The Curse of SickPay
The true artist, so they say, knows no bounds. All things are possible, nothing isn’t, the muses are many, the talents aplenty. Life itself? A purpled tapestry with which, as the inimitable Gil Scott Heron observed of John Coltrane, is there “to conjure and entice”, to reproduce either the ideal or decimated state of existence, as he or she happens to see fit at that particular moment.
Conversely, however, these wide expanses, the roofs of the firmament, the abundant glimpses into the void of existence, can simultaneously pull and push those with prolonged glimpses into them. What if you could sing and chat? Bang on the drums and the guitar? Knock out the backdrop to nationwide television commercials and shows for cable TV? Produce other artists and yourself, travel down the dirt roads of country western and reggae with equal aplomb, plumb the depths of punk at will, and have a lengthy history in electric music? Like Pimpin’ Ken said: what would you do?
Welcome to the curse of Sickpay, a producer, artist, drummer, guitarist, musician extraordinaire, commercial sculptor, and so much more when it comes to that five-letter word (music) that, at times, it simply gets to him.
“It’s just an attempt for me to write some guitar music and, I’m trying to do more of that,” Sickpay confessed about his latest musical endeavors. “I’m working on getting a live set together. I’m just seeing where it takes me. I have the necessity to—I’ve been kind of envisioning having a band type set up for a while. I used to make a lot of electronic music and this is a little more stripped down. Just guitar, drums and bass is what I’m trying to do.”
However, those creeping influences have yet to yield to such a relatively simple ambition. That Sickpay has not been able to solely focus on the triad of instruments he mentioned—and which populated the debut EP, Pureocracy, of what at the time was simply a one-man act—for a desired follow-up Long Player is merely a testament to his considerable prowess as a musician, and the multitude of directions in which he’s pulled, seemingly at once.
In another lifetime (prior to the inception of Sickpay), there was an electronic music producer called D. Gookin. Known for making it happen in everything from touring with bands as a drummer to laying down tracks for reggae, hip hop, and public television broadcasts, he footed the same Brooklyn streets as Sickpay and became much better known—particularly since Sickpay wasn’t quite existent yet.
Some of the former’s tracks received over a million downloads on platforms like Spotify. Some were in heavy rotation on an Oil of Olay commercial from coast to coast. Another cut was used in the cable television show Broad City. With numerous production credits for other NYC artists as well, it would have been easy to continue in this direction, amassing notoriety, song placements, and gigs drumming with other bands.
Except, that is, for the incessant tapping of influence that made Mike Birnbaum, renounce (at least temporarily, that is) the Gookin moniker and take up the mantle of Sickpay.
“It came at a time where it was real natural for me to just like feel like, I’m not just making electronic sounds and moving stuff,” Sickpay observed. “It kind of came in a tornado of inspiration where I was like, playing guitar every day and being like, I’m going to make guitar music. It’s kind of how I make stuff; I go real hard.”
Forces Set in Motion
Still, as the not-famous-enough author Chris Clarement observed in a piece of literature near the turn of the last century, forces set in motion are not so easily restrained. It will take more than just a name switch for Sickpay to completely isolate himself from the musical tendencies of Gookin. That, and the simple fact that as an artist who has become adept at so many dimensions of music (he wrote and performed the Pureocracy EP while formally solidifying his chops on the guitar) there’s a plenitude of worlds left to explore. Thus, he’s constantly redefining the rules for Sickpay—even as he chats with a journalist.
“I’m trying to decide as I go how much I want there to be rules for how I make this music,” Sickpay mused. “Like, does it always have to be guitar? Does it always have to be live drums? I think fundamentally it’s always got to sound like a band, just on a basic level.”
“But I’m working on doing a bunch of things. I’m making a bunch of reggae, also. That’s something I’ve been known to do before. I do want Sickpay to be a range of stuff that almost feels like a music collective, having a bunch of different friends sing on stuff. I just want it to be like a playground of influences.”
And where they’ll stop—and where Sickpay goes next—no one knows.