Sometimes, boredom takes us great places. At 20 a musician named Michael, who had amassed some fairly significant musical experience playing in a "crappy punk band" in high school, was living at home with his mom in Cabot, Arkansas, just a little perplexed about what to do with his life. Driven by boredom, armed with a guitar and a swift talent for using home recording software, Michael transformed himself into Totally Michael, a buoyant musician with a penchant for pop hooks and an adoration for blink-182.
After figuring out that the Internet was a pretty good place to pass around your music, Michael landed his first gig playing his own going away party in early 2005 just before he moved to Bloomington, Indiana. He got dressed up as a "sexy" bee (fishnets!), prepared some audience participation games, greatly inspired by the stage antics of the band Soophie Nun Squad, and played four or five songs. It seemed to take and over the next few years Michael penned a hefty dose of uplifting feel-good hits, played some shows in basements and local bars, went on his first tour in his car (where he got to see both a blimp and the ocean for the first time!), transitioned from the bee suit to a pumpkin suit to a pair of short shorts and a tee-shirt that read "I’m Tight Like Spandex," and spread joy wherever he went with his participatory shows.
Michael started out by selling a five-song demo burned on a CD-R (that was "just the worst recording ever") on tour, followed by a six-song EP, but it wasn’t until fate brought him together with Franki Chan at IHeartComix that the future brightened with the promise of a Totally Michael full-length. The infectious (in a good way) self-titled album was recorded in January of 2008 in Bloomington and sparkles with energetic, catchy songs about Winona Ryder ("Winona"), childhood adventures, prom ("Prom Night") and, well, one-time, casual sex ("Casual Satisfaction").
The likeable, sing-along friendly numbers are both humorous and endearing, ready for Michael’s signature audience participation onstage. "Cheerleaders Vs. Drillteam," for instance, plays on the drama Michael saw between the two groups in high school. "I was like 'Man I gotta relive this shit at my shows!'" he explains. "People have to choose sides and then in the middle of the song they have to split up and diss each other real bad. I’ve been able to split up pretty big crowds, but if it’s in a gnarly bar with biker dudes it doesn’t go over so well."
Even in the gnarliest biker bars, though, something about Michael’s positive mental attitude (PMA, as it’s sometimes abbreviated) gets the crowd feeling as upbeat as the musician performing them. Although Michael has since eschewed costumes for a regular old pair of pants and a tee-shirt, the shows make every night a party with Michael acting as "an MC that plays guitar occasionally."
"Most of it is about trying to stay positive," Michael says. "Thinking about the good stuff in life and not letting the bad stuff bum you out. That’s pretty much the message I want to convey. Some of it isn’t directly saying that, but I think some of the songs will make people feel that. Life’s not so bad!"
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