This past Friday, September 25, singer/songwriter Mike Maimone released the first of a pair of albums he produced during quarantine. The album, entitled Borrowed Tunes, Vol. 1, is an album of some really awesome covers, including Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” and Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know”.
The album starts off with a cover of Neil Young’s “Borrowed Tune”, which, when sung in Miike’s low, gruff tone over a light piano melody, allows us to sense the melancholy, pensive and lonely emotions that many may have felt throughout the early days of lockdown. As the album moves forward, Mike further explores these emotions, allowing every song to take on a slightly different meaning when sang by a gay man in lockdown.
The second album, isolation:001 will be released on October 23rd. The album, which was written, recorded and mixed in Mike’s bedroom studio, starts off as an enthusiastic, upbeat album. Full of life, just as Mike was when he moved to Nashville in January of 2020, the album slowly descends into something he describes as a “COVID Coaster”.
I had a chance to catch up with Mike and have a chat about how the pandemic affected his music, his move to Nashville and what’s next for this exciting artist!
Kyle Jackson: Hi, Mike! So, what prompted your decision to move to Nashville from Chicago?
Mike Maimone: Hi, Kyle! So, I played with my band Mutts, based in Chicago, for over 10 years. We played Riot Fest, headlined the Metro, and were doing over 150 tour dates a year by 2014. Then it seemed like we hit this plateau where, from 2016 through 2019, we couldn’t get as many people to come to shows anymore.
It was just looking like we needed a change, and I had dozens of songs I’d written that weren’t a good fit for Mutts or my solo project, and wanted to try my hand at songwriting. Seemed like Music City was the place to go for that.
KJ: What was different about the music scene in Nashville versus Chicago?
MM: There’s a lot more opportunity to play, and musicians are generally more ok with self-promotion. All the clubs have live music instead of DJs, and it’s all covers but it’s still cool that musicians are working consistently. For me, I was playing every night in January and February, doing songwriter nights, open mics, and open jams, just trying to meet people and get my songs out there.
It’s much more open here as far as handing out business cards and being like, “I want to work. I make music for a living. Let’s do stuff together.” People are into it here, whereas in Chicago, for the most part, it felt like self- promotion wasn’t cool. Here it seems like it’s possible to not be a cool kid, and still succeed.
So, by the end of February, I caught the attention of some people at Lightning 100FM, and they named me local artist of the week. That felt awesome! I booked a few shows and things were looking good for the Summer… then the whole world turned inside out…
KJ: How did the pandemic influence your music, both positively and negatively?
MM: I think, overall, it has probably been positive. I have a tendency to work harder, not smarter, and just tour non-stop. Even if I’m not selling tickets, I’ll just hit the road. But after 15 years of that mentality I’m finally like, wait, it’s not the 1990’s. Bands don’t make it by grinding it out on the road anymore. You have to create an audience online before you can sell tickets in real life.
So, although canceling shows was painful, it was a reminder of why I moved to Nashville. I came here to write songs. I spent the whole Summer writing, recording, and mixing new music. I feel like I have enough material recorded now to release solo music consistently over the next year or two, and a lot more demos to play for publishers and other artists whenever I can get back out and meet people in town. Hopefully, that’ll help me build that online following so when we can tour I’ll be able to hire a full band and maybe even put a few bucks in my own pocket at the end of the run.
KJ: What can listeners expect to be different about these new albums?
MM: The first one, Borrowed Tunes, vol. 1 is all covers, and just piano and voice. I picked all songs that mean something to me, and it’s been great talking to people who’ve heard it and see how they relate to the songs, too.
The second one, isolation:001 is all brand new original songs. I recorded and mixed it all in my bedroom studio, so there’s a lot of homemade percussion and some loop-based rhythms. Lyrically it’s definitely reflective of the mental and emotional roller coaster of this pandemic. And I kind of realized how the isolation from quarantine reflects how we get isolated as we grow older. So, it ends on a pretty dark note, but I think there’s a silver lining in there, too.
KJ: What else do you have planned this year?
MM: I have a Christmas single coming out in November, and I am working on adding more projects to my label, 8eat8 Records. I’m also making a full-album video for isolation:001, so working on that for release early 2021.
Check out Mike Maimone’s cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” from Borrowed Tunes, Vol. 1 below!