Top Story, Arts, On Campus

Matt Michienzie Builds a BC Band on Experimental Rock

After a brief moment of hesitation, Matt Michienzie, MCAS ’17, exhaled sharply and, with a nervous chuckle, decided to come clean.

“NSYNC,” he said finally, sporting a small grimace tinged with slight embarrassment. “Technically, that was my first concert. But I don’t really count that. Instead, I consider my second concert—a Dave Matthews Band show—to be my first big music experience on record.”

Far more enamored by the creative freedom DMB allowed itself than the strict confines of the early 2000s, frosted-tipped Timberlake’s bubbly, teen pop, Michienzie has from the advent of his music career identified most with the genre-hopping, rule-breaking, free-wheeling types like Dave Matthews Band.

As the singer enthusiastically elaborated on his admiration for the popular American rock band and other artists who boast a similar inventive style, his demeanor transformed. Michienzie’s initial wince, perhaps a product of having reminisced about the overly-produced pop tunes and synchronized dance numbers characteristic of the ’90s boy band genre, dissipated almost immediately as the junior passionately prattled on about DMB’s bluegrass and progressive-rock blend through an animated grin.

A current film major and aspiring singer-songwriter, Michienzie is used to having a microphone in front of him. The Foxborough, Mass., native has been performing in front of crowds and booking gigs in local pubs since his early high school years. In recent months, he’s become quite comfortable under the bright lights at The Middle East in Cambridge.

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Michienzie currently serves as the music director for the Boston College Acoustics, a co-ed a cappella group Michienzie has called family since the advent of his freshman year. Of the entourage of Acoustics members that supports his personal music endeavors outside of the tight-knit campus group, Michienzie said, “We’re like family. They come to my gigs, and, honestly, they fill up half of my fan base in the audience.”

As far as personal music pursuits outside of a cappella are concerned, Michienzie had for years stepped into the spotlight solo—each new performance an opportunity to showcase his signature sound: blues-infused rock, rife with impressive belts. It wasn’t until recently, however, that the singer decided to ditch the life of solo artistry and form a good, old fashioned, multi-faceted band instead.

“My first thought was, ‘I need a sax,’” Michienzie said of his band’s early, formative days. “I need a saxophone or a trumpet so that if we don’t have a drummer, we can still make something cool.”

Enter Paul Wagenseller, MCAS ’16, into Michienzie’s search for a partner-in-crime. A fellow BC a cappella singer and music enthusiast, Wagenseller’s talent and unique instrument of choice was integral to fulfilling Michienzie’s blues-y jazz vision of what sound he wanted the band to embody.

“I know [Wagenseller] played sax, I jammed with him,” Michienzie said. “He’s unbelievable. Turns out, Paul tells me, his brother is a drummer, and he goes to Northeastern. That’s how we got Evan to join the band.”

In addition to the three core members, Michienzie acknowledges Funky Giant guitarist Nick Rocchio-Giordano, MCAS ’18, as a vital asset to the success of The Matt Michienzie Band thus far, for the sophomore often lends his talents when he can. No longer a solo act, Michienzie and his eclectic crew have coalesced into a band on the rise—which, with the help of  this year’s Battle of the Bands competition and other upcoming on campus events, will increase the band’s presence as a fresh-faced, talented BC band .

Big name artists of varying genres—such as John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and, of course, DMB—make the short list of Michienzie’s major musical influences. “I like John Mayer’s blues guitar,” Michienzie said. “He’s often seen as a womanizer, a bad dude. But there’s a small group of people who actually really listen to his music and his riffs—” Michienzie cut off suddenly, searching for analogies that wouldn’t come. “Well, they’re just something else.”

Michienzie is something else, too. In fact, that’s precisely what’s most appealing about his music.

Veering away from the alternative, rap, and synth-heavy tracks that have for so long saturated BC’s music scene, Michienzie’s signature sound is an experimental and ever-evolving melange of genres—it’s soulful rock layered with elements of old-school jazz and topped with that sweet-sounding, rockabilly vibe of the south. It’s gritty at times and smooth during others. Able to incorporate this style into both his original tracks and covers, Michienzie stresses his love of experimenting with different sounds and challenging belts. According to Michienzie, he has never sung a song exactly the same way.

“I gravitate toward stuff that I can be free with my voice and don’t have to stick to a script,” he said. “Same goes for my music-writing, I guess.”

Michienzie’s original songs “Drunk” and “Skylines” boast catchy hooks and meaningful lyrics. The singer attributes the inspiration for “Skylines” to his eagerness to get into the industry and passion for music. “I was sitting in an office one day, and I started thinking about what I want to do next. The song embodies that idea of getting out there and being vulnerable,” Michienzie said. “I love being put in a situation where I have to figure it all out.”

Michienzie sat back in his chair, contemplative. After a moment of quiet reflection, he spoke up. “I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what I’ll do. I just want to go,” he said. “And if music is the only thing that’s static, then that’s fine with me.”

Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor

April 6, 2016