Work Together For Success
When Micah and Lori Wilshire were struggling to get their music noticed in Nashville in 2000, the wedding vows of “for better or worse” they had exchanged in 1995 when they walked down the aisle had probably never rang so true.
Fast forward to 2004, with a record deal with Columbia/Sony secured and a debut major-label album New Universe released to critical acclaim; the duo are now seeing the other side of that promise they made to each other.
Having toured together as backing singers for pop veteran Michael W. Smith, the Wilshires released their debut Christian music album on Rocketown Records in 1998. But the duo weren’t happy with the musical direction they were taking, so they regrouped to write and record the independently released Second Story in 2000. Recorded mostly in Wilshire’s living room, the album was a clear statement of their intentions — glorious pop hooks, crisp, edgy production and wonderful vocal harmonies — and it seemed unbelievable no major hadn’t already picked it up.
Word got out, a buzz was made, but it was clear if anything was going to happen for Wilshire, it wasn’t going to happen in Nashville. So, the duo sold up, and followed a well-trodden path by those intent on making it. They drove across the country, settled in a 500 sq. ft apartment in Los Angeles, and quickly developed a sterling reputation, regularly playing L.A. hotspots such as Highland Grounds, the Un Urban Coffee House and Molly Malone’s, as well as local colleges including UCLA and USC. Then, a few months after arriving in LA, the hard work paid off as Donny Ienner signed them to Columbia.
Micah and Lori recently gave me the inside story on Wilshire’s past, present and future.
Well guys, you’ve come a long way since the last time we spoke. Congratulations on your progress since then, it must have been wonderful to see all your hard work pay off and land a deal with Columbia.
Thanks, it has been a long road. It feels good to have our efforts of the past seven years affirmed by Columbia offering us a record deal.
So how exactly did you go about it? You took a brave step to leave Nashville and move out to LA. Did you have a grand plan or strategy when you moved out, and how hard was it to create that all-important buzz about your music? It must be so competitive to get gigs in a place where you were unknown.
The key for us was having no plan! We knew in our hearts that we had to move to L.A., so we made the decision one night, had a yard sale two weeks later and made enough money to rent a U-haul and pay for gas to drive across the country to L.A. We had no jobs lined up, no place to live, no contacts, and no money saved. We did it fast, sort of like pulling off a band-aid, because we knew if we thought about it for too long, we would chicken out. So, we found an apartment and started playing open-mic nights every night of the week, which led to monthly club bookings. That helped the buzz get started around town. We also booked ourselves at colleges up and down the Pacific coast. We later met our management at a BMI circle of songs (a writer’s in-the-round night at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood). They approached us and we began a relationship, which eventually led to them taking us to Donny Ienner at Columbia, who offered us a deal.
When I last interviewed you, I asked how you would react if a label approached you with a deal. You replied that it would have to be the right deal and a label that invested in your music and thought long-term. I take it that’s what you’ve found with Columbia?
Well, nothing’s guaranteed, especially in the climate of the music industry right now, but Columbia believes in our music. It’s a good fit.
Moving to the record, it sounds great and has a lot of quality songs on it and as the title suggests, it really is a new universe for you. How pleased are you with the end result?
We’re really proud of this record and are excited for people to hear it. Many of the songs chronicle our move to L.A. and how hard we struggled once we got here. The title of the album, New Universe, comes from a line in one of the songs called “Nothing Left to Lose,” which is about us leaving the past behind and taking a huge chance because we felt like there truly was nothing more we could lose. L.A. did become a whole new universe for us. Among other things, this is an album for dreamers.
You co-produced with David Tickle. What was it like working with him and others of his caliber?
We did co-produce 8 songs with David and produced the single, “Special,” “Nothing Left to Lose,” and “I Know What You Did” by ourselves. We learned a lot from David. The highlight of recording, though, had to be watching Paul Buckmaster conduct a 20-piece string section on “In Your Arms” and “Tonight.” We sat there in the studio at Capitol Records thinking, “Is this really happening? From open mics to this?!”
Although you did work with David Tickle on the production, I was glad to see that the living room vibe of Second Story was reproduced on songs like “I Know What You Did” and “Special”!
It’s funny you should mention the living room vibe. We can’t seem to get away from it! We produced “Special,” “Nothing Left To Lose,” and “I Know What You Did” in the living room of our L.A. apartment. We love recording at home and always will. There’s no pressure and we feel free to experiment.
Speaking of “Special”, was that song written at a time you were still looking for that break after moving to L.A.?
Absolutely. We were working all day and playing open mics at night. We could hardly pay the rent or afford groceries and were longing for a break, for someone to give us a chance. As the song says, we needed a hallelujah!
What are your particular favorites on the new record? “Go On” and “Turn It Around” are highlights for me.
Our favorites change weekly, but right now we are into “Go On,” “In Your Arms,” and “When.”
How difficult was it for you to leave behind songs like “Ordinary”, “Fall” and “Not Alone” and bring a new set of songs to the fore in the new album?
It wasn’t difficult because L.A. inspired new songs. This city has a way of bringing out all sorts of emotions… the best and the worst. We do have some favorites from Second Story and will revisit them in the future.
I got a promo copy of the album so am unaware of how the song writing duties were split this time around. Did you work with songwriters like Jess Cates (as you did on Second Story) or did you just write the new songs yourselves? How many songs were written before you got the deal with Columbia?
We wrote the entire album ourselves this time with the exception of “Tonight,” which was co-written with our friend, Dennis Matkosky. We did have all of the songs written prior to signing the record deal.
You have been doing the publicity circuit since recording the album as well as touring with Train and Seal. How enjoyable have those live shows been and how was Sharon Osborne when you appeared on her show?
We did a two-week run opening for Train in July. They were so cool to us and their fans couldn’t have been more receptive. We opened for Seal starting November 14th through December 15th and we may also be opening in Europe for Seal in March. It’s been great as we’re fans of Seal and have been for years. The TV shows we’ve done recently have been a blast too. Sharon Osbourne was so warm and friendly and she really liked “Special.”
Do you have your own tour planned in the near future?
We’re tossing around the idea of a college tour soon, but right now we’re just focusing on the Seal tour as well as a residency at the The Hotel Cafe in L.A. on Wednesdays throughout February. We’d like to be on the road all the time. There’s nothing like playing to a live crowd every night.
Having worked hard to get to the position you find yourself in now, what is your opinion of shows like American Idol and artists like Kelly Clarkson? Do you agree with that type of overnight success when you had to achieve it the hard way through persistence and dedication?
Our opinion is this: take it any way you can get it! It’s so hard to catch a break in this business and we don’t begrudge anyone who takes a different path that we did. Ours took longer, but the knowledge and experience we gained is priceless.
Finally guys, congratulations once again on New Universe and I wish you both every success for the future.
Thanks, so much, Andrew. We appreciate your constant support.