Picture this: You’re a music-loving teenager in the mid-2000s without Internet. No iTunes store. No MySpace playlists. No tastemaking music blogs.
What do you do? Hit up the local library, of course.
For Jason Singer, the indie rock singer-songwriter known today by his stage name Michigander, stacks of CDs at his library proved a gateway to crafting a soundtrack of essential teenage tunes. Growing up near Midland and Saginaw, Michigan, Singer sifted through titles from Norah Jones and John Mayer to find albums by Death Cab For Cutie, Yellowcard and Dashboard Confessional, flag-waving “cool” bands of the time.
“You could rent CDs from other libraries and they ship ’em in,” Singer told The Tennessean. “I would just burn copies of them. I had a whole little binder. I ended up putting them on all Dell laptop. That was all I had.”
Safe to say, Singer’s come a long way since smuggling copies of Coldplay CDs onto his hard-drive. Despite a stage name signaling his Midwestern upbringing, Singer now lives in Nashville — where he’s making waves as one of the city’s can’t-miss upcoming rock acts. Earlier this year, he released “It Will Never Be The Same,” an EP cut inside Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Sound studio; on Saturday, Singer wraps a headlining North American tour — which took him to sold-out shows in Washington, D.C. and Detroit — inside newly-reopened Rock Block haunt Exit/In.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said Singer on a chilly, wet spring morning inside East Nashville’s Living Waters Brewing, a coffeeshop and brewhouse next door to staple record shop Grimey’s. On his snowballing success, Singer continued, “If it all ends today, I’m good. I played some cool shows.”
To emphasis the unexpected places music has taken Singer, he flashed his phone background: A photo from on stage at Lollapalooza 2021. The sprawling crowd gathered for his set stretched beyond the photo’s frame. Holding out the image, Singer said: “It’s stupid that this is my job.”
From house shows to sold-out concert halls
Life for Singer wasn’t always gigs at Lollapalooza and recording sessions in Los Angeles, of course. He cut his teeth playing house shows in Chicago and touring to shows inside little-known Midwestern clubs that pulled enough people to pay for gas and a fast-food meal — on a good day.
In Michigan around 2015, he began lobbying college radio stations to play Michigander while he and his bandmates built goodwill among local promoters by selling tickets in exchange for opening slots on shows headlined by better-known touring bands.
When the band started, he recognized nearly face in the audience. Once strangers began turning up to shows, Singer thought, “Oh … this might work.”
“Around 2016 [or] 2017, it started being like, I didn’t know everybody at the gigs,” Singer said.
Fast forward to early 2022, Singer traded his Midwest roots for life in Music City with his wife, Brittany. After releasing a handful of singles and EPs, on a given night Michigander now pulls hundreds of like-minded listeners who may hear a slice of their life in Singer’s unreserved indie-rock truth-telling.
And after moving, he embraced his new creative community in the most Nashville way possible — a songwriting session. His first collaborator? Fellow Michigan native and major label country singer Ryan Hurd. The two penned a to-be-released country tune.
“I had no idea what co-writing a song really was,” Singer said. “It was like, ‘Oh, this exists? This is a thing people do regularly? Let’s do more of that.'”
‘It Will Never Be The Same’
Don’t worry, rock fans. Michigander didn’t trade in years of DIY hustle and long tours in a 15-passanger van to become the next Music Row hitmaker.
But he did take his newfound interest in co-writing to collaborate with Chris Carrabba, an adopted Nashville musician and torchbearer of the 2000s emo-rock scene known best by his stage name — Dashboard Confessional. Singer and Carrabba co-wrote “Cannonball,” a new song with a subtle guitar groove and chorus tailor-made for late-night summer road trips with windows rolled down low and music turned up loud.
“I’ve always been really intimated to get in rooms with people who are better than me and I look up to a lot,” Singer said. “But this time, it was the first time I wasn’t nervous working on a song with somebody.”
The song comes off “It Will Never Be The Same,” a collection chronicling Singer’s penchant for real-talk with an irresistible hook. The release includes standout self-questioning track “Superglue,” self-reflective “Stay Out Of It” and self-aware “In My Head,” a collaboration with Atlanta alt-rock band Manchester Orchestra.
For EP artwork, he chose an abandoned mall. Why? “Those aren’t coming back,” Singer said.
“That is the sentiment of the EP,” Singer said. “It will never be the same post-COVID, post-where we are in this society. Things aren’t going to be the same socially, politically. … On a personal level, I’m not the same person I was [five years ago]. Hopefully I’m becoming a better person.”
Now, he sets sights on headlining a show in his new hometown. After that, a debut full-length album may not be far away. And when it does arrive, maybe someone discovers it among a stack of CDs at a public library — stumbling into the next generation of life-changing songs.
If you go
- What: Michigander at Exit/In
- When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
- Price: $18 before fees
- More information:exitin.com