NAKED - Local Sounds Magazine

MICHAEL MASSEY - Naked
(2017 Self-Release)

By Rick Tvedt

It's been twelve years since Michael Massey released a solo record. 2005-2006 was a productive period for the lifelong Madison-area musician, composer and producer, releasing two instrumental piano recordings. In a momentous return to pop music he also produced the excellent Attack of the Delicious later the same year, an album many consider one of their favorite local releases. Far from unproductive in these intervening years Massey carried on with his craft, delivering jingles and accompaniments for his business clients and staying actively involved with his daughter Emily's musical ambitions with Modern Mod and Melkweed. There were a couple of reunions with his successful rock outfit of yore, Chaser, a band that helped define Madison's golden era of live groups and nearly broke through to the big time. Massey was also commissioned to write the score for Dracula: A Rock Ballet. The theater presentation was a smashing success with Massey and his former Chaser-mates positioned behind the actors, delivering a live soundtrack that was nothing short of kick-ass. That music was released on CD in 2013. Massey was also a member of the now defunct Stop the Clock, that group releasing an album in 2014 entitled Gifted at the Hula.

In addition to his career, Massey has been on a lifelong quest to become a more complete person. He overcame alcoholism and became a devoted family man. Always poised, pleasant and infinitely optimistic, those who know him personally experience joy in his presence; those who attend his many solo performances, appearances with Steely Dane, duo appearances with singer Francie Phelps and his Ivory Room piano extravaganzas all receive the joy of his love to play. What gives the man his effervescence is not his burying of the past, his darker days and excesses, but fully embracing them in a solemn battle to keep on the sunny side of life.

Massey reaffirms all of his struggles in "More," a courageous acknowledgement of his shortcomings, both musically and personally, rededicating himself to moving on and the realization that what is left after the carnage is beautifully worthy and immensely rewarding. "Searching deep inside through twisting passageways / To find the man I was before / I throw away the bottle and the mask it made / to find my calm before the storm / To find the key, unlock the door / I found the key unlocking more," he sings in his notoriously Bowie-esque delivery, the missed opportunities of the "adoring crowds" evolving into a "mindful crowd" more attuned to his songs in the end. "More" is performed on piano with a lone bass adding weight, underscoring its intimacy.

"I'm Learning" is an adaptation of a poem sent to Massey and mirrors the self-examination of "More," learning to find a truer path to a more complete existence: "So tend your garden / Decorate your soul / Realize the difference between lonely and alone / And I'm learning I'm someone / Worthy and strong." Massey's piano is especially solid on this one.

A resigned nostalgia conflates with the contemplative throughout Naked. Like "More," the opening track, "Nice to See You Again," is a delivered with only piano, a reminiscence of a former romantic interest and perhaps as a salutation to his fans. It doesn't take long for Massey to affirm his agelessness. Now in his late fifties, his voice soars with clarity and the range of a much younger singer. His melodies feel effortless and his songs make sense, as if there is no other way they could be done nor by anyone else.

"Tears Disappear," a gem of a nostalgic pop song with a killer chorus, is another highlight on Naked. The blend of vocals between Massey and Phelps is simply sublime, relaying a chance encounter with a sweetness that is soaked in loneliness. Reminiscent of Elton John, including a reference to the Mona Lisa, this remains quintessentially Massey and one of his finest songs. Phelps takes the lead vocal on "Not Pretending," an orchestrated coming-of-age song also featuring their exquisite harmonization.

There are a couple of band arrangements; "The World (Keeps Movin' On)" features Phelps and Kyle Henderson on backing vocals, with a slinky guitar solo courtesy of Joel Pingatore. This arrangement is one that is built on an acoustic guitar foundation rather than piano with Tony Cerniglia on cajon and Frank Queram on bass. "Hang On" was written in Santa Monica after a night on the streets. A bouncy piano-driven tune it also features Al Falaschi on saxophone.

Massey freely admits that these songs are a trip down memory lane, some being quite old and reinterpreted to purge himself of the strong emotions attached to them. "Dawn is Breaking" is a reprise of "Nice to See You Again," the last meeting with his first love. "Friends Forever" echoes these sentiments as does "Save Me a Memory," all delivered on piano, all cutting close to the bone. "Mary" is song written in New York, a vision of a better life for a young woman whose path he crossed on 7th Avenue. "Soliloquy for a Friend" closes the album, a possible response to "Save Me a Memory" and a fitting, parting line: "It's me against the world."

In the craziness that is already defining the year 2017, Naked is somewhat of an oasis and a contemplation of struggles of a different sort. May we all find some relief and some release in music. What makes efforts like this so immediate is that they are created by neighbors and fellow Madisonians, people that, if we don't already count them as friends, we could so easily, you know. You'll find out quite a bit about Michael Massey, the man by listening to his music and that fearless feat makes life more approachable and more meaningful. Stay on the sunny side.

The Piano Man

ISTHMUS
Michael Massey releases an introspective new album

By Aaron Conklin
May 4, 2017

Michael Massey has always used his music as a form of personal therapy, but that's never been truer than on the 58-year-old composer/pianist's fifth and latest release, Naked.

"These songs span my career," says Massey. "Some of them are approaching their 40th birthday. They're about re-creating the feeling of being in a dark room, late at night, purging yourself of the emotions."

Massey's been all over the map in his multi-decade Madison musical career. He has a Madison Area Music Award on his shelf for his 2006 collection of pop songs Attack of the Delicious, and another for his most recent effort, which had even more bite: the sweeping score for Dracula: A Rock Ballet, performed in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater by Madison Ballet in 2013. He's fronted numerous bands, he regularly gigs at the Ivory Room piano bar on State Street and has composed music for Oscar Meyer commercials.

All of which has little to do with his newest effort. Massey describes Naked as a cross between "pop, Broadway and Leonard Cohen." It's deeply nostalgic and introspective, a dozen stripped-down piano arrangements that find Massey singing over contemplations of loves lost, friendships faded and rediscovered and hard personal lessons learned. The album's flagship song, "More," deals with Massey's successful struggle to beat back alcoholism, a turning point in his life and career. Longtime friend and local vocalist Francie Phelps lends her voice to tunes like "Not Pretending," a number about maturing in relationships.

Massey knew songs as intimate as these would get lost in the distracting conversational buzz of a club setting, so he'll debut them live in the Bartell Theatre as part of a CD-release event on May 12. It's an, um, nakedly confessional format, sure, but also one that's both deeply familiar to him and tonally appropriate.

"Piano was always my main instrument,' says Massey, who also plays guitar and produces. "I've done solo shows the majority of my career. I wanted to get back to that original feeling."

The live gig is actually only the beginning of Massey's burgeoning association with the Bartell. He's also arranging the score to From Awkward Spaces: The Story of the Bartell (Theatre) and the Journey to Permanence, an original play by Suzan Kurry and Brendan Smith that's set to be staged later this year as part of the Bartell's 20th anniversary season. Given that the play's mission is contemplating history, Massey's the perfect candidate -- he's obviously had a lot of practice.

"Things that are personal and revealing -- I like that," he says. "If I weren't a songwriter, I'd have had a much more difficult time."

Dracula, A Rock Ballet

MAMA PERFORMER - Soundtrack: Dracula, a Rock Ballet

Music written by Michael Massey

(2013 Self-Release)

By Rick Tvedt

The March run of this very ambitious project at the Capitol Theater in March was a big hit. The shows were very well attended, the patrons lining up at the Overture Center box office afterward to buy more tickets for future performances. The soundtrack of one of the Dracula performances is now being released as a two-disc set on June 2 at the High Noon Saloon. Artistic Director W. Earle Smith teamed up with the Madison Ballet while the music was composed by our own Michael Massey, best known for his stints in two highly successful local rock outfits, Chaser and Boys in White. Massey, a keyboardist and vocalist, has also done work in composing for advertising as well as a long-running engagement at the Ivory Room. He's also released solo albums. Currently Massey is a member of a new group called Stop the Clock that also includes singer Briana Hardyman and The Playground of Sound's guitarist Joel Pingatore and bassist Frank Queram.

The seven-piece rock ensemble, which performed the music for Dracula on an impressive raised stage scaffolding, is a veritable local-music supergroup. Massey is joined by two guitar powerhouses, Mike Ripp and Jay Moran. Ripp was in Chaser, Boys in White, John Masino Band, and numerous other groups. Recently he was with Kyle Henderson's Blue-Eyed Soul. Moran was a member of the O'Bros, Emmetville, Funnel Head and the Know-it-all-Boyfriends, and is also a fixture on Madison's music scene. Three members of the Gomers, Biff Blumfumgagnge (violin), Dave Adler (keys) and Gordon Ranney (bass) are also part of the ensemble. On drums is another veteran, Tony Cerniglia, also with Chaser, Boys and White and the Minneapolis-based Seventeen Rhinos. Cerniglia's poise and authority in the timekeeping department cannot be overstated here nor can Ranney's solid and inventive bass playing.

The sound, captured from the Capitol Theater soundboard, is stunning with total clarity and punch. I actually forgot this was a live recording until the audience applauded after the opening "Act One Overture."

The band frequently rocks out on all cylinders but there are also dramatic interludes, usually built around Blumfumgagnge's melodic violin or minor-key piano variations. Being a ballet, this is all-instrumental fare with thematic statements weaving in and around each other, identified with the characters in the story. The compositions don't break new stylistic ground but are a modern take on classic rock. There are lots of blazing guitar solos, some played as dual leads between the two guitarists. Adler gets his moments in the sun as well, particularly heated workouts on synthesized organ. There are lots of Zeppelin-esque riffing and Pink Floyd-like blues workouts as well. "Travelling to the Castle / Harker's Variation" is reminiscent of a heavier-riffing Kansas while "Brides of Dracula" brought back memories of Camel's The Snow Goose album. The theme for "Dracula's Variation" is memorable, shifting between 15/8 time and a waltz feel. Renfield's Variation" takes a carnival/camp turn with Adler ably imitating trombone on keys. Blumfumgange shines on "Lucy's Nightmares" while the piano is central to the romantic "Mina and Dracula Pas de Deux."

And that's just act one. Disc/Act two rocks just as hard but is not as derivative of the classic rock canon once things get past the Floyd-y, acoustic guitar-driven "Mina Looking for Harker" and Mina and Harker Pas de Deux." The intensity starts to build with the hard-driving "Minions" and carries on into "Battle / Dracula's Requiem," the latter complete with Hendrix-like dive-bombing guitar. "Mina and Harker Pax de Deux Finale" closes the ballet in elegant style while the "Curtain Call" goes all out.

Ballet, be damned! This album is truly crank-worthy. Bravo!

Madison Ballet's Dracula

By Katie Reisner, Isthmus
March 9, 2013

The Friday night performance of Dracula by Madison Ballet was met with a boisterous standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. The obvious excitement about the ballet, a multimedia affair with a live seven-piece rock band, video projections, flashing lights and provocative costumes was merited...

MADISON BALLET'S DRACULA SIZZLES

By Susan Kepecs, Cultural Oyster
October 22, 2015

They believed, so I did, too. I'm talking about the dancers in Madison Ballet's fast-paced feast of entertainment, cooked up by artistic director W. Earle Smith and featuring his own action-packed choreography, Michael Massey's indelible rock n' roll score (played live onstage by his band), Karen Brown-Larimore's slick steampunk costuming, and a big Broadwayesque aluminum-truss set by the late Jen Trieloff. It played Overture's Capitol Theater last weekend, Oct. 16-17.

Shepherd Express March 9, 2006

Massey, Michael: The Present - Listening to The Present, a mesmerizing 70-minute disc of instrumental-piano holiday music, it's hard to believe that multi-instrumentalist Michael Massey was once an early-'80s hard rocker (his Wisconsin-based band Chaser cut a demo for Atlantic Records and competed on Ed McMahon's Star Search). Or that he released an award-winning, well-honed and downright brilliant collection of Bowie-esque pop nuggets in 2005 called Attack of the Delicious. Instead, on The Present, Massey offers warm, elegant and often delicate piano interpretations of 11 traditional holiday favorites (and even an Advent classic with "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"), plus two originals. The title track, according to Massey's liner notes, musically tells the tale of a soldier making an unexpected return home from war in the midst of a family holiday gathering, while "Snowshine" conjures images of pristine, moonlit snow. Surprisingly, one of the most effective piano treatments here is of a song about a drum. On "The Little Drummer Boy," Massey's left hand keeps a staccato rhythm while his right hand plays the fluid melody. Throughout, his style is crisp and light, the arrangements respectful and well-paced.The Present is, indeed, a gift -- a subdued holiday treat that makes the perfect soundtrack for a peaceful, stay-at-home evening. Added: December 19th 2006 Reviewer: Michael Popke

The Present

LOCAL SOUNDS
By Rick Tvedt

MIKE MASSEY
The Present
2006 Self-Release
www.mikemasseymusic.com
Style: Solo Piano/Holiday

When an artist rediscovers his passion, he often traces back to a point in his life when he first discovered how deeply moving music is, returning to a simpler, more straightforward approach. For Mike Massey it's his love of the piano, and fans of his music are the better for it.
It's been quite an active time for Massey. In 2005 he released his first solo piano disc, Be Careful How You Say Pianist, a beautiful statement of perseverance. Later the same year he released a pop masterpiece in Attack Of The Delicious, paying homage to all the great music he grew up listening to.
His latest offering, The Present, comprised of eleven Christmas standards and two originals, isn't as different an album for him as one might think. Massey has always wanted to make an album of Christmas songs and he spoke of how much work went into the preparation. That's because Massey doesn't just replay the standards, he takes possession of them. The songs were rehearsed to the point of familiarity as far as the chord progressions go, and then were improvised and recorded in one or two takes. He therefore puts his own indelible stamp on every selection. Without the track listing, it might take several seconds or even a minute to recognize what standard he's playing. You might just forget you're listening to Christmas songs at all. Yet he remolds the compositions without bastardizing them or removing them from the context in which they were intended to be heard. Massey stretches these tunes to five minutes or beyond, largely via extended improvised introductions. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets an extended improvised part in the middle and is given a touching and gentle ending. "Joy To The World" is practically an entirely new reading, melancholy and dramatic. It sounds fresher and far more interesting than any rendition I've ever heard. His take on "We Three Kings" is equally captivating.
The two original songs, the title track and "Snowshine" are both in the same mold as much of Be Careful How You Say Pianist; smooth, melodic compositions gracefully articulated.
Massey nearly sold out his first run of The Present at his recent release party at Café Montmartre. The place was overflowing with a line going down the street. This fact speaks volumes about the level of respect he receives from his fans and peers. If you missed that show you'll have another opportunity when Massey opens the Madison Area Music Awards fundraiser at 8:30 p.m. on December 14th at the High Noon Saloon. It's probably not the last time the words "Massey" and "MAMA" will appear in the same sentence.


"Attack..." CD Review excerpt

Attack Of The Delicious is the second CD release from Mike Massey in 2005, following this summer's release of "Be Careful How You Say Pianist", a beautiful collection of his solo piano pieces. Attack is decidedly different, an album of pop and rock songs with band arrangements. At times Massey is the band manning all or most of the instruments so...there is a very personal touch injected into every nuance of the music.
The sound quality on Attack is outstanding. The mix is crystal clear, the bass warm and full. But it's the performances that stand out and the excellent level of song craftsmanship.
Every song is pleasing and musically challenging, like different facets of the same personality, and this is the quality that superior albums and performers are made of.
As I listened to this CD I was reminded of Elton John in many significant ways. Massey has a similar way with melody, arrangements, and more importantly emotion, that makes his music supremely endearing.
Massey is one of the few people I know who have made music their life...Above all, he is the real thing: a skilled songwriter who savors his most precious opportunities
Rick Tvedt

"...Pianist" CD Review excerpt

Mike Massey has maintained an incredibly solid reputation in this town for deep musicianship and true professionalism. In between gigs at the Slipper Club, performing as Fabrizio with the highly lauded Mad Cabaret, and collecting a dozen awards for crafting music for advertising, Massey is finally releasing his collection of original solo piano performances recorded over five years ago. Since he is known primarily as a pop and rock performer in an ensemble context, this album serves as an uncommonly personal offering. Though the title, Be Careful How You Say Pianist, hints at his offbeat sense of humor, the album demonstrates how sincerely this performer takes his work. While it's hard to take any album that features yet another rendition of Pachelbels Canon in D too seriously, Massey uses the opportunity to prove that he doesn't take it too seriously himself. The track is aptly titled Apologies to Pachelbel.


      Massey highlights his dexterous performance capabilities with every song on this collection. Tracks like Shadow in the Window and I Need You expose just how fully every note on the keyboard falls under his control. The nimble expression of Window sets the stage for the epic chord manipulations of I Need You, building the album into a masterful statement, with Massey deftly coaxing his passages from driving and furious to delicate and subtle. In no uncertain terms, Massey is one of the finest instrumentalists in Madison.

Music Man Massey

The Capital Times Thursday, May 8, 1997
Wisconsin State Journal

Music Man Massey very glad to talk about his recovery.

By Natasha Kassulke

Who's in rehab this week? Tabloid fodder, or a fact of life?
Michael Massey, 38, says stories of musicians turned alcoholics or drug addicts aren't as uncommon as they should be.
But what is uncommon is when a musician actually wants to go public with his story.
Massey doesn't want to preach, but he does hope that hearing about his personal hell will prevent someone else from taking his path.
"I lost my ego when I lost alcohol more than three years ago," Massey says. "And it's therapeutic to talk about it now."
Massey eases into the topic of his addictions at first. But then he starts to open up as Emily, his 17 month old daughter, bounces between him and her Barbie doll.
Massey's life wasn't always as sweet as this scene in his tidy east-side home. "There's nothing wrong with alcohol until it starts controlling your life," he says. "And that's the story of my life."
Massey started drinking as an East High School student. A few beers before dances seemed innocent enough.
But as the pressures to perform got greater, he turned to the bottle more often. By the time he was in his 20s, Massey enjoyed wide-spread local and moderate regional success in two bands: Chaser and Boys in White.
Chaser was born as a hard rock band in 1977.
"It was a band that should have made it," Massey says. "It missed it's timing. We were fighting punk, disco, power pop."
Atlantic Records took a chance on them, though, and spent $35,000 for Chaser to record a demo in New York.
"I thought we'd be signed," Massey says. "But we weren't. I beat myself up now, thinking that maybe it was because I wasn't as good as I could have been because of alcohol."
Massey said there were other opportunities to court labels in Los Angeles. "But I was the lead singer and the front person, so when I wasn't on, sometimes the record labels wouldn't look beyond that," he says.
In 1983 Chaser disbanded. Massey was playing solo piano when he was asked to join Boys in White.
"In Boys in White, I started drinking bad," he says. "I was showing up for gigs with pints of brandy."
Like Chaser, Boys in White had their chances. They even played "Star Search."
"Everyone was playing to the tape on 'Star Search' except me," he recalls. "I had to play live. Alcohol made me so arrogant; I wasn't myself."
In 1988 Massey left the band and slipped into self-pity and nearly empty bars. During what he now calls "the fog" from 1987 to 1993, he met Robin Valley.
In 1989, during a rare sober moment, he proposed. Robin accepted. But what she didn't accept was the alcohol.
"I wasn't a violent drunk," Massey says. "But I was an insensitive one."
Robin gave him chances to get sober, but when he settled on a quart of brandy a day, she kicked him out. Massey moved into a rough Madison neighborhood. He lived on brandy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"Then on October 13, 1993, I looked outside and saw people gathering around a burning car," he says. "I wondered what I was doing with my life and how I ended up there."
He called Robin and told her he was quitting. Although she had heard that before, this time Massey meant it.
He went to a hospital to dry out. He spent another two weeks at NewStart and six months in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Emily was born on the second anniversary of his sobriety.
Now over three years after giving up alcohol, Massey is resurrecting his music career. He's part of a new and yet unnamed rock band that will include former Chaser guitarist Mike Ripp, plus bassist Jim Ripp, drummer Bill Erickson and singers Mare Petrowitz and Kimmie Vernon.
Massey also supports his business, Massongs, with radio and TV commercial work for companies such as Unity Health Plans and The Janesville Gazette. His work for them won him two Addy Awards for best musical score. And he has a following for his warm, Neil Diamond-like voice at Giada's Pizza Pub in Wisconsin Dells, where he performs regularly.
Every now and then, Massey says he has a craving for alcohol. "But that temptation goes away when I think of the hell I went through," he says. "I want my epitaph to read: He kept trying to get better. Life is so sweet, sober."