We chat with Colorado’s Micki Balder about her intimate folk debut, ‘this is how it goes.’
Micki Balder’s debut release ‘this is how it goes’ offers an intimate foray into contemporary folk. Hailing from Colorado, Balder’s music gently cradles the soul with timeless lyrics, evoking a sense of enduring acoustic storytelling.
In our conversation, Micki shares insights into her musical journey, from her Boston roots to finding her place in Colorado’s vibrant music scene. Influenced by artists like James Taylor and Carole King, her eclectic musical upbringing laid the foundation for her distinct style. Balder’s return to music, via swing dancing and jazz, eventually led her to the heartfelt embrace of folk.
‘this is how it goes’ delves into the complexities of human connections, exploring themes of love, loss, and the intricate dance between them. The album’s opener, “A Beautiful Place,” sets a poignant tone, while collaborations with artists like Courtlyn Carpenter add depth to her sonic landscape.
Performing in Colorado’s intimate mountain town stages has been pivotal for Balder. Nature’s presence and tight-knit communities create a special backdrop for her music, forging a direct connection with her audience.
As she looks ahead, Balder envisions a journey of musical growth, eager to refine her craft and explore new creative horizons. Her music celebrates the beauty found in life’s ups and downs, seeking to touch hearts and evoke a sense of shared humanity. For Micki, the joy lies in crafting songs that resonate with the soul, in moments of quiet reflection and the harmonies shared around a campfire.
Happy: What are you up to today?
Micki: This morning I’m sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops in the mountains getting some work done and updating my website a little bit, trying to chip away at the todo list I neglected for months while I prepared for my album release show.
I’ll head over to the downhill mountain bike park here soon for a couple laps through the changing aspen trees. Now that I’m getting some of my free time back, I find being active and outside my favorite way to get the creative juices flowing.
After I wander on home this evening, probably headed to a friend’s place to make pizza and play a little music. I’ve been taking a short breather from writing, but playing music with other people is still always fun, a night of harmonizing and playing covers always fills my soul
Happy: Tell us about where you are from? What’s the scene like in your neck of the woods?
Micki:I’m originally from Boston, MA, but l’ve lived in Denver, Colorado for 6 years now. It’s funny, when I first moved here I thought nothing of the music scene here (I wasn’t really even writing music myself at that point), but I quickly learned how wrong I was.
There aren’t a ton of other major cities nearby so it can be harder to get touring acts to make a pit stop here, but our local community is pretty great!
Definitely lots of bluegrass, folk, jam band, acoustic sort of stuff. But also some really great hip hop and pop. The singer songwriter scene is certainly alive and well. It’s a pretty tight knit scene which is always fun.
Happy: Describe an average day?
Micki: Wake up too early, make a cup of coffee and go for a thirty minute coffee walk with my partner. Read a little bit or practice cello (I played when I was 10 and I’ve recently been trying to pick it back up.
Learning new things as an adult is hard! And I’m sure my neighbours hate me…). Head to the mountains for a few hours of biking. Grab a beer and lunch at the local brewery.
And then if I’m lucky and the scheduling gods have aligned, I’ll head to one of my favourite mountain venues like Gold Hill Inn (that’s where I played my release show) for an evening bundled up on the grass listening to live music.
Happy: What did you listen to growing up that fuelled your passion for music?
Micki: Honestly, I think musicals and old Disney movies. Music in my family was a little odd. My mom listened to a lot of James Taylor and Carole King (not so strange I suppose) but my dad’s an immigrant so his music taste was a little more all over the map – think the Gypsy Kings meets Abba, meets the The Thomas Crown Affair Soundtrack and Les Miserables.
But I’ve always loved how clever some of those old Disney lyrics can be. And both Disney and musicals are so story-driven, which I’ve always been a sucker for. I want lyrics that draw me in and have something tangible to say.
Happy: Can you tell us about your musical background and what led you to pursue a career in folk music?
Micki: My musical background has been a little all over the place. I grew up playing piano and singing, and dabbled with cello for a bit, but then I kind of stopped all of it.
In college I started swing dancing, which connected me with a lot of awesome live jazz music, which in turn connected me with a lot of awesome musicians, period. When I moved back home to Boston after college, many of my dancing friends were also musicians or knew musicians, and Boston has a bustling folk music scene, so that’s where a lot of my taste in folk music came from.
It’s also around when I started dabbling with guitar. But it really wasn’t until I moved to Denver almost 10 years later that I finally started writing, and the story-driven ways of folk were sort of where I naturally settled in my writing and musical career.
Happy: “This is how it goes” is your debut release. What was the creative process like in bringing this album to life?
Micki: Honestly, it was really fun. The songs were pretty much all written when I brought them to Matt (although A Beautiful Place and Take It or Leave It were both written after we’d already started the album and sort of snuck their way in), and it definitely took us a second to figure out how we work together, which is inevitable in any sort of working creative relationship.
But once we got over that initial learning curve, it was tons of fun, throwing ideas back and forth, brainstorming how we wanted the overall sound to flow. He has such a great ear, particularly for lyric-driven music (he proclaims himself a ”lyric nerd”), and is great at creating space for the vocals to shine. This project was also different from recording my EP, since in the past couple years I’ve developed a really nice musical collaboration with my fiddle player, Taylor Sharpe.
We met at an open mic, and since then have played tons of both gigs and open mic sets together, and it’s really started to steer how I think about my sound as a singer songwriter. So before I even headed into the studio, I knew more than anything that he was going to be a foundational part of the album, and it was so cool weaving everything from electric guitar to piano to organ in and out of this more established fiddle sound we had going.
Happy: How would you describe the themes and emotions that you wanted to convey through the songs on this album?
Micki: Aw man, I’ve had so many people say to me “so, this is a breakup album, right?” and I can’t help but both laugh and cringe. Sometimes it feels like my whole adult life has been a continuous breakup album, an ever-rotating cast of characters to write songs about!
Ultimately though, this album is about people and interpersonal relationships, cause I find people, and why they do the things they do, and how they interact with each other in the world, to be so fascinating, and great songwriting material.
Some of it is familial, some of it is intrapersonal, some of it is navigating the gray area between romantic and platonic, some of it is about friendship and concern for the people you care about.
It’s kind of all over the place, but it definitely lands on the emotional spectrum of bittersweetness.
Susain Cain has this awesome book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole that I’ve resonated with so much as a musician and writer. In it she says “If we could honour sadness a little more, maybe we could see it—rather than enforced smiles and righteous outrage—as the bridge we need to connect with each other”, and I think that’s ultimately what this album is about.
That sort of bridge to connection we all need.
Happy: Colorado’s intimate mountain town stages seem to hold a special place in your heart. How has performing in these settings influenced your approach to music?
Micki: It’s that same idea of connection, but with a bit more of a community slant. Mountain towns, just like other small towns, demand a greater deal of reliance – reliance on the land, and reliance on the people around you.
I think reliance on the land and appreciation of the landscape fosters a real sense of presence, and reliance on your people fosters community, and those two elements combined make for the most magical environment for music.
Ultimately, when I get on stage, whether it’s for 4 people or for 150 people, I want to connect with my listeners. I want to sing to them directly, for them to feel like we’re having a moment together, that they can insert their present worries or joys into the framework of my music.
Those intimate stages have really given me the opportunity to lean into that. Certainly makes for a more fun and gratifying show for me!
Happy: Could you share some insights into your experience working with Matt Hoffman and Anna Frick during the recording and production of the album?
Micki: I’ve already talked so much about working with Matt, we had a blast whether it was making endless ‘back and forth’ jokes, laying down funny gospel piano takes that were never gonna make the cut, or getting down to brass tax and just collaborating on guitar parts.
Plus having him drum at the album release show was a damn treat, even just to have someone that knew how the songs were meant to sound up on stage with me.
And there really isn’t enough I can say about how easy it is to work with Anna. She mastered my first EP and I always know I can rely on her to do such a stellar job. I’d love to say I have a good understanding of how mastering works even slightly, but I definitely don’t, so I’m grateful that I can just pass the tracks off to her and trust she knows what they need.
Happy: “A Beautiful Place” opens the album with a dose of country folk. Can you talk about the inspiration behind this track and its significance in setting the tone for the rest of the album?
Micki: I didn’t really even intend for this to end up with a more country vibe, but Matt’s definitely more of a rock/americana guy and I think this certainly feels that influence.
The whole track is the epitome of that bittersweet groundwork though, and seemed like the perfect midtempo, melancholy place to start.
My ex and I were on a break, we’d both sort of been stuck in the mire, and I was out for a walk in the spring. The birds were chirping so loudly (that one bird is my favourite, the one that apparently sounds like it’s singing “cheeseburgerrrr”, if you have those in Australia?), and it’s a beautiful bluebird day, and I was finally starting to feel more relaxed and pretty happy.
And the happier I felt, the more I missed this person. I started thinking how lovely it was to miss someone from a place of joy instead of sorrow and loneliness. When we were finishing up recording the album, I made a last minute decision to add this one to the track list, and I really love how it turned out.
The dark swelly guitar contrasts the bright and uplifting piano so well, and sets a nice tone for the rest of the album.
Happy: Collaboration is a key element in the album, as seen in “Take It or Leave It” featuring Courtlyn Carpenter. What was it like working with Courtlyn, and how did this collaboration enrich the song?
Micki: I felt the same way about working with Courtlyn as I do with so many other collaborators – give the people that are experts in their craft the space to shine and just do what they do best.
I love cello, with its beautiful swells, and I knew I wanted that on Take It or Leave It. When she came into the studio she started throwing down ideas and a motif emerged, so we sort of built upon that and had her layer parts on top of it.
But ultimately, she’s a fabulous musician and aside from gentle guidance, I just wanted to get out of her way! It was definitely the right decision, she did a beautiful job.
Happy: Are there specific artists or musicians who have had a significant influence on your musical journey and the sound of “this is how it goes”?
Micki: I never know how to answer this question! My musical taste is so far reaching, and all of it influences how I write. Some of the artists that we were particularly listening to for inspiration in the studio were Tyson Motsenbocker, May Erlewine, Adrienne Lenker, Sam Lynch, and Towr’s.
Happy: Looking ahead, what do you hope listeners will take away from your music and what can we expect from Micki Balder in the future?
Micki: I’m really looking forward to honing my sound, since every album is a learning process and as a singer-songwriter I feel like we’re constantly bending our whole shtick. I’m like a musical bamboo shoot! Hopefully expect a little quiet while I let the new album breathe and finally start writing again!
I can feel the creative energy starting to bubble up inside me and I’m stoked to get some of those new songs on paper. Ultimately, I hope listeners can find the joy in all the sad stuff. My mom was at my release show and apparently she quipped that maybe I’d stop writing heartbreak songs soon.
But I love writing and sharing heartbreak songs! I love quieting the audience, and watching people tear up, and I think there’s so much beauty to be shared in sadness and sad songs especially.
Happy: What makes you happy?
Bluebird mountain bike rides
Joe Pera (is he popular here? His brand of humor is beautifully awkward and endearing and it’s hard to explain how much I love it)
Singing harmonies around a campfire
The smell of the ocean
Folk music in quiet mountain bars
Funk music in loud city venues
Writing songs :)