Mike Bernard and the Midwest Made drop first single, prepare EP for April release

T-R PHOTOS BY ROBERT MAHARRY — From left to right, Midwest Made lead guitarist Dean Boike, singer, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist Mike Bernard, bassist Bobby Smith and drummer Bob Sickles pose for a photo during a recent practice in Bernard’s garage near Liscomb. The band released its debut single “Midwest Made” on Friday, and a five-song EP will be available April 29.

LISCOMB — On any given Sunday afternoon, Mike Bernard’s garage, tucked away on a gravel road between Liscomb and Albion, becomes perhaps the loudest place in all of Marshall County as the Midwest Made — his backing band comprised of lead guitarist Dean Boike, bassist Bobby Smith and drummer Bob Sickles — files in and rolls through a mixture of original material and high energy covers of songs like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.”

Bernard, who grew up in Ankeny and decided to move out of Polk City about five years ago when a stoplight was installed, has embodied the road warrior mentality over the last few years, playing as many shows as he can at watering holes and festivals around the state while still working full time as an Ankeny firefighter and raising a daughter with his wife Emily.

He traces his love of music back to his family: his aunts, uncles, grandma, sister and mother were All-State choir and band performers. Even as he became a professional first responder, the desire to write and play songs never left, and an opportunity arose to move out to the country when a friend’s parents put the house where Bernard now lives on the market.

“We kind of just fell into it. We knew we wanted a log home, and this happened to be by the river, which is awesome. And we wanted a little land, so here we are,” he said.

Without many contacts or connections in this area, Bernard started playing solo gigs a few years ago to get his name out there, but a chance meeting with Sickles, who lives in Marshalltown, led to a partnership with the Dillon Road Band. Sickles eventually chose to stick it out with Bernard as he launched another project, which is now known as the Midwest Made.

Singer/guitarist Mike Bernard plays his debut single “Midwest Made” during a recent band practice in his garage.

The words “country music” mean different things to different people, but Bernard’s sound has always stayed firmly in the realm of what’s often called outlaw, independent, traditional and even Americana. Taking influence from titans of the genre like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, younger artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Stapleton, Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers and, most recently, Zach Bryan, have led an insurgent movement, and even on a local level, the Midwest Made have sought to forge their own unique path.

“I saw that country music radio had made quite a shift, and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but it’s shifting, like everything does. I just kind of like the old stuff better, so I kind of stuck to that,” Bernard said. “I don’t ever claim to be an outlaw, just to make that straight… I’m a God fearing, one woman man. I’m not an outlaw. I just like the older, traditional outlaw (stuff).”

Boike, who hails from Waterloo, said “everything felt right” when he finally came onboard with Bernard, and while he joked about the fact that this new band is putting out a single and EP before they’ve ever played a formal gig, he knows they’re seasoned enough to make it work. As proof, Bernard recalls the first time they ever practiced together: before they wrapped up, they had already rolled through 40 songs.

With time already booked at Flat Black Studios near Lone Tree and a new band thrown together quickly, Bernard and Co. cut a total of five tracks there over a three-day period, but they all agreed, to paraphrase the great George Strait, that it just came natural. Four of the five, including the lead single “Midwest Made,” were written by Bernard, and the fifth was a co-write with Dan Olsen, who has temporarily left the band.

“I’m a words guy, so I like to write words. I’m not the best at melody. I’m not the best at hearing what I want it to sound like. So these guys, being the musicians that they are, I kind of said here’s the words, here’s the vibe, if you will, I’m going for, and they just took it,” Bernard said. “And we all got our own amount of artistic freedom in a song, and we just went with it and starts to mesh well. And it’s built.”

That freedom goes beyond the music itself. The band didn’t rely on a corporate sponsor or Kickstarter to fund the studio session, with all of the money coming from Bernard’s past shows and merchandise sales.

“When they hear it, whether they like it or not, what they’re hearing is 100 percent how we wanted it to be, and that’s pretty cool,” the singer said. “You don’t want to lose who you are in all of this. That’s one thing I’m most proud of. I love our songs, but I’m most proud of the fact that it’s 100 percent what we want it to be.”

Boike struggles to pick a favorite song of the bunch but said that each has its own mood and message. The title track is a hard-charging ode to hard work and humble roots, and the band treated the author to a live performance at the conclusion of the interview.

While audiences at small town taverns tend to become accustomed to hearing the same batch of classic cover tunes anytime a band sets up shop for the night, Bernard said he’s finally reaching a point where his own songs are garnering attention and even generating requests.

“You just float it in there, and if they react really well to it, you go ‘Oh by the way, that one was us,'” Bernard said.

While the “Midwest Made” single is available on all major streaming platforms as of Friday, the rest of the EP will not be released until April 29, when a release party is planned at the Village Inn in Liscomb with openers Luke Fox and Danny Grause. Bernard still has goals of finishing a full album and even putting it on vinyl, the way music was meant to be enjoyed.

In the meantime, the boys will be out on the road doing what they do best: playing songs and playing them loud.

“I don’t think (listeners) are gonna be surprised about the lyrics or about the message behind them. I think they’re going to be on a rollercoaster if they listen to each song back to back because they are so different,” Bernard said. “The message is so different. The vibe of each one is so different. It’s not one of those where you can just sit down and get into a mood, and this is your mood for the album. It’s gonna change your mood every song, so that’ll be interesting.”

To learn more about Bernard and his band, visit https://www.facebook.com/MikeBernardMusic or https://www.mikebernardmusic.com/.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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