By Elizabeth Sias
The 13th “Music & Pie” concert at Siloa Lutheran Church will feature renowned musician Michael Monroe.
Monroe lives with his wife and manager Debra in his log cabin and records his music on the North Shore of Lake Superior in his solar powered MisTree Studio.
Performing his original acoustic folk, reggae and jazz, he blends rich vocals, guitars, bamboo and crystal flutes together.
Monroe’s music is featured on Jim Brandenburg’s “Chased By the Light” documentary on PBS and globally, for which he received several national awards. He has recorded nine albums using solar power with his most recent album in 2009, LIVE at The Cedar.
He’ll perform at Siloa Lutheran Church, 2607 405th Ave. NW in Braham, for the 13th “Music & Pie” concert Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. The concert is free, with free will offerings accepted. Pie and ice cream will be served after the concert.
The Isanti County News spoke with Monroe about creating music, his inspirations and challenges as a musician, and more.
How long have you been writing and performing music? How did you get started?
I started performing back in 1970 right out of high school in coffeehouses and for friends’ weddings. Immediately I was interested in writing songs. I was learning guitar by learning my favorite musicians’ songs — Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and a few others — I really enjoyed their writing style and felt that was what music was about was expressing what’s inside you. I started writing and just kept doing it, then 10 years later I did my first album.
From there, I kept writing and performing and realized — I thought I was going to do something else for a living — within a few years I knew this is what I enjoyed doing. I found that what I was passionate about made my life work and people responded really well to what I was doing, so I have bene able to make a good living making music.
How would you describe your music?
I’d say it’s a mix between acoustic and little bit of reggae, a touch of jazz and most of what I’m doing is original music. It crosses many borders and it can be hard to pin down.
What instruments do you play?
Now I play four handmade guitars, made by David Seaton. He built two of them from local wood, some salvaged by wood from Lake Superior.
I play the guitars, but I also play flute, a little harmonica, and with my midi guitar I can access other sounds like piano, bass, and then in real time I can layer these sounds in a loop and create a full band sound live on stage. That’s been a lot of fun to be able to bring in the other instruments as a solo artist.
What do you enjoy most about creating music?
It means I don’t have to have a real job (jokingly). Every part of it I really enjoy. I love playing guitar, I love to sing. Playing guitar and singing my original music is really satisfying. I love the recording side of it too; there’s an art to layering the sounds in the studio when I’m recording an album. It’s fun to come to that point in recording and writing. As I perform more, I get different ideas and different inspirations as to how to treat the song, so a song from the point where I wrote it to a year later will change.
What inspires you?
The guitars, for one thing, inspire me because they each have a very unique voice, and each album had a little bit of a different inspiration. My first album was relationship-inspired, and albums beyond that were inspired by the Caribbean with the reggae flavor from the time I spent on St. Thomas. Since I’ve been up in the North Woods, I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from being here in nature, so a lot of the stuff I’ve written most recently is nature-inspired. The album Wintersong is inspired by embracing winter when I can get out in it and enjoy it, and that’s one of the songs on it is “Winter Embrace.”
What challenges do you face as a musician?
I have to say that the biggest challenge was to stick with what I wanted to do. In the beginning I had agents telling me what direction I should go in terms of style. I wasn’t doing what was coming from my heart, so when I came back to that, I found a lot more success and a lot more joy in what I was doing. It’s true for everyone to stay true to what you are, and in music it’s really apparent because I’m always wearing my heart on my sleeve and sharing my experiences.
My challenge is to stay true to who I am and what I want in music.
What are you most proud of from your career?
I’m most proud of staying with it the whole time and still doing it. It’s just so satisfying to perform for people.
I’ve been doing log cabin performances for about six years now where we bring 30 to 50 people into our home for a night. I get to work from home, I get to talk to the people before and after sets. It’s more of an intimate setting, and I have to say it’s a highlight for me.
Find out more about Monroe at www.michaelmonroe.info. For more information about the Music & Pie concert, call Pat Schonhardt at 718-749-6341. For directions call 320-396-3237 or visit www.siloalutheranchurch.org.