Anyone who has seen Tears For Fears in the past 2 years knows who Michael Wainwright is. Make no mistake the band’s back-up vocalist holds his own as a solo artist as well. With the recent release of his second album “The Circus is Coming to Town” Michael takes us on an emotional person journey. He winds up his show by shockingly applying clown make-up reminding us that we may try and hide behind a mask, but the truth is always there. I was fortunate to have Michael answer a few of my questions.
Nancy Kent: Congratulations on the release of your new album “The Circus is Coming to Town.” You Tweeted that a solo tour was in the works. What can you tell us about your plans for a tour and album promotion?
Michael Wainwright: Thanks! Well I hope in the near future to head down the eastern board to play a lot of the cities I played while on the Tears For Fears tour, NY, Boston, and through Florida. It’ll just be me and my guitar playing at smaller venues for anyone that would have me. I want to play as much as possible so if anyone knows a place I could play, let me know!!
NK: The artwork for the new album is quite dramatic. How much input did you have in the design?
MW: When it came down to designing the album cover we wanted it to be unique and definitely circusy. I never thought of myself as a clown; who ever does? Until I saw Canadian designer’s Cassie Randall painting of a really old dreary sad clown. I saw myself in there. So I asked her “what if we used your painting and superimposed my picture?” and from that came the album cover mixed in with her genius of use of type and making it look like a Russian circus. It all just seemed to line up perfectly with the way we felt about the record.
NK: There are some notable collaborations on this album including Holly Palmer, Reggie Hamilton and Roland Orzabal. Who else would you like to work with?
MW: I’ve been so lucky to be able to work with so many great and talented people. I’ve always pictured doing a song with Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello. An obvious dream would be to work with Paul McCartney, he’s the God of all Gods.
NK: The thing that is most striking on “The Circus is Coming to Town” is how relatable the songs are. At one time or another we’ve all seen a special someone across a crowded room, we’ve all longed for love and felt the heartbreak that often accompanies it, we’ve all had moments of insecurity and self doubt. The emotions you express are raw and honest. This must be incredibly therapeutic for you to write. What is your writing process like?
MW: Usually when I write I’m in a dark depression and I hate myself because I’m unable to write. Once I get over that feeling of “trying” I begin to let it happen to me. I either record it on my phone or I race home and record on my computer. Songs become little time capsules of your life, when I sing them I go back to that moment when I wrote it, Bizarre.
NK: You were born in England, but moved to Canada at a young age. Has either place influenced your musical style more than the other?
MW: They both influence me equally. When I moved to Canada I was 7 but I had gone to school in England and my family was English and I felt like I didn’t belong in Canada. Learning the cultural ways of Canada at such a young age was hard: new friends, new way of doing things, new styles. At first I rebelled against Canadian culture and music and all I would listen to was The Beatles. My older brother would try to force me to listen to Rush. I didn’t get it. I was a huge Beatle nut. Nothing else mattered to me. As I got older I started accepting and listening to more things. I love Neil Young! Oh, I should add him to my list of people I’d love to work with!
NK: Your first album “Wainwright” was released in 2009. Two years later how do you view yourself as a singer and songwriter? Was this album easier or more difficult to make?
MW: When I met Charlton I had given him 30 demos and from those we picked the best songs to record. During that process we wrote a bunch more together so we ended up with quite an eclectic mix of songs. This album was different because we knew what we wanted going in. More edgy and in your face but most of all more focused. We played everything live in the studio, no overdubs, no computer tricks. Just the old school way of doing it. I’m more confident now as a writer and a singer. This record helped me realize that.
NK: Last year MTV changed its format, VH-1 airs more reality shows than music and sites like You Tube feature fan covers, homemade videos and concerts shot off cell phones. Do you think music videos are as relevant for up & coming artists as they used to be?
MW: The days of bands and record labels spending million dollars on extravagant music videos are done. Driving in a convertible through the dessert singing your song isn’t going to cut it these days.. it costs a lot of money to be cheesy. What people want to see is real-ness. off the cuff, flash mob, or the unique 1 camera “how did you think of that” video. It’s about connecting with your audience these days and you can do it with your camera phone. It’s the idea that counts.
NK: For the past few years you’ve been touring with Tears For Fears not only as a back-up singer but also opening many shows with your own set. How do you make the transition from singing your own songs to diving into someone else’s music?
MW: It’s like there are 2 me’s: I’m primarily there to be their backing singer, it’s my main focus to truly be the best I can be for them. But the other reason I’m there is to be the opening act. Getting ready for the show I think to myself “oh man what am I going to say? I don’t know how to speak Portuguese” my mind is focused on me doing the best I can be for me. As soon as I wipe off my clown makeup I’m right back into TFF mode. It’s a pretty intense situation but I love it.
NK: Were you at all nervous about taking over the vocals originally sung by Oleta Adams on the Tears For Fears album “The Seeds of Love?”
MW: Yes I was nervous, I never thought I’d be accepted by the fans as a man singing this amazing vocal from Oleta. I thought people would laugh at me but they’ve been so receptive and Roland would say “I wrote the song 25 years ago and I never thought I’d be standing on stage singing it with a man”
NK: When you perform her part in “Woman in Chains” it’s always a show stopper. What was it like the first time you sang that song live?
MW: I was completely stressed and nervous about how people would respond – whether they would boo me or laugh. The response was amazing and I’m honoured every night that I sing that song. I feel it makes it even more powerful with 2 men singing it because of the symbolism behind it.
NK: What do your friends and family think of the song “Heart Shaped Man” written by Tears For Fears front man Roland Orzabal?
MW: They think it’s great. It’s a bit of a departure from my style of song writing – it’s more fun and quirky. My people I’m sure get a kick out of the fact it goofs on the shape of my head. Knowing it came from such a talented writer like Roland makes it pretty special.
For more information about Michael Wainwright be sure to visit his website where you can purchase albums, follow tour dates and read his blogs. Michael is also active on Twitter and Facebook