Whether his music is being played during some of television’s most popular reality shows or inspiring people in the aftermath of Boston’s worst terrorist attack, singer-songwriter and pianist Jeff Michaels has been entertaining fans with thought-provoking lyrics examining today’s biggest social and political issues while infusing them with his unique brand of humor. Jeff’s dedication to the independent music scene has been a lifelong cause and several of his songs have been licensed to over a dozen television shows, appearing in episodes of The Real World and Teen Moms (MTV) and the T.O. Show (VH1). Jeff was also a member of pop band Luce, whose music appeared on major motion picture soundtracks for How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey) and 13 Going on 30 (Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Andy Serkis)!
I introduced him to California native and Florida resident Ten Two, former frontman of the alt-rock band Still the Sky’s Limit, who is now embarking on his debut solo journey. With so much in common, and yet so incredibly different, these two artists got to talking for our latest installment of Bands Interviewing Bands.
Jeff Michaels: I always like finding similarities with other artists who, at first glance, might seem completely different. The first thing that struck me was that a large part of your bio talks about your name, Ten Two. I love that you came up with a cool way of using your initials from Johnny B, as being the tenth and second letters in the alphabet. How long did it take you to come up this, and did know you it was going to be your new name the moment you did?
Ten Two: You know, I can’t remember the exact moment I came up with the moniker Ten Two, but what I do remember thinking is that I want this project to be as personal as possible, and I also didn’t want a long band name. I knew it was going to only be me and my acoustic guitar (at least to begin with). When it did hit me, I knew it was the name I was going to go with. My previous band, Still The Sky’s Limit, had actually begun as a solo project as well, but I expected that to grow into a full band, so it was a bit of a different mindset going in.
Ten Two: I’m very intrigued by how the relationship with your songwriting partner, Chris Teffner, came about. Being that you two are almost completely across the country from one another, how did that collaborative effort begin?
Jeff Michaels: Completely across country, and nearly complete opposites in musical styles when we first met, it truly is a wonder! Chris is a native of Vermont and we met when I was looking for a guitarist for my band in Boston. He grew up on heavy metal cover bands and I had my doubts he would like my mild piano rock, but he stepped into rehearsal and the moment we met him, we knew he was something special. I was bummed when he moved away, but we’ve actually done more working back and forth than we managed to accomplish when he lived nearby!
Jeff Michaels: Similar to myself, you’ve moved from California to the East Coast. Have you been in the music scene down in Florida long enough to say how it compares to the scene in Orange County, CA?
Ten Two: For me, growing up in Orange County, California, there was absolutely zero music scene in terms of my style of music. I grew up adoring the sounds of New Jersey and New York for the most part, centered really in the feel of bands like Taking Back Sunday and The Early November. Sprinkle in Dashboard Confessional and that about sums up my adolescent music enlightenment.
Orange County is (or at least was) extremely centered in the Hardcore scene; which just isn’t my go-to style of music. We’d have to drive to San Diego, which is about an hour and a half south from where we grew up, to find a scene somewhat conducive to our tastes. But what happened is we were given the opportunity to tour across the country, and when we arrived in Orlando we found that there were quite a few bands similar in style to us, and a ton of producers that specialized in the very same. So, when I was offered the opportunity to move to Orlando, my immediate thought was it would be a perfect location to finally have a true shot at jumping into a music scene that is what I’ve grown up enjoying. Definitely two drastically different focuses in Orlando, Florida and Orange County, California.
Ten Two: You make a new holiday single every year. Was that a conscious effort, did you know you would continue releasing one each subsequent year from the start, or did it just happen organically and built upon itself?
Jeff Michaels: Not at all. This was actually an idea my dad had years ago, and I struggled for many years to write a holiday song. They aren’t easy, if you’ve ever tried! There is so much clichéd holiday music, and I wanted to try and write something really cool, like “Father Christmas” by the Kinks. The first holiday song I released was “Too Cold for Santa,” in 2012, which I thought was great, yet my wife told me was far too depressing for the holidays. I managed to write a new one each of the last few years, and think I’ve finally gotten the one I wanted in this year’s release, “It’s Been a Long Time, Christmas.”
Jeff Michaels: In deciding to start your new project, Ten Two, you mention the decision involved an “end of days in the realm of performing music.” Why is this? Did you not think you would ever front a band with your new project?
Ten Two: The decision was really to either put music behind me or continue moving forward. I had played a very long time in bands that never had any sort of traction, granted Still The Sky’s Limit was by far the best and closest to gaining traction. The decision to continue on was a very easy choice to make, because I just love writing, performing, recording, sharing, and experiencing everything there is within the realm of music and creative expression. I just knew it would once again be a great challenge, but I also knew I was more than ready for it.
Ten Two: I can see the Dave Matthews influence in your former pop band Luce. What was the catalyst that saw you branch off from the band?
Jeff Michaels: Man, that’s a great question for many reasons! Luce was my first professional gig as a keyboardist, and I always thought they could’ve gone into even more of a DMB sound. They ended up replacing me after our very first cross-country tour with a trumpet player who also played keyboards, so it was really an economy of scale. I was also working on my own material at the time, so it was a natural progression which lead to forming my own band.
Jeff Michaels: Your new album Forth is coming out January 5th. Can we expect a tour and more from Ten Two in 2018?
Ten Two: There will be at least four different music videos to accompany the album. One is ready so far, just waiting for a proper release of it, and the three others will be filmed at the end of December. I would love to tour; it’s my favorite thing to do in the world. I just have to figure out the logistics of it, but definitely will be playing shows locally until I can figure out the touring.
Ten Two: it’s been a great pleasure learning about your musical journey, Jeff. I’m definitely going to be keeping up with all that comes from your neck of the woods going forward! What’s next for you?
Jeff Michaels: I’ve written a new album that I am just starting production on shortly that will hopefully be out next spring. As mentioned, I’m getting away from my band sound and really peeling back the layers to see what I can accomplish with songwriting when it’s naked and raw and right there in front of you. I’m hoping this album leads to some new performing opportunities. I’d love to tour Europe and play house concerts, so if anyone is reading this and interested, hit us up!
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Jeff Michaels (left) photo credit: Julie Young. Ten Two (right) photo credit: Ramses Ochoa