Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Sunken Ledger

On His First Solo Outing, Mike Tittel Owns His Own Demons

According to Mike Tittel, half of Ohio is sitting at the bottom of Lake Erie and we're probably better off for it. Tittel, a Southern Ohio native and Cincinnati-scene fixture for over 20 years puts it bluntly: "If every drum kit I own was stolen tomorrow," he says, "I'd make more progress just writing songs at my kitchen table than trying to talk my way into another gig in Columbus. Who needs it?" He should know. In the mid 90s, Tittel traveled the country while vacuum-packed in a Ford Econoline as the touring drummer for the iconic power-pop band, Loud Family. Along the way, he absorbed almost everything you need to know about the craft of hook-laden artful deception. He learned a fair bit about songwriting, too. The rest he picked up from a well-worn record collection of XTC, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, and every possible incarnation of Westerberg, all clearly just below the surface in his writing.

Back in Cincinnati, Tittel made one more record — 1999s astounding "Let There Be Work" with his band Pidgin — then hit the pause button, set aside the drums, sold the old-school 16-track AMPEX 2" deck, and opted for career of photography and advertising. He waited a full 15 years, then returned in 2014 with the harrowing "44," a stop-motion chronicle of his admittedly complex life at the time. "Friends were concerned," he laughs, but it turned out to mark an awakening. His second act in music, dubbed New Sincerity Works, released the acclaimed "Nowadays" (2015) and "Wonder Lust" (2017) in quick succession, both featuring an all-star cast of the best of the best in Midwest power-pop: Bob Nyswonger of the Psychodots & Bears and Roger Klug among 'em.

With 2020's "Sleeping In," his first true solo endeavor — he plays almost all of the instruments with support from his key comadre, Lauren Bray, of Pretty Birds — Tittel turns down the volume and breaks out the vintage acoustic guitars, but can't get away from the pop sensibilities, no matter which way he swims. From "3AM" to the closing track ("Birds of Murren"), "Sleeping In" lets you in on a little secret: you're gonna hear the paged turns of spiral notebooks, the inked padding of lined legal rule, and the ledgers of lyrics right up close as he skims across the personal and the profane. From the Neil Finn-tinged "Own Your Own Dealings" to "On a Good Day," the songs end up reading like a practical guide to realignment in a world so obviously overturned:
The seekers of the dreams, those busting at the seams
with losses from the past, it's time to do the math
For Tittel, it's clear that it's no longer enough to be the photographer, the drummer, or the songwriter alone. He's determined to be the observer-in-full and go, as the songwriter Greg Brown would say, "further in," the cinematic and the ineffable in single sentiment, every single time.

"Both the shipwreck and the treasure are resting on the bottom," Tittel notes about the creative process, "waiting for anyone who can hold their breathe."

Watch the album trailer for "Sleeping In" here.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Wilson