Mick Furlo • Best Rock Songwriter

An Honor Long Overdue for a Regional Rock ‘n Roll Legend

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Artist Feature, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 898   By: Robert E Martin

23rd June, 2020     0

“My songwriting is like extending a hand to the listener.” - Dave Grohl, The Foo Fighters

Of all the awards presented at this year’s 34th RMA Celebration, the most gratifying moment for me came when Mick Furlo was presented the ‘Best Rock Songwriter’ award - an honor, which in my humble estimation, is long overdue and more than well-deserved.

As a musician, Mick Furlo has been carving and sculpting the sound of the Mid-Michigan area for nearly four decades.  His immensely talented debut came with The Mick Furlo Band back in the mid-80’s, which featured the equally compelling Iris Furlo on violin & vocals, Dean Vanston on guitar, and a then unknown Donny Brown (co-founder of The Verve Pipe) on drums & vocals - a group which I was fortunate to feature at our very first Review Music Awards back in 1987.  

Later in the ‘90s and early 2000’s Mick rode the wave of Alternative & Grunge rock with The Jitters, which featured Jeff Scott on guitar & vocals, Mark Miller on bass, and drummers Brad Silverthorn & Marty Burk; and most recently, Mick has been involved with the equally illustrious Rock ‘n Roll posse known as The Savior Machines, which features guitarist/vocalist Rob Atha, drummer vocalist John Cashman, and bassist/vocalist Sean Drysdale. The Machines released their self-titled debut album last year -  hands-down was one of the strongest original rock releases to surface regionally; as in addition to Mick’s songwriting skills, each member of the band contributed their own original material, reflective not only of the individual perspective of each member, but the collective vision for the band.

The day after his win, I spoke with Mick not only about his selection as Best Rock Songwriter, but about the long and winding road that has developed and cultivated his craft of songwriting.

Review: When did you first start seriously writing songs, Mick?

Furlo: I started back in the early days with The Mick Furlo Band. I thought it would be a good idea to write a couple songs for Iris. She was still with us in the mid-80’s and so I wrote those songs and some friends dug ‘em and I kept on going.  The band didn’t last with her because our son was born and she wanted to be a full-time Mom and not do the band thing anymore; so after that we moved forward as 4-piece and parted ways.  Honestly, for awhile after that I wasn’t taking songwriting seriously, but with The Savior Machines things are so much different. Each member is focused on songwriting.

Review: It definitely shows because there’s some amazing work on that album. Tell me, is it getting easier for you to write songs over the years?

Furlo:  My approach is to come up with a song title and work around that, because it sure helps a lot lyrically to have a title to work around. I think I’m getting a bit better at that. The more you do it the more confident you get and the more success you feel from writing a good song, the more you want that. I doesn’t always come that easy. For me being a guitar player, sometimes I’ll come up with a chord progression before I even have a title. Some things comes easier with noodling around - you’ll play something that sounds cool, so I may record that riff on my phone so I can remember it, especially if I do have the good fortunate of finding a strong melody. I can’t tell you the number of disappointments I’ve had over the years not having something to record on when a solid riff came into my head, so now I always carry a recorder with me on my phone.

Review: Do you collaborate much when songwriting, or do you write the song and then take it in for refinement with the band?

Furlo: I take the latter approach. I’ll come up with a whole structure for the song - arrangements probably take me as long as the writing itself. Usually, I’ll come up with a song in one day and the next day I get a fresh look at it and start to rewrite - a lot of editing goes on. It’s still challenging, but the more you do it the more confident you get. Anytime I take something new to the group I always tell them it doesn’t need to stay this way; and if anybody can think of a different arrangement, please feel free to suggest it.  The egos have kind of gone by the wayside with this band. We don’t step on each other’s toes or get hurt feelings over stuff. Our drummer, John, is a clever guy and good with lyrics, as well as helping with arrangements.

Review: How many songs would you say you’ve written over the years?

Furlo: It’s kind of hard to say - maybe 7 albums worth? There’s also a lot of stuff I’ve written that I throw in the can. I’m not afraid to write for the waste basket.

Review: So how are you coping with COVID-19?  It’s so difficult with music and entertainment and life suspended and on lockdown like it’s been.

Furlo: I’ve been taking the time to do a lot of songwriting - more so than I have in quite some time. I’d  been off 10 weeks since the first stay-at-home order and the first few weeks we did some remodeling around the house. I’m a carpenter by trade so replaced this and that; but for a couple months I was probably writing a song a week for the first 10 weeks. I’d say I have an album’s worth of whole songs completed and even more ideas than that. But I definitely have enough material for a new album. 

Review: Has the band been rehearsing and do you have any shows coming up now that things are opening up?

Furlo: Our first rehearsal was lst Thursday and we’re getting together again this week. We rehearse at John’s store; and we have some new sessions coming up on June 20th- three or four songs we’re recording for a new project.  

Here's a sample of Mick's original material from The Savior Machines debut.



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