Michael Harl is a busy man.
Michael Harl is a busy man. You might know him from his WRIR persona, Michael Miracle, on the Wednesday drive-time slot, The Lotus Land Show, or as the vocalist/guitarist for RVA-favorites Canary Oh Canary… or from his other group project MANZARA.
But more recently, the longtime local musician (+ everything else I just listed) has been concentrating on a personal project, Grass Panther.
Grass Panther is mostly a studio project, but there’s a been a number of live performances featuring Harl and friends he’s picked to play a select few tracks.
“It grew out of staying active while my other bands are on hiatus,” Harl said in an interview with RVAMag. While Grass Panther has the distinctive sound Harl is known for, he said the project isn’t going for a sound in particular, with no one influential band in mind when he writes or performs.
The first Grass Panther release, “Nothing in Common,” was dropped as a single back in early 2015.
The track was promised as a pre-release to a new record, but Harl ended up pushing that release until earlier this month when the first full length Grass Panther album, Vignette, hit the web along with a CD release.
Vignette stands out for a number of reasons. Beyond the stellar song craft, the record crosses genres and offers enough memorable hooks and riffs to get cemented in your head for weeks.
The album was recorded in Harl’s home with a four track and his iMac – a decision based both on economics and convenience. He built tracks when he found time, and it gave him a level on control over the process that he appreciated.
He’d also participated in a kind of create-a-thon event back in 2011 which forced him to write a song a week for a year – from that project sprung a number of tracks which had floated around him and his other projects ever since. Grass Panther became an opportunity to update and formally release many of those tracks.
“For the past five years or so, I’ve been going back and saying ‘maybe this could be something,’ or using that idea to produce more and more,” he said. “Adding parts and redoing or doing more.”
Tracks on this release might sound familiar to loyal fans as some have made their way into Canary Oh Canary sets. Other tracks might stand out just for their creative zaniness.
“Muppets in the Mail,” clocking in just under a minute long, is a Pixies-esc tribute to Netflix sending him and his wife the Muppets season 1 in the mail – pretty self explanatory. But the energy Harl puts behind what might be a mundane experience for others highlights his craftiness and musical talent. “Muppets…” also points to how far back he farmed for tracks because it happened when he was still getting DVD’s in the mail via Netflix.
As the album title suggests, each track is a tiny Vignette into Harl’s life, offering no grand concept between tracks, though the structure of the album is still relevant.
“I spent a lot of time figuring out a listening order,” he said, noting that was one of the reasons for the album’s delayed release. “I wanted it to be good, thats why it took so long, and Grass Panther is an ever evolving project so that’s kind of the point of this.”
Not slowing down, Harl is already thinking about future releases with some folks he plays live Grass Panther sets with. “A lot of the stuff I play live isn’t on this record,” he said. “And I want get that out at some point.”
You can pick up a copy of Vignette here, and you could even spring for the special CD release if you’re really cool.
He’ll be playing on WRIR’s Cause and Effect, 1-3PM this Saturday, as part of WRIR’s fund drive events – you should turn in around then to hear what he’s got in store.