Exclusive First-Listen Of Two-Time Intl. Songwriting Competition Finalist, Michael Wilford’s Newest Single, ‘Esraela’

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Michael Wilford has always been inspired by the timeless love held in old songs and romanticized by Hollywood. It’s these ideas that fueled the story in his new song Esraela. Playing with a genre idea coined ‘Suit and Tie pop’, Esraela takes classic crooner sensibility and gives it a contemporary shine – a timeless love story in a modern setting.

Esraela pairs swaggering grooves and swanky guitar riffs with a story of love reasserting itself. The story begins when a mysterious woman, sits beside the narrator on a train. Hints of romance commence andwe begin to understand that they aren’t strangers: “meet me tonight for the first time again, kiss me as if your lips don’t know mine yet,” but are actually lovers rediscovering one another, strengthening their existing feelings and falling in love over and over again.

Inspired by the real life love stories he witnessed in his parents, grandparents, and in his own relationship with his high school sweetheart. Michael set out to capture the feeling of being in a longterm relationship and the strengthening of love that comes with time. Like the partnerships it’s based on, the writing of Esraela took a lot of work and commitment. First started over 6 years ago, and taking inspiration from brit rock, blues and traditional pop, the song has taken on many different styles and identities before landing where it has.

michael wilford esraela international songwriting competition
“Esraela” – 2022 Photo by: Amelia Thomas

Esraela marks the third release for Michael Wilford and the songwriter/drummer has already generated a lot of buzz. He has been described by weareymx.comas a “completely next-level new artist able to blow your mind off,” he is a two time finalist in the International Songwriting Competition (currently a finalist in the Blues Category with his song Scotch), and his music has charted on Canadian Radio Charts and received International radio play.

Bridge: Tell our readers all about you and what you do…

MW: My name is Michael and I’m a drummer and a songwriter. What that ends up looking like is I split my time between playing drums for a variety of artists, both live shows and studio work, and outside of that I write and record music under my own name and with other artists as well. I grew up in a small town in Northern British Columbia, Canada called Smithers with about 5000 people there and an absolutely incredible music scene. I currently am based in Victoria on the west coast of BC and have been pursuing music full time since 2018.

Bridge: How would you describe your sound to a first time listener?

MW: I’m a little musically restless so I do a bit of genre hopping, but for the most part you can expect hooky songs that are rooted in Alternative (whatever that means) and blend in elements of Pop, Folk, Indie Pop and Rock. 

I have this genre idea that I’ve been obsessed with that I’ve been calling ‘Suit and Tie Pop’. It’s basically pop music that pairs with your favourite cocktail. I love the swagger and bravado in the arrangements of people like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and The Rat Pack but I would love to give it a bit of a rock and roll edge and dress it up for a more modern audience. I haven’t released many of the songs that I think really define this idea in my head, but it’s definitely part of the mission statement of me as an artist and my brand new song Esraela is the closest I’ve come to this idea with my releases.

Bridge: You are an accomplished drummer, what made you step out from behind the drums?

MW: Writing my own songs was what really made me fall in love with music. Performing original music with my first bands as a teenager is what gave me the bug to want to pursue music full time. I properly started working as a hired gun in 2017 and while I absolutely love playing with other bands and supporting them and their music, there was never much of an opportunity for me to explore my songs in these situations. 

I had mountains of songs I had written over the years and I had already recorded my debut single Scotch, but for the most part the songs I was writing during this period only existed for me. In 2020 when everything shut down I reached out to my producer Ben Erikson and we decided to remix and re-record parts of Scotch and finally release it. It was released in February of 2021 to a much bigger audience and with much more success than I had ever expected and acted as a proof of concept that there was room for me to release music under my name as well. So from that point on I have been hard at work on my music alongside my work on the drums for other artists.

Michael Wilford has always been inspired by the timeless love held in old songs and romanticized by Hollywood. It’s these ideas that fuelled the story in his new song Esraela.
Photo by: Amelia Thomas

Bridge: Who would you say are your main musical inspirations?

MW: This is always a hard question. I’m constantly inspired from all kinds of places and genres. To make a long story short I really love proper songwriters with great lyrics (Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan), Indie and Alternative bands, folk influenced sounds and artists with a classic edge but modern sensibilities. 

Some of the artists I’ve been listening to loads recently are Arctic Monkeys (Alex Turner is one of my favourite lyricists), Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, Haim, Leon Bridges and bands like that. I’ve also really enjoyed the new Taylor Swift albums Folklore and Evermore and have been listening to them far more that I care to admit.

I’ve always been really inspired by one hundred percenters, people who could do it all, write, produce, record, mix and perform their own music and it’s always been my goal to be in that crowd. I love people like Justin Vernon, St. Vincent, Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Mark Ronson and the like, and I kind of modeled my solo project after Mark Ronson, me writing the tracks and bringing in collaborators and other musicians to see them through.

I also mentioned it earlier, but I grew up in Smithers, a small town that has loads of great musicians in it. I’m constantly inspired by my friends and their music. My friend Elijah Quinn is an unbelievable artist and one of my favourite songwriters and he is the featured singer on my new song Esraela. Molly Moolman is also from Smithers and did the backing vocals on Esraela, she’s got this amazing Adele like quality to her and I can’t wait to hear her all over the radio someday. Maddie Jay is an artist I went to high school with and she’s a total one hundred percenter. She writes, produces and performs her own music but is also a hired bass player for some serious heavyweight artists like Lorde and Remi Wolf. There’s so many from that little town and they all deserve praise, but this probably isn’t the spot to list them all… 

Bridge: Can you take us through a bit of the creative process of your songs?

MW: My songs usually start at the piano in my living room. Over the pandemic I’ve been teaching myself music production and now I can pretty quickly take my track from just me and a piano to a fully recorded song. I have this habit of adding orchestral elements and horns to every demo, something which usually gets stripped away as the process goes on. From there I usually take the song to my friend Joshua Litton, he’s an unbelievably talented multi instrumentalist and he really has a knack for understanding my vision and bringing ideas to the table that support and improve on what I brought. From there I’ll build a band around the track, find the perfect people to fill each role and best utilize their skill sets. Then it’s a lot of work back and forth with the musicians, singer(s) and production team, lots of rehearsals and poking at the ideas and arrangement. Until we finally get to record. I’ve done my last few songs at Barnhouse Sound in Qualicum Beach, it’s probably my favourite studio I’ve ever been in, but depending on the song and musicians we sometimes have to get creative. I have an unreleased song that was recorded entirely long distance in 2 different countries and multiple cities and Esraela was recorded with the singers in Northern BC recording long distance using some really cool technology and the band on Vancouver Island recording in the studio.

Photo by: Amelia Thomas

Bridge: You are a two-time finalist in the International Songwriting competition! What has been your main takeaway from doing so well in one of the world’s most prestigious songwriting competitions?

MW: I am a two-time finalist! That’s so cool to say. They’ll be announcing the winners for the current competition soon so we’ll have to see if I can do better than I did last year. I became a finalist for the first time right as I was releasing my first song and it was the best tool I had at my disposal for self promotion and promotion of the song. My first release was really a ‘test the waters’ situation, to see if people were interested in me as an artist and my music that wasn’t connected to a bigger band I was a part of. The ISC was a hugely affirming thing to be involved in right away and gave my music legs beyond what I was capable of giving it. So in summary I guess the main takeaway was that it really affirmed and solidified my vision and that has been the most incredible and valuable thing to have happened early in my career.

Bridge: Alright, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…Esraela! What is the story behind this song?

MW: I’m so excited to share this song with you! It’s one of my absolute favourite songs. I started writing it in 2016, 6 whole years ago and I could never quit it. Most of my songs that are that old have been lost in the cracks for me but this one always stuck around. 

It’s a song about long-term relationships, about the kind of love that rediscovers itself in new ways and is constantly surprising those involved with its strength, and its constant redefinition. My whole life I’ve been really fortunate to be surrounded by great love stories in my parents and grandparents, and these really structured my view on relationships. I wrote this song for my highschool sweetheart. At the time I started writing it we had been together for 4 years and now we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary this May. 

I chose the name Esraela because I wanted to create a character that was exciting and mysterious and had a name that evoked that. I had never heard the name before and completely thought I had made it up until a Facebook search proved me wrong. I feel that the name is so intriguing though, she could be anyone, and I wanted the song to contain that mystery and sense of discovery as you unpack the story.  

When I started writing the song the goal was to marry British alternative rock with crooner energy. I wanted to write a song that felt classic but also had a bit of a rock and roll edge to it, like Frank Sinatra in a leather jacket. This was kind of a hard concept for me to wrap my head around and is a big part of why this song took so long to come to completion. At one point it had a big band horn section in the bridge and then it took a complete left turn and became a folk song fronted by mandolin, but it eventually landed here and this version feels like the iteration that best suits the song. I hope it feels romantic and exciting and energetic and tender. All the feelings I think a great love story should contain.


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