Search
  • The Sound Cafe

A Conversation With Michael Schatte


Photograph by Chad Barry Photography



Talent just oozes from Michael. He’s a marvellous guitarist and an accomplished vocalist. What really stands out his creative ability to write and compose songs that cross over multiple genres. He’s been called ‘Canada’s hidden treasure’ but now with his new release, Conundrum, we can drop the term ‘hidden’.



Ken Wallis interviewed Michael Schatte for the radio show Blues Source Canada. Excerpts from the interview follow.





Ken Wallis

I'm really enjoying a brand-new album. It’s called Conundrum it is Michael Schatte and it's a great album. And joining us to talk about it is Michael Schatte . Mike, thanks for coming on the show.


Michael Schatte

My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Ken.


Ken Wallis

What a great album. There's so much great music on there. I almost don’t know where to start…but let's start with the title. Where did Conundrum come from?


Michael Schatte

There's a song on the album called Conundrum. And of course, it's the title track. I wasn't intending on the album to be called Conundrum until I had written that song. And I don't know, I took a liking to the song because it's a bit different from anything I've ever recorded. It has a groove that I don't think I've ever incorporated into an original song. And I think it came out of some of the North African musical influences I have…I've been listening to a lot of music from Northern Mali of late. And so that style, kind of inspired the song Conundrum. And I wrote the tune with kind of a broad, pseudo philosophical, you know, perspective in mind. And it just seemed to fit my music as a title for the album, because so many people don't know how to categorize my music. Yours truly included.



Ken Wallis

That was one of the questions I was gonna ask you next. You've got a wide variety of genres on the album, you've got rock, you've got blues, you've got Celtic, but I think that's what makes it so enjoyable. You just don't know what's coming from one cut to the next.


Michael Schatte

Well I'm glad you're enjoying that aspect of it. I mean, I've always been eclectic. And I've always tried to blend styles. And I don't think it's just a short attention span on my part. I hope it's not. I grew up in a household where a lot of different styles of music were being played. My father was an avid collector of vinyl and compact discs when they appeared. And so I was listening to classical, I was listening to Celtic, I was listening to blues to classic rock, and several other styles, country bluegrass…just constantly being exposed to different styles of music probably has encouraged me…I guess, an instinct for eclecticism in my own writing. And in my own even in my guitar playing, you hear a lot of different styles, I think, and it's not always intentional. It just happens.


Ken Wallis

There are a couple of tunes on the album, I really want to highlight. First of all, Dry Black Powder, tell us what that one's all about.


Michael Schatte

Yeah, so Dry Black Powder came about…I had read in my university days, I had read the story of Lord Darnley, who is a Scottish aristocrat, nobleman, I suppose, who was the victim of an assassination plot. And the suspected perpetrator or designer of the plot, maybe not the perpetrator of the crime, but the cause of his death was Mary, Queen of Scots. So, the historians think and the whole method of assassination was planting explosives underneath his bed chamber. And the explosives did go off while he was sleeping. He was blown out of the building, but he actually survived the explosion got up and started to walk away. Which at that point the person who planted the explosives killed him in a more conventional manner outside the residence. So, this is a sort of a classic, historic assassination story. And I thought, well, what better subject for a song…Dry Black Powder…I'm just sort of jumping between history and the present and talking about a love affair. Between a guy and a gal and the fellow in the song thinks that she's trying to kill him. Like Mary, Queen of Scots killed Lord Darnley. So, just having a bit of fun with history, I guess and I don't expect that song to jump to the top of the charts anytime soon. But I think it is a catchy number and, and I certainly had a lot of fun writing and recording it.


Ken Wallis

Speaking of fun, Please Don't Dance With My Brother. I had a good chuckle when I started to hear that …what is the story behind that one?


Michael Schatte

Well, I'm glad you asked how that song came about. I had competed in 2015 in the Memphis International Blues Challenge, which you'll be well aware of. In 2015, the Michael Schatte Band was fortunate enough to make it to the top eight and the final round at the Orpheum Theatre. The year right after that, I went down representing the Toronto Blues Society for a second time, but this time I went as a solo act, because there are different categories of competition, as you know. And as a solo act, I decided okay, well, I should write some new blues material as some new original stuff because I just didn't have a lot of material that I'd written that would seem suitable for solo acoustic so, Please Don't Dance With My Brother, was one of the tunes I wrote just before I left for Memphis. And it's kind of a tongue in cheek playful story about sibling rivalry. Two brothers who are fighting over the same woman, one of whom, not the narrator of the song, but his brother Stanley is quite a bit better looking than the narrator and is poised to steal his the woman he's after. So Please Don't Dance With My Brother is truly a plea, lest you fall in love with him and not with me.


Ken Wallis

What I really like as well is that you include a booklet of the lyrics. And reading the lyrics really brings out your songwriting and your lyricism. And a couple of lines that I just love were from Water In The Kettle, you're a looker in a pressure cooker and then like hot coals under my feet. How do you go about writing your music? Do the lyrics come first? Or do you get the music first?


Michael Schatte

Well, firstly, thank you for the observation and and for paying attention to the liner notes because I'm a big fan of liner notes…and every CD I've produced has a 20 page booklet initially incorporating all the lyrics and because I think it's really important. There are a lot of people and clearly you are one of them who like to read along and understand… try to understand what the writer is getting at with lyrics.


So how do I write the songs? Well, I actually almost invariably start with a guitar riff or an idea for a chord progression. And I've told a few people recently that it's a strange, mysterious process to me, because all of my fresh guitar licks, the ones that end up becoming songs or inspire the writing of a song seem to come to me within the first five minutes of picking up a guitar for the day. And I don't know why that is, there must be some cognitive reason for that. But, your mind is unhindered…unfettered by having played for the last 60 minutes, let's say and it's an entirely blank slate when you pick up the instrument, so it's all muscle memory, and then it's muscle creativity, I guess you might say, but that's how I start. So,I still find something that inspires a groove or a mood on the guitar. And then usually I will attempt to complete like a rough chord progression. And for those who aren't musicians, a chord progression is just a series of chords. And, basically in a sequence and usually in any song that sequence repeats a few times, and then maybe it goes to a different sequence, but then comes back round to the main sequence. So that's a chord progression. So, once I have that, I then start to think about themes and lyrics…lyrics really are about the third down on the list of things I do, in terms of songwriting, but it doesn't always work that way.


Ken, there's a song on Conundrum that I treated intentionally.. I treated it as an experiment. It's called Longtime Lover, and Longtime Lover was written and recorded in the span of eight hours, here in my studio by myself during COVID-19. I challenged myself to both write and finish the recording of a song in one session, basically. And I achieved that and for better or for worse, the song I liked it well enough to be on the album. And there's an example of forcing myself into a different writing scenario. And that song was written on the keyboard I'm playing on that.. guitar, Wurlitzer bass, there's backing vocals, and what I ended up doing was I wrote a riff on the keyboard and then wrote lyrics immediately for it, because I was under a time crunch.


Sometimes, if you force yourself into a different way of working, it inspires new ideas. And in the case of Longtime Lover, it seemed to work out for the best. I've had a few people tell me they quite liked that song among the tunes on the album. So I'm pleased about that.


Ken Wallis

Again, the album is called Conundrum and where can people get a hold of your album?


Michael Schatte

It’s all over the internet. I'm trying to put it all over the internet and make it very accessible…they can go to my website, Michaelschatte.com , and if you go to my discography page, there's a link to stream it on any of the major streaming services. And of course, you can just find it if you're already connected to a streaming service. Just look up Michael Schatte Conundrum, you can actually stream the entire album now on YouTube. If you happen to be surfing around, and you want to both watch and listen to the album, you can do that on YouTube. And there's also previews of the tunes available right on my website. So there's a number of opportunities, if you're an old fashioned person like myself, you want to buy that now archaic piece of plastic, otherwise known as a compact disc…you can do that at through my website, I have a online store, so physical copies can be purchased. And as you kindly mentioned, you get a full package with the liner notes, the lyrics and, I'm just the type of person that loves to hold a tangible item in my hand, when I'm listening to somebody's music, I like to look at the photos and read the notes.


Ken Wallis

Well, Michael, it's been great chatting with you. And I appreciate your time. And hopefully we get to see you perform live when things start to open up again in the near future.


Michael Schatte

Well, I hope so too..take care.




Website: www.michaelschatte.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/michaelschatte

Twitter: twitter.com/MichaelSchatte

Youtube: www.youtube.com/michaelschattemusic