M897 Artist Spotlight: May 2015
Former teacher tells tales of following dreams
Story by LCC Radio Staff Reporter Sarah Spohn
an English teacher right before his 22nd birthday, perhaps no one knew the turn
that Holly High School teacher Mike Vial would take with his career after 8
years of teaching full time.
Grading papers started to take a toll, and his dreams of fulfilling a career in music took the back seat. But after a while, music became the priority.
“I had to make a change, even though I would miss the classroom,” Vial said. “My second release, Burning the Boats is about that. You have to burn the boats so you don’t go back from the journey which you set out to achieve.”
Leaving the classroom setting for bars, music venues, auditoriums and festivals was certainly a change from the monotony of grading papers and quizzes, but Vial said it’s nice to see students in cahoots with him following his dream.
“So many students have been really supportive of my music over the years, I can’t thank the Holly community enough.”
At one point, Vial had 156 students, and now he’s playing over 150 gigs a year.
Growing up, Vial discovered bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana right in the midst of the ‘90s grunge scene. But the sound he would come to associate with, the simplistic genres and classics of the sixties and seventies would be an everlasting love.
“At this time, CD mailing catalogues were popular,” Vial said. “My dad and I would sign up for these memberships where you get the first 10 CDs for a penny. Every week there was music arriving in our mailbox, from Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, to Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies.”
But it wasn’t until Vial heard the soothing, earnest voice of a classic singer songwriter that he turned more to an unplugged sound. “Once I heard James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, I found myself playing my acoustic guitar more than my electric.”
The record helped to define the genre, style and simplicity of the music Vial became known for around the state.
After being inspired by Bob Schneider’s song challenge, the touring musician decided to come up with his own 52-week songwriting challenge.
“I created my own challenge during that nasty polar vortex of 2014 and invited 20 friends to join me,” he said. “I wanted to beat my own procrastination – checking Facebook; binge-watching ‘Louie’ on Netflix;etc.”
While the challenge didn’t yield 52 songs, it did result in some of his personal favorite material to date.
“Only two friends finished all 52 songs,” Vial said. “I ended up writing about 30 tunes last year, so it was a success. Two songs are my best songs, in my opinion.”
While some of his best material came out just last year, success didn’t always come easy to the aspiring musician. After auditioning for multiple music programs at colleges, Vial found himself in the English realm at WMU.
“Getting denied was the single best thing that could have happened to me before college,” he said. “Being rejected from music schools made me find my own path at Western Michigan University, which led to my immense love of writing, poetry, and literature.”
Another unforeseen benefit of the literary world and teaching was the experience of public speaking, something Vial said was vital in shaping the artist and songwriter he is today.
Time heals all wounds, and life has a funny way of working out. The once-rejected aspiring musician has actually been a guest lecturer for music students at the same universities that marked a red denied stamp on his applications.
That ‘no’ led to a full-time touring musician hitting the road performing all over the country. Despite varying venues, Vial said there’s something to be said about the energy and connection with the crowd that isn’t dependent on the venue’s size itself.
“One surprise about playing music professional is how big and small shows can bring the same joy,” he said. “I played the local stage at Common Ground Music Festival in Lansing in 2013. That’s one of the largest shows I’ve done- a bucket list moment. Then the next week, I did Chelsea Sights and Sounds street festival and felt this immense connection to the downtown and support from people listening.”
The Michigan artist never forgets his mitten roots, though, still living in state.
“Michigan is a cornucopia of immense talent,” Vial said. “It’s why my wife and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Michigan’s survived a recession longer than the rest of the country, and that resilience deserves respect: It shows up in Gifts or Creatures’ songs; or Annie Capp’s “On the Tracks” series; or the Ten Pound Fiddle’s continuance; or Fusion Shows bringing national acts to The Loft.”
It’s Michigan acts, collectives and artists that show Vial the love in return too. He was crowned the Blue Owl Singer Songwriter for Great Lakes Collective in 2014, winner of ForSongSake in 2012 and first place at Ypsilanti Songwriting Festival Contest in 2010.