Michelle Young has performed on a wide variety of recordings and is
perhaps was originally most well known for her work with the progressive
rock group Glass Hammer. Admittedly influenced by Kate Bush, Michelle was
professionally trained in classical voice at the University of
Tennessee-Chattanooga. She left a former former job as a legal secretary
and receptionist in 1996 to pursue music full time and is propelling her
professional career as a female vocalist in progressive music. A
thoughtful yet brief review of her album and an interesting biography was
published in the Fall 1996 issue of Progression magazine. Learn a
whole lot more about the artist through an exclusive interview included
A featured artist at Musical Discoveries since 1997, this article
reviews her debut solo album Song of the Siren, contributions to
Rudi Buttas' R.U.D.Y.'s Journey and her follow-up solo album
Marked for Madness due for release in September 2001. Already rated
by Musical Discoveries editors a must listen, the album includes
guest artists include production collaborator Clive Nolan (Pendragon,
Arena, Shadowland) on keys, Doane Perry (Jethro Tull) on drums, Stan
Whittaker (Happy the Man), Pete Banks (Yes), Karl Groom (Threshold) on
guitar and Bobby Kimball (Toto) on vocals. The album contains some very
classical sounding pieces. There are a variety of soundscapes, styles and
moods on the album and although much darker in places, there is a theme of
hope running through it.
Image © Michelle Young
As a full fledged band member, Michelle performed on the first three
Glass Hammer albums: Journey of the Dunadan, Perelandra, and
Live and Revived. She is most clearly featured vocally in the first
of the set. With Glass Hammer, Michelle did primarily backing vocals and
support keys, although she did get to sing "The Innocent One" (from
Song Of The Siren) during the band's shows and did some of the
photography for the first two versions of the Journey of the
Dunadan CD booklet. Michelle did the harmonies in the Glass Hammer
song "Why I Cry" where the sheer power, range and virtuosity of her voice
enabled her to do so without reverb or other effects. She left Glass
Hammer to pursue her solo career full time during 1997.
We asked Michelle to tell us about how she became involved in Glass
Hammer. She told us the story. "I first met Steve Babb (D'Arque) and David
Carter of the Glass Hammer line up when I was in a restaurant and
overheard from their conversation that they were musicians. I walked over,
introduced myself, and invited them to come see my recording and
photography studio I had just opened recently." Steve accepted the offer
and in 1991, Michelle was hired by Fred and Steve to do the photography
for their first album Journey of the Dunadan. She continued, "Then,
they heard my voice, and really liked it a lot. They decided to utilize it
wherever possible on the album, but they weren't sure to what extent that
would be, because the album was almost finished. They basically let me
make up parts.I even made up the "Oh Elbereth." line. I got to do some
strange and tortured sounds on "The Palantir", which I absolutely loved!
There were many weird "ambient" vocal sounds that I did that could be
mistaken for a guitar or keyboard if you didn't know it was a voice."
The song "Why I Cry" is a classic progressive rock ballad which seems
perfectly suited for Michelle's voice. We asked why did didn't sing it.
She told us, "Piper Kirk had already recorded the lead vocals on "Why I
Cry", so I sang a track of harmony. For some reason they didn't have room
to put effects on my track, so it's actually dry." She continued, "I did
get to participate in the "Prancing Pony" pub scene, which was great fun.
I'll never forget the feeling of excitement when I first heard some of the
music, and found out I was going to be included on the recording. I had
never heard such a high level of quality and talent in Chattanooga, and I
was on "cloud nine" for about two weeks solid—nothing could bring me
Michelle continued to elaborate on her Glass Hammer story. "From there
we recorded Perelandra and then the Live and Revisited
album. But the debut album is still one of my all-time favorite Glass
Hammer albums." She elaborated, "While the sound has greatly improved
since then, I feel that JOD contains some of their best melodies
and orchestral moments. Oddly enough, my other favorite is actually On
To Evermore, the first album they did without me."
Live with Glass Hammer
Image © Michelle Young
Michelle recounted the story and her feelings about it, "The tale of
Arianna really touches my heart. I feel such empathy for both the sculptor
and Arianna. This story contains the elements I find so appealing in other
classic myths or legends. A romantic ideal that produces unparalleled
creativity, which in turn triggers a magical birth and then the sculptor's
dedicated but unrequited love for his creation. He loses his life just as
she gains hers—this triggers such emotions."
Tracy Cloud worked with Michelle on Perelandra We asked Michelle
about her. She told us, "Tracy Cloud released her Love Changes (review)
solo album, which I really like. When I got to see her in a performance, I
was singing right along with most of the songs. But, I haven't spoken with
her since then, and it's been a few years. I'm not sure if she's still
involved in music." Michelle concluded the comments on her work with Glass
Hammer, "I really enjoyed performing with them. Fred played all the
keyboards on the albums, but live I got to play support keys, and Fred was
so patient while teaching me all my parts! But, as the saying goes, all
good things must come to an end."
"While I was with Glass Hammer I started recording my first solo album,
Song of the Siren. Although I was invited to release it on the
Arion label, I didn't want a "monkey on my back" from the very start."
Michelle then went on to tell us about the formation of Naosha Records.
"I'm very leery about signing music contracts that might hand the control
and financial gains over to someone else. I'd have to see a track record
that would prove the possible benefits I could receive and then it would
be a trade-off. If I knew for sure that a company was going to push me and
my product, and had the ability to produce high sales and a great deal of
exposure, and that they would handle all the tedious business
details—leaving me to just be concerned with the creative aspects—it would
be very tempting."
Michelle continued, "In the beginning, I felt that no one could/would
push harder than myself. So, I started my own label specifically for the
purpose of releasing my solo material, and to this day I believe I made
the right choice. It's not an easy task to wear all the hats, doing the
business and making the decisions. I find that most successful independent
labels have a team of two. One person does the lion's share of the music
and creativity, and the other person conducts most of the business. But,
there's enough of a cross-over that the two can meld and work together
beautifully. After the release of SOS, there was a shift in my
musical path. Certain doors started to close, while other doors were
opening. I just moved in the positive direction, and that has led me to
where I am today."
Song of the Siren
Image © Naosha
Song Of The Siren. (Musical Discoveries'
Review/August 1998) While Glass Hammer artists Fred Schendel and Steve
Babb (DeArqe) co-produce and assist in production respectively as well as
perform on the album, this is clearly Michelle's work with an array of
styles that surpass the vast majority of female vocal albums in the
marketplace today. Here you will find soft ballads, jazz numbers,
progressive instrumentals, and typically-Kate Bush sensual female vocal
tracks. The strong similarity of Michelle's voice to Kate's is amazing,
but Michelle's music works everso much better.
Michelle has written all of the tracks with the exception of one
co-written with Fred Schendel and in addition to the absolutely stunning
lead vocals, she contributes keyboard, guitar, bass, bamboo flute, silver
flute, chimes, and the ocarina and double barrel ceramic flipple. Most
likely they are all featured in the new age-sounding ambient track
entitled "Bamboo You! (Smackin' the Crickets and Making the Bird Like
Me)". There is wide range of other instrumentation—with lots of
keyboard—that with the multitracked vocals gives the album an incredible
lushness most remarkably heard in the title track.
The overall sound of the album is hard to classify. There are ten
average length tracks that meld from one into another and an eleventh very
short bonus track. A good friend once said that he'd listen to Annie
Haslam singing even if she did nursery rhymes. Michelle Young does just
that singing "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" in multi-tracked a cappella in the
bonus track. And it works!
While all of the tracks on the album are quite good and work together,
there is a spot in the track "Les Talk" where Michelle works up to a
crescendo where she shows the full power of her voice that tops every
other part of the album. It is here that Michelle's vocal ability shines
and sets this album way above anything we've ever heard Kate Bush do and
puts her up among the very top female vocalists we've ever heard. The
lyrics to the song share a traumatic message Les Paul gave her at the
beginning of what then became an enchanting evening where two artists
shared their experiences with each other. The song concludes with an
unusual telephone recording Michelle captured and some cartoon
characterisations. Overall it's a great song.
Michelle Young (1996) from Song Of The
Image © Naosha Records 1996
The first track "Solitude" and one later entitled "The Innocent One"
are the most like one would expect on a Kate Bush album, but again,
Michelle's voice is much wider ranging and stronger; the multitracked
vocal arrangements work well with the instrumentation. Further vocal
adaptations in "Big Deal" are also reminiscent of some of Kate Bush's
Instrumentally the album is very strong with riffs not far from what
you hear in typical Glass Hammer or Yes tracks. Vocal abstractions, a la
Glass Hammer, are also featured from time to time. A live number with a
jazzy flair called "No Excuses" gives a slight hint at what a Michelle
Young gig would be like. It is another example of her power and ability to
sustain the notes.
Like Tracy Cloud's album the lyrics are thoughtful and down to earth.
Michelle puts incredible emotion into their delivery in the rich
production. The attractive sleeve notes reproduce them in detail . Clearly
this is one of the very best albums we've heard this year (1998) and we're
certain that you'll enjoy it as much as we do.
Michelle has far reaching musical tastes and we discussed her favourite
artists. "I really dig Ross Rice, who creates power pop that contains
infectious beats and melodies, and witty, insightful lyrics. He's a
top-notch musician and songwriter who works with other respected artists,
and he deserves much more recognition. I've never met a musician of any
genre who's heard his work and didn't like it."
We met Michelle the first time at Clive Nolan's studio and it's not
surprising that our conversation drifted onto his work. "Clive Nolan is
also one of my favorites. I hadn't heard of him until 1997, when we met
briefly in California. But, when I heard some of the work he'd done with
Arena, Shadowland, Strangers on a Train (reviews) and
Pendragon, I was very impressed. I couldn't believe my luck when I found
out we were going to get to meld our talents. I knew it would be magical.
Imagine having the highest quality resources available at your fingertips
to use in your work—a real dream come true! Not only is he an incredible
talent, he is an excellent cook, a true professional, and a wonderful
friend." Nolan introduced Musical Discoveries editors to the work of Tracy
and to the directors of Britain's Classic Rock Society.
Michelle continued, "Fred Schendel [Glass Hammer] is another favorite
of mine. While working on our first album together, his musical abilities,
sensitivities, and versatility convinced me immediately that I was in the
presence of a great musical genius. In fact, he and Clive both have their
pedestals, side by side in my personal "Hall of Greats," with the title of
"Musical Genius" above their heads."
And we also obtained a list of her favourites as our discussion on the
subject came to a close. "There are so many others that I could go on and
on about, some more known than others. I enjoy listening to a wide variety
of music—everything from the Boomtown Rats to the Cocteau Twins, William
Orbit, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, King Crimson, Adrian Belew, Steve
Hackett, Kansas, Thread, Fernandel, Nanci Griffith, Fishbone, Tori Amos,
Marco Flores, Landmarq, Happy Rhodes, Arena, Shadowland, Pendragon, Under
The Sun, Mozart, Beethoven, Mischa Elman, Queen, Ella Fitzgerald with
Louis Armstrong, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Basil Poledouris (Soundtrack
to Conan The Barbarian), The Style Council, Rick Springfield, The
Jam, Supertramp, Sarah McLachlan, Pink Floyd. I could go on, and on. It
seems I usually pick one, maybe two albums from each artist that I keep in
rotation. Like, when I think of Pink Floyd, I automatically grab The
Wall even though I have The Dark Side Of The Moon, and there
are many other great recordings they did."
Clive Nolan and Michelle Young
Michelle Young 2001
Michelle's vocal training and her own inspirations led to the
development of her unique style. We asked her to tell us more about it.
"I've been singing since before the age of five, and most of my talent is
a natural in-born thing. I grew up listening to country music because
that's all my parents would let the radio be tuned to, but started
listening to a rock station when I got my own clock/radio somewhere in my
pre-teens." She continued, "Harmonies were always such a strong pull for
me. I used to listen to The Gatlin Brothers on an 8-track with headphones
and I would be right inside the recording, singing that extra 4th part
harmony that was missing. I wanted to be the extra Gatlin Brother, or more
correctly, the "Gatlin Sister." I also loved to sing alto in church,
especially since the soprano parts were so high for my young voice at the
time that I would almost pass out trying to sing them. I had taken piano
lessons in the fourth grade, and had learned to read music at that point,
so I could sight sing at church.
"I started participating in talent shows performing in bands, as a solo
piano/vocal act, or with a vocal group. Again, my natural ear for music
and styles just worked with my inherent vocal abilities, so that I could
imitate any vocal style I wanted." Michelle elaborated further on her
training, "I attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and sang
with a couple of performing choral groups, and, as a music major, took a
couple years of vocal lessons. I wasn't a great student, however, because
I hated practicing. Or, more accurately, I was too lazy to practice.
Instead, I would depend on my natural abilities to get me through the
She continued, "It seemed that every time I had to perform for my
"Seminar" class, my throat felt like invisible hands were wrapped around
it, and someone was trying their best to choke me to death. I think I'd
handle it much better now, but I couldn't control that horrible adrenaline
rush accompanied by cold, clammy hands and shaky knees. My favorite parts
of my formal University training were singing in foreign languages,
diction class, and getting to compose in my theory class and have the
composition performed by classmates. "
"I always took the time to structure and tailor my compositions, so
that they would be coherent and appealing, yet fit within the parameters
of the assignment. In fact, my theory teacher wound up playing some of my
Song of the Siren for some of his later classes, using my music for
classroom examples. I was very surprised and flattered to learn this.
Again, I lacked the self-discipline needed for studying, and I have
forgotten most of the "rules of composition" that I ever learned.
We especially enjoyed how our conversation drifted into Michelle's
writing experiences with Clive. "Poor Clive can attest to that fact, and
he and I have gone round and round about my music theory in my writing. I
mostly rely on my ear, or what I hear in my head." She continued, "Clive
will take what I've done, and view it with a more trained ear and eye, and
if he hears or sees some "strange" theory going on, he'll analyze it and
"fix" it. Sometimes I don't want it "fixed", and that's when we go round
and round, which is funny, because we usually wind up doing it his way
after all. Then he bemoans all the time and energy it took to get to that
point, but I remind him that if I didn't have strong opinions, I'd never
get anything done. I am, however, willing to listen to what he says, and
can be guided to the "right conclusion" if given time."
We asked Michelle about how other artists may have influenced the
development of her own sound. She told us, "Jeff Wayne's musical version
of War of the Worlds was my first exposure to rock opera, and that
happened my sophomore year in high school. I was so impressed by it that I
got the album, the radio album, and now I have the CD as well."
She continued, "Kate Bush is an obvious influence. I was introduced to
her music in 1986, but I quit listening after Hounds of Love,
except for an occasional spin of some of her older stuff. I get compared
to her frequently, but Marked For Madness should help me break out
of that 'comparison mode' and into my own vocal identity. At least, I'm
hoping so." There were other influences as well. Michelle told us,
"Believe it or not, old Disney movies have made an impact on me; mixing a
story with music seemed most natural to me. I think a lot of those movies,
in addition to seeing live musicals like Oklahoma, have helped
shape the theatrical sense of my own music."
"Laurie Anderson opened another window in my world of "storytelling
meets music". I definitely absorbed some of the unusual approaches and
sounds she incorporated in her Mr. Heartbreak album back in the
mid-80's. Danny Elfman's Nightmare Before Christmas has been a huge
influence on me. I think it's one of the most perfect musicals in
existence—I can't rave enough about it! If I had one person I could choose
to meet in the music world, it would be Danny Elfman."
We asked Michelle about what led her to progressive music. She
explained, "Glass Hammer was my first working introduction to the world
of—and even the term—progressive music. The draw for me is the freedom to
create anything I want, without a preconceived formula or form that has to
be followed. Creativity is allowed, encouraged and actually required, so
it really fits me like a glove. I can mix any sound, any attitude, and any
imagery that I want. What more could an artist want? I can bounce between
complex and simple at will. I can scream or whisper. I can bang on my
violin like a hammer dulcimer if I want while adding distortion. I can be
Jack Skellington or any character I want to be."
Michelle told us, "Writing songs is an activity that has several
different approaches." We asked her to elaborate and she told us a whole
lot more. "Sometimes inspiration comes from dreams, like today I woke up
from a dream with a tune going on in my head. I hear the music, and the
vocal melodies with all the inflections—even the guitar riffs, bass lines,
and drum beats—and I can put any lyrics I like to it. Most of the time
lyrics either don't make sense once you've woken up, or they're easily
forgotten, so it's best to keep a tape recorder nearby."
Michelle recounted several instances to illustrate the point. "One time
I dreamed I was a black girl in her early twenties, sitting in a
skyscraper in the middle of a big city. It was night, and the bare office
space I was sitting in had solid walls except for the outer corner, which
was composed of two huge room-width windows that reached from the floor to
the ceiling. I was sitting in a rocking chair wearing a dress, with my
back to the windows in the outer corner, rocking. I started singing a
song, and my spirit rose from the body, settled in the opposite corner of
the room just below the ceiling, and as I 'watched myself' singing this
song, my real self realized that I was writing a song. I could hear the
music, and the lyrics were so eerie and fantastical that I was amazed. I
started trying to remember them as hard as I could. So, of course, at that
point I woke up." She continued, "I remember that I was singing about a
young girl, and in the song I was describing her, and the only lyrics I
could recall were "she was wearing a dress made of lace and the wind,
wrapped in voodoo," though at the time I remembered the music—it was eerie
too—and I recorded it."
Image © Michelle Young
Sometimes writing is full of resolving endless contradictions. Michelle
told us, "One time during highschool I dreamt that I was performing in a
baseball stadium that was packed out, and for some reason Gary Coleman was
playing the piano for me. I never even watched his sitcom and I definitely
wasn't into baseball. I had to write that one down by the light of my
electric blanket for fear that my parents would see me turn on a light in
the night, and come bursting in demanding to know what's going on, and
ruin the whole thing."
"Inspiration sometimes come while I'm driving down the road," Michelle
continued, "the track 'Mary Quite Contrary' came that way, as well as a
country duet I've written called 'It Should've Been You,' and a jazzy
torch tune called 'Kiss Me.'" She told us, "Usually I put the new
inspirations on a hand-held tape recorder immediately so I don't forget
them, because no matter how good an idea is, it can be forgotten, and then
you'll kick yourself if you do happen to forget. 'Kiss Me,' however, kept
coming to me over a long period of time—even though I had recorded parts
of it on the hand-held tape recorder—until I finally wrote it down by
recording it with keyboards in my studio. Then it was finally was out of
my system and it left me alone." And about the spark of inspiration, she
recounted, "I have been known to pull my car off the road to hurriedly
scratch some lyrics down, and wrote a whole song like that once."
Michelle continued, "Sometimes in the mornings I'll crank some music,
hop in the shower, and then hear something totally different to what's
playing. I've written songs that I've 'heard' like that. Sometimes it's a
matter of sitting down to play one or several of my instruments—bass,
piano, guitar, flute or violin. If it's a keyboard, usually words will
start coming if I just open my mouth and start singing." She continued, "A
song can take five minutes or five months to write and be of equally high
quality. I've been known to put words to music, or put music to
"Sometimes I will start an instrumental by just beginning with a base
layer, and adding other instruments on top, letting it develop in it's own
way. When I was writing the title track Song of the Siren and
'Bamboo You! (Smackin' the Crickets and Making the Bird Like Me),' that's
the approach I took." She continued, "Sometimes I hear specific ideas, and
just try to replicate the sound I'm hearing in my head to something
someone else can hear. That can be frustrating if your resources are
limited, or you don't know exactly what it would take to get that sound.
But, that's where experimentation comes into play."
Image © Michelle Young
Michelle elaborated further, "During the recording of SOS, I
wanted to get a backward reverb effect like what was used on Bram Stoker's
Dracula, where Jonathan lies down after hearing the women calling
his name. I recorded my phrases 'Come here, Sailor ... come here! It's
very nice here...come to me!' on a 1/4" analog reel to reel, turned it
over so it would play backwards through my effects processor, sent it
through about 28 or so patches, and logged them meticulously so I'd know
which one to use." A bit tricky. She continued, "I recorded it onto an
ADAT, then recorded the ADAT material back onto the 1/4" analog tape,
turned it over again, and there was my forward speaking parts with a
backward reverb. Also, we had to be sure not to add reverb to those parts
during mixing, or it would counteract the whole effect I worked for."
Michelle has appeared in some video footage and has also done other
recordings. One example is singing a progressive kind of French folk with
an occasional classical / Gregorian twist on an album recorded in Quebec
with artist Normand Gasnier. The CD is being released independently.
Michelle has also done vocal and instrumental work on Greg Hunt's first
two albums, Enter the Oreiente and Hidden Landscapes.
Michelle takes engineering credits for Greg's first three albums and
learned to make bamboo flutes—used on Song Of The Siren—from him as
Michelle has done other recordings with other bands from the past but
these may not be highly accessible to the public anymore. She performed
with the rock and blues band American Flyer doing mostly festivals and
events at the end rather than clubs and bars as they did earlier in their
career. She also provided vocal parts for Jabberwocky
by Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman. Released by Verglas Music in January
1999, it is a keyboard-based prog concept album with an array of guest
vocals. Oliver's father Rick provided the narration used within the album.
A follow-up is in the works.
We asked Michelle to tell us about her 'side' projects. "I sang on
Glass Hammer’s first three albums, Journey of the Dunadan,
Perelandra, and Live and Revisited, Normand Gasnier’s
progressive folk solo album (French, out of Quebec), engineered and
performed on Greg Hunt’s first two albums, had "Solitude" from SOS
included on Empire Music’s The Art Rock Collection, Volume 2,
recorded on Rudi Buttas’ solo album R.U.D.Y.’s Journey (review),
an album by the guitarist for the famous German rock band PUR, which
includes me singing two duets with Mike Sadler from Saga, sang backing
vocals on Jabberwocky (review),
an album by Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman, which includes Rick Wakeman
doing narration, Pete Banks on guitar, Bob Catley and Tracy Hitching on
vocals, and others, Leonardo…The Absolute Man, a rock opera by
Trent Gardner on the Magna Carta label, singing a duet with Steve Walsh
(Kansas) and also singing with James LaBrie (Dream Theater), and am
working on a song for Oliver and Clive’s upcoming project based on The
Hound of the Baskervilles."
Image © 2001
R.U.D.Y.'s Journey. The debut 'solo' album by Rudi Buttas (Pur)
entitled R.U.D.Y.'s Journey (SB Records (Germany) 4019 1 0919919 4,
2001) is comprised of 14 pop-oriented rock tracks. Joined by Michael
Sadler (Saga) and other various artists, the album is extremely well
produced, highly accessible and will naturally attract a broad listener
base. Michelle played early demos of the material to our editors over a
year ago. She sings lead on four of the album's tracks and contributes to
R.U.D.Y.'s Journey opens with the upbeat and rocking "Long Day's
Journey" sung by Michelle Young. We were instantly reminded of her work
with American Flyer. The producers mixed the level of Michelle's vocals
way up so she's out in front where she belongs. Supporting instrumentals
and Michelle's accompanying harmonies work extremely well. Michelle's
soaring 80s rock style drives the texture of the track "Mona." Her power,
range and obviously well-trained style work well against the rocking
Michelle's evocatively sung lead vocal in "Harder Day" includes layers
of backing harmonies and richly produced supporting instrumentals. Various
styles within the song were vocally reminscent of her debut album Song
of the Siren and Marked for Madness. We especially enjoyed
Michelle's duet, vocalise and harmony vocals accompanying Mike Sadler in
the gently rocking ballad "One More Chance." In another ballad entitled
"Peter Pan," Michelle takes the lead, singing in a style similar to her
most recent solo demos, supported this time by Mike Sadler. The lush vocal
arrangement includes a soaring lead and richly produced backing harmony
layers. The two vocalists compliment each other quite well.
Image © Andrea Meister
Sung by Mike Sadler, the album's signature tune "Radio" appears in both
single-edit and a longer version. Upbeat and a highly accessible classic
rock track, it has a tremendous hook and is likely a certain favourite
once it hits the airwaves. Another highly accessible rock track, "Friends"
is similarly arranged for Mike Sadler's vocal lead. Backing harmonies
include contributions from Michelle Young. Other ballads on the album
include the heartfelt "Breath of Life" sung by Mike Sadler, and "Blindman"
sung by David Hanselmann. He also sings the soft and accessible rock tune
R.U.D.Y.'s Journey is a very enjoyable rock album of broad
appeal with vocal contributions from both male and female singers. Certain
highlights for Musical Discoveries' readers are the stunning tracks sung
by Michelle Young. Interested readers will want to watch for live
performances of the project during 2001. Further information, photos and
soundbites are available at Rudi's official website. Available currently
amazon.de (Germany), this album is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and
quite clearly is a must listen!
Leonardo-The Absolute Man. In between Michelle's work on
R.U.D.Y.'s Journey and further sessions on her new album, she
contributed extensively to the Trent Gardner (Magellan) project
Leonardo - The Absolute Man (Magna Carta (USA) MA-9029-2, 2001).
The album is marketed as an "original cast recording" because Gardner
envisions eventually taking the project to the stage as a rock opera.
Gardner said, "it is a mix of cinematic progressive rock, symphonic rock,
progressive pop and progressive metal, graced and articulated by true
classical music and the theatrical scope of state-of-the-art soundtrack or
dramatic stage music."
Michelle plays Leonardo's mother Catarina, a young peasant woman
outcast from DaVinci family life, who is permitted little contact with her
illegitimate child. While her role drifts in and out through the project,
her featured track is the ballad "First Commission," a stunning
multi-tracked duet sung with Steve Walsh (Kansas). Michelle's sweet vocals
effectively blends with orchestral and acoustic arrangements and quite
notably contrasts Steve's part. Michelle's fans will also recognise her
backing vocals which appear throughout the album.
Image © Magna Carta 2001
Michelle's story of 'the making of Leondardo' is actually
riddled with interesting technical details. She told us about it, "When I
was placed in the role of Caterina, I had the option of recording wherever
I wanted. I decided to record in my own studio, since I had a newer ADAT—a
16-/20-bit Alesis LX20—and had borrowed an older black-faced 16-bit Alesis
ADAT unit. Not only did I have 16 tracks to work with, I had my secret
weapon: a 1953 Neumann M49 tube microphone with a Telefunken V72 tube
preamp—a beautiful combination that is perfect for the female voice."
She continued, "I had received the script and the tape from Trent, and
was in pretty close contact with him, wanting to be sure I got everything
just the way he wanted. I spent about ten hours straight doing my vocals,
and excitedly called Trent to play him some on-the-fly mixes over the
phone just to be sure he was happy with it before I sent it off. He was
excited to hear it too, but was in the middle of a project in his own
studio, and asked me to call him the next day to play the impromptu
Things started to go wrong. Michelle told us, "I called the next day
and started trying to do the mixes. But, as fate would have it, my newer
LX20 wigged out. I hadn't moved it, bumped it, or even changed any of the
cables coming out of it; it just started giving error messages. Then, if
it did play something back, it would not play back several of the tracks,
or it would play them a second or two, and then drop out. I freaked. I
couldn't be sure that the 'missing' tracks were still there."
"Trent and I tried to troubleshoot it, but at the end of the day it was
just in need of a repair - it was no good at that point. Now, as if that
wasn't trouble enough, I realized that I had formatted the tape for the
LX20 at 20 bits which is the default setting if you don't hit 'format'
twice, and the older units won't play those tapes. That meant Christmas
Eve I had to call everyone I could think of to find a replacement.
Scheduled to leave for England to work on Marked For Madness in
just three days, I was a nervous wreck, and very desperate! I couldn't
send out the original tapes to Trent without having backups, and I had to
be sure all the tracks were still there and I also needed to make a rough
The album is a testament to the silver lining that concludes the story.
Michelle told us, "I wound up having to buy a new ADAT—a forced upgrade to
my studio—just to get the tapes out the door. The real kicker is that
Trent didn't have immediate access to the newer 20-bit units either, so he
had to resolve the 'compatibility issue' on his end. I learned my lesson:
all my tapes get formatted at 16 bits now!"
Michelle has been working on Marked for Madness for some time
and has had demo material available at mp3.com for well over a year. We
explored the writing process with Michelle at length. She began, "On
MFM, I brought all my current demos of potential material with me
on my second trip to England. Clive and I were going to finish writing the
album we had started writing my first trip over, but before we started I
wanted him to hear some of the things I had been working on for my next
She continued the story, "He started making suggestions, and said 'well
here, let me show you' on one song, and the next thing we knew we were
working on MFM instead of our co-written project, and it was quite
natural and okay. The hardest part was taking my precious creations that
held my ideas, handing them over to the producer's chopping block, where
Clive could take and chop, hack, cut, tear, and mend, glue, and place
everything back together in what he deemed a more "workable" form. Some
songs were transformed more than others, and sometimes it wasn't so
painful. But he and I went round and round so many times. It was truly a
stressful part of the process."
Michelle told us how she felt about this new experience, "I tried my
best to hand the producer's hat to him as quietly and gracefully as
possible, but sometimes it was just too much. At the end of the day,
though, I can look back and say it was worth it! and I'm glad I had
the strength to hand it over. In a way, this is now as much 'our child' as
it is mine. I liken it unto childbirth—there's the conception of the
idea, the gestation period of recording / mixing / mastering,
giving birth—the pressing and then presenting your child to the
world—the album release. You'll be stuck with that child / album
for the rest of your life, so it had better be as good as you can get
"In between two of my trips to England, I wrote 'A Lively Toast' and
'Dancing On The Head Of A Pin.' We had already outlined the song list, and
several songs that were originally the reason MFM was written had
been cut out. There was just too much material." Michelle continued, "I
just had to bring these songs in. I had already told Clive about writing
them, and we both realized that it would be time-consuming to cut more
songs and replace them with these, where he'd have to sequence all the
parts from scratch. All the bass, drums, and guitars would have to be
replaced later by live instruments also. But when he heard them, he agreed
with me that they belonged on the album and we worked them in. After that
Clive's parting warning became, 'No more songs! We've got to move along!'
And, of course, I agreed, but I didn't stop writing." She concluded, "It's
just that the new material I'm currently writing will probably end up on
my next album. Yes, I already have an idea of what I want, and I have
several songs started, but right now I need to concentrate on finishing
Marked for Madness—that is, the artwork, pressing, etc.—and getting
it out to the public. Then I'll start on the next one."
Marked For Madness (Front
Image © Naosha Records 2001
Marked For Madness (Back
Image © Naosha Records
Marked For Madness. Michelle's second album builds significantly
on her debut and is the dedicated culmination of four years' of
international travel and collaboration. The final result, mastered at
Abbey Road Studios in London, is comprised of fifteen cohesively produced
tracks firmly planted in progressive rock but with impressively broad
appeal. Darker in spots than Song of the Siren, effects introduced
on her debut have been carried onto the new recording. A real air of hope
emerges from the most orchestral and symphonic numbers. The album's title
serves equally as its theme, incredibly delivered in words, music and
other acoustic effects. Although samples of the album's very early demos
can be heard at Michelle's mp3.com
website, readers should note that the final production is substantially
While Michelle can still be compared vocally to Kate Bush at times, the
songwriting and instrumental arrangements on Marked For Madness
transport her work a distance from the 80s hit maker into the world of
song-based progressive rock. The dramatic title track that opens the album
is the first to support this assertion, evocatively varying moods with
vocal, instrumental and other effects to deliver the album's message.
Dramatic effects and the stunning guitar solo during the instrumental
bridge clearly separate the project from 'other female vocals' albums—this
is a progressive rock album right from the start.
The album's dramatic theme builds with the hauntingly rocky tune "A
Lively Toast." Layered vocals and instrumental arrangements are as eerie
as progressively rocky with effects and distinctly different keyboard
passages breaking a traditional verse/chorus pattern. Lushly arranged,
blending choral, woodwind sounds and chimes with violin samples, the
dramatically performed "Spider's Thread" also includes tremendous vocal
work, projecting the power and range of the artist's talent. The album's
first instrumental is the brightly produced symphonic number "Hope:
Realization," orchestrally echoing both bright and dark themes heard
elsewhere on the album. The track blends naturally into the everso short
track "First Light" featuring Bobby Kimball's vocals.
Image © Michelle Young 2001
Thunder clap effects underscore Michelle's evocatively soaring vocal
introduction to the rocking keyboards and guitars in "Dancing On The Head
Of A Pin." The dramatic contrast between lead and backing vocal elements
as well as the robust keyboard solos are most notable. Layers of vocals
and eerie cinematic textures perfectly suit the haunting lyrics and richly
produced symphonic passages of "Demons," one of the album's certain
standout and defining tracks. The theatrical style instrumental "Hope: The
Darkest Hour" blends various musical sounds with special effects and
various spoken contributions perfectly suited to introduce the stunning
"Melissa's Demise" that immediately follows. With both rock with jazz
elements, layers of lush vocals join acoustic and electric guitar and
tremendously produced percussion to evoke contrasting emotional responses
corresponding to the song's message.
Michelle's compositional strength is clearly illustrated in the layered
classically oriented instrumental "The Right of Passage," with violin
samples arranged by Clive Nolan. Acoustic guitar and stunning lead vocals
fill "Hope: Encouragement;" backing vocals, choral elements and lushly
arranged symphonic keyboards contribute as the theme develops. "Mystery
Man Summoned" is a theatrically performed number with spooky lyrics
perfectly supported by the dramatic carnival-style instrumental
arrangements, backing vocals and supporting sound effects. A variety of
different spoken vocal contributions begin the track "Pull The Wool" as
crisp finger snapping percussion supports the layered vocal track. A brief
symphonic passage concludes the track.
Marked For Madness begins its conclusion with "Walk In The
Light," a lovely bookend to "First Light" which appears much earlier in
the recording. A cross between sensitively sung ballad and progressive
rocker, this dramatic number builds instrumentally and vocally to a
marvelous symphonic crescendo, before returning to its delicate beginning
and final dramatic conclusion. Layers of stunning vocals are perfectly
complimented by a richly produced arrangement. The album closes with the
everso delicate ballad "Toujours Ensemble" (Always Together). Sung in
English and French the vocal layers perfectly accompanied by acoustic
guitar and piano effectively deliver the theme 'always together in the
music.' This album is most certainly worth not only a trans-Atlantic
journey, but a journey to the moon if necessary—a must listen!
The story of the making of Marked for Madness is one that spans
the globe and several years of hard, extremely dedicated work. Michelle
began, "Doane Perry did his drums in California. I first met Doane in
Baltimore, MD at a Jethro Tull concert I drove up to see. He's a wonderful
man with a very friendly and cordial personality, and he is enthusiastic
about his work. Standing beside me he looks almost like a giant. But he's
a gentle giant that can manhandle the drums to get them to say whatever he
wants. Every real musician that hears his drumwork on my album compliments
his playing—and that says a lot!"
Michelle continued, "Stan Whitaker did his guitar work in Virginia,
where I drove to engineer him. I met him at a ProgDay in North Carolina,
and he was so kind to me there. He moved from California shortly after
that event to reunite and live with one of his Happy The Man bandmates, so
he loaded up his bird and guitars, and set out across the country to
Virginia. He was a studio musician in CA, and after working with him, I
could see why he was in so much demand. The guy picks up music quickly,
and accurately, and plays real melodies instead of substituting arpeggios
for creativity. I was duly impressed!"
Michelle Young and Doane Perry
Michelle Young 2000
"Bobby Kimball did his vocal work in Nashville. I first met Bobby when
I was invited by the Classic Rock All Stars—Mike Pinera/Iron Butterfly,
Blues Image, Peter Rivera/Rare Earth, Jerry Corbetta/Sugarloaf, and Dennis
Noda/Cannibal and the Headhunters—to sing backing vocals for them at a
Riverbend Festival. My band American Flyer had opened for them the
previous year, and they guys really liked my vocals. I had even sang with
them at a performance in Arkansas. So, sometimes Bobby would join them for
a gig, and this happened to be one of those times. I found myself singing
backups on 'Rosanna' and 'Africa,' with a surprise appearance from David
Hungate—what a moment! I was performing songs I had heard on the radio,
with the guys who originally put them there! Bobby and I started talking,
and we decided to do his vocals while he was in Nashville recording on
another project. At the end of the day, it all worked out to where you
hear his distinctive and powerful voice singing Walk in the light!
on 'First Light.'"
"Jon Colston recorded his guitar work in Chattanooga. I first met Jon
at a jam session in a place called The Crosstown Bar and Grill. We walked
across the parking lot to the Wafflehouse afterwards, ate a fine meal, and
proceeded to share musical ideas. Jon is a very talented guitarist who
derives much of his inspiration from Steve Morse. He takes the rock
approach to most of his guitar work, but is capable of creating many moods
on the guitar. Jon is a very generous and dedicated musician, and I wish
him all the best in his own career."
Several of the parts were recorded at Clive Nolan and Karl Groom's Thin
Ice Studios in Surrey, England. Michelle told us more, "Karl Groom doesn't
mind working to get the right sound or approach. If you were to hear his
band's music (Threshold), you'd never know there was such a calm person
behind that guitar!" She continued, "I first met Pete [Banks] when Clive
was compiling his songs for the album Can I Play Something For You?
We got along very well, but I managed to stick my foot in my mouth while
talking with him, and embarrassed myself to the point I had to leave the
room." Michelle continued, "Fortunately, he wasn't offended, and he told
me later that if I ever needed some guitar parts to let him know. How
could I turn down that offer? He brought his new bride on the day of the
recording, and proceeded to lay down some great sounds. He's also a hard
worker, and would do a take until he felt satisfied with it. I'd just
explain what I wanted to hear, and he'd get his mojo working—and voila—we
"Peter Gee (Landmarq) was a part of the Shutteroaks household when I
first arrived, and he's the only one still renting there. Peter is
normally a very quiet person, but if you can strike up a conversation, he
has some very insightful views on life. He was an excellent choice for
bass guitar, and he filled the tracks with just the right amount of
playing—nothing over-played or understated—just right!"
"Clive Nolan also recorded his keyboard tracks and did his arrangements
at Thin Ice. He is one of the most talented people I know, and he can have
great sensitivity—though he wouldn't want to admit it—when dealing with
other musicians. I can't say enough good things about him, so I'll just
say that he is a Godsend to me, and I look forward to working with him as
often as possible in the future." She concluded, "The rest of it was
recorded in England, and it was mastered in England at Abbey Road
Studios." The result is absolutely stunning.
with American Flyer
Image © Michelle Young
This online article currently displays images from the Song of the
Siren artwork, but we'll be adding more from Marked for Madness
once they are finalised. We asked Michelle to tell us all about the making
of the artwork. She told us, "When it came to making the cover for Song
of the Siren, I wanted to get the feel of Botticelli’s "The Birth of
Venus". I hired a local photographer of the highest credentials and
reputation, and we shot against a blue screen, where a computer generated
backdrop could easily be dropped in. I supplied the props…I had the
material that was draped around me left from my own photography studio. I
had to get some people in Florida to send me some conch shells, because I
couldn’t find any here, but I did buy some smaller shells at a local craft
store…heck, I bought about ten baskets full." She continued, "I then
proceeded to sort through them, and picked the finest ones. I wound up
hand painting gold trim meticulously on individual shells of various
shapes and colors…some were used in the photography on the back of the
album, and others I sold as novelty merchandise to go along with the
album. They were so pretty! I still have some left…they may surface yet
Michelle told us about the artwork for Marked for Madness,
"Because the artwork for SOS was so striking, it received much
commentary and many compliments. I knew that for the second album it would
have to be at least as good, if not even better. So, I scoured the
Internet for photographers in Atlanta. I figured that would be a close
enough location that I could get there easily, but it would lend me a
large pool of talent to choose from."
Michelle continued, "I saw several portfolios on the Internet, and
wound up choosing a guy named David Stuart to do the photography. I saw a
certain quality and creativeness in his work that compelled me to work
with him, even though that meant blowing my budget out of the water. We
talked at great length about what I wanted for the cover…to convey
madness, but not like Pat Benetar in a straight jacket. I tried to get him
to watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so he could see the storm/nightgown scene,
and get an idea of what I wanted…movement, and beauty against a moody
background…and with a 'period' feel."
"The day of the shoot came, and we shot for twelve hours. The make-up
artist and the stylist were wonderful ladies, and we all worked together
with the photographer to try to bring our ideas to a visual reality. I was
sort of swept through the day, and by the end I was pretty exhausted…and
in pain from accidentally getting burned while a dress I was wearing got
steamed with me in it. Also, we decided to shoot some of the shots in a
corset, which means I was taped up for the first time in my life.
And…probably the last. When we removed the tape, the stylist and I were
both screaming…she in sympathy for me, because an entire layer of flesh
came off with the tape, and I had a red stripe around my torso for two or
three days. In fact, in a couple of places, more than one layer came off,
and I was left with actual wounds that had to heal. Talking about
suffering for your art!"
In early September 1999 Michelle performed at ProgDay in Chapel Hill,
North Carolina. After a lengthly drive to the event and power nap, she was
invited to play between band performances doing a mini-set that was very
well received. Those in attendance had were blessed with the opportunity
to see and hear Michelle perform live. She used backing tracks to cover
and improvise Tori Amos' "Leather" and "Silent All These Years" and
faithfully reproduced Kate Bush's "Man With The Child In His Eyes.
Concert goers were also treated to a sneak preview of "Spider's Thread"
from the new album. Michelle played keys while singing the stunning ballad
"Glimmer of Light" from Jabberwocky
and an abridged version of another new track entitled "Five's the Limit"
written for but omitted from the current Marked For Madness lineup.
The songs were well received by the audience with "Glimmer" and the covers
receiving lots of positive comments, and there was equally intense
interest in the new album.
Photo Phil Luckey
Image © Naosha Records
We asked Michelle to tell us about her live performances. "If you’ve
only heard my recordings, and not seen a performance then you’re missing
out! I can’t fully relay the energy that is given during a show, but I
totally get into the music, and the audience can see I’m having a good
time, and that makes them have a good time too. I’m a born entertainer,
and a big ham! I love the audience rapport…I’ll look them straight in the
eyes, point to them, wave at them, talk to them, laugh with them, and then
pour my soul out for them…and they appreciate that."
She continued, "When I was playing with American Flyer, that gave me
the opportunity to play various types of music, including some of my
originals. Even if the audience isn’t familiar with the songs, they are so
catchy and well presented that the people inevitably find themselves
tapping their feet, nodding their heads, clapping and even dancing. I’ve
been known to throw total strangers together and make them dance. I've
also lain on my back beside my guitarist playing my bass on stage. I've
jumped around, strutted, and gyrated in high heels, knee high boots, and
American Flag Converse tennis shoes. I’ve lost earrings and hair
accessories because of wild head movement. I’ve dragged people out of the
audience to sing along with me and I’ve even had my guys jumping up and
down on stage at my request. You never know what will happen! You’re just
guaranteed a show, and that, my friends, is entertainment!"
There is currently not a lot of video material available, but Michelle
commented about it for us. "I’ve had some live performances video taped,
especially recently during my 2001 Riverbend Festival appearance. Most of
the time you just get the 'monkey cam,' but I think there’s some good
footage available from this last show. There is also some amateur video
footage circulating out there of me performing with Glass Hammer. The
video we shot of "Kiss Me" will be made available to the public at some
point as well."
Michelle added, "Here’s a challenge for those people who love to be
challenged: somewhere out there, if you can find it, is a promotional
video for The University Of Tennessee At Chattanooga, which was made about
ten or so years ago. I was one of the three featured students. They showed
me playing piano, walking, and eating ice cream—I was their "artsy"
student representation. And also, somewhere in the world is the unfinished
footage we shot for a song off Journey of the Dunadan, where we’re
all dressed in period clothing, and the ladies are skipping through the
forest. I don’t even have a copy of that one!"
We asked Michelle about the impact of the internet on her music and her
career. She told us, "The Internet has been a very important tool for my
career. That’s how Rudi Buttas was able to locate me: his agent sent
inquiries to a company in Chattanooga, and they helped him contact me.
It’s also helped me complete interviews and articles, transfer artwork,
research information, and contact distributors."
She continued, "Another other great thing about it is if I meet someone
and they ask about what I do musically, I can direct them to my site
without having to go over a whole list of projects I’ve been working on.
It also affords them the opportunity to hear some of my music risk-free,
so they can decide if they like the music before they buy an album."
Michelle concluded, "I’ve had a couple of other progressive musicians
contact me via the internet, which opened up the possibility of a working
relationship with them too. Otherwise, I may have never had the
opportunity to speak with them. I’m not sure if I’ll win new fans because
of my site, but it does help me share information in a professional
manner, allowing people to both keep up with my career and contact me at
Michelle Young's latest album Marked For Madness, years in the
making, is certain to propel her to the forefront of female-fronted
progressive music. With a promotional video recorded, improved
distribution arrangements, internet coverage and live performances being
scheduled, Michelle's recordings will gain further exposure. Enthusiasts
of progressive rock and female vocalists alike are certain to be delighted
by her latest recordings, each one a must listen!