by Laura Stanley
For many, the final year of high school and the immediate years after are filled with anxiety. The comforts of home and routine slip from your grip. The permanence of your life is no longer as your friends, or you, move away to go to university, college, work, or just for a change. The world is at your feet and it’s overwhelming.
The debut album (ok night) from Winnipeg born and raised musician Micah Visser is filled with these anxieties. In the album’s opening track “New Moon,” Visser is quick to admit that he wants to stay still, “on the fringes of my youth. Safe and sound, feet firmly on the ground.” But he knows he can’t. It’s very fitting then that when it came to his new EP, out early next month, Visser chose to name it after the only direction he can go: Forward.
“ok night was very much a high school record,” Visser tells me over the phone. “I called [the EP] Forward because there’s a lot of moving forward happening now. I’m at the point where everyone is moving out of the homes they grew up in and is starting to be hit with the reality of adulthood. Everyone is learning how to stand on their own and nobody is necessarily very good at it yet.”
ok night was recorded during the year after Visser graduated from high school while he was attending an audio engineering school in Winnipeg. It’s a densely emotional and confessionary bedroom-folk record that attempts to recreate the private setting Visser’s anxieties about adulthood were originally processed in. Immediately after its release, Visser began writing material for what would become Forward and was ready to shift away from the intimacy of ok night into something more expansive.
“After I put out ok night, I was pretty happy with it but I knew that with whatever I put out next, I didn’t want to do the same thing over again,” he says. “I started writing in a really different way, using keyboards, and experimenting. I wrote a lot of it last summer and fine-tuned it over the course of the year.”
Visser’s maturation is very evident in Forward. Although it was written not long after ok night, you can hear that Visser is no longer resigned to stay still in his bedroom but is moving ahead. Even his future seems a little bit clearer. In the chorus-strong “Keeping Up,” Visser is moving away from an adolescence filled with the sounds of dial-up internet to an adulthood, that although is messy, is happening and it’s okay. Likewise in the energetic “Super 8” where Visser is stumbling and getting into a messy relationship but that’s all part of life.
“I think while not a lot more optimistic than ok night, Forward is a little more optimistic,” Visser says. “I feel like I’m able to look forward now where ok night was a lot of dwelling on the past. I really wanted to take a step ahead from where I had been before and maybe be a little bit more optimistic about the future. There’s a lot of negativity in this EP but I feel that me, as a person, I’m learning how to be a little more optimistic.”
Sonically, Visser tells me that although it began as a solo project, his music has turned into more of a collaborative effort between his brother Joseph Visser on guitar, keys, and vocals and Katlin Mathison on bass and vocals, with Angus Cruikshank on drums for the EP though Michael Dunn has since taken up the reigns.
“The goal is always to make it a band and it’s a little bit hard because it’s always my name,” says Visser. “I’m always really focused on creating a group of people that feel comfortable and constant in their place.”
Forward moves between energetic pop-rock, big memorable chorus, and even a slow 80s-like jam for good measure. The keys anchor much of the EP, helping to smooth out Visser’s sound, as they dance throughout “I Will Not Return as a Tourist” and pulsate in the title track while the Visser brothers’ guitars are loud and commanding, matching the chaotic energy of being in your early 20s.
“I liked the idea of having an album that was very different while still maintaining the things that I felt were strong about ok night. I still really focus on lyrics and I’m very set on getting that emotion across,” Visser explains.
“I didn’t want to compromise what I was doing before but I didn’t want to do the same thing. This is what I came up with and I definitely did make the decision soon after ok night to write an album that sounded like this. It evolved over time but this was a pretty conscious decision.”
Tickets to Micah’s EP release show in Winnipeg on Sept. 9th can be purchased here and more tour dates will be announced soon.