Detroit-area singer/songwriter Mike Ward’s humanistic approach to lyricism salvages a brightness from heavyhearted subject matter. He’s premiering a new music video for the second single from his forthcoming album; proceeds will benefit nonprofit organizations assisting those experiencing homelessness.
To a degree, you could say that the songs on Mike Ward’s forthcoming album are pared back, and yet they still feel so full of life. It might be that the songwriter’s passion for music and lyricism emanates through in his vocal performance, or it could something about the enthusiasm with which he strums his guitar; it could also be the startling poignancy with which he hits upon subject matter that is difficult to address, but worthy of our contemplation.
You might call the resulting production and overall sonic delivery of this album to be radiant — and yet, it is also simple, not overwrought in the least, and at its core it captures a man, his guitar, and his heartfelt, heavy thoughts. The kids used to say that some songs would get them “all up in their feelings,” but Detroit-based artist Mike Ward strives to be all up into ALL the feelings…, universal feelings, if you will — the human condition! Quite a thing to try to capture into one song, but Ward is up to the task.
Here is the premiere of the second single (in music video form) from Mike Ward’s album, The Darkness and the Light.
“I’ve always been drawn to songs that can make you smile but can also make you cry,” said Ward. “I grew up listening to a lot of Irish music…., which, there’s a lot of that material that’s considered ‘drinking songs,’ but there’s also really a lot of heartache in there.” He lists John Prine as an all-time favorite but also points to Jason Isbell as a more contemporary influence. What these artists and these types of songs spark inside of Ward is the potential for maximal emotion impact and provocation of compassionate thoughts, all compacted into a simple 3 minute folk song. And THAT’S precisely what Ward’s achieved on this new album, produced by Dexter-based songwriter Mike Gentry and Grand Blanc-based musician David Roof.
“What I find appealing in songwriting are those people who can peel away something and you get a peek into their soul,” said Ward. In fact, Ward will be the first to tell you that he gains valuable inspiration and insight from his comrades. “There are three songs on this record that actually came out of workshops,” he said. “I’ve gone to John Lamb’s annual Retreat for Songwriters in Harbor Springs, and the first single came from a prompt at that workshop about changing out light bulbs from old to new…. What I came out of that with was ‘Our Turn to Shine.’”
While that song has a bit of healing ebullience to it, there’s another not-yet-released song that takes that candid regard of the darkness just a bit further, called “In The Light.” In this, Ward weaves some heavy-hearted words that eloquently address the ideations of suicidal thoughts that many struggle with. In fact, the struggles of the many are what weigh upon Ward’s songwriting, but not to a point of histrionic melancholy, more so leaning toward empathy above all else.
“No Way to Live” is born out of walking around, meeting people on the street (who are experiencing homelessness); being able to give a meal to someone in need, or even just to talk to them, look them in the eye, and realize that there’s an individual in there.” Ward worked in marketing as a day-job when wasn’t writing/performing songs. He retired in 2017, but that business took him to cities like San Francisco, Portland, New York — places with large rates of people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s always had an effect on me,” said Ward. “And I’m not professing that this song solves anything. It’s just a song about all the places that that person can come from; what can be done and how can you help them….” Ward reached out to the Motor City Mitten Mission in Grosse Pointe and then connected with Veronika Scott, who founded The Empowerment Plan in Detroit. Both are organizations that strive to assist the homeless population and both will benefit from all the downloads of this new single, said Ward.
This sense of empathy and a longing to connect with other people is really what drives a lot of Ward’s songwriting. He particularly loved performing and interacting with a live audience. “I really do love to perform, so not having live shows has really been a punch.” But early on in the Spring, he said, he nevertheless found worthwhile fulfillment over the span of time he spent live streaming.
“But another big part of my experience was my immersion into (the Southeast Michigan) music scene.” Ward had been living near the westerly border of Oakland County for decades before relocating to Detroit five years ago. He recalls one of his earliest experiences being a visit to the Gaelic League (in Corktown) to see locally renowned open mic night and to meet new songwriters. Since he had gotten there unintentionally early, he was encouraged by well-known Detroit songwriting icon Don Duprie to perform a few songs. Ward wound up doing nine and he credited the enthusiasm he received from Duprie that night as an endearing moment.
Ward’s into his mid 60’s now and he’s been writing songs for 35 years or more, but he said that his feeling of acceptance into this community of folk singers, like David Toennies (of Border Patrol), Audra Kubat, Mike Galbraith, and many more, has been particularly rejuvenating. (It even led him into co-founding his own open mic event with his wife Angie).
Ward said that he’s excited to share the songs on his album. Each of these tunes, he said, goes beyond just having a melody or a hook: the intended destination for each song is to be arriving at a powerful feeling, an emotion, a meaningful thought. Songwriting is all about balance. With these songs, the darkness isn’t ignored, but with Ward, we’re leaning toward the light.
For more from Mike Ward, be sure to follow his Bandcamp.