We sat down with the multi-talented Michelle Creber to discuss her 7th studio album, Storm, which was released at the top of May this year. Storm is an exploration of the complexities of life’s relationships — namely the relationships with those we love, with the rest of humanity, and our relationship with ourselves.
We took a deep dive into some of the tougher issues of this time, the making of this album, and some of the things Michelle is up to when she’s not behind the mic. At Offcultured, we love people who love words; and the lyrical and thematic dissection of this album gave us greater insight into what Michelle feels about self-love and uniting for what is right in times of great struggle — in her own words.
Offcultured (Jazi): I want to address the obvious elephants in the room. We’re collectively going through some things right now, the first of those being the quarantine and the other being this new outburst of global demonstrations. I saw your post lending some words to those. What is this moment like for you?
Michelle Creber: I’m glad you asked that question first because that’s definitely the thing that’s forefront on my mind. Where and how I grew up, I was extremely lucky that everywhere around me was families from different countries and different cultures. We all shared our stories and our history and our art and our music and it was never a question that anybody was different or above or below anyone so I grew up with the utmost compassion for everyone. It was a definite culture shock for me, around eight or ten [years old], when I started traveling for work that I started seeing these other cities that exist where the clear attitude was not as accepting; not as much of a melting pot as where I grew up here in Vancouver. It was really shocking and it made me extremely upset.
I had to make sure that it was clear throughout my music that what I stand for is ultimate acceptance for all people — whether we’re talking about sexism or homophobia or racism.
I think most people are not raised with this natural sense of equality. They have to go back and watch the history to understand why they should care about it. This is not that long ago, these issues were just so extreme. Now we’re being called on in the white community to speak up for black people and that’s what’s changed for me. Not that any of my opinions have changed. Not that I’ve never not stood up, especially in one-on-one conversations, but publicly I didn’t want to overstep. I didn’t want to be disrespectful; even though it was something that I was extremely passionate about.
For me, what’s changed is being called on to say “We need everybody to speak up about this and it is your right. You don’t have to justify standing up for what’s right.” It’s been a real eye-opening week being super engaged and having some tough conversations with friends and family.
OC: We’re all stretched so much right now. I appreciate you being thoughtful in that response. Let’s talk now about your latest album, Storm. It was surprising to learn that it’s been in the works for a while. It seems so intentional and powerful in the messages that come across in it, some that are just so present for us right now. What, in the years that built up to the release, gave birth to the album?
MC: I honestly couldn’t have predicted how relevant some of these themes became in the last couple of months. In a way, these were always things I was passionate about in my daily life; but then became more of a universal thing everyone was experiencing in a different way.
The title track, “Storm”, has really been a key foundation that existed for a while. I wrote “Storm” approximately three or four years ago; and it was going to be on my last album, On Display, but it just stayed in my DropBox as a demo. I had come up with a concept for an album called Eleven Letters, which was going to be more a cohesive project; but [it] just ended up being a bit too secluded to my experiences.
I created Storm then to be an analogy for all these different emotional storms we experience in life and then it was very easy to decide which songs would end up on the album.
But then I paused. I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the album [release]. It was two months from being released when everyone’s life got flipped upside down. I lost a month of production and then realized this is so important right now for everyone to continue doing what they love creatively, and to be sharing their passion and to be staying connected.
That’s ultimately what made me realize that it was still an appropriate moment to release an album with this subject matter and I have no regrets. It was really beautiful timing for me personally; as well as just trying to stay distracted and stay busy while everything was flipping upside down.
OC: There is something cathartic there for people if they really tune in to what you’re saying lyrically. It’s a very rich album with some potent things to say about relationships, self-care, self-worth and fighting together. “Lighthouse” really called out to me with its message about turning the light toward yourself and caring for yourself. How important is that message right now?
MC: Most of my songs are general. I try to pick something to write about that I’m passionate about in the moment. I don’t usually make it so specific or with only one person that I’m thinking about. But “Lighthouse” is different in that I have two or three really good friends that are so selfless but, as the first lyric states, to a fault sometimes. They’re using all of their energy and all of their love towards other people, which is so admirable and beautiful. If anyone else in the world would expend half of the light that they shine on the world on other people, the world would be much better of a place.
“Lighthouse” is a song to those friends that need to take a moment to realize that they have so much to love about themselves, and to just take a moment to appreciate that. It’s not selfish to love yourself.
I think that’s the basic message of the song that even the most selfless of people need to also appreciate themselves and their worth and their accomplishments. It can even be a message that it’s okay if you’re not doing a lot right now, it’s okay if you’re not feeling productive, and it’s okay if you’re scared and angry. As long as you can work through this process with yourself, you can come out of it being positive; and showing yourself some empathy, you’ll come out on the other side just fine.
OC: Another song tackling a relevant topic is “False Empire”. It’s lyrically bold in what it has to say about the truth of our human history and really tapping into that so that we can build something together. What was happening at the time when “False Empire” came to be?
MC: Looking at it from a less specific sense, regardless of what you believe in, regardless of what you stand for politically; I think the environment is so polarized that no one can even be in the middle. It’s so extreme and people are on opposite sides and so unwilling to compromise in so many senses. I think regardless of all of those things, what matters is truth.
To me, truth is the number one thing that we cannot lose, especially in our leadership and especially in communication with each other. History can’t change; and yet, some people try to change it.
Some people try to change history that happened two minutes previously, or five minutes previously, or a year previously. It’s lie after lie after lie after lie and we’re desensitized to it almost. It’s been so many years of these lies and we’ve just got to get back to basic truth, basic facts, and we’ve got to get back to basic humanity. And what’s so beautiful about what’s happening now is people are finally saying enough is enough. And this is what I was talking about in the bridge of the song.
I wrote this a year and a half ago and I was waiting for this — waiting for people to finally crack. I think people felt alone. Personally, I felt alone and I felt debilitated watching certain things go down in recent years and knowing I couldn’t do anything about it. So, of course I wrote a song [laughs]! It says “knock, knock, knock on the golden doors, stomp, stomp, stomp on the marble floors”. Enough is enough. Let the people speak.
OC: Girl, I’m with it!
MC: I’m glad you asked me about that one!
OC: Good, because I just couldn’t let it go. It’s an empowering track! The last song I want to talk about is “Carry On”. I love the message there about fighting to be here and that there’s something worth being here for — that you’re valued and loved. There’s so much going on in the world today, it can be sometimes hard for people to remember that. What were you trying to convey in “Carry On”?
MC: Well, I think my main goal moving forward as a singer/songwriter is to bring back those meaningful, hopeful, and inspiring tunes back into our daily listening. I think there’s a real missed opportunity right now, especially in what younger people and teens are listening to right now. I have nothing against Top 40 music. There’s nothing better than blasting some radio pop in the car on a summer day and that in itself can bring up people’s mood.
I think there’s [an audience] that is craving songs that make them think and make them reflect. I personally want to carve a bigger path for that in our modern day music listening. So, pop songs with meaning and heart and with genuine lyrics.
I have so much faith in all of my lyrics. Some people think “Oh it’s just melodies, it’s gotta be catchy, you can just say the same word a hundred times as long as it’s a good melody” and I think “Really, what’s the point of that? Is that that really going to be something you want to listen to in twenty-five years and think on and appreciate?”
I’m a big advocate for mental health. I’m an ambassador for Kids Help Phone in Canada. “Carry On” is [for] younger people who just get so close on the edge of feeling worthless. I wrote a song when I was fourteen called “I Will Fight For You” — first song I ever wrote and released fully myself. I think “Carry On” was my Part Two of that, and even more positive. Just an updated message of what I was speaking on in “I Will Fight For You”.
OC: We love the message. Again, the full project is amazing and I enjoyed being able to learn about what’s important to you through it. You really do it all! Voice acting, acting, singer, songwriter. I was wondering what the voice acting and acting industries are looking like in response to the global crisis going on right now.
MC: It’s certainly changed very quickly in film and TV. I think you’ll see a lot less small roles and extra work to minimize the [number of] personnel on set. They’re experimenting with quarantining a whole crew of people together for a few weeks and then filming. People are going to be Zoom auditioning, which is probably not as stressful as going in to audition so there are some positives.
Voice acting doesn’t look too different, oddly enough, especially for us that have studios in our homes. Some studios have actually stayed open and they’ve taken lots of precautions. There’s one engineer that stays in the entire studio all day and he goes in and sanitizes the mics. There are five of them at different heights.
You don’t put headphones on. You go in, you go out. And that’s it. No signing contracts and you bring your own script.
It was very weird to do a session like that when you’re used to a semicircle full of people having fun recording an episode. It’s sad, but it’s also sparking creativity for crews to work together with health and safety in mind. I think people will always be creative. That’s one of the coolest things about this time — seeing how creative people can be. Just seeing how many things people can do virtually; I’ve never imagined some of the things people are doing!
OC: Likewise, that much has been amazing to witness! We consider ourselves to be multi-hyphenate creators and there’s just so much that we love; and that influences how we show up in the world. How has your art and putting your art out in the world influenced your life?
MC: Music is one of those things that’s incomparable in the way of self-expression. As much as it’s such a blast to play someone else’s character on TV, work with incredible people and such a team environment on set. And it’s such a crazy, creative, and imaginative environment in a voiceover studio. I think what’s really changed my focus over the past four or five years is releasing more and more original music.
It’s an incomparable feeling to share that passion and to share your direct message with people with your own words.
I didn’t do this intentionally but Storm ended up being all my lyrics and all my melodies. I believe that co-writing is a wonderful thing to do and there are some really great collaborators out there that expand your horizons as a writer; but this unintentionally ended up being a collection of just all my words, all my melodies, and there’s just something really special about that. No matter what happens with that music, you’ll always be able to share it with your fan base and your family. It’ll always be there — always be a marker of your creativity and passion and your hours and hours of hard work. And it’s just really changed what I work on on a day-to-day basis.
Not to say I don’t love acting, believe me, I absolutely do! But you can always be writing, you can always be playing, you can always be singing and be recording a demo. So I have definitely shifted my main focus; which I think is especially important for multifaceted people to have a ground zero that says, “Okay, this is a normal day and this is what I’m gonna work on”.
OC: Just carving out some structure for yourself. I think that’s helpful!
MC: Especially now!
OC: That made me wonder though, are there any other Easter Eggs on the album — say you’re secretly on the drums in this song or anything else out of the ordinary from what your normal production is like?
MC: The piano is pretty much me throughout the album except for the songs I recorded in Nashville which are “Lighthouse”, “I Built You a Sandcastle”, “Welcome to Reality”, and “Let Me In”. The other seven we did here in Canada with my producer in Montreal with some great Vancouver musicians. For those seven tracks, those songs have mostly my piano. I don’t know if you’ve listened to the bridge of the title track, “Storm”, but that big jazz solo is my dad. He’s a professional jazz pianist and a fantastic musician. I had been trying to learn that one but he just ripped that off in a second, so definitely some highlights of dad’s work in there.
OC: That’s awesome! I was definitely getting Nashville feels from some of the tracks; so that’s cool, knowing you recorded there.
MC: Oh yes, there’s some incredible, incredible musicians in Nashville and the way they work and the speed that they work, it really blows my mind.
OC: I feel like we have a good idea of the things you create; what are some other art forms you’re enjoying that are not in your wheelhouse? What things are you enjoying doing; especially in these times where we have a little more time to ourselves at home just to enjoy, not even to create?
MC: Definitely mostly songwriting in my off hours when I’m not moving forward with scheduled work and meetings and making deadlines and auditioning. I will say… I bought another hockey net! I’ve not put up the hockey nets in my cul-de-sac for maybe seven years until last month. It was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. I was a very big hockey fan and one of the plastic nets was deteriorating; so I bought another good one, and I think I’ve gone out and played hockey I think every day for the past month and a half — that has been really fun. Not particularly creative, but a nice break from what I normally do!