By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Every month (or at least more months than not), founder & editor-in-chief Peter LaBerge interviews an emerging musician doing great things. This month, Los Angeles musician Myllo is up to bat! See below.
Peter LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief: First of all, for those who may be unfamiliar, tell our readers a little bit about you and your music!
Myylo (Michael Lewis): The EP that I released, called Hearts of Sand, is a predominantly autobiographical acoustic pop EP, in the same vein as Sara Bareilles or Jason Mraz. I wrote those songs between the ages of 16 and 19. Back then, I was really hell-bent on replicating this acoustic sound that I had listened to growing up, so the production is based a lot around guitar, piano, and laid back percussion. It’s a style I think many artists pursue when they first start out because their songwriting tools consist mostly of their voice and one instrument. I wanted to keep my sound “pure” and “organic.” These days I’m focusing more on pitching songs that I’ve written to other artists and collaborating with artists to create music for them. Right now, I’m really inspired by Sia as a songwriter, as well as Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver. So, my music is changing and the next time I release an EP, I expect the songs should reflect that!
How did you get into music—did you have any affairs with other art forms along the way? If so, which ones?
I haven’t really had any affairs with other art forms. I tried out personal essays and I might come back to that one day, but music has taken up 100% of my time. I got into music as a kindergarten student because my parents threw me into piano lessons. I gave that up after a few years and then in high school discovered singing. Things actually started heating up when I went to Berklee College of Music for the summer in 2010. One of my roommates was there on full-ride scholarship as a guitar player. He was this absolutely incredible metal head and he made me buy a guitar and taught me the basics. My songwriting really kicked off then.
I fully committed myself to music my freshmen year at Penn. During my first semester I figured that I would find my life passion in an economics classroom or studying the history of China (this is not a joke – I came into Penn as an East Asian Studies Major). But, when I was walking back to my dorm one day I sort of freaked out. I was like, “What am I doing here? I need to be making music.” It just hit me one day honestly, my passion had been staring me in the face.
As you may know, a fair portion of our readership is comprised of students interested in pursuing the arts in some capacity. How did you manage to balance attending an Ivy League university and pursuing your music career simultaneously?
I pretty much created my own avenues for artistic expression and demanded myself to create. There isn’t a lot of time between drinking, studying, drinking, participating in clubs, and drinking to get a lot of work done. So, as a means of studying guitar, I created a “Music Mondays” YouTube channel where I would cover a song every week. That lasted for a bit and really helped me improve on my guitar playing. Putting pressure on yourself to create something each week, as well as, making yourself accountable to a public audience (no matter how small) is actually a great way to get yourself to create. During my final semester at Penn I took a songwriting independent study with Anthony DeCurtis (Rolling Stone Contributing Editor). Songwriting then became more than an extracurricular, it became a class. He would pitch me songwriting prompts and I was able to write 10 songs that semester. These days I write 10-15 songs per week, but back in college 10 songs during a semester sure felt like a lot. There isn’t a lot of time, but if you’re actually serious about pursuing a craft, you need to be creating constantly, even if its just 10 minutes a day. Force yourself to write!
You’ve lived in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York—three major U.S. cities. Which, from the standpoint of music, did you most enjoy living in, and why?
Los Angeles. The entire industry is here. I mean, I know of people who work for a music label that moved their entire team out to Los Angeles. That’s crazy! The whole entire team! In LA, more than NYC or Philly, it is easy to find really talented collaborators who are also willing to work toward honing their craft, as well as hustle to make sure their music is going to have commercial success. That is inspiring to me.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t doing the music thing, I would _________. (And feel free to expand!)
I would be really unhappy. That’s as far as I’ve thought about that. I have refused to create any form of a plan B in my head. If you have something to fall back on, you will. I know its cliché, but I only have one path pursuing right now.
I noticed that you recently underwent a name change from your traditional “Michael Lewis” to the snappier “Myylo.” What led you to make this change? Do you think it’s affected your art in any specific way?
Yeah! That was a pretty dramatic change that I had been thinking about for a year and a half. Someone had asked me one day “Do you want to be known as Michael Lewis or something else?” I sat on that question for a very long time before coming to the conclusion that I needed a change. Michael Lewis is a generic name, one that is hard to search on the internet, and, honestly, isn’t that memorable. I needed a name that was unique and would make people remember me. I really loved the sound of Myylo and just went for it. I don’t think the name change has affected my art in any specific way to be honest. My art has changed more as a product of what I’m listening to and the other songwriters who I’ve had the privilege to be around.
This has become somewhat of a Beat Converses classic, but three singers and a writer—risen from the dead, if necessary—just walked into the room, and you’re really happy about it. Who are they, and why are they so cool?
First of all I want this room to be covered in pink satin, have tacky porcelain tea-cups bought in a knick-knack shop from Carmel, California, and be loaded up with cupcakes. Now that we have the setting, one of these people is definitely Freddie Mercury. That dude is a bonafide god. I think that he is the best male vocalist ever and an incredible songwriter. He wrote the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by himself. I’d love to probe his mind and find out how he crafted a song with so many different changes. Sia is definitely the second one. That chick… Dayummmmm. She has a really good reputation in the industry for writing hit songs in under an hour. She has actually revealed some of her songwriting secrets in interviews, but I’m sure she has more to say then what’s on those pages. The final singer, and this is an obvious choice if you know me, is Beyoncé. She is hands down the greatest entertainer of our generation. In terms of the writer, it would have to be James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room is my favorite novel of all time. I don’t think anyone crafts a sentence like James Baldwin. With Baldwin, no word is wasted. Also, he took major chances with his writing about racial frustrations and homosexuality, while simultaneously experimenting with different forms (plays, novels, essays, etc.). Oh man, yeah, James Baldwin.
And, finally, what’s next for you?
Right now, I’m really just working on songwriting for other people. You’ll be able to hear 3 co-written songs of mine on Bentley’s upcoming EP, which should be released at the end of the summer. Every musician in the band is absolutely nuts at their instrument and I’m infatuated with the lead singer’s voice. She gets me every time. I’ve been putting my own artist project on hold for a while and I’m not quite sure when I’ll be working towards it again. But, it will happen. I’m just waiting until the time is right.
Peter LaBerge is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015) and the co-editor (with Talin Tahajian) of Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). Recent poems are featured or forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Redivider, Copper Nickel, Best New Poets 2014, DIAGRAM, and Indiana Review, among others. He grew up in Connecticut, and now lives in Philadelphia, where he is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Adroit Journal. Learn more at www.peterlaberge.com.