Meet Mike West. Mike is a singer-songwriter from the North West of England who takes his inspiration from Kris Kristofferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf. He is a dichotomy of genre and style, oft described as ‘not country enough’ – something he has incorporated into his tongue in cheek slogan of not country enough – not blues enough – not folk enough – too heavy. On the journey to releasing his first full-length album, The Next Life, Mike stopped in to talk to us about his music, the album and defying the arbiters of genre.
I grew up listening to and loving metal and rock music and that’s what first made me pick up a guitar. As I got older and discovered new music for myself, I found Delta blues and country. That changed my life, how I perceived the world, how I portrayed myself in my lyrics and playing style and as I dive deeper into these genres all the time, I discover new and old artists who impact me on almost a spiritual level. You can’t listen to Blind Willie Johnson and not feel something. You can’t listen to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and not have it hit you in your soul. The songs I write and how I perform on stage, I would never say is strictly country or blues but it is a sincere love for those genres that I play the way I do. These aren’t rock or metal songs that didn’t work out that way. These are all written as a love letter to country, blues and folk in the only way I know how.
Ace Frehley and Tony Iommi made me pick up an electric guitar. Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson made me trade it in for an acoustic. I like to think I fuse these influences in the way I write, even down to the song structure. Black Sabbath taught me that songs don’t have to go Verse – Chorus -Verse – Chorus; they can completely go off on to some new idea to reinvent the song in another way and it’s something I have lots of fun doing. Johnson, Cash and Kristofferson taught me to be as honest as possible and a lot of contemporary influences like Shawn James and Amigo the Devil tell me the same but when I’m writing I try and stay away from this type of music as much as possible to make sure I don’t repeat what someone else has done. I’m most creative in my writing when I’m listening to Public Enemy, Wu-Tang or something heavy like Bury Tomorrow because they are still powerful, emotive songs that inspire me without unintentionally copying their style or chords the same way as if I was listening to a John Prine record. It’s convoluted but if I am writing for my genre, I try and listen to that genre as little as possible during it.
THE NEXT LIFE has been two years in the making. After I recorded the first vocals and guitars in 2018 and then lived with the songs, touring them, I knew I could do better and recut all the vocals again. I think it helped a lot. With my first EP (Rusted), it was just me and my guitar and with The Next Life being The Next Life in my personal life and my music, I needed to take it up a notch. I brought in some phenomenal players in Amy Chalmers and Travis Egnor to play violin and pedal steel respectively and it elevated this record to a place I couldn’t alone.
This album is a chapter in my life I am so proud of as I have become a happier and confident person on and off stage and it is thanks to the people I surround myself with and my state of mind that I reassessed and worked on while I was writing these songs and performing.
I am so proud to be releasing a full-length record and on vinyl! To have a physical manifestation of my work is a dream come true. I’m also really proud of being an independent artist and touring the UK and Europe a couple of times and actually having people show up. You can never take that for granted. I’ve toured and played with some of my favourite artists like Chris Shiflett, Amigo the Devil, Shawn James, Jason Eady and my friends The Plott Hounds. As a music fan, that is second to none.
With the release of the record, my main goal is just that the people who I’ve been lucky enough to have support me over the years, actually dig it. I want them to listen to The Next Life and to have it sit proudly in their record collection. Every time someone orders a copy, it ticks off a goal for me. I really want to get back out touring and performing so hopefully towards the end of the year or 2021 that will happen but with The Next Life and my podcast Into the Van, I’m grateful to still be able to put out new things for people to enjoy consistently and scratch that creative itch!
Mike’s phenomenal album The Next Life is released on 7th August 2020, and you can pre-order a copy here. You can follow Mike on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and get your hands on some merch. For music and Mike’s Into The Van podcast, check out his linktree.