Long Canadian winters and an insatiable wanderlust are the things that brought Michael LeClerc to where he’s standing now, but those feet may not stay planted for long. Having landed in California by way of Ontario, Ireland and the Cayman Islands, he’s less philosophical about the past than he is about the present, which is all about where he is at right now. If the past is the vehicle, then the music is the highway, the songs marking the miles on a road with no end in sight. As for what started the whole thing, well, you can probably blame Canada.

Chatham, Ontario, is about as far from southern California as you can get in every way. A rural community near the Detroit border, the long, cold winters forced the local kids inside to make noise in garages or basements, starting bands and writing songs with big dreams of ‘getting out’. His first guitar was a twelve string he played strung as a six, bought from a friend for $150. He has been playing and practicing every day since, though lately it’s on a Taylor acoustic, or a Martin.

Music was always part of the original plan, but like many creative types, Michael gravitated towards hospitality, with its potential for global employment and cash in the pocket. It was a way out of his hometown, and a gateway to new adventure, but after a few years the routine began to take its toll. He had always known that music was his future, but didn’t know exactly how it was going to all come together. Taking a hotel job in the Cayman Islands seemed like just another lateral move, but as luck would have it, it was the catalyst that launched him out of the monkey suit and back into music full time.

Admittedly, Michael wasn’t thinking that the move to Cayman would be so significant, but a synchronic sequence of events and a bit of initiative made it the still point in his turning world. Once on the island, he immersed himself in the local music scene, and soon, a few of his tracks were getting air from the local radio station. This led to a high-prestige gig, opening for Canadian mega-band The Tragically Hip, leading to more gigs, a coveted slot on the first Cayman Jazz Festival, and interest from a Los Angeles producer by the name of Jim Wirt (Fiona Apple, Incubus). It was the perfect storm of passion meets opportunity, launching him headlong into the next chapter of his life.

Eager to follow the muse into the west, he made the move to California, encouraged by the wealth of opportunities available to him there. He’s calling the southland his home for now, but doesn’t discount the possibility of Nashville or New York as potential stomping grounds. “There’s a lot of action, and things move a lot faster in the music industry in these cities,” he says of the divide between the US and Canadian markets. There’s also more venues, more money and more potential fans, a commodity he’s been cashing in on as he steadily grows his fan base.

It’s not all wine and roses though, (although he does enjoy a good California zinfandel). In a creative climate where music has been devalued, the album has been declared ‘dead’, and popular live music at the club level has more to do with DJ’s than it does with rock bands, LeClerc has no aspirations of being the next pop phenom. “Being my own boss is nice. Making a living doing what you love is much less stressful then it was before.” But being an independent musician these days means you’re essentially running your own business with yourself as the product. The things that make it possible to survive in this day and age are the same things that make it tedious – the responsibility to one’s social media campaigns, convincing people to come see you, doing all your own business, getting yourself to the gigs and balancing the books to make sure it remains viable. “It’s hard work being all the faces: musician, manager, booker, marketer, etc.

There is a lot to do and sometimes you forget to be an artist. There is a lot of transformation going on between all these faces. I get mentally exhausted sometimes.” It’s all worthwhile when it starts to come together, though, and he knows from experience that you have to keep putting yourself out there if you want to get results. “You have to build a buzz around you to create other opportunities.

Doors eventually open when the word is out.” Still, fighting to get noticed in a sea of noise isn’t always that easy. “There are a lot more options now for independent artists because of the internet, but we are all fighting to be seen or heard. It’s the place to market yourself now, and like anything, it’s filled with constant streams of information, so you need to stand out, which includes having a budget for PR and marketing.

The disadvantage we are facing now as independents is that the major labels are catching on, and they have the money to muscle their way through with big budget PR/Marketing. They have the bankroll to put their Artists at the top of every platform on social media, and unless you can compete at their level it can be discouraging.” What’s that you say? we don’t choose our pop stars organically? It’s done for us by a team of ad execs? That’s not very romantic.

But it’s also not everybody’s cup of tea, though it may interest people to know that not every musician necessarily wants or needs to be the ‘next big thing’. LeClerc’s idea of happiness has a sort of a zen ring to it: “Whether it’s big success like Adele or John Mayer or smaller success like Damien Rice or Ani Defranco, I will take what the universe brings.”

The opportunity to be his own boss and continue to work on his craft is what he wants, and he’s making it happen. In true indie style, he can roll with whatever the gig throws at him too – solo gigs, or with a band, it’s all good. “Touring with a band would be great,” he says, citing the need to find “the right players with the right chemistry” to make it all come together.

In the meantime, he is focused on the meat of the matter, which is, as always, the music. He gets a lot of inspiration from the books he reads, as well as from daily events, the people he meets and the moments in between. “Music always comes first with me,” Leclerc comments about his process. “I would say I’m a melody maker. The lyrics come from all directions.”

As for the future, he’s got a few thoughts about that too. “Getting signed in the UK would be good for me as an artist. They seem to be embracing my style of music, and I have heard great things about the labels there and how well they treat their artists. I know I would do well anywhere, but I feel the UK and Europe would be a great start for my career.”

To that end, LeClerc has recently begun a working relationship with international music consultant William Kofi, so if America doesn’t take notice, he may well be packing his bags for a trip across the pond, en route to the next adventure. After all, it’s all about the journey.

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