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Bio

2019 

In June of 2019, Harrison High School closed, and a pink slip was delivered to my mailbox.

Other than my residency at mash, I played very little guitar during the summer. I was lost in the heat of anxiety, unemployment forms, job searches, resume revisions. I interviewed in five districts by late July, and I was solo parenting while my wife worked. No songs were written; I began to freak out in mid-August when no job offers came either.

The sun sets, the sun rises: Two weeks before the school year started, I had an interview in New Boston! And now, I write this update as the colors of the trees change to red, yellow, gold, and brown. I’m so happy Huron hired me!

I’m six weeks into my 11th year of teaching Language Arts in public schools, my 14th year of teaching total. I’m really happy at this new job. It’s a small district, similar to where I got my start in education in 2003.

During the summer, Mike Gentry warned me how time works for parents; once you give up a slice of hours, it’s really hard to get those hours back. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Now that life is settling into a routine again, I’m trying to make time for music again.

It’s difficult.

My kids are two and four; the anxiety of unemployment has faded into a  frantic sprint of lesson planning and essay reading. Still, I’m strategizing how to musically approach 2020.

This strategy starts by scheduling more time to play guitar, mandolin, piano. Today, once I got Ginny and Alton to sleep, I rehearsed a few songs I might record during winter break, and wonderfully the riffs and chords of a possible new song appeared in the key of E.

Then, my four-year-old daughter interrupted my demo recording to ask, “What are you playing, Dada?”

“Ginny, why are you not in bed?”

She paused and stared at my Taylor acoustic. “Your guitar sounded so beautiful, I had to come hear it close up.”

It’s hard to argue with a four-year-old at 9 PM. It’s also hard to force Muse to send song ideas when there are 57 essays about Greek mythology awaiting feedback.

Earlier today, my kids and I had music time after Al’s nap. Ginny wrote a song titled, “You Are the Colors That You Love.” (Isn’t that a beautiful title from a four-year-old? I hope it’s OK if I borrow it.)

Then, Alton played guitar for the first time. He used my mini-Strat tuned to open-G. Both of his hands plucked the stings, as if the guitar was a piano. He smiled at me, turning the tone knobs and tuners. He started singing a song of his own, some words we could decipher, like “car” and “sunshine,” others in gibberish.

We all got a little writing time in today.

Hopefully by 2020, I’ll have some new music to share with you, too. For now, it’s just this image of my family chasing a song.

Previous Bio from 2017-2018
In 2017, Mike Vial knew it was time to get off the road and spend more quality time with his family.
“I released my first record ten years ago,” he said. “When I left my teaching job at Holly High, I assumed I’d do music full-time for four years.”

Instead, 1000+ gigs later, music took Vial across most of the United States, east of the Mississippi River, and Ontario…and he felt it was time to get back into the classroom; however, finding a teaching job proved more difficult than he expected. Underfunded school budgets left few schools interested in hiring an experienced teacher. After 20+ applications without an interview, Vial assumed it was time to for him to hit the road again.

Then the unexpected happened in last September: Vial got a call from his dad that a position suddenly opened up at Farmington Public Schools. The application was due by midnight! After the tired musician returned home from a late night gig, he submitted his application an hour before the deadline.

Stars aligned. He is now teaching freshmen English and Language Arts at Harrison High School.

“Life never works out perfectly like you plan it,” Mike joked, describing the stress of taking over a classroom with little notice. “Each lesson plan is like playing a short, fifty minute gig!”

Vial’s music career isn’t on hiatus. He’s been playing three gigs a month, including his monthly residency at the mash bar in Ann Arbor. Plus, he’s working on new material for his fifth record. While most teachers enjoy their summers off, Vial will be using his to get back to work. He embarks on a short tour across the Midwest in July and August. 

This time, he’s taking Mike Gentry along for the ride. “I pitched to him the idea to tour together this summer like old folk artists did in the 60s!” Like Paul Simon describes in “Homeward Bound,” the Mikes will complete a tour of one-night stands with suitcases and guitars in hand, performing as solo artists and ending shows as a duo.

Their musical partnership feels fated, since Gentry produced Vial’s latest record, the ambitious A World That’s Bigger, in 2016. Gentry and Vial went to a cabin in Indian River, and Vial played 100+ takes to get the right versions of ten songs, live, just like how Nick Drake recorded Pink Moon. That musical reflection of becoming a father continues to resonate with local audiences across Michigan.

2018 now has Vial considering his role as a teacher, which is spilling into his songwriting. “I’m working on new material that addresses American history, civil rights, and individual acts of courage,” Vial said, as he road tests the new songs. “I hope to find time to record between grading papers and changing diapers.”

Mike Gentry & I at mash bar, Ann Arbor 2018. Photo credit: Doug Coombe

* * * * * *

2016: Mike Vial’s new album reflects on a bigger and brighter world, life and death

Ann Arbor, MI. — Mike Vial’s wife–writer Natalie Burg–said she wouldn’t marry him unless he quit his public school teaching job to pursue music.

Five years later, Vial has played 1000+ gigs across the United States and Canada, and he’s released a new album.

For his fourth music release, A World That’s Bigger, Vial recorded the entire folk album live and acoustic, similar to how Nick Drake made Pink Moon.

“I was encouraged by Nick Drake’s story,” he said. “I aimed to capture the energy of my live performances on this record.”

So in the spring of 2016, Vial took three acoustic guitars and recording gear to a cabin in northern Michigan. With the help of his friend Mike Gentry behind the mixing board, Vial completed a challenging, personal record. But it wasn’t easy.

“Vial has an incredible amount of mental stamina and finger calluses,” producer Gentry said. “The guitar playing is intricate. It isn’t something every musician could do!”

After recording 150 takes, Gentry and Vial picked the best ten; the album A World That’s Bigger was finished.

The album covers three universal themes—life, death and love—that Vial’s family has experienced during the last five years. The title track “A World That’s Bigger” celebrates the birth of Vial’s first child, yet also recognizes the anxieties of raising her.

“I looked up how expensive college will be for Ginny in 17 years, and it was half of the mortgage of the house.” Mike said. “I had to write a song to calm my nerves.”

While the record is a celebration of family, a common challenge also haunts it: “Ginny’s birth was bookended by two miscarriages,” Vial said. “Writing songs like ‘Little Drum’ and ‘Those Shoes’ helped me find closure with the pain.”

And the pain runs deep in other songs like “Burning Bright,” a dedication to Vial’s relative, Michigan Senator David Plawecki, who died of cancer in 2013. Plawecki’s dying wish was to give all of his friends and family $100 each ($14K) to give to someone else in need. His generosity was reported in the news, and inspired Vial to write the song in tribute.

The record also highlights Vial’s past as an English teacher. The lyrics are full of literary and Biblical references. “My former students will have a leg up on identifying the allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare, if they read the assignments,” Vial joked.

Vial’s songwriting has indeed matured, and his lyrics often achieve a poetic quality. Two songs from the new record earned Vial a spot as a Grassy Hill Finalist for this year’s CT Folk Festival. The song Vial will perform at the competition, “Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach,” addresses the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

“I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to raise my daughter in Ann Arbor, and how so many families are fleeing their homes overseas.”

Vial’s luck became even more apparent to him three days after the record was released in October. While crossing Huron Street in Ann Arbor to play at the legendary Ark theater, he was struck by a car.

“I thankfully took my guitar in a gig bag that night,” he said. “The car hit me on the right side, where I was carrying my guitar on my shoulder. If I was carrying a hardshell case, I might not be walking.” Making the event more serendipitous, the police officer on the scene was a former student from Vial’s first year teaching.

Vial and his guitar survived, but it took him three months to recover fully. Then, three days after he the accident, another surprise happened: “My wife leaned over and whispered, ‘I’m pregnant!’ I’m still making sense of how lucky I am.”

Vial hopes the music will inspire us to do more for those in need, like Plawecki’s dying wish. After one listen to his new music, the world will be definitely bigger, and brighter.

* * * *

A World That’s Bigger is out October 3, 2016.

One of my favorite musical moments, surprising Natalie with a song at our wedding held at the Crofoot Ballroom!

Accolades, Tidbits, and Whatnots:

Two of his poems were featured in the anthology, Wet Electric Blanket, published by Flint based NIC Publishing in 2014. Two poems were featured in the White Ash Poetry anthology in 2016.

He has been a guest blogger for Indie on the Move and CD Baby, and he has been a guest lecturer at Western Michigan University. He has been a panel speaker at University of Michigan’s MusicCon.

In 2011, the Lansing State Journal named Where the Sand Meets the Tide a top 10, and the release went on to make the top downloads list on Noisetrade.com. “Reaching Back” made the top downloads on Noisetrade in 2013.

Mike has released three EPs and various digital singles. He has worked with producers Dan Achen (Feist, City & Colour), moon:and:6 (Whitehorse, the Coppertone), and Marshall Block (Chenille Sisters, Mickey Cash).

In 2012, Mike and his wife (Natalie deserves the credit) planned an all Michigan-made wedding, which was featured in the Detroit Free Press and the Lansing State Journal.

Songwriting Awards: 

  • Second place for Western Michigan University’s Battle of the Bands, 2002
  • Winner of the Ypsilanti Songwriting Festival Contest, 2010
  • Winner of ForSongSake contest, 2012
  • Winner of the Great Lakes Collective Blue Owl Songwriter Contest, 2014
  • Acorn Theater’s Songwriting Competition Finalist, 2016
  • Grassy Hill CT Folk’s Songwriting Finalist, 2016

Teaching Notes:

  • Studied music under Trish Mroz (guitar), Ken Andreoni (guitar, modes study) and Kate Hart (vocals) and Dr. Linda Venable (vocals).
  • Taught eight years of English/Language Arts at Holly Area Schools, one year at Expression Music Academy, and two years at Farmington Public Schools. He also ran his home studio, Dixboro Guitar Lessons, from 2014-2017.

Education

  • Masters in the Science of Teaching from NOVA Southeastern University (2008)
  • Bachelors in English & Secondary Education with a minor in History from Western Michigan University (2003)