Michael Sarason, once a fixture in the Cincinnati music scene, just released a soulful new single, "Let's Make Room."
The track, off Sarason's forthcoming solo effort, Reflections of Self — released by Dala Records — is a friendly reminder that modernity does not equal quality; there's so much of a vintage vibe emanating from the recording you might look down and find yourself in velvet bell bottoms without warning.
Sarason made a name for himself in the Midwest as a singer/songwriter with his Cincinnati Entertainment Award-winning band The Pinstripes, a funky Reggae/Ska group he started in 2003 known for sweet harmonies and high-energy live shows. After he made the drive up to New York City, a place he now calls home, Sarason joined Reggae/Rocksteady group The Far East on keyboard, where he had the honor of touring the United States with UK second-wave Ska legends The Specials. He also started a Cumbia Reggae group called Combo Lulo in 2017.
Sarason's music has been featured on NPR, the video game Rockband and TV show Burn Notice, to name a few. He’s performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Riot Fest in Chicago and countless other venues in the past two decades.
Sarason took some time to answer CityBeat’s questions about his newest musical project.
CityBeat: What are some musical reference points you'd say helped find your sound? I get a Bill Withers vibe.
Michael Sarason: Bill Withers is right on the money. Him and Al Green were definitely percolating when we were getting the arrangement together for this one. I actually created a little playlist of inspiration points for this album, check it out. These were all helpful in finding the sound.
CB: What was the recording timeline? Did the pandemic get in the way of making a solo record?
MS: So, we actually started recording for this over a year ago...the rhythm tracking was all done in September of 2019. Then overdubs were probably between October and November or so. Mixing was December/January/February...We recorded this album at Hive Mind Studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn with my friend Billy Aukstik at the helm. They built that studio out as a little analog playground. We recorded to tape on a 16-track, 1" otari machine and used lots of vintage mics and gear to really go for a sort of classic vibe.
As far as the pandemic was concerned, it definitely slowed down the process, but luckily it was mainly the very end of it, at least as far as the audio portion. There were just a few things like bouncing down to two-track tape for final mixes and mastering that had to be done completely remote due to the pandemic. But I'm lucky that it wasn't more than that. Really, it just put a damper on releasing it, as at first I wasn't so sure what promoting new music in the midst of a global pandemic and an election would look like. But at the end of the day, I'm proud of what we made and Billy has been super encouraging as well and people always need art and music in their lives. So here we are.
CB: If you could quarantine with any musician picked from history, who would it be and why?
MS: Lord what a question. I feel like I'd want to base my answer off of who I could learn most from, which itself could get quite philosophical if I chose someone like say John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk. Or it could get pretty technical — like watching Kevin Parker (of Tame Impala) work locked in a room together would be pretty enlightening. But, if I'm honest, the first name that popped into my head is Bob Marley. There is an honesty, a spirituality and a deep truth in his music that has resonated with me for about as long as I've been a music fan. Even today, there are few global icons as recognizable around the world as him.
CB: Why Dala Records?
MS: Why Dala? Well the short answer is I played the songs for label owner Billy Aukstik and he said, "Yes, we could totally do this." The longer answer is that over my many years playing in several different bands, I accumulated a group of songs that, for whatever reason, just didn't fit into what I was doing in any of those bands. As you know, much of the stuff I've done over the years has been within the idiom of Reggae/Jamaican music in general, but I've also explored South American and African styles more recently. These songs were a bit more intimate and demanded an approach that reflected that. When I thought about what the arrangement would be like and the types of sounds I'd want, I thought of Dala Records and Hive Mind Studios. I already knew Billy from around the Brooklyn music scene, but had never played him (or really anyone) the songs, as they were much different than what I was known for. But I approached him probably in the winter of 2019 with these tunes and luckily he saw the vision and how it would fit with what he does and so we got the project together and made it happen.
Listen to "Let's Make Room" by Michael Sarason on Spotify. The full album, Reflections of Self, drops Dec. 11 on Dala Records.