Michael Robert Vasas (born February 17, 1982 in Dearborn, Michigan, United States) is an American singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and music educator. He is the founder of the musical collective Grammy Hall Records, and a member of the free improvisation group; The Early Minor Quintet.
A singer, piano player and guitarist, Vasas attended Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, MI. His first songwriting and recording was with high school friend and guitarist Matt Mepham. They released an EP and a full length under the band name Pendulum. The duo also scored a theatrical production of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in 1999.
After high school, Vasas attended Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan studying music. His first solo record, The Lessons We Have Learned, was released in 2001 and featured mostly folk-oriented pop songs. That year, Vasas also composed music for a college production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and reunited with Mepham, releasing 451--a progressive rock record based on Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451. Additionally, Vasas released July Songs, a collection of electropop instrumentals recorded during a week of mixing of the 451 album.
In 2002, he formed the musical-comedy duo with David Poytinger, releasing a live 2-disc set in May of that year. Mike and Dave attracted fans because of its original music, short films, and strange advertisements, which included then-president James F. Jones being rescued by the duo in the president's office during a staged heart attack.
Vasas remained busy--independently releasing a live rock record and four more solo records up until 2004. Typically diverse in style, the genres of these records included folk-rock (Bad Luck), folk (Collection on Desktops), rock (The City) and baroque pop (Grace Monica).
In 2004, Vasas began work on his Masters degree in music education at Michigan State University. In 2005, he released an ambient instrumental record and two of his songs were featured in a Los Angeles performance piece Epiphany. It was then he began work with The Beasts of Burden.
Mike Vasas and The Beasts of Burden:
The original 2005 group consisted of Vasas and current MSU students. The band's name was meant to reference songwriter-led acts 3 like Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three, and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. With members graduating, the original group folded quickly after the end of the school year.
In May 2005, Vasas reformed the group with Ryan Malinich (drums), Brian Richard (bass), and Brian Slagle (guitar, keyboards) playing its first gig at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Keyboardist, harmonica and mandolin player Eric Bredin joined the group soon afterwards. Vasas released the Rescue Team/Makeshift EP in October 2005, and also co-organized a Neil Young Tribute show that benefitted both The Bridge School and a local domestic abuse shelter in Lansing, Michigan. In February 2006, Vasas celebrated his 24th birthday, performing with The Beasts of Burden, and sharing the bill with Chicago's new-wave act, the Detholz! and Detroit's powerpop trio, The Singles.
In July 2006, Mike Vasas and The Beasts of Burden was released to positive national acclaim and the band lightly performed in support of the record. Line up changes led to Mepham taking over guitar duties and the current band remains a four-piece.
In March 2008, Vasas and The Beasts performed at The Palace of Auburn Hills with Creedence Clearwater Revisited and have since been focusing on recording a follow up to their 2006 release. On his website, Vasas described the new record as sounding like "rock-oriented pop songs, built with our own brand of goofy misperceptions and sonic shenanigans."
The Early Minor Quintet:
Vasas is also a member of the free improvisation multi-instrumentalist ensemble, The Early Minor Quintet. Named after sessions from Miles Davis's In a Silent Way, the group's Myspace page describes them as;
"musique concrète du jazz..." We freely improvise rock, jazz, funk, noise, and "classical" sounds and reconstitute the music through editing and splicing. Some of the record consists of segments of improvisation unedited. No need to tell you which is which.
The group includes Vasas, Nate Bliton, David Menzo, Max Monson, and Dustin Stoner. Although an album's worth of material is supposedly recorded, and the Myspace band page states "Record Coming Soon on Grammy Hall Records, there is some question as to whether the group is active or not. The ensemble has done a few live performances, but little activity has occurred, and the Myspace page shows the last login as April 2007.
Grammy Hall Records:
Vasas formed Grammy Hall Records to be a record music collective rather than a true business venture. It was involved with the original EP of indie-folk group Frontier Ruckus, whom later signed to Quite Scientific Records. According to the Grammy Hall Records website, the label:
"releases music that is best described as 'I don't know, just music' rather than specific genres. When you buy a record with the GRHL number, it has been supported through the artistic process to be what it wants rather than what it should be. For the listener, this translates to a "diversity" in releases unified only by the collective's commitment to quality. We are a listener's label."
The Found Sound Series:
In 2008, Vasas began releasing records under the Found Sound Series name. The music is unlike most of Vasas's previous releases, having much in common with composers like Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen, focusing on electroacoustic music manipulation of samples. Additionally, the releases are composed/performed in a modular recording environment called Bidule. The first five records were released on Vasas's website for free, each offering the chance to donate money if the listener so chooses.
Typical of the series, one recording focuses on the manipulation of four source recordings of street musicians in Germany, recorded by ex-Beasts' guitarist Brian Slagle. The four tracks each only feature a single short corresponding source recording.