It was somewhere in remote Alaska that Michael Gold—who records and performs pop–infused psych-rock as Mirror Tree—began to realize that he was officially on the road less traveled. “I was flying around between all these native villages and all these little, muddy gravel air strips in a single-engine Cessna, in and out of snowstorms, and landing on ice-covered runways,” says Gold, who worked for several years as a pilot in the Last Frontier, and currently is based out of Los Angeles, and flies a 737 for a major airline. “Being a musician to me always felt like the path of least resistance a little bit, you know? And when I touched down in a place like Bethel, Alaska, I felt very firmly off of the path of least resistance.”
Until Gold decided to fly away from the world he knew, music was always right there in front of him. Gold’s mother, Sharon Robinson, is a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who collaborated extensively with the late Leonard Cohen, co-writing some of his classics like “Everybody Knows.” Robinson was close friends with Cohen, and Cohen was Gold’s godfather: “He was definitely a big part of my world growing up, for sure,” Gold explains.
Raised in L.A., Gold was formally trained in classical and jazz piano, and the wonders and possibilities of music seeped into him. He continued pursuing music in college, studying jazz piano at nearby CalArts, where he lived in a barn in the remote town of Val Verde, which was at one point known as the “Black Palm Springs.” Around this time, he joined the indie-disco band Poolside as a keyboardist/vocalist, bouncing around the world on tour with them, as well co-writing songs like the disco-rock-fusion epic “Feel Alright.” (18 million streams on Spotify and counting.)
But the call of the wild never stopped pulling Gold—driven in large part by adventures he would go on as a kid with his dad to places like the Mojave Desert. And, after getting his pilot’s license, he decided to trust his instincts (and some good advice from a fellow pilot) by heading to Alaska. “I basically just bought a plane ticket, and knocked on all of [the local airline services’] doors with my resume in hand,” he laughs. For the first time in years, Gold wasn’t thinking like a musician anymore, and went back to enjoying some of his favorite bands—like Stereolab and Broadcast—solely as a listener. “It just kind of changed the way I heard music,” he explains. “I wasn’t analyzing it for the purpose of learning, for the purpose of becoming a better musician anymore. I was just kind of feeling it.”
But he couldn’t stay away from making music for long. After coming back to L.A., Gold began writing and recording again, and soon teamed up with former Poolside bandmate Filip Nikolic to develop his sound—something like a mishmash of Supertramp and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. When the two were honing in on the vibe they were going for, tapping into Spaghetti Western soundtracks and Tropicália, they realized they would ideally need a Farfisa organ, which
Gold conveniently happened to have in storage—but hadn’t ever used before, and wasn’t sure would even work. Sure enough, though, “We plugged it in and it fired right up,” Gold marvels. “And that just became the backbone sound of that whole album.”
With Gold serving as the main writing and performing force of Mirror Tree, and Nikolic producing the set, while co-writing and performing on some tracks as well, Mirror Tree took flight. Gold would demo out songs and at his home studio, and then bring them to Nikolic’s studio, where they would work together to create grooves worthy of ELO for the chillwave generation. Songs like “300 Miles” and the title track “Mirror Tree” take the vintage Farfisa reverb and twist it into something modern, infused with a non-Western sensibility and a simultaneous Western accessibility. On rippers like “See It Through” and “Echoes Competing,” Gold combines his virtuosic keyboard abilities with earworm choruses and subtle poetics: “Cigarette thrown in the wind,” he sings in his falsetto on the latter track. “Mirror shows the glow / Driving on alone.”
As the project went on, the image of the Mirror Tree stuck with Gold—a metaphor for the way that light and life bounces off of people and things around us. Soon he realized that it was the appropriate title for the album and the band at large—and served as an ethos for everything that brought him to where he is today: “I’m not a super spiritual person, but whenever someone dies, I really get a lot of comfort that they are just kind of being constantly reflected on everyone,” he says. “Their presence—you get to keep it through the people that they affected.”