Today we’re talking to Mike Brill of Peace through Music Productions, about his latest musical project, Spinning Straw. Mike has had successful stints in several bands, in a verity of musical genres. So we were excited to welcome him, and Spinning Straw to the One Unified family.
I’ve known you a long time. Music for you has taken on many incarnations over the years. How did this project, Spinning Straw come to be?
Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve now been living in Doylestown, PA for about 4 years with my wife and my two step daughters, Isobel and Isla. My wife, Jenn and I got married on May 16, 2015. My daughters have two great friends that live one block over. The kids get along wonderfully and it has been equally grand for Jenn and I getting to know their wonderful parents, Stephanie and Rob. One night Stephanie asked us to go and see Rob in a singer songwriter forum at Puck in Doylestown. I didn’t know Rob played guitar or wrote songs. I was blown away at his finger picking guitar style, gripping storytelling lyrics and unique bass voice. Shortly after, I asked Rob if I could add some lead guitar behind a few of his originals and Spinning Straw was born in his home. Practices take place in either one of our homes, which is a menial 250 yard walk from door to door.
Tell us more about Rob, the other half of Spinning Straw?
Rob Avery is just a very likeable, down to earth guy, who I’m honored to perform music with and call friend. He is a brilliant yet humble artist, poet, writer, songwriter and musician. He played the guitar during the ceremony at my wedding. His music and lyrics need to be heard by the world and since I’ve been in the music business for a long time, I’m hoping I can play a small part in making that happen. Rob’s original song library is vast and I’m enjoying the process of learning his songs and embracing the opportunity he provides me to add another layer of creativity to his song treasures. He has a unique and creative way of writing and presenting lyrics and he is open to my musical and instrumental suggestions, which is highly influenced by my musical ear and improvisational style. It was Rob that came up with the name, Spinning Straw. As we develop Spinning Straw, we are both open to adding more sounds and musicians to our project. But for now, I am really enjoying our living room practice sessions with the kids playing in the background, wives catching up while cheering us on and usually a delicious meal added in for good measure. Our sessions and friendship is rooted in family fun and togetherness and that makes the music even more special. On our Facebook page, we have a video of us performing in my backyard on a summer day. We call it our “Wonder Years” video as our kids are playing and dancing right in front of us and this captures the essence of our lives and practices beautifully.
What can people expect if they come to see you play?
Rob and I collectively embrace Spinning Straw as an original music project; prioritizing the development and promotion of our original songs. Our live shows contain a mix of covers and originals. We do unique spins on our covers blending a Bluegrass and Americana sound. Rob’s finger picking and my flat picking guitar styles, along with the occasional mandolin breathes new life into some old favorites. We are really open to covering most anything and we embrace the challenge of blending our own unique styles to cover songs. Sometimes you might even see and hear a guest musician or singer on stage with us. We continue to search and apply for more venues, festivals and contests for our original music.
Would you say this is a departure from your previous musical endeavors?
As an artist and musician, I hope I never depart from any of my previous musical endeavors. All of my musical experiential education has constructed a building block developmental path towards not just becoming better at my art but embracing music with an ongoing and thriving respect that it deserves. My respect for music is my greatest asset. It is a powerful and influential entity of our world today and I am a better person and musician because of those previous musical experiences. Moreover, those musical endeavors have blessed me with great friends and each of those artists I’ve had the privilege with which to jam and perform; influenced and encouraged me in ways I might not have attained on my own.
I mentioned that we go way back. When we met, it was probably early to mid 90’s and you were playing in a local Grateful Dead cover band. Obviously that’s a genre of music that you enjoy. What are some of your other musical inspirations?
Well I don’t think I could ever relinquish my love of the music of the Grateful Dead. I’m on the bus for a lifetime and I think Rob is as well. Most recently, after getting clean and sober in 2003 (coming up on 13 years) I became afraid of music as it was a vessel that took me down some scary paths and opened some doors I couldn’t close for many years. During that first year of sobriety, I took a year off from music completely – not listening to music or playing an instrument. Sobriety led me back to my parents, who I lost to cancer within 8 months of each other in 1996. I like to think they steered me towards Irish music and it started with Luka Bloom, an Irish singer songwriter. He plays the guitar in a Celtic tuning D-A-D-G-A-D. I picked up the guitar and married music again by learning this tuning style. In 2005 I released my live independent CD “Blooming At The Steve” a dedication to Luka Bloom, which also included my originals “Home Again?” and “The World That Should Have Been.” I implemented an Irish show into my performance rotation, which brings my parents spirit alive in me and in return each time I perform Irish music I get to pay homage to them for the wonderful world they provided me. For the past, 12 years I have performed thousands of solo shows and my enjoyment is the eclectic genres of music I am influenced by and capable of performing at any time.
I am open to being influenced and learning more about all types of music. Rob is turning me onto some cool tunes and I’m really enjoying the Americana and Bluegrass blend. Rob also agreed to do a bluegrass version of one of my favorite tunes by 80’s band, New Order, “Love Vigilantes.” I’ve also enjoyed dusting off my mandolin and adding some harmonica to SS project.
You have had the opportunity to play with a variety of musicians and bands over the years. Not to put you on the spot, but do you have a favorite? Someone that you just really relished the opportunity to play with and it lived up to any expectations you may have had?
Locally, the list of musicians I’ve performed with and have been influenced by is vast and all of them provided me with amazing memories and lessons. Over and above the members of my bands, Luke Jardell of The Hooligans, Paul Moore founding member of Blackthorn and presently front man of The Paul Moore Band and members of Splintered Sunlight have provided me with influential words of encouragement and great live experiences that have become assets in my personal musical development, live performances and ongoing appreciation of music.
However, in 2005 I found myself on a musical tour of Southern California and on one of the final days/shows I was performing at a Hurricane Katrina Benefit at Hennessey’s Irish Pub on an outdoor patio, overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway(PCH). I had the honor of performing the song In A Godda Da Vidda (Yes all of it). As I was strumming the guitar, I was in awe taking it all in, as behind me was Glenn Symmonds, drummer for Eddie Money, to my far left Martin Gershwitz, keyboardist of The Animals and to my right none other than Lee Dorman, the bassist of Iron Butterfly, who helped arrange the song in the studio. I remember just permenantly smiling and looking out in the crowd and thanking God that my best friend, Captain (Kieran Cannon) was there to witness and experience that day and the whole tour with me. To this day, I could not tell you the chords of that song but I will always treasure that moment with which God, friends and music provided.
Where might we catch Spinning Straw or what is the best way for curious people to find you?
We are really excited to be invited to perform in Lancaster PA at the Launch Music Festival and Conference. Our set is Saturday April 23rd at AUSSIE & THE FOX 38 W King St, Lancaster, PA 17603 @ 7pm.
March 26 Reiglesville Inn 8pm to midnight
April 16th and 17th @ Peddlers Village Spring Fling (Sat 1pm to 3pm / Sunday 10am to 12pm)
April 29th @ Villa Capri in Doylestown Pa 8pm to Midnight
Sunday May 22nd @ Peddlers Village Strawberry Festival TIME TBD
July 17th Bluegrass Festival @ Peddler’s Village TIME TBD
For updates and more information check out – http://www.facebook.com/spinningstraw.com
and our website will be up soon http://www.spinningstraw.net
*(Spinning Straw will be the newest addition to One Unified’s weekly local live music calendar so you can get all of their upcoming show dates there as well.)*
Lastly, I wanted to talk to you about The First Annual Steve Rowse Music Festival. If you could perhaps tell everyone who Steve Rowse was and what your relationship to him was, and about the event itself?
Steve Rowse is Isobel and Isla, my daughter’s (he didn’t like the word step as he never used it when talking about his own siblings/family) biological father. He passed away suddenly of a heart attack on Jan 17, 2016. It has been a struggle for my daughters and our whole family. Steve was just a great guy and loved music like no one else I know. After the dust settled from the divorce, Steve and I noticed that his daughters were struggling to feel and experience their true emotions. They appeared confused and troubled with the divorce and the emergence of a new relationship. Steve suggested that we get together, go out and get to know one another. Well on that night we became friends and he bestowed upon me two of the most amazing gifts a man could give another man, his daughters. Over the years, we grew together as an extended family, a team. I learned a lot about being a father from him. Steve, his girlfriend, Brandy and Jenn and I had a common goal of raising two beautiful girls. We were appreciative of each other and what each brought to the family dynamic. Together, we showed the girls there is life after divorce and that friendships and relationships can continue and flourish, even if in different arenas. We shared life events together as a family. When Steve passed we lost a vital team member and he is going to be missed by so many because he touched so many lives. Steve loved music. I thought I knew a lot about music until I met Steve. Steve played the guitar, sang and enjoyed performing with his band, JFF (Just For Fun). Moreover, Steve appreciated, shared and supported music in an altruistic manner. He would introduce bands and music to people. He would make CD recordings for people to introduce friends to new music, as gifts or to help them through a difficult life event. He went to concerts and memorialized the show by obtaining the set list. But most of all, he supported all kinds of music, especially the small bands that are trying to make their way in the often difficult music business. The day Steve passed away I thought to myself that no other person more than him deserves a music festival in their name. The next day, I made my first phone call to start organizing The First Annual Steve Rowse Music Festival. I felt I had to do something, for myself and namely our girls, Isobel and Isla. I feel like each year it will be a healing process for the girls to see how much their father was and is still loved and appreciated. I look forward to spearheading this musical project and seeing our daughters become more involved over the years. Steve’s other passion was English Football(soccer) and we hope to create a Steve Rowse Foundation to support local little league soccer teams and maybe even someday a college scholarship. But for now, on August 20, 2016 at the Maennerchor Field in Doylestown, PA – noon to midnight, we will celebrate the life of Steve Rowse and his relentless and selfless love of music. We have about nine acts on the bill including Wineskin, JFF, Spinning Straw, Seamus Kelleher, Tennessee Jedi, Shadow Puppet, Cardinal Arms, Archie Pelago, John South Band. Details are being worked out but it will be a fun family friendly day. For further details go to the Facebook page for the First Annual Steve Rowse Music Festival.
One Unified will keep you up to date on Spinning Straw, as well as all of Mike’s musical projects and the Steve Rowse Music Festival. Follow us on Facebook to stay updated.