“Mike June has an iron spine and is unafraid enough to mix tricky realism and genuine outrage in his songs.”
— Jon Langford
I wrote most of the lyrics for “Pilgrims” a few years ago, around the time I was working on Poor Man’s Bible. I had a vision for a theatrical musical production that was similar to an updated version of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, but with a modern take on the current state of American Christianity. In my mind, “Pilgrims” would be the opening number and introduction to the main character, a vain and pompous man who had amended the religion to fit his, and America’s, capitalistic beliefs. Who knew then where we would be now? The lyrics and the chord changes sat around for a long time, being shuffled and reworked over the course of several notebooks, but the song never seemed to fit into the projects I was working on, so it languished in those notebooks for some time.
The real inspiration for this recording came on our honeymoon to Jamaica in 2016. On our afternoon walks through the market, we became drawn to a group of guys who were selling driftwood sculptures down the way from our hotel. Over the course of a few days we got to know each other a little and Jess and I had expressed our admiration for their art. We told them we were musicians, and we shared some songs with them. One of the group, who was 16 at the time, told us he was a singer too, and that he would like to share a song with us. We waited in anticipation as the kid pulled out an old cell phone from his pocket, unlocked the code, and scrolled through his apps. I remember thinking, “he must be looking for the lyrics”, but soon enough, a beat began pulsing from the beaten old phone. The young man began to rap, with a bit of Jamaican patois, about beats, cops, money, hustling, being poor, seemingly all at once over this tinny-sounding beat coming from an old, discarded cell phone. It hit me right then and there: this is modern folk music. Here is a poor young man with an old phone, the only instrument he could afford, singing about his life, the life of his people, his community, and his country, all with a beat that probably came pre-programmed in an old Nokia.
A few weeks later, I began to do some research and found that this was a phenomenon happening in “third world” countries from Asia to Africa, even right here in the United States. Complete records are being made with music being produced by simple programs found on commonly found devices. This new-found knowledge inspired me to, like our friend in Jamaica, to create a piece of music with the tools available to me. While those tools were much more advanced than a simple cell-phone, the recording of “Pilgrims” is a modern example of the term “low-fi.” The equipment used on this recording (2 Epiphone guitars, a 15-watt Vox Amp, a battery operated Vox cube amp, 3 second hand microphones, and the most basic recording software available) amount to total cost that is less than the average price of a Martin guitar. I played all of the instruments myself, and luckily for me, my wife (one of the best harmony singers of her generation) was happy to help me put the cherry on top of this track.
This was my first experience with self-recording, and it was thoroughly rewarding and liberating. When an artist in my position sets out to make a record, it can be an expensive proposition, and every record that I have ever made was dictated by budget and time, often forcing me to compromise my art to fit the bottom line. While making “Pilgrims” (working as my dance music alter ego Fidel Astro) , I was able to enjoy the process and follow all of my ideas, good or bad, to their end without worrying about the ticking of the clock and dollars being wasted. Most importantly, it allowed me to experiment with sounds, textures, and beats that I have never used before. I am an artist who enjoys exploring new territory rather than repeating the past, and for me, making something different was one of the most satisfying results making “Pilgrims”. I know it’s a bit different than the music I have released in the past, but I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it. Just make sure you are always dancing!
“His music is what the younger generation needs and the older generations need to remember.”
— Austin Chronicle