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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 will be featured in the upcoming 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 started a songwriting game with friends, called the PVSG (Polar Vortex Songwriting Game). In 2014, we tried to write a song a week; in 2015 we are writing a song a month.

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 “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 High School before pursuing music, songwriting, and performing full time.


  • 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)