For 23-year-old local songwriter John Michael Rouchell, the project that kick-started his career was undertaken on a dare.
"A friend of mine told me I was the laziest songwriter on the planet," Rouchell says, laughing. "He said that I couldn't write a song a week for the whole year. And so I did it."
In 2008, Rouchell wrote and recorded a new song each week and posted each one on his Web site, www.mynameisjohnmichael.com, for comment and review. The rigorous schedule paid off both in publicity and in honed skills. Rouchell accumulated a six-piece band along the way and played in Austin's South by Southwest music festival last week. Jazz Fest and Bonnaroo slots are scheduled, and he is negotiating an Austin City Limits festival gig for early fall. He also was nominated for a Big Easy Entertainment Award in the Best Emerging Artist category. This Saturday, he'll release his first full-length CD, The People That Come and Go, featuring 13 tracks culled from 2008's 52.
"It was a really cool idea to test myself, to see if I was really a songwriter, to see if I could do it," he says, noting the plan was a bit like an exercise regimen. "Because I've never really been the front person of a band or anything. It was a fitness thing in a way. Because there are those weeks when a song doesn't come, but you have to find the means by which to output what you're going through that week. Sometimes the songs were literally about not having a song."
Currently a senior in Loyola University's music business program, Rouchell already has a few years under his belt in New Orleans' small but close-knit indie-rock scene. After taking a two-year hiatus from school to tour with his band Ellipsis and do a couple of brief stints on guitar with World Leader Pretend and Theresa Andersson, he settled back into his hometown with a renewed focus on his music. The organic-meets-electronic sound of those two bands is evident in the folk-pop jangle of his solo work. As the project evolved, his band also fleshed itself out with the added talents of members of the City Life, Antenna Inn, Glasgow and Rotary Downs.
Offering up his raw material track-by-track, Rouchell used the emerging model of artists giving away downloadable MP3 files and then took a pay-what-you-wish concept a step further. As each song appeared on his blog, visitors had the option of donating money to his effort. For $10 or more, fans earned a high-quality audio file and the opportunity to vote on which tracks would make the cut for the album. With the band's input, he reworked and re-recorded the fan favorites. But the songs that fell away with the chaff won't go to waste.
"In the music industry right now, one album every 18 months doesn't work," Rouchell says. His blog has two complete live shows posted for free download, and for the foreseeable future, he's got plenty of material left to work with.
"We're constantly trying to give people more media than they can handle," he says. "Look at Lil Wayne. That guy puts out how many songs a year? And he just has to freestyle over a track."