It’s often said that one must look back to go forward. Mike McClure has peered into his past, made changes to better himself, and is offering a first glimpse into his new perspective on life with his upcoming album Looking Up, and already, fans are proving they want to hear about it.
As July was coming to a close, McClure began a Kickstarter campaign for the release of Looking Up, and in the time since, the project was not only funded, but surpassed its goal by nearly $10,000.
With Looking Up, McClure delves into the changes he’s made in his life since his last record. He’s sober, found love and self compassion. In a world McClure so rightly says is light on love at the moment, Looking Up couldn’t come at a more perfect time.
Prior to the album’s release on September 25, we chatted with McClure about what funding Looking Up meant to him, taking a more “hands on” production approach, what he hopes listeners take away from the album and more!
Pro Country: You’ve run a Kickstarter campaign for the release of Looking Up, and have surpassed your goal by nearly $10,000 with over a month left in the campaign. What did it mean to you to be able to tangibly see the support you had going into this record in that way?
Mike McClure: It was incredible. I was nervous about it to be honest. There is that fear of failure that all too often plagues everyone from trying. And you are right, you can truly see who supports you out there in a tangible way. Not just someone hitting the like button on your post, but actually paying for your music and supporting you as an artist. I am lucky in the fact that I have been playing original music since 1992 and have a lot of listeners that have stuck with me. I can’t thank them enough. It gives me hope and the confidence to keep putting my work out there.
PC: You worked closely with producer Joe Hardy for 10 years prior to his passing last year, which has shifted you into a more “hands on” approach to the sonic feel of the record. What was it like for you to take a deeper dive into that aspect of your music again?
MM: Joe was the man. Brilliant, funny, amazingly talented and treated me like gold. He taught me how to engineer a record and run a studio. He pushed me constantly. He was a MENSA guy and held my feet to the fire with biting humor. I wanted to get better to try and keep up with him. Plus he was a guy who produced and mixed some of my favorite records, like Steve Earle and ZZ Top.
I got into a bit of a lazy habit of leaning on Joe too much though. My favorite part of the process is writing the song and then getting it down. Then my mind is ready to move on. He was the “Jewel Thief” to my “Smash and Grab” mentality. So I would write songs, do my guitar parts and send them down to Joe. He would add bass, drums, keys, harmonies, you name it. I would put out several albums in a row because it was easy to do. When Joe passed away a couple years back, he left a huge void. Luckily, as life can be, my girlfriend/partner, Chrislyn, came along and changed my life for the better. She brought in some organizing, some deep thinking, analysis, and healing. She really helped me get my shit together. In life, and in music. I was all over the map before she came along. She sat down with me and we mapped this new record out together. There is a cohesiveness to this record, and she helped me find that. Then I got lucky enough to come across Steve Christensen’s work out of Houston and was blown away. Joe had mixed everything I worked on since 2005. I couldn’t be happier with Steve’s mix and the sound we got on Looking Up.
PC: Looking Up’s lead track, “I Am Not Broken” looks into flaws and trials, all the while, maintaining a sense of resiliency and hope. Given the themes that Looking Up delves into, how important was it for you to start the album with that song?
MM: This song is my tribute to the friends I’ve lost. Tom Skinner played bass for me for ten years and was songwriting mentor to me. He taught me how to be a “songwriter.” He was a musical rock for me. He passed, then Joe and Steve Ripley in 2019; all of these great minds and music masters helped form me. This song is for them, and for myself. Even though I am beat up, I am not broken. So it HAD to be the opening track. And those horns make me want to Van Morrison leg-kick. I think it sets the tone for the album.
PC: Track two on Looking Up, “Distractions” was previously recorded and released on your album Fifty Billion nearly a decade ago. What drew you to revisit the song, record it acoustically, and add the line “You are not your past” to the new version?
MM: We were out in Taos, NM for a bit last year. At that time, I was putting together a list of all the songs I thought should be played during my acoustic shows. I pulled out several from albums in the past that I loved and felt might have been overlooked. “Distractions” was one that I was playing live about the time Covid hit. Then it began to make even more sense to me as I stayed put in one spot for longer during the lock-down, just how distracted I was in my life. I started playing that one quite a bit for Facebook live shows. After looking at what was happening in the world around us, and inside of me, we decided to change a couple lines. It used to say, ”You can’t help but moan, and I can’t help but laugh,” which was about my response to being faced with new challenges. Chrislyn and I talked about those lines, and how that moment in the song felt like a chance to talk to people directly about all that was happening in the world (and inside people, as they looked at their own response to Black Lives Matter, and the pandemic ), so we changed some things. We changed it to, “You are not alone, and you are not your past,” because that’s what I’ve been learning along the way lately. I am not those things that I thought I once was. I can deal with things that hurt myself or others and let them go and become what/who I want to be.
PC: You released the first single from Looking Up, “Orion,” in July. What went in to the decision to release that as the lead track and have it serve as the introduction to the album?
MM: There’s a haunting quality to that song. For a long time, every time I walked outside and looked up, Orion was staring back at me. It gave me a sense of deja-vu, guidance and wonder. There is something about the tune that captures that feeling, lyrically and musically. When we sat and talked with our PR person, Sarah Frost, we all agreed that “Orion” was the song that gave a great insight into what the record was all about. All of that, and sonically, it just sounds cool, and the record title comes from a line in that song.
PC: In an interview with American Songwriter, you mention that “Holiday Blown,” the second track you’ve released from Looking Up, discusses the effects alcoholism has had on your family, and the effects alcohol was having on you as well. Now that you are sober, has the meaning of the song changed at all for you?
MM: I think I’m coming to find some compassion for the old self I used to be. I made a lot of mistakes and carried some shame around from them. But, and it’s a big but, I never did anything to rectify the situation. Like when someone says I’m sorry for a behavior and then keeps repeating that behavior, their apology is not worth anything. Since I have changed my behavior, I’m finding some peace. I can set that guilt down for a bit. It’s okay this time, because I’ve done something about it and I’ve earned the respite.
PC: Do you have a favorite song on Looking Up? If so, why is it so special to you?
MM: “Little Bit of Love.” It’s the first song Chrislyn and I wrote together, and it’s all about the amazing adventure we’ve been on for the last couple of years. Finding love, letting go of the things that should be let go of in order to make room for new things that you need and want. It’s about love as a path out of the dead wood.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Looking Up after listening all the way through?
MM: It’s a ringing bell for the side of love, and I hope people get the chance to hear it, and they are filled with some hope. The world is a little short on that at the moment. I feel like this record lets people know they are not alone and brighter days can be found.
PC: 2020 has been a strange year for all, and has altered most of the plans of artists so far. Of the things you can control, along with the release of Looking Up, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
MM: Good question. Going forward slowly and carefully. We had been doing regular house concerts and our house/studio (Boohatch Studio and Art Farm) until the shutdown. We are looking at doing some outside in the yard, where people can distance. Small crowds, with a ticketed live stream option. I think that is doable, and I am ready to play again for people and not a computer. It’s just so hard to know who is going to enforce and respect social distancing at a show. I’ve seen some do it responsibly and others who go at like there’s no pandemic. Private gigs (not at a bar) are a possibility too. I’ve been doing online songwriting sessions the past few months. I’m loving doing those and want to focus on doing more. I guess my plans for touring all depend how things pan out through the winter, but we hope to play these songs sometime soon for people out there, in person, acoustic and also with a full band.
*Mike’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
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