Michael Haze Brings “Mosh Pit Sad Music” on his MICKEY EP

At only 21 years-old, Michael Haze has already had quite a novel path. He was introduced to music through his church choir at a young age, and learned to play multiple instruments throughout his youth. Haze grew up everywhere, and living in countries across the globe created a rich backdrop for his music. Now based in Montreal, Haze’s debut EP MICKEY is an ode to R&B and an introduction to the artist’s music and life. The five-track release is built upon honesty; honesty about infidelity, shame, self-discovery, and the healing that comes with introspection. Written, recorded and produced entirely by Haze, MICKEY is a true account of the artist’s self-discovery. CJLO caught up with Haze to talk about the EP, being a night-owl, and “mosh pit sad music.”

The songs on MICKEY were all written, recorded, and produced in the early hours of the morning, which you’ve said was vital to the EP’s creation.  What is it about the late night hours that inspires you creatively?

This is a really cool question given that MICKEY was recorded in the early morning as a result of all the commitments I had going on that time. School, extra-curriculars, learning more about music - all these things were eating up my time during the day, so I really only had time late at night/early in the morning.  I thought that I only did this out of necessity, but as I’ve been working on my debut album, I’m realizing I really just gravitate towards working on music at these hours regardless. I have ADHD, and I think there's something about the early morning that is innately peaceful, quiet. Past midnight, the distractions are limited, the general hustle and bustle of the city is limited; it helps me focus better. I’ve realized I just love working at night, especially if it is creative.

Songs of yours like “3AM” have a melancholic quality, but are still high-energy, which makes sense because you’ve said “My dream would be to have people mosh pitting to the saddest song ever […] Just to show it’s okay to be sad or upset.”  What are your favourite sad bangers that you think best represent the form?

Good question! I think when I said that it was a bit out of frustration, as many of my favourite artists don’t attempt high-energy sad songs.  A lot of times, high-energy tracks may have superficial meaning and be melancholic, or sadder songs remain downtempo in their nature. Unfortunately, if I listened to more rock I’m sure I could find such tracks. Nonetheless, I’ve definitely made it a goal of mine to create more of a space for what I like to call “mosh pit sad music.” That said, “XO TOUR Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert is the prototypical “mosh pit sad” song in my opinion. “Infamy” by Che Ecru & “Eventually” by Tame Impala are a few of my favourite songs ever. Ouri bridges the gap between downtempo and dance music super impressively (“Wild Mother”, “Escape”) and ODIE intertwines uptempo and strong subject matter very well on his album Analogue.  Another artist I love is Don Toliver.  I hope I’m able to one day change how people view R&B.

You have a few collaborators on the EP, including T-Bone, Obie Iyoha, and Shenny.  How did they come into your orbit?  Considering the personal nature of the EP’s lyrics, what did you want your collaborators to say that you couldn’t on its songs?

All of those collaborations came about naturally. T-Bone and Shenny are both friends of mine personally that just happened to be around while I was creating. T-Bone really added a raw dimension to “3AM” that I didn’t think I could deliver. Shenny is a poet with words and I had finished “PHONEY”, but it didn’t feel complete yet. I really wanted some sort of spoken word, almost as if I was directly speaking with a significant other. I explained the ethos of the track to him and he immediately understood, his verse speaks for itself in that regard.

Given that I’m friends with both these artists, the personal nature of the EP was easily extended to their features. MICKEY is about Michael Haze’s journey, and they’re both part of that journey. Obie was the only feature where I didn’t personally direct or give any instructions in terms of the content of his lyrics. I met him online and we connected over both being Nigerian. I sent him the song with an open slot and he produced a wondrous feature. I’m glad all three of them were a part of the project, sometimes it takes multiple people to give more weight to a story.

You’re signed to Make It Rain Records, the label started by Dead Obies producer VNCE.  How has working with an established artist as VNCE helped guide you in your musical trajectory?  Has he provided advice about your work?

Working with VNCE has been a blessing. MICKEY doesn’t exist or sound the same without his help. Even Michael Haze probably doesn’t exist in the same way without VNCE’s guidance, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and help he and Make It Rain have provided. As for advice, VNCE has acted as a kickstarter for virtually every Make It Rain Records signing, but he very much lets me pursue my journey on my own. While he gave me a shot, it's more vital that I seize the opportunity and run with it. I’ve really tried to focus on my craft, keeping the production, writing, and recording to under a handful of people. VNCE is only a guide and I’ll need to put in the hard hours to get where I want to be. That said, I know if I ever need anything, all I need to do is reach out to him.

As someone who has grown up around the world, what are your thoughts on the Montreal music scene, and how has it helped foster your identity as an artist?

Montreal is very much the embodiment of my childhood experience, a melting pot of diversity and various cultures. I revel in the variety that we, as Montrealers are privileged to enjoy - in one weekend I can rave at any number of electronic venues, see a hip-hop concert, a rock show and maybe squeeze in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. And it’s year round, from Osheaga to Piknic to Igloofest to Santa Teresa, POP Montreal and countless other major festivals. My identity is cornered on diversity, and as an artist I think that will be evident in my future projects. My music is rooted in the various backdrops Montreal has to offer and if it isn’t clear right now, it soon will be. Specifically, the exposure to live events as well as Montreal’s electronic music scene have served to mold the way I create.

What are your thoughts on Spotify and the age of streaming, not just as a new artist, but also as a fan and consumer of music?

Spotify and the age of streaming are both a blessing and a curse. I remember as a kid I either had to purchase songs that I liked for two dollars each or go through the lengthy process of illegally downloading them (please don’t arrest me). Thus, every song in my library was incredibly valuable to me. Nowadays, the music is so accessible I download whole albums before I’ve even listened, I sometimes never get around to listening to them. I get lost in the constant stream of new music that's available everyday. On the other hand, it's amazing that artists are so freely able to distribute their works and, as a fan, it’s as cheap as I could ever have imagined to be a music fan today. Spotify acts as a marketplace, curator, and a creative centre for artists and fans alike. The power that playlists and algorithms hold frightens me as much as it encourages me. I’m rambling at this point, but the crux of the matter is there’s a good and a bad to it all, we just need to recognize that.

You’re relatively quiet on social media, a rarity these days, with just an Instagram account without too many posts.  Is it to create mystique, or are you just not much of a fan of social media?

I think the music has to come first. Right now, I’m working on the music and when it’s ready I’ll expand my social media presence. Further, I try to stay away from too much social media in all honesty and I do like the idea of an aura of mystique. The harsh truth is that social media has become a huge part of the music industry nowadays, so the challenge will be to find a balance between being present and aloof at the same time.  I’ll figure it out, all in due time...

MICKEY came out not too long before public gatherings were banned in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, which hurt young artists like yourself, as your EP’s launch show had to be postponed. How do you keep yourself positive during all of this? What plans did you have for 2020 that were upended due to the virus?

Social distancing and quarantine measures coincided with the work I’ve been doing on my debut album, as well as a couple other projects I’m working on. As a result, it hasn’t been too hard to stay positive during it all. Sadly, the EP launch did have to be cancelled, but I see it all as a blessing in disguise - when I do eventually perform the set live, the show and the venue might be ten times better. Although I did have plans to be in L.A. and New York City this fall, if anything, social distancing measures have helped me lock in to my next ventures and projects.

MICKEY is out now (Make It Rain Records)

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your weekly dose of modern pop, every Tuesday at 8:00 PM EST.