‘Unsigned Act Of The Week’: Interview With Mike Nisbet

Scottish Troubadour, Mike Nisbet, tells emotive and meaningful stories of love, waywardness and nostalgia through wonderfully smooth bluesy ballads that soothe and mesmerise. With touches of traditional folk and rootsy Americana, Nisbet’s music possesses a timeless beauty that anyone with ears should take a moment to listen to. His debut album, ‘Vagrant’, was released in 2010 and received acclaim from the likes of Radio 2’s Dermot O’ Leary and BBC6 Introducing’s Tom Robinson.

In the run up to his biggest headline show to date at London’s Surya, Mari Lane asks Mike a few questions:

Being so far from home, down here in London, do you miss the Scottish countryside?

Hugely, I’ve been having a recurring dream where I’m swimming in the sea off the West coast of Scotland, early morning, cold as hell and bloody peaceful. I guess most people feel a bit disjointed when they move to a big city, especially London. But the benefits of this city outweigh the desire to be in the middle of nowhere right now.

I understand you’ve been playing music for a long time, what made you decide to be a musician? Can you remember your first gig?

My first ever gig was in the Oban sports centre: some local legends had built a skate park over the tennis courts, and to celebrate the culture change they hired a huge P.A and put on a show. Along with how I guess most people get into it, I sung and played guitar with my band, we rocked many Blink-182 covers and even a Green Day one if my memory serves me correctly. I think I got into the idea of being a musician because it looked like a bloody good time. Could make a whole load of money, travel the world, get a girlfriend, glory. But we soon found out that was a load of shite and by then we’d fallen in love with the actual music, and creating ‘Art’.

You’ve recently been compared to the likes of Jeff Buckley (by me…) – who would you say are your main musical influences?

I’m not sure how Jeff would feel about that one! The stuff that really caught my attention was blues and folk, the songwriting of Bob Dylan still gets me, every day. I’m not really sure why but that ‘one man and a guitar’ thing I find the best, one man and anything, or woman… A lyric, instrument and voice, those three together and I’m there.

You write some very poetic and emotive lyrics, what inspires you?

Trying to recreate the feeling you get from another song, not in a copycat way, but that feeling when a song connects to you, puts you in your place – I love chasing that down. If someone can make me feel like that, maybe I can make someone else feel similarly, or connect with them, inspire them. I think that is all I can hope for. So, whenever I’m writing I’m thinking about that line of communication. Things that can say as much as possible with as little as possible, that’s the target.

Well, I think you certainly succeed in connecting with your audience – I’ve always found you completely captivating when seeing you sing live! But do you find it daunting performing solo? And, if so, how do you tend to overcome your nerves?

It’s not too daunting, it’s what I really love to do so the excitement usually wins out. I do get nervous, wanting to put on a good show, do my best to connect to everyone… But a few pints tends to help with that! It’s also kinda weird having done it for so long that I feel more uneasy when I haven’t performed for a while!

Vagrant (released 2011) is a fantastic debut album, do you plan to release another one soon?

Plans are afoot! As many a musician in the modern day knows, it’s such an expensive pursuit that it’s thin on the financial kick back these days, so raising funds has taken a while. Also I really, really, really wanted to make sure that whatever I did again for a new record was going to be different and an actual progression. I really like Vagrant and am very proud of it, but I don’t want to make it again. So playing, learning, writing, living has come before recording lately.

What has been your highlight of being a musician so far?

Finding out that people liked ‘Vagrant’ after working on it for a couple years. It all happened in a very secluded way, fearing it might be an actual pile of shit, only about four people ever heard most of the songs: myself, Marcus MacKay who produced the record (and without whom it wouldn’t exist) and a couple of mates. Finding out that even one person reacted to it in a real way made it for me. I hope I can do it again, but that is a damn good highlight for me.

You’re soon going to be playing your biggest headlining show to date, at Surya in London (9th October) – how excited are you? And what can people expect from the performance?

Yeah, really looking forward to it, I’ve been thinking about doing a show like this for a while now, and it just feels like the right time, first London headline as you say. I guess people can expect to see one man and a guitar, but they’ll hear something exciting, something that might catch in their head. It’s going to be honest, gonna be blues, gonna be folk, gonna be a few beers.

Sounds like my kind of night! What are you listening to a lot of at the moment? Any new bands/singers that you like the sound of?

My friend Sonny turned me onto Lightning Hopkins a few months back and I’ve not been able to turn it off since. Also, Father John Misty has been on heavy rotation – ‘Fear Fun’ was a total game changer as far as I’m concerned. The beautiful duo that is Cosmo House have been rockin all over town, they’ll be playing support at Surya, a must to check out!

Thanks so much for answering my questions, see you at Surya! Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Everyone and their moms, dads, sisters, cat & dogs should come to Surya on the 9th October!

Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.