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An Interview with Your New Norman Rockwell, Micah Schnabel

Micah Schnabel, musician, artist, author, from Columbus Ohio, took time to answer some questions for me after his show in St. Louis at the Heavy Anchor. Micah has been playing music for 17 years in a band, Two Cow Garage, has released four solo albums and recently published a book entitled “Hello, My Name is Henry.” Micah’s wrapping up a tour with artist Vanessa Jean Speckman where she shows her art and Schnabel is performing his new music, along with a collection of songs from his most recent album Your New Norman Rockwell. Micah makes use of his platform onstage to sing songs about social justice, belonging to a lower class and fearing for your life.

  1.       What do you feel defines happiness as an artist? I think the idea of happiness is constantly changing for all of us. For me personally, happiness is being able to wake up every day and write and create without having to worry too much about money. Waking up every day and doing my work is happiness for me. It’s all I really ask for in this world.
  2.       Your music carries a conscience and you are not afraid to talk about social issues, you have mentioned before that sometimes the crowd doesn’t respond well to some of the songs like “Remain Silent” how do you react to a crowd that is uncomfortable with certain lyrics? I’m having a hard time with this right now with our current political climate. I know my lyrics can be a bit abrasive at times but I’m never trying to be cheap or trite. I try to be completely honest and empathetic always. I feel like that’s when I’m at my best. I’ve never had anyone be outwardly aggressive during the show so I just close my eyes and say what I want to say and take whatever comes with that. After playing that song the first few times I started telling people that it was a song about hope. I think that’s helped people stay with me through the end. If you don’t agree that we’re all just humans doing the best we can do and that we should be kind to one another then I don’t want you at the show anyway. There’s no song in the world that’s going to change someone who is anti-kindness.
  3.       Your album I’m Dead, Serious came out of a dark time in your life and tackled depression, suicide and substance issues. What reaction do you have when you see another artist or a friend exhibiting those behaviors? I’ve thought about this a lot. Having been through it myself, I don’t believe there’s anything I can do or say to fix anyone. When I see friends going through these things I try and keep them at the forefront of my mind and to reach out to them as much as possible. Simple text messages and emails letting them know that you care about them. When you’re lost in the emptiness it’s impossible to see the light. Those who tell you to cheer up simply don’t understand the what that level of darkness looks like. All you can do is let that person know you care. Constantly. And hope they find their way out.
  4.       I read that with “Let the Boys be Girls” you wrote lyrics first instead of your normal method of composing the music first. Which album time-lapse do you see the biggest difference in the evolution of your sound and songwriting process. I think the jump from TCG’s [Two Cow Garage -Schnabel’s band of 17 years] record Brand New Flag to my latest solo record Your New Norman Rockwell has been the biggest leap. Almost all of the songs on YNNR are spoken instead of sung. I wondered how people would take those songs but people have really responded to the spoken word tunes. And I personally feel like I’m being the most honest when I’m working in that way. I hear the songs back and they sound like me. I like the person who’s coming from the speakers. I feel most confident when I’m playing those songs.
  5.       Who are your current favorite artists and musicians and why? There is so much incredible music being made right now. I love Caroline Rose’s latest record [Loner]. Tierra Whack made a record of 15 one-minute songs accompanied by a video that is an incredible piece of work. The Sidekicks and Saintseneca also just released new records that both fill me with joy to listen to. Humans can do such incredible things when we’re not busy hurting one another.
  6.       I know you and Two Cow Garage spent a lot of years working with Brent Best and Slobberbone, who do you credit with some of you biggest musical influences? Brent Best has definitely been a big influence on my songwriting. John Prine has probably had the most influence on me. Also Willy Vlautin from the band Richmond Fontaine. I’ve been super inspired by Willy over the last couple years.
  7.       We spoke briefly about perseverance before the show, your guitar reads Art or Die and you are a full-time artist with a recently released book entitled “Hello, My Name is Henry.” We have heard through your music over the years of having to sleep in your car and struggling with depression and unfortunately being robbed in St. Louis back in 2015. What gets you through the tough times to keep you on the road and in the venues when you feel like the wall is against your back? The lows get really low sometimes. I think knowing that I can walk away from all of it brings me comfort in the darkest times. I know how hard I’ve worked and no matter what happens when I look back on my career I can know I tried my best. That I poured everything into it. If it doesn’t work out, that’s ok. I’m not the most talented person in the world and I know that. I’ve probably gotten farther along in all of this than my talent should have allowed. I’ve started daydreaming about opening a coffee shop somewhere far away. That idea brings me joy in the dark moments.
  8.       We heard some new songs tonight, is there a new album on the horizon? There is. And I think there always will be. I’ve found that I’m at my healthiest mentally when I’m working and looking forward. I’d like to have a new record or two out in 2019.
  9.       If you could tell 17 year old Micah Schnabel any advice, what would you tell him? To relax and that no one else knows what’s going on either. We’re all just fumbling around in the dark. And to beware of anyone that tells you they have answers.
  10.   What’s next for you Micah? I’d like to get a record recorded this winter and start focusing in on the next book. I can see it in my head I just have to sit down and write it.

Be sure to check out our concert review and photo gallery for Micah Schnabel + The Wilderness + Fred Friction in St. Louis on September 11, 2018.

Micah Schnabel:      


Interviewer – Jessi McKee – Photojounalist

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