Interview with Mike Aiken

Interview
with Mike Aiken, Nashville 05.06.2013
Tell me about yourself, you did a
lot of sailing?
Yes, I live on a 42 foot, about 12
meter sailboat for the last 20 years. We left from the US and sailed
to the Canadian Maritimes, way up north in the ice. The music scene
was very, very good, sort of a Celtic, Irish music scene. Then we
sailed to the Azores and from there to Europe. We based out of Spain
for about three years, that started a lot of my playing in Europe.
Then we sort of drifted along towards the Canary Islands and the
Caribbean and we based out of Antigua for another three, four years.
We played the Tiki Bar Scene up and down the Caribbean Chain.
Was this all for the music or did
you have another job during this time as well?
It was just sailing and music.
Now you live in Virginia?
Yes, we sailed back to the States and
live on the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk, Virginia. What happened was,
before we went sailing, I played with bands, I quit the bands and
during the sailing, I started writing a lot of music. When we came
back, we set up a studio in a 81 foot 1941 old tugboat. The engines
and the tanks on the boat were removed. We set up a studio below the
water and recorded 3 CD’s there. From that I got signed to a
Nashville label and then, all my business came to Nashville.
Are you planning to start living
here in Nashville?
No, we are here a lot though. I don’t
want to leave the saltwater and the ocean, so we still live on the
boat but we come here a lot. Nashville is a great spot for music and
business.
Do you write all your own songs?
Not always, I co-write with quite a few
people and I write for others. And usually on every CD there are a
couple of songs that I really like, that somebody else wrote, I cover
those.
How many CDs do you have out?
I have 6 CDs out on the Northwind
Records label. They have done well in Europe. I had the song called
„No Fishing Pole“ that went to Nr. 1 and was picked up by
Universal Records France and distributed there about three years ago.
The current record is „Captains & Cowboys“, which was
released April this year.
Can you tell us more about the
current album?
This is a little different than my
other CD projects. It’s much more personal and probably much more
about me. I spent the early part of my life pretty much rural on a
farm. I used to raise Quarter horses and Appaloosa horses and for a
while, for a living I was also shoeing horses. I spent a lot of time
around the rodeo, that was a big part of my life. Some of the people
that influenced me, not musically but on how to be as a person, were
some old Cowboys, guys that were just tough, but honest and fair and
really good people. When I left that and started living on small
boats, I found the same rugged individual as a small boat captain. So
there is a similarity between the ocean and the Cowboy and I wanted
to write about that and put it on a CD. That’s what came out on
this album.
Can you tell us something about the
different songs on that album?
One of the things that is different on
this CD is, I had a producer. I looked for a long time for the right
producer, and I ended up going with Dan Baird. If you don’t know
Dan Baird, look up the Georgia Satellites, Dan was the lead vocal and
guitar player with the Georgie Satellites. Dan was a different kind
of person, he did not let you do things the easy way. He worked you
real hard, which is what I wanted. So I think, Dan’s influence is
pretty strong here. This CD is more Americana, Roots, Country, which
I like more than pop country, so it goes not towards a traditional
country, but a Roots Country feeling. You may also get a feeling of
Maritime with the song „Save The Whales“, there may be a touch
of Irish – Bluegrass feel. Then there may be a song where you get
almost a Caribbean feel. I mix it up.
Which is your favorite song on this
album?
Oh that’s a real tough question, it
depends on what mood I’m in, there are some love songs and when I’m
in that mood, then they are my favorite. Probably, at the moment my
favorite is „Virginia“.
What is this song all about?
It started with the drive from
Nashville to Norfolk, it’s beautiful. You go through the Smokey
Mountains and the Shenandoah Mountains and then you go down to the
ocean. It is about an 11 to 12 hour drive to our boat and it is
gorgeous. But when you start looking at the history of the Civil War
and the history of slavery, you will see another side to what
Virginia was. I try to capture all that in that song.
What part of the States are you
originally from?
Originally I’m from about 30 miles
east of Buffalo, New York, up in the Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake
Ontario. That’s where I grew up and I learned to sail on the Great
Lakes. I met one of my fathers friends, which was an elderly
gentleman from Norway. Both his grandfather and his father built
boats in Norway and he came here and built a boat to sail back, then
he met an American wife who didn’t like boats. He didn’t get much
of a chance to go sailing, so he took me. That’s what started my
love for the water.
When did you realize that you wanted
to sing and write Country music?
As long as I can remember, as a kid I
wrote little Rock ’n Roll Tunes. I moved out of my parents house
and was on the street pretty much from age 16. I played Rock’n Roll
to support myself. When I turned about 20, I was tired of big
amplifiers and loud guitars so I sold all my electric equipment. I
bought an acoustic guitar, a dobro, a fiddle and a mandoline and
started to learn Bluegrass. I did that for a couple of years and that
brought me back to Country Rock and Southern Rock. But what I always
loved, was a Roots Country base. I found out through the years, that
my writing always came out through that style. I don’t think you
can make yourself have a style, music finds you and somewhere you’re
comfortable, you can hear when you try something here and there that
it doesn’t sound as true as the one style that suits you. I found
my style, it feels good. For years I was on the road playing blues,
but all I ever wrote, was happy blues. People used to say, blues is
not supposed to be so happy, but I’m not an unhappy person, so that
wasn’t my style.
Do you have an experience, that
specially stands out for you?
Yes, it is something that goes back to
Virginia, Amy and I have a music festival called Aiken and Friends
Fest, it is a Roots – Americana festival. It’s in a very small
town in Virginia. At one point, the Town Board asked us to come to
town, the Mayor of the town came and gave us a paper and made us
honorary citizens of Smithfield, for bringing the music to to their
town. That felt really good, we have been so long on a sailboat with
not really one home, so that was very special.
Are you working or planning a
project right now?
The big one is Captains & Cowboys,
that just got released. You know, the writing and the making of a CD
is the small part, the bigger part of it is the promoting and going
out on the road and playing the tunes.
What are you hoping for in the
future?
For music hopes, it is to just keep
writing better and better. For me, music is my living and my passion,
but I still see some writers, and I wish I could write as good as
they do.
So my hope is, that I can put into
words those stories that a good songwriter can do, like Guy Clark. My
hope is to always get better, especially in songwriting. There are a
lot of good players. You come to Nashville and in any street corner,
there are great players, but it’s not so easy to find good
songwriters.
Anything else that you would like to
tell the public?
I would like for
people to know that we played Europe a few times, different tours and
we are looking forward to coming back. I have family in France and it
is always nice to go and visit with them in and out of being on the
road. I would also like for people to know where they can find me,
http://www.mikeaikenmusic.com,
go there, the music is on and all the public media sides are there,
so come in and say hello, the door is always open.
Heidi und Marco Duss for Country Music News International

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