This is the third of three profiles on band members. Trav and Kev have been covered already. Today is Mike Ward. He plays synthesizer in the band, but we like to think of him as our electronic music wizard.
This story starts way, way, way back. Mike and I first met during my junior year in high school in music theory class. Since I have known him that long, I can honestly say that Mike has always been a brilliant musician. We played our first shows together in high school and even entered WBCN’s high school Battle of the High School Bands, playing in the Finals Downstairs at the Middle East. We were hooked on this music thing right away.
We payed some gigs in college before things cooled off, and eventually we ran into each other years later in the Boston music scene.
In the Muy Cansado days, Mike was one of very few musicians to perform on stage with Muy Cansado. On multiple occasions, Mike was an honorary band member. On top of that, Muy Cansado played a ton of shows with Mike’s bands - the Sun Lee Sunbeam, St. Helena and Private Shapes.
When I was putting this band together, I met up with Mike to grab a beer at Charlie’s Kitchen. I asked him if he’d be into a new project I was cooking up. He was. We talked about the sound. Of everyone other than me, Mike had the most vision for what he wanted this band should sound like. We agreed that late 70’s Bowie was as good a target as any. Mike insisted that he would play synthesizer in this band (he is originally a guitarist) and that he would always push us toward the stranger direction.
At many of the early practices, we could not really hear Mike so well. We knew cool stuff was happening, and at times his synthesizer would take off through everything else, but often when we asked Mike, ‘What were you doing there?’, he would almost always respond that he had no idea what he’d done, building a mystique around himself within the band and begging the question, did Mike know what he was doing?
Our first trip to the studio for our debut EP Take What You Can Take, Mike did not track his synthesizer in the studio. He wanted to track his ideas at home after we finished to experiment with different sounds, only adding already to his well established mystique.
Mike did, however, track guitar. I still remember the look of shock on the faces of Jon and James, our producer and engineer, when Mike laid down his completely improvised, unplanned guitar lead for the song ‘I Don’t Really Wanna Care No More.’ Jon turned to me and said, “Why doesn’t he play guitar?!”
Then Mike took the tracks home to add his synthesizer and did not disappoint. I remember Kevin listening to Mike’s synth layers on the song ‘Moon’ and commenting, “The rest of us are just playing instruments, and Mike is over here painting.”
It became clear to us that Mike took our band to a different place. He adds a sonic identity to the band that really makes things pop.
When we went back into the studio to track Are You Feeling Alive?, Mike tracked most of the songs live in the studio with us. There were reasons for the different approach. First off, we had figured out how to be a band in the year in between sessions. Second, Mike knew what sounds he wanted to get this time out. Finally, Q Division had cool synthesizers and toys that Mike wanted to experiment with.
True to form, Mike did take one song home to surprise us with. On ‘Until the End,’ as usual, Mike's synths steal the show, or the song or whatever. Also true to form, and to all of our excitement, during overdubs one day at Q, Mike grabbed a guitar and ripped some killer guitar lines on 'Buzzed Out', 'Pale Monsters' and 'Gone'. In between songs he nonchalantly informed us, “I haven’t played guitar in months.”
So now you’ve had a formal introduction to the greatest enigma of the band, as Travis likes to say, our savant-in-residence, Mike Ward. He keeps us pushing into new terrain and always adds an air of mystery.