"My love left and I got nothing to share, so I put my last dollar on a railway track, but no train came so I took it back." To make his colourful new album, Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me, the singer-songwriter Danny Michel travelled to Belize, a developing Central American country he’d visited often, but just as a tourist. The Ontario musician, who plays the Winter Garden Theatre Saturday (Dec. 8), talks about his all-in musical adventure.
When speaking about your new record, people tend to bring up Paul Simon and Graceland, because you recorded the album in a relatively exotic locale (Belize), and with indigenous musicians. But what struck me about the record was the affecting nature of some of the material. Did the location affect your mood?
Emotionally it was a hard time for me. I had just gone through a big change in my life – I was flying solo. And then I had gone to this country where I knew nobody. I lived in a little hut behind the studio for weeks and weeks and weeks. After the sessions each day, I would just sit alone. It was an intense time. But that was part of the journey, to clear my mind.
You wrote the material in a different way than you normally do, and you worked with musicians you didn’t know. How did that affect the songs?
I went down there with no songs and no guitar. And I literally walked into a room full of strangers. It was hard, writing the melodies first and the words later. I’ll never do it that way again. Usually I kind of do it all at the same time. So, it was tough. But I wanted it to be that way. If I’m not challenging myself, I’m not having fun. And I also wanted it not to sound like me. I wanted to change all the variables, so that a different result came out.
You’re also on a new label, Six Shooter Records, here in Toronto. I understand you were worried about the label’s logo, which is a cowgirl on a bronco, holding guns. Was that a sticking point in the negotiations?
I don’t like guns. When I was a kid, my parents never let us play with guns of any type. Even water pistols. So they changed it for me, from guns to maracas.
Very fair of them. And really, who doesn’t like maracas?
Exactly. Maracas never hurt no one.