Mike Visceglia Interview

I met bassist/producer/writer Mike Visceglia when I first moved to New York City, at The Bitter End. I can’t even remember how we met exactly or who approached whom, but within no time he was playing on my demos and often, appearing with “Rachael Sage & The Red Rubber Band” at clubs like Sin-e (no longer around), and CB’s Gallery. Mike has been an incredible musical match-maker for me through the years; he introduced me to other musicians including drummer Doug Yowell and most recently, singer-songwriter, Tiffany Randol. When I emailed him to ask if I could interview him for my website, he was characteristically positive, writing back within minutes “Absolutely!! Thanks for thinking of me.”

RS: I think of you as a quintessential New Yorker in many ways. What do you still love most about New York City, after living here for so many years, and what, if anything, have you seen change that you miss about the City?

MV: This city inspires me. I think it’s the greatest place for a musician to live. The artistic standard is high and I’m driven to be a better musician for it. In New York I feel a part of a musical community and there are opportunities and exchanges of ideas that exist nowhere else. Unfortunately the artist is finding living here less affordable than ever before and new frontiers need to be opened within the city confines. I also grieve for the loss of more and more “mom and pop” stores and services as they give New York its unique character and neighborhood feel.

RS: You are an incredibly wonderful “yenta” and have single-handledly introduced me to most of my closest friends and many of the musicians with whom I’ve collaborated, over the years. Why do you have such a gift for bringing the right folks together, creatively-speaking? And why do you think more people in our local community aren’t as proactive as you, when it comes to networking and introducing like-minded artists to one another?

MV: I find the act of bringing people together part of my responsibilty as an artist and as a person. I fortunately was raised by a musical father who acted in that way and instilled that value in me. I’ve always found that the creative people that I’ve met and respect are generous in that way. And besides it’s good karma! As far as why other people aren’t like minded might be due to fear and a sense of insecurity as to who they are as people and as artists. I always encourage others to network and share their knowledge, time and experience.

RS: I am a huge Suzanne Vega fan, and have relished seeing you perform with her in many different contexts, from Lilith Fair to The Letterman Show. Tell us a little bit about how you two met, some of your favorite things about working with Suzanne, and why you think that relationship has lasted through so many phases of her incredibly impressive and ever-shifting career.

MV: I was recommended to Suzanne to be her bassist in 1985 just when she completed her first record (not CD). I auditioned and got the gig and here I am 23 years later. Her music has taken so many turns and has allowed me a lot of freedom of expression. When we perform as a duo I get to showcase my playing skills as well as my support skills. When we perform as a band there’s always a lot of experimenting going on. She has several different styles of songs from placid and folky to avant-garde. But my favorite thing about her as an artist is her lyric writing. When she is at her best she’s as good as anyone that I’ve ever heard. I think the main reason that we’ve survived as musical partners for so long is that I recognize the space that exists between us as people. Our lives are very independent from each other and even though we’ve experienced a lot of each other’s tribulations our sensibiltities primarily intersect through music.

RS: How do you balance the amount of time you spend “home” versus on tour? Has that gotten easier over the years, and if so, what are some of your secrets for being able to sustain healthy personal and work relationships, off the road? Along those lines, have you ever turned down a great gig because it threatened that balance, or do you generally say “yes” to everything, and figure out a way to make it work?

MV: I generally say yes to most things and figure out a way to make it work. It’s in my nature. However as time goes on I also find it more and more difficult to go out on the road for extended periods of time. I try to live pretty cleanly and have not cultivated really bad habits. I also thank my wife and friends (like you) for the love and support that I’ve gotten. It keeps me grounded!

RS: Can you describe some of your other pursuits, including (but not limited to) producing, your charitable endeavors, and your involvement in WACBIZ.com?

MV: I like to have 27 plates spinning in the air at all times. It invigorates me and satisfies creative needs. I find it fulfilling as well as essential to diversify my pursuits. I love to wear a producer’s hat and bring my experience and tastes to another artist’s music. I am currently working on a benefit CD project to further autism awareness. Some of the artists involved are Jackson Browne, Jonatha Brooke, Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw and Dan Bern. I’m currently talking to Joan Osborne and Paula Cole about jumping in. I’m also partners in a music licensing company for film and TV called WACBIZ. It’s an acronym for “Writers and Artists Cooperative Business.” It’s built on a philosophy of getting independent or marginalized artists placements and a fair deal for their work. In the past I’ve been involved in raising money for MusiCares which is an organization that I have a lot of love and respect for as they selflessly give resources of all kinds to musicians in need. I’ve seen amazing results come of their efforts.

RS: OK, now you have to ask me a question, that’s the rule! What scintillating detail would you like to know about me that I haven’t already revealed, in our 10+ years of knowing one another? There better be something haha.

MV: OK Rachael! You live an independent and very busy life. You’re one of the most prolific people I know. Do you get your song ideas through disciplined effort or does inspiration just seem to come to you?

RS: I would say it’s mostly inspiration just coming to me, these days. When I was younger, I was a whole lot more disciplined about sitting down to write each day, and as a teenager I spent countless hours with midi gear, exploring technology, arrangement and the craft of writing a good pop song. I went to seminars at The New School, ASCAP and the 92nd Street Y every weekend and was obsessed with learning from “the greats” any chance I got. I guess I put in a good decade doing that voraciously, until it started to just “flow” more easily and I began to subconsciously approach my daily life as a songwriter versus trying so hard. So rather than needing to hunker down at my instrument anymore to write a verse and a chorus, I could be anywhere: on a plane, in my hotel, sitting in a coffeehouse, and if an idea comes, I make sure I have a pen handy or borrow one if need be. I’ve sort of learned how to turn the faucet on, as a natural approach to my life. I could definitely be a lot more prolific though - so perhaps a bit more effort is in order now that you mentioned it. I’d like to write a musical some day and I have a feeling that’s not gonna just “come to me”…

MV: Thanks and lots of love!

RS: Right back atcha, bubulah!