Mike Ayley, best known as the bassist for multi-platinum-selling Vancouver pop-rock band Marianas Trench stepped into the spotlight under the moniker MIKEH (pronounced MIKE, EH) with his debut solo project, an EP titled Golden Hour: First Things First released on October 18 via 604 Records and all streaming platforms.
Golden Hour: First Things First was produced by Mike and Pedro Dzelme, and together, the pair explored the line between full-on rock and pop effortlessly, capturing the kind of beginnings, endings, and uncertainties that lay between them when anything can happen in a manner that’s relentlessly hooky, richly textured, and leans heavily on Mike’s soaring, often chill-inducing vocals.
Aptly titled, the five-song EP is inspired by emotional gray areas Ayley often found himself pondering during his favorite times of day while the pandemic put his musical career on hold. The songs are highly personal while leaving plenty of room for listeners to see their own lives and the kind of uncertainties so many of us have experienced over the past two years and the change reflected in them.
Mike credits much of his musical inspiration to the creative world that Marianas Trench exists in, lead singer Josh Ramsay’s approach to vocals as instruments in their own right, and the band’s ability to up their game and push the envelope with each successive record; things that opened his mind to endless musical possibilities.
Ultimately, Golden Hour: First Things First is a celebration of the kind of daily victories we too often take for granted that’s compellingly honest and immediately relatable, musically, and lyrically.
Music Life Magazine recently spoke to MIKEH on October 24 to talk about his music, Marianas Trench, and more! Check it out:
Music Life Magazine: Congratulations on your debut solo EP, Golden Hour: First Things First. It’s been out now, almost a week. First off, where did the title come from?
Mikeh: The Golden Hour, so it’s interesting to me. I think the sunset is beautiful. I love the lighting. I love all this stuff about it. There’s also sunrise, I guess they’re both Golden Hour. But to me, I thought it was interesting to have an album titled that because it’s beautiful, but it’s the end of the day. And for me, the end of the day is a time of reconciliation. When you start the day, you’ve got your list of things to do and your hopes and possibilities and things you’re excited about and dreams and all of this potential. At the end of the day, you’re kind of left with an accounting, almost, of what you accomplished and what you didn’t accomplish. You kind of have to accept the failures or the misses with the successes and the accomplishments. Because of that, it’s a mixture of emotions. It’s not really just, “oh, today was good” or “today was bad”. It was, “Well, there was this and this and this,” I find that that’s a good comparison to how life is and emotions. Most times you’re not just, “I’m happy” or “I’m sad”. It’s like, I’m happy because of something. And because of something is often just because you’re not sad, you feel good. Or because of whatever but it’s never as simple as this or this. And I thought the mixture of emotions is similar to the way that the day ends with the sun going down. It’s beautiful but there’s always this underlying stuff.
MLM: Have you heard anything since the release? Have you heard any feedback or do you not pay attention to that sort of thing?
Mikeh: Yeah, I pay attention. So far so good. I don’t know. I’m mostly just trying to just be happy. By the time we released Kaleidoscope, which is the last song, when it came out I’m like, “you know what? Whatever happens, I’m happy because I’m happy with the work”. Of course, I would love as many people to connect to this as possible because I feel like it’s all really honest and just real. It’s not like a character that I picked out to portray like David Bowie or somebody who would build an album or the Marianas Trench albums. They’re sort of like a theme, and then we’re in that mode for the whole album. This is just real stuff that I feel and I think it’s not calculated at all. It’s just a true representation of moments or thoughts that I’ve had that I felt was worthy of sharing.
MLM: You been with Marianas Trench for over 18 years now, since 2004. Why did you wait until now to put something out?
Mikeh: There wasn’t time. I guess there might have been time but this is the only time in the history where I knew there was time. A couple of times in the past, I probably could have done something then, but I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I didn’t know there’d be such a long gap between Ever After and Astoria and if I did, I probably would’ve done something there too, or at least looked at it. I started writing that time but I didn’t know how to use the recording software or anything. But when you’re sitting home alone or with all this time on your hands from all of 2020, after 4 or 5 months, I’m like, I think I’m going to start figuring this out. I thought this pandemic thing was going to be a couple of months, then we’d be back to business as usual. Obviously, it wasn’t. So, Josh [Ramsay, singer] was like, “You know what guys, I’m going to do a side album just for fun”.
So, that’s when I realize, I don’t want to waste time doing nothing. My wife (Emily) and I did a Christmas song. And then, I started just putting down some of my own ideas because it made me happy as the ideas started to pile up. And then, you filter out the less sweet ones and the better ones start to rise to the top. I started sending them to the label. I’m like, “What do you think”? And they asked, “What do you want to do with these songs”? And I was like, “Well, I guess I just want to put them out”. So then, they allowed me to re-record them professionally with a better engineer in their amazing studio, and producer Pedro Dzelme produced it. And that’s why now. Because it took a long time. I’ve been working on this, I started the recording with Pedro a year and a half ago, and then 6 months of doing it on my own.
MLM: When you started doing this because of the pandemic did you have anything written before that or was it all fresh?
Mikeh: It’s funny because I’ve had other ideas but when I tried to record them they never really panned out. The only thing, actually, is this one idea that’s older than Marianas Trench, and I took a little bit of that song. I was going to redo the whole song because I had time. I didn’t know what to do, so I started working on it. And it’s that little piano part in Kaleidoscope, just a little bit in the pre-chorus and that’s all I took from this old, old idea. And the whole idea was on the guitar anyway, but I was like, that’s a cool melody, and then sort of built around that. Well, didn’t really build around that, but it actually helped really create and define that particular song.
MLM: Golden Hour has 5 songs, did you have more than 5 written?
Mikeh: I have more than 5 written.
MLM: Are there plans for a follow-up or full-length?
Mikeh: We will see what the label says. I already have the next one written and demoed but they don’t know that. But now they do!
MLM: About a month before the release, beginning September 16th, you started releasing YouTube videos for each song. Was that your idea or was it the record company’s idea to do that? Why did you decide to release everything before the official release?
Mikeh: I didn’t know how it would go or how to do it and when I was speaking with the label that was a suggested timeline. They were going to release one every week. I said, “Well, can we just give the first one a couple of weeks to breathe and then go from there”? And I don’t know, in the past, with the Marianas it has never gone that way. We’ve always put out a single, then you wait a while, and then maybe another single then the album. But it’s different with an EP. It’s different now because it’s so streaming heavy and nobody’s really waiting for a CD to come out like they were or even the digital release on iTunes, where you buy it. It’s just about having something coming out non-stop as much as possible. It’s a new strategy to me as well.
MLM: Whose idea was to do a cartoon for Walking Hill?
Mike: That was my idea, not originally though. So I had this idea for that video and it really started with that part in the song, “and take me home, home” and the last chorus drops. I was out for a walk thinking about it and I was like, it feels like a breakthrough. That moment where there’s all this tension and it’s about depression and frustration, and being stuck and then that moment is the breakthrough and hope and all this stuff. Imagine just smashing through a wall, how cool that would feel if you could do that when you’re in these moments. And for that, it should be pretty cool in the video. Then I talked to the video guy, Roman, from the label. We were trying to figure out a way to do that in a video and have it build a story around it so it’s not just one moment. There are actually three and a half minutes worth of stuff to watch. I wanted to do this and this because by then I had a full concept. I wanted to be in this vast, endless gray sort of wasteland, thinking about being in a mine, an underground mine with just gray, gray, gray dust everywhere kind of vibe.
And then, this huge wall that I just can’t get through. But on the other side, I know it, is paradise. This lush, tropical, beautiful place. The girl is there. Hope is there. Optimism is there. Everything is there that I can’t get right now and I need it, but I’m stuck and I’ve been working at this wall forever. We tried to think of ways to do it with a video but it was just, “how do you capture something like that, especially when you’re not on a Green Day budget or something like that,” you know what I mean? He started talking about alternatives. I’m like, “I don’t think it’s going to work. It’s going to look crappy.” And I was like, “what if we just did it animated because then we can do everything still”? And he checked into it. And we found this company that’s done some other stuff and they did. I also thought it was cool because it’s a little different instead of just a performance video with everybody playing the same as everybody else. It felt like a slightly different vibe than a typical video.
MLM: Do you have a favorite track on the EP?
Mikeh: Kaleidoscope, it’s the one that just came out. It’s funny because when you have things here and then try to get them onto your demo and then try to get them from the demo to the producer and to the studio, it always molds a bit each step of the way. And I feel like Kaleidoscope is the one that is the closest to how I had envisioned it. And then actually, the producer helped write some stuff in there too, guitar parts, and all these things that I think really elevated it even more. I love what it’s about. Maybe it’s the most hopeful song in there because Walking Hill is a little bit about being depressed. And Up Up Up is a little bit about trying to let go of the past and move forward and not get stuck in the realm of memories.
Breathe Out is about writing a song for my son for that first worst day of his life where he’s like, “I don’t know if I want to live. Is it really worth it”? And my fear is that I’m not there. So I want to have this song that can be there for him. Like, “I’m with you. You can do this. Just make it through another day.” Live In The Past Tonight is about receiving horrible news or life-changing news that you just wish you didn’t answer the phone. And I could just put off this feeling for a few more hours and wait till tomorrow because it just changed everything. But Kaleidoscope is about the day I met my wife and it was this magical connection. She lived in New York and I lived in Vancouver. We met and it was like, “It’s never going to work, so let’s not even try.” But saying goodbye at the end of the day seemed awful. All that being said, it worked out. We made it work, so it’s a happy ending too. I think that’s one of the reasons I like it. And I love the drums at the end. It’s so cool!
MLM: So now that the EP is out, are there plans to do any solo shows or open for anybody?
Mikeh: I don’t know, I don’t have any plans right now. I don’t think I would take it on the road, but if the right opening spot (came up) I suppose I’d look into it. It’s a lot of work to do a live show and it’s a lot of time to be away, so it would have to be a good scenario. And asking for a really good scenario right off the bat is pretty presumptuous.
MLM: Both Josh Ramsay and Matt Webb have solo projects out as well. Have you guys ever talked about doing a Marianas Trench show and the 3 of you doing your own opening sets for yourselves?
Mikeh: We haven’t talked about it but that would be pretty cool!
MLM: It would be!
Mikeh: Especially if it was just the same band and we all just played for each other. Matt does 5 songs, Mike does 5 songs, Josh does 5 and there’s your opening acts. And then we just do Marianas. But it is also a lot of work in one night to play 35 songs!
MLM: What is going on with Marianas Trench? I know you guys just did some shows in the summer.
Mikeh: Getting back into action was amazing but exhausting because we played all over Canada – Newfoundland, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ontario, but then we also played three shows in Australia and played shows in the UK. By the end of September, after that Sault Ste. Marie show, we were pretty beat. However, before we started all these shows in the spring, Josh did a little solo tour, in May, I think it was. But right into then, we had already started working on the next Marianas album. So, still, there’s one in the works, it’s early stages but there’s probably one complete song and a couple of begun ideas. The concept is there. The concept is really good!
MLM: Do you guys plan on releasing the new album in 2023?
Mikeh: Hopefully, spring 2023. That’s my hope. And then, we can tour as Marianas Trench.
MLM: That’s pretty much all I have right now, if there anything you would like to add or mention or plug?
Mikeh: I don’t know, I’m pretty stoked. I mean, it’s funny because as soon as I finished this EP, I was right into (working on a new Christmas song with my wife). My wife and I put out Christmas songs the last couple of years and she’s like, “I’ve got an idea for this year’s Christmas song,” and I’m like, “We don’t have very much time.” So, I got home from Newfoundland and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (we were writing) this whole new song. Keeping busy even when the Christmas season rolls upon us, I said nothing happens. But I’m going to put out a song with my wife and this one is awesome. It’s the best one of the ones we’ve done. It’s with throwbacks and a pop-punk thing. It was really fun. So, keeping busy even when the snow starts to fall, I’m not going to stop.