Artist Interview: Micah

Micah Sukany is one of the creators at Paper Opera. He mostly works on the music side of things, though he does write as well.


Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Micah Sukany. I am one-half of The Damsels in Distress. I also write and record music that doesn’t make it as Damsels pieces. I didn’t self-identify as a musician until late last year. When the Damsels started getting money for pieces we recorded for a radio show, I thought, “Okay, I should probably take this seriously.”

What is your music process?
I work best and most often by recording. When recording,  I have a musical idea and quickly document that. I generally work from those early, recorded fragments. I think the best things I’ve come up with is when I heard the part before I ever played the part. For “Father Priam” I heard that in my head in its entirety and I had to learn to play it – that’s the first time that’s ever happened.

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Recording vs. performing?
Recording is exciting because I work to build upon layers, and I can hear everything. When performing I have to concentrate and be mindful of what I’m doing, so I don’t have time to enjoy or even listen. I’m just focused on keeping the tempo and playing the songs.

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What is the biggest challenge of creating music and how do you deal with them?
The biggest challenge of creating music is finishing when I lose interest. I haven’t really figured out how to deal with this, so I have a lot of unfinished work. It’s hard to keep going, practicing, working, and reshaping something to be perfect when I lose interest part of the way through. That is a big struggle.

What do you like about your work?
I like that my work is mine. I write it to please myself. I have always written music for myself. I have always been my primary audience. If I don’t like what it sounds like, then it’s probably not that great. I like to make it. I like that I’ve made it. And sometimes, when it’s a song from a dream, I like to listen to something that came from a dream.

I like that me and L.K. make it together, that it is our music. I like it when people say, “that’s nice,” or “I liked that.” Also, when I hear our music in a recording or video, I think it sounds magical, and I like that we’ve created something mysterious.
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What inspires your work?
I got tickets to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mahlers 5th. After that I was pretty fired up to do something better or different. It’s in the music we wrote for KUAR Arts and Letters Father’s Day show. Also, I wrote all of the instrumental recording for “Grown Ups” on the album “Spinning Plates” immediately after watching the Herzog film “Stroszek.”

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What are your favorite inspirational places in Arkansas?
I like both the Big Dam bridge and the Two Rivers bridge. I also like driving quite a bit – the drive from Greenbrier to Harrison on 65, Little Rock to Stuttgart on 165, and I40 to Memphis are all great drives.

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Who are your musical inspirations?
I really like John Lurie, the Lounge Lizards, and Fela Kuti, Africa 70, The Lovers (they are genuine and earnest both qualities I enjoy), Tasseomancy has a great aesthetic for me, and I’m always going to like folk music and European folk music.

I have always been a big fan of Subpop’s Mudhoney. Mudhoney has always been making the same kinds of music since their 20s, and they keep doing it because they like it, and I’ve always admired that they do what they like. I’ve always admired the people that played on Hearts of Space. I always thought Steven Reich was pretty smart. Like, one idea is interesting for the whole piece.

Beethoven is pretty important, especially for rock bands. Beethoven knew how to write parts.

When I think about what a good band should sound like, I think about Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Some times it’s just a single note played in a particular rhythm – just letting things be simple. Not an accompaniment pattern – just simple, like what needs to be there. It’s elegant. That’s what I think for musicians that are professionals.

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What is integral to the work of a musician?
I think the audience is the number one important thing. You can be your own audience. The idea of the rock star or professional musician has distorted what musicians are in a community because they become the sellers of commodities, opposed to storytellers or someone that creates a space in which something happens. If you look at a healthy music community, like bluegrass or classical, the musicians are just as much their teachers and their students. Their identity is connected through other musicians as something they have received and as something they are passing on. The rock star doesn’t give anything in that sense, they just make money.

Discipline and a steady, stable process. The music process involves a lot of listening, internalizing, and applying in new contexts.

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And he likes to read poetry!

What is your strongest poetry memory?
I went to a poetry reading at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts in Springfield, Missouri. Up to that point, I mostly read poetry and didn’t realize that I was missing the sound or music of poetry as well as its drama. It didn’t hurt that the poetry was read by some award winning actors of the stage and screen.

Poetry has been definitive for me. I spent three or four years in undergraduate reading it almost exclusively.

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The Mouthpiece Chooses the Musician

We caught wind of a potential clarinet find at an Pennsylvania Trading Co. estate sale. When we showed up, the clarinet wasn’t in very good condition, but there were around 15 mouthpieces all different styles and qualities.

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We went back to our house to pick up M’s clarinet and then back to the estate sale this time to try out all of those mouthpieces.

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M tried out every single one of them and picked three of his favorites: Vandoren, Stowell, and Selmer Magnitone.

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M: The Vandoren, Stowell, and Selmer Magnatone all have a good natural intonation and there is not a lot of resistance. All of these clarinet mouthpieces play with great projection – moving fluidly through the registers. They all have a bright, round tone.

Vandoren B45 ($15) – M: The Vandoren is easy to play. A noted general mouthpiece – can please everyone and suits a variety of sounds and playing styles.

Stowell H2 Chicago ($76) – M: The Stowell is most lively and responsive. It can get a little out of hand because it is sensitive to embouchure and accepts a much harder reed than I use currently. The Stowell mouthpiece is responsive to articulation.

Selmer Magnitone New York ($125) – M: The Selmer Magnitone is the liveliest of the three. It is bright and round and really blows across all the registers.

When asked about advice M would give to those searching for their own mouthpieces he says, “In the end, the mouthpiece chooses the musician.”

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Mouthpiece Holders DIY
I used an old Smartwool sock that didn’t have it’s match anymore and made two mouthpiece holders. I cut the sock in half and sewed the bottom of the top half. I inserted a cardboard piece in both sock halves. In the top half of the sock, I sewed on a button on the inside of the sock, and cut a button hole opening on the front. On the bottom half of the sock, I used fancy yarn from Munich to sew off the frayed part of the sock that was cut. I folded the heel of the sock over and cut a button hole. I sewed a button on the front of the sock, underneath the folded over heel.

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The Great Banjo Expedition

I started taking banjo lessons with Bill Nesbitt in February 2014. He was letting me borrow his banjo during this time.

Because I love playing the banjo so much and we had started using it in recordings and writings songs on it, M and I decided we should get our own banjo. In June we started “The Great Banjo Expedition” – which was basically a search on the internet to see what we wanted for a specific budget. We have a separate “band account” that we deposit any money we get from our digital albums, shows, and the KUAR Arts and Letters radio program. Our “band account” had been earning more than spending for almost a year, so we decided it was time to actually GO on this “The Great Banjo Expedition” to Nashville, Tennessee – known for its love of music.

We would have weeks to plan the expedition, and there were four shops we had in mind to look at and play from their banjo selection: Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage Guitar, Corner Music, and Nashville Used Music. That was the extent of our plans. The night before we left we used Hotwire for our hotel, which is a site that gives you a cheaper price than the actual hotel, but you only know the location of the hotel and not the actual hotel until you pay (nonrefundable). As far as food, we just looked up places on Urbanspoon and had some advice from friends.


When we first arrived in Nashville we stopped for lunch at Fido.

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After a delicious burger and key lime pie, we started the banjo shoppin’. We went to Gruhn Guitars first. We bought some finger picks and starting trying out some banjos. There were so many banjos, but around 5 in our price range to choose from. I immediately liked the feel and sound of the Recording King R35.

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M played some guitars – there were so many beautiful instruments to look at!

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Carter Vintage Guitar had a beautiful mural on the outside wall. There was a smaller banjo selection here and there was only one in our price range.


I wanted to take a little break from playing all of those banjo’s at this point, so we went to Crema for coffee.

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Corner Music was rockin’ and they had an acoustic guitar room that I could play banjo’s in – away from the rockin’ overhead music. I didn’t like any of the banjos I played there.


Last stop was the Nashville Used Music, which was basically a music pawn shop. The music was so loud I couldn’t hear what any of the banjo’s sounded like. Also, I couldn’t be certain what condition the banjo’s were in, so we didn’t stay too long.

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We went to the Millennium Maxwell Hotel to check in. We didn’t get any chocolate covered strawberries on our pillows, but they gave us a room with a view for M’s birthday. We talked banjos for a bit and did some research on the Recording King R35. We decided we would go back to Gruhn the next day and purchase the RK.

The plan, which we made up right then, was to go to dinner and a show at the Grand Ole Opry. After discovering that parking was $25, we skipped dinner and had a leisurely walk with free parking. Once there, we got some corn dogs and enjoyed live performances by The Whites, Daryle Singletary, Sarah Darling, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Connie Smith, Jason Crabb, Chris Janson, and Mel Tillis.


The next morning we went to Hermitage Cafe – a local breakfast diner for a $4 greasy delicious breakfast.

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We headed back to Gruhn Guitars to get our banjo!

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We had decided on the Recording King R35 – which we bought from Calvin.

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When we got home, we were so inspired by the music and entertainment in Nashville we wrote a song with a little twang called “Fishing at Midnight” for our new album – “The Umbrellas Here.”


The KUAR Arts and Letters Fundraiser Showcase

The Damsels in Distress were asked to open as a part of a showcase for the KUAR Arts and Letters Fundraiser at Dugan’s Pub in downtown Little Rock last Sunday.


We played with bands Heather Smith, Odyssey, and The Cons of Formant.


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The Cons of Formant

We wanted to especially thank the Cons of Formant because they brought their own PA, which they let everyone use, they helped us set up our gear, and ran the sound for us. They also used to be our neighbors. Seeing them again brought back the nostalgic “summer nights” memory of sitting on our back deck listening to them play music in their own backyard with their friends singing along.

There was a great turn out and everyone supported the fundraising part as well as the bands. We even had a special guest star appearance by writer Sam Brown, author of “The Last Baby Angel.” Below is a video of Sam Brown reading an excerpt of “The Last Baby Angel” while The Cons of Formant play accompanying music.

The Set List:
I Don’t Drive
Neutron Rising
French Song
Rare Red Rainbow
D & D
Mr. and Mrs.
Twinkle Twinkle Emo


We often change instruments for each of our songs. Changing instruments can take a minute or two, which ends up being a long time when multiplied by 10 songs – especially in a 35 minute time slot. We ordered our set list so that one person was able to go directly into the next song while the other changed instruments. When we timed the set during practice, it was 34 minutes. At the beginning of the show, we were having some sound issues, so it was cut short, and “Mr. and Mrs.” ended up being our closing song.

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Writing, Recording, and Performance
In terms of writing, recording, and performing, the performance is the most difficult for us. Imagine being in front of a room full of people (and if the room is full of people then wow – that is good). They are all talking, eating, and drinking. Maybe only 10 of the people in the room are actually there to see you perform – these are your wonderful, supportive “fans.” As a performer, your goal is to entertain in a way that is non-threatening, confident, and creates a seamless transition from the crowd having a good time with their friends to having a great time listening to the band with their friends. The best possible scenario is that this would happen while making more “fans” with the actual music.

Honestly, the art of performance is a very big part of a band, and it is just not one of our strengths at this point. However, I do think we collected 3 or 4 new fans!

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Thank you everyone who came to the show and for your support for the KUAR Arts and Letters radio program. We also wanted to give a special thank you to Dr. J. Bradley Minnick and his wonderful wife Mary Ellen for including us in all of their “taking over the world through the arts” schemes!

Thank you John and Janet with JJ Paquette Photography for coming out and taking pictures of our band!