Singer-songwriter and band leader Mike Strauss recently released his fifth album, “Crooked Heart.” A stay-at-home father of two, Strauss covers similar territory to Tom Waits and Mark Knopfler, with deep, gruff vocals and matter-of-fact delivery. Strauss plays regularly at Comet Grill in Dilworth and at Cotswold’s Pizza Peel. Courtney Devores, Correspondent
Q. What’s your approach to writing songs for the band and for this record? My songs they’re sort of like skeletons. We can play them faster or slower, longer or shorter. That’s how I make records. I never labored over anything like this has to be the definitive version. Even the words. It’s more like this is a snapshot of this moment.
Q. How did you develop your identity and voice? At some point I did realize the most valuable thing is to be yourself and not try to imitate somebody. That came through in my Stevie Ray Vaughan phase. I was so into him. My goal was to sound exactly like him. After he died, I backed away. I realized I’ve got to figure out where I am in this whole thing.
Q. What informed your development as a lyricist? Tom Waits – he used the word “tarantella” in three songs. I could see then you’re kind of revisiting (the same idea) from other angles. That was important to me – Wow, the pressure is off a little bit. You don’t have to invent new words or anything.
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Q. The album sounds very organic and natural without much digital manipulation. What’s your process? To me part of it is you come back to it and (ask yourself) how did that go? I don’t remember. It goes back to the thing my philosophy teacher said. Oh, this is how it goes now. I read a thing with Nick Lowe one time. He said he writes a song and then he treats them like they’re somebody else’s songs, meaning not being precious about these things. I like using technology in the editing part. A lot of stuff for me is reduction. I look at it as a big stone and you carve it away instead of adding stuff.
Q. Where does the band come in? I’ve never been someone like a Lenny Kravitz who can say, “Here’s the whole (song).” To me it’s all about you get the water boiling. You write the song and get the band together. No one sits down and learns anything. We get together and I’ll say let’s do that one. And we’ll just start playing.