Growing up, music was all around alt-rocker Mike Bankhead. His father was a former drummer who had the skills to pound out complex Rush drumbeats on the steering wheel. Bankhead’s buddies all played instruments, and he found himself at numerous jam sessions where he would learn rudimentary guitar chords and bang on the drums. He was also a passionate poet who studied verse and rhymes schemes. And privately, without even being able to play an instrument, Bankhead wrote his own songs.
“One day, I thought ‘what if I actually learned how to play,'” the Dayton, Ohio-based artist recalls, laughing. “I then thought, ‘why not make my own music?’ It took me a long time to share my songs - it’s only been in the last five years that I’ve thought they were good enough to release.” Since that fateful time, Bankhead has issued a debut, a split album, and, this September, he releases his sophomore record, Anxious Inventions & Fictions.
Bankhead’s music captures the exhilarating era of the 1990s when big hooks, sharp-witted lyrics, and inventive musicianship ruled the airwaves, and left of the dial were genius indie songsmiths a little too clever for prime time, but just as catchy as their mainstream counterparts. We’re talking early Radiohead, Fountains of Wayne, Smashing Pumpkins, Superdrag, Guided By Voices, Pavement, and Archers Of Loaf.
Bankhead is a bassist, singer, and a songwriter, which forms a unique perspective. The bass is typically a supportive instrument, which could limit his approach if he relied solely on it for composition. Instead, Bankhead has branched out and studied music theory, and he has taken piano lessons. This enriched vantage point has opened many possibilities. His songs feature unique chord sequences, non-stock chord voicings, well-developed melodies, and a powerful sense of dynamics. This sophistication is tucked away in hook-laden pop-rock with a dash of artiness. Bankhead’s music is mostly guitar heavy, but he does employ piano for stately indie-rock balladry.
As a natural poet, Bankhead’s lyrics feature refreshing turns of phrases and evocative imagery. For him, writing is cathartic, and, in his lyrics, Bankhead explores heartbreak, self-discovery, spirituality, nostalgia, depression and anxiety, relationships, ruminations on life and the media, everyday living, and themes of love and longing. As a wordsmith, Bankhead counts as influences poets such as Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Lewis Carroll. Though his perspective is literate and learned, his words are accessible and authentic; there is a natural flow to his poetic sensibility that never feels scholastic or forced.
Bankhead released his debut album, Echo in the Crevices, on July 1, 2017 which featured a brace of well-known Dayton musicians. This inaugural release made waves in the creatively vibrant Dayton scene, and, since then, he has issued a split album with The Paint Splats, titled Defacing the Moon, out November 9, 2019, and the solo single, “Little Light,” out May 3, 2019. These releases have earned him local press, podcast appearances, and scene acclaim.
Bankhead’s latest, Anxious Inventions & Fictions, is a peek into his lives, both real and
imagined. “The songs on the album explore the kinds of things I think about when I am up late at night, and I can’t turn off my brain,” Bankhead says with a good-natured laugh. “They are assorted musings on life and my observations on shared human experiences, mostly leaning toward mournful ones.”
The 10-track album is a sharp crystallization of Bankhead’s artistry, the overall collection is maturely cohesive and individual songs boast impactfully concise arrangements. A drum roll is the opening salvo for Anxious Inventions & Fictions, and it aptly introduces the fist-pumper “Your Anthem.” This is one of those soaring alt-rock sing-alongs that is instantly familiar with ear-worm melodies, mountainous hooks, and sweetly emotive vocals. On the majestic indie-ballad, “Insomnia,” Bankhead intimately invites us into his late-night mindscape. Here, Bankhead is evocative and poetic with lyrics like: Head on my pillow, eyes closed in vain/Anxious inventions and fictions run through my brain/Sounds of the neighborhood drive me insane/The dog barking nearby, the grumbling 1:30 train. The song’s depression and nightmarish feelings are elegantly framed with piano, strings, and dreamy harmony vocals.
The crunchy guitars, urgently melodic vocals, and punky pop-smarts of “Promise” recall prime Hüsker Dü. On this track, Bankhead flexes some literary flair vacillating between the two meanings of promise as a declaration of support and as a signifier of potential. His lyrics here are bitingly self-reflective, choice bits include the following: Once you said you thought the world of me/Or was that something you would feign?/Used to think I had ability/Before I poured it down the drain. ""
Anxious Inventions & Fictions is sequenced as it would be experienced on vinyl with a 5-song A Side and a 5-song B Side. The song flow is designed for a top-to-bottom listening experience. Adding to this old-school record aficionado aura is that Bankhead will also be offering a deluxe version - available as a CD - which features a re-imagined tracklist, two additional songs, and alternate mix of the explosive album opener, “Your Anthem.” Interestingly, this version of “Your Anthem” will be featured in the song’s upcoming video. The CD songs not on the digital release will appear as standalone singles on all digital platforms.
Tastemakers in the Dayton scene and beyond are beginning to take note of Bankhead’s gifts as an artist. One particular meaningful moment was when a buddy was in an Uber in California and heard one of Bankhead’s songs playing on the sound system. “It might have been like a scene out of That Thing You Do,” Bankhead says coyly of his reaction to relishing the moment of his music being played on the radio. “When you make art, and you put real emotions out there, it’s an incredible feeling to communicate with others and feel your vantage point is being shared.”
- Lorne Behrman