Call & Response: Michael Rossetto
(5 min read)
Michael Rossetto is an accomplished banjoist and guitarist based in the Midwest. He’s spent time in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, performing with a variety of groups including Spaghetti Western String Co., The Pines, Buffalo Gospel, and more. The son of Italian immigrants, Michael takes inspiration from his heritage, loves food analogies, talks about communication through music, and writing in his bathrobe. You’ll also learn why shouldn’t ask him desert island questions.
Lab Notes (LN): If you had to boil your musical journey into one sentence, what would it be? (Run-on sentences accepted and encouraged.)
Michael Rossetto (MR): Arriving at that stillness and solitude between my instrument and me.
Once that bond is there, I'm ready to listen to and react to other musicians I'm performing with. This mental state is the default dining table setting and if I achieve that inner peace, I'm ready to sit down to any meal with anyone from anywhere in the world. Music frequently makes me hungry, please excuse the food references.
LN: What drew you to the banjo and when did you start playing?
MR: There was a lightbulb moment with the banjo for me - seeing Bela Fleck & the Flecktones perform on Austin City Limits in 1992. I had been playing guitar for a year or so at that point but the banjo was otherworldly. I didn't have the courage to start playing one until 2000.
What we recorded was created on the spot by two players who had never really sat down together before. In many ways that session was the first time we revealed ourselves to each other musically.
LN: What is your favorite part about playing the banjo?
MR: It's a very temperamental instrument - almost human. Like us, it's made of a variety of substances that all work in harmony together. If I took a banjo apart there would be close to 100 individual pieces laid out in front of you. Sometimes all these parts are in sync and it doesn't take much effort to get a pleasing tone out of the instrument, and other times you feel like you're fighting it. My instrument was built for me in 2006 using wood that is several hundreds of years old so I feel like a time traveler when I pick it up.
LN: What was your approach when you recorded Acoustic Contours? How did that come about?
MR: Chris Porterfield and I had some casual conversations about our love of instrumental music and thanks to Daniel Holter, we were placed in a room in front of a few microphones and given a few hours to create. If I remember correctly, we limited the pieces to under 3-4 minutes and called out a key before we began playing. What we recorded was created on the spot by two players who had never really sat down together before. In many ways that session was the first time we revealed ourselves to each other musically.
LN: Your newest record Intermodal Blues strikes a unique balance of improvisation and structure, creating an accessibility that can be lost with improvisatory music. Is accessibility important to you and is that intentional in your writing?
MR: I have a deep love for composed music - especially when it's performed live. I have an equal love for improvisation and listening to musicians create in the moment. It's only natural to bridge those two worlds together. You can take great liberties with the sauce for a pasta dish, but there is a framework and strict list of ingredients needed for creating the pasta itself that should be upheld. It's nearing lunchtime as I write this.
If I took a banjo apart there would be close to 100 individual pieces laid out in front of you. Sometimes all these parts are in sync and it doesn't take much effort to get a pleasing tone out of the instrument, and other times you feel like you're fighting it.
LN: How do you approach writing songs?
MR: Depends on why I'm writing. If I'm commissioned to write a piece for film, dance etc, that is a more structured process. If I'm writing for me, I write at home, in a bathrobe (sometimes the best playing happens early in the morning or late in the evening). I record and document something daily and often revisit ideas from a decade ago.
LN: What inspires you?
MR: Lately, kindness.
LN: What music are you listening to right now?
MR: I've been diving into the catalogs of a few Oud players - Anouar Brahem, Marcel Khalife, and Joseph Tawadros. I've returned again to the latest recording by Fatoumata Diawara from Mali. Her 2018 record Fenfo is wonderful.
LN: What do you do when you’re not creating music?
MR: I spend my days working for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I enjoy working on my house - various construction projects, working with wood, non-instrumental tools.
LN: If you were trapped on a desert island, what 5 albums could you not live without?
MR: I can't swim so this scenario terrifies me, therefore I've never been able to answer this question.
LN: What are three things about you that wouldn’t want left out of your Wikipedia page?
MR: I'm from the Midwest (Milwaukee, Minneapolis). My parents are Italian immigrants. I've been to lot of Star Trek conventions.