Micah P. Hinson: Would He Lie To You?

With his insightful new album, the acclaimed singer-songwriter says farewell to the past

Micah P. Hinson (Image: Facebook)

An evocative and expressed singer and songwriter, Micah P. Hinson has always been willing to reveal all, even when it meant stripping himself down emotionally and exposing his frailties and insecurities to the world.

After a string of critically acclaimed albums that won him critical acclaim and a devoted following, he opted to walk away from making music, figuring he was merely rehashing the past while refusing forward towards the future. 

In fact, Hinson had plenty of obstacles to overcome. He was homeless for a time, unable to find a job, and plagued with personal problems that include addiction to prescription painkillers. In his own words, his “life was going absolutely nowhere.” He didn’t even have a guitar he could call his own. A measure of relief came when a friend introduced him to a London-based record label, which in turn, allowed him a means of escape. His debut album, Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, released in 2004, earned him instant acclaim and a significant overseas audience.

Nine other albums followed, gaining him a well-regarded reputation as an insightful and innovative artist with a folk-like flair. The songs he shared were candid, confessional and yet intrinsically tied to his own struggles and scenarios

He felt as if he was in a rut, and a situation where there was no escape.

“That was huge thing that ties into my issues with writing,” Hinson says now. “In my feeling pointless and lost, it occurred to me that so much of what I had written were actually just different goddamn versions of old songs. They were all about the past. Whether they were actually written years ago, or if I was writing from a place that was taking cues from my experiences of old days, well, that just isn’t any goddamn good. It harnesses all these emotions, and times, and words, and whatever, of minutes and relationships that had already seen the sunset. I was singing essentially about death, so yes, why not feel pointless? Why not feel like I had nothing to say? I was singing about dead people and dead things, and if these songwriting roots are based in this past, these things gone by, there is no room for any growth in relationships, in understanding my place and my feelings, and in turn, in my songs and in my playing.”

Ironically, the pause provided by the pandemic allowed him time to ponder his place in the world as far as making music was concerned. In opting to reboot his career, he decided he had to tie up some loose ends and reconcile those lingering issues that still had him bound to the past. He needed closure, and he decided the best way to find it was dig through his past, find songs written earlier but which had never been properly presented. 

The result were gestated in the form of his new album, I Lie to You, a series of solid yet sobering songs written over the course of 25 years that were never properly presented. 

“A good chunk of the album are songs that I had written much earlier in life than my 41 years now,” he explains. “Using such songs is not strange to me, as a good handful of my songs on my albums came from much, much earlier times. I had been recording and writing songs for sometime before, let’s say. I got to The Pioneer Saboteurs, which had songs that I had written in my teens, but not finished properly, so like that, I Lie To You has songs that are older. This had to stop, or I had to stop, and that leads us right into I Lie To You. I gathered a handful of old songs, what I suppose I thought was the best of what was left, those songs that I felt needed to be heard. At this point, I had “Ignore The Days” under my belt, and that was where I began to write from the perspective of the present, and along came “The Days Of My Youth,” and “Walking On Eggshells.”

Rock and Roll Globe recently had the opportunity to speak with Hinson, not only to delve in depth into his new album, but also to explore his backstory and the complex, often conflicting emotions that notably make him an intriguing artists, but a remarkably insightful individual as well. 

 

You’ve always made music that connects from a very personal perspective. Is it scary being so vulnerable and so open in front of strangers? Does it ever feel too revealing? 

That’s a good question. I started recording on a TASCAM 4-Track in my early teens  — twelve, thirteen years of age, maybe — and I started playing in front of strangers not long after. So when I started playing shows, once I got signed, and I released my first album, The Gospel Of Progress, it had been a decent amount of years — especially kid years, which last forever — that I was playing shows and copying “records” that I recorded on CD-R and selling those as I could. That is how The Baby And The Satellite was born, that being the follow up to my first album. So, with that in mind, I suppose I had a separation between the things I was writing and all I was sharing — whether it was deeply personal or just sounded deeply personal — and the people that I was trying to show it to. When I got signed to Sketchbook Records in the early ’00’s, the label owner asked me if I was okay to play shows. It seemed a strange question, because that is what I thought songwriters did —  play shows, but maybe the same question you asked, he was asking.

Micah P. Hinson I Lie To You, Ponderosa Music Records 2022

One gets the impression that you’ve had a challenging life.

Goddamn, that’s a question. Challenging is a heavy word. I have gone through my own fair share of turmoil and the like, but I wouldn’t want anyone to assume that some of these things came from some outside force. Yes, absolutely some of it, but mostly, and regrettably, a lot of it was from my own hands, and that is a strange thing to consider when looking at life. I would say the most challenging things had to do with medical and health bullshit. Before the world was warned about Fentanyl, and all that that drug is and all that it can do, I was put on it years ago to deal with a back issue I had. “Had” — now that is an interesting word to convey. That turned into a heinous amount of the drug after years passed, and I was a full-on junkie by many definitions. My weight got down to worrying levels, I was barely eating, had an irrational fear of water, and I decided to get off the horse, and goddamn, yes, that was a “challenge.” In many ways, I am still in recovery from that. So maybe when I think what people might think were challenges for me, all the garbage that has been said in the press, and the pictures that have been painted- well, maybe that wouldn’t square with reality.

 

So how did you find the strength and motivation to make music?

I want to say that those are two separate things that would work against a person, but they might be the same thing with two different names. When I was writing and recording The Holy Strangers (2017) and When I Shoot At You With Arrows, I Shoot To Destroy You (2018), I was not doing well in life, and in living it. For those two albums, I was on the very edge of hanging up my jacket, and I was thinking about what else I was going to do in life to support my children, myself, and all that business. Deeper than that, how was I going to stay alive in that that kind of deep, dark place? I wasn’t enjoying writing songs, or playing instruments, and, thinking now, especially writing lyrics and singing. I wasn’t enjoying living. The stage felt unlike it ever had — unwelcoming, but at least on the stage I was creating in a different way, something that took less thought. And, even beyond that, at the root of the issue wasn’t songwriting or instruments or singing. It was a darkness that had enveloped me. It is stranger than what I can share with you now, or you would probably want to hear, but, yes, there was a darkness, and at that point I had gotten sober, I had a few kids, and on and on. All these pieces were in place that I had been told that, once in place, I would be happy and whole and I had served my purpose, but in my heart and in my actions, and the way I looked at and perceived life, it wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t good. I considered, and thought of, death.

 

You’re of Native American descent and your family embraced the Church of Christ, which you’ve described as “one of the newest and the strictest and the most bizarre sects of Christianity.”  That’s given you two very different cultural anchors — Christianity and Native American. So how were you able to reconcile the two? Did you cling to one and reject the other? Have you returned to either in any way?

Christianity is, in my opinion, a very dangerous set of beliefs. I look at how I was raised — the Morals, the Views, the Beliefs, and what is borne from those things — and I feel violence and fear. I felt those things, and they didn’t help me in my life. They led to hiding and lying, and attempting to reach a stage of existence that is literally impossible. Struggling to find such things is, for me at least, a form of insanity. Of course, growing up it didn’t seem like that. ‘God’ wanted me to be a certain person, and feel certain ways, and I was to do my best to meet that mark. I tried, but I felt myself failing on every level. That brought me guilt and shame, easily two of the most dangerous human emotions. So I had to abandon these concepts. I couldn’t keep up with the ridiculous morals of the whole thing. As one of my dear relatives said to me once, “If I follow these morals, I will eventually kill myself.” Those were beautiful and true words to hear. So I have found my peace within those barriers by understanding they aren’t barriers, but simply a set of beliefs that was put into action by a group of people that needed control over sex and love and thoughts, over politics, and over ways of existing and living in and seeing the world. I am too old to believe further in the fairy tales that made me feel separate, made me feel shame and sadness. 

 

Is it fair to say, then, that your Native American heritage — specifically as a member of the Chickasaw tribe — helped you find clarity?

That was, in a way, directly tied to my Chickasaw blood. We knew nothing about Jesus, and nothing about the Christian ‘God’ when we were living in what ended up being called Mississippi, and the vast lands that surrounded us there. I can see my people standing in a field, the sun coming up over the far horizon, and there comes men walking with crosses and men with morals, and they told us about those morals, and they told us about this Jesus. That led to us being forced to abandon our beliefs and our ways of life. Our hair was cut and our language was cut, and we were taken from our families and given to others. We got sent to schools to eradicate who we were. We were meant to be White. Men came with Jesus on their tongue, and in their murderous ways, to show us the correct way to exist on this planet. It was a device to deceive us. It was hundreds of years of this, and we are still here with our colonized minds and colonized tongues — our colonized lives. It was a device to take away who we were. It was a device to create shame and fear in the hearts of my people. The amount of pain caused by a man who preached of love and acceptance is beyond my comprehension. That will never square with me. Never. 

 

So how have you learned to contend — and confront — those teachings, and in fact, the incendiary politics that are often tied into those issues?

When I am back in Texas, I am a stranger. I go to the store, I walk the streets, and I am a stranger. The political beliefs of the people that live in that part of the world are frightening and they’re tied to religion, and religion is tied to everything there. I haven’t the time or interest in supporting or listening to people who support hate and ignorance. I refuse to put life and people in boxes. I refuse to put my soul in the hands of a tiny god, with tiny beliefs, and tiny views. 

 

VIDEO: Micah P. Hinson “Ignore The Days”

What lessons would you like to leave with listeners?

That nothing is said and done until you say it is said and done. Years of beliefs and years of pain can be changed and left behind. We, and the people we decide to surround ourselves with, are stronger than the pain others have caused us. We can also detach ourselves from the pain we have caused ourselves as well. We can grow and reshape ourselves and find other dreams to dream. 

 

Now that you’ve revisited that past, what’s the plan going forward? What’s changed in terms of how you want to define yourself and how you want to represent yourself to others?

I started this interview speaking about the strange ways that my experiences in life have been formed to create some sort of Frankenstein of myself. I can barely count the amount of live reviews where people have called me a drug addict and a drunk. They were speaking about me as if I was some sort of outsider, some sort of madman — and, yes, I certainly fell face first into all that nonsense. But it did me no good. I started to believe what these strangers were saying and writing about me, and maybe not believing, but falling into the perceptions of people I would never know. That was not a good idea. It was not helpful on how I viewed myself and how I carried myself. I don’t see a massive need for me to ‘define’ myself to the public, but I cannot take the public’s perception of me and make it somehow my own and somehow true. Too many of my days have been spent being concerned with what is said and written about me. I read things about myself, mostly half-tilted lies and misconceptions spread around like valid known truth, and it only serves to belittle me and the person I am and the person I strive to be. 

 

On the other hand, when you received the notice and acclaim for your earlier albums, did that feel like you were in competition with yourself in any way? Did you feel like you have to attain a higher bar? 

The “acclaim and notice” you mention here was something that took me by surprise. One week I was living on a couch in Austin, Texas, and the next week I was on a plane to London, and then quickly onto Manchester, where I met all the members of The Earlies, the half Texan/half Mancunian band that did a great many things for me in those early days. I was out of my element, so the “acclaim” I received was on a level more than I ever dreamed of attaining. Of course, The Gospel Of Progress has always been viewed as (probably) my best collection of songs, which I really have to put aside, as that album was a collection of songs that I had been writing since I was a youngster. To separate myself, or hold that gospel candle up to my actions, was a necessity. How could I create something like The Gospel Of Progress again, and beyond that, would I ever want to? The answer is no. My job, my point, is to express myself through songs, and as I have mentioned, I feel it unhealthy to always have that bar to catch up to — the race with myself to somehow create and show my best self. That will more than likely never happen, so to hold myself to such rigid forms…no, sir, I would rather not.

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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