Bach Mai collaborates to find voice

Photo Courtesy of The Gateway
Photo Courtesy of The Gateway

Kelly Langin

Pursuing two majors at once is often more than enough for most University of Nebraska at Omaha students to handle. But simultaneously following a passion for music and performing while completing a double major is exactly what Omaha musician Mike Mai calls a daily routine.

UNO student Mai performs under Bach Mai, which is actually his birth name. While drawing inspiration from pop punk outfit Say Anything’s Max Bemis to singer-songwriters Damien Rice and Julia Nunes, Mai started dreaming of performing as a teen.

“I wanted to perform in high school, but I didn’t think I had the means because I hadn’t written anything until college,” Mai said. “I didn’t feel comfortable enough with going out and sharing my music for various reasons…like not having that much experience.”

Mai started at UNO with a plan to obtain a music education degree as a “safe choice,” though soon found that’s “never really the mentality you should go into a music degree with.”

Mai eventually switched to a more comfortable program for him – a double-major in music entrepreneurship and marketing. He said this will hopefully benefit him to “market” himself as he continues to pursue a career in music.

To gain more experience singing live, Mai said he busked in the Old Market for “self-made” performances and eventually branched out to asking various coffee shops around the city if he could perform there.

Mai’s friend and local musician Charlie Alley played in several Omaha venues, he said, which led to more gigs for Mai. As Mai played more gigs with Alley, he started to meet other performers in Alley’s circle and play their gigs.

Mai remembered the first time he was asked to play a “big” venue show by Omaha indie band Lot Walks’ Nate Jensen. This led to a set at Slowdown opening for Lot Walks when Mai was in the Omaha indie pop band Wild Youth.

Mike Mai pursues both a double major at UNO and his dreams of performing indie rock music.

Mai credits introducing himself to other performers to create a web of other performers to play gigs and collaborate with. The easiest way to approach a new musician he enjoys, Mike said, is to ask them to play a cover with him for an ongoing video series.

“I always made it a point to try to get to know anyone I met, which at some point can result in sort of shallow relationships,” Mai said. “But at the same time, it more often than not results in a longer network of people.”

Every Tuesday, Mai posts a new cover on YouTube that often feature different Nebraskan musicians and singers that he meets through shows and open mics. The covers range from anything from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie. Mai pointed out that although the YouTube covers are not as important as recording his original songs, consistency is important in putting yourself out there as an artist.

Mai said besides being a great ice-breaker for approaching new mu-sicians, the cover videos are also a great outreach for potential new fans. Mai said he understands not everyone looks to the Internet for original songs, and sometimes people gravitate toward a fresh take on songs they know they like.
Mai’s recent recorded effort, a three-song EP titled “Feeling This Low,” was released last December. Each of the songs have something in common: carefree, folky pop instrumentation masking somber lyrics of love lost and post-breakup agony.

The first song, “Flirtation Fleeting,” introduces a carefree, folk intro, interrupted by the sobering first words, “I’m watching the world fall apart.” The song continues to shuttles into the delicate harmonies of Mai and vocalist Angeline Kay above roving percussion.

The title track has a masterful structure of fitting seemingly two different tracks into one go. The beginning arrangement is sweet but gloomy as Mai explores being the bad guy in a situation.

Suddenly, an abrupt change in tempo introduces us to the second part. A fast-paced recount of acknowledging bad memories is accompanied by a melancholy string section. The first arrangement sneaks back at the end, where Mai quietly apologizes to the subject of the song.

“Rinse. Wince. Repeat.” sounds just as whimsical as the title of the song, but the lyrics again tug at the heart. The “rinsing” appears to point to drinking to get over a bad situation, and reminiscing the memories brings about the “wincing.”

Mai said recording the EP while pursuing a double major was a “pain,” especially because the record was largely a collaborative ef-fort. He said he recorded the guitar and his vocals first and spent two to three months picking up other musicians to play the other parts. Some of the collaborators on the EP include UNO students Joshua von Kampen, Chris Spurgin and Michael Stevens.

Mai said his next move is to record an album with Omaha-based Make Believe Recordings, but the strings parts and other components of the songs need to be solidified first. Mai said he has no shows slated up because he’s focusing on recording and finding musicians to record with him.

“Finding people that are talented is easy, but talented and free is impos-sible,” Mai said. “Everyone is busy, especially in Omaha, and especially strings players because it’s easy for them to find gigs.”

Mai said the biggest difficulty with balancing music and school is finding the time to complete the “billion” projects – like finding collaborators and mapping out songs for recording – and balancing that with the “time-consuming” nature and frustration of school group projects. Mai said he mainly prioritizes gigs over school.

“There’s a certain point where you have to find a balance or just accept the imbalance,” Mai said.
Mai said prioritizing his studies with his music is just like other stu-dents who have to work with an art outside of their major. Selecting art over school can be stressful because it often takes weeks or months to finish a project, but school assignment deadlines come up faster.

“With school, you put in a few weeks and already this big project with this group of people is due,” Mai said. “As if you don’t have anything else going on in your life, right?”

Bach Mai music, lyrics, news and more are found at bachmaimusic. com, and the YouTube covers are found under the Bach Mai account.