The Artist Interviews
by Christina Moss
The Art of Teaching Guitar
An Interview by Christina Moss
Michael Louis Austin, of Mystic, Connecticut, is celebrating twenty years as a professional guitarist—and celebrate he should. Besides a respectable discography, and the one hundred-twenty (plus) songs that he’s written—Michael is also a highly respected guitar instructor. To date, he’s helped inspire over 500 adults and children to pick up and play the guitar. (And let's face it, who doesn’t want to play guitar?)
Michael has made public appearances in every setting imaginable, from street performances to Caesar’s Palace and from dive bars to national tours. You may have seen him in Seattle, Austin, New York, Portland, Vegas and in cities throughout New England. He’s played at House of Blues, SXSW, Arts Festivals, Casinos and the highly rated Kamikazes, House of Rock.
Music is Michael Louis Austin’s life, and recently I had the pleasure of interviewing him from his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Christina: Thanks for the interview, Michael. I'll dive right in here. How has the pandemic affected your life?
Michael: After watching virtually everything on Netflix, I was like, ‘Huh, maybe I can use the time to become a better musician.’ I think I wrote 50 songs since the pandemic began.
Christina: Sounds like a brilliant use of downtime. Do you have a favorite song you wrote recently?
Michael: I wrote a song for my wife, Rhonda, who is military. She works in Suicide Prevention and that’s what the song was about. When I played it for her, she cried. Her class was graduating, and they asked me to perform at the graduation. So, I played the song I had written for her and by the time I finished, everybody was crying.
Christina: That’s a beautiful story! Sounds like the song has made a tremendous impact.
Michael: It did. They awarded me an Armor of God, Challenge Coin, which is not normally awarded to a civilian, so it was a great honor.
Christina: That’s amazing! And now, are you also still teaching guitar?
Michael: Yes, twenty to thirty hours a week.
Christina: What else are you currently working on?
Michael: We’re home-schooling our son, CJ; I’m recording an album with Thad Corea; and I’m developing an app.
Christina: For smart phones?
Michael: Yeah, iPhones and Androids, through my music company [MLA Music LLC]. It will make learning guitar as simple as “add water and mix”. The app will shorten learning time so that new guitarists can advance from learning to doing much faster than through traditional methods.
Christina: I’ll be watching for its release! So now, what has led you to pursue a career in music?
Michael: I really wanted to write songs. I could already sing, so I began learning guitar. I studied at McNally Smith College of Music. It was hard work, but it surprised me how good I got at playing the guitar.
Christina: What inspires you to write songs?
Michael: It’s self-expression. I try to communicate and connect with people through music. A song can change a person’s viewpoint. You can hear a lyric and think something different. Without it, life seems superficial and soleless.
Christina: Well said. Is there anything you would like to share with budding musicians?
Michael: Yes! There’s so many different jobs you can do in music. You can perform, teach, record, produce and much more. If you love music and feel it’s your calling make a place for yourself in it! I had a lot of people always telling me I needed to do something else beside music, to play it safe and have a back up career. And they were wrong. I’m always the happiest and most successful when I follow my true purpose…music!
Christina: Thank you, Michael Louis Austin, it's been a pleasure.
To contact and follow Michael Louis Austin click here: http://www.michaellouisaustin.com
The Art of Composing
An Interview by Christina Moss
Dwight Mikkelsen, professional musician, and composer has worked in the film, television, and music industries for most of his life. Not only has his creative genius touched nearly one hundred albums with artists like Whitney Houston, Chicago, Quincy Jones, and Barbara Streisand (to name a few), Dwight’s creative streak will forever be embedded in our culture through hundreds of films and nearly one thousand television episodes. Dwight’s art has permeated the US and reached around the world in his compositions, arrangements, and orchestrations.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Dwight Bernard Mikkelsen.
Christina: Welcome! And thanks for the interview. I guess we can start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
Dwight: Born and raised in Visalia, California.
Christina: What was it like growing up in central California?
Dwight: It was a small town with a population of twelve thousand or so people. We lived just outside of town, next to endless fields and spaces to explore. It was a great place to grow up.
Christina: How did you learn to play music?
Dwight: Didn’t get my first music lesson until I was 20 years old, so I was self-taught.
Christina: What about learning to be a composer?
Dwight: I’m almost entirely self-taught as well. I learned by doing it over and over. I guess you could say my tutors are the great A-List composers from the past.
Christina: Inspired by the greats. I love that. When did you first begin to compose music?
Dwight: When I was eleven years old, a neighbor gave us a bunch of Classical Music records. It was the first time I’d heard classical music, and it mesmerized me. I’d never conceived that something so amazing existed. After months of listening, I had become a different person. I became an ambassador of sorts for Classical Music in my own small way.
When I was sixteen, I began composing music. They weren’t good but the music teacher was encouraging, so I kept composing. A twelve-member school orchestra played my first two compositions. I didn’t know what to call one of them, so that morning, I asked my girlfriend and others for title suggestions. I settled on “Chocolate Covered Wagon Train".
I expected revelations and magnificence that would rival Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach; heaven shining through the clouds and all that.
Well, when the orchestra played, it sounded like a bad version of an Indian war cry. I was crushed. The only thing that saved me from ridicule was the title: "Chocolate Covered Wagon Train". Everyone thought the pathetic Indian war cry that I’d composed was about a pioneer wagon train traveling through hostile Indian territory.
Christina: (I actually laughed out loud.) Overall, it sounds like a success! I think the world would be a darker place without music. What are your thoughts on that?
Dwight: I agree. I’ve always thought it amazing that people — everyone it seems — loves music so much.
You have this art form that has no physical universe connected with it, while all other art forms do. Painting has paint and canvases, dance has bodies, books have pages, and so on. In its basic form, music is sound, which is nothing more than a movement of air molecules. It’s not even the molecules themselves. So why the attraction?
For me, it’s spiritual. I’m not trying to get all New-Age or anything like that. I just believe that each of us, our basic personalities, is a spiritual being, one without substance. And so is music. Music reminds us of ourselves.
Christina: That is so well stated! Do you have a favorite composer?
Dwight: My favorite composer is Ravel. While I listen to him, my thoughts go from “Everything will be okay” to “Everything is okay.”
Let’s face it: to live on the same planet as the guy who composed “Daphnis and Chloe” is a blessing. That said, the greatest composer is Mozart. In fact, he is the greatest artist of all time. Here was a guy with God-like natural talent, yet he worked and worked and worked his craft almost every day. I mean, he just didn’t stop. There are, however, three composers I never argue against being the greatest. Beethoven, Bach, and Palestrina.
Christina: I can’t argue with any of your choices there! To conclude, what advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in composing music?
Dwight: To quote Virgil Thompson, “I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.”
Do it. Enjoy it. Work on it. Get better. Make it your life, make it a hobby, it doesn’t matter.
Thank you, Dwight Bernard Mikkelsen.
The Art of Marketing
An Interview by Christina Moss
Barry Shereshevsky is a professional and accomplished marketing artist and recently granted me an interview. His work and accomplishments are just amazing.
Am I correct to assume you have serviced some really big names?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with companies in Hollywood like Warner Bros., Universal, Columbia Pictures, The Walt Disney Company and Capital Records. Working for the Major Motion Picture studios gave me a chance to art direct and design such posters as Star Wars (I co-designed the initial logo and brochure), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jaws, A Star Is Born and many others. Capital Records hired me to design trade advertising and also radio spots. While living and working in New York City I also worked with most of the large advertising agencies art directing and designing campaigns for Pan Am Airlines, British Airways and many other products and services.
Was your success a slow and steady growth or was there a point where you felt you got your "big break?"
After college I moved to New York City from northern New Jersey. My main goal then was to find out what route the successful graphic designers had taken so I could try to mirror their careers. I interviewed with four or five of the then top designers in New York City including Herb Lubalin, Saul Bass and Milton Glaser. They all looked at my college portfolio and told me I might have some talent and they agreed I should learn something about typography. So, I secured a position as a beginner typesetter at a type studio named Ottino and Solomon. This was more of an important career move than I would recognize until I moved to Hollywood. I was one of a few designers that knew anything about designing with and properly setting type. My break came when I was hired to design a movie title (logo) for an action film called Bolt. The logo “T” looked like a gun made up of the letterform and the final logo was painted to look like chrome by a very talented artist name Gary Meyer. From then on, I was given one film after another to design logos to full art direction of movie posters and campaigns. That constituted my “big break” and my career blossomed from that point on. Learning about typography was really the one talent that enabled me to become somewhat more valuable than other designers and I excelled from there.
At what age did you know you were an artist?
I was fortunate at a very early age to know I was an artist. I remembered picking up these pencils and somehow recognizing them as equipment I was very familiar with and had used to create art in a past life. When I graduated high school and asked many of my classmates what they were going to pursue, most of them had no idea. I was stunned by this. I really thought everyone knew what they wanted to be and have as a career. There was another artist in my class who went on to become THE organist for the St. Peter’s Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City and another friend who knew he was going to be an engineer.
What brought you to that conclusion?
Being an artist just seemed to come naturally for me. I was constantly pulled in that direction. When I was in elementary school, I became quite the Disney artist in my class. I drew characters ranging from Goofy and Mikey Mouse to Lady and The Tramp. I was always hanging out in the art class even after school working on projects. I was an artist and that was what I was going to be for the rest of my life.
What's your favorite thing about being an artist in the field of marketing?
Well, from what I know about marketing is that good marketing creates “want.” That “want” has got to be communicated in such a way that the viewer reaches for whatever they are seeing and reading. As an artist, an image should communicate and have impact. If I’ve learned anything about art is that images should communicate easily and especially when using an image to market a product or service. My favorite thing is creating and using images that stop people in their tracks and also stops them from scrolling on social media sites. Having worked on Madison Avenue in NYC for ad agencies, I was able to hone my skills to use very few words to get across a concept in marketing. And, as an artist to also have knowledge about what effects color and positioning of elements in ads have to encourage clicking or reach for the product and services. What sort of challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
There were many challenges. The first major challenge was how to progress from being a typesetter in New York City to becoming a successful graphic designer. That transition actually happened when I moved out to California.
The challenge in Los Angeles was how to freelance as a designer for large companies. I went on many interviews and landed Capital Records working for a very famous art director there named Roland Young. He started hiring me to create ads for the various groups on their label that would run in Rolling Stone magazine and other trade publications.
From there I freelanced for a design boutique that specialized in creating ad campaigns for the motion picture studios. The challenge there was how to secure a position as lead art director which fortunately I was able to do for a 6-year period. My next challenge for to start my own design studio with a longtime friend from NYC who also moved to Los Angeles. We were successful for a number of years working for most of the studios and creating campaigns for their films. When the computers came into existence, that was a huge challenge. Those designers who did not make that transition quickly found themselves out of work. My company employed two very bright young guys who brought the first Macs into my company and I quickly learned the programs most used at the time. From there, the challenge has been to adapt and learn how to service clients effectively with social media advertising. Gone are the days of the media buying services and today Google, Facebook, Instagram are where the most advertising dollars are spent and made. The principles are the same as the ad agency days but now everything moves at lightning speed and competition is constantly increasing.
Tell me an adventure you've had in your work.
Well, after looking at the definition: “an unusual and exciting or daring experience.” One does come to mind; I was asked to fly out from Hollywood to NYC and art direct a photoshoot for a TV guide ad. The ad was to promote a movie of the week on NBC-TV. I was freelancing at the time and the executive at NBC asked that I direct a photo of the main star characters of the film – Anthony Hopkins and Blythe. The photoshoot was setup in an apartment that was being used as a set for filming the movie. My photographer was setting up his equipment and I was helping with a few cables. At one point I carried an electrical connector to the wall to plug in and one of the crew yelled out to me, “hold on there, buddy! This is a union set. We have union electricians to take care of what you’re about to do.” I looked over at him and saw at least 12 guys sitting on windowsills relaxing and one of them came over and plugged in the wire. That was my introduction to working with unions. The rest of the shoot went fine.
How would you define an artist? Do you think it's something inherent or developed?
I define an artist as someone who sees the world a little differently than those around them. Someone who enjoys the creative process of envisioning a concept in their own universe and then being able to create that image/concept for all to see. And, that the work communicates what the original concept clearly is. I believe artists have the ability to create something out of nothing. That in itself is magic and is how the world moves forward. The world relies on artists to see the future and be able to create it in all manner of ways. An artist can be a painter, writer, photographer, dancer, engineer and can also design their own lives in a way to reflect creativity and beauty not only in themselves but within their environment and elements they live with. I believe we all have that creativity within us, and it evolves throughout life differently for everyone. Some will see their creative path as a performing artist or painter of writer and put all their energy into it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist who wants to break into your field?
I would suggest research, research and then more research. Why? Because there are many areas of marketing available these days and to understand which marketing direction should be taken, one must first study how it works and how to be effective as a marketer. For me, research is how I created my career. I looked at those who were successful at what I wanted to do and then found out from them what they did personally to set them on the correct path to succeed. Look at what marketing piece captures your attention and study why it works and then study why another piece doesn’t until you understand the process. That’s what I would suggest an artist do if they wanted to break into the field of marketing on a creative level.
Thank you, Barry, for granting me an interview, and for sharing your insights into the field of art. It's been an honor.
The Art of Haiku
An Interview by Christina Moss
Ken Sereno is a Haiku author originally from Hawai'i. He currently resides in Southern California.
What do you like about writing Haikus?
I like the process of composing a Haiku. It is a pause in the stream of time, of living. One stops for a moment and really looks at what is in front of one, then compares (juxtapositions) it against his own self. How am I connected to what is going on in my environment?
From where does your inspiration come?
From being still and observing. It comes from the environment but the words themselves source from the Muses -- a creative pool somewhere in the spiritual ether where creativity issues forth. A living fountain of creativity.
Do you have a favorite Haiku author?
only our shadows
dare to touch the cactus
each leaf falling
in its own style
the grazing bison
knee deep in sunset*
That's beautiful. Have you encountered any barriers to writing?
A Haiku drifts across my view and I am too slow to catch it.
When did you first begin writing Haikus?
2010 late fall.
Where did you grow up?
Hawai'i. The islands of Oahu and Maui.
What did you like about growing up there?
Everything was a Haiku.
Do you find that memories of your early environment inspire you to write today?
On the beach,
framed in pebble and stone...
the winter sea glass
Driftwood on the sand
waiting on the tide...
to be lost and found again**
Are there adventures in your childhood that prepared you or contributed to your talent as a writer?
Close to death experiences.
The soft beautiful ones that float in silk and mist.
The lonely ones that never vanish but linger like a good heartbeat.
That's lovely. Do you create "off the cuff" or have you developed a creative process?
Off the cuff.
What is unusual or artful or personal, I put down.
It's been a pleasure, Ken. Thank you for sharing your beautiful Haikus and for taking the time for an interview.
You can find Ken's book, The Last Kahuna, here:
©Josie Hibbing and ©Ken Sereno ~~ All Rights Reserved.
Poetry in this article are used with the permission of the writers.