In a city filled
with singer-songwriters, it takes a lot to stand out. Michal
Towber stands out amongst the New York music scene as a veteran
of the Anti-folk scene and survivor of two Sony-affiliated
I had the
chance to chat with Michal – who can be visited online
at www.michal-towber.com -- via e-mail and, in the process,
found out more about Desireless, her forthcoming third album.
had "the major label experience" as a teenager,
what do you feel are some of the misconceptions of being on
One of the misconceptions I had was that I thought once you
got signed by a major, you've made it. I had no idea that
major labels sign hundreds of acts just to see what will stick.
For every artist that is high-profile on a major, there are
countless others under the radar that the label is holding
onto, to develop, as a tax write-off or even just to prevent
them from making it somewhere else. The majors are much more
bureaucratic and cold than I could have ever imagined; you
may at some point be dealing with a human face in the form
of an A&R man, but there is this entire machinery operating
behind them that doesn't care if the artist is starving or
putting their life on hold. And the real tragedy is that the
artists are getting younger and younger, because the market
that the majors are pandering to is comprised of teenagers.
So it is kids that are being chewed up and spit out on the
other side…Also, I had no idea that you don't necessarily
have to play an instrument, write songs or even be able to
sing to get signed. I have actually seen a notice on a record
exec's desk that read "forming a girl band. Seeking:
teen girls who are cute and can dance. Singing ability a plus."
It came as a shock that singing was like a footnote to marketability.
WOMANROCK: Do you
feel that landing a deal at 16 years of age was a mistake?
MICHAL: I don't
think it was a mistake; I try to be very Zen about everything
that happens to me. I think I learned a lot of valuable lessons
about life and human nature. It is pointless to wonder if
I would have done things differently, because it won't change
anything; that was what I was supposed to do at that point
in my life. And I realized that I am a very strong person
because of it. I would be much more wary about signing with
a major again, though.
WOMANROCK: In your
time on a major you didn't do a whole lot of touring –
is that something you'd like to change?
MICHAL: I would
like to tour, but I am much more tied down now than I was
at 16. I have a fiancé and I am going to be attending
law school at Columbia next year. When I was on Columbia --
not to be confused with the law school -- I was willing to
go out in a van. I had this romantic notion about traveling
around with three other people and sleeping on people's floors
and having the whole Kerouac experience. But the suits who
were handling me at the time felt it would be below the standard
of a Columbia artist to be so nitty-gritty. It was a Catch-22,
they refused to put me on a major tour, but wouldn't accept
anything inferior. Now, at the age of 24, I have seen some
of the world and put down some roots, so I don't have that
same desire to run away. There is still a lot of the world
I haven't seen though, so I wouldn't count out the possibility
if the right offer came up.
album for Columbia/RPM, Sky With Stars, featured both piano
and guitar-based songs. Your new album, by comparison, relies
little on guitar or even a full-band sound. Does that mean
that you no longer use the guitar for writing?
MICHAL: I have
been playing the piano a lot more recently, but I go back
and forth. Coma and my upcoming release Desireless both feature
piano much more than guitar. That's just how it turned out,
but I have no idea what the next record will sound like.
was a lot of classical influence on Sky yet Coma suggests
a lot of inspiration from jazz and Gershwin. Is this record
intended to put you in a new direction, or is that just what
happened within this batch of songs?
MICHAL: It was
just the mood I was in. It's funny because I have been listening
to a lot of Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes and you wouldn't
necessarily hear that in Coma and Desireless. I also listened
to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald when recording this album. It's
just the way it filtered through me I guess.
now you're primarily selling Coma through CD Baby and are
in the midst of label shopping. Where do you hope that you'll
wind up in a best-case scenario?
MICHAL: I am pretty
happy being on Shorebreak. But I am looking at some majors
as well for distribution. It's at a delicate stage though,
so I would rather not name-drop.
your first and second albums were 3 years apart, I'd imagine
that you've written a lot of material in that downtime. Will
there be an EP or a B-Sides collection in the foreseeable
MICHAL: There will
be some extra tracks on compilations and movie soundtracks.
Those avenues are being explored. My newest song deals with
a worry some people have expressed to me; they wonder if I
will still write with the same depth now that I am so happily
in love and not tormented. It's called "It Gets Better
Before It Gets Worse" and it deals with my mood swings
and the bad chemicals in my head. I am convinced that the
saying "all men are assholes and all women are psychotic"
is true, at least to some degree. I've talked to a lot of
my girlfriends about this, and they all have had similar experiences.
I can get upset over nothing, and my rational brain knows
I'm being an idiot, but my emotional brain always wins. So,
the skeptics don't have to worry, even good company can't
take my demons out of me.
Rock recently said that receiving awards for art is "idiotic."
As someone that's been nominated for multiple Daytime Emmys,
what role do awards play to you personally?
MICHAL: I am grateful
and amazed that anyone would take the time to listen to what
I have to say. An Emmy would do much to bolster my crippled
self-esteem. And it would look great on my toilet.
that you've appeared on-screen and done some theater work,
where does acting lie in your long-term plans? And modeling?
MICHAL: I love
acting, but it is really a hobby. I have not studied it professionally
or devoted nearly as much time to it as I have to music. I
would love to have the opportunity to do more theater or on-screen
work in the future, but it is really secondary to my music.
And any modeling I ever do will be associated with my music...until
they change the standards of beauty to 5'4", hippy girls
with supernaturally large foreheads and equilateral triangle
there any goals you're holding professionally, be it towards
Desireless or your overall career?
MICHAL: Well, I
am going to become an entertainment lawyer and sue the pants
off the big wigs. I want to win a Grammy and be in one major
motion picture. And then I want to retire to a villa in France
and become an icon like Katherine Deneuve.
advice would you have a New York-based singer-songwriter that
doesn't feel that they've yet gotten their due?
your expectations! Go into everything expecting nothing and
you will never be disappointed. Play music qua music.
WOMANROCK: Is there
something you wish more people knew about you on or offstage?
MICHAL: I am a
finally, Michal, any last words for the kids?
rocks! Stop eating animals…Actually I do have one serious
public service announcement. It is an issue that I feel very
strongly about. Many people who I am friends with think that
because they are smart and well educated about STD’s
(especially HIV) and because they only sleep with other smart,
well-educated people that they are immune from contracting
it. Don't ruin your life! Do not have unprotected sex under
any circumstances!!! Jessica Simpson says "Do not have
sex before marriage!" I say "Let's be realistic
here; do not have unprotected sex before marriage!" Alright,
I will get off my soap-box now. Over and out.
Paltrowitz is a contributor to WomanRock. A native of Bellmore
and current resident of East Northport, New York, Darren Paltrowitz
began writing for area publications as a teenager. Working
his way up to Features & Entertainment Editor of Long
Island Entertainment before his 19th birthday, he has since
contributed to dozens of other publications. Prior to completing
a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from Hofstra University, early 2004
saw the launch of his syndicated "Moving In Stereo"
column, as read internationally. When not writing or doing
research for such, he enjoys reading, traveling and talking
about himself in the third person.