid Dream, his new single, “Finest Point”, 'crazy undeniable pop music' compositions, and more.
“Finest Line” is a great solo jam. What were some of the fine points of precision that lent inspiration to this song?
Thanks so much! That song started with the Rhodes loop and then the bass movement underneath it. There was something exciting and anthemic about it, so the lyrics were informed by that feeling. There's certainly a gospel influence, but I'm singing about love instead of religious faith, not that they're mutually exclusive. Having faith in the people in one's life and in the life we've chosen—not always easy to do. This song has no chorus, and I recently realized how only a few songs on Mid Dream actually follow that basic rule of songwriting! So “Finest Line” has a linear form, with an emotional arc. But this wasn't planned. Any time you make something, there's a dance between being in control of what you make and being out of control. That's important to my process, some riding of the waves.
In recording for Mid Dream, how did you find it different making music solo than for Birds & Batteries?
It wasn't that different, maybe a little easier. I felt as though I wasn't holding it quite as tightly, that I could let go a little more. I also felt freed up to write small personal songs, where as with Birds & Batteries, I had started to feel a pressure to write some crazy undeniable pop music. It was nice to start from the beginning in a way, with this album. This was my first record with Colin Fahrner on drums, and his feel and vibe is so good, it created a perfect foundation. The mix engineer Robert Cheek was also excellent for the album, because I didn't obsess over these mixes like I have on B&B albums, and they turned out great. Blake Henderson (Taughtme) recorded all the vocals and a lot of the overdubs for the record, and he became a true confidant in the process. These three dudes were easy to trust and it made everything easier. And in general, it just felt like more of a low-pressure album, which yielded something unexpected.
How have you found the transitional process of moving between the Bay Area to Los Angeles has affected your own songwriting and personal approach to music and general creativity?
It's hard to say at this point. Any time you go somewhere new, there's a nice burst of new material that comes out of that. That honeymoon has tapered off, so I guess time will tell. I compose music in some capacity, on a weekly basis, even if its just a sketch. I do feel inspired by the existence of a music industry here.
Do you find the LA area more conducive for album pop compositions?
I haven't noticed that yet. Pop music has always been a part of the way I think about making music, but so is the feeling of creative freedom, that whatever feels right and whatever works, do that.