“I’ve always been a daydreamer,” Michael Spiby says, “and that’s how I write songs. Things happen when I daydream – magic things.”
Many magical things have happened during Michael Spiby’s musical life. And after fronting one of our most-loved bands, The Badloves, Michael is now focusing full-time on his solo career.
“I can see why band members evolve into solo acts,” Michael states. “I feel the only way I can make music is to follow my own instinct, without compromise, and see what comes out.”
It promises to be an exciting future for an artist with a fascinating past.
The RocKwiz questions reveal plenty about the man who’s been acclaimed as one of our finest soul singers. First record bought: “Chain’s Black And Blue single. I bought it so I could learn it on the guitar.”
First concert: “It was Stylus, by default. My great-aunt had her birthday dinner at the Croxton Park Hotel. We were about to go home when a band started setting up, so we stayed for the show. At that stage, I had no intention of being a musician. But I remember dad’s remark: ‘Look how skinny their legs are – you could be a musician, too.’”
Despite his dad’s advice, Michael actually set out to become a teacher. But his life changed one unforgettable day at Frankston Teachers’ College. “I came out of a psychology lecture and heard a band soundchecking,” he recalls. “I stuck around for the gig and even though only about 20 people were there, they were just phenomenal. That gig instantly changed my career path.”
The band was Cold Chisel. Years later, Michael found himself in the Top 10 with Jimmy Barnes, with The Badloves and Barnesy’s classic cover of The Weight.
It was just one of many highlights for the band, who had a double platinum debut album, (featuring the singles Lost, I Remember, Green Limousine and Memphis), won three ARIA Awards, toured Australia with Lenny Kravitz, had The Seekers’ legend Judith Durham drop into a recording session, toured Europe with Jimmy Barnes, and Michael had a backstage meeting with one of his heroes, Ray Charles.
The Badloves released just two studio albums– 1993’s Get On Board (which spent 69 weeks on the charts, peaking at number five) and 1995’s Holy Roadside (which went gold and reached number 14).
Michael remembers the band fondly, though adds: “Those years were so intense; it’s a bit of a blur. We just didn’t have any balance in our lives.”
Michael is now working to his own schedule.
He’s also been in the studio with Tasmania’s acclaimed Southern Gospel Choir, co-producing their second album, High On A Mountain.
“I’m not religious,” Michael points out, “but I love gospel music. I like Phillip Adams’ term: faitheist – I believe in something, but it’s probably more the music than anything else.”
Michael laughs when he acknowledges that he’s rarely been fashionable. He says he spent the ’80s “shaking my head, thinking, ‘there’s nothing here for me’”, admitting, “I just never felt at home”. Then The Badloves landed in a sea of grunge. Michael recalls industry people telling the band: “Can you just get a little more current?” But for Michael, it’s never been about chasing trends or having the right haircut. It’s all about the song.
“I want to be taken somewhere,” he explains. “It’s the mood, not just the hook.”
The very first song that Michael wrote, Streets Of My Town, later appeared on his first solo album, 2000’s ARIA-nominated Ho’s Kitchen. “I had lots of songs half-finished, but that was the first time I felt that’s a song, it’s about something.”
Michael continues to search for meaning in his music, relishing the joy of creation.
“I’ve got a golden rule now,” he reveals. “In the early days, I aspired to impress. But now I don’t let the editor into the room. It allows me to create what I want.
“It’s taken me a long time to get to this stage.”
It’s an exciting time for one of Australia’s finest singers and songwriters.
“For me, it’s all about getting into that headspace – daydreaming, creating,” Michael says, “knowing that something will eventually be worthwhile in the real world.”
It’s all about the magic things.