My first open mic: The Full Moon Café, a sketchy Virginia club where shots came by the glassful. My hands shook. The redhead host, Jane (Radar Rose), cheered me on. That night, I met my future bandmates. Two of us fell in love. Others fought, sure. Like a band would.
Later, back in Cincy, I hit Brian Lovely’s songwriter night at Allyn’s. Then I found Rebecca Vie at The Mad Frog and Bridget Otto (The Graveblankets) at Arlin’s. (Showing my age.) These hosts helped me sweat out the nerves. They sat nearby, always supportive. We made connections, got some gigs. The regulars were all lost in it. Deeply. Maybe it was a scene beneath the scene, but it was ours.
Highly focused on independent music promotion, local singer/songwriter Kyle English created a Web page dedicated to area open mics, the land of signup sheets. Playing locally since the eighth grade, he talks with a purpose, with subtle expressions and few gestures. But when he smiles, his smile is wide and white. All or nothing.
“Cincinnati is phenomenal for forcing you to work, forcing you to meet people, forcing you to learn how to do music and everything that goes along with it,” English says, his thick, straight, dark hair with a definite side part, a part that would easily be immune to a comb. “A lot of people like the idea of it, but they get into it and don’t realize how much work there is.”
But English’s musical life doesn’t stop with open mics.
“It becomes a lifestyle after a while,” he says. “Basically I try and make music every night of the week. If you want to do it, you have to go to shows, meet people. If you’re not doing that, you’re writing. If you’re not doing that, you’re playing. Or rehearsing.” English’s kind brown eyes keep constant contact; he is unafraid to take on a stare.
With a stirring style that tackles bold dynamics (lyrically, vocally and instrumentally), English digs the smaller gigs. Straight up, he says, “At coffee shops, people are more tolerant of experimenting. When people go to a bar, sometimes they don’t want to be challenged. As a performer you want to challenge yourself, but you might isolate a listener.”
And he does experiment, mixing subtlety with fire. The result is a smart, vulnerable, sexy ride. When he sings, he waits thirstily. Then he meanders, letting loose. Carefully, patiently.
After the Fall, English’s solo sevensong CD, was recorded at AjumpsBshoots Productions in two marathon sessions. English’s style is both sultry and passionate. At times, it bleeds, exposing insides like Irish gutspiller Damien Rice, clinging to clever guitar arrangements.
English explains, “When I hit the electric parts, it’s still just one guitar, but it’s the way I have it run that you have the clean acoustic channel, and then you have the distorted channel, so that helps the song build. I like that there’s a rollercoaster. I don’t think people get that it’s just one guitar. They ask who else is in the band.”
Although put together solo and without many tricks, there is more to these recordings than the “one man and his guitar” scenario. The vocals hold an honest, brooding feel that creeps out with a sensitive, mature strength. There’s pain here, good pain, an unpredictable, pensive journey through someone’s veins. It holds that rare, real, nave feel, maintaining the bare emotion present in strong early recordings.
We’d talk more, but English has an open mic to check out. Without a pause, he says, “Some days I wish I wrote more upbeat, party stuff, but it just doesn’t fit what I do. I think it’s like anything else that we do that we do well—it’s there, and it always nags at us to keep doing it.”
His gaze is locked, but soft. He doesn’t flinch or look down. His look isn’t exposing, but it’s steady. True.
KYLE ENGLISH (myspace.com/kyleenglishmusic) plays the Zen and Now Coffee Shop on Saturday.