THERE WERE quite a few moments during my preliminary interview with Michael Levasseur, the enigmatic songsmith who records and performs under the moniker Michael the Blind, when I felt like he should have been the one writing the article. "The most ridiculous of all musical pursuits might be to imagine, and even go so far as to hope, that other people might want to listen to your original material," says Levasseur. "To then take those songs and ask an audience to pay attention in real time can feel like attempted suicide on some nights."
To run with his appropriately morose analogy, Levasseur has, thank God, survived innumerable suicide attempts. He is an accomplished songwriter and a seasoned veteran of the stage, with three critically acclaimed LPs and over 10 years of craft-honing under his belt. Arguably his best collection of songs yet, Are's and Els is just around the corner. Unfortunately, being great at writing songs hardly ensures any sort of success these days (if it ever did in the first place). Levasseur is making authentic, relatively unadorned art in a musical landscape where people absolutely adore bullshit. But the modicum of fans who show up and sing along make all the hard work and performing to empty houses worth it for Michael the Blind: "Ask anybody who does try, and I think they'll tell you that the first time you hear your own melody being sung by another person is enough to make the difficulty worth it for as long as it takes for that to happen again."
There's a lot that's different about Levasseur's latest. It's less scruffy, more polished, more intricately arranged. A full "rock band" backs Levasseur this time, finally offering older, re-recorded compositions like "Another Circle of Fifths" and "Have It Out" (the best Neutral Milk Hotel song Jeff Mangum never wrote, if you'll forgive the cliché) the treatment they deserve. It's also being released on vinyl by Alder Street Records, an upstart San Francisco label co-founded by Levasseur's friend Rory Carroll.
Although the odds are against him, let's hope this upcoming LP will be Levasseur's breakthrough. He says he'll merely settle for some dancing audience members, however. "Even if they just sway [and] forget it—instant addiction."