As a regular solo act at San Tan Flat in Queen Creek, Mike Easterday puts on a country performance that tends to get people out of their seats and onto the dance floor. During his shows, the 27-year-old country musician sings an array of country covers, from Garth Brooks to Florida Georgia Line, and even throws in Bill Withers and Billy Joel with "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Piano Man."
Easterday even takes requests from couples in the crowd who would like to dance to that special song. He has built a fan base that keeps his shows filled well attended on a regular basis.
The Yuma native, who now resides in Gilbert, has been performing around the Valley as a solo act and with his band since he moved to Phoenix for his college years. In 2009, you might have seen him on the CMT reality show Music City Madness, on which he finished in the top eight.
One year later, Easterday released a self-titled EP that fully encapsulates that raw country sound and feeling, as well as really showing off his songwriting abilities. Always writing new material, the crooner took time to speak with Up on the Sun about his music and career.
How did you get started in music? I'd sing Disney movies, like The Lion King. I would go back and rewind like [singing], "I'm gonna be a mighty king." I would write down the words to it and do that stuff. Then I took choir in high school, but I dropped it for agriculture.
Then I came up to Phoenix and put an ad on Craigslist because I wanted to be in a band, and I found my guitar player, and he started a band with me. I was going to school here at ASU, and I just really wanted to be in a band, and that's pretty much how we got everybody into the band. I met the guitar player, and we became really good friends, and it took us forever to get the other two people. Then we started playing around here. Our second gig was actually here, at San Tan [Flat].
Who are your influences as a musician? I'm a huge Garth Brooks fan, if you couldn't tell, and then the standard stuff when I was growing up, like Kenny Chesney. But the person who sticks out is Garth Brooks -- I started learning guitar with his book. Yeah, but George Strait, too, and all those people like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash -- stuff like that. My brother liked that stuff a lot, so I kind of listened to that, too. Whatever my mom had on the radio station.
You were featured on CMT's Music City Madness a couple of times. Could you tell me about that competition and what it did for you as a songwriter?
It was just a competition for songwriters, and nothing ever really came of it. That competition, as I remember it, would eliminate half the people per round. So I think I was top eight, as I recall. Yeah, the voting is one of those things where it depends on how many people go on and vote and for how long [they vote] because you can vote as many times as you want.
It was probably one of my first experiences having my original stuff out there, where more people could hear it than just my family. Yeah, that was a good experience because I got to go on the radio station in Yuma and kind of plug it.
What has been your biggest obstacle so far being a musician and being in this business? I'd say trying to keep a band together is one of the hardest things. I met my guitar player and it took about two years to really start playing out, and then we sort of dissolved. Then we had to get players again and get back together and start playing locally.
And then songwriting and stuff -- that's always a challenge in general. You know, you get mental blocks or something and you can't write. You're a writer so you know. Just when you can't think of anything to write about.
And not knowing how to navigate the waters, necessarily, you know, like if you want to get your music played nationally. It's like what do you do? There are a billion people out there who are like me. Everyone's trying to do the same thing.
What's something that you look forward to with every performance? People being there! Yeah, it's a lot more fun when there are a lot of people there. Playing at San Tan [Flat] is really nice because it's really calm and I can just sit there and play. It's really laid back. But I like the difference with the band because you're playing with more people and there's a lot more energy and it's later at night.
Do you have a favorite moment from any performance? I mean, my guitar player, his mom's boyfriend was here and he was really drunk and he was holding the camera and he was filming me and tipping over sideways -- this guy has crazy gray hair -- and he goes, 'I'm filming you, Mike!" I couldn't sing anymore, I was just looking away. It's kind of embarrassing when you can't sing because you're laughing, but you know, it's fun.
You haven't had a single released since 2011. Are you working on anything new right now that we can expect for this year? Yeah, I'm always trying to write stuff. It's always a process. That's actually my goal for this year -- to go back to Nashville and record four more songs again. It's kind of expensive. But, when you release a single you have to pay promotions companies and that's expensive too. Well, you don't have to, but it helps. That's kind of what got me on radio stations. They kind of helped call radio stations and get the word out, I guess.
Can we hear you on any of our local radio stations? No. I e-mailed KMLE [FM 107.9] and KNIX [FM 102.5] and they said they turn down big artists all the time -- basically saying I'm out of luck. You have to build on smaller radio stations and then medium stations, and that kind of gives you a way to maybe get in there.
Do you typically only play at bars like San Tan Flat and Toby's [I Love This Bar & Grill] or do you ever have your own shows?
Mostly San Tan and Toby's. We used to play at a place called Tom Ryan's. It's not called that anymore, but we also play at Pinnacle Peak Patio and Toby's has one in Peoria, one in Tucson, and one in Mesa, and they're building a new one in CityNorth, so between those four, we should be pretty busy.
We just played out here [San Tan Flat] with the band two weeks ago, but I've been playing this place regularly for the past four years every Wednesday and Thursday -- I used to do Sundays, too. Then there's the side stuff that comes up. Like, they did an open house thing in Florence and I went and played for their big community get-together. With playing this twice a week, I play about 100 shows and with the band we play about 150 shows a year.
Mike Easterday is scheduled to perform on Friday and Saturday at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill in Mesa.
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