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Mike Ballan / Session #26

San Francisco singer-songwriter Mike Ballan returns to One Night Music to perform a set of his unique contemporary folk music.

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Summerbound Downs

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Free Living

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Faint Kisses

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Roll

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Ease Your Dancing Heart

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Timerise

enlarge [+] Photo of Mike Ballan

Mike Ballan, a 22-year-old musician from San Francisco, CA, brings his unique style of folk back to One Night Music as our first artist to record two sessions (check out his first session). First impressions are deceiving: despite his bashful demeanor Mike is a closet really-amazing-artist. Possessing a style all his own consisting of saturated guitar riffs supporting intricate and sometimes dizzying lyrics, he elaborates specific moments and observations into vast journeys. Songwriting isn't just a hobby or a fleeting endeavor for Mike, it's a life-long yearning, demonstrated by a prolificacy that produces many songs that may never be heard. Mike has been refining his sound since I first met him 8 years ago and he now never fails to capture the imaginations of audiences at open mics, where he performs his songs with an ease and calm generally reserved for musicians seasoned with decades of performance experience.

Magic abounds when music is placed in the perfect environment. The pairing of an artist and their music with the location of filming is indeed one of the greatest challenges and beauties of One Night Music. Done successfully, it can inspire an artist in their performance and enhance the experience of those who later watch the session videos. I've seen this achieved through the sessions of Ellie Fortune, Liz Isenberg, Omnivore, and Alex and Janel, which display a perfect marriage of noise and space. This 26th One Night Music session joins that line up, cramming the sinewy, mysterious sounds of Mike Ballan amongst bicycles, boxes, and mattresses in a dirty, cramped backyard shed.

Earlier in that evening of April 10th, 2009, Mike arrived in Santa Barbara from Santa Cruz. Immediately I demanded his attention to scout out potential filming locations for his session - the living room, the kitchen, atop the washer in the laundry room, on the front porch. The backyard shed was dismissed quickly as too burdensome. Mike's session, however, was the third of an ambitious evening of recording, and when his turn rolled around, we'd consumed enough booze to inspire a migration to the previously rejected quarters. An uncovered lamp lit the space and the small audience sat bundled in extra coats from my closet. The dark and cold setting was perfect for Mike's music. The standout to his performance is Roll, a tune penned by Mike while studying abroad in Spain - a period in his life characterized by uncertainty, disillusionment, and the letdown of a search that yielded underwhelming discoveries. Roll is the vanguard tune in a turning point of Mike's music, bringing a new edge and ambition to his songwriting that he continues to incorporate into his most recent songs.

Though he's been songwriting for nearly a decade, it's not until recently that Mike has really started to share his music. Mike graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in the spring of 2009 and recently moved to San Francisco where he intends to pursue his music by playing gigs around town and forming a band. Mike is currently recording his first full-length album (expected in late 2010) under his musical project We Arsons - the moniker he applies to the entity of friends that record his music. Despite this being his first full-length album, Mike is no stranger to the studio. He has recorded a mess of EPs in the past including Trending Blends, Before Today, and The Big Empty Home Sessions - not to mention all the recordings that have not made it to an EP. Most of these recordings have only been heard by close friends and family, but surely they hide amongst CD piles and overcrowded computer hard drives, waiting to someday be rediscovered as the stepping stones to the grand places that Mike is headed with his music.

Recorded in Santa Barbara, CA on April 10, 2009.

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