Another Michael on Living Together, Writing for an Audience, and the Mysteries of Philadelphia

Another Michael on Living Together, Writing for an Audience, and the Mysteries of Philadelphia
Photo by Juliette Boulay

First off, allow me to sound off a huge noisemaker here, because this latest edition of the newsletter marks the 300th free post since it started in July 2020. That's crazy! I am so, so thankful for everyone who's read this over the years, as well as all those drawn in for an issue or two based on their interests. Basically, if you've been reading the newsletter at all, I deeply appreciate you.

As I mentioned in yesterday's free Baker's Dozen, in honor of the occasion I'm kicking off a sale on annual subscriptions—30% off, $21/year for the first year. I'm going to be doing this for a bit, but not forever, so grab it here. You won't regret it.

Let's get into it though: I really enjoyed Philly-via-Albany indie-pop outfit Another Michael's first two albums, and their latest—Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down, which just came out last Friday—changes things up and pretty seriously expands the notion of what their sound is, with great success to boot. I've had them on my mind as a group to talk to for a minute now, and I was happy to hop on a call last week with Michael Doherty and Nick Sebastiano as they've been on the road with the also-very-good artist Tenci:

You guys are on tour as we're talking right now. What's your experience been with touring in general so far? What are the ups and downs?
Michael Doherty:
We've been touring since 2018. We started out doing some DIY touring, and then just before COVID we started doing a few more support tours.

Nick Sebastiano: To start with the downs, I would say van struggles, which we've been plagued with from time to time. But I honestly realy love everything else. It's really fulfilling and fun to travel around and play songs.

Michael: Something I always say is that my favorite part of touring is that it transforms the music—old songs and new songs—as you go. We've been changing some older songs up, and even though we'll be playing a new version of an old song, it'll feel different in every city we play it in—maybe its how it feels in the room, or with the crowd that's there. Thinking about the experience you had leading up to playing the show in that town that day is always really special to me too—just to be taken out of the context of where you live.

When I first heard your guys' music circa New Music and Big Pop, I was really impressed by how fully-formed your sound was—which is why the new record's left turns are so pleasantly surprising. Tell me about how these songs came together.
We spent about three years just focusing on recording. We'd take a week or two at a time with our collaborators, and we'd just do two or three songs at once and really live in those for a little bit. It was a really good idea to take a few months off, come back do a few more, and then the end product is pretty much just figuring out where the songs we're gonna go.

Nick: A big explanation for some of the left turns that you hear sonically have to do with the fact that, when we were making music during these quarantine phases, nobody was playing shows. We didn't have to think at all about how we were going to play it live, which freed up a lot more territory for the directions we could go with things. At this point, that's something we do have to reckon with, and that has been a challenge—but it's been fun, and our interests have expanded when it comes to the bounds of what we're interested in creating. We figured figured we'd just go for it and do some weird stuff.

Tell me more about taking risks and experimenting.
There's definitely a secret language of limitations that is hard to define. When it comes to living in certain songs, if we do something that feels really familiar to our sound, it recharges us to move on to something that isn't very familiar—it's a one-in-one-out dice-roll of deciding how we're gonna work on something.

Nick: There wasn't a conscious consideration of our developed style. We weren't purposely trying to deviate from it. We had a group of people working on the record together, but we were pretty shut off from outside people perceiving the music at that point in time, so that was helpful to be able to let go of the anxiety of upholding expectations.

Michael: I definitely found inspiration through a lot of different artists. One that comes to mind is Alex G, who is always gonna sound like Alex G no matter how experimental or straight to the point his music is. As long as we're the people creating the music and trusting each other, we're always gonna come out on the other side with music that sounds like us, to an extent.

I'd love to hear more about writing songs during COVID when live shows weren't happening, and how that juxtaposed with where we're at now.
Writing stuff during early COVID, I felt like, "Oh, I could demo anything at home, on the computer." There's no timeline, everything's very up in the air. The energy of when the band was back in the room together definitely inspired me to feel way more free at home working on things, and now I actually think when I'm writing new songs at home, I've been trying to write a lot more with intention. When the time comes to work on new stuff, it'll be an opportunity to all be in the room and actually have more input.

When I was alone in my bedroom demoing a song, I wanted to hear the song in the room as full as possible in a demo way, because it was like it was entertainment—it was something to do. Now, I've definitely been trying to write the skeleton of a song on the acoustic guitar and stack a bunch of those up with the intention of collectively being able to entertain ourselves, figuring out song arrangements.

Nick: It definitely feels different writing or arranging music when it feels like time in the world is standing still—which is kind of how it felt when we were writing and working on a lot of these songs versus now, when you work on something and there's an easier link for you to create in your mind where it's like, "Oh, someone could theoretically hear this very soon if we just decided to play it at a show." Just knowing that there's an avenue to the real world does inherently change how it feels to make something.

How many years have you guys known each other at this point?
It'll be ten years this winter since we've really gotten to know each other. I remember being super excited that Nick knew how to use Ableton. I loved electronic music around that time. I have a really funny early memory of hanging out with Nick at a Starbucks down the road because there was Wi-Fi there or something—I don't really know why we picked Starbucks. But I was like, "Have you seen this FKA Twigs KEXP session where they're all playing SBD sample pads?" We just hovered over the computer watching this KEXP session. Just thinking about music together in those early days was really fun. I hadn't really had a friend playing music up until that point. It was uncommon to find a musical collaborator who knew their way around a DAW.

Nick: Yeah, we were into all types of music, but I was making electronic music in Ableton at the time. Mike, being somebody who's interested in the whole world of new music, maybe didn't have a ton of people to talk about some of the poppier, more electronic-y stuff with because he was playing in bands. So that was something that was cool for us, to be able to talk about different worlds of music than what the people that we knew at the time were into. It was a cool thing to bond over really early into knowing each other. We were really into PC Music when that was first happening, as well as the beginnings of hyperpop. It was fun to listen to that stuff and talk about it.

How have you witnessed each other change over the years?
I was still in college when Michael and I met—he was a couple of years older than me. Having a friendship with someone that, where almost from the beginning it's tied to music and a career choice around an art form, it puts the friendship in very unique situations with unique emotions. Sometimes there's a lot of pressures, and sometimes there's very unique types of joy, happiness, and experiences that go along with that as well. I think both of us have changed a lot. It was said yesterday at one point in the green room that it feels like we're an old married couple. Also, we're roommates. We live together, and we've lived together since we moved to Philadelphia in 2017. That's a very intimate type of partnership, friendship, and form of collaboration. It's changing every day, but we're still doing it, and we're still having fun. I still love it. What do you think?

Michael: I feel like I've grown more open to taking criticism from you in a way that, in an earlier friendship, I may still have been like, "I know what I want, I know my ideas, my goals, what I want this thing to be." But the more we've worked on things, and seeing our albums come to life with live sets, the more it's like, when a conversation comes up whee you're trying to figure out what to do—whether it be music, business, or friendship in general—the longer a friendship goes, the more you have this trust in someone for being there for you. I definitely have felt that bond strengthened as time has gone on for sure.

Nick: Yeah, it feels standard now—a known thing, something that we do. Honestly, a lot of times it goes unspoken, the responsibilities that we have for one another. So to keep the whole experience of making music a good and positive one, when that works...

Michael: The other night, we were playing in New York, the sixth or seventh night of the tour, and we've been kind of messing with the setlist every night. We hadn't quite nailed what we wanted—the idea of the setlist. The set has gotten very dynamic, which is so much fun. It's always been the goal, to have a lot of different kinds of songs to build into a live set. It's a feeling of accomplishment, to have all different kinds of stuff we've made over the years pair up together on stage. At first, we were closing our setlist with our post-punky song that's on the new record, and Nick was like, "We should open with that. We're in New York, it's gonna be crazy, let's do it." I was just like, "No way. What? That's crazy." Then, enough time passed where it all washed over me and I heard that he was coming at this from a really good place. He's already thought about all this stuff that I'm going, "No way" about, and I think he's right. So we did it, and we've done that almost every night of this tour now.

You guys mentioned being roommates. There's a song on this album that's literally called "I'm Your Roommate." Tell me about being roommates—that can be a whole deal, too.
Being a roommate, you get such a specific and intimate perspective of who you're living with. It's very unique.

Nick: Even that has changed over the years. We used to live with a lot of people—essentially a commune, with all of our friends, pre-COVID. It made less sense to do that while COVID was happening, so when it was time to renew the lease a lot of us split up into different places. I'm pretty quiet. I keep to myself a lot—especially when we go on long tours like this. When you're on tour, you're in social situations essentially the entire time. If you're awake, you're with other people. You don't get alone time. You don't even get much time to reflect with your own thoughts. Oftentimes, we get back from tour and I'll just literally hole up in my room for a very long time—which is very different on the road, where we're always seeing each other. At home, we very much have our own home lives at this point—what we do when we're not working on music stuff together. Because we see each other so often while we are doing music stuff, and also just in passing, we just live our own lives a lot of the time these days.

Do you guys consider yourselves a Philly band at this point?

Michael: I would say so, yeah. It definitely feels funny to say, but we've been here for almost seven years. It's hard not to say that Philadelphia is what I see most of the time in my life. But we also still have such a warm and welcoming community up in Albany, where we started the band. My dad's up there, as well as some family and friends. To have like that still is also really special.

Nick: Lately, it's really been starting to feel like we're a Philly band. On this tour, we had a really fun Philly show at Johnny Brenda's with a lot of people and a great energy in the room. It felt warm, like a hometown show.

Part of why I asked is that, when I listen to a band like yours, I'll be like, "I bet these guys are from Philadelphia." Then I look it up and I'm like, "Yep, they're a Philly band." And I say that as praise! Because I do feel like a lot of interesting indie rock that I've heard in the last 10 years has come from Philly—way more so than what I get from anything in the NYC scene.
I feel like I meet people in Philadelphia all the time who have moved from all over the country to come there. That can only be connected to how much people are seeing from their computers in places like, I don't know, South Carolina, or Tennessee, or Colorado. They're like, "Oh wow, there's really something happening here. There's so many different styles of music. I could move to this city and try to find my place." It's not like a smaller city where it's like, "This is what the city sounds like, we have three venues, this is the vibe." It's something you look to inspiration for when moving to any populated major American city. That's why I really wanted to move somewhere like Philly. Even though I love where I'm from so much, to not have done that—to not know it would feel like to walk the streets of a major city with so many different people and things going on—would have been a mystery.

Also, Philadelphia is still, to an extent, one of the more affordable very major cities. A lot of younger people are finding ways to scoot in there and live in big houses, and that's essentially what we did. We found a big house where we could pay a little less for rent and still be a part of something that felt layered with a lot of people and opportunity.

As someone who grew up in New Jersey, there's something very Jersey-ish—Long Island-ish even, maybe—about Philly to me. I'm sure the proximity helps.
There's definitely a tough guy mentality that's fun to be a part of, in a sense. I wouldn't say I'm a tough guy myself, but it definitely brings forth its personality. When we moved to Philly was when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and I was just like, "Oh my God, I didn't know a city could have this much personality." Experiences like that make the city like come to life.

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Jamie Larson