Michelle Armstrong
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Michelle Armstrong

Band Folk Singer/Songwriter

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"Singer Finds her Focus. . ."

She has a bubbly personality that oozes with optimism and a warm smile that speaks of her sincerity. She's the kind of person you feel like you already know the moment you meet her.

It's the same impression you get listening to her music, a blend of Armstrong's airy vocals and pleasant melodies with simple acoustic guitar chords. Performing under the name Mi, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter creates a sound that's pure with a vocal range that matches Vonda Shephard , Paula Cole and, at times, Sarah McLachlan. It was McLachlan's album "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy" that inspired Mi to start songwriting and playing guitar seven years ago.

Mi, a native of Southern California, recently moved to Winston-Salem to be with her fiancé, a student at the N.C. School of the Arts, but also to take another stab at pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter. It's a dream she has been following for the past seven years, and it's a dream she can't stop chasing.

"It's still in me to be a songwriter," said Mi as she sipped her iced latte at Morning Dew coffee house in Winston-Salem.

Mi tried to make a go of her career in Los Angeles. She quit college and started performing solo shows on the Sunset Strip at age 18. But she quickly learned that the only way she would make it in the industry was to focus more on her image and less on her music - at least, that's what producers told her.

She struggled for a few years to build a fan base in Los Angeles, but ultimately it was her friends and family who attended the majority of her shows.

"In L.A., you are completely lost," she said. "You're dreaming more than you're actually performing."

Mi left Los Angeles disenchanted. She wanted to create music for herself but feared that if she stayed in Los Angeles, she would lose sight of what she believed. But all that changed in the beginning of 2005 when she came to Winston-Salem and performed at The Garage. It's there that she met Richard Upchurch, a Winston-Salem native and member of The Emma Gibbs Band. He saw Mi perform and wanted to record and produce her album "Lemons."

The album features a group of talented local musicians, including Andy Mabe on stand-up bass, Drew Cannon on electric guitar, Evan Richey on cello and Troy Pierce on drums. Together, they produced an album that's warm and lush with Mi's pleasant melodies and gentle strumming. Within three months of releasing "Lemons," Mi sold 500 copies of the album.

"It's an accomplishment to me," she said. "It was verification that I can be a musician. It helped solidify it for me."

The small taste she got of Winston-Salem's music scene inspired Mi to move there and focus on her music career. And so far, being surrounded by so many talented musicians has motivated her. She says she's continually blown away by the musicians in Winston-Salem.

"The art out here is so pure and untouched," she said. "It feels good here."

That doesn't mean that Mi still doesn't get frustrated with the progress of her career. She has tried to put down her guitar several times during the past seven years, but it refuses to be abandoned.

"Every time I try to stop, I'll get upset and cry and cry and cry, but I can't get away from it," she says.

"You go through withdrawal. It's like a journal. I don't know what others do to get their emotions out. That's my fix."

Mi's songs tends to focus on relationship pains but without the earnestness you typically find in the singer-songwriter genre. Instead, her songwriting is reflective, sentimental and soothing:

"I am still stuck in you when you're not around.

"I can smell you in the midnight air.

"I will love you whether not you're here."

And, for the most part, her music is upbeat.

"When I try to be sad, it turns into a cheesy message," she says, laughing. "I was raised in a very healthy, moral household. It's important that I bring optimism for generations who are lacking in a spiritual or loving environment."

When Mi was younger, she thought she was going to be the next Whitney Houston, she said. With Mi's spirit, drive and talent, she has the potential to make the career she has dreamed of really happen. It just takes patience.

"I hate being patient," she said as she giggled. "That's been the hardest thing. It drives me crazy.

"But I feel closer to it. I think I'm getting there." - Carla Kuinski of GO TRIAD


"Michelle Armstrong, "Apples""

Michelle Armstrong’s most recent release, “Apples,” showcases the beauty and versatility of her strong, commanding voice. Starting off in a sultry alto range, she quickly switches to a faster melody, her notes gracefully dancing through a sweet, higher timbre. Wasting no time, she jumps straight into a catchy chorus, topping the song off with a smooth, almost scat-like passage. Her voice exudes confidence, its pleasantly powerful delivery engaging listeners from the very beginning.

The songs on “Apples” range from upbeat pop tunes to electronic driven numbers hearkening The Eurythmics to slower, sadder ballads. Her talent shines on these slower tracks, demonstrating her wide range and ability to not only control exact pitches but also master the subtle flourishes and transitions within a song. Overall, the album has a polished feel, at times seeming too glossy but still appropriate, and her voice never falters. But the biggest downfall is her backup band. Though they are clearly talented and nicely frame and support her voice, they don’t live up to her energy. Armstrong’s passion is obvious in just one passage, while the band seems to be merely playing.

However, song “Back to the Beginning” throws any of this criticism out the window. The tasteful and intricate percussive fills mix beautifully and eerily with the deep, earthy cello phrases, and the higher ranged violins and back up vocals add another level to this already layered tune. Armstrong’s voice is sexy and honest, flowing through what should be difficult sections with ease.

Other tracks feature a singing style similar to Joni Mitchell's, where the vocals take their own, rhythmic pattern rather than following every beat. “Love Coming Out,” a quintessential folk song, is a perfect example of this. Amrstrong experiments with various techniques while still retaining extreme accessibility, knowing her music so well that each change in delivery is exactly what the song wanted.

Overall, “Apples” catches Armstrong’s talent and charm, which comes out so endearingly at live shows, but doesn’t pop with the same energy of her performances. Yes, capturing one’s live aura on any recording is an almost impossible task, but with a little more umph from the band, they just might succeed. Michelle Armstrong is definitely an upcoming artist to watch, and a must-see for any folk rocker. - Knocks From the Underground


"Spike Hill Show"

Next up was Michelle Armstrong, a spunky guitarist/singer with a powerful, smooth voice. The upbeat cheer that ran through her poppy yet complicated melodies got some people dancing, and her honest, funny lyrics had everyone laughing. She reminded one of an enthusiastic actress from Broadway, but with style and a knack for being cool.


- Becky Firesheets


Discography

Lemons- 2005 Full Album
Apples- 2008 Full Album

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Bio

I have not stopped singing since I was 5, taking private vocal lessons, and starring in Civic Light Opera Theater Productions. I eventually made my way in to song writing around 14 when I picked up a guitar. After high school I became serious about my craft, and have not looked back. I established myself as a musician in LA by writing and recording with reputable
producers and gigging Sunset and around Southern California. Now, I have performed around the country and am only more and more excited about my opportunities. I have released two albums and am working on a third. I am often compared to, and am happily influenced by the skill of Patty Griffin. My songwriting is intricate, reaching every corner of emotion through epic melodies. My vocal range is big and trained, which allows me to convey passion in my music. Recently I wrote the score for an off-off Broadway Play, "The Things I Wish My Mother Would Have Told Me" which received wonderful reviews. My music is also gaining the attention from Film and TV land! I just finished the recording of 7 music videos which will be released soon- and am beginning the recording of a third album. Music is a gift to give, and I am overwhelmingly grateful it is my tool for surviving and for providing to this World!