Soul-pop Chamoru singer-songwriter Micah Manaitai joins us at Cafecito Organico in Silverlake, CA to discuss his latest single “She Calls Me The Moon,” his experiences in numerous live music scenes, and his honor of composing a score for the Guam History Museum.
You’re riding the highs of your well-received single, “She Calls Me The Moon,” wanted to say congratulations.
Micah Manaitai: Thank you!
I also wanted to ask if you’d like to share the story behind the lyrics what inspired the instrumental elements that you decided to include.
Micah: I had actually been sitting on this song for a while. I have a friend that I was writing letters to that I hadn’t seen in a while, and they had shared these short stories by the author Clarice Lispector. It features other lyrics that happen in the song, but ultimately, the motifs are of the moon and this kind of romantic relationship, so I took it in kind of a different direction for this song. I would say that the lyrics and the tone of the song were inspired by those short stories and my friend’s letters. Then with the instrumentation, I originally tried to include more out there kind of stuff like sampling and then doing some stuff that I thought were more complicated than what I normally do, but I think I found that the story itself was the most compelling part of it, and so I decided to strip it to just have a pretty straightforward instrumentation that functions better and was true to what I wanted to accomplish.
Sometimes less is more, and you still got an amazing end product out of it. Sometimes having it stripped down is exactly what it needs to be.
And how was the songwriting and recording process for this song similar or different things that of your past work?
Micah: When I first started recording, it was always by myself in my bedroom. I’ve done that for the longest time, and I still have my studio set up in my bedroom, but over time with a couple of the resources that we had available to us, like personal connections and just being in L.A., we’ve been able to hop in studio settings and been able to meet some really fantastic people through playing out around the city. Everything was tracked in my room for this one, but I would lay down like a couple of bass elements, invite people over, and I would have them kind of improvise over the whole thing, like, chop up their performance and make arrangement elements out of what was a part of the energy of the room. That approach has been really fulfilling as of late, so I’ve got a bunch of my friends as backup singers, a trumpet player that we just stumbled across.
Because L.A. *laughs*
Micah: *laughs* Exactly, yeah, because L.A. and because there are so many people who are serious about doing the same things, so you’re going to run into a lot of people doing that.
Yeah. And it’s awesome to hear about all of the random relationships that you’ve made from being in the music community.
Micah: Exactly. It’s a small, small world. *laughs*
Right!?! L.A. is so huge, but the music industry is so small that everybody end up knowing each other. It’s like, if you do anything in entertainment, you probably know each other, at least in passing. *both laugh*
So you had been blessed with the opportunity to open up for The Expendables at The Big Reggae Show in Guam.
Micah: Yeah! It was fun!
So if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Micah: Dang, that’s a really good question. The show in Guam was a really, really fun experience, and I think going back there to reconnect with some of these people who are really important and really influential for me was great. The native folk in Guam are Chamoru , I’m half Chamoru , and I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are very similar to me. A lot of the bands that I’m working with are either from Guam or are connected to Guam, soe all have very similar elements to our sound, or at least similar priorities. But to bring on tour, my friends Shannon and Jon are in a band called Microchild, who just put out their first album, and they’re based on Guam. And then Danideru, my twin, it’s so crazy how much we look alike even though we’re not related. *laughs* He’s a multi instrumentalist producer based out of Oregon. There’s a lot of Chamorus in Oregon actually, it’s pretty interesting. And then the last person I’d bring on the tour with me in my really good friend Dakota Camacho. Dakota is a rapper who does a lot of work around indigenous rights, and also has a lot of connections with native communities around the Pacific. I think we would all have a really great energy together and amazing to go on tour. In terms of the tour name, you know you’re at a party and there’s a group of elders and they’re all gossiping? We call that ‘the people’s business, because they’re talking about everyone else’s business, so I would want to do a play off of that for a tour name.
Awesome! So speaking of performing in different parts of the world, you were born in Guam, were raised in St. Louis, and now you live here in L.A. So lots of different places.
Micah: *laughs* Yeah.
What are some music related differences like artist support, or even compensation, that are similar or different from all the places you’ve performed in?
Micah: So I’ve that I’ve lived a couple other places as well, partly in fact of my family moving around a lot, but I kind of seen that everywhere has its own flavor, you know? St. Louis is a really tight-knit community of artists, and I would say that a lot of my development comes from playing hip-hop and jazz around there. I have some really awesome friends doing amazing things in that scene, and those people are just really committed to it. Even if it’s not paid, there are still some really cool venues to play and some really cool experiences to have. It’s a more loose and chill scene, but people are really committed to what they do. Guam is really interesting to play in. It’s all about kicking back and telling stories in really interesting ways with music. It’s not as much of a profession, so you get people who aren’t chasing any particular musical career, but instead just love sitting around and jamming and stuff. That’s really special to experience. My first onstage performance was actually in Kentucky on a radio show, like a live broadcast radio show. It’s funny, I was actually on a bluegrass station because when I was first getting started, that’s what I played. I opened up for a bluegrass/country artist in St. Louis, and those audiences are pretty fun. They’re very engaged. They’re not worried about what’s the ‘hippest’ or ‘coolest’ thing. They know the songs that they know and they love them.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody likes what they like.
Micah: Exactly, and I love that. If you’re passionate about a style of music then who should stop you from listening to it? But yeah, out here in L.A, you have people grinding and networking so they can release stuff, gain followings, and to quit their day jobs to pursue music full-time.
If only it were that easy.
Micah: Right?!? If only! Yeah, that’s the biggest thing out here that I’ve seen. Everybody is really talented and really good at what they do, but there’s always this sense of like, ‘What’s the next move?’ That can be a really good thing to think about for your music, but it can also be a bit distracting as well.
Yeah. And do you feel that there’s kind of like an unspoken competition between everybody involved in the music scene here?
Micah: I wouldn’t call it ‘competition,’ but I would say that it’s like the equivalent of going around and asking everybody to add you on LinkedIn. *Heather laughs* It’s just like, ‘How can this person serve my career?’ And of course, there are always good, genuine connections, but what’s different about here than anywhere else is that there’s a climbing mentality. That’s what I notice about it, so if I’m working with somebody, one thing that I try and really do is make sure that the energy between us is genuine and grounded.
You were asked to compose the score for the official look at the video at the Guam History Museum last year, which is super awesome to work on something close to your heritage. How did the opportunity come about, and what was the experience like composing a work that pretty much embodied who you are?
Micah: That was a really special project for me. I was pretty much scoring the creation story, and it plays in this area that’s a full, surrounding screen where you enter. One of my really good friends and mentors is Teddy Salas, who is another Chamoru dude, and he’s a mix tech at Sony Pictures in the Feature Films Division. As an effect of just being like one of the Chamorus in the industry, they had reached out to him, and then he reached out to me. He was like, ‘I think it would be perfect for you,’ and it was the first project that I’ve ever had the resources to really execute it to the fullest degree. We were able to get into the studio and have some of the folks from the Long Beach community to drive up to record. That was amazing! I got to mix it on a stage with him. It was just a really, really great experience. And then when I was on the island in December, me and a couple other friends went to go see it in person. I think I would consider it a big success for myself as an artist, and just getting to be a part of it was really fun.
Yeah! I can only imagine how it felt seeing it live in person. Your work in forever immortalized!
Micah: Yeah! *laughs* And shout out to Cara Flores, who was the director and producing the whole film project, which is another reason that I got on board.
Go Cara! And how would you say that creating a composition is similar or different than that of your standard song that you would hear on traditional platforms?
Micah: I think the goal of a score is to augment what’s happening visually, or to complement what’s happening visually, rather than everything in the song being a focal point. With a score, you’re working with a bigger difference between the foreground and the background of the piece, and more of the score happens in the background of what you as a viewer are engaging with, so it takes a little bit of humility to say, ‘What can I do to serve what’s happening on screen?’ That’s always a good exercise for an artist, especially for those who write lyrics all the time.
Absolutely. So with the way that modern music listening has been focused on single style releases and EP releases as opposed to full length albums, why do you think music listeners have kind of gone in that direction in terms of music consumption?
Micah: My take on this is that there our consumption styles actually haven’t changed all that much. Looking back at records dating all the way back when people were buying singles out on forty-fives, a lot of records were promoted for the single, but then you would buy the album so you could listen to the single. That’s an awareness, especially an artist’s side of things, from way early on in the history of the music industry. But I think what’s changed about it is that now we can buy just the single, or I guess we can stream the single, rather than having to buy something with a larger unit price. That’s a little more sustainable for the industry I think. On the other side of things, I would say that the singles market forces you to get people’s attention in a different way. Like, for albums, in theory, you’re trying to catch their attention for forty-five minutes, or if it’s an A-side/B-side, maybe thirty minutes each. But now, I view it as a creative challenge to try and catch people’s interest in a shorter period with one piece of media.
And when it comes to attention spans, and lack thereof, social media might also play a part in that. Do you think that it’s helped artists make a name for themselves, or do you think it’s made it harder?
Micah: I think that it’s complemented artists whose personalities are more conducive to that, like, people who are really comfortable with just talking into a camera. I suck at it. I’m really bad at it. *both laugh* I think I put my best foot forward onstage, and I think that the medium of performance is just more interesting to me personally. But I think it’s a really cool way to connect, and to feel like you can connect with an artist, because they’re there on their phone talking into whatever media platform they’re using. And then for other people, there’s more work to be done in that realm. But for the people who have that kind of magnetic personality, that just means that there’s more work for them to figure out other ways to connect with people apart from via social media. I think of it as a tool, but I’m not entirely sure that’s made it easier or harder for all artists.
Do you feel that it kind of adds on the pressure to, like you were saying, to constantly have stuff to speak to your audience about or portray yourself in a certain way on social media?
Micah: It’s something that I think about a lot, especially because I’m terrible at posting consistently. I’ve thought a lot about like, ‘What’s something compelling that I can post?’ I think people feel the necessity to ‘perform’ and to have an enthusiasm on social media, but I think it’s important to find the thing that feels most natural for you to broadcast, whatever that may be. I have a plan to start talking about music technology, like, all of my microphones and stuff because I’m a huge audio nerb. I think I’d have a lot of fun talking about that.
And it showcases a part of who you are and what you’re interested in as well.
So how do you balance your personal life and your professional life?
Micah: That’s a good question. *laughs* I think the element of balance that I’m practicing is widening the scope of my balance. It used to be like, ‘Oh, maybe I will dedicate ten minutes or, like, an hour a day to writing’ or ‘I’m going to try and get this person in to the studio and work with them.’ Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been realistic. I now work a pretty intensive job hours wise, and sometimes it takes a willingness to be like, ‘Ok, maybe for the next month I’m going to focus on my music,’ and then, ‘Ok, now work slowing down a little bit so I can take some time to focus on my personal life.’ I’d say just like my commitment to balance is more about going with the flow of what’s happening and just maintaining a consciousness or a certain present-ness to whatever is happening before you pivot to something else.
Yeah, and I mean, most people that are trying to make it in entertainment have a day job that hour extensive whether we want it to be or not. And you just can’t get away from it either because you’ve got some bills to pay.
And if you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far musically or just in life in general, what advice would you give him?
Micah: I don’t know if this is a cheesy response, but I actually wouldn’t want to give myself any other advice. I like where I am, and that’s all because of the challenges and the successes and the learning experiences that I’ve had. I think those experiences have a lot of merit to them with the way they happened.
Yeah! We can’t forget that the experiences that we’ve had are what make who we are. And like you were saying, you’re happy with how things have gone and where it lead you in life. Why change something that’s not broken?
Micah: Yeah. For me, I think one of the biggest learning experiences was auditioning for America’s Got Talent when I was fifteen or sixteen. I got the Xs from the judges, the audience was also doing the Xs and booing and everything.
That’s a lot to handle when you’re sixteen.
Micah: It was, but I’m still glad that happened. I wouldn’t advise myself not to do it, because once that’s happened at sixteen, I can go on stage and I can do anything. The worst thing that could happen has already happened. *laughs*
That’s one way to put it.
Micah: *laughs* Yeah. I mean, I figured out it can go worse than that, but not by an existential amount where I would want to quit everything.
What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Micah: So for the longest time, I wanted to create really clever lyrics, or music and sounds that make people say, ‘Wow! I’ve never heard that sound before.’ I still want to do that in some capacity, but I think more than anything, I want to make music that means something to somebody, and to make music that carries on some kind of importance. It doesn’t have to be the most profound thing ever. It doesn’t have to be the most clever way to say it. But in terms of what the audience could take away from it, I hope that they just listen to the song and assume that it came from of best intentions when I was making it.
Absolutely! And apart from continuing to promote the single, and hopefully new music, what big, exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Micah: My big selling point on this is that because we’re not working with any particular funding source, or label, or anybody who’s goal is to push music out of me, whatever I put out is something I really want people to hear and that I think is worth listening to. I don’t know if the music that I release should ever be released any other way, which is to say that I really care about it when it comes out. So whatever that next thing I come out with is, just know that it’s going to be something that I really care about sharing with everyone.
About Cafecito Organico:
Living in L.A. means that you get pretty used to not seeing a whole lot of greenery in any area where people live or work, which unfortunately means you’ve got to get your butt up to do a hike or take up a gardening hobby to get your chlorophyll fix. But have no fear, because Cafecito Organico is the coffeshop gem that you’ve been looking for! Considering Silverlake is known for its compact-ness, this shop was blessed by the location Gods, by which not only is it a corner shop, but its space also allows for a decent-sized patio area to fit any sized group of coffee loving visitors. Rustic wooden tables and benches, tribal designs, and bright accent colors for seat cushions, umbrellas, vases and more showcase the shop’s quirky and inviting personality, while large amounts of greenery (trees, flowers and AstroTurf) give city life-ers a pleasant dose of nature.
In terms of their menu, Cafecito Organico provides their guests with classic options (courtesy of the small growers and family farms that they harvest from) mixed with signature recipes, roasts, and batch brews. I opted for the Raw Cacao Mocha, and I will say that the difference between your standard mocha and this one is definitely noticeable, in a good way of course. A fun little fact, the shop is regularly involved with local community groups and organizations that promote social and environmental justice. So think of it this way, one cup of coffee is one step closer to better livelihoods locally and worldwide.