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Music: The Non-Electric Company

Street performer Michael McIntire and his Marmalade Brigade find their acoustic souls on Dreamin' Out Loud

By Sara Beiting · August 2nd, 2006 · Music
  Michael McIntire (center) dropped out of high school and performed on the streets before hitting the clubs with his Marmalade Brigade.
Jared M. Holder

Michael McIntire (center) dropped out of high school and performed on the streets before hitting the clubs with his Marmalade Brigade.

They say it's the little things. And if you think about it, you hold a persuasive power in making or breaking a musician's big hopes -- the "little thing" of deciding which bar to go to on which night to check out which band. But human nature has it to where we grow comfortable in our usual digs. Don't get me wrong -- there's much to be said for the local watering hole, where the tenders of the bar need not ask our pleasures.

We like what we like: whiskey, vodka, beer. And from time to time we might pleasure our palate with a risqué cocktail. We like what we like: Blues, Indie, Death Metal. But do we, from time to time, sip other fervent flavors that our local scene has to offer? How many of you read the CityBeat music menu -- beyond the club listings -- to skim the city's weekly specials? And from time to time, do you do the next "little thing" and hit a bar across town to see an alluring band you've only just read about?

Sometimes it is as easy as walking down the street. That's where Michael McIntire caught my ear a few years back. His distinctive voice held me as I watched him street-perform on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton.

Growing up with a belly-dancing mom, a guitar-collecting dad and a Jazz-trumpeting granddad, Michael McIntire was fated to matchless musicianship.

"My mom was a belly dancer so I grew up with Arabic and belly-dancing music as a kid," he says.

"I got to go sit in with her a lot, watch her heckle the crowds."

He picked up Classical, Jazz, Blues and Rock along the way, tuning into Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Mötley Crüe and Nirvana. McIntire acquired his street smarts after dropping out of high school to perform on the streets. He's a true gypsy at heart.

"Street performing is definitely my deeper, deepest love," McIntire says. "I like having people for two seconds and having them be gone, or stay if they want. It's sort of a circus thing just to perform on the street like that, singing those types of songs. I'm a theater kid. I'm a performer and the performer sets the word. I really like to entertain so (when) you close your eyes ... you can be someplace else."

McIntire's voice carries you away. It's like a 25-year-old Tom Waits, raw and gritty -- although grit can take its toll on the pipes.

"I don't think Waits plays (live) very much because it tears his voice up," McIntire says. "Playing and singing like that three nights a week really will fuck you up. I'm trying to do it half and half now, where I sing sort of straight half the time, because, if not, my voice will sound like that for real."

Also like Waits, McIntire has a creative way with wordplay while telling a story.

"I really like playing with the words, with a sentence phonetically, and making the whole sentence rhyme, the whole rhythm of it rhyme," he says.

The wordsmith ties this together for the title track of his debut album Dreamin' Out Loud. ("I'm dreamin' out loud/I'm singin' downtown/You can shoot down my clouds/I can bring it around").

McIntire says he likes playing in small venues where a tiny crowd can light the place up big. He committed to booking the band a couple of years ago and has been learning the local ropes since.

"I've had to learn all the due process you have to go through to get into a bar, the tap dance you have to do," he says.

"You've got to wedge in the spot where people are," he says. "The (Northside) Tavern is such a great spot because people go there expecting to see original music."

The Northside Tavern is indeed a fertile breeding ground for local original musicians to strut their stuff. In fact, McIntire met many of his Marmalade mates that appear on Dreamin' Out Loud at the Tavern. But, PA speakers and amps aside, this man oozes acoustic pride.

"I hate a microphone; it's the most unnatural thing in the world," he admits. "A straight-up acoustic guitar on the street is the best."

That's a notion that runs pure throughout his all-acoustic debut.

"There's no electricity on the album" he says.

To keep the sound organic, he sought out Chris Werner and Go to Your Room Productions. Werner has acoustic experience, playing upright bass on and producing all but one of Jake Speed's albums. In addition to Werner, Dreamin' Out Loud features local players like Mark Karapondo, Brian Moeller, Matt Anderson, Brook Reindollar, Charlie Schweitzer, Zach Mechlem, Ed Felson and Gregory Morris, to name a few.

Another unique tool in McIntire's artistic toolbox is the Arabic language. I ask if this came from his mother.

"No, I've been hanging around a lot of Arabs up (at a coffee shop) for the past five years," he answers. "They're all North Africans, Moroccans and Algerians. Back in the day, I think they were still fresh immigrants and weren't speaking English very well. For some reason I said, 'I want to learn Arabic,' and they said, 'You teach me English, I'll teach you Arabic.' So I learned to read and write in Arabic and speak (it) decent enough to have a conversation."

He incorporates the Arabic language on the Dreamin' track "Leave the Well Uncovered."

"I do a lot of Arabic songs. It's fun," he says. " 'Leave the Well Covered' has the Arabic proverb in it: Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to."

Street education: You can't buy it. You can't beat it.

MICHAEL MCINTIRE AND THE MARMALADE BRIGADE (myspace.com/michaelmcintire) celebrate Dreamin' Out Loud's release Saturday at the Northside Tavern. The Gregory Morris Group opens. McIntire also performs every Wednesday at Kaldi's.


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