I'm SO looking forward to showcasing at SXSW this year along with all of my other fabulous GroundUp Music label-mates. Be sure to come hear us on March 19 at Cedar Street Courtyard. First set (me;) at 7:30pm.
Here it is! We're finally going to hit the road and share this record with you. NYC, Montreal, Wakefield, Toronto and Guelph - we're comin' for ya! Love, M
Brand spankin' new poster by Yesim Tosuner (Backyard Design). Photo by Jen Squires (jensquiresphotographer.com) and Make Up by Gina Marie MUA (ginamariemua.com)
These days I’m all about contributing to the ever growing list of new years resolutions. Pages of my journals, notepads, agenda, shopping lists, they are all getting covered in ideas. Things I want for myself, to be better at, more conscious of, committed to, to let go of, people to be there for, landmarks to work towards for my career, work I have to finish or kick-start. Some of it sounds like terribly guilt inducing stuff but I don't look at it that way.
Writing it all down (eventually, scrawled into one neat place) provides the amazing moment in 4-6 months when I find that paper amidst a pile of others and realize, yes, I did some. I can check this and this, and I am proud. Yes, of course, there are always things I don’t get to (an Art Tatum transcription continues to be in this category..). But I’m learning that like so many aspects of life, from love to work to happiness, stuff that works just works, and the work to get there may be hard but it always makes sense why. I don’t have to convince myself why I want or love the thing. I just do, and so I do the thing. Everything else is either not what I really wanted, less important, or something was holding me back. I do like seeing this, too - what I let fall to the waysides, what I see myself avoiding. It’s both crucial to my growth and easy to ignore.
Do I sound awfully boring, self absorbed and analytical? Welcome to my particular corner of hell (and joy) !
Finishing See Us Through was obviously the biggest thing on my list this year. In fact, it was pretty much the only thing I was fixed on getting done, alongside some vocal study, knowing that like nearly every record it would probably go over schedule and demand thousands more things than initially projected. My plan was to buckle down, keep playing with the people and bands I was working with, keep teaching, and concentrate all my efforts on finishing the album.
Well that certainly didn’t happen. Well, it did, and then some.
We started recording See Us Through right off the bat, January 5th in fact. I was subletting a house in the East end of Toronto, sleeping on a squeaky blow up mattress in an office (don’t ask), and worrying every day that I wasn’t up to snuff in handling the work required to band lead, perform, arrange, produce, and keep people happy. To calm down at the end of most days, I watched The Mindy Project and drank scotch with my friend, Bri. Hugh Marsh was also on speed dial, ready to hear me out and talk his ear off. In the midst of that I was introduced to Peter Katz, a Toronto singer-songwriter looking for a keyboard player to fill in. We had a rehearsal. It was nice like any other. Was I free to tour in the spring? Ok!
Come February, the bed tracks for SUT were done, and I was wondering if the band and I needed to do the entire thing all over again. It wasn't coming together. I wasn't hearing the sounds I wanted. It seemed impossible to land. Whilst squeaking asleep, I received a text at 4:30am from Michael League of Snarky Puppy.
“Hey! Are you busy the week of February 8 – 15?”
“Hey, yeah, what’s up?”
“Wanted to know if you wanted to come down to New Orleans and play pump organ and sing a duet with Laura Mvula on the next Snarky Puppy Family Dinner record”
“WHAT?! Um. Let me see what I can do…”
Good lord. Recording on Family Dinner Vol. II was incredible. It was a surreal experience to hang out with and listen to musical heroes day in and day out for a week. I cannot wait to see the film screening (Jan 30th in Toronto at The Revue Cinema!) Best part though? Zero ego. Everyone there was about making great music, mutual respect, and having fun.
Fast forward a couple months and all of a sudden I was touring with Peter Katz across Holland, Germany, England, Switzerland, then back home through Canada in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec for nearly 3 months! I made a beautiful friend (many in fact - all of his band members both in Europe and Canada have become such special people in my life), and learned every day how to act with grace, humility, strength and humour amidst the pressures of touring from Pete. He is the bomb. Life win.
It was a heavy personal year. Dear friends were married, new souls were born, and precious, deeply loved souls were lost.
The summer flew by with more recording for the album. Bill Bell came on board for countless hours to help produce a session at Revolution Recording as well as oversee plenty of vocal takes by yours truly. The recording process (despite the generous input and listening ears of friends), constantly reminded me that I am on my own in this, the decisions are mine to make, and I can’t be afraid of them, or shirk away from the plant-yourself-and-think work, cause it's necessary all the time. I have to trust my gut and not run away (I wanted to. A LOT.) It was terrifying and anxiety-ridden and lonely, but then I got over myself and just did it.
(Ok ok we're halfway through here. You can skip to the end if you like, but I think this part of the year was nice. OK?)
By July, the whole record was mixed. I was finally feeling confident about the sound. Jeff Wolpert did a masterful job mixing. I was getting teary listening back. The voices (the choirs!) sounded so bloody good and full of life. I was standing on slightly more solid ground.
I was taking a 10 day course on voice / vocal health in the middle of Winchester, Virginia (Yup - actually, it was fantastic), when I received an email response from Michael. I had sent him the final mixes from my album. He said he loved it, and would I consider releasing it on the Snarky Puppy label, GroundUp Music, in conjunction with Universal Music Classics, and would I also like to open for Snarky Puppy for two weeks as part of their world tour?
My soul exploded. I did a happy dance in the bathroom. Then I went straight to a lecture on “Voice Science with laryngologist Adam Rubin”...
Well, the rest you may know. It feels like I just got back. I got a call to sing back up with the Zach Brown Band, and met their incredible band and singers. I spent two weeks on the road with Peter, touring the Maritimes in Canada (filled with the world’s kindest, heartiest, interesting people), and then off I went with Snarky Puppy across Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and France, performing for up to 1200 people a night. Holy crap. It was AMAZING.
Maybe it’s the product of being alone so often with work (yes, aside from touring, when you are never ever alone), but this year, I was reminded again and again and again how necessary it is to cherish the people in my life who are gracious enough to know me amidst all of these moments. People close and far, new and old, with seemingly big or small influence or physical presence in my life.
I was in, I was out, totally absorbed in my own world, and there they were. They showed up in phone calls, emails and texts to say hi, offer words of encouragement, or simply to say they’re excited about the record. Others came in bigger, deeper waves, and challenged, accepted and loved me with whatever I was going through. And with almost everyone, we laughed over things not polite enough to type out in public places such as this.
Every day, I am floored to realize it is less the biographies, goals and accomplishments of heroes I've read about and more the people in my immediate vision that inspire me with their integrity, their principles, their wild dreaming, their work and ethic, their bravery, generosity, their unique view and desires.
So (how and when will she ever wrap this up, you’re thinking – fear not, weary reader!), what I wanted to write is this very unprofound, been said a million times, thing. As far as goals go - my vote is to make 'em, and make 'em big, small, weird, whatever. You know what you want, even when you feel terrified and lost. It's just a matter of finding a realistic way towards it, and surrounding yourself with people who want the same, and who allow you to arrive at your own decisions. Or not. Maybe you don't have those people. I didn't always. But I've found, the closer I push myself to get to the heart of my goals, the clearer my relationships become. Slowly but surely, you find your people and you're both the better for it. Plenty won't work out. The world will show up as it does and bring countless other good and terrible experiences you couldn’t have dreamed of. My hope for myself is to cherish deeply the people who carry me through these plans, every day. I know I can be an ass, and you have been kind.
I cannot wait to share See Us Through with you !!!! Holy. Mother. It will be released April 15, 2016 on GroundUp Music and Universal Music Classics. I cannot wait to see what else is in store, and to see what comes of my plans made for 2016. I wish you big dreams, brave love, and people who inspire you and make you laugh. I hope that you can be that person for someone else, too.
All my love and gratitude,
It has been a hell of a year. This December 31st I celebrated and toasted all of the incredible people I've had the chance to travel with, belly laugh, share stories, play music with and talked (for hours) with about all the growing up we've still got to do. ;) I'm so grateful to have had the opportunities that have come, and to have made such great friends along the way. I feel extraordinarily lucky. This year had tremendous highs and lows. There was immense joy and also sadness for the precious souls we lost. In everything I come through once again feeling the weight of love, presence, laughter and strength found in the people surrounding me. How that bond and presence is a vital part to my feeling capable, feeling human, worthy of love and worthy of dreams. So many people managed to pull me up, remind me of my character when I needed it most, and know the powerful value of poutine and a beer (very high value;). Thank you all for being a big huge part of my life. I hope I can give back to you all the joy and grace you give me every day. I will close by offering you the major New Years resolution I have, provided by my talented artist friend Anna Eidt (@lousongmade). This tea saucer hangs in my kitchen and will be the mantra through which I’ll decide all things for the year (I will fail sometimes).
I just arrived home after touring throughout Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France opening for my great friends in the Grammy Award-winning jazz / funk collective, Snarky Puppy. What an incredible time! I've posted plenty of photos, stories and live videos from our shows on my Facebook Page. Here are few good'uns...
Here we are. A shot of the band before our last set in Paris at La Cigale. That's Michael League, Jason Thomas, myself, Bob Lanzetti, and Michael Maher just seconds before we had to run onstage. It was pure goodness, a pleasure and honour hearing them sing and play these songs every night for the last two weeks. I'm still on a high. Now they're off to Turkey! And me? I'm hanging with my sis in Florence for some serious downtime. Annnnnnd the pope is visiting today.....ciao bellissimi! Xx
#snarkypuppytour #michellewillistour #seeusthrough #groundUPmusic #tourlog #postcardsfromtheroad #paris #lacigale #buds #dapope
TOURLOG. Postcard No. 12. The sun is setting in one of my favourite cities on the planet. Let the dreaming, walking and people watching commence. I'm pulling out my ridiculously blinging gold patch cable for the last time on this tour. My family surprised me and showed up in Paris for our show tonight at La Cigale. Dear, dear friends are here. So much HUGE love is being felt from all corners of the globe. Sending it all back out across the airwaves. Thank you all so much. Xx ❤️ #snarkypuppytour #michellewillistour #seeusthrough #groundUPmusic #tourlog #postcardsfromtheroad #paris #france #greenRoomcheeseisKILLING
TOURLOG. Postcard No. 11. Well, it was a pretty wonderful birthday. Between getting texts, calls, roses, and love from friends the world over, I got to wander through the delights of Oslo, Norway, drinking snobby coffee, dining on fresh fish and chips, and playing two full shows with the pups. We capped the night off at a bar with multiple stouts and Pacman at every table. (!!) Feeling the love, big time. Crazy lucky, happy, and loving this light breaking thru in Norway. Thank you all so much. Two more shows tonight, then off we go to Paris. Xo
#snarkypuppytour #michellewillistour #seeusthrough #groundUPmusic #tourlog #postcardsfromtheroad #oslo #norway
TOURLOG. Postcard No. 10. A few of us after our show at the stunning Stockholm Concert House. It was such an honour to play in that historic room. I love these dudes with all my heart (and all the rest of our crew who didn't happen to be in the room). Xo #snarkypuppytour #michellewillistour #seeusthrough #groundUPmusic #tourlog #postcardsfromtheroad #stockholm #stockholmconcerthouse #buds
TOURLOG. Postcard No. 9. This Steinway piano is in our green room at the Stockholm Concert House. Such a beautiful hall, home to prestigious orchestras, singers, and even Nobel Prize winners. I am over-the-moon thrilled to be singing my tunes tonight with the guys. This calls for the fancy dress...
#snarkypuppytour #michellewillistour #seeusthrough #groundUPmusic #tourlog #postcardsfromtheroad #stockholm #stockholmconcerthouse
Singer, Songwriter, piano player, harmony lover