Fox Cities singer-songwriter Michael Grabner hasn’t been at his craft very long, but this young, natural talent with an old soul is brimming with promise. Since picking up his first guitar less than five years ago, Grabner is making waves in surprising ways. Though fairly new to the music scene, he’s already caught the attention of Pat MacDonald (of Purgatory Hill and Timbuk3 fame) and has opened for Jackson Browne. One of his original songs was also recently featured on WAPL Radio’s Home Brewed program. Yet he exudes a fresh vulnerability and modesty, more interested in practicing and writing in his free time than promoting himself. A self-described “old school 1950’s guy,” Grabner pulls stuff from deep, timeless places with effortless fashion. His approachability and unassuming charm are just icing on the cake.
I sat down recently with Grabner and learned about his musical beginnings and artistic influences.
JD: How did you get your start in music?
MG: I started playing guitar on my 18th birthday. My grandparents kept encouraging me to play and bought the guitar for my birthday. I went home and taught myself to play a Johnny Cash song that night. I always say that Bob Dylan was my guitar teacher. I listened to his music non-stop and learned all of his songs. Other influences were Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Avett Bothers, Tallest Man on Earth, and Ryan Adams to name a few. After a year of playing guitar, my grandmother told me that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a musician, I should write my own music. So I did! I began going up to the Holiday Motel in Sturgeon Bay to try out my music at Thursday Night Writers night with Pat MacDonald. Pat gave me the opportunity to be part of Steel Bridge Music Fest and my confidence really grew! Working full time has made it difficult to find time to get out and promote my music, but I am trying hard to get out there and make a name for myself in the local music scene.
JD: What are your perceptions of the local music scene?
MG: It is exciting to be a musician in the Appleton area with such a vibrant music culture! The past few years I spent many nights playing on College Avenue for tips and playing Open Mic nights. I tend to get regulars who gather around to request songs or sing along and get lots of phone numbers thrown in my guitar case along with the tips.
JD: How would you describe your writing style?
MG: I would say that my writing practices could be called obsessive – I write constantly. Ideas for a song pop into my head constantly. Recently I was watching a documentary about the economy and a comment stuck in my head and turned into a song. Dating relationships are always material for new songs! My style is Americana/Alt Country, but some of my songs could be considered Blues. I recorded my first CD at Studio H last year and had my Drop Party at Chadwick’s last Fall. As with most musicians, I have grown and matured – I will turn 23 in September – and my music has matured as well. I am saving to record another CD and hope that will be soon!
MG: My favorite gig was probably the time I opened for Jackson Browne – I actually played on the balcony stage at Steel Bridge Song Fest and was the last act before Jackson who played on the main stage, but….it makes for a good story! The strangest gig was Apple Pub where I was accompanied by a rather inebriated patron on the harmonica he just happened to have along!
Listen to some of Michael Grabner’s original music samples here: https://soundcloud.com/michael-grabner-5
‘Roll Along’ as featured recently on WAPL Radio’s Home Brewed program: https://soundcloud.com/michael-grabner-5/04-roll-along-1