Belize isn’t the first destination that comes to mind when you think about inspiration for a folk-rock album, but singer-songwriter Danny Michel has never been one to conform.
The three-time Juno-nominated, 11-album toting musical journeyman has seen his song writing evolve and take many different forms over the years, depending on the mood and feel of any given song or an album.
His most recent release, Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me, is one that keys in on a place that he has loved and travelled to for many years; Belize.
“I had been going to that country for about 12 years and I do some work with a school down there,” Michel said. “I'm pretty involved in that community. Throughout all of that time, I've discovered all of the music of the country and I've become a fan of it. I just came up with this wacky idea to make a record with some of these people who I think are so great.”
Taking his love for the country to an even higher level, the 42-year-old songsmith even created the DM Ocean Academy Fund to help raise scholarship money for the students of Caye Caulker Ocean Academy. “The high school is on a little island that I go to all the time and the school actually approached me and asked if I would do a fundraiser in Canada to help raise tuition for one student,” he said.
“I'd come there so many times as a tourist and I felt like I would always come, and take, take, take, and leave. So I thought I owed something back for all of the nice times. I had never done anything like that but I just did it through Facebook and my website.”
Recording the tropically-flavoured album with a well-loved, Afro-Amerindian group called The Garifuna Collective, Michel wanted to collaborate with the band in a positive light, after they had recently lost their lead singer Andy Palacio in 2008.
“The band was kind of left standing there, thinking 'What do we do now without our singer?' and so they decided that they were just going to go on without him, which I thought was a positive move” Michel said. “They made a new record at the same time as I was making mine and so they had this new life of being a new band with a new format and then having this album with me, we wound up touring together doing both of our shows together. It's really been crazy.”
Usually releasing his works through his own production company, the new album marks Michel's first stint in five years with a record label.
“Six Shooter is a label out of Toronto and they are a great label and they are friends,” he added. “I've become extremely overwhelmed with everything I'm doing. Tour managing and managing is a 24-hour job so it's time for me to have a little help.”
Possibly wanting to take the route of a tradesperson at one point in life, the hyper-creative songwriter still finds ways to work with his hands around his house.
“I'm crazy about house renos, man. I renovate my house all the time,” he added. “I do huge jobs and I really like that stuff because I have a little barn and I have a shop in it and in the few years I've done that stuff, I've really gotten into it because I do need something else in my life other than music. People always laugh when they come to my house because it's dead quiet – I actually never listen to music.”
Whether he is working in his wood shop or gardening in complete silence, the Kitchener-Waterloo native sees the need to get outside of his own head.
“Sometimes, I'm so sick of me because my job in life is to promote me, right?” Michel said. “So that can get pretty narcissistic, weird and unhealthy because you wake up, and you have so many things to do but a lot of the time, they are things that are all about you, and I find that to be a little psychologically strange.”
Having produced records for acclaimed artists as Leeroy Stagger and Damhnait Doyle, Michel enjoys the challenge of working with other artists and hearing music that is not his own.
“I love producing. It's more relaxing for me, because I'm getting to enjoy someone else's music without that feeling of promoting me and being me,” he added.
“I don't mean to sound negative, because I really do love what I do and I know that I'm really, really lucky. It's just funny sometimes, because when kids who like my music say my name, they say it as 'Danny Michel' – I'm never just Danny. So at times, it can almost sound like they're saying Doritos or Pepsi Cola.”
Michel will be performing with opener Hannah Georgas at the Whistler Olympic Plaza on Saturday (Aug. 31) at 7:30 p.m. There is no admission charge for the event.