By Thomas Rehbein
With various singer-songwriters regularly sprouting up in Our Land of Great Lakes, it’s easy to pass many of them up, lest they were at least semi-famous front persons in a former life. Every now and again, though, one shines through beckoning to be heard.
The first time I saw The Almighty American, I didn’t know it was the brainchild of one person, Michael Gay, since he was backed by a drummer, bassist, and lead guitarist (as it turns out, some of these guys also moonlight in the band Hope Country). “The Almighty American started as a solo project but I always wanted it to be a band. So when I recorded the first record with Nate (Washburn, Producer), he covered a lot of those bases.”
The show was in a basement illuminated only by Christmas lights and pedal boards as the group played sparse, mellow music to an audience probably more used to hardcore punk than guys who raided their parents’ folk and country record collections. They were mesmerizing and the vibe put my soul in a peaceful place for the half-hour-or-so while they performed. I’ve caught them a couple times since and have added The Almighty American to my list of acts to check out when appearing on a bill.
For his newest collection of material on upcoming e.p. Songs with Legs Vol. 1 and the accompanying release show at Warming House, Michael decided to temporarily jettison the band in favor of barebones arrangements containing mainly vocals and guitar.
“There are a lot of records I like that have acoustic versions or b-sides with different versions of the artist’s songs. I really like that some material can thrive in two different worlds, whether it’s a full band composition or just, like, a guy and a guitar. I go into songwriting thinking about how the song will stand on its own. So, I started saying, ‘Does this song have legs?’ That’s my little phrase for when something’s a keeper.”
Songs With Legs Vol. 1 is a companion piece to a forth-coming LP aimed for summer release; three of the songs will re-emerge on the yet-to-be-titled album, which Michael suggests will be something of a return to form (i.e., full band arrangements) while still evolving the project’s style.
We decided to chat a bit about the subject matter of the EP.
Paper Chains: “When Bridgette and I got engaged, it was the day before she moved to northern Minnesota to work on an organic farm for six months. So, I wrote that when we were not together for a long time. That one is very autobiographical.”
The Only Eyes I Care About: “You just start to think about things differently the longer you’re with someone. You start to see changes in yourself. What am I doing with my life and how is that going to impact the person next to me?”
I Didn’t Know: “…Is about when we make mistakes than trying to make the best out that and asking for forgiveness, which is a very hard thing to do. When I play this song live I’ll say, ‘This is a love song, but when you’re really bad at loving somebody and trying to get better.’ It’s recognizing your faults and trying to fix those things.”
In The Quiet: “I didn’t write it to be sad but I’ve come to realize that it is a really sad song. It’s a story that my dad told me about his dad. My grandpa died when my dad was 16. He remembers coming home from school one day and sitting with his dad on the front porch where he grew up in Missouri, looking out at the Ozark Mountains, and his dad suddenly saying, ‘You know, Ralph, one of these days that’s where I want to end up. I want to go out in the hills and be quiet.’ It’s my way of trying to understand a little bit of who he was and what things he was feeling from this little vignette of his life.”
Record Release Show: Friday, January 13 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
The Warming House: 4001 Bryant Ave South, Minneapolis, MN 55409
With: Sam Cassidy
Listen at: https://almightyamerican.bandcamp.com/
For Fans of: James Taylor, Wilco, Weakerthans