Kelly McMichael: From Debut Success to Crafting Sonic Soundscapes

Kelly McMichael: From Debut Success to Crafting Sonic Soundscapes

Kelly McMichael has had her metaphorical irons in an awful lot of musical fires for years, but recording her own work was always an ever-retreating goal. When she finally released her debut album, Waves, in 2021, she was shocked when it found its way to the Polaris Music Prize shortlist.

“I have been playing music for a really long time, as a side player for a lot of that time, such as with Sarah Harmer,” she says. “At 34 I finally recorded my first full-length album. It took a little longer than I wanted, but maybe that’s why it’s so good—because I had ten years of experience.”

Kelly McMichaelPhoto Credit: Joseph Fuda

The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist worked with producer Jake Nicoll to overcome her biggest hurdle, funding. “I’ve worked on so many different projects, and have recorded EPs of my own songwriting, but I just never got all the pieces together to have my own band and enough funding to do a full-length album. I finally got things lined up out here in St. John’s.”

Her adopted home of Newfoundland and its vibrant musical community have embraced and inspired McMichael. “I love the people, the smaller size, and how music is ingrained into the general culture,” she says. “Average citizens care about and participate in the music scene. It’s one of the reasons why I love living here.”

After a tour rife with complications last fall and a winter focusing on songwriting, McMichael is hitting the road again this spring—this time hopefully with no illnesses to foul up plans. Then it’s back to the studio, to flesh out her next album, step by step.

“For me, the demoing process helps write the song,” she says. “I can’t write it without experimenting with some of the different parts, with arrangements and instruments. That’s a big part of how I put the songs together. They’re not straight-ahead folk songs that you would play along with a guitar. I like to use the process of trying different sounds out, with layers of harmonies and background vocals to create more of a soundscape and play around with the structure of the song.”

After what she admits was a bit of a whirlwind year following her Polaris nomination, McMichael is determined to focus on her next album without developing tunnel vision. “I’m trying to figure out how to balance that new rush of activity with trying to just be a good citizen and paying attention to what’s going on in the world. It’s definitely a balance.” 

Kelly McMichael just dropped a full calendar of tour dates, covering four provinces in as many weeks. Keep in the loop with the tour and her upcoming album at and @kellymcmichaelmusic.