He’s been described as an innovative force in modern music, a multi-instrumentalist who has won four Grammy Awards, and is even David Crosby’s musical director. Michael League is known best as the leader of the acclaimed fusion band Snarky Puppy, and shows no signs of slowing down in this year that has seen him release his first solo album, So Many Me, and evidenced further by the fact Headliner manages to catch him on a day where he’s running around organising a festival.
California-born League left his New York base four years ago to move to a small village outside Barcelona, Spain. So living in a beautiful place and with that glorious introduction above, it would be easy to over-glamourise League’s career, but he’s certainly put in the grind to get here.
“I started a band called Snarky Puppy after my second year of school (University of North Texas) with college friends,” he says.
“And as that band spent its first 10 years struggling on tour, all 15 of us in a van, I was playing with other artists, I was teaching, playing weddings, playing steak houses, playing with Frank Sinatra impersonators. Every weird gig you can imagine!”
League’s four Grammys have all come from his work in Snarky Puppy, a music collective that has seen 40 players feature at one time or another, and a musical spectrum that covers jazz, rock, funk, world music, and more. The most recent Grammy came last year, for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, awarded to their Live At The Royal Albert Hall record.
League certainly isn’t the first musician who has always fancied the idea of making a solo record, if only there was the time, only to find lots of it last year. And for someone as insanely busy as League, last year’s global lockdown and the clearest calendar he’s ever had was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Headliner asks him about his experience, knowing he seems to thrive the most in collaborative settings.
His answer is a self-deprecating one: “It was definitely a new experience, and definitely a bit vulnerable. Because I think my main talent as a musician, and maybe it's not the most flattering thing to say, is really just about assembling people, knowing who will work together well, and what that musical result will be.
"I partly did it too as a challenge to myself to see if I can hang with that kind of environment. I learned a lot about myself, about my deficiencies as a musician and also about what I'm capable of and what I'm absolutely not capable of. So it was fascinating.”