Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Bankhead. Together we discussed their multiple talents, studying music theory, anxiety, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
I’m tired. That’s something I say every day, because it’s true every day.
2. You’re a bassist, singer, and songwriter. Which came first? How do you balance each?
I was a songwriter first. I was writing songs before I even knew how to write songs, before I knew anything about music composition. I think that I’ll always be a songwriter first, and any other musical skills I accumulate will be in service of improving my songcraft. My vocal coach doesn’t like it when I say this, but I don’t consider myself to be a singer.
3. Additionally, you have begun studying music theory. What have you learned that really surprised you? Would you recommend all musicians study music theory?
I was most surprised by the relationship between music and math, because I was never all that good with math, and didn’t enjoy studying it in school. It’s certainly not necessary to study music theory as a musician. Whether that is useful to a musician depends very much on how an individual learns and processes information. It was very necessary for me because I need to understand why things work, but if that’s not something that concerns you, maybe you can skip it. The most valuable part of music theory to me is that it is a framework for communicating with other musicians. Theory isn’t a list of rules, it’s a way to describe how things work from a specific point of view. I like to think of it as a musical lingua franca.
4. Who (or what) influences you?
Everything I listen to. Everything I read. Everyone I talk to. Life in general.
5. What is your creative process?
The true answer is “it depends”, and I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but it’s true. It depends very much on WHY I’m creating something at a given time. Is it for a specific project? Is it for another person? Is it because I have something I really need to say? Is it a writing assignment designed to be an exercise to improve my skills? Independent of how things start, for anything I think I might actually keep, Google Docs and my DAW become involved as a way to preserve ideas.
6. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you?
Oh, there are too many to mention here. I kind of wish this question was more specific, either by time period or by genre.
7. 2017 saw the release of your debut album “Echo in the Crevices.” Could you share what it was like to put this album together?
I started work on Echo in the Crevices in 2015.It was a long process and a lot of hard work. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and my engineer Patrick Himes was immensely helpful in leading me through the process. In fact, I definitely learned something from every single musician that agreed to work with me on that project. I’m a bass player who doesn’t play guitar, but most of that album is clearly guitar rock, so without the help of other local musicians, it never would have gotten done. I remember being fascinated by the process of building the songs from ideas that only really existed in their completed form in my head into something that everyone else could hear. I’m still proud of the work that went into it.
8. What does an Ohio Sky typically look like? Does it change often?
To me, the Ohio Sky looks like home. There is an oft-recited joke about Ohio that says if you don’t like the weather, stick around for a day and it’ll change. There are definitely times in the year when the sky is variable and unpredictable.
9. You followed up that album with “Anxious Inventions & Fictions.” Did the creative process differ on this album? What was the inspiration behind it?
I made a conscious effort to be a bit more concise with my songwriting on this second album. There are some long songs on Echo in the Crevices, and that was intentional in order to say what I needed to say musically. On Anxious Inventions & Fictions, I wanted to make the power pop side of my sound more prominent, and to me that meant making the songs more focused. Before beginning work in the studio for this one, I had a pre-production meeting with engineer Patrick Himes and my drummer of choice, Brian Hoeflich. We talked through the approach and feel on 22 or 23 songs. Not all of them made the album, of course, but doing that level of planning and arranging in advance made the recording process much more efficient.
As far as the inspiration behind it, I am taking the listener on a little journey through what it’s like to have anxiety and depression. Some of the songs are observational, some are auto-biographical, and some are purely fiction…. but all of them need to feel like they’re true to a listener, and I hope I was able to accomplish that.
10. Humans sometimes create anxious inventions and fictions within their mind. Did your own inventions and fictions help shape this album?
Absolutely. That phrase is taken from a lyric on the album that’s about not being able to sleep, and those times when you can’t seem to turn your brain off. For me, my thoughts tend to run in some outlandish directions.
11. How can humans overcome their own anxious inventions and fictions?
Therapy? If anyone out there knows a good answer, let me know, as that’s something I’m still working on. Maybe “overcoming” isn’t possible, and we have to settle for “dealing with.”
12. Do you have a favorite anecdote?
I don’t think so. I feel like if someone has a favorite anecdote, it has to be a story they eventually tell to every single person they interact with long enough to get to story time, and I don’t think I have any of those.
13. Mustard wonders who Misty is. How did Misty inspire your single “For Misty?” Has Misty responded?
Misty is my wife. She inspired that particular single by virtue of being married to me for 15+ years. “For Misty” was written and recorded in secret as a 15 year anniversary present.The secrecy meant that I really couldn’t do any proper promotion. It’s funny you ask about the response, because part of the present was a lyric video made by my friend Isaac, where the images were pictures from our wedding, our life together, and some of the places inspired by the lyrics. I played it for her when she woke up on November 3, 2022, and the first thing she did was ask me where I found the music. I was a little offended. She didn’t figure out that I wrote it until she actually started paying attention to the voice that was singing and the lyrics that were being sung. I’m pretty sure now that she likes it.
14. What is next for Mike Bankhead?
I worked really hard on a concept EP that is coming out soon. As a cohesive artistic statement, it’s the best work I’ve ever done. Now, I know that musicians ALWAYS say that whatever the next thing is happens to be their best work, so let me explain. I can’t honestly say that any of the songs on an individual song-by-song level is the best I’ve ever written. What sets this EP apart is the project as a whole. It’s called I Am Experienced, in what is an obvious reference to Jimi Hendrix. Each song on the EP is in a different genre of music. The thread that ties them all together is the subject matter, as they’re all songs about Black experiences, told from my first person point of view. The lyrics are open and honest and authentic and vulnerable. The artistic aesthetic of the project is that all personnel who helped to create it are Black: engineer, musicians, mixer, mastering engineer, videographer, art director, essayists, etc. Wait, did I say essayists? Yep. The CD version of I Am Experienced comes with additional music that won’t be on streaming services, as well as a 16 page booklet full of lyrics and essays to put the songs into context. The first single, “Latent”, was released on April 25th. The second single, “Good Times”, is out on May 30th. The EP as a whole is coming on June 20th. It’s a little scary, but I’m proud of the creation, and I’m grateful to all of the folks who believed in it enough to contribute. I think their buy-in made the end result much better than it otherwise would have been.
I’ll probably be working on promoting I Am Experienced the rest of the year. I also am half of a duo called We Met In Paris with a songwriter from Ipswich, UK. We Met In Paris plans to release our first singles this spring, and hopefully an EP by the end of the year. I’m currently writing a neo-soul album that will be called Four Queens. I’m also working on writing some Americana stuff that I plan to be part of another project with a concept, a multi-EP thing. There are a lot of song in me, I’m just trying to get them out.
15. Where can readers listen to your music?
Other than a split album Defacing the Moon, my music is on all the regular streaming platforms. If anyone would like to listen to the songs from Defacing the Moon, you can hear those on my website. I’ll send them to you for free if you head right over here and tell me where to send them