Welcome to the first of several posts on musicians who recently participated in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Club! The idea was for members of the club to write and record an album or EP in a single month. As a mentor in the club, I had the privilege of listening to a wide range of recordings and styles—punk, folk, classical, and electronic (to name just a few). At the end of the month, prizes were awarded in various categories, including a Best Single award for Mikey J’s “My Little Dragon Girl,” an infectious ska-inflected pop tune with deadpan vocals and tight musicianship.
First, congratulations! How did you get into recording music?
Cheers Marc! I’m still struggling to believe that I got one vote! I’ve always enjoyed writing my own songs, probably even more so than learning and playing ‘the classics’! First thing I ever recorded was when I was a seventeen-year-old with my high school band (Blue Tracer). We spent a wonderful afternoon around a mini disc recording thingy and made a pretty rudimentary EP (which is currently still on my BandCamp page). While I’d love to say that sparked a lifelong pursuit of recording album after album, it wasn’t really until COVID that I began to get back into recording properly. The forced isolation & increase in time gave me the push that I needed!
What was it like recording an album in a month?
I generally work pretty quickly when inspiration hits and always have a bunch of progressions, licks and ideas rolling around in my head. But the forced timeframe raised things up a notch! For me, lyric writing has always been the most challenging part of the process and I think knowing that I had to get things done by a certain point in the month actually made it easier to get the lyrics down! Having the forum of other artists and the mentors was also amazing. They were super supportive, quick to offer advice or suggestions and generally just fun to be around! Sharing our ideas of songs, processes, art work and struggles was really inspiring and it was great to know others where experiencing some of the same feelings!
What kinds of challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was, and always is, lyric writing! I always write my instrumental parts first and then try to get a feel for what thought or emotion the song gives me! As we had the added layer of a timeframe, that meant that I had to work that part out quicker than I normally would, but I think that actually worked in my favour this time around! I also get a little gun shy around cover art, but the forum and the wonderful Twitter community helped me choose the artwork!
I’m curious about the cover image for your award-winning single, “My Little Dragon Girl.” Can you describe it? What does it mean?
It’s a field of red with a golden inner border surrounding the Chinese character for ‘dragon’! The colours were chosen because they also have pretty significant meaning in Chinese culture, red being the colour of good luck, happiness and joy, as well as a colour that wards off evil spirits. Gold is the colour of royalty.
Is there a little dragon girl in your life?
Why yes there is! As with most of my ‘sappy love songs’, My Little Dragon Girl is based on my darling wife Ella. When I tell people that she’s a dragon they normally look at me a little weirdly, but it’s because she was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon!
A while back, you mentioned that English is not the primary language spoken in your household. What language do you speak at home, and how does that language—and culture—influence your songwriting and life more broadly?
As you’ve probably guessed, that language is Chinese! China, and Shanghai in particular, is my second home. I moved there in 2005 as a short break from life in Australia. I then met my wife, we got married had a son and all of a sudden it was twelve years later! China and Chinese culture has shaped me in so many ways – in fact I had originally planned to write ‘My Little Dragon Girl’ in Chinese! That didn’t eventuate due to the time frame – I couldn’t get my mouth around the words and make it sound good in time!
I love the trumpet solo—and the guitar solo that follows it! Who played those parts?
Ah, the trumpet parts are my favourite part of the song and I’m really lucky that I was able to convince an old friend of mine, Danny Davis (an amazing Aussie musician and educator, who I met while working in China) to record them for me! I have had horn parts in a few other tracks in the past and have only ever done them with midi instruments in GarageBand, so having real life horns on this one makes it even more special.
As for the guitar solo, that’s all me!
Nicely done! What is your recording setup? Do you have a dedicated space, or do you make do with a laptop and whatever is at hand?
My recording setup is pretty simple. Everything is recorded on either my iPad or phone in Garageband! My Line 6 Spider amp plugs straight into the iPad to record all my guitar and bass lines. That sits in my living room and annoys the rest of my family, but I can record that even while my sons yells at his game and my wife watches TV! As for vocals (and in the event of acoustic guitar, cello or mandolin parts which I do regularly) my Shure mic plugs into my phone and I hide myself away in our guest bedroom / vocal booth! All my drum and percussion parts are programmed through the smart drummers in GarageBand (except for one of the tracks on my album for the challenge, which was graciously supplied by Shippa (Twitter: @shippa63) – another awesome Aussie musician! I then transfer everything into Logic Pro on my Mac and pretend I know what I’m doing when it comes to mixing!
Of course, “My Little Dragon Girl” is part of a larger project. Can you describe the album and let readers know where they can find it?
My full submission is an album called Wonderings. It has nine tracks of my usual eclectic style ranging from rock to power-pop, ska to dream pop, blues to retro pop rock! As with most albums, they are mostly sappy love songs, with one vengeful revenge track and a dreamy lament about not dwelling on the past! In addition to working with Danny Davis and Shippa, I have also collaborated with one of the kings of power-pop, Scoopski (Twitter: @scoopskitheband) on a power-pop remake of my Simon & Garfunkel inspired track, ‘When We’re Old’, from my last album!
‘My Little Dragon Girl’ is going to be released on Lights and Lines at the beginning of September, whileWondering will be releasing a short time after that! Both will be available on all platforms!
Anything else on the horizon?
As I said I’ve always got things rolling around the old noggin! But I’m most excited about a new project I’ve got cooking with Indie Twitter royalty, Kelly (Twitter: @kelly_kintner) & Kerri Kintner (Twitter: @keri_kintner) and Chris from LaLettes (Twitter: @LaLettes)! Not too much more I can say about that at the moment, except that it is exciting and I think you’ll all love what we are putting together!
All great people! I’m sure I’ll love it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me—and congratulations once again on the win!