Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #13: Dear Mr. Henshaw
Dear Mr. Henshaw is the solo project of Eugene, Oregon based songwriter Mike Surber. He is one half of the group Foxgloves (which were featured back in December as Little Orange Room Session #7) and one of the front men for the Seattle based indie rock band Sons of Guns. Sons of Guns just released their fourth album earlier this month titled, Emerald Evergreen. Mike recently took the time to answer a few questions via email.
*In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic I decided it would be appropriate to include Venmo and Paypal information (with consent of the artist) for any fans/viewers who would like to leave a tip. Our hard working songwriters and musicians are taking quite a hit right now and any little bit helps. Thank you.
LORS: You are currently in three different projects…do you set aside time to specifically write for each one or do you decide after the fact what songs will be best used for Foxgloves vs Dear Mr. Henshaw vs Sons of Guns? How do you decide?
DMH: It’s usually after the fact (or maybe halfway through a song’s development). Most of the time my songwriting process starts as a freeform “stream of consciousness,” so when I start getting a feel for the energy and mood of a song, I begin to imagine what it’s begging for: I usually know pretty quickly if it’s a solo song (Dear Mr. Henshaw) and I’ll see it through to completion. If it’s got a drums and bass and electric guitar and rock band energy, often times I’ll even stop writing it and record just the general idea, saving it for when I’m with Sons of Guns so we can work on it together. Because even though Greg and I do the majority of the lyric writing and initial song structure, it’s the collaboration in the composition with all four of us that really inspires and drives the song in a direction that ends in an unmistakably Sons of Guns song. In a similar way, Foxgloves (which is just Greg and I playing much more mellow acoustic folk duets), songs often are created when Greg and I are sitting together sharing half-cooked ideas until we work together to turn it into a song. In all of those cases—by the time the structure of the song is put together—it’s back to the notebook to finish the lyrics, because now I know what the song is really about.
LORS: Writing, performing, recording. Rank them.
I really, really, love performing, but I’ve often contemplated what I’d do if I had to choose between playing shows and making albums. It’d be a tough call, but nothing is more special to me than the tangible album being finished: Knowing that this thing I wrote now officially exists, and may even exist long after I’m gone. I feel like we can all live forever through the things we create.
LORS: What’s on the horizon for Dear Mr. Henshaw in 2020? Any touring or recording plans?
DMH: Well… I was planning to play a lot of shows this year, but given my current status as “voluntarily self-quarantined,” I’d say a Dear Mr. Henshaw album will be coming sooner than I would’ve imagined. The songs are all written, and now I’ve got nothing but time to record them at home. Also, for a couple months now I’ve been going on Facebook Live and playing songs every weekday at 1pm on my Dear Mr. Henshaw page. I call it “Lunch Break Live” and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll probably do that for as long as people keep tuning in (maybe even if they don’t). With gigs being canceled for the foreseeable future, it’s also been really sweet of people to throw some bucks in the “Virtual Tip Jar” (PayPal/Venmo) while I’m live-streaming.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
DMH: I’ve been listening to a lot of Bart Budwig lately. That dude is such a great songwriter. I’ve also been on a big The National kick. Oh, and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is a fantastic read (and an equally great movie, which is rare).