When Michael Lazar was growing up, music was always it. Whether it was piano lessons or listening to an inspired Britney track. This week, all those years of listening to pop royalty, and sitting down at the ivory keys are culminating with the release of his debut, ‘51/49.’ We talked about the record, seizing the day, and more in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: Piano lessons as a kid are pretty normal, but were you the one to request them, or was it more you had to and then fell in love?
Micheal Lazar: It was definitely by my request. So my brother, who is six years older than me, was already studying violin at the time using the same Suzuki method I’d come to use. I was first introduced to the piano at his recitals, which I attended regularly with my mom and dad. But it wasn’t so much the violin or cello that spoke to me – it was always the piano. I remember feeling envious of the kids up there playing and I can distinctly recall wanting more than anything to learn how. And that’s what encouraged me to ask for lessons.
Kendra: From piano lessons at eight to NYU. Now, some don’t take the educational route with music, but for you – what did that experience give you that you don’t think you would’ve gotten otherwise?
Micheal Lazar: Well, for one, it gave me structure and discipline. These are difficult qualities, in my opinion, to cultivate on your own without formal education of any kind. Sure, in a lot of ways, a good work ethic is something you’re born with – it’s tied to drive. But it can also be learned.
The repetitive nature of studying one thing over and over, day in and day out, with a trained professional who is (typically) your senior really does have long-term benefits on an artist and their craft, in my opinion. Passion and a deep-seated desire to do whatever it is are fundamental, but without discipline, you’re just treading water.
I think, too often, super huge talents get lost in their minds or in their own way. They have all the ingredients of success, but can’t put the recipe together and prepare the meal. Education helps with that when “good luck” or that “big break” just aren’t happening.
Kendra: You’ve been writing and making music for almost two decades now, and are just about to drop your debut, ‘51/49.’ Did the weight of the pandemic make you want to start seizing the day more like, okay – it’s time to put this out?
Micheal Lazar: That’s a really good question. I think what it was was that I wasn’t going to work every day at the gallery anymore because we were in total lockdown. Suddenly, I had all this free time! Before, I was squeezing my writing sessions into train rides to and from work five times a week; recording and producing had to be done either after work late at night or on my weekends. Having all of this time to focus on my music and my art gave me no excuses. This was my time to sh*t or get off the pot and I knew it.
Kendra: Before we touch on the wonderful lyricism on this record, I want to talk about the music. When I read electro, I didn’t expect layers! “Good Bad & Crazy” gave me a ‘90s industrial feel while “Few Breaths Away” was like a sweet indie-pop song. Are you the type of person that just goes with what feels right for the lyrics, or do you construct your songs around compositions first?
Micheal Lazar: Another great question! The answer is both, haha. I’d say more often than not, though, I’ll write the melody first – either by getting an idea and humming it into my phone on a recorded voice memo or by sitting down at my keyboard and just laying it out there. Once I get the chords cemented and the piano hook developed, the lyrics typically follow suit.
On the other hand, sometimes I know what I want to write about going into it (typically a word or line), and that ends up guiding the entire process from start to finish. “Lightning” is a good example of that. I knew I wanted to write a pop song about lightning – I just didn’t know exactly how it would turn out or what it should sound like. So, I sat down at my Mac and opened up a new project in Logic and honestly just took it from there.
Regardless of how I compose the song, the hardest part for me is always writing the first verse and chorus. Once I get those down, the second half takes a fraction of the time.
Kendra: You’ve noted that “Good Bad & Crazy” was meant as motivation to not give up, but I also heard that in “Few Breaths Away.” Both of these songs will inspire listeners, but what song has inspired you growing up to keep on going when times got tough?
Micheal Lazar: “Stronger” by Britney Spears.
Kendra: In “Few Breaths Away” you sing, “Give me room to be messy / I’m trying every day.” I think this is one of the best summarizations of life since March 2020. When life got to be too insane in the past 18 months or so, other than music – what helped you with your own personal messy situations?
Micheal Lazar: Well, I feel truly blessed that in addition to writing and producing my own music, I’m a visual artist as well. So, when I’m in need of something to help me through a rough patch, zoning out and making a piece of art can be incredibly therapeutic and exactly what I need.
In addition to that, I’d say spending time with the love of my life Chris and my three smushy face cats really takes me to that Happy Place. And gardening. I love love plants and have them scattered all over the house and on the balconies outside. The last thing that always helps me through difficult times is exercise. Staying in shape is critical and second to none, in my opinion. I couldn’t do anything without my health.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘51/49’ out in early October, what else can fans be on the lookout for from you as we wrap up 2021
Micheal Lazar: To be honest, I’ll be promoting ‘51/49’ all the way through the end of the year! It’s a big album – 15 tracks in total – so I’ll be releasing videos relating to the record sporadically on my Instagram and Facebook profiles, as well as posting some upcoming live performances I’m really excited to share with everyone!
Specifically, you should visit my Instagram account and check out the IGTV page where I’ll be expanding my “51/49: Breaking It Down” Series as often as possible. Other than that, who knows!