Behind The Mic: Plymouth Guitarist Robert Mickam
Plymouth music scene includes his one-of-a-kind sound -- which he describes as "electro-acoustic, alien industrial, funk-ified reggae-rock."
I've known Robert Mickam all my life, or, I should say, all his life. We're practically family. But only in the last few years did I learn that he was a musician, and a talented, unique one at that. Since I was an aspiring bassist, I figured it might be nice to get together and play. A year after first discussing it, we've not played together, but I've had the good fortunate of listening to him play.
Rob's sound is unique. I struggle to find a good label for his style, probably because there is no single style he plays. He has some beautiful acoustic guitars, an electric baritone guitar and a 12-string soprano guitar. With an array of effects and a loop pedal, he can layer melodies and counter-melodies and play over top of them, to jaw-dropping effect.
Because he is quite a talented (self-taught) guitarist who pays attention to the local music scene, I asked him about his playing, what inspires him, where he can be found in the area and other local musicians he likes, and here's what he had to say:
How long have you been playing guitar?
I have been playing guitar for about 10 years aggressively.
Which artists are your biggest inspirations?
Tim Reynolds, Marcus Eaton, Dave Matthews, Rob Dougan, Michael Hedges, and Christian Manchester.
How would you describe your playing style?
Electro-acoustic alien industrial funk-ified reggae-rock.
Do you play with others or mostly solo?
I mostly play solo acoustic, but I stand in with a lot of other local musicians if they ask me. It allows me to complement the music and not have to fill in all the dead time like when I am playing solo. I use a loop pedal and lots of delay when playing acoustic so it allows me to layer the music live and on the spot mid son/performance. When you play with other musicians it allows you to add your own flavor to the song. If I stand in with a band I usually play electric to cut right through all of the sound.
Do you do covers or is the material in your live set all original?
I do a little bit of both. When it comes to my own stuff, I am my own worst critic. But everyone loves a cover, you have to throw the audience a bone once in a while and keep their attention, and playing something they know and that they can sing or dance to, is the best way to achieve that!
Do you do vocal work or is it mostly instrumental?
I do both. Sometimes the song calls for vocals; other times I can just play an instrumental soundscape and just get lost in the music that way.
What is your favorite guitar?
My newest guitar is a Veillette Gryphon acoustic Soprano 12-string. It is a little thing, and sounds like a mandolin on steroids, very loud and full for how small it is. I also have a couple of Baden guitars, which are great instruments, with Fishman Aura pickups. My heart will always be with my Martin D-35 though, it just has a great tone and presence. All my acoustics run through a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI, which is the best way to achieve a real rich acoustic sound without sounding over-produced or too modified. It sounds like my guitar is mic'ed even when it is plugged in.
How long have you been playing to live audiences?
I have been performing now for about five or six years now. After I got dumped by a previous girlfriend back in the day, it forced me to get up and spill it all out, the thinking being, "I can't feel worse than I do now!" But emotions amplify the song and put you into that spot. So it goes to show there is beauty in heartbreak.
Where do you play in Plymouth?
The Plymouth Bean is great place on Monday nights for acoustic music, just a small coffee shop with a great, quiet audience. I also play Tuesday night at the Plymouth Roc for more of a loud and in-your-face kind of open mic. It has a bigger stage and the sound system there makes it a lot of fun to play with a band. They are probably my two favorite venues.
What other local artists do you like? Do you perform with them?
Zach "Violin Monster" Storey is a great fiddle player, and I enjoy playing with Kari Holmes, Steve D'Angelo and Shereen Michelle. They're all great local musicians that I enjoy collaborating with.
How would you describe the local music scene?
It is very much alive and has a ton of great talent. There are great musicians everywhere, you just have to look. Michigan, and in particular Plymouth, has a great melting pot of local talent that is a great untapped resource.
Do you aspire to be a full-time (professional) musician or is it just a passion that you're content to pursue in your spare time?
Music is in my soul, I always think about it, always play, have a recording studio at my house in Plymouth and help other local musicians with recording and producing, but I do it all for the passion of it. I think if I did it as an occupation, it would lose some of the passion when you are then forced to produce and play to make an income. It is still very innocent and passionate with me. I just enjoy playing.