For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.
Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates artists’ paths to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.
Traditionally, folk singers make music because they have something to say about the world and the human condition, influenced by their observations and their conviction. Punk-rocker-turned-folk singer Michael Howard, who recently released his latest album, Gasoline Dream, is one such artist, and, as part of one of the first generations of Americans who were born and raised in Alaska, his heartland is the Last Frontier.
Howard spent his early 20s at college in Portland, Oregon, one of the most progressive cities in the United States, and graduated with a degree in community development. “Portland is on the forefront of community-driven development, and I didn’t really feel I could be useful there, so I moved back to Anchorage after I graduated,” he explains.
“I came back from Portland with a perspective on how things could be better,” he continues. “In recent decades, Alaska has become a very transient place, there is a lot of oil involved in the politics here, it’s such a big part of the economy here, there’s a mentality of ‘come to Alaska, make a quick buck, then leave’. I was born and raised here, and it’s my home. We want our city to be nice; a lot of us have left for periods of time, gone to college in other places, we’ve seen how vibrant other cities can be, filled with the arts and culture.”
After settling into one of the more diverse neighborhoods near downtown Anchorage, Howard began attending community council meetings. “Within a few months, I was on the board of the council. Within a couple of years, I was the president of the council, and was also involved with an activist coalition,” he recalls. “I sort of got swept up into it; coming back home and being a young, ambitious fellow who wanted Anchorage to be a nicer place to live. There are a lot of hands-on things happening here—public transportation, social services, housing, land use planning, lots of politics involved. We advocate for citizen input, we want more walkable, bike-able neighborhoods, mixed-use development, and Anchorage notoriously lags behind on those kinds of things.”
Of Alaska’s 800,000 residents, roughly half of the population lives in Anchorage. “There’s a lot of room to effect change here,” he reveals. “There is always a demand for ambitious and talented people. I feel useful here, contributing to my home state.”
“Musically, I’m in the folk world; I look back at the music of the 60s and 70s, they’re singing protest songs—folk music always had a cause, there was something to say. I’m looking for the same thing today,” he adds. There’s so much going on in the world and in our communities. There’s so much to talk about. As musicians, we have a unique opportunity to stand for things, and that’s important to me.”
Purchase Gasoline Dream: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/gasoline-dream/id1114603425