A debut is worth a thousand gigs

Folk artist Mike Vial performs live at Eaton’s Taffy’s

By Justin Kreitzer

Mike Vial gave up teaching high school English in 2011 to become a fulltime musician. Since then, the Michigan-based singer/songwriter has no regrets, playing more than 1,000 gigs and releasing three EP’s and several singles that capture his confessional and organic brand of pop-leaning folk music. Later this summer Vial plans to release his long-awaited debut album, A World That’s Bigger. In advance of the album’s release, he has a lengthy tour scheduled for the spring and summer including a stop at Taffy’s in Eaton Saturday, April 30.

In anticipation, the Dayton City Paper spoke with Mike Vial about his influences, the upcoming album and more.

I can hear hints of Nick Drake’s gentle folk in your music. As an introduction for new listeners, who are some of the main musical influences on your singing, writing and performing style? 

Mike Vial: Yes! Nick Drake is a big influence. I’m pleased you heard it. His Pink Moon record is a guide for my next album, A World That’s Bigger. … Nick Drake recorded that album in three nights, just him on guitar with an engineer. He had felt his previous records were over-produced, and wanted to do a simple production. That’s exactly where I am in my life, and my next record is all recorded live, just me on guitar (or piano) and vocal.

Recently you celebrated your 1,000th gig with a live internet-broadcast concert via Concert Window. How was that experience and how does that differ from performing in person with the audience? 

MV: Playing my 1,000th gig was a major milestone. I left an English teaching position to do music full-time, and this was a cool way to celebrate a number that represents a snapshot of my life. It was fun, but also a bit awkward at first! It’s so different playing for the cameras, rather than the audience.

Later this summer you plan to release your long-awaited debut album. Can you please speak to the writing and recording process for the album and a little about the delay in its release?

MV: The themes of the record are centered around the loss of a few miscarriages, and the birth of our wonderful baby; and those themes of love, life and death circle throughout the entire record. Music is a cathartic art form. I’ve found a lot of healing through the frustrations of the delays. And the delays helped me write even more material for the record, and three of those new songs made the album. However, nature has been against this record: I started recording in 2014; then we had a surprise leak in our new house’s roof; then my guitar’s neck broke when the wind blew it off a stand at a festival; then my car died; and then we faced another miscarriage in 2016. In all honestly, this record almost died under the weight of the recording costs, but my friend Mike Gentry is helping me finish it at the end of the month. I owe him big … for his producing skills. We’re tracking the rest of the album in a cabin in Michigan, so I can have it finally out this spring/summer!

Lyrically, the new album is raw and honest with a focus on universally relatable themes of life and loss. The standout title track, “A World That’s Bigger,” about the birth of your daughter, is the perfect example. What inspired the writing of that song?  

MV: Thanks for compliment about “A World That’s Bigger!” That appears to be the audience’s favorite too. That was the first song I wrote as a new dad. My baby was sleeping in her bouncer, and I was strumming my guitar at the kitchen table. I ended up freaking out about how much college may cost her in 18 years, and I had to write a song to calm my nerves about the responsibilities of parenthood!

Similarly, what is the meaning behind the emotionally charged lyrics of your single, “Burning Bright?” 

MV: “Burning Bright” was actually the catalyst of the new record, and almost became the album’s name too. The song is about my relative David Plawecki’s dying wish. When he found out he had cancer, his dying wish was to give all of his friends and family $100 to give to someone in need during the holidays, a pay-it-forward movement. His gift ended up getting quite a bit of press in my home state. David was the youngest Michigan State Senator … All of the songs on the record have counterpoints, so with a song about loss is a song about birth; with a song about reflecting at a funeral, there is also a song about celebrating a wedding. This album is really a celebration of the human spirit during that universal journey of life.

What is your favorite song to play live and why?

MV: My favorite to play on this tour is “Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach,” another finger-picking song. It is a thematic protest song for the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I was reflecting on the boy on the beach of the Turkish coast, and my own child learning to crawl in our safe Ann Arbor home. The song’s lyrics use mythology, Shakespearean and Biblical allusions. I hope it offers a sense of hope.

Mike Vial performs Saturday, April 30 at Taffy’s of Eaton, 123 E. Main St. in Eaton. Denny Cottle will also perform. Show starts at 8 p.m. and there is no cover charge. For more information please visit mikevial.com and taffysofeaton.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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