I first listened to Micah Wolf’s debut CD while I was driving
through Kahului on my way to Lahaina. By the time I got to Ma`alaea, I
Sounds like Jack Johnson, I
thought. Not that there’s anything wrong with Jack Johnson. After all,
some of my best friends listen to Jack Johnson. But… well, not me.
It was not the best way to go into an interview with Wolf.
We met at LiveWire Cafe, which was about a block away from
“headquarters”—what he laughingly called his friend’s house, which he
uses for practice space and miscellaneous business operations. Wolf
laughed easily, especially when talking about the discomfort of picking
out his own photos to send with press packets—a chore he’s had to do a
lot of lately.
“I haven’t quite perfected my ‘Blue Steel,’” he said. “You know, from Zoolander?”
He admitted he does get comparisons to Johnson on occasion, and is
trying to learn how to be comfortable with it. He joked that the only
thing he has a problem with is that he’s not a big-time surfer. In
fact, he said, he’s sorta afraid of sharks.
“I really respect Jack and I’m stoked that people compare us,” Wolf
said. “But I didn’t go in trying to create a Jack sound. And I wasn’t
the only one producing the album—that’s just what came out. But we are
all influenced by the same people.”
Wolf said he’s inspired by the obvious roots of modern folk
music—Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Bob Marley—as well as the
contemporaries, like Ben Harper, Mason Jennings and Michael Franti.
“I just like songs that tell a story and create an emotional
impact,” he said. “And I like songs that make people think and ask
questions. Like, ‘How can I stop being so judgmental of myself and
other humans?’ That’s the scary thing about pursuing your passion. It
makes you look deep at yourself. If you wanna do it in a way that you
aren’t drunk or on drugs all the time, you need to be really balanced
and comfortable with yourself.”
He’s had some time to think about this, since selling his house and
quitting timeshare sales three years ago, in order to be a full-time
musician. In the process, Wolf’s learning about the many facets of the
music business, from the ground up.
He started a record label, Blockplane Records, with his
guitar-making friend Eric DeVine, and the two built a studio.
Eventually, they recorded an album. But now the burgeoning folk star is
finding that the greatest challenge is learning how to flip the hat—to
be both artist and marketing agent.
But even more daunting is the realization that everything has to be
done at once. He’s learning about the music business as he goes along,
and has spent much time reading industry books and perusing websites.
Most recently, he’s had a lot of success emailing BMI, a performing
“I was sort of fishing around on the website,” Wolf said. “And I
sent the vice president of film and TV an intro, asking for
suggestions. He wrote back right away, ‘There’s something to be said
for timing—I just got out of a meeting with MTV…’”
When MTV started filming Maui Fever in Lahaina, they then approached
Wolf about using two of his songs—“Plastics” and “Muse.” But he had no
idea how they would be used.
“When you’re small-time and you sign a contract with MTV,” said
Wolf, “you have no control over where they show it. So with ‘Plastics,’
the intro kicks in while this guy is saying, ‘Dude, I’ll totally wax
A few months ago, No Cover Magazine—whose
compilation CD featured Wolf—flew Wolf and his band out to San Diego
for a series of shows. There, he met with a woman from Sony Records,
who suggested that instead of working on another album, he should
concentrate on promoting the one he just released six months ago.
“I’ve been doing it one department at a time,” Wolf said. “But you
really need a high management team. See, you’re supposed to be
promoting your album while touring. I just keep trying to plant seeds
‘cause you never know where it’s gonna sprout or harvest.”
He’s since bought out DeVine’s share of the Emerald Plaza studio and
equipment, and took over full ownership of the label. And he laughs at
the irony that he has to now sign himself to the record label he
“I’m learning that a lot of the industry comes down to who you
know,” Wolf said. Then he laughed. “And I don’t have any friends. But I
keep trying through MySpace!”
No Cover is inviting Wolf
to perform with their showcase at the big SXSW music fest in Austin,
Texas, in just a couple weeks. While there, the band will also meet up
with a record label in Australia who is interested in releasing their
“We have no idea what we’re doing but it’s all conspiring,” Wolf said. “There’s a lot going on.”
Wolf is now trying to plan a tour, based on when he gets “the budget
finalized.” But he now has an interested investor for his record label,
which will give him more tour support and help determine if he can take
the band or if he’s going solo.
“As much as I’ve learned about technology and the business,” Wolf
said, “the good news is that it really comes down to being a great
songwriter and performer. There’s no faking that.”
Okay, I admit it: I judged Wolf too hastily. Wolf is not trying to
be Jack Johnson. He’s very much his own artist, with his own
experiences, and is just an up-and-coming folk performer trying to make
it big on his own. He’s getting his hands dirty in the often confusing
world of music business, while holding true to his integrity and
He’s also just an all-around nice guy. And on second listen, his music is pretty sweet. MTW