Riley Michaels talks new single ‘Turn Off the Lights’

Niagara musician on balancing music and social life

“Turn Off the Lights” was released Jan. 15.
Jay Ashcroft

Before the pandemic, Riley Michaels could often be found playing in bars, soaking up the energy from people having a drink and dancing after a long week. Now he realizes it’s easy to get caught up in work and forget to spend time with the people who matter most.

Michaels is a Niagara-based musician, songwriter, and storyteller whose music is inspired by John Mayer and James Bay. His hit song ‘Now I Know’ was released in 2020 and has received over 47,000 streams on Spotify. In an interview with The Journal, Michaels discussed balancing his passion for music with his personal life and spending time with the people he loves.

“I think that music has always been something I’ve always wanted to do to a capacity,” Michaels told The Journal.

“I started at about seven. I entered a singing contest [and] I won,” Michaels said. “My interest just continued to grow, and […] now I realize that there’s a serious potential for me to be able to turn it into a career.”

“I do it because I love it and I want to be able to create music that people all over the world can hear,” Michaels said. “Everyone has the goal that they want to be really famous and make a lot of money. Honestly, I just love playing with my band. If I can make a career out of music and be able to pay my rent with it then […] that’s an added bonus.”

Michaels’ band includes James White on rhythm guitar, Justin Narsansky on bass guitar and background vocals, and Carson Phelps on drums and percussion.

Michaels said music is all about storytelling: “I try to write songs with stories about things that have happened to me […] They’re songs that anyone can connect to, anyone can relate to, because they’ve all gone through the same things. They’re people songs, everybody gets them.”

Michaels also discussed the story behind his new song ‘Turn Off the Lights’, which was released Jan. 15.

“I think this song is really about the struggle of balance between my work and my personal life. And once you finally get time to spend with your significant other, or someone that you value, you take that time and that opportunity, and you enjoy the moment,” Michaels said.

Michaels emphasis on the importance of savouring time with one’s significant other is reflected in this lyric from ‘Turn Off the Lights’: “I’ve been gone for so long, cause tomorrow it’s back to hearing your voice on the telephone, falling asleep when you’re all alone, and it’s never quite the same.”

“I’m really addicted to music and really addicted to what I do and sometimes I find because of that I get so wrapped up in my goals, my ambitions, my work, that I often forget to connect with the people that I love, the people that mean the most to me,” he said.

‘Now I Know’ is about learning from past mistakes and looking for red flags, while ‘Turn Off the Lightsis about being present for the ones you love.

“I’m a very sensitive person, and I have no problem writing about the time that someone hurt me or someone was not the person I thought they were,” he said.

Michaels looks forward to performing in bars again somewhere in the future. “A lot of people get so tired of the bar scene, but I absolutely adore it because the people who go to the bars are some of the realest people ever […] We love feeling the energy from people who are just there to unwind,” he said.

But in the meantime, Michaels has been busy honing his craft.

“It’s been a time to improve on my instruments, improve my singing. It’s been a time to reinvent and to learn and grow. I’ve been focused on the creative aspect and the business aspect as opposed to the performance right now,” Michaels said.  “I’m always writing music.”

“I know it’s been a really hard year for a lot of people and it’s sad, but I think that we’ve all got to rally together and support one another, and I am so grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to be supported by so many different people,” he said. “I feel so loved and so supported.”

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