I wrote a few weeks ago about a show headlined by my friends in Ex-Nihilo. But, I have to say that I was most blown away by the opening act, the Jocef Michael Band. I chatted with their front-man for a bit and realized that he was the genuine article.
I’ve been going to shows for a long time, and it’s worth noting that you never really know what you’re going to find when you show up early. I’ve always been a strong believer in before the first note is played and staying until the final act has left the stage.
I’ve found favorite bands this way, and too many times I’ve been caught off guard by the intrigue and charisma of smaller bands looking to make it big. And, all of those bands have their own story about what got them there.
Jocef Michael is no different. He’s a man that understands what it’s like to work his way up the ladder and put in the time. He told me a story about the first big show he ever played with Jocef Michael Band at the Newport Music Hall. JMB was still in its infancy and he didn’t know much about playing big shows or selling tickets. But when he learned that the threshold for sales was at 86 tickets, he knew he had to put in the grind.
As he puts it, “You gotta be able to rock and leave a good impression, but you can’t leave an impression on someone who doesn’t show up.”
And as it happens, they ended up pulling the biggest crowd, with over 300 tickets sold. It was a humbling learning experience for a man who had thought about leaving the music industry just a few short years before. In fact, Michael left Ohio to join the US Air Force in his 20’s, after a tumultuous relationship with music in his teens.
Michael might be considered a late bloomer, first rapping when he was 15 in a group aptly named Brothers on a Mission. His best performance ended up being a rap battle that included members of local act 40 Days Tempted, who were so impressed that they invited him to perform in a battle of the bands.
At the time, Michael didn’t even have a real band, but he knew a few people who could perform with instruments, and they ended up winning that battle of the bands as well.
“No one can deny the power of hard work” says Michael. It showed as he tried to find his style, but eventually things caught up with him. While he wouldn’t expound too much on what drove him away from music, he did find temporary solace in the Air Force. But there was always a song he could hear in his head, haunting him in throughout the nights when he was away.
“Whatever you’re meant to do” Michael adds “it has a way of coming back around full circle.”
After leaving boot camp he came back to Columbus, but found himself shunned as a Christian rapper trying to book shows. As a point of reference, Jocef stands for “Jesus over centuries, exalted forever”. And even though he had played shows and was friends with 40DT, Alon Auguste, and Gotee Records prodigy (and Columbus native) John Reuben, he was still given the cold shoulder in the capital city.
“Nobody would even let me in,” he said, “and I figured that the best way to open doors was to become a band.”
So Michael added a bassist and drummer to his entourage, and labeled them the Jocef Michael Band. Suddenly, eyes were open. Tickets were sold, and inevitably that circle came to completion. Michael had become close friends with a talented musician named Tyler Joseph and they ended up at a show headlined by Reuben. Joseph’s band Twenty One Pilots were scheduled as an opener, and Michael tried to introduce his two friends to each other.
As the story goes, Joseph felt like Reuben gave them a bit of a cold shoulder, and decided to go out on stage and prove to everyone there that he belonged. Michael says it was a proverbial passing of the baton; from the man who opened many doors to local acts (Reuben) to someone who would soon go on to major mainstream success (Joseph).
Michael also credits his drive to a chance encounter with Questlove from The Roots. He was at the Sprite Remix Tour and ended up getting to chat with Quest for about 45 minutes. He says that the last advice he was given has stuck with him over the years.
“The advice I’m going to give you Jocef,” said Quest, “is don’t take no for an answer. Just pursue your dreams and don’t let anyone shy you away things.” Michael happened to make an impression on Pharrell Williams that evening, who ended up inviting him on stage for his last song at the festival.
As you can tell, Michael is no stranger to the stage. His current incarnation of the Jocef Michael Band has a rotating cast of musicians that currently includes Aeneas Reynolds on bass and Joe Martin on the drums. Michael says he draws inspiration from the likes of Tupac, Nas, The Roots, and the Winans. Although he’s only been on this earth a short while, he’s put together a solid musical journey and is looking to build on it in the near future.
When I initially heard them playing at Rumba Café last week, I caught some LeCrae vibes. But as the music kicked on, I felt some alternative RDGLDGRN stylings, and some of The Knux, as well. The flow is tight, the music is real, and the energy is hot.
Michael says that he’s always been overlooked in life, and it’s put a chip on his musical shoulder. “It’s not cockiness though” he adds. “It’s definitely a true yearning to be different on stage and leave a good impression with the crowd.”
If you want to catch that vibe live, their next performance is at Skullys Music-Diner on May 30 for Envirofest 2017!
Jocef Michael Band – Dead Man Walking