Q&A with Michal Menert
By Jaelyn Kohl
Michal Menert gets into it with the crowd at the Tap House on July 17th. Photo by Julie McNally of McNastitron Image Collective.
Five years into his music-making career (which is now 15 years old), Michal Menert from Fort Collins, CO began playing shows monthly at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill with his now-former band, Listen. Since 2004, Michal has been coming to Steamboat Springs at least once or twice a year to not only play electronic music, but to reminiscence in all the good times, great beer, and incredible people that this little, secluded ski town has to offer. Recently, Michal’s shows have been held at the Tap House Bar & Grill on Lincoln Ave. Last Thursday, I got to sit down with Michal before his set and ask him a couple questions – or rather, I had four questions prepared and he gave me 45 minutes of commentary to work with.
So you come back to Steamboat a couple times a year. When did that start being a regular thing? Would you say you found Steamboat or did Steamboat find you?
I started playing shows monthly at Mahogany Ridge back in 2004 - they really set us up, like gave us food and beer and a hotel room for the night. This was at a time when we were all broke, so it’s like “Word, we didn’t eat today!” Plus it’s pretty close to Fort Collins, where I grew up, so it just became something we did regularly. I’ve always had fun here for the past 10 years so at this point it’s like why not?
I know you’ve been playing a lot of big festivals like Winter Warmer, Sonic Bloom, and Electric Forest recently. What do you like or dislike about small venues versus large ones?
Well with festivals it’s great because you’re playing to a really big audience, and people get really into it because they don’t have to worry about getting too (messed) up. They tend to let loose more because they can just go back to their camp and pass out safely. Also I like the open air aspect, and definitely the head room. Places like Red Rocks - it’s amazing to play there because the crowd is above you, which is way cool, but it’s also very intimidating, you know, like your success rate isn’t going to be as high. Some people are going to be into what you’re doing and some people aren’t.
Michal explained to me that he enjoys his shows at the Tap House unequivocally due to the character and interaction he achieves with the audience just a couple feet below him, versus being put on something similar to a “pedestal” and looking down on the crowd. He doesn’t feel like playing shows as small as the Tap House are “limiting”; rather, he appreciates the intimacy and direct connection he achieves with his fans when they are just a few feet away. The type of people that come out to his Steamboat shows are always very receptive and accepting of his music, which adds to his levels of gratitude.
I’ve seen a lot of ski towns, especially those along I-70, just become full of douche-baggery and get this “holier than thou” type of attitude. Steamboat has always been different, it’s always accepting and the sense of community here is incredible. And I really like that it’s far away from everything else, secluded you know, like Crested Butte and Durango. They all have this different attitude than the rest of (the ski towns in Colorado). It’s a place of its own.
Having grown up in the music scenes of Fort Collins, Denver, and Boulder, he has learned to appreciate all spectrums of electronic music. I asked:
What drew you to the type of technical, melodic type of music that you play? What encouraged you to proceed with your type of music?
I went on the road at a time when dubstep was starting to really take over and everything had heavy bass, hard drums, like in-your-face drops, and I just started getting frustrated. I was like, “Man, I’m not gonna try to out-bass anybody. But I can outsmart them.” Like there’s a less measurable element, or intensity-based element that you can get by just putting yourself into it. If I’m not going to feel my music, nobody else is going to, you know? By putting myself into it, it’s showing people that this is how this makes me feel, maybe that’s the part of the emotion of a song.
When I did the first Pretty Lights album with (Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights),there was a lot more downtempo-y stuff, like Nightmares on Wax, Thievery Corporation, and Soundtrack were really big, and they still are, but that was what was around. Then there was house and trance on the EDM side, and so yeah it was like two different worlds and we were trying to take hip-hop and downtempo and kind of mix it. Derek, Ben, and a couple of our other friends would go to record stores and look for CDs with different sounds we were interested in, and say to each other “Oh I kind of like this and I definitely like that,” and we really just wished that one CD would have all of those sounds on one album. And we were like, “We just need to make that kind of music and put it together.” So we took the best parts of each album, such as the instrumentals, and work with the rhythm and the voices. It creates that type of impact you’re looking for, or gets your attention. We had more consciousness on elements like bass, then taking jazz and soul to combine and create a type of album that I would like to go out and buy or see live.
Where do you see not only your music, not just the Pretty Lights Label, but electronic music in general headed?
You know, I think it’s either going spread wide or implode; like an ocean, it builds and falls. The accessibility and interaction between social media and the ability to download software and pirate sounds it’s just become very easy for anyone to do it. It’s hard to say where it’s going to go because it’s a brand new era of music. Like anything, it becomes saturated and over-saturated and eventually the best stuff ends up on top. Some of it becomes mimicked and overdone, then the tipping point happens and people branch off to create new sounds. It’s the first genre I’ve seen that kids ages 17-21 are getting very famous very fast and hearing that they’re the next big thing. Then they begin to start believing in that more than the dreams they had before. Having that period of time to learn builds character and nourishes gratitude. I’m 32 years old and I’ve been doing this for 15 years and it’s fun knowing I’m not where I’m going to end up yet. I’m not at that point where I’m like “Yes, I’ve found what I’m looking for.” I’m still getting there slowly; I’m really slow, really slow at learning. I’m enjoying every step of the way and I’m not taking it too fast.
When Michal is on the stage, his presence is bigger than any of his lights, beats, or even the crowd. He holds his hands in the air in a powerful, almost prayer-like way, swings his messy hair all over the place, and emotions run rampant in his facial expressions.
This is the way I can talk to people. It’s getting something out from inside me that I couldn’t communicate otherwise. I’ve never been able to meditate, there’s too much going on in my head. But music is the closest thing - it’s the only time when my mind is wiped clean. I’m lucky enough to have people care enough to let me do that for an hour or two a night and have my music and I be a part of their lives.
The longer I talked to Michal, the larger my appreciation and respect grew. We covered topics like being a pleasant person, the inspiration that strikes in the dead of night and lasts for 10 hours until there’s a finished product, and how much it means to support other artists (and friends) by attending their shows. An opinion of his that struck me was the deeper meaning behind being a figurehead.
The more you can teach kids that might feel kind of lost… we’re at a weird time in history, like a lot of the structures that built our country and that our parents grew up with aren’t true anymore. It’s like this time where we have to really just remember the sympathy of it and the potential that we have. Sometimes when you’re lost it doesn’t mean you’re worthless. I like to show these kids that I’m not untouchable; you know I’m a kind of a dork. Maybe I can inspire. I’m blessed that I can inspire somebody’s life. When somebody is inspired and they meet you and they’re like “Wow they’re just a normal person, I’m a normal person and so I can do great things too.” it’s an awesome feeling. All great things come from just having focus, like doctors aren’t magicians, they study medicine; pilots don’t know magic, they learn how to fly… we can keep that magic and creation and creativity without making ourselves seem like some kind of demi-god.
Michal Menert has been through hell and back, he lost his faith, freedom, and family all within the same time frame. Today, his appreciation and love of music has brought him full circle, stronger than ever. His thirst for knowledge, growth, and creation will continue to propel him forward onto a larger platform of electronic music. But for now, he says:
I’m lucky to do what I love. I am able to do what I love with a smile on my face, I can bring my friends along and come back to places I love and see purple trees on the way down Rabbit Ears, you know, I just love that.
Written By: Jaelyn Kohl
To check out Michal's latest tracks, check out his SoundCloud