Mike Humble was not allowed to have pencils in science class. Instead of doing his work, he liked to hit them on his desk. His teacher, Mr. Belyea, said to him, “If you want to be a drummer, do it on your own time.” It was then, in his third-grade classroom, that he decided he was going to be a drummer.
Now in his early 30s, Humble is headed to the East Coast Music Awards in Newfoundland with Earthbound Trio. Last week the band was nominated for their album Lettuce Turnip the Beet in the World Music category. They were already slated to play the Breakout Stage, one of the main stages at the ECMAs and chosen for the Soundwaves program, which gets them playing in schools for a week leading up to the ECMAs in April. And while recognition and exposure are nice, for Humble the energy exchange is what makes performing, the endless hours practicing and working hard all worthwhile. You put it out, and hope it comes back. He said making people dance and smile is fun.
“Music feels good. Never say you’re done: never done learning, never done experiencing, never done, which is a really good thing,” said Humble. “It makes people feel good, makes people dance. It is an expression, a way to tell stories, and a way to travel.”
Growing up on his family’s farm in Maple Grove, an hour north of Fredericton, Humble did not start out playing conventional instruments. At age five, his first instrument was playing pots and pans in his parent’s kitchen.
“Anything you could hit with a stick, I played it,” said Humble. “I’m surprised my parents didn’t drown me.”
He moved outside to play the oil drums and industrial sinks where his two sisters couldn’t make fun of him. Outside he couldn’t annoy the rest of the family by beating on anything he could get his hands on. When Humble was 12, he got his first drum kit.
Humble was fortunate enough to grow up with two local musicians, Jon Soderman and Philip McGeehan. Soderman lived near Humble and had an album recorded on tape cassette. “He was the first person that I owned a tape that he made. It was his music and I had a physical thing [that he made],” said Humble.
When Humble was in middle school, McGeehan opened a music store in Stanley and also started a music festival. Humble took lessons from McGeehan and later played at the Stanley Music Festival in 1997 with his high school band Confusion.
“We played one song, ‘Santa Monica’ by Everclear, and it was awesome.”
Since his high school days, he has played with five different bands and played on four albums.
Earthbound Trio was formed in Saint John in 2010. Humble joined singer Dwayne Doucette and bassist Bob Fitzgerald in 2012 when their previous drummer quit. The band started working on their debut album Lettuce Turnip the Beet in the winter of 2012 and released it in late 2013. The name for the band came from a magnet on Fitzgerald’s fridge.
Although there is not a lot of money, Humble said that isn’t how he weighs his success.
“You can’t put a price tag on the fun, the stuff I’ve done. I’ve made a lot of people happy, met a lot of cool people, so that’s success for me. I’m happy with it. I still have a job, which it would be awesome to just play music and not need to have a job, but, I’ve never sold out. I’ve never done anything I haven’t been happy with. So that’s successful really.”
For the past six years, he has run Folly Fest in Gagetown. He is also a volunteer for events like Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival and Shivering Songs and has played at many of the festivals. In addition to music, Humble enjoys organizing art events and gardening, and loves to grow his own food.
“Teaching people about growing food and where food comes from is like music,” said Humble. “I feel there’s no end to it, no being done learning. I really like that.”
Sitting at a table in The Cellar, his hair contained in a knitted hat and his beard growing long, Humble drinks his Winter Warmer from the bottle and passes on three suggestions for surviving as a performer.
The first is that you have to diversify, and know how to make posters, graphic design, promotion and social media, he said.
“The second is that you have got to be nice,” said Humble. “That’s the biggest thing. In this small music scene, if you’re not nice, word travels fast.”
The most important advice that Humble has is a saying that his bandmates came up with: “Never play a bad gig for no money.”
“Some of the best gigs, you don’t get paid for, but some of the worst gigs, you get the most money for,” said Humble. “Don’t be afraid to play a good gig for no money or a bad gig for lots of money. Having a room full of appreciative people is better, but you have to balance it.”