New Whisperhawk album helps Clearfield musician rediscover passion for songs

New Whisperhawk album helps Clearfield musician rediscover passion for songs

Michael Gross is juggling all sorts of responsibilities these days.

Husband. Father. Musician.

He’s also a tribal councilman for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation — what he likes to describe as “Your local Indian tribe.”

On a recent morning in late October, Gross donned his up-and-coming-musician hat for a telephone interview with the local newspaper about his latest project, Whisperhawk.

“I’ve always been pretty eclectic in my songwriting,” the Clearfield man says of his new solo project, which he describes as indie rock/folk. “I’m not trying to please anyone, I just write the stuff that I would like and listen to myself.”

As Gross speaks, a gentle commotion begins in the background. He apologizes, explaining it’s his two daughters, ages 5 and 3.

Gross says he’s on “dad time” these days, filling the role of stay-at-home parent while his wife, Heather, is at work. The couple, who recently bought a home in the Clearfield neighborhood where Gross grew up, didn’t want to put their daughters in daycare.

“You do what’s best for your family,” Gross said of the decision to have him stay home with the kids. “Plus, my wife is really educated and has a good job.”

The mere fact that Gross wrote and recorded parts of the new Whisperhawk album “Larks” in his makeshift basement studio, while watching two young children, is nothing short of a miracle.

“I tell you what,” he says with a laugh. “That’s a feat, trying to record music and watch children. I say to my wife, ‘I deserve a Grammy just to be able to complete a record with kids in the house.’ In fact, if you listen closely to the album, you can probably hear kids in the background.”

“Larks” is set to release Nov. 16, available on most major streaming services. Gross also plans on doing a live online concert that evening on Instagram, at @whisperhawkmusic.

Although exposed to music at a young age — his father had a turntable and a respectable record collection — Gross took up music relatively late. Growing up in Davis County, he attended Clearfield High School, where he played football and was captain of the basketball team.

“I had close friends of mine who did the high school band thing, recording songs on their own in the basement,” he recalls. “I always thought that looked like a lot of fun.”

Gross played a year of junior college basketball in Walla Walla, Washington, followed by a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon returning from his mission, Gross threw himself into music.

“I found a passion for it I didn’t know I had in making music and writing music,” he said.

Gross spent time in a few recognizable local bands over the years, including The Brobecks, Let’s Become Actors and, most recently, The Statuettes.

Eventually, Gross and The Statuettes just sort of drifted apart.

“We played together for a few years, but it got to the point where things were a little stagnant, I think,” Gross said. “The passion for it just wasn’t where it should be — at least on my end.”

It also didn’t help that band members lived all over Northern Utah, so when they’d rehearse, “It was a lot of commuting.”

Gross says he was losing his passion for music; it was becoming a chore.

“When that happens, I know I need to take a break, separate myself, and re-evaluate why I do music,” he said.

From that re-evaluation came Whisperhawk, Gross’ more-or-less solo project. He released an EP in 2017 under that moniker, and now follows it up with this month’s “Larks.” The new album features Gross on vocals, guitar and bass; former Brobecks bandmate Matt Glass on drums, and Art Webb on keyboards.

Gross met Webb years ago when the Brobecks would play the West Coast; he says he’s slept on Webb’s couch many times over the years.

“Floors, couches, any number of horizontal surfaces,” Webb corrects.

Webb calls the new Whisperhawk album “great,” saying he’s always been a big fan of Gross’ songwriting.

“He’s a great songwriter, and he has a great knack for melody,” Webb said. “He has this ability to write songs that are not necessarily flashy or overtly accessible at first, but they grow on you in ways you can’t explain.”

Webb remembers a time, years ago, when Gross and The Brobecks happened to be in Southern California and asked to open for Webb’s band at the time.

“The distinct memory I have is of sitting there and watching The Brobecks opening for us, and realizing we biffed it,” Webb said. “That’s how good they were — we were way worse than those guys.”

Ordinarily, being upstaged by an opening act would be cause for friction between musicians. But Webb says Gross and the other Brobecks were just so darned “super, genuine and nice.”

“Mike deserves to be nationally known, he really does,” Webb concludes.

For Gross, the songwriting process is a fickle one. He tends to have to wait for inspiration to hit. That inspiration came in a burst with “Larks,” according to Gross.

“I wrote eight of the 10 songs in the span of two weeks,” he said. “Sometimes you get in the zone, to use a sports analogy, and then the ideas are coming to you. When that happens to me, I have to jump on it, because I never know when it’s going to happen again.”

Gross also funded the new album through a Kickstarter campaign. He says it enabled him to get the record out sooner. Among Gross’ influences — some of which can be heard in the new album — are The Beatles, Neil Young, Radiohead, early Weezer, Soundgarden, Built to Spill and Ryan Adams.

Whether or not this music thing ever turns into a full-time living, Gross says he’ll continue to write and record songs, because that’s what he does. He hopes the new Whisperhawk project will catch on just enough to allow him to get out and do a bit of touring.

“I just want to make enough, monetarily, to keep this thing going and pay some bills,” Gross said. “I’m not looking to be a superstar — just a musician who is appreciated and can keep making music.”

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