11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Mike Dunbar

Mike Dunbar

Music City singer-songwriter Mike Dunbar has released a new EP titled “Something Great” that all fans of the classic 60s and 70s Pop-Rock sound are gonna love. Mike writes songs with uncomplicated but smart lyrics set to a smooth but spirited tempo. I will bet that on first listen he will have you following every word and tapping your feet. Mike also sings in a relaxed gentle voice that makes you feel comfortable with songs that sound both familiar and brand new at the same time.

Watch this recent live local TV performance of the EPs first single “With You” and see why others say he’s part Paul Simon and part Tom Petty. This song’s a winner and a shoo-in for the annual compilation of my favorite Nashville songs of the year.

I thank Mike Dunbar for this fun 11 Questions interview. Mike’s been gigging around town with recent shows at Dee’s and Belcourt Taps, so keep an eye out to catch him live. I know that I will!

Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?

I was born and raised on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. My mom and dad ran a woodworking school that specialized in teaching people how to build 18th century Windsor chairs. I studied music in college at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. After senior year, I won a grant for my best friend Collin Garcia and I to travel the country on a six-week road trip, studying local music in different regions and composing songs that reflected the experience. One of the places I visited during that time was Nashville, and I immediately fell in love with it. While so many other cities have great music cultures, Nashville is the only city I’ve found that is built around its music. The focus on songwriting and live bands here resonates with me, especially. I’ve been here for four years now and I remain so grateful to be here.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?

I have a healthy vinyl collection. The first record I remember owning is a copy of is I Remember Tommy. It’s a retrospective album Frank Sinatra put out in 1961 where he sings his early songs that he used to play with bandleader Tommy Dorsey. It was my grandmother’s, and I still remember the magic of dropping the needle and hearing this warm, warbling music emanate from the speaker. The most recent album I purchased was Led Zeppelin I. I’d heard it playing in a coffee shop recently and it just seemed like one of those albums that belonged in my record collection.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

My first concert was Green Day on their 2005 American Idiot tour. It was such an exciting show. I learned so much about being a performer from Billie Joe. His energy on stage is absolutely infectious. If you listen close to my music, you’ll still here the echoes of Punk Rock in there somewhere.

My most recent concert was seeing Madison Cunningham at the Basement East. I love the creativity of Madison’s guitar playing and songwriting. Her guitar always offers this lovely counterpoint to her vocal melodies. It inspires and challenges me in my own playing.

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

I think Jason Isbell belongs on the Walk of Fame. He’s emblematic of a very particular school of songwriters coming out of Nashville right now. I feel he’s cleared a path for me to follow as a musician, pairing driving rock with thoughtful lyric-writing.

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

It all depends! Nashville has so many great coffee shops. Ugly Mugs is great for hanging out and working on a laptop. Dose and Living Waters both have a great vibe for coffee dates. If I really want to live up to the aesthetic, I’ll ride my motorcycle over to Barista Parlor in East and hang out. As for pizza, I only have two moods: Roberta’s and Five Points. Sometimes you need a $20 extravaganza, sometimes you are just dying for a $4 slice.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

This is a hard question. For starters, a lot of albums were recorded here that might not immediately strike you as “out of Nashville.” Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, for example, was recorded here, in part. Then there are some of the great contemporary albums like Traveller from Chris Stapleton and Southeastern by Jason Isbell. And of course, there are all the classic country records from the early days. In other words, I’m totally copping out on this one.

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

Dino’s, of course, is the best place to eat late night after a show. Unfortunately, I think pretty much everyone knows that by now, so it’s usually packed. If the line at Five Points isn’t too crazy, I’ll often swing by there. More often than not, it will be too crazy. But hopefully you’re with friends and don’t mind hanging out on the sidewalk for a while.

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.

Nearly every one of my friends here is a musician. What a blessing! And they are all putting out wonderful music. Off the top of my head, I’d probably call up Sam Robbins for some thoughtful, Laurel Canyon songcraft. Then I’d call Eva Cassel for some acoustic renditions of her gritty-yet-sensitive rock tunes. Lastly but not leastly, I’ll ring up Steve Grauberger, whose songs will make you laugh and cry, sometimes all at once.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

I had a really good time playing The Basement this summer with my band. It’s small, dingy in the right kind of way, and soaked with history. I also always enjoy playing wherever Nashville Tour Stop is hosting a writers’ round!

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here.

So many people already move here from L.A., so I might humbly request Madison Cunningham move here too. I guess she comes to mind especially because I just saw her play, but I would love to see even more of that kind of songwriting here in Nashville. Honestly, though, a lot of my favorite artists are already here.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

My musical future includes practically all of my musical present, except more! More music, more fans, more fun. I’ve spent the last year recording and releasing my EP, Something Great. I’m already thinking about the next project and what it will look like. I’m also looking forward to touring next year and continuing to make new fans and new friends.

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