By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Milwaukee musician Micah Olsan has been gaining acclaim for his innovative guitar playing.
He is the leader of his namesake band, Micah, which has released the new album, "Highs, Lows, Peaks, Rivers, Valleys." Micah will perform Nov. 17 at the Tonic Room, 2447 N. Halstad Ave., Chicago. Also on the bill are Jim and the Povolos and Jay Stolar.
The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $6, available at www.ticketfly.com.
I had the chance to talk to Olsan, www.micaholsan.com, about the new album.
Q - In sitting down to make the new album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Were you trying to build on what you created with your previous album?
The main goal as we were recording was to capture the sound that the three of us had been working on for the previous year. I was hoping to build on what I've learned from my last two records and really focus on making a solid, flowing album.
I have a lot of diverse musical influences, so trying to make them all work together as a cohesive album was a goal.
Instead of going to a studio, we hired Mike Hoffmann (Semi Twang, The Delta Routine, EIEIO) to produce/engineer the album. We did the bulk of the tracking over a weekend in a big factory in Barrington,
It was a great experience! We wanted as “live” a sound as we could get and really focus on the interaction of the band members.
The idea really worked and we left with some 200 minutes of takes to pick through. After that we were able to focus on vocal harmonies and make meaningful overdubs (bowed bass, keys, and new guitar sounds).
From a musical standpoint, I feel like we did exactly what we set out to do. From a business standpoint, we'll have to see what happens after the release, but so far it's helped us land some big help.
We've been working with a publicist and are just wrapping up a college radio campaign with Tinderbox. We are also working with Tinderbox on TV and movie licensing.
Q. In 2010, you were nominated for best local guitarist in the Shepherd Express reader poll. What is your musical approach and what do you think separates you from other guitarists?
A. I'm a big fan of writing an interesting sounding (to me at least) chord progression and finding the melodies within it. I'll often record a chord progression with my loop station and then try coming up with melodies on the guitar and then put words to those melodies.
I find that it helps me discover less obvious melodies and avoid singing the same way every time. I've always been a fan of the way David Byrne and Paul Simon play the guitar.
It's not that their styles are so similar, but more what they are playing is [suited to] the song. It's about being part of something bigger than themselves.
It's not flashy and excessive, but always just right. The guitar is there to serve the song. That's what I shoot for at least.
Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and how would you say they figure into your music? What made you want to become a musician in the first place?
As far as well-known artists that have influenced me, I'd say Ben Harper, Elliot Smith, Paul Simon, David Byrne, Radiohead, Cake, Michael Hedges, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Andrew Bird. However, I've had some great teachers like Bob Westfall and Steve Peplin who have left a huge mark on the way I play and even think about music.
They have had more of an impact towards me being a musician than many of the artists that inspired me to look into further musical study. I was living in Madison studying guitar with jazz/bluegrass virtuoso Bob Westfall when I really decided that this was for me.
While many of my friends were studying at UWM, I was practicing guitar and songwriting in my free time and delivering pizza at night.
Q - How do you think your music fits into the Milwaukee music scene? How does the Milwaukee music scene compare to the Chicago music scene? Are you looking for the band to expand its fan base?
I'm not quite sure how our music fits into the Milwaukee scene. It's no secret that Milwaukee loves its cover bands, but it seems that more and more original bands are starting to get noticed.
We've recently been asked to be on IndieMKE 2, which is a compilation album put out by Milwaukee radio station WUWM featuring bigger names like Phox and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades.
We've also been nominated for band of the year (along with 30 other bands) in the Radio Milwaukee 2013 music awards. I'm pretty new to the Chicago scene, but the responses that I've received from Chicago-based radio stations, blogs, and management companies have been very positive so far.
On Sunday, Nov 17, we are playing at the Tonic Room with Jay Stolar. I am hopeful that Chicago will be a good market for us and help expand our fan base.
Q - The music business continues to change. How have you used technology and social media to get your music out there?
We try to use technology and social media to get our music out there the same as every other band. I personally use Facebook, Twitter, and ReverbNation the most.
My main concern is that there is so much white noise out there. Everyone and their cousin has a band these days, and it can get exhausting trying to keep up.
Recently, I've been focusing on getting my website, www.micaholsan.com, to be as user-friendly and informative as possible, but still look really cool. Your own website is the best chance you have to stand apart from everyone else.
Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Short-term goals are to land some licensing deals, find a booking agency to work with, and to get the new album in as many people's ears as possible.
Our long-term goal is to make a decent living off of the music we make. Superstardom isn't something we hope for, but we'd like to tour the country and/or world playing music to people that want to hear it.