introduction by tom johnson
words by michael cormier
Michael Cormier’s music fits in the cracks of the day. Little half-thoughts, the gaps of a morning, quiet moments of reflection that drift into the ether with nobody else to attach themselves to. His voice, like his music, is plaintive but full of warmth, and it delivers words with a generosity that can feel somehow both melancholy and courageous like it takes so much to share these stories but there was never any doubt in doing so.
Previous records Days Like Pearls and MF were both released in 2019, and now his third full-length, More Light!!!, adds greater depth to his discography, finding new ways to channel his fleeting, poetic wordings into something beautiful and affecting. And there is, perhaps, more light here, the overall sound offering something a little brighter, a little more focused; a gentle pop heart to these folky flourishes.
The album is out now, released last Friday, and we’re very pleased to stream the whole thing here for you alongside Michael’s own track by track guide; a written walk through every song on the album. Check it all out below right now.
This song feels like the thesis statement for the whole record. It’s about attempts to cobble
together meaning during moments of insomnia-induced fear and anxiety. The demo for this
song sounded like a wonky bluegrass song. I kept the guitar pattern the same and Lucas Knapp
added programmed drums that tugged at the bluegrass rhythms. Now it’s a wonky bluegrass
club banger. It features Lina Tullgren on violin along with Erika Nininger on harmonies and
Rhodes. Both are artists who elevate anything they are a part of.
‘More Light!!’ has a few songs on it that are just country songs but with strange textures and
lyrics. Last Hurrah is definitely one of them. Formally, it’s just verse chorus verse chorus verse.
My original demo was a smooth-operating lounge track with a much more plodding rhythm.
Once I started setting the scene with lyrics, it had to become a dancier number because it’s all
about being out at night trying to keep up with the fun everyone is having. This track was
blessed by Lauren Turner on harmonies and flute, Pete Gill (2nd Grade, Friendship) on pedal
steel, Lucas Knapp who is all over this record along with being the mix engineer, and a bunch of
dear friends who sent phone recordings of themselves singing karaoke songs.
This is another one of the country songs on the record. I had written the music for this one a
year earlier, and I think it’s really beautiful. Especially Will Henriksen’s violin playing, which
makes me weep. The words were written after some communication breakdown with a friend. It
had become easier to ignore his calls than to address the accumulated elephants in the room. I
knew I was letting him down so I kept retreating into unreachability. I don’t recommend this
course of action. I finally took some time to set things straight and we are all good now.
I always picture this song as a “lemonade on the front porch” kinda song. Wendy Eisenberg’s
frenetic banjo part solidifies that aesthetic for me. When I first wrote it, I was playing it in ¾
and it sounded like a sea shanty. My wife Meggy told me it sounded like Joanna Newsom, so I
panicked cause that bar is set far too high. Lyrically, it’s a pretty straightforward exploration of
feeling crazy using a smartphone. These devices are so powerful and we are ultimately guinea
pigs. The connectivity can be real, but it can also be illusory. I juxtaposed that feeling with what
I imagine it’s like to be a dog seeing a squirrel. The dog’s senses are completely co-opted for a
few seconds, then the squirrel runs away and it’s like nothing ever happened.
This is a classic example of a wishful thinking song, the kind of song you write thinking
“someday I hope to actually be like this.” I definitely like being in control. It’s probably why I
love recording music so much, because I can tinker away endlessly with no consequence. But life
is slippery, control is often phantasmic, or when tangible, only lasts a moment. I had watched
Maren Ade’s ‘The Forest For The Trees’ which has the most incredible final scene. The
protagonist crawls out of the driver seat of a moving car into the backseat, sticking her head out
the window in glorious resignation. Of course the car keeps moving in pure dream-like ecstasy.
It’s a perfect scene, so I wanted to write a song that made me feel how I felt watching that.
I wanted the chords and melody of this one to work like a Ruth Garbus song, and the
instrumentation and performance to feel like a Robert Stillman song. (thanks to Owen Ashworth
of Orindal Records for providing a home for so many of the artists I’m most inspired by). All the
sounds on this one are made by me, save for Frank Meadows’ beautifully bowed upright bass.
The lyrics are indebted to the ‘Northern Lights’ episode of Northern Exposure from season four.
In the height of the Alaskan winter’s darkness, the town DJ Chris Stevens has gone around
stealing household light sources from folks. Neon bar signs, desk lamps, etc. At the end of the
episode, it’s revealed that it was for a massive art installation on Main St, a huge wall of light. He
waxes poetic about why like moths we crave light in darkness, so I cribbed this idea for a song.
My contribution to the “sad in the summer” genre. Title and concept inspired by the poem of
the same name by Mary Rueffle. Heeyoon Won (Boosegumps) sings an octave above me and it’s
so unnerving. Pete Gill plays pedal steel, an instrument that embodies both the spirit and
sadness of summer. This is one of the coolest chord progressions I’ve ever written, thanks to the
weird open tuning I used on a few of the songs on this record. The tuning is EG#EF#BE.
Degradation, Last Hurrah, and Buggin’ can also be played in this tuning.
When You Pass Through
This was the last song added to the record. It wasn’t one of the original 13 demos I wrote. I
wrote the music and words all at once, a rare feat for me, shortly after a visit from my dear friend
Aidan. He had just driven back to eastern Pennsylvania from Belize. He is the sort of person you
say goodbye to not knowing when you’ll see each other next but that feels totally okay and right.
This is definitely one of the country songs on the record, featuring a barn burning solo by my
partner at Dear Life Records Jon Samuels (JR Samuels, 2nd Grade, Friendship, Yowler).
I’ll Stay On The Line
The last of the country songs on the record. Also the album’s only power pop song. It’s written
from the reverse perspective. My wife is the one who had never seen me cry before but heard me
crying on the phone after I lost a job I really loved due to scheduling conflicts. She helped
organize a union effort where she worked, so I included stuff about shitty bosses because so
often our personal happiness seems at odds with someone else’s bottom line. This track is
particularly special to me because I convinced her to sing harmonies. She has the most beautiful
voice I know but is not very public about it. Maybe how secretive she can be makes it more
beautiful. She has a very natural ear, often singing along to music I’m still actively writing to
herself. She sounds so pro on this recording. I hope it’s not the last time she humors me in this
Ps. Dan Wriggins from Friendship rips the accordion solo
The bookend to Degradation. Another song about late night insomnia-brain and efforts to calm
it. I thought it was funny that it had this really epic chorus about taking a piss in the middle of
the night. The choruses reminded me of “Soak Up The Sun” by Sheryl Crow, which made it even
funnier to me. I love thinking about dream logic, and I think this song is the residue of a dream
remembered upon waking. It feels like a hopeful way to conclude a record that admits that fear
and anxiety will never entirely disappear.
A Music Journal ~ Issue 8
Our Curious Printed Magazine