A Belly Full Of Leadville – Michael Cline
Apparently, the first thing you see when you’re getting close (from any direction) to Leadville, Colorado are two enormous silhouettes, cast by Mount Elbert and Mount Massive with the latter being the second-highest summit of the Rocky Mountains. The former standing that little bit higher and named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, who was pivotal in bringing heavy metal out of Leadville. We’re talking silver, gold and… lead, rather than the music genre. Leadville was once a bustling mining town with a reputation for lawlessness and debauchery yet, is now better known as a destination for endurance sports junkies… the type of people who enjoy running a hundred miles at high altitudes. Not for me then… and I expect not for our latest featured artist either, Michael Cline – born and raised in Leadville with a love for all styles of music, less of an appetite for athletics and, despite being surrounded by some of the most picturesque mountain ranges on the planet Michael tells us that his wife, Kristie, is the only rock to catch his eye.
Aside from being an absolute gentleman, caring husband, lover of animals, hater of avocados and tomatoes and avid reader… Michael is an accomplished guitarist, vocalist and prolific songwriter with proven talent for producing high quality recordings. No surprise that he’s been a regular feature in multiple categories of the trending charts over at Bandlab! We managed to talk to Michael about his musical background, and here’s what he had to say…
‘Born and raised in Leadville’ – Tell us about your time spent growing up there Michael.
Everybody always hears about Denver Colorado being the “Mile High City”. Well, Leadville’s elevation is 10,151 feet. It is known as the “2 Mile High City”.
When I was growing up the town was very isolated. It was a thriving mining community, but there was not much there for children to do. Not to say my childhood was totally desolate. In the winter we had skiing and ice skating. In the summer we had hiking and fishing. It was a very good childhood.
Leadville being a mining town was what made my upbringing different. While there wasn’t much for kids to do, there was a LOT for the adults! The town had no less than 20 restaurants/bars and two brothels that ALL had live music. Several of them ran live music 7 nights a week. It was a very, very wild and open party environment.
Where does your talent for music come from?
My Mom and Dad were both musicians. My Dad played rhythm guitar and sang, my Mom played bass and sang (like an angel). They played music for many years before moving to Leadville. Even though my Dad had made the decision to “get a real job” and was working in the mine, he and my Mom still played music. They were constantly booked at the clubs in town.
I was never real athletic so the activities the other kids were doing throughout the year did not appeal to me. I told my parents that I wanted to play the drums, (they always needed drummers in their band). Eventually parents bought me a small jazz drum set. I spent hours in my room banging on that kit. I’m sure that neighbors HATED me. When I wasn’t playing the drums I read books. Reading was the other thing that I did voraciously (Science fiction, horror and fantasy novels).
At what point did you decide that you wanted to become a musician?
One Friday after school when I was 11 years old, my Mom came into my room and told me to get ready to pack up my drums. This really upset me. I thought my parents had probably gotten tired of complaints from the neighbors, but my Mom simply said, “No, Frankie (their drummer) has broken his ankle and can’t play tonight. It’s your turn now”. That floored me. I had never played in front of people before and I was terrified. Shaking like a leaf, I loaded my drums into the van and went with Mom and Dad to set up at the Golden Burro. It was shaky start, but once I relaxed it was like something from a book. I never could have imagined the rush and excitement, (or that moment when you’re playing live and the world disappears and it’s just you and the music). Before the night was over I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After that, I continued to play drums for my Mom and Dad’s Band, The High Country Ramblers. I also learned to play guitar and bass, and started singing before forming a three-piece rock band, Spring Fever, and playing the Leadville area rock clubs.
Eventually I graduated from high school, spent a year working in the mines, then used the money to buy a PA system and lighting. Once I had that in place I packed it all into my van and headed out into the world.
I spent 25 years after that playing music full time. In 1980 I met Kristi (the light of my life and another very long, beautiful story). Kristi and I have two children, Loren and Chrystal. We have five beautiful grandchildren.
Who are your musical influences?
My main influences are spread out. I grew up with my parents music. It was Old School, hardcore, traditional country; Hank Williams, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, etc. My Dad’s saying was this, “There are only two kinds of music… Country… and Western!!!” (One thing he and I never agreed on).
I also spent a lot of time listening to 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s rock. My biggest influences though are probably artists that are lesser known. People like Bruce Cockburn, William Topley, John Hiatt, Sad Cafe, Bebop Deluxe, Golden Earring, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and a lot of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Mark Knopfler.
As far as genres are concerned, I understand the need for them on the marketing side. But, my answer to most people is this, a kind of twist on what my dad used to say, “There are only two genres… Songs I like… And songs I don’t like…”. I think genres pigeon hole artist into boxes that are not always conducive to connecting with an audience.
Several times when I was taking with record companies to negotiate contracts I was told that I needed to narrow my act down to one particular style. It’s something I refused to do. For me it’s always been about the music. I was able to make a living entirely immersed in music, and not create only one style. So, if I have any advice to offer other artists, it would be this… If you are in this for fame and fortune, you may need to narrow your style spread to gather a marketable audience. Just understand, once you do that, anything you do out of that box might alienate your fans.
What is it that motivates you to create?
This is a hard one. I hear and feel music in everything. Just watching a bird in the back yard or a news clip on TV can trigger thoughts that eventually become a story. It’s like there is a trigger in me, that once it’s been pulled I just get single minded and have to have something tangible at the other end of the process… I’m not sure if that makes sense.
How would you describe your sound and the approach you take to producing your music?
Another rough one for me!! Sometimes I’m just writing a song that talks about everyday life. More often though, I think that I end up writing small mini-stories. Lots of people say that you need to have X amount of verses and X amount of bridge. I believe structure is good, but’s it’s not everything. I also don’t believe in always spelling the story out in black and white. I prefer to include just enough lyrically to make the listener decide and connect the dots. What is this song really saying? What is it really about! Maybe think about it even when they are not listening.
I might be sitting in my studio, just noodling on the guitar and come up with a riff or progression. That will evolve into a verse/chorus. I then listen to it and see what thoughts/emotions it brings out. Or… I hear a phrase or saying that sticks with me and by the end of the week I have a full set of lyrics. I write them down and save them for when I have music that marries well with them.
Are you working on anything new at the moment that you’d like to mention?
I’ve been working on new song with Fabio Bernardino @fabiobernardino. He and I have formed a band called DAYBREAK ETERNAL . He is a killer guitarist/songwriter. The title is They’ve Found Us.
I’m also compiling all of my original songs that I have completed since joining BandLab last October into an album. I performed all vocals and instruments on this. It spans a stack of different styles. It will be called “Tales from the Android Waste”.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just to share that I really do appreciate everybody that has taken the time to listen to my work. This is not just lip service. I REALLY mean it. I also want to tell all of the artists in BandLab that have been kind enough to share their songs or ask me to play with them… Thank you. You are all so talented and unique. Keep pushing and creating. You make such sweet music…
We asked Michael to offer some insight on a selection of his tracks, starting with this, released in March and almost four thousand plays since being posted;
The Great Unknown
This is a song about our journey through life. It was definitely triggered by the journey my best friend/wife Kristi is on now. I hadn’t mentioned it in the interview so far because she does not want us to dwell on this. She was diagnosed with cancer in January and is six months into treatment. She wants to move forward and put this chapter behind us.
Out of the Night (Kristi’s Song)
Again, a song I wrote specifically for Kristi when she was first diagnosed in January/February.
This is a DAYBREAK ETERNAL song. Best to let the listener determine what it is about… Great Guitar work by Fabio Bernardino.
“Mother Country” One of my originals that will be on Tales From the Android Waste.
We offer our thanks to Michael for sparing the time to share his stories with us, it’s greatly appreciated. We wish him and Kristie all the very best for the future, and for these challenging times to pass by soon.