While most teenagers spent hours in their room being angry, Canadian musician Robert Michaels surrounded himself with his passion: guitar. As other kids played ball after school, Michaels locked himself away in his room, practicing with vigilance as minutes melted into hours–and that was before he owned a real guitar.
Michaels passion was unleashed after he heard a friend play guitar at age 14. Despite best efforts on his part, Michaels’ parents were reluctant to make such an expensive investment for instrument that could be just a passing fad. It was, however, true love, and so, with some wood, six strings (literally) and drawn on frets, Michaels made a makeshift guitar and began practicing diligently.
While Michaels is labeled a flamenco-guitar player, that title doesn’t really begin to describe the kind of music he produces.
"People put terms to it like ‘flamenco’ and it’s not traditional flamenco in any way–there’s more of a modern angle to it," says Michaels. "It’s kind of music from the soul. It’s stuff that has a lot of Latin base to it, and Flamenco influence, but it’s a lot of other things too: there’s a lot of jazz, pop, Mediterranean and European influence"
Despite his Italian background, diversity in music was always part Michaels’ family life.
"Living at home, my parents would listen to all kinds of music: Latin-American, Brazilian. Those kinds of influences, hearing them in the house, it kind of soaked into my system."
Although Michaels admits like most teens, he wanted to play rock, he also studied jazz and classical music. It was playing in a top 40 band, however, that re-introduced him to Latin music.
"It was mostly a kind of ethnic band, and we did a lot of weddings and things like that," says Michaels, "and so I was exposed to performing Latin-American music in that setting… When I got to college, I was kind of going into more of a jazz direction, but I always still played Latin-American music on the side."
After college, Michaels traveled extensively, playing in cafés, bars and restaurants, honing his talent and his love for Latin-American music.
"That’s kind of how my style also developed. It was through playing with Native players in Cuba and France, and parts of Europe and South America."
Besides developing his style, his travels remain experiences he draws upon when composing–although Michaels admits his song-writing is often a cathartic experience.
"You have your up days and down days, and its nice when I pick up the guitar and that feeling comes through," explains Michaels. "It comes from a lot of different areas: sometimes it’s strictly rhythm-based and sometimes it’s just the melody. I don’t know where it comes from, but the thing is it just keeps coming."
Michaels’ third album, Utopia marks his first major label release. Despite leaving the indie scene, the recording process didn’t change that much from his first two independent efforts, Paridiso and Arizona.
"Basically, I recorded it and produced it the way I want," says Michael. "If anything I’ve taken the studio out of the basement and now we have kind of a real studio out in a different place. I think because of the extra space, I was able to record more acoustic instruments, so that process was a little better."
Utopia invades your soul–you can’t help but move to it. Michaels promises the same of his show.
"Expect to have a lot of fun," says Michaels. "At the end of shows, we’ve had conga lines going–it turns into a party… We try to get the audience involved, and sometimes we bring them up on stage and get them playing percussion instruments."
It’s that kind of energy that Michaels feeds upon from the audience–the kind of atmosphere he loves.
"I get charged up when the audience gets charged and it’s nice to give that to people," says Michaels. "You’re giving them something that wasn’t there, but they’re feeling it and they’re getting it, and they’re understanding a language you’re talking. That’s the biggest reward: at the end of the night when everybody has a great time and they felt the music the way it should be felt."
Robert Michaels performs at 8 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 27 at the Rosza Centre.