Categories Top Posts

Interview: Mike Kuster

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest album, and what themes or stories you aimed to convey through your music?

Country So Fresh You Have To Check Your Boots grew out of the themes of Heartache and Home. I had already written a few of these songs while we were producing my first album. For whatever reason, each song seemed to fit either heartache or home. The whole album of songs brings to mind a man struggle through a relationship, and finding comfort in memories of home. “Frog Eye Mud Bog” is definitely one of those songs that takes me home to a better and fun place. That is juxtaposed with a songs like “No Happiness” and “What If She Says Yes”, where the subject is really struggling with life and choices before him. To me, that is Country Music and a reflection of real life.

Music often has the power to transport people to different places and times. Can you describe a moment in your life when a particular song or album had a profound impact on you?

There are so many, because I could really map out my life based solely on music. One year, in particular, could be summed up in Alan Jackson’s A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘bout Love). That album dropped in 1992, just before I turned eighteen. I was dating a beautiful girl who would become my wife, I had just graduated high school and started college, and I had spent most of the summer traveling the country with my best friend. So, a song like “Chattahooche” really resonated with me at that time. That whole album is so Country, and that’s my wheelhouse. It was (and still is) a celebration of everything that makes me happy. Alan Jackson makes the kind of music I want to make and want to hear.

Many artists have rituals or routines they follow before performing or recording. Do you have any unique or quirky pre-show or pre-recording rituals that you find help you get in the zone?

I don’t really have anything quirky. From the get-go of live performances with my backing band, The Catoctin Cowboys, my drummer introduced us to Liquid Death, a canned carbonated water. So, I do drink that ritually before and usually during a show. I usually have a nip of Jameson whiskey before a show, too.

Your lyrics often tell a story or convey a message. Can you share the story behind one of your songs and the inspiration that led to its creation?

Growing up, I remember passing Frog Eye Road on the other side of the mountains from
our farm. Even as a kid, I thought that was a cool name and sounded like a country
music song. As I got older, I learned that there was an annual event on that road called
the Frog Eye Mud Bog. WOW! If there isn’t a country song about that, someone is
missing out. That stuck with me as I began writing music. In fact, it haunted me. I went
back and watched videos of the event. It is the most country event I can imagine. Why
isn’t that a song? While we were finishing my first album, it came to me. I wrote the
majority of « Frog Eye Mud Bog » right there in the studio. I was so excited! I’ve been
playing it live with my backing band since then, and we recorded it for the second album
shortly after the first album dropped.

If you could curate a music festival with a lineup of your dream artists, who would be the headliners, and what would the theme of the festival be?

I think about this a lot; down to know where I would hold it. Right now, I’d have headliners like Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Eric Church, Charley Crockett, and Billy Strings. I don’t know that you could get anymore country than that. Heck, I’d say the theme is the same as my album’s title track, “Country So Fresh You Have To Check Your Boots”.

Music can be a powerful tool for advocacy and change. Are there any social or political causes that you’re passionate about, and how does your music play a role in promoting these issues?

I don’t really push a political or social cause directly with my music. Coming to the microphone is like the family dinner table, religion and politics need to be left at the door.

That being said, I am unapologetically liberal and progressive. I think some folks who are just learning about me through my music may be surprised by that. That is the role I want my music to play in promoting social and political issues. If you like my music and don’t share my social and political views, we still have that love of the music in common. Let’s build on that to see that each of us is not the boogie man, and that our views may not be as disparate as you may think.

There is far too much division based on fake news, fake narratives, and stereotypes that pit us against each other. If we start on common ground, we can make headways to productive and reasonable solutions for the world we share.

The music industry has evolved significantly with technology. How do you see artificial intelligence and emerging technologies impacting the creation and distribution of music in the future?

I’m answering this a few days after my favorite Country Music artist, Randy Travis, dropped a new song using AI to transform one singer’s voice into Randy’s voice. That leaves me with very mixed feelings about technology.

I certainly enjoy the technologies that audio engineers and producers use to help edit music. It’s great and saves a lot of time and money.

For Randy Travis, this is fantastic! He lost his voice, but technology has allowed a great artist to find a song he likes, and to sing again! I’m so happy to hear his voice and see him back on the radio with new music. This is authentic. He and his team are still making Randy Travis music.

I just don’t want to get to the point where AI is making “new music” from dead artists, or completely artificially constructed artists. Music is an art, created by artists with hearts, minds, and emotions. I don’t want to hear something a computer algorithm determines is what I want or need to hear.

I want to see and hear a living person standing on stage, making music with real instruments, and singing with a passion from a life lived.

Many recording artists evolve over time. How do you see your musical journey changing and growing in the next decade?

I just hope to keep getting better in all aspects. I think that only comes from experience and working with other musicians and songwriters. I haven’t changed my musical tastes, and my music style is what it always has been. As George Jones sings, “I’m still the same old me.” I just want to continue getting better at what I love. I hope others will enjoy what I make along that journey.