If there’s one thing I’ve learned playing music in this city, it’s that it’s filled with fantastic musicians. For this month’s blog post, I’ll focus on one such musician–Mike Berginc.
I plan to do more outreach of this sort so if you’re interested in having a feature on Chasing The Chords let me know by sending me a message.
The impetus for this post was a conversation I had with Berginc last month at an open mic. We got to talking about the creative process, specifically about how a song is born.
In a written exchange that followed our talk, Mike provided me with some insight into his creative process. I’ve summarized some of his points and I’ve included a short interview. Throughout the post, I’ll share my thoughts on the singer-songwriter format.
I hope you enjoy reading this; as always, let me know what you think in the comment thread.
Let’s get things started by watching and listening to Mike sing a song:
Jump: When did you start playing and singing?
Berginc: I bought my first guitar, an Ibanez Stratocaster, when I was 14. I started recording guitar and singing through my family’s desktop PC. I have to look for some of my early experiments doing covers, notably Beck and Beastie Boys.
Jump: Why did you pick up your first guitar?
Berginc: I am a bit of a loner. I chose to support my social life through playing music. I think I’ve succeeded at this in my own interesting way.
Jump: Why do you write songs?
Berginc: I write to have my own creative space in the world. I feel like I really have to fight to have it. It comes out of some kind of rebellion. I like punk music. Punk has shaped my song-writing more than any other genre. In my late adolescence I looked up to talented folks in bands locally here in Pittsburgh e.g. The Juliana Theory, The Berlin Project) and gravitated toward a couple bands in particular in college, Saves The Day and Jimmy Eat World. I saw people start fires with music and it later gave me the courage to go to my first open mic, write music and reach out to musically talented people.
Jump: What are your non-musical influences?
Berginc: Any visual art, literature and architecture. I am highly visual and tactile person. I write about love a lot. I try not to hide that, because it’s powerful and brings people together; like a great work of art, literature or a cool building would. Luckily, Pittsburgh is a great place for all of these things.
Jump: Describe one of your musical weaknesses; how do you work around this weakness?
Berginc: I am an average guitar player. I work around this by playing with people that are better than me!
Chasing The Process
Mike suggested to me that, “writing a song begins with a block, a barrier; an obstacle” and that overcoming writer’s block “fits the mood of an unruly child needing a lollipop.”
I agree. There does seem to be something insistent and demanding about creativity. I’d even go as far to say that urgency is the engine of art.
When considering lyrical content, Mike says that “all of my songwriting is deeply and confusingly personal.”
This is likely right where the dial should be set for singer-songwriters. It seems to me that much of life is deeply confusing and (obviously) very personal. I believe that songwriters need to connect to this reality in order to be coherent to their listeners.
Mike excels at making this connection. Consider this lyric from his song, Close To Me:
“Things you know they go the way they ought to be; I’ll recite your words to keep me company; why can’t I keep you close to me…”
It seems to me that this clever turn of the phrase perfectly unpacks the confusion we all feel in the wreckage of failed relationships.
Mike hones his guitar parts, instrumental components, and arrangement ideas with emotional purity in mind. He told me that he adds sing along parts to his music to get maximum emotion out of himself.
This is a good idea.
By using sing-alongs and other catchy arrangement ideas, Mike is able to draw real emotion not only from himself but from his listeners as well.
It also helps that he can sing like a bird.
There’s something intrinsically pure about the singer-songwriter format. I believe that it allows listeners the opportunity for raw emotional contact with artists in a way that no other musical format can.
This is because the singer-songwriter format is nothing more than a person, an accompanying instrument, and a song. It exists entirely without instrumental superfluity. Singer-songwriters, therefore, maximize their capacity to connect on a human level.
Berginc’s music embodies this principle and represents a perfect distillation of the player-listener emotional exchange.
Go check him out.