Danny Michel is driving through a blizzard to Saskatoon.
“It’s been chilly, but that’s to be expected,” he says. “I find that sometimes shows are a little more special in the winter. Everybody’s cooped up … People are more appreciative. People have come so far in the elements to get there. It makes it a little more cozy and fun.”
If Michel, a Juno and Polaris Prize-nominated indie singer-songwriter from Ontario, seems unfazed by his cross-country winter tour it’s for good reason: he’s been at it for over 20 years.
During those decades he’s led a remarkably interesting career—from moving to Belize to record with The Garifuna Collective to writing an album aboard a Russian ice-breaker while on an Arctic expedition with astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“I’m riding in the car with my cousin and we’ve been talking about the music business and our careers,” Michel says. “I do something like the Belize record and I move on. I don’t tend to look back and relish in that. I’m just like, ‘What’s next?’”
Part of that, he says, is because of how challenging it’s become to make a living as a musician. In November, he wrote a Facebook post on the topic, explaining that, thanks to streaming services, his declining album sales dropped by 95 per cent in 2018.
He listed his song “Purgatory Cove,” a particularly compelling single from his most recent EP, White & Gold, as an example. The song was on CBC Radio 2 and 3’s Top 20 charts for 10 weeks, making its way to No. 3. “In 2018, that equals $44.99 in sales,” he wrote. “I feel like everybody is in a bit of a panic mode,” he says. “It’s hard to sit back and look at the good times because everyone’s trying to figure out how to keep (going).”
After an outpour of interest in the post he updated it. “I’m also getting constant personal notes from musicians (many you know) sharing their stories,” he wrote. “Truthfully, they’re heartbreaking. Some struggling to pay rent, buy food or see a dentist. It’s worse than I suspected. And always hidden. That’s why I decided to reveal MY simple math.”
Michel has never shied away from shedding light on social issues—related to the music industry, environment, education, or struggles in developing countries.
During his stint in Belize he founded The Danny Michel Ocean Academy Fund, raising $82,000 to help fund scholarships for a non-profit community high school in the country.
“I think it’s fun,” he says of supporting various causes. “I love that stuff. How fun is it to raise awareness for an issue and help out? That’s giving back. It’s the right thing to do.”
Michel’s latest focus, though, has been behind the camera. Earlier this month, he released The Circle, a nine-minute film exploring the stunning scenery around his home in Meaford, Ont. (Before you balk at Ontario’s beauty, British Columbians, take a look for yourself at dannymichel.com/videos.)
“It’s something new and challenging I haven’t done before,” he says. “I like to get out of my comfort zone. I don’t enjoy doing the same thing over and over. I’d rather go into the water a little too deep where I can’t touch the bottom.”
While he might have his sights set on pursuing more film work, Michel is also touring heavily from coast-to-coast this winter. He’ll make a stop in Whistler for the Cypress Point Winter Carnival on Sunday, Feb. 17. “I haven’t been there in years,” he says. “I used to play there a lot when I was younger.”
Touring solo this time around, the audience can expect a career-spanning set. “I was joking with a friend today, I’m on day three (of the tour) and I get wiped,” he says. “It’s easier touring by myself. It’s calmer and simpler and I’m not with a big group of people. That makes it relaxed and chill.”
Catch Danny Michel at The Point Artist-Run Centre as part of the Cypress Point Winter Carnival on Sunday, Feb. 17. Activities are taking place throughout the day with Will Ross hitting the stage at 7 p.m. and Michel starting at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for the show or $35 with dinner for adults. Kids 12 and under are $15 for the show and $25 with dinner. Get them at Armchair Books or online at thepointartists.com.