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Q&A: Micah Thunder

By August Edwards

In his own words, Micah Thunder "makes music that reveals unspoken secrets of the heart." Maybe on an individual listening basis, that is true of his music; after interviewing him, it is evident that he's not interested in pretense or using music to deceive. He is honest, and he exudes something else - a word that's fitting but totally cheesy to use when describing music - ethereal.

Today, he's releasing a single, "Here I Am" (YouTube found below). It feels cheerful and light, but also contains multitudes. We hope you'll give it a listen, and check out our Q&A with him further down, where we talk about personal growth and the commitment of being human.

ABQGR: How did you get started on your musical journey?

Micah: Making and writing music was always a way to comfort myself. I grew up around campfires, with my family singing songs. Mostly folk songs, by very comforting and iconic imagery. As I grew up and found my own devil music, if you will, things to offend my parents with, I found that I kept wanting to make music. I wanted to emulate the people that brought me a lot of comfort, empowered me, said the same things I was thinking and feeling. I wanted to do what they were doing. When I was 12 or 13 is when I started writing music and playing guitar.

That being said, it was 2018 when I started making music. So that was a 12- to 15-year period where I wasn’t doing much besides working on me, trying to get ready for that moment where I wanted to share with other people.

How did you know that you were ready?

I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t know I was ready. I think I just started uploading to YouTube, super basic, one microphone—I’m not a gearhead, I’m not involved in a lot of audio engineering. I have the great blessing of having other people who know more about that than I do. I just knew that it was better to work with a team than to work on my own.

I read something when I was writing music just on my own and uploading to YouTube without any help, said that a musician without any help is like a tiger without teeth. Maybe you’re very powerful, but you need help to bring that out of you. I got started with several other people in the area. I’m currently working with a local producer, Edgar Wonder. He’s connected me to other people who have helped fill out my music.

You bring up several great points. I’m happy you’ve found your team. That’s something people either don’t realize they need or they struggle with finding for themselves. How did you go about finding your own team? How’d you make those connections?

I don’t know if this is the best advice, but I didn’t quit my day job. For me, it was just trial and error. I was going in like a deer in headlights. I didn’t have a strong sense of who’s good in the music scene, who’s somebody you should avoid in the music scene; this guy knows what he’s talking about; this guy’s full of hot air; this guy’s really nice, but when you get down to business, there’s not going to be a great product at the end of the day. Long story short, I had ups and downs until I found a working relationship, and this feels comfortable. I’m at a local scene, I’m not acting like a bigger fish. I came in a little too overeager. ‘Cause I didn’t know any better. I was very keen to be accepted and to be seen. Now I’m learning more and more, like, oh, I actually enjoy learning. I enjoy learning almost as much as I enjoy the end result. Because what I learn really does benefit my work a lot.

What’s one of the most valuable things that you’ve learned thus far?

Even when I sat down with the first studio I worked with, I had this little voice in my head going nobody’s gonna ask you to be excellent. No one’s gonna make you push yourself. You get in front of the microphone, you play the guitar, they’re not gonna sit there and be like, “Just believe in yourself!” and all of a sudden you play way better and sing way better. That never happens.

I just knew that I had to push myself as much as I can, in a kind and compassionate way. That’s how I preface any sort of motivation I have for myself. Like, “Be nice.” Don’t start beating yourself up if you’re not reaching those goals right away. But that it is an honor to entertain people. It is a privilege to entertain people. And a lot of times people will get that confused. I took it for granted, I did. Until I started going through it like, woah, this is so hard. This is so hard. Maybe I hit that note perfectly until I said my “r” and I rolled that “r” really weird. And so now I gotta do it ten more times until I get that take where I’m like, that’s a really good “r.”

Be excellent. No one else asks you to do that.

Tell me about your latest release, “Here I Am.” What does that mean to you? What kind of work went into it?

Awareness. Mindfulness. Part of my musical journey is focusing on trauma. And trauma meaning, who was I before trauma? And who is the person after trauma?

This might be an aside but I heard this great thing that has been helping me in my own personal work, which is accept that the past you is a human being. They have pros and cons. Don’t worship them, don’t villainize them. They’re a human being, too, whoever they were. The high school me, sometimes I’m like, "Oh! So young! So innocent! So full of life!" Then I’m like, eh, I don’t know. I was probably a dork in high school too, like everyone was, struggling to fit in.

“Here I Am” is mostly about accepting all of those memories. There’s a licensed clinical social worker, I read her work, her name’s Brené Brown. I always like the quote that she said, “Don’t orphan your memories.” This is where my lyricism and my songwriting comes from, meaning that sometimes, I can tell there’s so much pain. There’s this huge well of experience that I want to feel with them, but they put this barrier between it, of posturing. “I’m strong, I’m overcoming, I’m figuring everything out.” But I really like music that is stuck in the process—I’m right here, and what do I do? Here’s what I can see in my terrain, but even that is not necessarily helping me find my next step.

“Here I am” was moments in time where I was like, how did I even get here? For me, one of those instances was living homeless for a while. Living a couple months out of my car and just asking myself, how’d you get here? I wasn’t mad at me, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d gone through most of that. Taking a realistic inventory of who I was and what I was going through without judgement was one of the most beneficial experiences I could have had at that time because I was done with trying to force myself into the version of myself I thought I should be. I could tell, I can’t be that person anymore. Whatever that was, whatever carrot I was waving in front of my face, that’s done with. What’s possible with who I am now? That’s a much more interesting question than who you aren’t.

In a recent Instagram post, you said that your Asian American culture has brought you close to “The Way of the Warrior.” You said you refer to your music identity as the Way of Thunder. Can you explain to me your thinking on that?

Lightning strikes first. You see the lightning before you hear thunder. To me, my music is putting together the lightning. The music that I make is the thunder. Life happened. The lightning bolt hit. Something shifted. Things are not the same anymore. But what is that? The sound of thunder to me is—I’d called it the voice of heaven. What I mean is, whatever’s bigger than me, whatever’s greater than me, I want to tap into that voice and be a disciple of it. Learn.

Tell me a little bit about Wild Journey Music.

It goes back to just being an integrative person, and seeing that life is full of ups and downs. Part of my path and history is that I spent a lot of time educating myself, post-secondary stuff, with psychology. I got a master’s in educational psychology, which is basically studying how to learn. So I had to go to school, to learn how to learn. I didn’t know how to learn before that. People had to teach me how to learn.

Just seeing that the most healthy people, they don’t run away from their stories. Maybe they don’t need to transmit it to each and every person that they meet. That was something that I struggled with, getting started in music, is when people connected to my music, they would often have deep wounds that they wanted to share with me, because they connected to my wound. I had to learn real quick, we can’t help each other in that way as friends. I can help you through music. I can give you that reassurance as an artist. But to accept yourself is a lifelong process, for me, to work with myself, to be nice to myself, to not get fed up with myself. That’s plenty of work already.

Wild Journey Music means that I’m willing to show my journey and hope that other people resonate with it.

You said you have a background in educational psychology. As someone who has your specific education, what is some advice you’d give another musician when it comes to learning? When it comes to being open to opportunities and experiences?

For me, it’s managing expectations. I would go further to say it’s me managing my chronic illness. Along with my trauma, so I’m a survivor of PTSD, that coincides with being immune compromised. My body started shutting down, I started losing hair, I got jaundiced, just because of how much stress I was feeling when I was in crisis. I think what happens is that the more I need things to be a certain way, the less happy I am. And the more I’m able to accept what my life is, then I can find that—I’m very satisfied with the things that are pleasing to me. I’m still okay when life sucks and when life’s hard, and when I really botch notes when I’m singing live.

I’ve gone through all the other maladaptive ways to self-soothe. I’ve gone down very dark roads that don’t have happy endings, essentially. They were very toxic. Even that was okay...and that was the other thing. I’m a whole person. That’s okay.

Chris Farley was battling all these drug-substance stuff, and he had a couple of good movies under his belt, and he had one movie where things didn’t go well. Black Sheep. He fell right back into loathing, and the shame, and he wasn’t enough. It was that movie that he allowed it to end his life. I don’t wanna follow the same thing. I’ll have ups and downs. I’ll have good music and bad music. I will probably have some high notes in my career, and I will fade into obscurity at some point. I hope. Because I need more musicians to take over and show me the way.

That’s the advice. Stay the right size. Don’t get too big, don’t shrink. Just be the right size. To me, that tends to be okay.

What’s your favorite part about ABQ music and musicians?

Most of us just don’t care about our backgrounds, just as long as we care about music. That ultimately is what draws me back to the community. I meet so many different people, so many different walks of life, and they are all just fanatically devoted to music. That’s so comforting. An oddball like me can have a place with these sorry band of misfits. I’m happy to call myself one of them. The level of competition here is so low. It’s a very healthy co-creative community now. That’s my favorite part of Albuquerque music and New Mexico in general.

Did I miss anything? Anything you’d like to add?

Ask me about the rest of the year. I think that’s a good question.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

I hope to put out at least three more singles before the end of the year is out, and a full album. I’ve gotten five or six songs under my belt so far, put out two or three more, and put it under one nicely mastered album and give that to the world. I really wanna call my album Seeking Signs.

Do you find yourself seeking signs wherever you go?

Kind of. There’s this phrase around the taboo that I’m interested in—it means some people are drawn to the taboo, just because you tell them don’t do it! The forbidden. Don’t go there! And that just seems kinda dumb. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain? Okay. I get it. We wanna tell our kids that La Llorona is gonna get them—we have these reasons for doing what we’re doing. But, I seek signs because I want candid conversations around spiritual beliefs. When I’m able to have a calm, spiritual state, I’m way more okay with what everybody else is going through, because I’ve already gone through the secret demons and skeletons in my closet, of religious tradition and my parents and my upbringing.

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