by J.C. Lockwood
Michael Bernier? Yeah, this Newburyport musician has been burning up dance floors and concert halls around New England for the better part of the last decade with high-energy/feel-good acts like Michael Bernier & the Uprising and, for the past two years, Freevolt, whose debut album should be in the racks right about now. But Bernier is also a bit of a juggler, with the whole Evolvement thang, you know? Evolvement Music, a music-production and event-management company. Evolvement Radio, a weekly music and interview show now syndicated on 35 stations. And the healthy touring schedule and, damn, the guy’s even got a brotherly brew—Evolvement’s Good Good IPA, a new taste from Cody Brewing in Amesbury—ready to go after exhaustive, um, testing by Bernier and company. The suds—which have “floral notes,” a hoppy flavor similar to brews from Newburyport Brewing Company, where Bernier and Evolvement books acts for its music series—will roll off the production line as early as this month.
But you’ll never see him sweat—off-stage anyhow. On stage, Bernier is, by his own description, “completely insane, jamming funk and reggae… and loving it.” But, when the music’s over? Well, it never is. Catch him off-stage and he’s probably still singing. He’s singing all the time, “Many times unknowingly,” he says, “Walking around the house, walking around the yard, there’s always some music going on.“ And, despite the buzz of activity, despite the fact that there’s a million things going on, things that gotta get done, he says there’s no reason to freak out about it. “There are points within that you need to be driven, there’s a business side,” he says. “But for the most part every moment of my life is enjoyed and mellow and relaxed, you know, try to keep it calm. Yeah, life is totally hectic, but I love it. I’m out there and I’m spreading a really positive message to people and it’s wonderful seeing how they react to that. I’m enjoying it, very much so.” A laid back guy? He laughs. “Yeah, I think the things that matter in this life, is enjoying it,” he says during an interview at his State Street studio, where he’s putting the final edits together on Take the Product, the Freevolt project.
“It’s our life to decide what to do with, and I see no reason to not spend my days happy with a smile on my face, and most often that comes with being even, feeling relaxed, just sitting back and enjoying it.”
Bernier, 34, was born in Lawrence and raised in Dracut.
He’s lived in Newburyport for the past eight years. “It’s a really friendly community that I’ve become a part of here,” he says, “And the music scene is bubbling now. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Before the Uprising, he was a solo act, did a couple of national tours with the whole singer-songwriter thing. He still plays solo shows from time to time but not so much these days, though. “It was a good gig, but I wanted to do so much more,” he says. He was able to dump the day job—his own business as a mason—a few years ago to focus on Evolvement. “It really didn’t work,” he says. “It kind of got in the way.”
The Uprising had a long run, almost seven years. They released a couple of albums, most notably 2011’s Do Not Write to Me Here, and a performance DVD. Ironically, its downfall came from its success: the band started taking off, requiring a bigger commitment from band members, bumping up against other life commitments. Bernier says, “We got to the point of ‘This is real, this is happening. That wasn’t the thought when we started the band. It was, ‘Hey, let’s play some music. Who the hell knew it was going to work out?”
“Wonderful people, a great experience,” he says. “It was tough to walk away because we put so much into those songs and those parts and seven years playing with these musicians… beautiful moments you create onstage where people are fully relating to each other, and then you start over again and it’s a new band. And you have to go through the cycle again. Yeah, it’s tough walking away, but there is no other situation I’d rather be in than the one I’m in now.”
Evolvement started out a decade ago, and became legit, as far as the IRS is concerned, five years ago. The name, morphing concepts of change and getting involved, just popped into his head. He checked on the Web, and no one had snagged the name. Unbelievable, he says. “I was like, bang! It defines my music, it defines, I think, what I’m all about.” The business, at first, was a vehicle for all things Bernier, but, yeah, it started growing, evolving. He started producing and recording other acts. Then, about four years ago, Evolvement Radio hit the airwaves, starting out as a two-hour weekly program at one lonely outpost—WXGR-FM in Portsmouth, NH, four years ago. The show, with in-studio concerts and interviews, is now syndicated on 35 stations. It’s a fun gig. “You get to hang out, really get to know people,” he says. “It’s just a beautiful circle we’ve involved in.”
Freevolt started when Bernier and David Hill, owner of Fusion Blue Productions, a Salisbury event-management company, were jamming. Something clicked. They decided to add some other pieces to the musical puzzle. But by the time they got the final line-up, Hill was gone. ”Shows just started jumping at us,” he says. “It clicked right away.“
The Bernier sound feels at one with sunshine and good times. It’s music with a message, a positive message. It’s about “putting everything to the side and living in this moment and realizing this is the time to have the best possible moment in our lives—and to really celebrate the company we are with,” he says. “We try to get that across with our music.”
While Freevolt mines the same musical and spiritual vibe as the Uprising, there is a difference: “There was more structure in the Uprising,” Bernier says. “It would be less likely for there to be a 20-minute jam. With Freevolt, there is a structure, but, you never know, a three-minute song might go on for 17 because we’re all really feeling each other. We’re totally in the moment. With Freevolt, we have the ability to take a concert high-energy performance and break it it down to six-person acoustic settings and play smaller settings, listening rooms, with tempos slowing down for a more mellow scene, vocals with sweet little flutters and delicate things you can’t do when you’re in front of large audience, but when you’re in a listening room people can really hear what you’re doing.”
The band will be touring over the summer with mostly New England shows. There are still plenty of local venues for a new evolving band. The biggest show in the works right now is the August 16 date with Lettuce and a boatload of other acts at the Red Hook Festival in Portsmouth.
The new album, called Take the Product, should be out sometime in June. The name? It’s a song, it’s an idea. It’s “an aggressive, outward way of saying it, but if there’s something out there in the world that you want, if there’s something that you’re lacking in your life that you need, you need get out there and you take it and it’s yours,” Bernier says. But don’t get the wrong idea. “I’m not saying hurt people and be aggressive and whatever,” he says. “I’m saying if there’s something that you want in life, you have to find a way to make it happen for yourself. You take the steps toward your own personal bliss or what are you doing? If you’re gonna die, and we all are, we wanna know that we can smile on our way outta here.”
Musically, it’s, well, Bernier finds himself baffled, and amused by the endless lists of genres, so he’s decided to call his sound roots-rock-Americana-jazz-reggae-funk-pop. “That’s what we do,” he says. But he says that what he’s putting out there is an “an organic sound, positive message, relatable lyrics. High energy and dynamic music, with underlying themes of enjoying life and taking advantage of the moment, and embracing your freedom. The message is, ‘Let’s have the best possible time we can have.’”
When he’s not doing his own stuff, Bernier likes listening to bands like Bright Eyes, Rage Against the Machine, Jay Z, and Mason Jennings. “And Josh Ritter really makes me happy,” he adds, But 95 percent of the time, he’s playing reggae—Midnight or Peter Tosh, Bob Marley or The Abyssinians, Fortunate Youth, or Soul Rebel Project.
Why reggae? “Feels right,” he says. “I don’t know how to explain it. I play reggae because I like it. There’s a positive message that goes with it and I like that. There’s the righteous part of it, but the most important part of it, It makes me feel good. It makes me feel right. I’ve found what is blissful within me.”