In Conversation: Mickey Newball Interview

California’s Mickey Newball is the definition of DIY Indie musician – he is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist making music and recording it himself in his home studio in Santa Cruz on the California Coast. A graphic designer by day, he has just begun to release his own music after a bunch of years playing drums in various other bands and projects. His debut single ‘Betting on Bad Weather’ was released in the height of 2020’s pandemic (we are still living through a reduced form of that now) and became a song I replayed over and over. A couple of weeks ago I dialled into zoom and managed to grab an hour of time with Mickey where we spoke about musical things, literary things and even some political things. It was a blast of a chat and I’m extremely excited about this guy’s future in music. Our chat quickly deviated from all of the normal style questions I’d ask for a standard Q & A so here’s the interview in narrative form.

Newball is one of my favourite emerging musicians and it gives me pride to introduce him to you all. Here’s all you need to know so far.

2020 was a year of isolation. We went from social beings to being stuck at home twiddling our thumbs. Some embraced this solitude and got creative, others really struggled. While musicians lost their income and live performances, one positive aspect emerged from the call to stay indoors – time. Musicians had time again, time to lay down the ideas they’d been having for years, time to write that EP they’ve always thought about writing. There have been many new artists emerging this year from nowhere – Mickey Newball is one of these, what I like to call, Covid constructions – an artist releasing music following a productive time in isolation. And he is one of the very best I’ve found.
A drummer initially, although more of the self-taught, non-technical variety, Newball has up-skilled in recent years taking up the piano, guitar and bass. ‘I’ve played music since high school, mostly drums – supporting other people’s visions in bands which eventually led me towards singing and drumming – which is seen as more of a rare thing – a novelty maybe. I’m not a particularly proficient or technical drummer – I’d be a musical drummer as in, if someone came to me with a song I’d be able to construct a pattern or play along. I’d sing back-up in people’s bands whilst drumming, from there I moved onto learning theory.

The time he spent playing in bands contributed to the ability he’s developed to record all his own stuff at home. ‘From playing in bands I picked up how to do the whole DIY thing whilst tracking drums for others in the studio. My primary focus is writing my own music nowadays’
A graphic designer by day, his experiences creating graphics for a living also assisted him to make a smooth transition to music composition and songwriting. ‘I found that a lot of design principles can be used whilst making music. Leaving something, going back, refining, knowing when to walk away – these things tend to overlap in music just like in the design world. I feel comfortable with the process of writing music.

Last year, Betting on Bad Weather was released, the impressive debut single which later became one of my go-to songs of the year. A song full of emotional and intricate musical quality, it’s whole theme is based around a single phrase he penned one night about a friend of his who was feeling a little sorry for himself. ‘I came up with the phrase ‘Betting on Bad Weather’ jokingly with a friend of mine who was preemptively worried about something. It struck me as it was something that doesn’t exist and it simmered in my head. I like song ideas where one simple concept, one line – the universe is built around that line. For example: ‘Times they are a changin’ ’ – Bob Dylan – he could have written around one thousand verses about it. It’s got a strong image, in a single line. The line ‘Betting on Bad Weather’, not comparing myself to Bob Dylan here, but it was a great phrase to centre a song around and I could have written a thousand verses to go along with it.

The release went down a treat with music lovers and some influential tastemakers and it’s music video, footage of Newball dressed as a clown getting peppered with flying tomatoes (reminiscent of Dublin songwriter Jape’s video for Floating) added a visual layer to the Santa Cruz residents early mystique. A short time later, he released his much awaited follow-up Ruby Jean which he describes as a ‘Beatles-like stream of consciousness.’ A ‘quick and exploratory‘ track that leads us nicely towards his upcoming single ‘All Wrong’ which is set for release in the coming weeks. All this excitement is on the way but I wanted to know, why now? Why release music now and why learn all these instruments now?

At first, I think the thought of releasing my own music was something I put off – I’d often have said to myself ‘ah, I’m too old’ – but my opinion changed after reading a book called ‘The Artist’s Way’ – a motivational book. There’s a quote in it that describes a guy stressing that he’d be forty by the time he learns the piano – ‘but then you’ll be forty and be able to play the piano’, the book reiterates. Reading this book got me inspired to learn again, so I did. On a side note, I think some musicians who play a single instrument can feel very repressed if they don’t take up another instrument – I was just tired of supporting other people I suppose and love the process of songwriting so taking on this project was a no-brainer.

As he is in the early days of his solo musical journey – Newball describes the internal battles he’s fought when it comes to fine-tuning his sound and settling on a song for release and his experiences with the new-age landscape of submission sites and playlisting. He describes his personal experience of releasing his first single and the reactions evoked and emotions felt.

Before I put out ‘Betting on Bad Weather’ I didn’t really listen to modern music for the most part. Getting familiar with the playlist world and submissions world was tough as you kind of have to figure out which box your sound fits into. You can’t really inhabit a lot of different genres and styles. I don’t tend to take the feedback too seriously from curators but eventually after a few campaigns their words naturally begin to seep in. The scariest thing is then looking up at the songs that become successful. I know, from looking at what’s trending, exactly what I need to do in order to write a song suited for getting streams. Which guitar pedals, drum tones to use and so on – I naturally, as every artist must, feel a lot of pressure to be approved but I don’t want that to corrupt my creative processes. Experiencing this kind of thing was something I was not anticipating prior to release day. The system in the music world now seems to be persuading artists to homogenise and put their music into a box or set category. The whole process of ‘Betting on Bad Weather’ (post release) was really frightening to me.’

Playlists are a different matter altogether – the specific sound of what certain playlisters are looking for eventually gets in your head. I would be writing a song at home that would be a slow burn which gradually gets going in the middle and think twice as I’d know that this probably wouldn’t suit a playlist. But if an artist comes out immediately with the hook, they’ve instantly got a better chance of getting a Spotify playlist listing. This seems to be the way of it these days. I just want to make music I like and hope others manage to hear it too.

Following the personal debut and the shimmering Ruby JeanAll Wrong, once again, brings us back to a reflective zone with well written lyrics and an almost satirically self-deprecating tone. He states it’s ‘a sad song to make people feel good as people like feeling bad together.’ His distinct ability to pen emotional and relatable stanzas begged the question if he’s written anything other than music previously. I also wanted to know a little bit more about his songs and what topics they are (and will) be based on.

Yeah, I used to write little Limerick’s, and draw monsters and stuff. I don’t know if I’ll get back into that but yeah, I used to write short stories and poems about ghouls and snake charmers – whimsical stuff. I might get back into it later in life, who knows? A lot of the songs that will be released in the coming months are based on true stories in my life.

Storytelling is important to me and hopefully a lot of songs coming out reflect this.

Touching on the future and the prospects of an album coming out, he had this to say.

‘I’m aiming for an album next year, I think I’m going to set three more singles out this year and then have a go at an album then. Right now I want to experiment and try a bunch of different stuff – to the extent where I even toyed with the idea of releasing my upcoming single ‘All Wrong’ in slow-motion. This is very much a new project so it will take a bit of time before an album can be curated.

After taking in the first two singles, I’m in no doubt Mickey Newball will be an artist rising through the ranks in the independent music scene. His music is too good not to break through the crowd. It’s been six or so months since Betting on Bad Weather and Ruby Jean came to my attention – more is on the way and it can’t come quick enough. Keep an eye on this one.

All Wrong’ the third single from Mickey Newball is released 20/07/21.

About ‘The Sound Sniffer’

The Sound Sniffer is a music blog that’s still only a baby – Founded in early 2019 by Kevin Coakley, a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists found in the blog’s submission inbox.

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