An Interview with Michael Kaeshammer
By Casey Pukl
Not only is Michael Kaeshammer an incredible singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and more, but he also makes a mean gnocchi, and is a food enthusiast (thus making Anthology the perfect home away from home)! These are just a few of the things I learned about this upcoming Anthology artist after a great chat Friday morning.
See what he had to say about his latest DVD/CD release, his arranging process, and just why Anthology was one of his favorite places to play last time around!
CP: I just watched the preview of your latest DVD, and I am super excited for your show here.
MK: Yeah, I’m excited too! It’ll only be the trio though— not that full band from the DVD. It’s still going to be just as tight.
CP: You’ve been playing with this rhythm section for about how long now?
MK: About 5 years now. It’s so much fun to tour with these guys because we’re all best friends. It makes everything from playing music to traveling to eating food so much easier.
CP: Tell me a little bit about your new DVD/CD combo that you released this past Valentine’s day.
MK: Well, the band and I went on tour for a little over a year, traveling everywhere, and I had never released a live record before since you don’t have as much control over something recorded live. But the band sounded so good, and it was the end of the tour, so I organized a concert in Toronto. It was just for friends, fans, and some contest winners, and we basically just hung out and partied and recorded the thing. It ended up sounding good, and there it is.
CP: It’s always nice when something comes together like that.
MK: Yeah, I think, when doing a live record or DVD, it’s one thing to sit there and plan it and go, “let’s do a live record,” then arrange it and rehearse for it, but this just felt right and that’s why it worked.
CP: I was wondering, do you write your own arrangements?
MK: Oh yeah.
CP: That’s incredible. There’s a lot of fun and subtly complicated stuff arrangement-wise happening on your albums.
MK: Yeah, it’s funny, a long time ago I would hire arrangers for big band stuff like horns or whatever, and it was actually an ex-girlfriend of mine that said “why don’t you arrange your own stuff, stop hiring people”. And it’s amazing when you put your mind to it and really see what you can do.
CP: Did you take any lessons or study formally?
MK: No, I just took what I heard in my head and wrote it down.
CP: [Laughs] You make it sound so easy!
MK: [Laughs] It is easy! It’s just playing music.
CP: True, but personally, I find it difficult to pull apart the different instrumentation and parts that I hear in my head. It makes it difficult to articulate to the guitarist what you’d like them to play for a particular part of a song when you’re busy hearing the bass line in your head at the same time.
MK: Ah, I see. But that’s the human element too. I think it’s important to be open to changes too, because sometimes you put something down on paper and the band plays it and it’s different from what you heard [in your head] and maybe that idea didn’t translate as well as you originally thought.
CP: Absolutely. That happens to me often. Tell me a little bit about your musical background.
MK: I grew up in Germany, and as far back as I can remember, my father loved playing stride and ragtime piano. There was always a lot of jazz playing in our house. He would sit me down in front of the TV and watch shows that he taped of old black and white live concerts and stuff. It was around, and it seemed like the most magical thing. And I wanted to play like my dad because he would play whenever anyone came over and he was the life of the party. It was groovy music, and he would sit there and everyone would have fun, so that’s why I started. When I got older I started taking some classical lessons for about 6 years. My second piano teacher would give me these pieces by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky and I was 10, so I didn’t really want to play that, so I went to my parents and told them these lessons aren’t really working. So I quit and just taught myself. Figuring stuff out on your own is really the best lesson.
CP: And when did you venture into writing your own stuff?
MK: 18 actually. I wrote a few songs, all instrumental stuff, and I would do that for each record, write 2-3 instrumental songs, the first 3 records. But then I had a bit of a time where I thought about stopping doing this for a living because it just didn’t give me what it used to give me. It started feeling like a job. I was in the middle of a 60 day tour and I just had to get through it, so I would just wake up and start writing stream-of-consciousness about why I felt that way, things like that. Then I would turn those into lyrics, and then started turning that into songs. That is what gave me pleasure in the whole thing again— being able to share what I do. I write everyday, even if it’s just something I have to get off my chest. And now it’s just become a self therapy thing.
You look back at the Tin Pan Alley writers and stuff like that, [these] people that can write when they’re told to write and just say, “ok, this is what the song is about” and just go, but for me it has to come out naturally and it has to be something that is on my mind. Because you can say a lot in a song that you can’t say in a conversation [laughs]!
CP: That’s interesting to me that writing came much later for you. I don’t really hear that often.
MK: It was more a necessity for my personal life more than anything.
CP: Do you feel like writing your own material keeps things fresh or do you have to continually be looking for inspiration?
MK: No, I think the writing is always fresh for me, there’s always something new and you feel differently all the time. When it becomes about the subject or what you want to say rather than the music, then it’s always fresh. It’s switched from back in the day when I did mostly covers with a few originals, now when I do a cover it’s because that song really means something to me.
CP: Tonight’s show is part of a west coast tour for you, right?
MK: Yes, we’re doing the west coast and then going to Ireland, and then back to Canada over about 4 weeks. I’m excited, and can’t wait to go. I’m packed and everything!
CP: I never pack until 10 minutes before I’m about to leave, so good for you [laughs]! What are you most excited about coming to Anthology?
MK: Last time we were there was my first time to San Diego and our first time at Anthology. I’m not just saying this because I’m talking to you, but to me and everybody in the band, it was probably one of our top 5 places to play last year. I don’t know if there’s any other venue like it. We were there the night before, had great food, great tequila, great staff. Hanging out watching the band before us play. That doesn’t happen all the time. It’s one of the best places to play. I love jazz, but I don’t love jazz clubs per se, and these music venues that do a little bit of everything, you can tell there’s a different vibe there. More open-minded, I find. The audiences too. I’m really looking forward to returning.
Special thanks to Michael for a great chat! Be sure to come on out and see him and his incredible band tonight!
Michael Kaeshammer on Spotify