Come the end of this week Mike Riley is laying it all out on the line. His deeply personal album, Divorce, drops and he talked with us about it came to be. Obvious in some ways, and not so in others. Mike was as honest with us as he was throughout this record as we talk about “Marriage,” the video for – which is so not a drag – and more!
Kendra: You’re definitely around my age if you got your start rocking the Dashboard Confessional covers. When did you trade in Chris’ words for your own? Were you a natural songwriter or did it take a lot of trial and error?
Mike Riley: My first show was either all or mostly all originals. I remember the first time I played a show was the summer after graduating high school. It was at some little community centre in my tiny town. The first song was an original, and it had a long intro. I didn’t have stage fright playing guitar but leading up to the first words I wasn’t sure if I’d actually sing. But then it came to the part, I sang and was never nervous about it again.
Someone saw that show who lived in a neighbouring town that was much bigger. They started booking me to play solo acoustic sets on hardcore and screamo shows. I decided that throwing in some popular emo covers (which was all I listened to at the time) would help introduce me. It went over well and lead to more shows. I usually played 1-2 covers in a set and I would say that I still tend to do that to this day. Not as many Dashboard covers though (but would totally still do it.)
Kendra: Having been through a divorce and that being the title of your upcoming EP, can we assume this record is 100% personal from start to finish?
Mike Riley: Definitely, but in a weird way. I didn’t know what any of the songs were about until after they were finished. They were all retitled upon completion when I realized what each of them was about. But the finished product is a collection of songs that are all deeply personal.
Kendra: While the record is Divorce, you have a song on there titled “Marriage.” Which just so happens to be your latest single accompanied by a wonderfully shot video. First, we’ll talk about the song. It’s a rough world, romance and you capture it in song. A song you’d been working on for some time. What’s it like to have a song idea hanging over your head for so long and did you ever think you’d finish it?
Mike Riley: The first part of “Marriage” was written in my early 20’s years ago. I always liked it, but the chorus of the song and a lot of the verse lyrics were very weak so it kind of died off. A producer friend of mine asked to use the ideas and rewrite it as an R&B song a couple of years ago. It got me thinking and I ended up rewriting it again in the current form with my producer/writing partner, Dan Hosh. The pre-chorus and chorus hooks were all his ideas and it tied the song back together for me. It was awesome to finally feel like it was finished and didn’t suck.
Kendra: As for the video, love it! Was BOA a friend? How did this all come together?
Mike Riley: Thank you! The idea came from a collab with my creative director Marie and video director Ryan. BOA went to school with Ryan so that’s where the connection came from. We wanted to showcase the parallel between struggling as a musician or an artist and struggling in marriage. Whether as an artist with your art, or a partner with your partner, it’s still a relationship that requires commitment and a ‘for better or worse mentality.”
Kendra: Another song you released recently was “Drug Dealer” reminded me of where I grew up and you too came up in a small town. What would you be doing there today had you stayed put?
Mike Riley: It’s funny, I almost DID stay. I moved away for ten years, got an education, started a band, got married, quit the band, moved back home and then got divorced a year later. I didn’t move back to the same town, but not too far away. Close enough that my dad would randomly stop by (and for ten years previous we would usually see each other twice a year.)
Another song on the record, “LA” is about that. When I got divorced part of me thought that people I grew up with would all be waiting around. I realized they weren’t. Their lives had all happened just like mine. I’m not sure what I’d be doing if I hadn’t left, but I know that I wouldn’t have met most of the important people in my life today.
Kendra: Circling back to the EP…and since you are an admirer of big dogs, if you had to compare your upcoming release to a breed of larger dogs, which would it be and why?
Mike Riley: Haha, interesting question. My dog is a golden retriever named Sam. He’s the best and I love him so dearly. But he’s very friendly and my EP is kind of standoffish. So if say an Afghan Hound. Prissy and high maintenance, but we’ll intentioned and sweet-tempered?
Kendra: Now that we’ve come to the end of our time together, I have to ask if you have any big plans to tour or anything after the EP drops?
Mike Riley: I’m doing some touring in the other band I play in, The Drew Thomson Foundation. I’ll be starting to play a lot more of my own music in Toronto and local regions towards the end of the year when the EP drops. I’ll then start working on the follow-up for next year!