Michael Lynche on The Music of Motown

David Lewellen

Tagged Under: 2021.22 Season, Guest Artist, Pops

Michael Lynche, who rose to fame on American Idol in 2010, has continued to make a career for himself as a soloist. He will visit Milwaukee March 11-13, along with vocalists Shayna Steele and Chester Gregory, to present “Dancing in the Street: The Music of Motown” with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be conducted by Resident Conductor Yaniv Dinur and will feature arrangements by Jeff Tyzik, a frequent guest on the MSO’s pops podium.

Michael Lynche talked by phone recently with MSO Backstage writer David Lewellen.

Q: Motown is actually a label, but we tend to think of it as its own genre. What makes the Motown sound?

A: It kind of is a genre of its own. Every time I’m in Detroit, I go to the Motown Museum, and you go into the recording room, and you hear the story: When they were listening to a song and deciding whether to release it, [Motown label founder] Berry Gordy would ask, “Would you spend your last $5 on this song or on a sandwich?” And if the answer was a sandwich, the song wouldn’t get released. So that high standard meant that Motown music had a certain quality to it. I love honesty in music. And Motown was the soundtrack of my youth.

Q: You’re 38. That’s a little young to grow up on Motown.

A: I’m from a performing family, and it came through my mom. She would buy a cassette and put it in the car player and say, “Listen to this. This is good.” And we would drive around until it had played both sides of the album – the Jackson 5, Al Green, Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder. I especially loved the B sides, where the music didn’t have to stick to some form. I want to hear the band jam.

Q: That’s interesting in this context. Can the band jam when it’s a 70-piece orchestra?

A: Well, you can’t quite go off the rails. We bring our own rhythm section, but working with high-level musicians like that, it will touch people’s hearts.

Q: What’s your history with Jeff Tyzik?

A: Jeff’s my guy. He’s been an incredible mentor for me. Seven years ago, after American Idol, when I was trying to find my place, he called me and we’ve been working together since then. He’s the best orchestrator in the business. He helps to bring together music and magic.

Q: What was the process of putting the show together?

A: I rehearsed in New York with my band, and then Jeff sat in for a day of rehearsals with the other singers. Jeff had his own vision for the orchestration, but he took our input on which keys would be best, and he fit it in with our rhythm section.

Q: When you’re doing familiar songs that the audience already knows, do you feel like you have to sing them in the familiar way?

A: That’s not something we’re worried about. We’re all of an age to be confident and comfortable in our own talent. In the early days, we tried to stick hard to the melody, but the show is its own beast now, its own entity. We just show up and be our best selves.

Q: So classic Motown was what you grew up on. Who do you like to listen to now?

A: John Legend, Tank, Boyz II Men. I’ll never put down anyone’s music, if people like it. But I like to hear a real band, with bass and drums and keyboard. I’m working on a new record of my own, and someday I want to play Madison Square Garden with my music. I’m not interested in small goals.

Q: What did you do during lockdown when there weren’t any concerts?

A. I sat home with my kids for a year and a half and got a chance to be a dad. We home schooled them, and I coached them in acting and singing. I’d been touring for 15 years, and it was a chance to re-energize and recharge. Now we’re back out on the road and re-energized for life and music.