Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is refreshing, optimistic and modest. He grew up in Calgary, Canada; a cosmopolitan city known for its beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop, an annual rodeo (The Calgary Stampede) and great bike paths. He spent most of his time as a child outdoors with his family camping, biking and hiking in the mountains. He’s an impulsive road-tripper. After high school, he went to Australia with 4 grand, an iPod and a camera. He went without a plan and stayed for 5 months working on a boat and waiting on tables in a piano bar.
Michael’s kind, approachable disposition gives way to an undeniable confidence onstage. This young man can break hearts playing solo with an acoustic guitar and loop pedal, and equally make venues soar with a full band. In Canada, Michael tours regularly from coast to coast. He plays a guitar that is considered the workhorse of acoustics, a Gibson J45(he has one in sunburst and natural); part of his passion for real instruments B3’s, Leslies, tube amplifiers, saxophones and drum kits.
Michael’s debut album, entitled ‘Yes,’ was recorded in a little studio in Hollywood, California. The song “Man Overboard” was written while joking around and singing the verses to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. Inspiration for his music often comes to him at a lightning fast pace. “In Your Room” and “Love Is An Easy Thing To Miss” were written in about as long as it takes to sing them. Without any words written down, done from voice note recordings on his phone both songs were written in minutes. “Marvin’s Room” by Drake inspired the guitar for “Love is an Easy Thing to Miss”. “In Your Room” was written at 10PM after a long day with not much flowing and many breaks. Thinking he was done for the day, he sat down one more time, started playing the guitar and making up the verses as he went along. Recorded the song that night, and went to bed.
Michael Bernard Fitzgerald “MBF” has a simple goal – to pursue his craft as honestly as possible – devoid of smoke and mirrors. Positively uplifting. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with MBF to discuss his influences, the creation of his latest album, the challenges involved and what the future might hold for this star on the rise!
First, I have to thank you for taking time out to talk to us. We are really excited about your new album and excited to help spread the word!
Thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time and having interest in the album!
Going back to your early years, what are some of the earliest memories of music in your life?
I got my first electric guitar, the hair metal looking Washburn, at Christmastime when I was about seven or eight year old. I always wanted to play the guitar but I wasn’t crazy about the lessons, so I remember starting to write songs. That is really how I got into the whole songwriting bit.
What was it about music that intrigued you and made you want to pursue it as a career?
Performing was something I always knew I wanted to do. As I was chasing that down in different ways, the music remained a constant during the entire thing and became more and more consuming. Eventually it became my focal point. I gave into it and ran with it. Since then, every year has gotten better and better. I made a promise to myself to continue as long as that was the case!
Who are some of your biggest influences as a performer?
What got me playing the acoustic guitar, bass, drums, horns and with a band something that was a real eye opener — the Hitsville, U.S.A and Motown sound. It absolutely lived on that stuff for the longest time! It has always been a constant that I have listened to Paul Simon. I think he is an amazing storyteller, songwriter and poet. For this most recent record, I started getting more into Bruce Springsteen and watching the U2 documentary, ‘Rattle & Hum.’
You new album is titled “Yes.” For those who may not have heard it yet, how would you describe it sonically?
Sonically, I think it is big. I love all the instruments on it and the people who are a part of it. From song to song, the constant is the voice, guitar and mood. I fell in love with mood during the creative process this time. Every song has different elements added beyond that, so it is an up-tempo, upbeat piece of work!
How did you arrive at the title and what does it mean to you personally?
“Yes” is a simple word that we use daily but this process took a long time and over the span of years, you change as a person. I just felt it was going to be a triumph to finish this album. “Yes” to me is a statement of completion, a statement of arrival, an announcement and an exclamation! It is all of those things wrapped up into one word.
When you first started putting together songs for this album, what were your expectations?
I had none. I knew I need to put out a solid record of music. I had put out music before this in Canada. I knew I was due for that but I just went into the process very open to wherever I would arrive at. I worked with Jon Levine and Brian West as producers on it. I really respect them as writers, musicians and producers, so I felt it was my responsibility to be true to what I like to do and go into the process open to wherever it would lead.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process and how it may have changed through the years for you?
The songwriting process for this record was a little bit different in the sense that a lot of it was co-writes. The reason for it being like that was I would come down to LA to get into studio with the producers. I enjoyed working with them so much and I wanted to be open to wherever we went. We would get together in the afternoon, meet for a meal and then go into the studio to start writing. Most days, we would write until we were ready to track. We would track into the night and that is how we would arrive at the songs on this record. I loved that! I loved that it all came out like that! “Follow” I wrote when I was relaxing on my own. That was written in the way I was used to writing when I am by myself. I wanted to embrace the creativity we had in their studios with this record and I really loved that.
Looking back on the entire process of bringing the album to life, what stands out at as the biggest challenge in creating this album?
The biggest challenge the outside factors. I was working with a different label when I started the process and we didn’t see eye to eye. I had to go through the whole legal split. In doing that and traveling back and forth and trying to make it happen. While there were definitely hurdles, at the same time, I am thankful for those hurdles. I think if the process is too easy, you might not hold it as high. The beauty of it is, a lot of that personal turmoil is great stuff to drive you to write and its great stuff to write about. I think, as a songwriter, you have to live life to write songs!
You have had the opportunity to tour with this collection of songs. What has that experience been like for you and have the songs evolved in the live setting?
The songs always evolve live and I am not happy unless they do! I love when we change this or add that; it is the best part of the process. We have been playing live a lot lately, so we have had the opportunity to let them evolve a bit.
Speaking of live performances, what are your tour plans at the moment?
It has been heavy touring since May, in both Canada and the United States. I was out the entire month of April as well. It has definitely been busy! We are about to go out and do some dates in the States and Canada with Michael Franti. I think it is a going to be a great fit. From what I hear, he is an amazing person, so I am looking forward to spending some time on tour with him.
What are your favorite songs to play live these days?
I am finding it is a treat to play the songs off this record nightly. We had played them before the record came out because I wanted to start trying them and see what was working. I play with a really great band of people who have been my friends for years, so the whole process has been a treat. “Firecracker” is really fun to play, as is “Human.” Honestly, I can’t get enough of playing these new songs live every night. Even on the days that I feel run down from traveling around; getting to play those songs each night is what really keeps me going!
Is there something you hope people come away with after they catch one of your live performances?
Yeah. I hope we connect. One thing I love about playing live is that I get to forget about everything else. I think the music is full of positive messages and the band has lots of energy, so I hope we get to have a great time with whoever is in the audience. The experience is something we all get to enjoy together.
You released a video for “Firecracker”. Are there any other video plans in the making?
We are talking right now about doing a video for “Human” and “Man Overboard.” I am really excited about those. The music video is something very new to me. It is definitely interesting to participate in!
I have to say that the video for “Firecracker” was perfect for the song. What was the experience like for you?
It was really good. It was my first time working with a “video girl.” That was an interesting process in itself! [laughs] Everyone who worked on the video was really nice. Mike Tiddes, the director, he made me feel really comfortable and had great ideas. It is great to work with people like that.
Looking back on your career and body of work, how do you feel you have evolved as a musician along the way?
I think just from playing as much as I have played over the past few years, you can’t help but evolve on a mechanical level as a singer, player and performer. I think that is the biggest change. I also grew a lot in my time working with John and Brian. John would be hard on me at times to make sure I was evolving as a writer as well. I am completely thankful for that experience. It is nice to be pushed once and awhile!
You have played a ton of shows in your career. What jumps out at you as a “Spinal Tap” moment?
Ya know what? I break a lot of strings! I have just come to terms with the fact I am going to break a string here or there and I am going to have to change it in front of the audience. [laughs] I just try to be relaxed about things like that; I don’t think life is intended to be perfect. If you are asking if we have had everyone is playing a bass guitar, I can only say “Yes!” [laughs]
What is the best advice you can pass along to aspiring musicians looking to make music their career?
The advice I would give is the same advice I try to give myself daily. You can get caught up in the details so easily. There are moments of triumph and you can get run down by them, so my focus is to work hard and to make sure I am having fun. If I am having fun, then everybody is having fun.
What are you most excited about when it comes to what the future might hold for you?
I love traveling with my guitar and the band I play with. The people I work with are so wonderful. I look forward to doing more of that and watching it as it grows and we get to travel further and see more people. Every day that is like that is a victory!
Thank you so much for your time, MBF. We are happy to be able to spread the word on it, as it is a terrific piece of work!
I really appreciate your interest and being able to talk about the record a bit!
Never a problem! I am looking forward to talking to you again soon!
Thank you so much! See you soon!
To get the latest information and tour dates for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, visit his official website at www.ilovembf.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.