There are certain homes where we have lived that have special meaning to us, a place that has served as the backdrop to our growth and changes, full of memories, good and bad times, and many moments that shaped our lives. For musician Mike Woodlark, such a place is a house on Mackland Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lived for more than a decade. In tribute to that beloved residence and his memories there, Woodlark named his new album Mackland Ave.
“I lived in that house while I was going to college and for many years afterwards,” Woodlark remembers. “It has three bedrooms and at one time or another I lived in each one, wrote songs and played my music in each one, and nurtured my dreams there. In that house I fell in love and lost love, I had parties and lots of fun times with friends, but I also went through hardships as well. All of these things influenced my music and inspired me.”
Woodlark, who has one previous album (The Guild/Days of Sorrow) under a different name (M.K.Sol), is primarily a pianist, but he also is adept at creating a full-bodied sound using electronic keyboards and synthesizers. In addition, on his Mackland Ave recording, he also plays some acoustic guitar and sings in a soft, gentle style on five of the 12 original compositions. Three special guests — on piano, cello and fiddle — each make an appearance on one tune each. The overall sound is rounded out by Woodlark creating a variety of other instrumentation including strings, percussion, electric guitar, horns and electric piano.
Woodlark’s sound is popular with new age music audiences, but it also has elements of modern-folk (especially the vocal tracks) and even contemporary-classical (several of the numbers that contain string sections as well as the solo piano piece “Graceful Grim”).
More information on Mike Woodlark is available at his website (mikewoodlark.bandcamp. com). His two CDs and digital download tracks from those recordings are available at online sales sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic and many others. The music also can be heard (and this artist can be followed) at many major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play and more.
The title tune on the Mackland Ave album is a fast-paced, rhythmic, pulsating piece featuring both piano and a variety of synthesized sounds. “I like to experiment with different sounds so that there is more than just piano.” Equally upbeat are the tunes “A Sight for Sound” (“This is sort of a continuation of my tune ‘A Beautiful Mind’ from my first album, and my friend Jonathan Orner plays one of the piano solos on it.”) and the Eighties-styled synth-pop “Rainshine” (“Melodically, I was influenced by Alexandre Desplat and his music on the film soundtrack for ‘The Imitation Game’.”).
“Rainshine” also is one of five songs on the album that Woodlark sings on. Another is “An Elephant’s Soul.” “In my family everyone picked spirit animals and my mother’s was the elephant, so this is a bit of a tribute to her and to my fond memories of sitting with her on the porch on summer nights and looking at the stars.” Woodlark also sings on “Dreamories,” what he describes as “a breakup song, the end of a relationship when dreams and memories begin to merge.” The most dramatic vocal tunes are the two versions of “Hey Vincent,” a tribute to painter Vincent van Gogh, the first with piano, acoustic guitar, light drums and double-tracked harmony vocals, and the other being the “original” stripped-down version with simply piano and voice. “I love Van Gogh’s artwork and his life story, his struggles and the support his brother gave him. I went to London and Amsterdam, not only because I like to travel, but specifically to view many of his paintings in museums there. His paintings have not only inspired this song, but other music I have written.”
The rest of the album is strictly instrumental, some of it soft and slow, especially “Graceful Grim,” which is a classical-sounding solo piano composition with a lovely melody. The piano additionally is spotlighted on “Dreamories” and “Home Cooked Dinner,” especially the first half of both compositions. “Dreamories” changes tempo halfway through and later adds some soft singing. “Home Cooked Dinner” moves from a solo piano to a string section that features Cory McBride on lead violin.
“Listening to the Pines” has the piano backed by electric guitar and violin swells. “My grandmother, who also played piano, came up with the title because trees in the wind make their own music. This piece reminds me of growing up.” “Dark Locomotive,” with Halcyon Chamber on cello, captures the chugging rattle of a train rolling on by. “The main riff was inspired by Norwegian DJ Kygo, and the keyboard experimentation was inspired by Ludovico Einaudi.” Woodlark, who enjoys composing using a cinematic style, had visions of western movies and outlaws when he wrote “Legends of the Southwest.” “This one really just gave me the opportunity to jam with myself.”
Woodlark, a native of New Mexico, was given a keyboard as a toddler and began piano lessons at the same time he started school, and he continued lessons through grade school and middle school. “My first noticeable attraction to music was listening to Disney soundtracks for films such as ‘Alladin’ and ‘The Lion King.’ I also liked to make up my own music to go with movies.”
In high school Woodlark became more serious about pursuing music. “When some friends of mine asked me to be in a band, I realized music was my passion. The band was called The Braillists and we played all original instrumental rock music. We were inspired by the group Explosions in the Sky.” Also during high school Woodlark played in a two-piece band (Woodlark on keyboards and organ, and a friend on drums) called Nose Whistler. “Our live shows were a lot fun and the music was fairly intricate.”
Woodlark graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelors degree. While there, he and another keyboardist (Jonathan Orner who guests on both of Woodlark’s albums) played their music at the university’s main auditorium before performances of major traveling theater shows such as “The Lion King” and “Beauty and The Beast.” In addition, Woodlark took more piano lessons in college. He also made guest appearances on albums by the groups Canopy Leaves and Glowhouse.
Over the years, Woodlark discovered it was more and more difficult to find other musicians who were reliable and committed to the music, so he began spending more of his time composing and recording his own material. He became determined to make his own album, and the result was the soft, piano-oriented, new age album The Guild/Days of Sorrow under the name M.K.Sol. “The music has gotten considerable streams on Spotify and it feels good to know that there are people out there who enjoy it.”
Woodlark says two of his main influences have been Chris Martin of Coldplay and James Mercer from The Shins, but also credits inspiration from folk-pop singers Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, Cat Stevens, Gregory Alan Isakov and Sufjan Stevens. Influential pianists include Ludovico, Jonsi from Sigur Ros, Olafur Arnalds, and Lambert.
“I like various types of music,” explains Woodlark, “so when it came time to make my own albums, I decided to just go with whatever sounded good to me, whatever I felt like exploring at that time. That’s why you get some folk-pop vocals, some bouncy synth, a solo piano piece and quite a bit of piano in arrangements with strings and other instrumentation. That’s what came from living on Mackland Avenue — lots of different ideas, input and inspirations.”