Hibou's new album, "Something Familiar," is out Friday on Seattle's Barsuk Records. He plays a release show 8 p.m. March 8 at Neumos.
Most teenagers spend the back end of their high-school careers ducking hall monitors and studying for calculus tests. Peter Michel’s experience was decidedly cooler.
Before he was old enough to book his own hotel room, the adolescent musician and his best bud, Jack Doyle Smith, joined then-buzzy indie band Craft Spells and hit the road for eight months, touring across the U.S. and Europe.
“At that time in my life I had a lot more energy,” recalls the 24-year-old, lounging in the Ravenna house he’ll soon vacate when he again leaves to tour. “I was still in high school, so I could get two hours of sleep every night, fall asleep in the tour van, and wake up in a new city just psyched that I was in a new city — ‘What are we doing?! Where are we playing?!’ That was a blast.”
To some degree, that’s one of the last things Michel remembers clearly. Since age 17, the dream-pop songsmith who performs as Hibou has dealt with a dissociative disorder called depersonalization that makes people feel like they’re in a dreamlike state or detached from their bodies. As Michel describes it, it’s like getting “sucked out of your body and you’re watching yourself and you can’t control your movements. It feels like a fuzz or like a gloss.”
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It also causes intense anxiety and the repercussions from his severe panic attacks can debilitate him for weeks, he says. Sometimes he’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the taste of aluminum in his mouth, and his “brain starts tingling super quickly” without knowing what triggered it.
After his stint as Craft Spells‘ touring drummer, the anxiety and feelings of detachment intensified and Michel says he hasn’t felt like himself for the past eight years.
“It feels like I’m creating less memories, and I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, but I don’t think I’ve created anything to be nostalgic about,” the soft-spoken musician says. “Even though if someone else were to look at my life they could pick and choose things to be nostalgic about. But I feel like they’re not my memories. It feels like things I experience now, like there’s just this gloss in front of everything, like it’s in one ear out the other. I don’t take anything in anymore, which is very frustrating.”
Michel says he’s met with doctors and therapists, been prescribed numerous medications with undesired side effects and nothing’s seemed to work. Tired of the fruitless discussions with medical pros, the multi-instrumentalist finally started writing about it.
And it wasn’t easy. Though performing or working on cars during his day job as a mechanic offer a distraction from his anxiety, dwelling on it while writing the songs for his new album, “Something Familiar,” only made it worse.
“There were times I got angry or upset that I was writing these songs and that I was feeling worse and worse,” Michel says. “But in retrospect these songs came out feeling like they had more honesty behind them. This record is very much the truest art that I ever let myself create.”
It may not have been the catharsis he hoped for, but the resulting album — out Friday, March 2, on Seattle’s Barsuk Records — finds the onetime bedroom musician pushing his sound to new heights. After home-recording his self-titled debut album by himself, Michel hit Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice studio with an all-star lineup of Hibou’s touring band. The beefed-up production quality and addition of live drums, courtesy of Sloucher frontman Jay Clancy, allow Michel’s finely spun synth-heavy tunes to flourish. With the instrumentation’s newfound clarity, swelling shoegazey riffs provide a backdrop for his gossamer vocals on songs like album opener “Malison.” Michel toasts the new record with a March 8 release show at Neumos.
Despite a few danceable numbers, “Something Familiar” is decidedly darker than its whimsical, summery predecessor. Since the endless conversations with doctors got him nowhere, Michel was determined to convey his anxiety through musical textures and lyrics — “things that weren’t a discussion.” The songs’ intimacy and sincerity, as heard on standout feet-shuffler “Fall Into,” look to give Hibou’s live shows added emotional heft, not to mention an unintentional relevancy amid a cultural push toward destigmatizing mental-health issues.
“Before, I wouldn’t feel the lyrics at all,” Michel says. “I’d sing the songs, but they didn’t really have any large emotional attachment. So now with these songs, it’s a lot more fun — I don’t know if fun’s the right word — but it feels a lot more realistic to perform these songs.”
Hibou “Something Familiar” release show, 8 p.m. March 8, Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $15 (neumos.com)