Luke Michielsen loves to read historic plaques. The inspiration for his latest single “Berlin, ON” comes from a monument in Victoria Park.
“I do understand that it is a certain history being told,” says the Kitchener-based singer/songwriter.
“I love thinking about that kind of stuff — what would life had been like here 100 years ago ... 200 years ago,” he muses. “The house that I live in was built in 1900.”
Some people still recall those days and the anger on both sides history.
“I even had an Irish man come up to me after one of my shows,” says Michielsen. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, I grew up on the same street where the Lord Kitchener birth home is and we are all so embarrassed by him,’” he adds.
“Berlin, ON” is a powerful song and Michielsen has plans to include a remix of the single on his next album.
Michielsen is an English major known for his intriguing turns of phrase. The song “January Snow” from his recent album “Oh Surround Me” is based on Micheal Ondaatje’s book “In the Skin of a Lion.”
“That was a book that really appealed to me. It was one of the only books that I can truly say, when I read the first sentence, I felt I had to read the whole book. I devoured it, ” he says.
“Basically ‘January Snow’ is a compilation of the imagery that I remember from that book. I felt Ondaatje painted so many simple yet magical settings,” says Michielsen.
Many people have asked him about his reference to “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” in “January Snow” thinking it’s a salute to the Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair.”
“Ah, it’s not that I don’t like or appreciate Simon and Garfunkel but I was not hugely into them,” admits Michielsen. “Scarborough Fair” was in the lesson book that I learned guitar from. It was “Guitar Method One,” he explains. “That is likely how it got into my subconscious,” he adds with a laugh.
Michielsen is originally from Keswick, and has been in the Kitchener for five years. He came to study for teacher’s college at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“My parents grew up in Parkhill north of London so I have family in London and I also have family in Toronto. I am in the middle of an extended family,” notes Michielsen, adding his parents listened to The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper,” The Beach Boys, and Michael Jackson.
“I always remember clearly (Neil Young’s) “Harvest Moon” on the mix tape,” he recalls. “It just took me to that other world — that place where it is mysterious and magical but also so simple.”
Mysterious, magical and simple are keywords in Michielsen’s life and they flow through his music. His indie folk sound takes some vocal cues from Neil Young and R. E. M with the clever lyrical bent of Stephen Stanley, Donovan Wood, Kevin Divine, and Joshua Hyslop.
Michielsen’s music catalogue includes “Rival Cities” (2007), “Burn to the Ground” (2008), “Meddle in Natural Order” (2011), “Live in Newmarket” (2012) and “Oh Surround Me” (2014).
“Oh Surround Me” was funded by the Ontario Arts Council and produced with longtime collaborator Mike Langford (Moist) who also worked on other Michielsen albums over the years.
Michielsen has a core group of people on “Oh Surround Me” including Owen Cherry on drums and Milosz Sikora, from Knock Knock Ginger, and Catlantis, plus
Jeff Woods of Hinindar, who also ran The Trepid House.
Michielsen spent three months working with these musicians, and then added jazz guitarist Thom Gill to the mix.
“I saw Thom years ago at Guelph when he was part of the Fountain Street Blues Project,” recalls Michielsen. “So I started following him. He played with Owen Pallett (Broken Social Scene) and he plays with John Southwood,” he adds.
Other musicians include D’eve Archer from Guelph on backup vocals, Martin Eckart on saxophone, and symphony cellist Samuel Bisson.
“The numbers really jumped when I brought in a group of my 10 friends,” says Michielsen.
“Hypothermia” is a sweeping fire-andice love revelation. Other full chorus tracks include “Every Time I Come Home,” and “Pine Needles. ”
Michielsen also plans to release an acoustic version of “Pine Needles” as a digital single which will available on the usual streaming services.
“Pine Needles,” “Well Maintained,” and “To Change is to Fall” feature spare meandering guitar riffs similar to the “heartland” indie rock sound of Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs.
Michielsen plans to record his next album in early 2019 with the release in early 2020.
“In the past, I have always released the album in October and then all of sudden three months later it is a year old; for example, “Oh Surround Me” came out in November 2014. Wouldn’t be nice if that album would have come out in 2015? It would seem more recent!”