I joined my first band when I was 18…a lot of folk, a lot of blues…I got more into the folk punk scene, started listening to Pat The Bunny or Days N’ Daze…(on influences).
We talked with Michael Zernia aka Unicycle Michael, this singer songwriter is often seen hustling the streets with his six string and a unicycle, we chat influences, songwriting process, and what’s coming up for this musician.
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Michael Zernia 01:46
So my name is Michael Zernia, but a lot of people know me as Unicycle Michael. I started music when I was probably in like first grade and my mom she like forced me to do piano lessons. And I hated it so much. But I did anyways. And I think it made me a lot better musician. And then I started getting into bass later when I was probably in fifth grade, played in the orchestra. And then eventually I started playing in the band at school and I’d be playing electric bass during like pep band and stuff. And then I moved on to guitar later. And then I joined my first band when I was 18. And we were called the Blue Bridge Band with my buddy Addison Israelson. And yeah, so we played like a lot of folk, a lot of blues. That’s when it all started.
Brent Hanifl 02:39
Going through some of your music now, you know, it’s kind of transition from those early phases. I could still hear some blues in it, but what are some of your musical influences that you kind of take from?
Michael Zernia 02:49
Well, I’d say, in the early days, when I first started, I was really into like the blues and the folk. So I listened to like a lot of like, Old Crow Medicine Show like Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, those kind of characters. I’m also really influenced by my old bandmate, Addison Israelson. But I’d say it’s more like the way I perform just kind of the physical parts of the performance. I was living on in Seattle about two years ago. And I got more into the folk scene, I’d say, and I started listening more like Pat the Bunny, Days and Days, like those kinds of kinds of groups. And then I like transition when I started playing with this horn player out in Seattle. And we started to get more into like funky stuff and more, more jazz oriented things. As my musical vocabulary started to grow. And I started to get more into you know, other other facets.
Brent Hanifl 03:41
You shared a link with me with some new tunes, Lovely Friends and Friendly Lovers, just recently. What was the songwriting and recording process like that, or do you work fast or do you kind of take your time?
Michael Zernia 03:54
So I have a extremely un-linear way of going about that. So I’ll start with like, I’ll have a phrase or a punch line or something like that, and I’ll type it out. Or I’ll type it on my, I’ll type it in the notes on my computer or type it in, like my typewriter, maybe write on a piece of paper. And then I’ll try to like find a way I can make that into like a punch line for a song or put like a progression over it. And then once I had that, then I’ll start to add the rest of the songs to the rest of the lyrics. And then I’ll start performing that a little bit at shows and you know, maybe sneak in there once once in a while. And then once I start getting comfortable with it, then I’ll start playing it more at shows and then we go on to recording. So when I start recording, I’ll go hit up my bandmate Stan Hall and first thing we do is we lay down the drums. So then we have like the form for the song per se. And then over the drums we’ll lay the rhythm guitar and then lay the bass down and then the lead guitar and then last and lay down the vocals last. And then you can add any you know, special effects you want to it. Or if you want, you know, a little sound effect here or something, you can add that all in at the end. But that’s basically how I go about it.
Brent Hanifl 05:26
How has the COVID experience been for you? I mean, was it time for you to kind of dig into creativity? Or is it frightening? Or was it no different than your other daily life? Or how’s the experience for you?
Michael Zernia 05:39
So the COVID was interesting. I’d say that, uh, it had both positive and negative effects on my personal life. So, one negative factor was obviously couldn’t do shows during COVID because, you know, so I was closed down. But at the same time, when COVID ended, everyone is just so hungry for shows, like, people would walk up to you at a show, and they’d be like, oh my god, it’s so great to hear live music again. So that was pretty awesome. You know, it’s like when you have like a lover or something, you spend some time away from them, and then you come back, it’s like, oh, yeah, like I missed this so much. So that was, that was really awesome. I got to do some recording during COVID. I actually moved during COVID which is crazy, because stuff was really popping off when I was living in Seattle. I just moved back to my hometown, La Crosse, to you know, get somewhere where it’s a little bit more safe and predictable, you know?
Brent Hanifl 06:36
So you know, you had this kind of two track project that you just put out Lovely Friends and Friendly Lovers. Can you kind of go through the two tracks and just, you know, maybe share a little inspiration on?
Michael Zernia 06:48
Yeah, so the first track I’d say that was more of the lovely friend side of it. Basically that track it’s talking about like a party, you know, you’re at like some kind of get together some kind of music festival or something. And everyone’s just going wild, dancing and you know, so it’s kind of like setting the scene for the story. You know, like everyone’s you know, just going wild, dancing and having a good time. You know, partying together, you know, you feel the friendly love. The other track, I’d say as more of the first part would be the lovely friends. The second part would be the friendly lovers. Because it’s talking about this girl. I basically just go off about how I wish she never left, you know? And then it talks about how you just make the day so much better, even when it’s rainy. You know? Like it just feels good to have you around. You know, that’s friendly lovers.
Brent Hanifl 07:40
So do you have something like a full album coming down the line? Or what are you working on here in the next years related to recordings?
Michael Zernia 07:47
I’d say we’re gonna start, we got some tracks that we’re trying to fit into an album. I can’t really say when that’s going to happen, but we’re working on that right now. And we got some singles cooking too, and a bunch of other projects. We’re always working on stuff.
Brent Hanifl 08:03
If someone wants to find out more, what’s the best avenue to send them to? Website or social?
Michael Zernia 08:08
I’d say check me out on Facebook at Michael Zernia. You can find me, you can check out my music page. Also, I’m on Instagram at @michaelzerniamusic. And then I’m on Bandcamp at Michael Zernia, which is where you can find that recording of Lovely Friends and Friendly Lovers.
Amy Gabay 08:30
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La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
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