Michael Cerveris grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, the son of a college music professor father and a mother who taught dance. They met at the famed Julliard Music School and raised their three children to follow their creative instincts in every direction. For Michael, that meant parallel roads in music and acting from his earliest years.
Arriving in New York in the early 80’s, Cerveris fell in with the downtown and experimental theater crowd performing in raw spaces and storefronts, subletting an Alphabet City apartment from avant guard composer/pianist Blue Gene Tyranny and exploring the original east village punk and antifolk scenes while playing music mostly by and for himself. Early influences were bands like the Replacements and Pixies and Husker Du.
An acting job on the television series Fame as british guitar student Ian Ware brought him to LA, where he began writing and playing and forming a series of bands during the heyday of the Scream Club and the british goth invasion in southern California. But after seeing the Smiths and a trip to England in the early 90s, Michael increasingly found himself influenced by Johnny Marr and early shoegazer bands like Ride and Slowdive with his own music becoming more melancholy and cinematic.
In 1993, Cerveris returned to New York to make his Broadway debut as Tommy in the theatrical version of the Who’s groundbreaking rock opera. Pete Townshend not only approved his casting, but brought Michael to London. Telling him “I can’t teach you how to act this part, but I can teach you how to be a rock star,” Townshend brought Cerveris into his private studio to record on what was to become his Psychoderelict album, later bringing him along on the Psychoderelict Tour to sing a suite of songs from Tommy, causing Who fan Eddie Vedder to ask him “man, how do you sing like that 8 times a week?” Cerveris started a new acoustic/electric band, lame, with his cast mate Alice Ripley and began performing a late night residency at the Sin-e Club alternating nights with Jeff Buckley in the poet singer’s final months. He also ended up in clubs around town with Townshend (and, once, John Entwistle) playing impromptu shows at places like the China Club.
Townshend also created an accidental introduction to Bob Mould when Cerveris brought the Who guitarist to see Mould play a solo show at the Academy in NY. A friendship developed and Bob sat in with Michael’s band for a cover of Mission of Burma’s That’s When I Reach For My Revolver. Later, in 1998, after Cerveris had finished his first stint as the “internationally ignored song stylist” title character in Hedwig And The Angry Inch (replacing the show’s creator, John Cameron Mitchell), Mould asked Cerveris to join his Last Dog And Pony Show tour of the US and UK playing rhythm guitar and backing vocals.
On that tour, Cerveris became good friends and sat in with tour mates Varnaline and Mercury Rev. During that tour and after, he made friends and played with Ken Stringfellow (Posies/REM), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Charlotte Hatherly (Ash), Frank Black, The Breeders, Steve Shelly (Sonic Youth), and Laura Cantrell, many of whom appear on his debut solo album Dog Eared. That album, released in February 2004 was recorded by Adam Lasus at Fireproof Studios, Brooklyn and was mixed by Nick Brine at Rockfield, Wales (where Cerveris had recorded an unreleased album, Hinterlands, with his then band, Retriever). Greg Calbi mastered the album at Stirling Masters, NY
2004 was also the year Cerveris received the first of his two Tony Awards, this one for playing John Wilkes Booth in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins on Broadway. He continued his work on Broadway in dramas and musicals, adding television work creating the mysterious September, the Observer on JJ Abram’s Fringe, music manager Mervin Frey on HBO’s Treme, and State’s Attorney James Castro on The Good Wife.
In 2007, another acting job would start him on a long trip back to his southern roots. Hired to film Universal’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant for several steamy months in New Orleans, Michael decided to pack up his faithful dog Gibson (Dog Eared cover star) and take a meandering southern road trip. Stopping overnight in Meridian Mississippi, and finding himself in the home town of Jimmie Rogers, he spent all day at the Jimmie Rogers Museum hearing the stories and sifting through the relics of the legendary Singing Brakeman.
Out of that experience, Michael started recalling his own West Virginia upbringing and the music of his homestate, writing folkier, country-tinged songs and adding to that the new sounds and rhythms of the New Orleans he was hearing thanks to friends like multiple New Orleans Songwriter Of The Year winner Paul Sanchez. Cerveris’ bond with New Orleans was immediate and reciprocal and became even more tangible when he scraped together the money for a home there in the Treme in 2013.
With appearances at Jazz Fest and myriad local clubs and collaborations with dozens of beloved local musicians, Cerveris found and made a home in New Orleans and soon after, began making his second solo record there. That record, Piety, was produced, recorded, and mixed by Mark Bingham in the final days of Piety Street Studio and mastered by Dave Glasser at Airshow in Colorado with appearances by Alex McMurray, Shamarr Allen, Mia Borders, Paul Sanchez, Rod Hodges (Iguanas), the Craft Brothers (Sweet Crude, Alexis and the Samurai), Helen Gillet, Linzay Young (Red Stick Ramblers) and additional vocals by Naomi Shelton’s Gospel Queens, Kendall Meade (Mascott) and Kimberly Kaye.
Kaye is also the June to Cerveris’ Johnny, the Exene to his John Doe in their country band Loose Cattle. Their well-received debut record, North Of Houston, from 2014, is followed by a single, Pony Girl, in November 2015, recorded by bass player Lorenzo Wolff in his Restoration Sound studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, mixed by Mark Bingham at Nina Highway Studio in Breaux Bridge Louisiana, and mastered by Andrew Mendelson at Nashville’s Georgetown Masters.
Currently, Cerveris divides his time between New Orleans and New York and between Loose Cattle and his day job (at night) in Fun Home on Broadway (where he received his second Tony Award), and raising the puppy he rescued from the Louisiana/Mississippi border, Evangeline.