INTERVIEW: Mike Waters

Mike Waters is someone who has been working tirelessly behind the scenes writing songs with some of your favourites artists like Louis Tomlinson, Demi Lovato and Mitch James. But now it’s time for the Melbourne singer-songwriter to step into the spotlight and show the world exactly who he is as an artist. 

Following his recent signing with Sony Music, his debut single ‘I’m Doing Fine’ is a candidly honest pop moment that hears him opening up about his struggles with mental health and toxic masculinity. It’s a song that is a real conversation starter thanks to its raw lyrics that just tell it exactly how it is. 

This isn’t the first time Waters has released solo music, but he’s looking at this as a brand new beginning. Learning to embrace his love for pop music over the past couple of years, he’s got a whole new lease on songwriting and melodies that has helped shape his new music. 

I recently chatted to Mike Waters about the struggles of mental health and toxic masculinity in society, the power of saying “I’m not fine” and what songwriting with other artists has taught him about himself. Check it out BELOW;

TB: ’I’m Doing Fine’ is an honest song about mental health and toxic masculinity in contemporary society and the vulnerable storyline is layered by a bold pop production. So how did this track creatively come together? 

MW: I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles writing pop songs for other people, and at the beginning I was learning what a pop song actually is, how to structure it, how to write songs with artists, and how to write songs with other writers to then pitch to artists. It was all new to me. But you spend a lot of time thinking about what people would say and what sort of things particular people sing. 

I had a whole back catalogue of stuff when I signed with Sony that I wrote for other people like Shawn Mendes and Jason Derulo, and I realised that even though I liked those songs that they weren’t me. So I consciously decided to start fresh, find my story and be authentic. I wanted to tell my real heartfelt experiences instead of writing about other people’s. 

After writing for a bit in Los Angeles, I came back to Australia and set up a session with DNA who I had worked with before. I love those guys and I love their process and approach to music. I had a week booked with them to work on as much as we could, but we ended up just writing this one song. 

The pop sound for this song really comes from what I learnt in the states mixed in with DNA’s background. We really wanted to find something that sat in a different lane. We tried to take it down this road where we took an essence from the likes of Paul Simon, Sting and Billy Joel but intertwined it with a fresh pop sound. 

It was very considered from a musical perspective, I guess. It took us a while to write, but lyrically and conceptually it’s really heartfelt. It was a really beautiful experience as we spent that whole week talking about our own mental health and how we wanted to convey it through this song. And it was just a moment of reflection and honesty. 

TB: There are some really powerful lyrical moments in this song and my personal favourite is when you just admit; “I’m so tired, so can you help me? I’m not doing fine” before the final hook. So what is one of your favourite lyrics from the song? 

MW: I think it’s definitely that moment too. It’s that “but I’ve got to tell you” moment at the end of the bridge at the middle eight where I turnaround and say “sometimes It feels like I’m losing my mind” because for us that was the whole point of the song. It’s about continually saying that you’re doing fine just as cover when in reality you’re really not doing okay. 

We got to the end of writing this song where I say “I’m not doing fine” and we were like “can we actually say that?”. We were worried it was too intense to admit so bluntly, but then we realised that’s what we needed to say. It’s the truth and it’s the point we were trying to make. It’s okay to not be fine, but you just need to open up and tell people. We wanted to help normalise that conversation. 

TB: This song is quite timely, with a lot of people suffering mentally in the middle of this global pandemic. So with being consciously aware of your mental health, how have you tried to keep yourself feeling okay?

MW: I was at my lowest around 5 or 6 years ago, but the thing that got me through that period was talking to people. And that’s where the premise of this song comes from, as it’s important to share with people how you feel. 

From talking to my family and friends to my doctor and psychologist, I was able to learn from their experiences, and I also learnt that I wasn’t actually alone. People gave me a lot of help, tips and assistance, and the most helpful thing I did for myself during that time was create a toolbox in my mind of different ways I could manage situations and things I could do to feel okay during those moments. 

Back then, building that toolbox honestly created the foundations for the rest of my life. That stuff is stuff I still use today to help redirect any feelings before it gets too much. It’s that comfort of knowing that there is so many different things I can do, and I only got those from speaking to people about their experiences and well as listening and reading about it. 

TB: Heading into this release on the back of collaborating with KSHMR on their huge track ‘My Best Life’, was there any concerns about how sonically polarising your material was to what people may think your sound would be from that song alone?

MW: I see this very much so as a fresh start. This song was the beginning of me understanding where I wanted to go with my sound. 

I had previous releases from years ago that are my first takes of being a musician. And then I’ve got songs from the in-between moments where I started songwriting in LA and was lost with thinking about other people. But now I know how to find my own sound and voice in this sort of landscape. 

So yeah it is going to be polarising for people to hear this song compared to everything else I’ve got out there so far. But everything I’ve got moving forward is something I’m hopeful to call my own. 

I do hope the people who have listened to my music in the past do like this new sound, but at the end of the day I’m ultimately writing music for me and for what I need to say. 

TB: You’ve co-written with some incredible artists like Louis Tomlinson, Demi Lovato, Illy and Mitch James. Has there been a session that completely surprised you by going in a completely different direction than you expected with that artist?

MW: Writing with Louis Tomlinson was really interesting for me. He’s a lovely dude and a great musician, but one of the things that surprised me the most was just how great of a songwriter he is, and I don’t know why it really surprised me that much. 

A lot of people think of One Direction as a manufactured boyband, and it’s something I thought of in the past, but now I don’t agree with that because I’ve seen how hard he works and the effort he puts in.  We wrote a great song together and he just blew me away that day. 

TB: You recently co-wrote on John Legends new album ‘Bigger Love’ on a song called ‘U Move, I Move’ featuring Jhene Aiko. Can you tell us about that writing process? 

MW: I wrote that one with Trey Campbell and Jonas Karlsson who both worked with John Legend on this album. It was a song that we really loved at the time we wrote it, and we were really excited about it. 

It’s a very emotional and vulnerable love song that is all about giving into someone. I remember sending it through to my publisher and saying “i would love to pick some of these male artists to send it to” and the general response was that they wanted to pitch it to female artists instead, and it just didn’t feel right in where we wrote it from. 

When it found a home with John Legend it fit so perfect because he obviously connected with it, and he’s the sort of artist that can prove it’s okay to be vulnerable and that it’s okay to share your feelings. So I’m really glad that John loved that song enough to get involved and to turn it into the song it is today.  

TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions, you ready?

MW: Sure!

TB: The emoji that best describes my new single ‘I’m Doing Fine’ is…

MW: The nervous laughter emoji.

TB: Most mornings I…

MW: Sleep as late as possible. 

TB: A show I’ve binged watched during Isolation has been…

MW: Tiger King and The Office. 

TB: If I could have any superpower it would be to…

MW: Be able to do everything Spiderman can. 

TB: Pineapple on pizza is…

MW: The only way!

‘I’m Doing Fine’ is out now!