Madison is a city of transients. It's a college town where people come and go. Musically, it's a place where bands and artists play and grow and move on to bigger markets.
Mike Behrends is our latest transient tunesmith. The 23-year-old native of Long Lake, Wis., in Washburn County, moved here in 2007 to attend Edgewood College, where he studied English. Later this summer, he'll be taking up permanent residence in Minneapolis.
Behrends made a few sonic waves during his three-year stay here, and it's culminating this week with the release of his debut CD, New Feet, at a Project Lodge show Saturday, July 10.
His mostly acoustic songs are heavy on folk and country influences. At his CD-release show, he'll be backed by drummer Mike Grunder and keyboardist and accordion player Lance Owens, who played on New Feet.
Behrends spent three years in Duluth before moving to Madison. When we met last week to talk about his new album, he told me how places he's lived and the stories he writes affect his songwriting.
How did things change for you musically when you came to Madison?
The influence I started taking to my songwriting from the shows I'd go to here in Madison was very different. The EP that we put out last year is very folky, and I think it's because those songs were written when I was living in Duluth. Duluth sits on a big lake, and it's just pine trees as far as you can see. You can't help but write songs there that sound a little bit rustic and a little bit old.
But then I came down here to a city. My songs sound more contemporary because I'm not living in a place that doesn't seem like it's untouched by time.
When and how did your new record come together?
I broke my ankle in December. That's why the record is called New Feet. I was laid up for four to six weeks with nothing to do. All the while I wanted to be doing something. Then, my ankle finally healed, and I was like, "Yes, I can live again; I can do stuff." And I think it was that change. After six weeks of being completely idle, songs started pouring out of me. Between January and May of this year I wrote 15 songs.
What characteristics define you as a songwriter?
I think it's my storytelling. I love writing fiction. I never really realized that would come through in the music. But it seems like I can't sit down and write a song without writing a fictional story. I really love that aspect. To me, it makes the songs like a book you can go back to again and again because it takes you to a different place every time.
What's an example of a song you wrote out of a story?
I wrote three songs out of one story about a twentysomething girl and a teenage boy. She was kind of like an older sister to him. They met once a week, in the same spot every week. Then she would leave for six days, and he didn't know a thing about what she did during that time. But she would always come back the next week.
Do you have a favorite place where you go to write songs?
It seems like wherever I'm living, I'm just kind of drawn to a corner of a room. My music stuff will always be in that corner. If I'm playing at home, I'm usually playing in that barren little corner. There's nothing on the wall; nothing to influence me. The whole space is kind of like a blank canvas.