mike ward: psychosongs

mike ward: psychosongs

Detroit, Michigan, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF

Detroit, Michigan, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2016
Solo Americana Singer/Songwriter





Detroit-area singer/songwriter Mike Ward’s humanistic approach to lyricism salvages a brightness from heavyhearted subject matter. He’s premiering a new music video for the second single from his forthcoming album; proceeds will benefit nonprofit organizations assisting those experiencing homelessness.

To a degree, you could say that the songs on Mike Ward’s forthcoming album are pared back, and yet they still feel so full of life. It might be that the songwriter’s passion for music and lyricism emanates through in his vocal performance, or it could something about the enthusiasm with which he strums his guitar; it could also be the startling poignancy with which he hits upon subject matter that is difficult to address, but worthy of our contemplation.

You might call the resulting production and overall sonic delivery of this album to be radiant — and yet, it is also simple, not overwrought in the least, and at its core it captures a man, his guitar, and his heartfelt, heavy thoughts. The kids used to say that some songs would get them “all up in their feelings,” but Detroit-based artist Mike Ward strives to be all up into ALL the feelings…, universal feelings, if you will — the human condition! Quite a thing to try to capture into one song, but Ward is up to the task.

Here is the premiere of the second single (in music video form) from Mike Ward’s album, The Darkness and the Light.

“I’ve always been drawn to songs that can make you smile but can also make you cry,” said Ward. “I grew up listening to a lot of Irish music…., which, there’s a lot of that material that’s considered ‘drinking songs,’ but there’s also really a lot of heartache in there.” He lists John Prine as an all-time favorite but also points to Jason Isbell as a more contemporary influence. What these artists and these types of songs spark inside of Ward is the potential for maximal emotion impact and provocation of compassionate thoughts, all compacted into a simple 3 minute folk song. And THAT’S precisely what Ward’s achieved on this new album, produced by Dexter-based songwriter Mike Gentry and Grand Blanc-based musician David Roof.

“What I find appealing in songwriting are those people who can peel away something and you get a peek into their soul,” said Ward. In fact, Ward will be the first to tell you that he gains valuable inspiration and insight from his comrades. “There are three songs on this record that actually came out of workshops,” he said. “I’ve gone to John Lamb’s annual Retreat for Songwriters in Harbor Springs, and the first single came from a prompt at that workshop about changing out light bulbs from old to new…. What I came out of that with was ‘Our Turn to Shine.’”

While that song has a bit of healing ebullience to it, there’s another not-yet-released song that takes that candid regard of the darkness just a bit further, called “In The Light.” In this, Ward weaves some heavy-hearted words that eloquently address the ideations of suicidal thoughts that many struggle with. In fact, the struggles of the many are what weigh upon Ward’s songwriting, but not to a point of histrionic melancholy, more so leaning toward empathy above all else.

“No Way to Live” is born out of walking around, meeting people on the street (who are experiencing homelessness); being able to give a meal to someone in need, or even just to talk to them, look them in the eye, and realize that there’s an individual in there.” Ward worked in marketing as a day-job when wasn’t writing/performing songs. He retired in 2017, but that business took him to cities like San Francisco, Portland, New York — places with large rates of people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s always had an effect on me,” said Ward. “And I’m not professing that this song solves anything. It’s just a song about all the places that that person can come from; what can be done and how can you help them….” Ward reached out to the Motor City Mitten Mission in Grosse Pointe and then connected with Veronika Scott, who founded The Empowerment Plan in Detroit. Both are organizations that strive to assist the homeless population and both will benefit from all the downloads of this new single, said Ward.

This sense of empathy and a longing to connect with other people is really what drives a lot of Ward’s songwriting. He particularly loved performing and interacting with a live audience. “I really do love to perform, so not having live shows has really been a punch.” But early on in the Spring, he said, he nevertheless found worthwhile fulfillment over the span of time he spent live streaming.

“But another big part of my experience was my immersion into (the Southeast Michigan) music scene.” Ward had been living near the westerly border of Oakland County for decades before relocating to Detroit five years ago. He recalls one of his earliest experiences being a visit to the Gaelic League (in Corktown) to see locally renowned open mic night and to meet new songwriters. Since he had gotten there unintentionally early, he was encouraged by well-known Detroit songwriting icon Don Duprie to perform a few songs. Ward wound up doing nine and he credited the enthusiasm he received from Duprie that night as an endearing moment.

Ward’s into his mid 60’s now and he’s been writing songs for 35 years or more, but he said that his feeling of acceptance into this community of folk singers, like David Toennies (of Border Patrol), Audra Kubat, Mike Galbraith, and many more, has been particularly rejuvenating. (It even led him into co-founding his own open mic event with his wife Angie).

Ward said that he’s excited to share the songs on his album. Each of these tunes, he said, goes beyond just having a melody or a hook: the intended destination for each song is to be arriving at a powerful feeling, an emotion, a meaningful thought. Songwriting is all about balance. With these songs, the darkness isn’t ignored, but with Ward, we’re leaning toward the light.

Written by Jeff Milo - eCurrent

"Phil Maq's Top 100 Albums of 2019"

Phil Maq of WHFR 89.3FM named Mike Ward's "We Wonder" in his. Top 100 Albums of 2019. - Phil Maq of WHFR 89.3FM

"Light Up – Detroit’s Mike Ward Shines on Reflective, Poignant Americana Folk Tales"

Mike Ward believes in light-bulb moments.

The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter discovered a recent songwriting prompt illuminated a bright idea – a new track called “Our Turn to Shine.”

“That song actually began as a song prompt from John Lamb’s songwriting retreat. His songwriters’ retreat, which I did last year and then I just got back from, I can’t say enough about it,” Ward said. “It just sort of jumpstarted me last year, and he does these really long involved prompts, and it was about changing out incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs.”

As one of Ward’s newest tracks, “Our Turn to Shine” features fast acoustic strums intertwined with a nostalgic, hopeful feel – “I’m a dinosaur made of glass and tin/Take a new one out and screw a new one in/But for now, I’ll light the way/Brighten up your everyday/If only for a short time/It’s still my turn to shine.”

“It had all these specifics in it. I’ve kept most of them, and I have reworked it since I got back from the camp to try and make it more of a universal appeal. It basically has become a metaphor for even if you’re old, there are parts of you that are still usable, you can still shine,” he said. “It’s sort of like let’s all celebrate that aspect in ourselves. A lot of the songs I’ve been writing over the last year I think as I look at my experience and my life, it has crept into a lot of songs.”

Ward also shines on his other latest single, “Content,” which he submitted for NPR’s 2019 Tiny Desk Contest. The pensive track includes a beautiful acoustic guitar as its sonic centerpiece – “It’s a simple life in a complex world/ I want what’s mine and you want what’s yours/But when you’re all by yourself and the money is all spent/Are you gonna leave this world completely content?”

“It’s really about what do you regret, what don’t you regret, what will you be content with when you leave this earth, and how do you want to be remembered – that’s sort of the gist of it. I do write some fairly downer songs, but usually when I have a song that I’m trying to make a point with, or it has a serious undertone, I try and find ways to keep levity involved in it. From the influence of John Prine, Steve Earle and Warren Zevon, songwriters like that who always seem to have a way of not taking it too seriously, those are songwriters who I really admire,” Ward said.

Insightful Sonic Tales Behind ‘We Wonder’

Those two exquisite tracks are among some of Ward’s latest new recordings since releasing his poignant “We Wonder” album in 2018. With insightful tales about love, family, growth and aging, Ward weaves a gorgeous Americana orchestration of acoustic guitars, violins, harmonicas and keyboards to provide a timeless, lyric-driven sound akin to Jason Isbell and Dawes.

Ward teamed up with Lucy Little (violin), Robert Tye (guitar), Bill Sadley (harmonica) and Jules Anna Jones (keys) to record “We Wonder’s” 10 touching tracks in Chicago, Detroit and Lansing with engineers Ryan Anderson at MusicTown Detroit, Mike Regan at Another Country and Steve Curran at Harvest Creative.

“I went really spare, I didn’t want to deal with a lot of production, and I didn’t want to do a lot of overdubbing. The only song that we did some additional tracks on was ‘We Wonder,’ where Lucy did some vocals,” said Ward, who’s inspired by Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

“The engineer and producer, Mike Regan, he was a great young guy who’s now in LA. That sort of set the tone because those (‘We Wonder,’ ‘The Other Side’ and ‘The Stream’) were the first ones that got recorded, and when I came back here to Detroit, I wanted to keep it in that spare vein, and I had Billy Sadley, he and I were starting to do some shows together, so he joined me on the other tracks back here in Detroit. Most of these were all done as a single recording.”

The album’s splendid title track whisks listeners away to a life-changing reverie with delicate acoustic guitars and violin plucks as Ward and Little beautifully harmonize – “You begin your life before you begin to swim/But remember, the water was there before you/So don’t abuse it, use it in the right way/Games here are here to play tomorrow and today/But remember, not to cheat/For the day goes by, you’re bound to get beat/And you wonder about the wind/Will it ever blow your way again.”

Another standout track includes “The Other Side,” a five-minute reflective ode to growing up in an Irish Catholic family with eight children. Despondent acoustic guitars and weeping harmonica transport listeners to a vivid memory of Ward’s family day-trip to Canada – “They left without me/I was still on the other side/To this day, I can’t recall if I even cried/Got some sympathy out of it, a Coca-Cola and a bag of chips/I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d see them on the other side.”

“It was a true story, I got left in Canada as a kid when I was really young, and I could see their car driving over the bridge. My sister brought a friend home, and we had eight kids, and my mom just counted the heads, and there were eight, and they took off, and then when they got home, they realized, ‘Oh, somebody’s missing,’” Ward said.

“My brothers tell me, ‘You’ve been milking this for a long time.’ It led me to a place when I started writing it I was simply chronicling the moment that it happened, but where it led me was to another place because we’ve had some tragedy in our family over the years. When you have a big family like that, it’s gonna happen. It sort of just wrote itself from that point on.”

“We Wonder’s” album cover includes a stunning photo of Ward’s late brother Paul, who died at age 16 in a car accident the day after Christmas in 1965. As an amateur photographer and cinematographer, Ward’s father took the photo of Paul under the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron during the late ‘50s.

The album’s cover also symbolically represents similar crystal clear moments in Ward’s past, especially the two versions of “I’m 45.” Both versions lament being unemployed and 100 pounds overweight as well as having no hair – “I’m 45, and I ain’t got no mother/I’m 45, and I ain’t got no brother/I sit here with my cousin and my niece/I think how nice it would be to get a piece/I’m 45, and I ain’t got no other.”

The first version includes Sadley on harmonica while the second version spotlights Little’s violin. “I couldn’t honestly decide which one I liked. Ultimately, I just put them both on it. I wrote it when I was 25, and it was pieced together from my years of hitchhiking between Ann Arbor and Port Huron and Adrian and Port Huron, all the people I met and my view of a downtrodden factory worker of years and years. At the time, I thought I could say I’m 25, but all these things couldn’t happen to a 25 year old. I gotta make it older, and to me at 25, 45 seemed ancient,” Ward said.

“I’m 45” also doubles as the inspiration behind Ward’s refreshing 2014 debut release, which includes 12 home demos compiled by Ward’s family to celebrate his 60th birthday. Together, Ward’s family found an independent publisher who produced a digital version of “Not 45 Anymore.” Ward’s filmmaker son also included three or four of Ward’s songs in a short film while he was living Sweden.

“He showed me some of the responses that he was getting, and they were as much about the music as they were about the film. It was like, ‘OK, I really need to do this,’ and so my wife and I set out on a plan to start going to open mics, getting my name out, trying to work on new songs and new material, meeting people and networking,” said Ward, who previously worked in advertising.

“When I did retire in 2017, I was able to jump right in with both feet into the songwriting world in the Detroit area, and I’m now I’m expanding into Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.”

From Open Mics to the Live Stag, Ward will start recording his third album this winter. Photo courtesy of Mike Ward
Along with his wife Angela, Ward frequents open mics and hosts them at different Detroit venues. He also participates regularly in songwriter rounds at Dixie Moon Salon, The Dovetail, Raven Café, the Gaelic League Irish American Club of Detroit and Otus Supply.

Today, Ward and Angela partner with Chuck and Judy Brown to host open mics during the first or second Sundays of the month at Detroit’s Lexus Velodrome.

“The last time we had 20 acts, and we had to really move them through,” said Ward, who goes by the nickname PsychoWard and writes under the publishing name Psychosongs. “We do like that part of it because it allows us to hear people and encourage people. We try and get to other ones as well to support them and mine for other talent.”

This Saturday, Ward will join singer-songwriters Michelle Held and Dan Minard for “A Winter Songwriter Night” at Detroit’s Eastern Market Brewing Co. He also will perform at Bogart’z Jan. 24 in Detroit and Feb. 1 at Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor with Dave Falk.

“I’ve been doing songwriting workshops, and I went to Folk Alliance Region Midwest,” Ward said. “Just through the friendships I’ve developed, the whole community has been really helpful to me, guiding me, and that part of it I can’t be more thankful for.”

Ward also will start working soon on his third album, which will include more collaborations with local musicians and feature a more produced sound. “I’m actually coming off a songwriting workshop, and I wanted some time to write, and I wanted some time to research recording studios. What I’m really looking forward to are all the shows that I’m going to get to see that I usually don’t get to go to because I’m performing,” he said. - The Stratton Setlist

"Crazy Wisdom, Ann Arbor, MI"

...from the opening notes of Mike Ward's first solo show at Crazy Wisdom. His voice and songwriting are exemplary--beautifully crafted songs, a gorgeous voice and strong guitar playing--but it was his generosity of spirit; the settled conviction of the power of art and music that comes across with every song...every breath. - Michelle Everett Wilbert

"Mike Ward Live on WHFR"

Mike Ward brings to the listener autobiographical tales of life's lessons, including hardship, loss, aging, and confronting one's own shortcomings. He never presents his songs in an overly pessimistic or sentimental way, but as a way of expressing what most of have felt in our lives and leaves it up to the audience in how to respond to it. A true American slice of life. - Scott Boatright

"WNMC Local Motion"

Mike is exactly the kind of musician I love to meet; humble, passionate, and most importantly a writer of honest and heartfelt songs. - Will Thomas

"The Travelling Salesman Hour CJAM 99.1"

 "Mike Ward writes beautiful, heartbreaking songs exploring the tragic human condition in a most positively fearless fashion." - Ron Leary

"Songs of Comfort – Mike Ward Releases New Quarantine-Inspired ‘30 Songs in 30 Days’ Project"

These days, Mike Ward takes life month by month.

The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter marks the passage of time in month-long increments, especially while hunkering down in quarantine.

Last month, Ward tested his creative prowess by writing and recording 31 new acoustic-based tracks at home as part of 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk rock singer-songwriter Paul Weinfield.

“When Paul set out the challenge, he put it in a post and said, ‘OK, who’s up for this? You have to write at least a verse and a chorus, and you have to record it and post it.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m up for that.’ The very first one was the most daunting, and it was like, ‘Well, where do I start?’” said Ward, who released his last album, We Wonder, in 2018.

“I keep a lot of notes on my phone that I use to record audio notes and melodies, and I also keep a lot of typed notes of starts of songs. I’ve kept them compiled for years, and this gave me a reason to go back to a lot of those notes. I also began exploring feelings of what’s happening, and the very first thing that was recorded was ‘The New Normal.’”

For Ward, “The New Normal” serves as a prevailing folk anthem for staying optimistic during increasing times of uncertainty and unpredictability. The 4.5-minute poignant track features thoughtful, churning acoustic strums as Ward reflectively sings, “Got my love, got my faith/Only hope it’s enough to get us through these days/No human contract, touch of a hand/Six feet of distance across the land/Open skies and open hearts/As we close our doors, do our part.”

“The New Normal” also opened Ward’s creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches. A refreshing series of lyrics, melodies and chords flowed from Ward each day.

“The one thing I was cognizant of, but I didn’t go back day to day and say, ‘Oh, did I use those chords in that song? Does this song sound too much like this one?’” said Ward, who submitted an acoustic video of “The New Normal” for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.

“I honestly didn’t do that much because I felt like otherwise I wouldn’t finish, and if there was something I liked about one particular song, I could always go back and rework it if I needed to. At the same time, I tried to do some different things from a playing standpoint.”

Mike Ward performs live in metro Detroit. Photo by Paul Siegmond
Ward tested himself lyrically and musically on another heartfelt track, “Let Them Be Loved,” a moving, compassionate acoustic ballad about supporting family and friends. Noted as a “Song of Comfort,” it’s also a timeless track ideal for the next James Taylor, Jason Isbell or Dawes project as Ward sings, “Let them be heroes/To see the unseen/Let them help others/To dream their dreams.”

“It’s a different kind of feeling than I normally play, and there are some later that are further away from material that I’ve played. It’s really about the concern we have for our kids, our future, and our friends and family, and to let everybody find love,” he said.

“I started hashtagging this song and others as ‘Songs of Comfort’ because they were doing that through NPR. This one actually got played on their website and was posted up there.”

Ward continues comforting listeners throughout his 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge, which also pays loving tribute to his late parents on “Sunday Morning” and “Wrestling with Ghosts.” As a Michigan native, Ward grew up in a large Irish Catholic family near Port Huron.

“Sunday Morning” beautifully introduces new and returning fans to Ward’s growing catalog of touching songs. The track weaves glistening acoustic strums with Ward’s nostalgic vocals as he reflects, “Sunday to mass, then home for a treat/Breakfast is special, the service is neat/Clean up and pack, beds made by the clock/Yellow car waiting to drive us to the dock.”

“My mom raised eight kids and had done all these different things and was a teacher. We didn’t know that she had written poems. We knew she cooked, we knew she read, we knew she played music, but after she died, we found this floppy disk that had her recipes on it, and it also had a folder of poems,” Ward said.

“They’re these simple, rhyme-driven poems, and this one, ‘Sunday Morning in Summer,’ was about our Sunday routine – going to church, having breakfast and getting ready for the boat ride. I didn’t change a word. I thought about adding a chorus to it, but then I thought, ‘I’m going to keep it the way it is because it just felt right.’”

While “Sunday Morning” celebrates the creative spirit of Ward’s mother, “Wrestling with Ghosts” chronicles the vivid dreams and memories of Ward’s father. He fuses powerful acoustic guitar with pounding percussion and sentimental vocals as he sings, “Well at ninety-five, he finally gave in/Went to be with my mom and the rest of his kin/His stories still live in the back of our minds/To quote a song, we’ll see him on the other side.”

“My dad would have these realistic dreams. He was never diagnosed with dementia and never got to that point, but he had waking dreams where he was sure he was in a fight to the point where he cut his hand and scraped it up,” Ward said.

“He also went and got a bowl of water for a dog he swore was in his room, and he called my brother and said, ‘I’ve got rats in my house. How do I get rid of them?’ The ‘Wrestling with Ghosts’ came out of that notion of him getting in a fight in his dreams.”

After focusing on family, Ward shifts his attention to social justice on “Immigration Nation,” a striking tribute to immigrants working and living in the U.S. The track blends reflective, swift acoustic guitar with Ward’s concerned vocals about the nation’s growing intolerance toward immigrants, “Dangerous conditions, 100-mile bus rides/The work still gets done, even done with pride/Laboring in the shadows, keeping their head down/Making $2 a day in this all-American town.”

“At that moment, that’s when Trump was starting to talk about closing off the country and having no immigration. I actually had this notion of ‘immigration built this nation.’ That was the only line I had, and what I couldn’t decide was whether I wanted to make it one story or look at multiple stories. When I started it, I was all about one person’s story, but it just didn’t hold together. By the end of the day, I was really proud of this song,” Ward said.

With a growing collection of profound acoustic songs, Ward may release a stripped-down live album featuring 10 tracks from the 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge. He wants to transform those raw tracks into full-fledged studio versions soon.

One of those raw tracks, “The New Normal,” also may find a home on Ward’s upcoming third full-length studio album, which will feature collaborations with Judy Brown, Dave Falk and Jackamo. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ward recorded 11 tracks for his next album with producer Mike Gentry and engineer and multi-instrumentalist David Roof at Rooftop Recording.

“I’m still hoping it’s sometime in the fall. That’s all gonna be predicated by what can happen come June. If we’re at a point where some of the players feel comfortable coming up to the studio and David’s comfortable, then we’ll start doing sessions. We’re probably three sessions from having the material that we need. Once we start mixing and go to the mastering, then I think it will go quickly.” - The Stratton Setlist by Lori Barnard Stratton

"Grove Studios Presents: Stratton Setlist Podcast wsg/ Mike Ward"

This is an audio/video podcast - Grove Studios




Lyric-driven, simple folk songs are what singer-songwriter Mike Ward produces. Currently living in Detroit, Mike grew up listening to the Irish music of the Clancy Brothers and singing in church choirs. His influences are the likes of Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Isbell and John Prine. The songs that Mike writes are a combination of stories and life lessons which are still being learned.


Mike spent the better part of 40 years as a designer and creative director in the advertising world but now creates music full time and is immersed in the Michigan acoustic music scene.

His first studio album,"We Wonder", was released in 2018. It received four Detroit Music Award nominations. Additionally, Phil Maq of WHFR 89.3FM named it in his top 100 albums of 2019.

The new album, “The Darkness and the Light” explores a life lived and all you see while looking over the past, the present and future. Regrets? Hope? Content? The opening song, titled “Our Turn to Shine” presents a reflection of our changing world and the importance of embracing new ideas.

Why Psychosongs? Turns out there are a lot of Mike Wards creating music. His nickname, PsychoWard, provided an answer. (If you’ve seen him dance or play hockey, you’ll get it). So Mike Ward: Psychosongs became the label.

Mike performs various venues throughout Michigan and beyond. 

As well as festivals such as Arts, Eats & Beats, Wheatland 2020, Traverse City Film Fest, Thumbfest, Ferndale Front Porch, Detroit Folk Festival and FARM Performance Alley 2019. 

He has also been featured on Folk Music Notebook Shelter in Place Showcase, The Detroit Songwriter Dispatch, The Happeneers Livestream, WHFR 89.3FM with Scott Boatright, Ron Leary’s Travelling Salesman Hour on CJAM 99.1, Stratton Setlist Podcast from Grove Studios, Brother Stone on SolidStateRadio.net and WNMC 90.7 Traverse City on Will Thomas' Local Motion.