FOUR Grammys under his belt, founder member of frontier-free jazz-rock-world-funk ensemble Snarky Puppy and world-blues outfit Bokanté; musical director for, and collaborator with, one of the true greats, David Crosby; it’s fair to say Michael League is no slouch when it comes to music, and neither is he an underachiever.
For the time being at least he’s left backroom sonic architect and band member roles behind as he prepares to release his debut album as just him, So Many Me, in June.
Pause for musical thought, a slight tacking of the sails for this super-collaborative musician came with that lockdown descending; although the notion of something solo had been bubbling away since the mid-teens, being constrained so was an ineluctable spur.
“The pandemic played an integral part in this record and was the catalyst for the observational nature of the songs,” Michael says. Quarantining in his apartment in Spain, watching the world through the televisual news lens, he felt as if he was watching a documentary on the human condition. He began to write music of the moment, exploring physical contact, political populism, the double lives of a social media world.
And the first track to be dropped is that one interrogating the populist politics of our time, “In Your Mouth”: big, bold, unafraid to draw on the globe-straddling rock and pop sensibilities and sonics of decades past.
“Politicians often foment the actualization of some of our ugliest impulses as humans,” says Michael. “This song is about the desire to return the favour.”
Directed by Jep Jorba, the music video features residents of a small village outside of Barcelona dressed in wearable paper sculptures created by artist Aloma Lafontana, who’s previously worked with ROSALÍA.
“There’s something about the music of the ‘80s and ‘90s that just moves me. It was a golden age of combining clever writing with accessibility,” says the man who cites Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel among his early loves; accessible, highly musical, ambitious, exploratory.
This album represents the biggest step I’ve ever taken in terms of really putting myself on display as an artist. I tried my best to use the record as an opportunity to express things that normally live deep inside,” he says. “More than a few people have told me that they never would have expected lyrics like these to come from me.
“But that’s the interesting thing about artists – they show certain sides of themselves depending on the project. No one can put the fullness of their musicianship into a single group or record. We have so many sides to us as people and musicians, and depending on the situation, we hide certain things and reveal others.”
Michael League’s So Many Me will be released by GroundUP digitally, on CD and on vinyl on June 25th and may be ordered here.