Ottawa and Toronto based songwriter and musician, Darren Michael Boyd created his debut instrumental album “Lifting the Curse” as form of therapy to move forward after a life-altering car accident, and the physical and psychological complications that followed. It was entirely written, performed, and produced by Boyd, except for the track “Was is something I said”, which features drums by Emily Dolan Davies (The Darkness, Kim Wilde). It was mastered By Harry Hess at H-Bomb Mastering (Barenaked Ladies, Danko Jones, Monster Truck). In the spring of 2019 he joined the Mississippi Mudds Theatre Group to play guitar for a sold out run of Queen’s We Will Rock You. The Mississippi Mudds won the Ottawa Faces Magazine award for Favourite Theatre Group for that year. He has toured and recorded with a variety of artists, such as Black Ju-Ju, Creeping Beauty, and Famous Underground (featuring Juno award-winning vocalist Nicholas Walsh). He was invited multiple occasions to privately audition for platinum-selling artist Fefe Dobson, and asked to write songs for Alice Cooper’s daughter Calico Cooper, and long-time bassist Chuck Garric’s band Beasto Blanco. Darren received a scholarship to Guitar Workshop Plus in Toronto, with some of the best players in the business as instructors (Paul Gilbert/Billy Sheehan/Sue Foley). He has shared the stage with such acts as One-Eyed Doll, Wednesday 13, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stryper, Harem Scarem, Beasto Blanco, and Lee Aaron.
- Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
Darren Michael Boyd: I’m from Ottawa, Canada. I’ve been playing music and writing songs for as long as I can remember. I was hooked on iconic acts like Queen, Meatloaf, and Alice Cooper as a kid and knew I had a non-negotiable need to create music and perform. That’s never changed! I started trying to write songs when I was seven years old – before I had any idea how to play any instrument.
- Who were your first and strongest musical influences that you can remember?
Darren Michael Boyd: Aside from the artists I mentioned above, there was KISS, David Bowie, Motley Crue, Prince, B52’s and The GoGos. I could go on… and on….
- If I was to turn on your media player right now, which artists/songs would I be most likely to hear on your recently played list?
Darren Michael Boyd: This changes a lot, but as of today you would hear Platinum Brunette, The Haxans, Ritchie Kotzen, The Ronettes, and Paul Gilbert.
- What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners?
Darren Michael Boyd: Since my current work is instrumental, lyrics don’t really count, although I do hope people get a kick out of my song titles! The important elements are the melody, groove, dynamics, and mood.
- For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style?
Darren Michael Boyd: I think it’s advantageous that I have always loved so many artists from different genres. Having diverse influences inspired me, without inadvertently turning me into a copycat. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of the music that you love, and wearing it on your sleeve, but nobody wants to be a clone of another artist that is already out there doing it better. When I was starting out on guitar I recognized that some of my favourite players were all so unique from one another, so I didn’t want to learn all of their songs because I was afraid that everything I wrote would end up sounding like a knock-off. That was actually pretty smart reasoning for a dorky little kid. Haha!
- What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
Darren Michael Boyd: I am far more interested in music as an expression, but sometimes that expression may happen to be political or spiritual. Sometimes, it’s just about making music that makes you tap your feet or rock out. Ultimately I think it comes down to being authentic in the moment. Music is very powerful. If you have something you feel strongly about – then say it. If not, it’s ok to write lyrics like rama lama ding dong. It can still have an important place in the heart of the listener.
- Do you ever write a song with current musical trends, formulas or listener satisfaction in mind, or do you simply write focused on your own personal vision?
Darren Michael Boyd: If I’m writing a song for another artist there are obviously certain stylistic guidelines to follow, but if I tried to pursue current trends with my own music it would be so far from the reason I am doing it in the first place I would probably abandon it! I am focused on my own vision almost 100% of the time.
- Could you describe your creative processes? How do start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, or a narrative in your head?
Darren Michael Boyd: There is so particular formula or method. I just compile ideas as they come to me. I have a folder full of voice memo clips of me playing guitar parts that might be worth expanding upon. I use my phone notes to write lyrics or song titles. Inspiration can come from anywhere, the key is to be open to receiving it, and documenting it before it’s gone.
- What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your career or life so far, and how did you overcome the event?
Darren Michael Boyd: Two pretty big personal challenges that had a huge affect on my musical career as well. I spent many years in a very abusive relationship where I felt too trapped to escape. Men do not tend to talk about these situations, but they do exist. The other challenge was a more recent car accident that changed my life in the blink of an eye, and complicated everything I cared about for several years. Fortunately, I came out of that with a greater appreciation for my life and freedom. My new instrumental album was created as a form of therapy for me, and I’m really proud of the results!
- What would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your career so far?
Darren Michael Boyd: There are a lot of them; I’m pleased to say. If I had to pick just one right now I’d say actually completing and releasing Lifting the Curse. That was my first solo album, and if I didn’t approach it with professionalism and discipline I would still be working on it today! Sometimes getting something finished is its own reward.
- If someone has never heard your music, which 5 keywords would you personally use to describe what you and your music is all about?
Darren Michael Boyd: Dynamics, Creativity, Authenticity, Energy, and Inspiration.
- With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
Darren Michael Boyd: I have either been lucky, or just not well known enough to have any serious haters yet. Everybody has an opinion. We’ve all seen those major haters in comments and it’s disheartening to know people will go out of their way to wish horrible things on someone who happened to make a video or song they don’t particularly like! I will also point out that as artists, we are told repeatedly to have a thick skin. But in reality, that is counter-intuitive to our nature, and the complete opposite of what is expected of us as creators. We open up, expose our most vulnerable selves to create music, and then are told it’s ok for people to tear us apart because they don’t relate. The first time I got a thumbs-down on one of my videos I was really wondering what this person disliked so much? Was it my music? My shoes? So for the most part, I just ignore anything negative, and don’t get a swelled head over the positive.
- Which aspects of being an independent artist excites you most and which aspects discourages you most?
Darren Michael Boyd: I like the fact that both the risk and creative output is entirely under my control. If things fail, I’m the one bankrolling everything so if I lose money, it’s only MY money and I’m not stuck owning someone else. Nobody is second-guessing my music or my decisions so that’s a great freedom for an independent artist. On the other hand, it’s exhausting at times and there are only so many hours in the day. Working with a qualified label gives you opportunities that are simply out of reach for most of us doing it ourselves.
- If you had a choice to go on tour with any acclaimed international artist or band in the near future, who would you choose, and why?
Darren Michael Boyd: I wonder where my current instrumental project would fit? What my heart wants and what would make sense might be different! I think on a club level, Beasto Blanco would be a lot of fun. Rob Zombie or Alice Cooper would be the ultimate dream. At this point I’m open to offers, since we’re not hitting the road any time soon until the current global situation is under control, unfortunately.
- Could you tell us something about your latest project and what fans can expect to hear?
Darren Michael Boyd: I’m already recording my follow up to Lifting the Curse. It will undoubtedly have some of the same quirkiness to it, but I’m just trying to push everything a little further this time, get better at every aspect of the process. I’m focusing a lot more on wicked grooves and overall moods and I’m really excited about the direction so far. I have a working title, but that could change several times before the release so I’ll keep it to myself for now! Also, keep your eyes on my YouTube channel for 2 more music videos from Lifting the Curse over the summer! I have been writing some more full lyric rock songs too, so perhaps there will be another release for my band Creeping Beauty in the near future.
- Do you have a personal favourite track amongst your compositions that has a specific backstory and/or message and meaning very special to you?
Darren Michael Boyd: It’s not exactly a happy story, but there’s a Creeping Beauty song called Bloody Witch Hunt that I wrote about the abusive relationship I was in. It took years after to be able to express such hatred and anger, not even a drop of forgiveness, just strength, and finally letting go. I put that song on my website for free to anyone who signs up for my mailing list!
- Creative work in studio environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two do you ultimately prefer and why?
Darren Michael Boyd: This will probably sound like a generic answer, but honestly, both! They are two separate parts of the life cycle of a performing musician. I love the time I spend creating in a personal, quiet space, but I am often thinking of the stage when arranging song parts. Will this sound muddy played live? Is it too busy? Or, this riff is going to be killer through the front of house speakers! I also love that feeling of instant, real-time connection you can only get from a live performance. You’re sharing that moment, no matter what happens, with everyone in attendance, including your band mates.
- What’s your favourite motto, phrase or piece of advice, you try to live or inspire yourself by?
Darren Michael Boyd: I try to abide by the law of three – whatever I put into the world will be returned three-fold. If that’s the case, it makes sense to put out positive vibes and actions. I also frequently remind myself that the world doesn’t owe me anything. It sounds callous, but it’s actually very liberating.
- How essential do you think video is in relation to your music? Do you have a video you would suggest fans see, to get a better understanding of your craft?
Darren Michael Boyd: I grew up on music videos, and very visual and theatrical musical artists. It’s show business, after all! I have four videos from Lifting the Curse and maybe Little Toad would be a good place to start. I’m really just trying to make entertaining videos that make people ask, “what did I just watch?” and then hopefully watch it again!
- What is the best piece of advice regarding the music business that you actually followed so far, and what is the advice you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
Darren Michael Boyd: One of the earlier pieces of advice I remember getting was to “give up because the odds of making it were so unrealistic”. Stupidest advice ever, and I’m happy to say my feelings remain unchanged on that opinion. The advice I took to heart was to “appreciate people and let them know that you value them”. This is good advice for life in general, but in the music business context, be grateful for every single fan, and be cool and accommodating with other bands you perform with, and thank the crew, sound and light people, photographers, and everyone who contributes to your performances being successful.