Local big-voiced songwriter Michael Shynes has a lot to celebrate. He’s toured nationally, played to crowds of 70,000+, and has released three successful albums. He’ll be celebrating his latest, The Current, the River, and the Undertow, at the Varsity Theater on Friday.
Michael sat down with Music in Minnesota to discuss how he writes, his biggest accomplishments, what local bands he loves, and more.
MIM: Who are your biggest musical influences? Fans of what artists would like your music?
Michael: I tend to find inspiration either from ambiance and washy vibes or authentic and genuine songwriting/lyrics. So I’d say groups like Tears for Fears, U2, The Police, and The 1975 inspire me sonically. And artists like David Gray, John Mayer, Rob Thomas, Jason Isbell, and Chris Stapleton in the organic world.
MIM: What do you go for with your songwriting? How do you approach songwriting?
Michael: I just want people to believe me. My goal is for it never to come across as contrived in any way. If it ceases to come from the soul then I don’t see the point of doing something ‘artistic.’
So my approach is generally to sit down with an acoustic guitar and write from a subconscious place first. Trying to shut my brain off and just find raw inspiration from melodies. Then generally as things progress I will find direction and story to hopefully carry things to the finish lines.
That’s from an organic perspective, but there are production projects as well, and the inspiration there can come from anywhere. A sound, drum loop, chord progression, ambient pad, it’s all on the table. The toughest part of songwriting is finishing though. I have hundreds of ideas I’ve never finished or have run out of affection for. It’s a fickle business.
MIM: You’ve opened locally for nationally touring acts, toured with popular singer Howie Day, and performed for thousands with Polish band Komodo. What are some of your most memorable experiences playing music?
Michael: Well that’s certainly a couple of them. The Howie Day stuff was big because it was my first time singing in theaters where no one was there to see me. So it was truly a sink or swim situation.
The Komodo stuff was incredible due to sheer volume. Looking out at 72,000 people where you can’t see the end of it was just surreal.
Also, being a sports nerd, playing Timberwolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders’ full wedding was amazing. I am a tortured MN sports fan that will always love and support those teams and players.
But I’d say my biggest moment was selling out The Paramount Theater in St Cloud based on my original music. Those are my people and community. I worked for years in that town and never thought I could sell a hundred tickets, let alone 800 for that night. I still listen to the intro of that show and tears fill my eyes every time.
MIM: You’ve released two albums and a handful of EPs. Tell us about your third LP, The Current, the River, and the Undertow. How has your music evolved leading up to this release?
Michael: I’ve just become more comfortable exploring and utilizing all my influences. I love Pop and R&B but thought I couldn’t explore those spaces because my acoustic guitar was my meal ticket. But I started to feel limited by those constraints and wanted to feel my freedom. It also became apparent that my fans had my back and were enjoying the exploration as well. So I’ve just started fully diving into songwriting without expectation. Following the song and not trying to fit it into a genre box.
MIM: What are a handful of songs people could listen to in order to get a good idea of your music?
Michael: From a pop perspective, people are loving “Blush” and “Through the Fire.” From a country/roots perspective, “There Goes the Devil” and “We Left NYC.” And lastly, from the folk/storyteller angles, I’d say “Crest Tattoo” and “The Current, The River, and The Undertow” is some of my best work.
MIM: What music is currently inspiring you a lot?
Michael: I listen to a lot of instrumental and ambient music to try and quiet my overactive mind these days. So artists like Hammock and Explosions in the Sky really help me do that. I have also been loving a modern 80s style group called The Midnight. They bring to me a feeling of something new paired with familiar nostalgia.
MIM: What local bands do you love right now?
Michael: Bad Bad Hats are great, really cool stuff. I love Grayshot. Quietdrive will always be my favorite MN band. Rogue Valley and Chris Koza are very special as well.
Be sure to check out Michael Shynes at the Varsity Theater on Friday.