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Fingerstyle Series: An Interview with Mike Dawes

Mike Dawes

Since Mike Dawes’ cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know went viral, his name has been recognised around the world as a notable fingerstyle guitarist. He released his debut album What Just Happened?  in April 2013 on CandyRat Records, and has been touring it since, gaining the attention of musicians and press alike. We interviewed Dawes about his rising success.  

HUNOW: Before you started to play the guitar, you tried playing the keyboard. When you got your first guitar, did you instantly know that it was the right instrument for you?

MD: At first I struggled to be honest! I always knew I wanted to make music, I don’t recall desiring a particular medium when I was younger. I used to get terribly frustrated at my inability to play what I wanted. Once I learned a few chords though, I was dead set on the guitar. It just felt right.

HUNOW: In 2012 you signed to Candyrat Records, which is essentially the most respected and dedicated record label for your kind of acoustic music. How did that come about?

MD: I actually signed with them as part of a previous project straight out of University. That fell apart just before our studio time, so after a few months I came back as a soloist with an ironically personal cover of a Gotye song, at the time it was the only new solo I had! Fortunately they seemed to dig it and agreed to put it out for me. The album deal came later, it felt right to release the record through the same label.

HUNOW: With so many great guitar players on Candyrat Records, was signing to the label the point in your career that you realised you were starting to become recognised as one of the more notable guitar players around?

MD: The label was, and still is, home to many of my guitar heroes. I used to watch the older Candyrat videos when I was developing my playing back at college and university. It was truly humbling to join that family. It’s kind of you to say that, I still feel like diet coke compared to some of those classic releases! The Spiritual Groove duet by Antoine [Dufour] and Tommy [Gauthier] is just perfect music.

HUNOW: Despite becoming increasingly successful in your own right, your cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know went viral, reaching huge audiences and new fans across the world. Do you think that your version of this song that was going viral itself really helped to take your popularity to another level?

MD: Oh yeah absolutely, It was my first release and I couldn’t have asked for a better response, even from Wally (Gotye). Back then the fact that I had no other material to release was kind of a good thing. The success of the video had it’s own breathing space, I feel that if I had uploaded some of my own tunes in the same period, the virality of ‘Somebody’ would have overshadowed the other tracks.

HUNOW: On your latest release What Just Happened? you’ve also included your rendition of the track Titanium, do you particularly enjoy taking someone’s song and making it your own?

MD: Totally, arranging is so much fun, it’s also a great way to learn about songwriting, like dissecting a Frog. A musical Frog. However, all the arrangements must mean something on a personal level. Titanium and Somebody were both personal songs from either happy or sad memories. I wouldn’t put the same amount of effort into something like Gangnam style, it would feel like a lie.

HUNOW: Having toured both the UK and US, have there been any noticeable differences between playing both countries?

MD: Well the US experience was dramatically different as the tour was on a larger scale. I had the privilege of touring as Justin Hayward’s guitar player, whilst also opening the shows. I’m looking forward to the next US tour with the International Guitar Night in Jan/Feb 2014. There may also be something else in the pipeline but I can’t really talk about it.

The UK is, and always will be, home. Nothing is lost in translation which is great, but I must admit sometimes you have to look harder for the acoustic fans. In the States it seems like more people are up for it, but then hey, look at the size of the place!

Mike Dawes 2

HUNOW: How do you like to write your material? Do you have imagery in your mind or do you expand on something that you’ve jammed and like the sound of?

MD: Normally it’ll come from fooling around until there’s a spark, then it’s all about harnessing the spark and letting it take you where it wants to go. Sometimes the imagery is produced by sound, I always find that easier than writing with an idea in mind, that almost seems academic. I remember at school we’d have to write music to pre-written objectives and briefs. Although that’s fun away from solo guitar music, I’ve never really been able to translate it into this context.

HUNOW: Are there any living players that you would especially like to play with at some point?

MD: One obvious choice would be someone like Guthrie (Govan) but I wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on through my own melted face. I’m a big fan of Kaki King, specifically her 3rd and 4th records. She makes some absolutely stunning music. I’d love to explore similar sounds in the future. I just bought an album by Kelli Rudick, she’s great, I’m listening to it right now. Check out her bandcamp page and pick it up!

HUNOW: Which five musical artists would you say people should keep an eye on at the moment?

MD: Dirty Loops

Kaki King

Karnivool

Fink

Oceansize (no longer together, but still)

HUNOW: For the readers of HOLDUPNOW, if you could give one piece of technical advice to a budding guitar player, what would it be?

MD: Don’t be afraid to do something just because no one else has done it yet.

You can find out more about Mike Dawes by visiting his:

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