Mike Bustamante has released Still Reads Like Poetry. He is off to the Garden State and this is his last album before he goes and a goodbye to Cincinnati.
You have been such a staple of the music scene in Cincinnati for so long, why to end it now?
I don’t know about a staple, more like a thorn in the side. I definitely have had my share of moments throughout the last 7 years but when I look back, I realize I’ve learned HOW to do this from so many talented and inspiring people in this city.
I started my journey with a band in Northside called The Lovers. I think two months after I moved here we were opening for The Almighty Get Down at 20th Century Theatre. At that point, in my head, I was like, “Of course I should be playing in theaters.” But looking back I realize how blessed I was for that opportunity which showed me the purpose that my life was supposed to take.
I bounced around and played with a few bands. At first an original jam band I was in called Moselle really started to gain some traction in the jam scene and I was happy to be apart of that vibe but I’ve always loved songcraft and songwriters and storytelling. So, unfortunately in my learning and naiveté, I missed opportunities to express myself that way. But you live and learn I guess.
Cincinnati is the first place that I’ve been a full-time musician and it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized how lucky I am. I haven’t had a boss or an alarm clock in 7 years and I think that that is pretty cool. Especially for all of us non-conformists. But ending it now comes on the heels of two years of absolute loss and tribulation. Life happened to me. Well I happened to life more accurately. My self-destructive side reared its head and I began to take for granted all the love and beauty in my life. But I needed to. I needed to suffer and understand that my life is my own and that my mind and ego are not controlling this ship. Going home is a chance to be nearer to family and to readjust with a new mindset. I’ll finally be able to implement the things I’ve learned along the way but with a support system of family in place. I’m equal parts terrified and excited for this new chapter and I have so much that I owe to the musicians and creatives in this town.
What have been a few great moments of being a part of the Cincinnati Music Scene?
Jeez, there are a lot. So many of them don’t include music though. At least directly.
The Lovers had some great late-night hangs after shows in Northside. Nights where you laugh until it hurts and you head home at 4am. But the camaraderie in those moments has always been a drug for me. It’s what makes this worth it. Like-minded people sharing their brilliance with you always makes you want to work hard. There is a lot of brilliant and unique people in the city and as someone who’s always been an outsider, I urge the folks that remain to never take that for granted.
Moselle releasing Volcano, an album and movie at the end of 2022 was extremely bittersweet for me. It was a true labor of love and the guys in that band will always mean a lot to me. The night of the release, I was in a particularly peculiar pickle and I woke up the next morning(afternoon) and realized I needed to make a change in my lifestyle. But seeing how much fun everyone had at the premiere at Mariemont Theatre was really eye-opening for me.
An event band I worked with for years called Dat Band put on a Prince Tribute show on the 7th anniversary of his death in April 2023. That entire experience was very powerful for me. Diving into one persons catalog to learn and internalize material with a group of people is an extreme character test. You need to drop the ego and understand that even if you don’t love everything you’re doing or the others in the band don’t, it’s all for one and one for all. That was a special night and my last gig in the area was actually a replay of that show on the night before Thanksgiving, The Last Waltz I guess? Haha. That was a really special night. Anybody who knows me or has seen me live will tell you. I like the more than occasional looooong guitar solo. Getting to the solo in Purple Rain was poignant for me as it was likely the last time I’ll play that song with those guys and that whole record means a lot to me and the chance to stretch out at the end really hit while it was happening. I’m grateful for Dat Band for keeping me sane and paid through my turmoil. I was fairly unlovable for a while there.
February 1st 2020, My first gig with Veronica Grim. She hosted Aussie Aid at The Southgate House and it was a blistering set. Anybody who has seen Veronica Grim in that incarnation or our current one knows that there is something otherworldly about our chemistry on stage and in my previous mindset I used to try to understand or control it and I’ve learned to just be grateful for it. I love her so much, her energy, her voice, her songwriting and her friendship have been a life vest for me ever since we started working together. She is non-judgmental and an amazing listener and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. That entire band is filled with the best people on earth. John Campbell is a powerhouse player, an encyclopedia of music, funny as hell and the kindest soul ever. Daniel Espinoza is the best drummer and guitar player in our band and you’d never know it. He is an amazing band mate and another person who can make you laugh your ass off in any situation. Being in a band with him as a drummer was fun, but as a guitar player he’s been the other half of the sound we needed and it’s made what I did in that band make so much more sense. He’s also a great songwriter and singer as well. Nathan Hickey and I took to each other like moths to a flame. We have the same personality, we fight and love like brothers and him stepping in and playing drums for us was like a spark of insanity. I’ll miss this band for the rest of my life and look forward to reunion shows in the future. Recording our album Chaos Magic at Mike’s Music with Elton Clifton was a huge music highlight for me. Our second release is an EP that we did with Ryan Mallot of 500 Miles to Memphis and working with him was a true honor. I could go on about favorite moments with this band because they truly propped up my heart when I needed it most and I’ll forever be indebted to all of them for that. I just hope I brought a tiny spark of joy to their lives as they did mine.
I’ve played venues from 20th Century, MegaCorp Pavilion, on the banks of both sides of the river. Small clubs like the Comet or Mansion Hill Tavern. Legendary places like The Southgate House Revival and Northside Tavern. Each of them has a charm and a nuance that makes a lot of this worth while. The people you get to know at each venue, the load ins, the load outs. Those are the moments I look back on a lot. Talking with an out of town band in the parking lot about everything under the sun. We who do this are blessed on an entirely different level than most. We not only get to express ourselves but we get to be surrounded by others who are trying their best to express themselves and in recent months and years I’ve thankfully started to truly understand what a responsibility that is and how serious we need to take it. We are healers and when we need to heal ourselves most, music is the perfect anecdote for the poisons in life. By uplifting others, we uplift ourselves to a higher consciousness. I truly believe that.
What does this Still Reads Like Poetry mean to you and what’s next for Mike Bustamante?
Well, this is the divorce album that nobody asked for haha. It’s my Blood on the Tracks or Blue or Wildflowers. While I wasn’t legally married, I ended a long-term relationship, sold my house, lost an entire friend group and essentially divorced myself for a long time from accountability, reality and truth. I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing and hurting people that didn’t deserve it. My ego was out of control and my mental health was in the toilet. Then I thankfully had a spiritual awakening, I’ve slowly been awakening since my second album The Stars are Where You Sleep, though I didn’t know it at the time. I heard one of those songs a year after it came out and realized that I was talking about things that I was gonna be going through in the coming year. I was disenchanted with life, with myself, with my friendships and I needed out of the hole I dug myself in.
Half of the songs are about that and/or my isolation from the world for a period of time while I went through it. The other half, songs like "Love Never Ends," "Tell Her in the Sunshine," "Hey Little Warrior" are about a specific girl that I was seeing whose father tragically passed away. I was with her when it happened and I can’t imagine the shock and pain. I wrote all those songs for both of us to cope. Mainly because I didn’t know how else to express to her that I was there for her. But I also believe if you zoom out the character of a little girl or boy lost is the theme of this whole record.
I was listening to Nebraska by Springsteen a lot and decided at first I was gonna record something similar. Demos with two SM-57s, some slap back echo and sparse instrumentation. While I don’t think it’s on Nebraska’s level, I do think I captured a mood in the demos that I was never able to recreate. So what you hear is essentially me in a room with a guitar, 1st or 2nd take of each song, a little out of tune and out of time but full of emotion and soul. After the vibe hit me I started adding some keyboards and other guitars but nothing crazy. Which is weird if you listen to my other stuff because I have a tendency to over indulge. I suppose that’s the idea of this one. I finally learned in my life that all of that overindulgence and ego and perfectionism is worthless. All I can do is bear my soul on the line and hope it touches someone in some way.
What’s next for me is interesting, I’ll be in New Jersey, close to New York and I’m likely going to hit the ground running trying to get into a bunch of the thriving scenes out there. I’ll also teach lessons as much as I could. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve taught guitar for 7 years at Loveland Music Academy and I couldn’t be more grateful to Linda Bergholz and Aaron O’Keefe up there. They allowed me to figure out what the hell I was trying to do and have helped me pay the mortgage for a long time by continuously sending me students, leads to private gigs and families who wanted music in their lives.
My students as well, some of them have been with me the entire time. I’ve seen them grow and whether they know it or not, they’ve helped me grow as well. I’ve truly found a passion for teaching music. I always sort of understood it was there but never really grasped it until I saw that first student go from basic chords to playing leads. That job changed me for the better and I’m so grateful to them for everything.
Also CincyMusic, Courtney, Jared, Whitney, everyone else. Thank you for doing features on my music and the projects I’ve been involved with the last few years. I’m figuring the solo artist stuff out as I go and I'm grateful to have an avenue to share my insanity. I appreciate all the notoriety and kindness. This is a true blessing for our music community and I’m blessed to be a part of it. Thank You again.
Finally to all the venues, clubs, parks, outdoor stages, bars, theaters, bands, musicians, singers and producers that I have had the pleasure of getting to know and working alongside. You’ve helped get me out of my shell and understand that the truest purpose of an artist is to create and to be true to their creation regardless of what anyone has to say. Nobody who doesn’t do this will ever understand the need deep down to have to create something. I wish everyone in this city nothing but love and good fortune and I can’t wait to comeback and visit. Thank You for accepting me, Thank You for listening.
Mike Bustamante's Still Reads Like Poetry is available NOW on all streaming platforms.
*All photos (aside from album cover) credit to Jared Bowers