Even before constantly touring to promote his current CD "This is Me", life musically for Michael Dimitri has meant being on the road more often than not. From playing Elvis in London’s West End to performing with the Sundance Drum Team to being a member of a UK Blues Brother tribute show for over three years, music seems to be in his blood as much as his spirit. His journey has been diverse, as is his multi-dimensional talent. Through it at all, his purpose has been for his listeners to come to know who he really is, and what his music is all about. His CD then, "This is Me", is so perfectly named.The Empress is pleased to bring you this revealing interview with Michael Dimitri.
Q: You’ve spoken fondly of your mother as your greatest musical influence. Please comment on what you know of her talent and experiences as a professional singer in the music business. Does she continue to spiritually motivate you today?
Dimitri: Yes ...definitely. I was very young when she passed away, and one of the very few memories that I do have, is of her and I listening to the radio (can't remember what song). She was singing and I was playing a broom (like a guitar). In my mind's eye and ear, I remember that she was always singing. I also remember, oddly enough, a duet that we did once of "Popeye the Sailor Man." I wish I could share more about her life and her talent and experiences in the Music Biz, but there is not a lot of documentation available for whatever reason - only that she recorded something for Decca records, and that she did something for and/or was sponsored by the American Cancer Society. This information was passed down from a distant cousin who is also sadly no longer with us. I do know that her father, my grandfather, was an Orthodox priest and also very musical.
I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I was going to become a singer and carry on for her. Truthfully, every time I have an important gig, or when I really need to be at my best, I know she's there. I can feel her presence, can hear her, I can smell her; she gives me strength, and I am always able to pull off my performance. I've been told by friends in the audience on a few occasions that a blue light has been visible just to my left when I perform.
Q: Please share a little about how your new CD "This is Me" came about. How were you inspired to create and write some of the songs?
Dimitri: In 2001 I decided that it was about time I start thinking about getting back into music, but the CD happened quite by accident, really. I've generally been writing songs for a long time, and especially during that year of my life. Once they were finished, I put them in a drawer or closet (and sometimes lost them entirely), but there seemed to be about 40 of these that just kept popping up everywhere I looked -- or didn’t look, as if though they demanded attention. A few of my close friends reminded me a number of times that I said I was going to record an album. (For those of you reading this who don’t know much about me, I left the music business for about 12 years, and although I never stopped singing, I had basically left the music world and pursued other things like acting, screenwriting, and gardening.)
Anyway, I thought about it some more after 2001, pulled out everything I had "filed" away, and whittled it down to about 15-20 songs from an original list of about 40. I then decided "what the heck, why not?" and I put some rough demos together and listened to them. I selected 14 of them, plus a cover song that I’d recorded for a record company a few years prior which never was released. And the result was "This Is Me". Really, the songs on the CD were not written as part of an album or a concept. When the decision was made that I would be putting an album togther I tried to put songs that would 'live together.'
The title track, 'This Is Me', came to me after I was stopped on the street by a complete stranger (who I learned later) had obviously seen me in one of the musicals that I’d been in; he came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey didn't you used to be Michael Dimitri, the guy who played Elvis in the West End?" Another song from the CD, 'Let Freedom Ring', came about as a result of what happened on 9/11. I was in the hospital in London with a suspect heart attack as the planes were crashing into the Twin Towers... I started writing it in there and finished it the next day...
Q: You tour a lot. What is life like on the road for you, and what are your favourite venues?
Dimitri: I have spent most of my life on tour in one way or another, but I haven’t really been on the road professionally for myself since 2005. Between 2002 and 2005 I was touring with a Blues Brothers show. Prior to that I hadn’t been on the road with my own stuff since 1989. No matter when or where I tour, my favorite venues are always ones where I can see who’s in the first couple of rows. I really like performing for people, so it always helps if I can see a few faces, especially if they are enjoying what I do.
Q: Your ethnic background is so diverse. You mention on your MySpace page that "I am Native American (Mííkmaq) and Greek/Albanian and although I was not raised in either of those traditions I have done my best as an adult to honor and embrace my heritage. I was born in Selma Alabama. My father moved around a lot but he eventually settled in New England. As an adult I've lived in Canada, Ireland, Greece and now Wales." Do you think your style of music or your particular creativity is a result of your ethnicity? If so, how?
Dimitri: Yes and no. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have been raised by my own birth family. I was fostered out by the state, put into state-run schools. My creativity, I believe, comes from my genes, so in that respect I would say yes, but my influences and the way my art comes out is due to a multitude of reasons with the major explanation being day-to-day experiences.
Q: Who and what are your favourite vintage performers/songs and why? Who and what are your favourite contemporary performers/songs and why?
Dimitri: Hmmm, now that’s a tough one. Vintage, the list has many names but it all started with Elvis and Smokey Robinson. Contemporary artists, honestly if you’re talking "brand new", I couldn’t tell you who does what. I like Tim Mcgraw’s stuff... He’s got great writers and producers. I can also say that I’ve heard a lot of great music on MySpace. And there are a lot of really good female singer/ songwriters out there now -- and when I get done writing this I’m going to go and learn some of their names so that the next time I’m asked this question I’ll have a more definitive answer!
Q: If you could write a song for an artist today, who would that be?
Dimitri: Tim Mcgraw. I also would have loved to have written a song for Johnny Cash or Marvin Gaye.
Q: What type of music do you enjoy personally apart from your own?
Dimitri: Traditional Native American, Robbie Robertson, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Tim Mcgraw, Tobey Keith, Travis Tritt.
Q: What would you like to be doing in the future in your career?
Dimitri: Making more music, playing live, and not having to worry about the money it takes to do so.