A Fireside Chat With Mike Biggar

“I’m a dynamo! Pew-pew-pew!” Mike Biggar launches into the interview with both guns blazing. He’s had two cups of coffee, or at least two that I’ve seen, and they’re both working. Mike is a country musician and, full disclosure, I’m not a country music fan, so when I say his album, ‘Feels Like Now’, is listenable, that is high praise indeed. There’s even an unnerving sense that it has grown on me, but Mike waylays any fears of early onset Achy-Breaky-Heart-Disease, “I’m not a very twangy, cowboy hat wearing… My Keith Urban hair is the closest I get to Nashville. I try to not put the word ‘country’ out without the word ‘roots’; I worry that people get the impression that I’m striving to be a representative of the most country of country music.”

“I like the stories of country music; song-writing is still king in country.”

Mike didn’t grow up listening to country music, but got his big break at the tender young age of five, singing gospel in his church. “I don’t know who figured out that I could sing; maybe they just needed somebody to sing in some Sunday school production.”

Having grown up in a religious household, his early efforts lead him down the less obvious path on his musical journey by becoming a Wesleyan pastor. “I was playing in the church every week; it was about having some modern music elements, with a stage and a band, and obviously that panned out really well because here we are. I’ve stepped out of that and didn’t really come into mainstream music until five years ago; I was on a bit of a personal journey. I don’t occupy that same headspace, but the value of the spiritual natural of music, and the way it resonates with people, that has stayed with me.”

Mike left his job as a vocational minister to travel with a Christian band, touring throughout the US and Canada, “I did that off and on for a couple of years, then I decided it would be nice to buy Kraft Dinner without an installment plan.” In pursuit of that particular Canadian dream, he returned home to the East Coast and began his solo career in Country music, “Being from the East coast, there’s a lot of roots and country history, and it overlaps with the Celtic and bluegrass, and fiddle stuff.”

“Mandolin? I’m not into gender exclusivity like that; womandolin works perfectly for me as well.”

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, Mike has won awards from both Music New Brunswick (2011) and East Coast Music Association (2012). His most recent album, ‘Feels Like Now’, received the Music New Brunswick award for Country Recording of the Year just last month. An enthusiastic songwriter, Mike attributes much of his success to his collaborations with Grammy-nominee Chris Cummings, and BC Country Music Hall of Famer Larry Wayne Clark,

“I really love to co-write. I love how I’m able to pass off other people’s talent as my own. I’m like Rogue in the X-Men; I put my hand on them and absorb their super power. Writing with other people is a great experience; I love the camaraderie of it. I love the deadline of it. If you’re on your own, it’s very easy not to be too loyal to my own sense of time management. I can goof around and not finish something, but when you make the appointment with somebody and you go over to their house, and you’ve got three hours to work, you feel like, ‘let’s get something done’.

Larry Wayne Clarke, the major co-writing influence in my life, used to say that co-writing is often about long pockets of silence in a room with one other person. You can sit there for twenty minutes and say nothing to each other while mumbling to yourself like you’ve lost your marbles, and it’s like, ‘How about this?’ You pick up your guitar, scratch your little thing out, and somehow or another, like Michelangelo’s David, you carve away the parts that aren’t the song, and there you go, you’ve got it. There’s a lot of give and take. I like that.”

When it comes to song writing, Mike’s dog hasn’t run away, he seems happy with his girlfriend, and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t own any horses. Despite his complete lack of street-cred, or the country music equivalent, Mike makes it work, drawing his inspiration from the acts of writing and performing themselves, “For me inspiration comes in the working out of the song. That seems kind of backwards, because what am I starting with then? I love to see songs resonate with a crowd; I love the energy and the vibe of that. Maybe that’s why I co-write so much. Maybe I like an audience in the process. It’s kind of a co-audience thing. You get this sense that it’s bouncing back off the person and they’re getting it, and it’s working.”

Flush with sarcasm and caffeine, he adds, “Oh yeah, here’s the five things that inspire me; puppies, bourbon, hubcaps from old Volkswagens, and Ethel Merman, I love her music, and chocolate chip cookies. Those are the things that really inspire me. I think you’ll find one of those five things in anyone of my songs.”

“Don’t you love whenever anything in your life happens, you know, ‘Oh my car battery died’ and then you put it on Facebook and the response is, ‘Well, there’s a song in that’ That’s so glib! No there’s not a song in everything! ‘My fly is broke!’ Well, sounds like a song to me! Everybody says that. Not everything is inspiring. You have to have ‘déjà écouté’; people have to be able to swear they’ve heard it before, even though they never have, so that by the second chorus they’re signing along to it.”

“The thing I love more than anything in music is live performance; everything that we write I always want to get it out there, sit in front of the crowd and do it.”

Biggar expects that the next few years to be spent developing relationships with other musicians and writers. Aside from the possibility of further co-writing, Biggar hopes to flesh out his career as a song-writer, in a somewhat reluctant acceptance that he might not perform absolutely every song that he writes.

In the meantime, Mike is touring the Maritimes in promotion of his Christmas album, ‘The Season’, which culminates in his December 20th show at Saint John’s Sanctuary Theatre with Tomato/Tomato,

“We’re doing that as a fundraiser for Outflow Men’s Shelter. Now that the Salvation Army is closed, Outflow is the only men’s shelter in uptown Saint John. Steven Doiron, the film maker who did my video for ‘Feels Like Now’, and one of the founders at Outflow, he asked me if there was something we could come up with that could benefit Outflow. I thought this would finally be the way we could do it, with Christmas, when of course people’s hearts are open wide. We hope, anyway.”

Mike Biggar (John England/The East)
Mike Biggar (John England/The East)