Friday, July 29

Center Stage - Mike Stocksdale

Mike Stocksdale is an artist you've listened to your whole life, or at least it feels that way. There is familiarity in his melodies, and the honest stories he tells hit home. His ability to translate his personal experiences into relatable lyrics is, in a word, captivating.

Los Angeles native Stocksdale embodies all aspects of true musicianship, with a technical education in guitar from the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, CA, and a past rich with classic influences including Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and B.B. King. Stocksdale got his start playing lead guitar and writing songs for Three Minute Mile, a band he formed while studying psychology at Indiana University. When the group disbanded, Stocksdale began honing his songwriting and vocal skills, and found new direction as a solo artist.

He has since forged a reputation for himself in the Southern California independent music scene with thoughtful, well-crafted albums that resonate with a diverse range of audiences. His most recent records have been conversational collections of songs melding together the best parts of folk, rock, blues, and country. Stocksdale teaches music in Culver City, CA, and is currently touring in and around California.

His song "All Right" was one of the top 10 winning tracks in Radio Airplay's 2016 Summer Song Contest, and for good reason. The cool and mellow feel of the acoustic indie folk tune manages to transport us from the mundane to the easy breezy open road. Take a listen for yourself here and get to know the talented artist in our latest Q&A and Center Stage feature. 

Describe your sound in one ramble-on sentence
Lyric-driven storytelling bolstered by a raw mix of folk, rock, blues, and country.

What's your earliest music-related memory growing up?
Exploring xylophones and random percussion instruments in Karen Vinje's music class. I was probably three or four years old.

What was the first tune(s) you learned?
The first thing I could actually play on the guitar that sounded decent was the riff from "Epic" by Faith No More. My guitar teacher made me learn it because we were working on power chords. I had never heard of that band before. I was ten.

Do you write/compose your own songs? Briefly describe your songwriting process
Songwriting is one of the most important parts of my life. I don't feel normal if I'm not's sort of like having an itch that needs to be scratched. I'm usually kind of grumpy if I'm not working on something. Songs and inspiration come differently depending on the day or my mood or I don't know what. Sometimes a chord progression inspires a melody and then lyrics, sometimes the roles are reversed. It's rare that I write lyrics first, but when I do those are often my favorite songs, because I can flex the lyric muscle without having to be constricted by the melody line and rhythms. The key to a great song is creating the time to allow inspiration to strike. When I'm writing a new album, I'm at my best when I have 2-4 hours a day of uninterrupted time with my guitar, a notepad, and a small recorder. A verse that might seem terrible today might be the best bridge in the world the tomorrow. You never know. Oh, and coffee. Don't forget the coffee. 

If you were to cover another artist's album, which would you pick and why?
Lately I've got my eyes and ears on making an all acoustic album, so I'd have to say "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" would be my number one choice. It's the best sounding stripped down record of all time with the best songs ever written. Hard not to pass that up. If I was going to make a record with a band, though, I might have to go with "Smoke Ring Halo" by The Wood Brothers. That album is so lively and funky, and the songs would be so much fun to jam on. It's rare to have that kind of music and vibe combined with such brilliant songwriting and lyrics. All hail The Wood Brothers! Oooh, or maybe the answer is Graceland by Paul Simon...or OK Computer by Radiohead. Damn. This is hard.

What was the highlight of 2015, either for you personally or for the band? What was the low point?
One big highlight of 2015 was winning 2nd place in the International Songwriting Competition (performance category), but my secret highlight was simply writing songs for the next album. They're my best ever, and I can't wait to record them.
Low point? Extreme frustration from trying to book the perfect show. Turns out it doesn't exist, and I'm way happier just playing a lot of shows. Some are great and some fall flat, but at least I'm out there.

What is 2016 looking like for you? Upcoming projects?  Can you give us a little hint, on what we can expect for this year?
2016 is a lot of fun so far. I've been playing out quite a bit, really trying to hone this new set of songs before I head into the studio and track them live. I want to make my own acoustic, stripped down, early Bob Dylan sounding album, but that means I need to "know my song well before I start singin," if I could quote the man himself.
I'm also heading up to play The Gilroy Garlic festival next week for the third year in a row. It's always a yummy adventure.

What do you enjoy doing outside of music? Does your hobby rejuvenate their creativity?
I hang out with my wife and son, teach, rock climb, play basketball, hang with friends. Not sure if the hobbies themselves rejuvenate creativity, but a little distance from any project can be powerful as long as you're heading back to it soon. And when I'm deep in writing mode, my brain will gather bits and pieces for songs from anyone, anywhere, anything. No one is safe.

What do you like the most about Radio Airplay?
It's a brilliant way to connect and share my music with people who otherwise may never have had a chance to hear me.

 "A Passing Phase"