CommitmentNow.com: In November 2009, after a two-year journey of writing and recording, you released your debut solo CD of original music, Brave New World! How would you describe the music on Brave New World?
Hilary Michels: My artistic motto is “To make music that is relatable, that touches hearts, and inspires higher thinking about how we all show up in this world.” A recent moniker that has been applied to my music (from a fan) is “Intelligent Rock.” This seems to resonate once people start listening to my lyrics. I definitely have that indie folk-rocker / adult contemporary sound, but since I’ve been influenced by a variety of genres over 4 decades of music, you hear diversity. My songs are filled with messages of love, survival, healing, hope, global and personal responsibility, aliveness, and spiritual awareness. As I wrote these songs, I wanted to leave some sort of meaningful legacy to our young daughter, but also wanted to share with the world these deep-seated personal disclosures of my authentic self. They are intended to be heart and mind openers to engage and stimulate the soul of the listener.
CommitmentNow.com: Congratulations! Your song “Room for All Seasons” was selected be to included in the “Love Songs for Valentines Day” show on Women of Substance Radio. What is Women of Substance Radio?
Hilary: Thank you! I was thrilled when I found out that I was on the playlist. Women of Substance Radio is a streaming, online radio station, which airs 24/7 on the Live 365 Network. It features label artists and indie artists side by side within the playlist, giving lesser-known artists the opportunity to be heard alongside women who have already been recognized for their excellence in their genre by mainstream media. They play “female performers who deliver high-quality music that speaks to the listener through vocal excellence, depth of character and emotion, and lyrics that leave a lasting impression. Music of Substance is not just entertainment or fluff, but has an essential “core” brimming with heart, soul and spirit.”
CommitmentNow.com: You launched your debut CD at age 49! What lead to your establishing a career in music at this stage of your life?
Hilary: This has been a dream of mine for such a long time, so there’s really no short answer for this. My musical journey started at a fairly young age.
I studied music from the time I was 6-years old with piano. In my early teens I found myself with a maturing singing voice, so I switched my main instrument to voice. Throughout high school and college I sang in small classical ensembles. I finished my university studies at San Diego State with a major in Music, Dance, and Drama, with an emphasis in Voice, in the early 80’s.
Following my college years, I became a “singer for hire” throughout my 20’s, performing with various smooth jazz quartets, as well as being the front singer for a big band. While grateful to be a working vocalist, I was artistically frustrated in being told what songs to sing and what keys to sing them in. I felt helpless, and I lacked the experience and knowledge to be able to take control of my music career… it was the unfortunate scenario of the singer accommodating the band versus the other way around. Throughout it all, I was the stereotypical waitress-by-day-singer-by-night, with no real musical mentor to help guide me or help me to understand how to nurture my dream. I thought somehow it should all just magically fall into my lap. The realities of working until 2:00 am singing in clubs and private parties coupled with the grueling tedium of waiting tables with little financial reward finally took its toll. At the end of my 20’s, with no health insurance to speak of and living month to month wondering if I was going to make rent, I “sold out” and entered into the corporate workplace with an entry level job working for a law firm. It was the most depressing move of my entire life.
I would spend the next 17 years climbing the corporate ladder, successively moving up into different positions in sales, business development, marketing and PR, and gaining a bit more traction financially. However, with a full time job, and in my early thirties, I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue music. Plus, I was preoccupied with finding a husband as some sort of savior. I managed to find one, and while he and the paycheck provided some sort of dubious security, inside of me, the dream of music continued to burn brightly, and I pined for it. The marriage was short-lived, but the corporate career continued to ascend. With an eye towards the future, I always knew that somehow, someday, I would find a way to elbow my way back into the music world with a few more resources and greater life acumen.
At 39, I met my current (and forever) husband, and we married when I was 40. He happens to be the most wonderful human being in the whole world. “Room For All Seasons” is a love song that I wrote for him, and judging by the feedback I’ve received, it seems to be strongest single on my album.
“In the pourin’ rain, through a hurricane, under blue sunny skies, through a winter’s night, like wind in the trees on a soft summer breeze, we fly…, like a bird in the spring, ready to sing, with each day you bring to my heart your love, oh baby, I love you, in my heart there’s a room for all seasons, of love, I fall, deeper and deeper….”
From “Room For All Seasons”
When our daughter was 3 and I was 45, he encouraged me to retire from the corporate career to give me the space to be a full time mom and to pursue my passion of music again. I felt like I’d been given a second chance at life, both personally and professionally, so with a heart full of gratitude, I started to sing again. It started at our spiritual center, where an old college friend of mine is the musical director. She invited me to sing there as part of a small group and as a featured soloist. I realized I needed to get my singing chops back into shape, and contacted a local singer-songwriter who I knew was teaching voice here in San Diego. I had seen her perform, had a couple of her CDs, and she was “in my demographic,” so I felt comfortable with her. Through her, I met her partner, Ron Florentine, who is a music producer. One thing led to another, and I started writing. With their encouragement and my husband’s blessing and support, I decided to take the plunge into my life’s dream to write and record an entire original album. In the two years it took to complete it, I grew more as a musician than I had in all my academic years and the subsequent decade of performing.
Probably the most notable thing that happened was that once I had made the decision to go forward with the album, we tragically witnessed the untimely death of my husband’s sister of a cerebral hemorrhage at a family gathering. She was my age when she passed away. The event impaled me with the thought “there’s no time like the present.” It also inspired one of my favorite songs on the album called “Free As A Bird.”
When your eyes are open, do you see at all
When you hear your heart, do you heed its call
Everything we know, is it really real
When you tell your story, tell me how you feel
The patterns that we stay in, are really nothing more
Time never tells you, when it’s time to go
Dreaming of the future, time to make it so
All those years of planning, is the Here and Now
Open up your spirit, it will show you how
To live the life you want to, love who you wanna love
From “Free As A Bird”
In this day and age, it’s a whole different ballgame with the advent of the Internet, email, mp3’s, and the much greater affordability of recording in studios and the sophistication of their technologies. In the 80’s, when I was in my 20’s, you pretty much had to have a label to get recorded, or a boatload of money to finance it yourself. The current studio technologies coupled with all the social media outlets have given many aspiring artists like myself a chance to be recorded and heard, so I feel fortunate to be thriving creatively at such an opportune moment in time!
CommitmentNow.com: Since turning 40, you have completed several half - marathons and triathlons, gotten married, had a baby, and recorded a CD of original music. What is it about your 40s that inspired you to accomplish so much?
Hilary: It’s funny how “catching up to oneself” has a way of doing that. I had a pretty bumpy road personally for many years. I unfortunately fell prey to some nasty genetics that predisposed me to a not-so-healthy lifestyle in my 20’s and 30’s. A lot of what I went through during this period is readily accessible to the listeners through the songs “Twenty Six”, “Steel Wise Woman,” and “I Am.” I was finally able to wrestle the beast to the ground at the age of 38 and have been living a miraculous and glorious life since then. I truly credit my recovery with being the moment my life really began. When I lost precious time and personal resources within myself over those two decades, I re-emerged extremely motivated, clear, creative and energized. I had a lot of catching up to do to fulfill the legacy that I knew I was truly destined for in my life. The inner voice never lies; it only becomes stifled. Once it is free again, you are free to be your authentic self! Expressing myself musically and rejoicing in the health of my body spurred on my desire to see what I was capable of, delving into aspects I’d only ruminated about. What I found was that I was so much more capable than I’d ever dreamed I could be. I tell this part of my story because I feel it is important for other women to know that we all have our obstacles to overcome, no matter what they are. It has been very empowering, and humbling at the same time. I am grateful to be here, living the life that I have with my family, and in great health. I take nothing for granted.
Been in the trenches for so many years, alone and scared, ruled by all her fears, yet to others, she’d appear so cool, so much work, she’d medicate to make it through another day. Then she realized she couldn’t go through life that way, had to surrender, to rescue all her long lost dreams, battle over, and she could finally breathe….She’s livin’ as a Steel Wise Woman….
From “Steel Wise Woman”
I am free, I am whole
I finally found the voice of my soul
It took a really long time to sort it out
I fired my old best friends Worry and Doubt
I am whole, free and whole….
From “I Am”
CommitmentNow.com: You have a 7-year old daughter. As you run marathons, write and perform, are you conscious of creating a positive role model for her?
Hilary: Just about every second! Children are an incredible hand-mirror for us. I especially want her to know that it is important to do what you love in life, because, ultimately, we all end up doing that eventually. And to not listen to every detractor, but rather to listen to your inner voice, that silent witness, and to be true to yourself, your ethics, and your passions. I’m a bit of a stickler for health now, so my husband and I both are promoting and modeling a healthy lifestyle prominently for our daughter’s sake. I know she’s proud of my music and of my races. She herself is into piano, ballet, hip hop, soccer, basketball, and singing, and will be picking up a tennis racket for the first time next month, so I’m feeling like she’s getting exposure to lots of things to help fuel her interest and curiosity. The world is hers to explore and I’m all for opening it up to her!
Songs that I wrote with her in mind are “Brave New World” and “Pretty Baby.” “Brave New World” talks about the kind of world we are co-creating and the legacies we leave behind, and “Pretty Baby” addresses women in different stages of life, from childhood to teen years, and motherhood to old age…the universal message is that this, right now, is your time.
Stare ‘em down, sing out your song, stand tall and embrace your age, when your confidence comes ‘round it’ll be alright, ‘cuz you get to write the next page..
From “Pretty Baby”
Is this the legacy, we leave our children, we leave a piece of us, no matter what we do, we live our day-to-day, romancing all the get-ahead, wanting the car, the big house, that stardom livin’ in our heads….
From “Brave New World”
CommitmentNow.com: How do you balance work and family life?
Hilary: (Laughing…) In compartments! I’m kind of a neat freak, and I’ve had to give up on having the picture-perfect house for my husband or me to come home to. It just isn’t going to happen unless we’re having company over. I do all my work during my daughter’s school hours (like writing for this interview) so I can give her my full attention when she gets home, and then pull together some sort of nutrition for the family dinner. If I have a show to prepare for, I do rehearsals in the evening. But after the grind of my 20’s, I’m pretty picky about where and when I’ll perform, and I like the idea of aligning performances with some sort of a cause that I care about whenever possible. So, it’s definitely a work / life balance, and that is one hundred percent intentional.
CommitmentNow.com: What advice do you have for women who are trying to figure out their lives in their 40s?
Hilary: Your 40’s can be your absolute best decade ever due to having some life experience, wisdom and resources to be able to branch out and make an impact. This decade is about allowing the internal to become the external, rather than vice versa. We are so saturated with media exposure and social and professional expectations, so it’s time to listen to your soul and let it sing.
CommitmentNow.com: What plans do you have for your 50s?
Hilary: To continue to grow as a musician, to write more, to engage in healthy activities that bring me joy and well being, and to be the best wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend and whole person that I can be!
CommitmentNow.com: Where can we learn more about your music?
…and Love Life! Hilary
Hilary Michels is an independent singer-songwriter who is often categorized as a more soulful sounding indie folk-rocker with a substantive array of other musical styles influencing her writing and vocal styles.