Ryan Johnson, Published November 04 2013
Local musician Michael Pink considers next step in career
But after turning down major offers – including the chance to be produced by his idol, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg – he’s now ready to take the next step in his career.
He’s just not sure yet where that step will take him.
After growing up in West Fargo and dropping out of high school at 16, Pink went to work unloading trucks to pay the bills. But he knew he wanted to do something in music, so he started playing drums in bands around town.
At the time, he said he didn’t know how to properly play the guitar – he could play only if he put it flat on his lap and used his thumb because he couldn’t fret the chords.
Pink was determined to learn, so when he was 18, he saved up and bought a Fender Telecaster “and started playing it poorly.”
But he stuck with it, and four years later, he was ready to record his first batch of original songs. Still, it took a move to the town of Yankton, S.D., where his then-significant other had family, to focus on his own music.
“I moved down to South Dakota to rent a house on a dead-end street in some little tiny town so I could write and record and sweep up at the laundromat nearby,” he said.
Armed with an eight-track and some new inspiration, Pink started recording most of the 18 songs that make up his only album to date, and posted four tracks online.
His limited songbook garnered interest immediately, and at the urging of some of those new acquaintances, Pink moved to the Minneapolis area – even though he had never played a solo show in his life or sang on the stage.
He was a “fresh fish” in the Twin Cities, opting to rent an apartment in the suburb of Burnsville that he said just didn’t work as a recording studio. He couldn’t play the drums and other instruments he needed to record at his own place, he said, and naïve ideas of what he should be doing prevented him from really trying to make it in the local music scene there.
“I had never played a show while I was there because I was just kind of being an idealist of having this full band setup,” he said. “I wish I had. My first show was at the Red Raven when I moved back (to Fargo), during an open-mic night with a hypnotist.”
Pink passed on his first label deal when he was 22 with only four recorded songs under his belt. Less than a year after getting to the Twin Cities, he packed up and moved back to Fargo to find a place where he could again write and record.“I think a lot of musician friends of mine see my musical career, and they think that I’ve let a lot of opportunities pass,” he said. “But I’ve always been told by a lot of well-respected people to hold off, that if it doesn’t feel right, it’s just not right.”
Pink made a promise to himself when he returned to Fargo that it would be a temporary stay, a way of focusing on his songs and finding his voice as a performer in the local bars, coffee shops and concert venues.
But four years later, he admits he got a “little sidetracked” along the way – and broke his promise to not unpack boxes here.
Much of his effort has gone into booking gigs in the region, playing at venues of all sizes and becoming a regular weekend performer at Moorhead’s John Alexander’s restaurant.
Pink is taking a step back now to once again focus on recording new songs. He started the drum track for his first song a couple of weeks ago, and said he could be ready to release an EP of new material within the next few months.
There are a few options for releasing the album, he said, including an independent release or making it available online. Either way, he said longtime listeners likely will be surprised by the new material.
“People that have heard my music before probably won’t recognize it,” he said.
As he finishes these new songs, Pink plans to send them to Kostas Lazarides, a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter in Montana he connected with through an ex-bass player.
“He’s kind of the biggest figure in my life,” he said. “When you live in Fargo, you need somebody from somewhere else to help you out.”
Lazarides has penned hit songs for the likes of country stars Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam and The Mavericks, and Pink said the mentor “took a shine” to his songwriting and has said he will pitch some of his material to country artists.
“At the same time, he wants me to move out there,” Pink said.
But while he’s considering a move to Montana, Pink also is thinking of giving Minneapolis another shot.
He played a recent Friday-night gig at Minneapolis’ Club Underground that also was a chance to scope out the Twin Cities.
Even if his time there was brief, Pink said the response he had in the Cities – and the musicians he met while he was living in Burnsville – “just blew my mind.”
“I have a lot of friends doing what I’ll be doing, and people that I’m probably a little more musically akin to,” he said. “Right now, I feel like if I move down there tomorrow, I could have my first rehearsal with a band probably within a week.”
For now, Pink will continue what he’s done for years – creating songs that come to him in bits and pieces while he’s walking down an aisle of a grocery store or smoking a cigarette outside a coffee shop.
“There’s nothing monumental or groundbreaking about what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m just writing songs that I want to hear.”
But no matter what he decides to do next, and however Nashville stars react to his songs, Pink said he’s a different kind of musician than he was all those years ago when he tried his hand in Minneapolis and decided to move back home.
“I’m not writing intentionally for any country artist,” he said. “I’m writing songs that I hope to release on a future album at some point. It’s an open-ended kind of thing, and if it happens to perk the ears of somebody down there and they want to record it, then I at this point, versus the me of before, am a lot more willing to let go of some things.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587