The first question most interviewers ask John Michael Rouchell of the band MyNameisJohnMichael, usually, is about the 52 songs he wrote in a year on a dare. Sure it’s interesting but the primary reason for the initial salvo is the fact that it’s in the first paragraph of his official bio:
MyNameIsJohnMichael is a 6 piece indie rock band born and raised in New Orleans, which began as a solo project in 2008 when lead singer John Michael Rouchell accepted a friendly challenge to write, record, and release 52 songs in one year.
Easy question and lazy journos aside, it opened up a broader conversation about songwriting during our Brooklyn Bugle Session interview. For example, in a week where the biggest karoke competition on the planet is about to crown a new American Idol it begs the question, “is songwriting dead?”
“I ask myself that question every morning. I worry a lot that the concept of the song is dead, that it’s antiquated that people don’t care about stories.”
As a performer, John Michael presents as a mix of Elvis Costello, Joe Cocker, Billy Bragg as channeled by Thom Yorke. Out of all those, it’s Costello who appears to have influenced Rouchell’s wordplay the most — especially in songs like “Her, I Think” and his latest single, “Orphan”.
Rouchell readily admits to being a fan of Costello’s and has the singer’s TV show, Spectacle, to thank for inspiring him to write one of the songs on 52.
Lou Reed discussed songwriting on the program and the flack he received for the dark themes he explored on his seminal album Berlin. Reed’s take on his choice of subjects, Rouchell says, “if Shakespeare can do it why can’t I?”
And that’s when he decided, “I’m going to kill someone off in a song. This is gonna be great.” The result – the final song on 52 “Althea and the Company Store“, which took him 10 minutes to write. However, it’s the one that sticks with him the most from that year of writing.
Diving deeper into the Costello connection, it’s his 1983 album Punch the Clock (which featured legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker) that is the most sonically similar to MyNameisJohnMichael. Makes sense since a key component of the band is its horn section.
John Michael says the idea for brass came from a conversation with band producer Raymond Richards. He wondered, what sonic element would ground the band’s music in New Orleans and give it a sense of place, much like Dylan’s harmonica puts you in 1960s Greenwich Village or Clarence Clemmons’ sax roots Springsteen’s music in New Jersey?
“Brass. It was the color I grew up hearing,” Rouchell says. “So it just made sense.”
Stripped down to guitar and vocal for our Brooklyn Bugle Session Rouchell performs “When I’m Older”. This intimate performance gives the song, which Rouchell says is more of a pop tune on record, a bittersweet spin.
Rouchell says he’s “insanely proud” of the band’s untitled new album, out later this year, which mixes classic New Orleans R&B with indie and the band’s anthemic trademark sound.