The Voice Within: Mike Green Follows His Instincts on “Listening for the Bell” Album


Mike Green wears a burgundy T-shirt and stands in front of a brick wall.

Mike Green sings about life choices and lessons on Listening for the Bell. Photo courtesy of Mike Green.

Mike Green listened to his inner voice but wasn’t sure where it would take him.

The folk singer-songwriter, guitarist, and booking agent ruminated for years about how to share his life experiences.

“I always thought as a younger adult that I wanted to write a book of my personal philosophy, but I never had anything to say,” said Green, who resides in Ann Arbor. “Then when I started writing these songs [during the pandemic] … and all these things I’ve always thought about, they just sort of came out in poetic ways.”

What resulted were 12 insightful tales for his debut album, Listening for the Bell, which explores the ups and downs of following your instincts.

“There’s a bunch of those songs that were written that way, and I just trusted it,” said Green, who started as a touring musician in 1978. “And then what I realized early on—after studying all of this—is that I had been in songwriting school for nearly 40 years.”

That schooling came from representing artists like Utah PhillipsCarrie NewcomerJesse Winchester, and John McCutcheon as a booking agent and listening to singer-songwriters like Greg BrownKenny WhiteChris Smither, and Stephen Fearing.

“Chris Smither, probably more than anybody, is the gold standard to me on how you marry lyrics and words and have them come out … to be that way,” said Green, who started as a booking agent in 1986 and opened his own agency in 2004. “There’s no other way you can say it, and if you don’t say it just the right way, it doesn’t fit.”

On Listening for the Bell, Green vocalizes his thoughts about life choices and lessons through reflective lyrics and relatable stories. His listeners easily connect with that universal subject matter and the album's earnest folk instrumentation.

“I’m also big on ambiguity because things are not clear in a lot of cases … and sometimes I have a tendency to be very objective,” he said. “I can help navigate stuff for groups or interpersonal things—I’m a good mediator—and that’s why I’m a good agent.”

That ambiguity appears on the pensive opener, “Cracks,” which examines navigating unexpected gaps and obstacles in life.

Accompanied by contemplative electric guitar and drums, Green sings, “But the snow is still falling, spring is eons away / And the sun will rise up each and every day / So remember the garden and that stems the hurt / Know the feel of your fingers as they dance in the dirt.”

“I don’t know how to explain the song, except that life is hard and challenging, and it’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to see what happens,” said Green, who sought inspiration from Dylan Thomas’ poem Fern Hill while writing the song. “That was early in the writing process, and the ideas were just coming—I wrote that one in an hour.”

After examining life’s complexities on “Cracks,” Green searches for a new start on the poignant ballad “Forgiveness.” Despondent acoustic guitar echoes his uncertainty as he sings, “Now the sun’s looking down on the horizon / How long have I been sitting here like this / With my head in the past and the promise to do better on my lips.”

“It’s pretty personal; the pandemic was hard on our marriage, and we got through it,” Green said. “My wife helped with a couple of [lines in the song]. It’s one of those things where it goes down a road and comes back, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘How do I show the passage of a bunch of time?’ My wife’s line was, ‘Now the sun’s looking down on the horizon.’”

Green also explores the passage of time on “The Last Dance,” a wistful tale about reconciling the past and anticipating the future.

Alongside sentimental violin and acoustic guitar, he sings, “The sky burned down and the days were long / The cool evening called like a fiddle song / When it was time to choose, she laced up her dancing shoes / Took his hand and led him out where they belonged.”

“I didn’t picture myself in that song at all; I was watching a story play out and watching this person coming out of something very sad,” Green said. “She was very lonely and found her way back through dancing with somebody. That’s all that was, and people take more to it.”

Next, Green searches for a deeper sense of purpose on the hopeful title track, which features vibrant acoustic guitar. He sings, “For whom does the bell ring, whose life it might preserve / It trumpets and it echoes all around / You hear it if you listen, if you shut out all the noise / You feel it as you slow the speed of sound.”

“It was nice; I liked it and it felt very kumbaya. I was planning to record it, but I didn’t think that was the name of the album. I didn’t know what I was going to call it, but I had Marilyn Rea Beyer, who’s a folk DJ, write the bio,” Green said.

“When she wrote the first draft, she had that as the name of the album, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ So that’s how the title of the album came. I didn’t think that was the overarching theme at all, but I didn’t know what it was [at first].”

Finally, Green takes a more lighthearted turn on the tongue-in-cheek album closer, “The Darwin Prize.” Inspired by the Darwin Awards, the track is a subtlety humorous reminder that it’s never too late to learn something new.

He sings, “Does cause lead to effect or the other way around / What we learned in school is probably wrong / It’s taken half of our lives to try and figure these things out / All we know is right here in this song / In this song, in this song, all we know is right here in this song.”

“It was sort of a joke and that’s all I took it as. I didn’t think I would ever play it out. I changed [the lyrics] at the end … from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ As soon as I changed it to that, I thought, ‘Oh, then it includes the audience,’” Green said.

“This is a song I can do for people instead of just messing around. Then I heard almost like ‘Her Majesty’ at the end of Abbey Road. I told [my co-producer] I want a long pause, and so you think the album is over, and then there’s this little thing.”

While Listening for the Bell ends on a concise note, Green spent nearly three years writing the tracks for it. He penned 30 songs but selected 13 before heading to Savage, Minnesota, to record the album at The Villa in April 2023.

Green worked with co-producer/guitarist-bassist John Wright and engineer Elijah Deaton-Berg to shape the album over six days. They landed on 12 tracks and discarded one that didn’t fit with the album’s folk sound.

“I sent them the lyrics, the chord charts, and descriptions of what kind of production I envisioned for each song, including where do I hear the harmonies, where do I hear the solos, and what’s going to be acoustic and what’s going to be electric,” Green said. “They said, ‘We’re gonna be prepared when you walk in the door,’ and they were.”

Green also collaborated with guitarist Steven Lehto, drummer Matt Jacobs, vocalist Ellis Delaney, and fiddler Alasdair Fraser to elevate the album’s tracks.

“I did all these multitrack versions playing whatever rudimentary electric guitar parts I could, and [Steve] could see what the ideas were that I wanted,” he said. “But I couldn’t fully express them, and it was like, ‘Oh, that’s my idea fleshed out a hundred times.’ That’s what was so cool.”

Today, Green shares tracks from Listening for the Bell with live audiences locally and nationally. He’s performing March 16 at Ann Arbor’s North Star Lounge and opening for John McCutcheon and Tom Paxton May 3-5 in North Carolina and Georgia.

“I’m gonna do all the new songs; I have six or seven. Then I’m gonna do a few songs from the album … and I’m aware of what I’m doing now. It’s been informed by working as an agent for all these years,” said Green, who’s continuing to write new material.

“If people know that an artist is always going to give you something new, then they’re gonna come back. I feel like the writing since then has gotten deeper and gotten in some ways a little more complex because I’ve had these tools and people pushing me.”

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of

Mike Green performs March 16 at North Star Lounge, 301 N. Fifth Ave. in Ann Arbor. For tickets, visit North Star Lounge’s website.