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Photo courtesy of Mike Makichuk.

Q&A with Mike Makichuk of local indie band Caves

By Nneka Nnagbo on March 10, 2016

The first time I heard Caves, I was intrigued. It was like nothing I had ever heard before, and yet, it had elements of various musical genres that I’ve been listening to all my life. It was a thoughtfully constructed mix of sounds and genres, and subgenres, that I had heard plenty of and was very familiar with, but it was deconstructed and then reconstructed into something completely brand-new. My intrigue stemmed from the obvious artistic capabilities of Caves’ solo front-man Mike Makichuk, who borrowed familiar sounds from distinct genres and comfortably blended them to create his very own stylized sound of music. This is the magic of Caves, which can be heard throughout Makichuk’s debut album, To Live in Sorrow (2015).

Produced by the highly acclaimed, local music engineer, Dean Hadjichrisou (All Buttons In), the album is sonically and rhythmically eclectic —it’s Indie; it’s folk; it’s punk rock.

As any good album should, in my opinion, To Live in Sorrow takes its listener on a journey. Thus, the album is meant to be heard in sequence, from start to finish, to truly appreciate its richness and intent.

There is a running theme throughout the album of layering raw, simplistic vocals and vocal melodies overtop rhythms of varying complexity. Thematically, most of the seven song album deals with themes of longing and, as the album title suggests, sorrow. The album itself is very atmospheric, giving off dark and solemn vibes throughout, but in the best, most comforting way. Every song is packed with emotion and its lyrics are riddled with somber qualities, offering the listener a bit more insight into the highly emotive and slightly melancholic world of Caves.

1423x1411pixelsThe album starts off fairly slow paced but concludes in a pool of raw angst and emotion. It opens with one of my favorite tracks on the album—the journey-esque instrumental “Entirety”, and it takes its time in getting to, what I feel is the punch line of the album—the lurid and demure closing track, “Cascade”.

Overall, I loved To Live in Sorrow. The loud, rebel-yell of punk-rock; the soft, quiet, road-tripping melodies of indie; the simplistic leanings of contemporary folk. I appreciate its stripped-down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock, its raw vocals, and nostalgic folk embellishments. Some songs are bigger, scale-wise; some are more bare bones; some are more refined. Technically speaking, the album is versatile and expansive, showing off the wide variety of talents that Caves possesses.

I caught up with Mike Makichuck by email to discuss the album.

Apt613: I thoroughly appreciated the latter half of the album specifically for its power. The chords were louder and more complex and the vocals were very raw and very punk rock. When I hear a band or an artist I really like, the first thing I often ask myself is: What are their influences? So, who, and what, are your influences?

Mike Makichuk (MM): I tend to pull influences from a wide variety of music. I can honestly say that I’m a fan of almost every type of music so there’s a bit of a melting pot when it comes to myself. Specifically on this album; however, there is a large lyrical influence from Dallas Green of City and Colour/Alexisonfire and Brendan Murphy of Counterparts. I definitely feel that they both have had a huge impact on my sound over the years. There’s something so wonderfully raw and cathartic about their lyrics and music and it has always resonated with me. Besides them, I find a lot of my influence lately has been coming from other unsigned artists. There are so many great bands in Ottawa that have inspired me in various ways with their tones, structures, and raw talent. Some that come to mind are definitely Pine (Ottawa), Thrifty Kids (Ottawa/Toronto), Wilsen (NYC), Poor Remy (NYC), and Reid Maclean (Ajax).

For the first half of the album, I felt like I was on a journey somewhere or a road trip of some kind. What was the creative process like? What was the inspiration behind this album and each song?

This record is a very personal one for me. Writing is always cathartic for me and because of it I find that a lot of my inner thoughts and problems seem to come out on my tracks. My writing process is fairly standard; I always find that I write lyrics when I’m down so I generally have a bunch of songs saved up. After that I’ll lay down the chord progressions on an acoustic and then once I find the right lyrics that fit the song I’ll jam it for a while to really revise it and then I’ll add any other extras later on. All the songs have different inspiration but there are some about death, loneliness, loss, and tragedy. The list goes on.

Were you anxious about the release of your album?

I was definitely anxious but also excited to release the record. There’s something very scary about releasing something so personal, so dark, and so subjective to the world for judgement. That being said, I made these songs because they mean something to me and because I wanted to share them with the world. So there was an equal amount of excitement that came with releasing the record. It’s great to see something you’ve spent a lot of time working on become something complete and tangible.

One of my favorite things about the album is the emotional, melodic guitar patterns. Stylistically, what was your vision while creating the record?

I can’t say I am a visionary type of musician. When it came to the record, I just wanted to put out songs that meant something to me and that I enjoyed playing myself. I definitely try to emphasize the emotion of the song with my music though, so you’re spot on there.

What was it like making the switch from a metal band to a solo acoustic act?

I think it was a very natural switch for me as I’ve always appreciated both styles of music (as well as many others). Caves actually started as me messing around with my acoustic guitar in my spare time when I wasn’t working on stuff for my other band, and when that band subsequently parted ways, I decided to take the time to really focus in on Caves. Both genres do share certain similarities when it comes to the tone and focus of the music. I suppose I just enjoyed writing the more folk/indie-based music more when it came down to it.

Do you think having background rooted in metal added to the overall sound of the record?

MM: Having a background rooted in heavier music definitely added to the sound on the record. People don’t realize, but metal/hardcore/post-hardcore/whatever bands have a lot of technical proficiency and have this amazing ability to add so many crazy layers to their songs sonically. I really tried to amp up my sound on this record by pushing my limits with different effects pedals, amps, and guitars, and I feel like it made the songs sound a lot bigger in nature, which was great.

I’d like to ask you about your album title: To Live In Sorrow. I felt like the overall sound of the album had a fairly upbeat, non-sorrowful nature about it. However, the juxtaposition between the simple, upbeat melodies and the relatively melancholic lyrics definitely lend to the sorrow-evoking atmosphere the album title alludes to. Why did you chose the name To Live In Sorrow?

I chose the title, To Live In Sorrow, due to the subject matter on the album. Although there may be certain songs that have an upbeat nature about them with regards to song structure, most of the chord progressions are minor and the lyrics all come from a place of sorrow in my life. TLIS was one of the last songs I wrote for the record and when I finished writing it, it just hit me, “that’s going to be the title”. There was no second-guessing it; I think for me, it just fit as the perfect summation of each song on the record. Have a listen:

Where do you see your career progressing?

I think taking my music on the road and trying to break the title of “local act” would be a natural next step in my career with music, but with that being said, I don’t have a clue where my career will progress too. I love music. I love writing it, I love sharing it, and I love playing it. If that means I get to tour and play shows every day then that’s great – but if it means that no one cares about my music and I’m stuck with the status quo then I’m completely happy with that. So many people say it so it sounds cliché, but I do music for the love of it, not to get rich and have fame.

Next up will be a slew of shows, some live videos, and potentially a music video sometime in the later half of 2016. Catch me at a show and stay in touch with me on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to check out my album via my Bandcamp! Thanks so much for the opportunity to be interviewed! Much love to Apt613!

My verdict: To Live in Sorrow is an incredibly impressive record and I loved every second of it!