We’re often told to follow our dreams, but many people give up or find them unattainable. Fritz Michel is someone who took this sentiment to heart, and made a living pursuing the dream that feels right to him.
Michel originally followed his passion to act in movies, TV shows and on Broadway. He landed roles in movies such as Angels & Demons, Great Expectations, and the hit show ER. However, feeling he had something else he wanted to share with the world, he chased after another dream: making music.
With no formal music training, he got his musical start by playing in bands where he learned to play guitar and bass. However, this soon got put on pause due to the pandemic. With isolation on the horizon, Michel used this break from society as a way to start focusing on his songwriting.
His upcoming debut EP, On The Rocks, showcases his pure pop sound, taking listeners on a sonic journey that displays his bilingual upbringing, as he was born in France and raised by American parents. Of note on the EP is Michel’s reinterpreted version of The Tremeloes past hit, “Suddenly You Love Me” in both English and French, titled “Siffler Sue La Colline.”
We had the opportunity to talk with Michel about the new album, being an artist in NYC during the pandemic, and more.
When writing a song, do you typically start with the lyrics, melody, or a combination of both? Can you walk us through your process?
I start my songs on the acoustic guitar as I explore phrases, images, and human vignettes that resonate. Either finding melody in storytelling or vice-versa. The beauty of songwriting is finding those shifts from minor to major or discovering a harmony that helps uncover hidden poetry in everyday life. I find you have to be very patient in that search. Like exercise, songwriting requires discipline and commitment to see through because finding flow can be so elusive.
What artists do you admire and draw inspiration from?
I listen to everything: from jazz greats like Stanley Turrentine, roots musicians like Mark Knopfler, singer/songwriters like Albert Hammond, Joni Mitchell, or Leonard Cohen, to New Wave and modern pop music like Fastball. As a huge fan of music, I know what it’s like to discover songs that connect and move me. I’m trying to write songs that I’d want to hear and that listeners might relate too that way. There’s indie acoustic rock n’ roll in there. but maybe more roll than rock.
What has been a pivotal moment in your career or your personal life that has led you to where you are today?
Trying to make sense of the dislocation and isolation that gripped NYC in the early days of the pandemic was a singular moment. The song “King of Corona” touches on my origin story as a singer/songwriter and my experience back in April 2020 as New York locked down and the pandemic exploded.
Life changed on a dime, and NYC was hit in a particularly bad way. For me, music showed me a path forward. That hallucinatory quality of walking along alone in the park, sweating it out, knowing life was changing also inspired me to tackle the nuts and bolts of creating my own music. We all have a need for bliss, myth, and storytelling in this life, and, I think, that’s the magic of music. That’s what I’ve heard in song and I try to write tunes that I might like to hear.
So you’ve got your new EP, On The Rocks, that dropped today. What can you tell us about the inspiration and influence behind it?
That batch of songs that makes up On the Rocks tells stories about navigating daily life, small details, big obstacles, family, love, and survival.
“King of Corona” is about dislocation, mysterious and transformative. “We Are What We Are” explores our human connections and the search for a mystical experience. Some of those lyrics draw from my experiences as a theater actor. I’ve learned so much from other artists I’ve encountered along the way. “On the Rocks” is about memory, regret, and gaps brought about by distance. “Suddenly You Love Me” and “Siffler sur la Colline” are both about relationships and how they can be confusing, paradoxical, embarrassing, and sometime just bizarre!
Was there a song that was the most difficult to write or record for one reason or another?
Strangely enough, “On the Rocks” began as some sort of Moby Dick-type opus inspired by an illustration in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book “Kidnapped” but as I kept at it, a simpler story emerged. And, that song is really about sticking it out despite the stormy weather.
Who helped this album come to life and where was it produced?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two amazing producers Jason Cummings and Tosh Sheridan and they both recorded, produced, and played on all my songs. Tosh and Jason have both taught me a ton about instrumentation, finding variation in a composition, and layering in vocal tracks. We are all based in New York City, and we recorded at The Cutting Room in Noho and One Soul Studio in Sunnyside, Queens.
What do you hope listeners/fans take away from the album?
I’m hoping that listeners and viewers trip over something that they don’t forget on my EP! Honestly, it’s scary to put yourself out there “on the rocks.” I’m testing my own limits and connecting with listeners keeps me searching for the sweet spot.
On the album you perform “Suddenly You Love Me” both in English and French. Can you talk about the reason for this creative decision, and why you did this for this song in particular?
“Suddenly You Love Me” I first discovered as Joe Dassin’s French hit, “Siffler sur la Colline,” which was on repeat on my parents’ car stereo during my childhood in France. I thought singing in French would be both an interesting and instructive creative challenge since being bilingual defines much of my experience. Lyrically the two songs tell differently stories yet the “Zai, Zai, Zai, Zai” chorus remains. I wanted to keep that mod, dancehall vibe but also give the folk song rhythm a borderline punk energy. Because that’s the nature of so many close relationships in my experience – bananas and all over the place!
When you think about the next steps in your music career, what do you envision?
I’m looking forward to performing live. You learn so much about songs as they come to life in without the safety net of the studio. The rehearsal process and then going live is always where it’s been at for me whether on film, on stage, or playing music. Having spent many years in the theater, I’m also working on a musical about architects.
What advice might you have to young songwriters or artists looking to pursue a creative career similar to yours?