If you have any interest in acoustic fingerstyle guitar, you’ve likely heard of Mike Dawes. His videos have racked up millions of views on Facebook and YouTube (including his most recent version of Metallica's "One", picking up 25 million views in one week), and he is regarded as one of the most creative modern fingerstyle guitar performers. Musicians including John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Gotye, Billy Sheehan and James Valentine (Maroon 5) have all spoken of their admiration towards Mike’s work.
He also plays regularly as lead guitarist with Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues and opens the show with an acoustic set.
We count ourselves lucky to have known Mike for a while and have him as part of the G7th Family, so when he told us he had a brand-new album coming out in the 2nd half of 2017 we jumped at the chance for a quick interview…
Nick Campling - You have had tremendous success since your viral video of Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know”. Now running at over 4 million views! Obviously, that was a great boost, but you have maintained the momentum… So, leaving out the characteristic humility if you can, what’s the secret?
Mike Dawes - Honestly, one piece of advice I’d love to share to any musician starting out is to just be honest and try to be a good person. I know it sounds irrelevant but honest expression is very very hard to fake, and people do really respond to it. The Gotye video is a good example of this, written after a breakup. Funnily enough, I had dinner with Wally (Gotye) last night and he came out to my show here in New York, we’ve become good friends through this connection and love for expression. A large number of the concerts and tours I get are because in this business, people want to surround themselves with like minded friends. Obviously, you must be able to do the job and play well, but a little humility goes a long, long way.
NC – Your first album “What Just Happened?” was released back in 2013 and was recorded over a period of months as you wrote the music. What has the writing process been for this new album?
MD - Things were very different with ‘ERA’, mainly because so much of it was written on the road out of my comfort zone. I’ve also been using this amazing device called a ‘Tonewood Amp’ to inspire composition with large reverbs, this is why there is a lot of ambiance and space on this new record, something that was less present on ‘WJH?’. The songs on this record are all inspired by people and places in one way or another. It’s a mature record that I’m very proud of; without the success of ‘What Just Happened?’ and the opportunities it provided, ‘ERA’ would be a very different record indeed.
NC – What were some of your inspirations for the tracks on this album?
MD - There’s a track inspired by Lebanon, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. There’s a track inspired by good friends, a track inspired by beautiful insomnia, a track inspired by fictional nostalgia and inevitably songs inspired by my favourite musicians. It’s a varied record, not a concept, but a snapshot of my life that I’m incredibly proud to share.
NC – You tour pretty heavily every year; how do you balance your time between touring, practicing, writing and relaxing?
MD - I don’t! It’s a struggle. I find relaxing very hard because I love what I do so much and always want more. My first word was actually ‘more’. For real. I’m on the road 10 months of the year at least, but fortunately, I’ve met friends in all these places who I really value, so the social aspect is much more present than if I were in one fixed location. I’m doing this interview in a coffee shop with my buddy Jeff. Say hey Jeff!
NC – When you’re writing, how do you work with different tunings? How do you decide which string to tune to what??
MD - It depends on a variety of factors. If it’s a cover, I’ll usually try and find the lowest bass note, tune open to that and harmonise with a 5th above it. Then I’ll tune the top to accommodate the melody and fill the middle with interesting voicings. Sometimes, however, I’ll tune to a nice open chord and see where it takes me. The new songs ‘Reverie’ and ‘The Old Room’ use this gorgeous open Bm9 tuning that I love. They just came out. Pure inspiration.
NC – What sort of exercises do you work on when you’re practicing, either as your general day-to-day practice or when you’re on tour?
MD - Usually on tour, I’m woodshedding the songs or composing. That keeps the chops up. I save actual practice for the times I do go home. My warm ups usually consist of generic scale runs in DADGAD tuning or I try and re arrange existing tunes to spice them up. I can’t wait to really dive into these new tunes at the next live shows!
You can read more about Mike on his G7th Artist Page here.
In case you haven't seen them, here are Mike's two biggest video hits; Metallica's "One" and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know".