Talking AM radio, Daptone Records and Harry Nilsson with one of the West Coast’s most talented pysch pop auteurs
If you’re like me and in the throes of a dual Gene Clark/10cc kick, the music of Michael Rault is for you.
Though currently based in Los Angeles, the Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist returned home to Montréal following a series of breakups with his romantic partner, management team and touring band in order to construct what would become the eponymous follow-up to 2018’s A New Day Tonight. Stashed away in his bedroom studio, Rault spent five months penning new material in the Canadian winter.
He then took the new songs back to L.A., where his work as a session guitarist for acts like Drug Dealer, Paint and the legendary Zambian acid rock group WITCH made him a regular on the California psych circuit. Yet Michael Rault the album isn’t a sonic freak out, but rather a masterful exercise in the limits of the pop/rock axis that touches upon elements of the wisdom of such fellow one-man bands as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren to deliver a feel that is warm and weird all at once.
Rock & Roll Globe had the chance to catch up with Mr. Rault in between dates of his current summer tour to see what has been popping since the new LP was released this past June on the Daptone subsidiary Wick Records, where we talked about touring, AM radio and Harry Nilsson’s The Point among other topics.
Michael Rault is available on BandCamp and at finer record stores everywhere.
How was the summer tour, all things considered? What was it like touring the country in 2022?
The summer tour has been awesome. We just got off the road from opening for the Allah-Las the past two weeks, and that was just a great experience. Great audiences, and the Las are just such great dudes and a great band. I’ve actually been back to touring since late in 2021, but these latest ones have been my first returning to touring with my own band. It feels amazing to be back to fronting a band and singing and playing my songs after the long COVID break.
Has there been a particular date that’s stuck out so far from the tour?
It’s hard to choose, but the last show we did a couple days ago was in Denver at the Gothic Theatre, and that was a really fun show to play. The venue was beautiful and it was big and there were lots of people there. It felt good to kind of get a little bit of butterflies about playing again – after all the years I’ve been doing it. On the previous leg of the tour I would say our Vancouver show was a highlight as it was the first time I played back in Canada since the pandemic, which felt special.
Do you plan on coming to the East Coast to tour? How different are the crowds at your shows different on the East Coast as opposed to the West Coast for you?
I do plan on coming back out East, hopefully in the Fall! I don’t exactly know how West Coast is as compared to East Coast, but I’m looking forward to finding out! At the moment the West Coast has been very responsive and cool, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the East Coast is like now. I haven’t played a show on the East side of North America with my band since 2019, so I’m curious and excited to see how my audience has grown, or if it has. It will be quite an adventure!
I’ve read a lot of critics comparing you to a bunch of different artists from Hall and Oates to ELO to McCartney II era Macca. But I’d love to hear directly from you about some of the artists or specific albums that informed the creation of this record.
You know, it’s funny because I generally just write without thinking about influences too much and let the song happen, but the records I was listening to and enjoying when I wrote this record definitely did seep into my subconscious and show up in different ways throughout. I certainly always have a large portion of my subconscious that is fully devoted to solo McCartney & Wings records. 10cc is another huge influence, as far as production goes. Hall & Oates was a big influence on the vocal approach on Want For Nothing. I was really digging Ned Doheny. I listened to a lot of Gene Clark’s No Other album while making this record, which I’m not sure if that actually is evident in my album or not, but it was on a lot.
How did you initially get involved with the Daptone cats?
Initially I hired Wayne Gordon to engineer a session for me and hired Mikey Post & Benny Trokan to play drums and bass (respectively) for a session, and ultimately after a week or two of working together Wayne & I cooked up the idea that I should be on the label and we should finish the record together and that ultimately became It’s a New Day Tonight – my first album on Wick / Daptone.
Have you always been a fan of Daptone? How far do you go back as a fan?
I’ve been a fan for a long time. I think I bought the first Sharon Jones album on CD when I was in my late teens. My Dad had an R&B radio show in my home province of Alberta, so at that time I had come to love the sound of old soul, and it seemed that no one knew how to get that sound anymore. It seemed like a lost art, and so hearing Daptone recordings really blew my mind and showed me that there was a way to reclaim some of the vibe and grit of the old school recording styles, and it showed me how you could incorporate old techniques and sounds into a modern process of making contemporary music.
What do you think it is about that 70s AM radio rock sound that seems to be so appealing to music fans in the modern age?
I think, to me, the 1970’s was a really great decade for music. I’m mostly blown away by the musicianship, the recording quality, and the free spirited experimentation that went on in studios in that decade. I think recording quality hit a peak, and also the record industry hadn’t developed their current system of imposing on musicians and artists, in terms of the directions they should take. So you get these wonderful elaborate, expensive recordings made with a seemingly art first kind of approach. They aren’t dumbed down or limited in their musical or artistic scope in order to appeal to mass audiences, and it is possible the mass audience also hadn’t been quite so dumbed down at the time either.
I think throughout the 80’s and 90’s and on to this day, just like in all aspects of society, the corporatization of culture has really stamped out a lot of the individuality and humanity and adventure in recordings and music. I think throughout the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s the underground provided a number of answers to that imposition, by creating punk and post punk and a lot of aggressive and raw music that responded to the monotonous nature of the pop charts, but at this point I think some people in my generation are starting to yearn for some of the same free spirited and uninhibited qualities in recordings but with some of the musical sophistication and the production heights of by gone eras. It may be connected to a longing for some sort of utopian future that combines the decadence of the past with the realities and knowledge of where we are now.
VIDEO: Michael Rault “Exactly What I Needed”
As a fan of Harry Nilsson’s The Point, I really dug the video for “Exactly What I Needed” and would love to know how the concept for it came about.
My girlfriend Pearl Charles actually initially connected The Point with that song in her mind, because of all the ocean lyrics in it, it reminded her of “Think About Your Troubles” and all of the ocean and water themed lyrics in that song. So, she suggested that we do an animated video for it like The Point. Pretty quickly thereafter I connected with Mark Neeley, who I actually had been in touch with before when he had asked to use one of my songs in an Aquarium Drunkard animation he was working on. Once we had Mark on board it was all him, really. I told him I wanted it to be like The Point, and he said that was his biggest inspiration, so it shouldn’t be too hard. That was that! He really did a great job, it was a pleasure to have him involved.
“When I’m Back in Town” reminds me a bit of mid-70s Beach Boys a bit. Are you a fan? Do you have a favorite album from that era?
I’m a big fan! My favourite albums are probably Surfs Up and Carl & the Passions. Beyond that, I am a big fan of all of the 50’s and 60’s pastiche that was happening in the 70’s, so there is a lot of that vibe on “When I’m Back in Town Again.”
You created this album as you were going through some deep life changes. How are you doing now? Do you feel you made it to the other side?
Well, it seems like life never really stops shifting and changing, but I’m in a good place. The challenges of being an artist who isn’t a celebrity with tons of money continue on, but I’ve got a good place to live and work and a good relationship and a great band, so things are good.
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