Worm on a hook
Mike “Smiley Mikey” Sion is a guy with strong opinions, and he has the album to prove it. Sion is a freelance writer—who estimates he has ghostwritten more than 80 books—a single dad, and a lifelong music fan. In early 2007, he began writing songs on an old piano. He had never been a musician before, but, as a music fan, he hadn’t been hearing the kinds of songs he wanted to hear—so he had to write them. This is the most viable reason to write a song: Otherwise you’d never get to hear it.
Sion concocted a “five-point fan revolt manifest” for what he wanted to hear: 1.) Lyrics must be intelligible. 2.) Lyrics must be intelligent ("meaning they must work on multiple levels,” he says). 3.) Melodies must be memorable. 4.) Subjects must not be stale. 5.) Arrangements must not be overproduced.
Noble sentiments all.
After testing his material out at local open mics, Sion went into the studio with veteran local producer Tom Gordon and a stable of local talent, including guitar whiz Ryan Hall, and recorded his album Earworms for Songbirds. An “earworm” is a short melodic phrase that gets lodged in the brain for an extended period of time.
Some of the production choices might not gel with all listeners—overall the sound is kind of middle-of-the-road power pop, but there are a few risky choices in the arrangements, like some wailing backup singers. But Sion’s voice is appealingly amateurish, and, on second listen, the melodies are indeed memorable. After listening to the album two or three times, it’s easy to just read the song titles and instantly recall the melodies. Conveniently, the hooks are usually the title phrases.
The album doesn’t feel like the work of a seasoned songwriter, but the work of an inspired music fan with definite opinions. Sion describes himself as “a fan who invaded a music studio and jumped onstage.”
Sion speaks passionately about the horrors of the music industry: “The problem is that those who live to control have too much power over those who live to create.” But he has real enthusiasm for local music: “There are tremendous music scenes here—I say ‘scenes’ because there are seven or eight distinct communities, with some overlap. But the scenes are vibrant, and there’s a tremendous range of venues.”
He’s dismissive of the classic guitar-drums-bass instrumentation, and claims that what he calls “the Myspace generation"—he has two teenaged sons—has more eclectic taste. One of the most successful choices on the album is the lovely New Orleans-style clarinet played by Dallas Smith on “Ain’t That the Way,” a relationship song that’s easily the best track on the record.
The subjects of the songs range from “2012,” a song about “the latest doomsday fad,” to “Stumble and Fall,” a song Sion describes as being about “the abysmal taste in guys of most straight women under 30.”
Earworms for Songbirds is available at local book and music stores Discology, 190 California Ave.; Sundance Bookstore, 1155 W. Fourth St.; Dharma Books, 11 N. Sierra St.; and Recycled Records, 3344 Kietzke Lane. And Sion says that the record release party, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. at Maytan Music Center, 777 S. Center St., will be memorable.
“Think vaudeville,” he says. There will be audience participation, hula hoop dancers, guest performers and literal (as well as figurative) bells and whistles. And, if that’s not enough, there will be free snacks.