Before playing in the streets Mike had a recording studio in his home down of Tacoma, WA in the USA, a neighbor city of Seattle. Feeling restless and with a will to travel he took off for Europe. Upon returning home he lived briefly in Seattle, through his wanderlust returned two fold.
After traveling through Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia he eventually made his way to Strasbourg, France; there he witnessed a man performing in the streets on a clear winter’s day. In a trance-like state this man played the cello under the winter sun, its warmth radiating on his face. This man eventually became a friend and “mentor” when Mike began busking himself, or playing in the streets. Mike had quit the cello as a young boy, but the sight of this man inspired him to pick up the cello once more. In time the great cathedral of Strasbourg proved to be a nurturing environment for Mike as he embarked on his journey to perform in the streets.
Despite a twenty year hiatus from playing the cello, he quickly found simple rhythms to play under the bridges of Strasbourg, which to him were like the the training wheels of a bike. When he became familiar with performing outdoors and in the public eye he summoned the courage to be at the center of it all. After his first day of truly playing in the streets - when he took his seat before the great cathedral of Strasbourg - his life would never be the same.
Everyday thereafter, there was adventure and always a story of the day. Some of his fondest memories include groups of children dancing, playing late under the moon and stars, jamming with random musicians, improvising with the massive bells of the cathedral, and when a man proposed marriage to his girlfriend just a few steps away from where he was playing.
Where does Wanderstrings come from?
During one summer spent in Freiburg, Germany, Mike decided to tour through the Black Forest by foot. On the way to Konstanz, he constantly saw the sign “Wander-weg,” (the German name for "trail") written everywhere.
Deciding to test his music elsewhere, he set out for Germany, and from his memory came this name, Wanderweg, and somehow the name WanderStrings came to mind. It made sense to have a name that (perhaps) the people would familiarize with. And so, Wanderstrings was born.
How many instruments do you play?
Principally a percussionist, Mike feels the most fluent on the drumset, but also plays the piano, guitar, and the cello. Tackling the challenge of voice and wind instruments is "in the works."
Where have you performed in the streets?
Mike has played in numerous cities. His first time ever busking in the streets was on the Rialto bridge, in Venice. With a paper-mâché mask and a long black cape for carnival he played the small Darbuka drum he was traveling with.
With the cello he has made performances in Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Paris, Geneva, Venice, Vienna, Bucharest, and of course, Strasbourg.
How much do you make on a given day?
Sometimes there are places where people do not tip, but Mike’s philosophy is to always to focus on the music. "It is more important to make a difference and to connect with the people," he says, "one time a woman came up in tears and only gave me a handful of pennies, but the look of empathy in her face was worth more than anything."
People donate money from all around the world, and not just coins, but sodas, beers, pizza and things to eat, polaroids, hand-drawn sketches, you name it. The amount of tip money depends on the weather, the culture, the style of music, and the location. He recommends finding a place that you yourself can feel comfortable, and enjoy playing.
Where is your favorite place to play?
Mike shares a certain bond with Paris, particularly at Montmartre, which he thinks about often when composing music.
How did you start producing music?
Mike began recording music with a small boom-box cassette player in 2002 in his basement while playing the drums along with his friend on guitar. With the help of youtube, and wisdom passed down from the guys working at a local recording studio in his home town of Tacoma, Washington, he slowly advanced from using cassette tapes to a digital 8-track mixer, to 16-tracks, and finally to a portable 4-channel setup that he can travel with.
Producing remains a challenge but with the help and guidance from YouTube he is slowly entering the world of making better sounding music.
What advice would you give to someone who has never performed in the streets?
“Performing in the streets is one of the most liberating things you can do. There’s no expectations and anyone who stops to listen is there for the music.”
There are days when Mike feels intimidated or anxious about performing. "But those are the days that you must play," he says, "because every time I choose to play on those days I always transcend that 'barrier' and find myself loving the day."
“Thing you need to realize,” he says, “is that most people are often so busy that they only have a brief moment to stop and listen. So, even if you don’t have a lot of material to play, that shouldn't stop you from getting out there. A lot of times I find new things to play on the spot, and those are really great moments."
Do the best you can with your performance: feeling the moment out, you must push yourself out of your own comfort zone and connect with those around you... project yourself.
The idea is to experience yourself in the place. Like this, you will experience the your days as unique. "Everyday there is a story, or an adventure when I play," he says.
Music is an art which cannot exist without time, so if you open your heart you will discover many great truths. "Be humble," he adds as a final note, "and give it all you can... you will receive much more than you can imagine. Good luck!”
And I think you'll find that any police that stop you will be as friendly as you treat them! So be good!