After a 10-year hiatus from songwriting, Juneau musician Michael Maas is back with some new friends, a new album and a new name.
“I’m just excited for people to hear and see what they think,” Maas said. “I used to write and record songs when I was younger, and I just did them myself and under my own name. Then, I took about a decade off from writing songs, not really intentionally, I was just doing other things and when I got back into it during the pandemic in 2020, I didn’t really want to sing myself and so I had a couple friends who I knew sang, so I reached out to them and we connected and recorded.”
Maas is releasing his first full-length retrowave album, “Here Be Dragons,” available on streaming services and for purchase through Bandcamp on Oct. 7. Maas wrote, performed, and produced the 11-song album with nine different lead vocalists, five of which were recorded at his home studio in Juneau, while others such as singer-producers Neaon from Austraila and Rose Alaimo from New York were sent backup music and would then send back their recorded vocal parts. The five Juneau vocalists are Salissa Thole, Patricia Lattime, Heather Mitchell, Alyssa Fischer and Kristina Paulick.
“Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of doing a lot of different things in the Juneau arts community, a couple of the most pertinent ones to this project was I directed the Juneau Lyric Opera, ‘Who’s Your Diva?’ show for a few years,” Maas said. “I also music directed a couple shows at Perseverance, like ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and stuff like that. So, just by doing all of that kind of stuff I met and got to know some singers from around town, so I kind of had a list of people in the back of my head once I started reaching out. And then other vocalists I met through other people in the local arts community and a few of them I’ve met through online production communities.”
Maas is releasing the album under the name of his new creative performance project called Blue Nagoon, which he started during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The Blue Nagoon, Maas said, takes its name from the Alaska berry and really came together simply as a way of creating various projects without having to stamp his own name onto everything.
“I just wanted to have something that wasn’t my own name, just so it could kind of be a catchall for the music I’m making, but I don’t necessarily want to be the face of it myself,” Maas said. “Nagoon berries are a local Alaska berry that are pretty rare and really delicious and if you know of a nagoon berry patch, you keep it secret.”
“Here Be Dragons,” takes its name from what early explorers used to write on sections of maps that were unknown, which Maas said was a common feeling during the pandemic. The album is a marriage of all the late ‘80s/early ‘90s pop music of Maas’ youth with synthwave, modern pop, rock, musical theater, prog and symphonic metal all wrapped within themes of fantasy and sci-fi. Maas said that while the album’s threaded narrative throughout was somewhat accidental, the focus on storytelling and character was not. The narrators within songs such as “Tangent” and “Your Command” struggle with breaking unhealthy cycles, Maas said, while songs like “Forgive Forget” and “Live Wire” address the personal costs of life in these times.
“The narrative was sort of accidental throughout the album. There are definite themes that I was going with but it wasn’t like I was trying to make a concept going through the whole thing,” Maas said. “A lot of it comes out of the pandemic time that it was recorded and there’s a lot of like dealing with the realities of the world that we’re in, especially during the pandemic. A lot of the songs are dealing with this idea of ‘us against the world’ or trying to find strength in a relationship with someone when everything else around you is sort of crumbling. I think the other thing you hear in a lot of these songs is breaking cycles or even just like breaking bad habits that you’ve developed in your own life, those are a couple things that came up a lot that kind of tie through the songs and then I’m just a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, so there’s a lot of that in there, as well.”
In addition to being a music producer, Maas also teaches music under the name Nagoonberries Music where he not only teaches piano and guitar, but also teaches songwriting and production to kids. Maas said it is similar to “School of Rock” in that he places kids in bands and arranges the music for them. Also, starting back in 2020, Maas began releasing a monthly series of synthwave tracks with vocals, and in March of 2022 he released “Crestfallen,” an album of chill pop songs with singer Alyssa Fischer, who is also a featured vocalist on “Here Be Dragons.”
“The chill pop album with Alyssa is amazing and I do hope people check it out, but it’s not quite the same as my typical musical voice like this newer album,” Maas said. “Once I started writing songs again it was sort of like the floodgates opened, so I’ve probably written 40 songs in the past year in a half to two years. I feel pretty confident that I’ve got a couple more albums worth of material, I’m just not sure yet what I’ll do with all of it. For me the most exciting part of the process is the writing. I’m already excited to get back and keep writing, it’s just really fun.”
Maas also performs in the popular cover band Susu and the Prophets, which Maas said covers everything from ‘60s to modern rock and pop. Maas said that while they’ve played roughly 70 shows around Juneau over the past 10 years, they had to take a break during the pandemic but are looking forward to returning to the stage again soon, hopefully in December. Maas said he has plans of hopefully bringing Juneau audiences live performances of “Here Be Dragons” with the featured local vocalists at some point, as well.
“I think what I’ll do hopefully if it ends up coming together is some of the Juneau vocalists can cover the songs that the people from out of town sang on the album, so that we can do the whole album as opposed to just some of the songs,” Maas said. “Ideally it would be a mixture of songs from the album, other songs I’ve put out, and then some covers and stuff like that. It’s difficult to wrangle when you’ve got so many different singers and you want to get all of them in there. We’ll see what comes together but hopefully in the next few months there will be something happening.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at email@example.com.