Former runner turned top level cyclist MIKE WOODS talks an eclectic mix of musical influences, music videos, rocking out in the hallways of his high school and the highlights reel to his career.

Disc Breaks: When were you born and where did you grow up?

MIKE: I was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in Ottawa.

Disc Breaks: What is your Current City?

MIKE: Ottawa and then much of the season in Girona, Spain

Disc Breaks: Do you take on any musical tastes from where you’re based or your travels during the season?

MIKE: Yes and no. A lot of the music I listen to is Canadian. Ottawa is sandwiched (by Canadian standards) between Montreal and Toronto. Both cities have hugely influential music scenes.  However, I am pretty ignorant to the Spanish/Catalan music scene. I do listen to a fair amount of French music, but I think the big problem for me in finding good music in Spain is being blatantly ignorant to the language; I'm working on that.

Disc Breaks: What was the last race you did? What music did were listening to to get you through the transfers and travel?

MIKE: The last race I did was Tour de Suisse. Depending on the point of the day I was listening to a bunch of different stuff, I just looked at my spotify list and there was a big Dan Auerbach theme. Pre race I had "Standing in the Rain" by Mark Ronson, Dan Auerbach & Action Bronson on repeat. Mark Ronson has produced some of my favourite pop songs in the last decade, Dan Auerbach makes gold and then you throw Action Bronson in the mix; listening to this one pre-race at Suisse made me feel bad-ass. Her's "Five Minutes" Joe Dombrowski loved this one when I put it on the bus;  he was singing "all I need is five minutes." For some Canadian content, Arcade Fire's new single "Everything Now" and Bob Moses' "Tearing me up." Post stage, while we were cruising on the bus between stages, I was listening to some more laid back stuff. I had Father John Misty's (a guy I have been listening to a lot of recently) "Real Love Baby." "California" by the Lagoons, "Same drugs" by Chance the Rapper, and "Come on Home" by the Lijadu Sisters – I don't know how I got on this one but it chills me out big time; I feel like it is the perfect song to imagine yourself wearing sunnies, sitting on a beach cruiser and just rolling around in the California sun.

Disc Breaks: Man, that is a wide mix. All of those are great, and some like the Lijadu Sisters I’ve never heard of before. Are you constantly making an effort to search for new music, or do you just load up on a lot of random stuff and see what sticks?

MIKE: I think it is a bit of both. Spotify is pretty good for that, same with youtube. I can spend hours searching for music. A lot of that has to do with my riding. I ride alone a fair amount and I am often listening to music while I ride. On a long one it is pretty easy to get blown-out on a certain artist, so I am often looking for something new. When I find a song that I like I get excited about it, but for every good song I find I do listen to a lot of duds. I have a lot of crap in my library.    

Disc Breaks: What music do you remember growing up around? Who was the first person to get you into music?

MIKE: Canada, particularly it's cities, are hugely multicultural and eclectic, and I think you can really see that in the music that our biggest stars produce. You look at Drake, The Weekend, even Arcade Fire and they are all artists that are hard to classify in one genre. I think the music I grew up around is a big reflection of this. I grew up in the wake of the grunge/alternative/garage rock scene, so bands like Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and the Chilli Peppers were hugely popular. In my elementary and middle school, skate culture was big. I listened to a lot of those bands along with the Beastie Boys, but when I was 12 we moved to a different school district that had completely different demographics. I went from a predominately all-white school to a school that had kids from over fifty different countries. This really changed what I was listening to. I went from listening to a lot less of the Smashing Pumpkins to more Tupac & Biggie.

I don't think I ever really fell into one favourite type of music, but I grew up watching tons of music videos on Much Music (Canada's MTV equivalent).  I have always loved when an artist blends music with image.  I remember being blown away by Daft Punk's "Big City Nights" music video with the guy in a dog costume figuring out life in New York, while "Da Funk" plays in the background. I also loved Run DMC vs Jason Nevins "it's like that" video with the break dancing battle in adidas kicks. These videos have the heart of what I love in music videos, and you can see their influence in one of my favourite groups right now, Jungle; pretty much all of their music videos are sick!

Disc Breaks: I’ve always been so blown away by what Bands and their video directors can do and often for pretty much no money and a tiny crew. I’ve directed a couple of music videos and the last one was for a new band just signed to Universal or EMI or someone like that and I fucked it up so bad, I made such a mess, I’m sweating just thinking about it, needless to say it never saw the light of day and now I’m blacklisted I’m pretty sure. So my respect for them has only increased.

I had forgotten about ‘Big City Nights’, I remember being so weirded out by that as a kid. I loved the ‘Rum DMC vs Jason Nevis - It’s like that’ clip a lot though. I wasn’t exposed to much hip hop and this just blew me away. These two also reminded me of Praise You  - Fatboy Slim and watching Australian music video program Rage on Saturday mornings.

MIKE: Hahah, that sounds brutal. I have a ton of respect for good music video directors.

Man, "Praise You" was amazing.  I think the most amazing thing about that video though is, relative to how exciting and funny it was then, how banal it is now.  Like if I showed that video to a kid today they would be like; "that is the worst flash-mob ever,"  But "Praise You" was the original flash mob.  I remember watching that one and thinking, "oh my god, they are doing a coordinated dance, and nobody knows what is going on, that is so crazy!"

Disc Breaks: What is the first song you remember liking?

MIKE: Michael Jackson's "Black or White." Michael Jackson was so big. I was 5 when this song came out, and as a little kid I loved watching the music video.  Seeing an asian guy transform into Tyra Banks was probably the coolest thing I had seen in my life at that point.  Watching the music video now it is pretty easy to see why a 5 year old would love it.

Disc Breaks: Did you play a music instrument as a kid?

MIKE: As a kid I was pretty lucky. My parents tried to introduce me to everything from sports to music. I took violin lessons for 5 years. I also had an amazing music teacher in elementary and middle school. I played the trumpet in the jazz band and was the lead role in the grade 5 & 6 musicals. I also played trumpet in my high school band. In high school I started playing a lot more instruments and took music class each grade. One of my favourite memories from high school was from my eleventh grade music class. At that level, music was not a requirement at our school so it was mainly filled with stoners and kids who loved music.   The vast majority of the class had a lot of passion for learning instruments. Every Friday the class was my final one of the week and in the final 5 minutes of class we would break out into "Louis Louis." We would play super loud, it would drive our teach crazy, but as the final bell for the week rang, we would be railling and kids coming out into the halls would be dancing; it was like a scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Disc Breaks: That is such a great story, it is straight out of a coming of age film, you guys must have been legends at school.

MIKE: Hahaha, yeah it was awesome.

Disc Breaks: If you could go back and learn a musical instrument, which would it be and why?

MIKE: Probably the piano or guitar. I think those two instruments give you a far better understanding of chords and music theory; two things I always struggled with. This is probably why I liked the trumpet so much because in my mind it is an instrument that is easier to play if you have an ear for music. I think my biggest regret is having neglected playing instruments since I left for university. I haven't played an instrument since, and I would eventually like to get back into playing something.

Disc Breaks: That is an impressive musical repertoire. What made you gravitate towards sport over music once you left high school?

MIKE:  I don't think I ever lost a love for music, it was just that, because I was having so much success in running, I became more consumed with sports. If you've seen the extra-curricular scene from the Wes Anderson movie Rushmore (where it goes through the laundry list of extra-curricular activities that Max Fischer does at his school with the song "Making Time" playing the background) this was basically the story of my life in high school.  I was in everything; Band, Outdoor Ed, on the Hockey Team, Track, Improve Club, Student Council... I had a crazy amount of energy and curiosity. If I wasn't so focused on cycling today, I think I would probably be doing a bunch of different things. The problem with professional sport is that if you really want to be competing at its highest level you have to devote a massive amount of your focus in that discipline. It doesn't mean that all of your focus needs to be devoted to it, but a lot. That is, I think, one of the hardest parts of being a pro-athlete; finding a balance in focus. You see it happening all the time, especially to younger athletes, where they go down this rabbit hole and lose all perspective. This is what happened to me with running; I became so consumed by that sport. I lost all perspective and ultimately it ruined my career. Since running I have tried diversifying my interests a bit more, but now that I am so heavily involved in cycling, I find myself often teetering close to the edge of that hole. That's why I get really excited when I cross paths with guys like you, and Taylor Phinney. You guys always have projects on the go, and it's a necessary reminder that there is a world outside this hyper-focused bubble.

Disc Breaks: What musical phases have you been a part of throughout your life? What songs defined each of those phases? E.g punk, mod, raver, emo etc.

MIKE: I have always been a bit of a chameleon. My parents moved a fair amount when I was a kid, so it meant that I had to change environments a fair amount and it really diversified my listening habits and what I was into.  Because of this, I don't think it is a surprise that three of my favourite artists growing up were the Beastie Boys, Daft Punk, Gorillaz. You look at all three groups and they blend so many genres into their music, and all come from a punk background (Beastie Boys originally being a punk band, Daft Punk starting as a punk/rock group, and Damon Albarn of Gorillaz coming from another one of my favourite garage rock bands, Blur).

I think the closest thing I fell into was skate and ski/snowboard culture. Especially in the mid 90s skate culture was huge where I lived.  I listened to a lot of garage rock. Sloan was a Canadian band that I listened to a ton; if I hear that siren and baseline from "Money City Maniacs" I get a huge rush of nostalgia. I was big into downhill skiing as a kid, and I loved skate videos and the Warren Miller videos. You look at the music that is played in these videos and a lot of the music has its roots in punk but then branches out into hip hop and electronic music.

Disc Breaks: I just watched the video clip for Money City Maniacs and it’s awesome. I’d never heard of Sloan, some good intel there man.

MIKE: Yeah, there are a couple of bands like that in Canada; Sam Roberts, The Tragically Hip, Sloan. They all have the catchy singles, good lyrics and are all-round great bands, but for some reason they could never break out in the US.

Disc Breaks: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

MIKE: I bought the Dookie by Green Day on cassette. The first two albums I got were gifts from my parents on my 8th birthday: Abbey Road by the Beatles and the best of ZZ Top, both on cassette.

Disc Breaks: What was the first gig / concert you remember going to?

MIKE: The first concert I went to was when I was 15 in 2002 and it was Coldplay. They were touring on their Rush of Blood to the Head album. I can't stand Coldplay now, but I used to love them. I remember playing that album on repeat and learning every lyric.

Disc Breaks: The song ‘Clocks’ triggers some strong nostalgia for me.

MIKE: Oh man, for sure, I probably cried a few times to this one.

Disc Breaks: What's the best gig / concert you've been to?

MIKE: Hands down Sam Roberts Band. Sam Roberts is a pretty big Canadian band from Montreal, but outside of Canada they aren't well known. I went to university in the Michigan and drove to Detroit to watch them play in a bar. Since the show wasn't in Canada, the place had max 100 people, but Sam Roberts came out with this brown leather jacket with tassels hanging from the sleeves, swinging his guitar, and playing "Brother Down" the place went nuts. They did some insane 10 minute mind bending guitar solos, he had his roadies come on stage and play, and people were buying him drinks; it was awesome.  

Disc Breaks: Who's a teammate with the worst musical taste you’ve had to endure?

MIKE: Oh man, hard to say; there are some bad ones. There seems to be this trend amongst cyclists, particularly euros, to gravitate towards shitty music across all genres. I mean some of my euro teammates have great tastes, but it seems like the majority of them are terrible; their playlists will be just a collection of crap over all ranges; maybe some trashy Italian ballads, Sean Paul, The Chain Smokers and Guns and Roses all in one go.

Disc Breaks: How about the teammate with the best music taste?

MIKE: I've had a couple. My current teammates, Joe Dombrowski has a solid taste for good classic rock, blues and 90s hip-hop, and Taylor Phinney always has something interesting to listen to, including some of his own stuff. I only did a few races with Matti Breschel, but he always had a great playlist going, and his knowledge of music is insane.

Disc Breaks: What song would you listen to to get pumped for a big stage / race?

MIKE: Anything by Biggie, Kanye or Snoop Dogg. I don't like to get too fired up before the race, unless I have to get in the break.  Notorious' style fits this mood perfectly; smooth, confident, and damn good. Maybe "Hypnotize" or "Juicy." If I have to get in the break; "It's a long way to the top (if you wanna rock & roll)" by AC/DC

Disc Breaks: Does anyone take control of the music on the bus and what do they play?

MIKE: At the last few races I've done it has been Joe Dob's, or my, playlist.

Disc Breaks: Have you ever had a ‘victory’ song or a track you associate with any performance, good or bad?

MIKE: For runners, racing in Europe, much like cycling, is considered a big deal. Unlike most races in North America, the competitions take place at night, tons of fans come out, and they have a DJ playing music during the races. When I was 19 I drove from Belgium, where I was based that summer, to Germany for this 1500m in Cuxhaven. I was on great form, and with about 2 laps to go, I knew I was on pace to run a good one when the DJ at the race put on "The Final Countdown" by Europe. The song is so ridiculous, but was so right in that moment, that I think I actually laughed mid race when I heard it come on. I ran a personal best that night, it would ultimately be my lifetime best, and now every time I hear that song I laugh.

Disc Breaks: Ah man, that is too funny. That song is so ridiculous. There was some bizarre foresight with this track as you ran for what became a career best.

MIKE: The stars aligned my friend. In those rare moments when you are on form the universe seems to make sense.  

Disc Breaks: Have you ever worn your ipod during a race?

MIKE: I've thought about it, but no.

Disc Breaks: What song would you put on to get the party started? 

MIKE: Lionel Richie's "All night long," Michael Jackson's "rock with you" or anything by Breakbot.

Disc Breaks: Does musical taste influence how well you’re going to get along with someone? If so what’s a song that if someone played would let you know you’d probably get along?

MIKE: Big time. If you are into 90s hip hop we are probably going to be friends. Two of my favourite roommates at races to date, Pierrick Naud of Rally and Joe Dombrowski, won my heart when they put Biggie on the playlist. Also my wife and I first hit it off listening to music. We started dating in 2007 and we shared a lot of music in the first few months before I won her over. Whenever I hear Arcade Fire's Neon Bible album, Peter Bjorn & John, The Shout Out Louds, and MGMT I think of that first summer that we started dating.

Disc Breaks: A song that if someone played would instantly put you off them?

MIKE: I used to be pretty judgemental of what people listened to, but now I realize there is a time and place for almost all types of music. I think what does put me off though is when someone has their finger completely off the pulse. Like, you don't play Sufjan Stevens on the team bus prior to the race, and you don't play Sandstorm at a dinner party. I think what really turns me off of somebody is when they play a song that is so blatantly out of place with the environment.

Also, if somebody throws on Creed, or Nickelback or Katy Perry.  Whenever I hear songs by these artists, or most christian rock and pop country artists I just imagine a guy in a giant concrete building, manning a super-computer in the basement that processes an algorithm where lyric + guitar riff + auto-tune = $$$.  He then sends the song to the top floor where a board room full of executives negotiate which Christian Rock band, country rock star, or Katy Perry is going to play it.

Disc Breaks: Have you ever played a song to impress a person/group? If so, what was it?

MIKE: For sure. I was in love with this girl in high school and I put together an entire mix CD thinking I would pick her up in my parent's car, I would nonchalantly press play, and she would be blown away with my eclectic tastes. I spent hours deciding what tracks would go well together, how the songs would blend, how the music would take us on this emotional journey. I picked her up, pressed play, and waited for our romance to flourish. Within a minute of the first tune she said "let's listen to something more fun" and she changed the CD to some pop radio station; heart broken.

Conversely, I did this same thing with my now wife a few years laters, it went way better.

Disc Breaks: Brutal shut down, she didn’t even give love (songs) a chance. Did you end up going on any more dates with that girl or was that car ride beginning and end of it? That’s also pretty bold of you to run that same play again with your now wife.

MIKE: Beginning of the end for sure; after she shut down my music – proverbially – her shit started to stink.

It was a bold move, but in the early 2000s you couldn't just creep girls on Facebook to find out what they were into, the mix-cd was my litmus test.

Disc Breaks: A song you’re embarrassed to admit you like, but listen to often?

MIKE: If you looked at some of my workout playlists, they are pretty embarrassing. I have a lot of crappy techno/EDM music on there; skrillex being one of the artists that pops up a lot.  The stuff is pretty garbage, but who is listening to Bon Iver when they have anaerobic repeats?

Disc Breaks: Which song would you choose to soundtrack the highlights reel of your career?

MIKE: Graham Nash's "Better Days." It's a pretty arrogant choice as the song is epic, but you start with some shots of me crashing, getting hurt, maybe a zoom in of me with a suffer face in slow mo, and then as Nash sings "chasing mirrors through a haze" and the guitar comes in, you switch to me smashing a climb. A couple victory cele's, some bad-ass sunset shots, a few shots of me shredding on a descent. End it with Nash singing the final lines, with me hanging with my fam then perhaps riding off into the distance as the sax comes in; boom video done.

Disc Breaks: Forget picking the song, you’ve written the script. It is brilliant, I love that it’s not just file footage of you racing, there’s a little acting in there. I am really digging the vibe and I’d like to offer my skills and direct it for you. So long as the rights to that track aren’t owned by Universal cause I’m still technically not even allowed to listen to any of their music.

MIKE: I'm in... although I have to admit, I did fleece this song from one of my favourite snowboard/surf videos; DCP's Surf/Snowboard Segment from Into the Mind. If isn't owned by Universal, we may still have some copyright issues.

Disc Breaks: What’s the best way to listen to music?

MIKE: Ripping a descent on a road bike, cruising on an MTB or skiing. A lot of the songs I like would fit perfectly into an MTB or ski video.

Disc Breaks: If you were colonising Mars and could only take one album, what would it be?

MIKE: Probably Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. This is the album I would use if I had to score a movie about colonizing mars. The attention to details in this album are insane. The range of music is also pretty incredible, which would make for something I could tolerate on repeat.  Plus, what better way to colonize another planet than with the robots.

Disc Breaks: This album is incredible, I could see this as being the only music I’ve got to listen to for the rest of my life. By the way, you should have a listen to Darksides’ (Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington) version of this album it’s called Daftside: Random Access Memories Memories. It’s kinda the opposite of the real thing if that makes sense. Let me know what you think.

MIKE: I have some Darkside on my spotify, but I haven't heard Daftside. That shows you how weird listening to music is now. I completely forgot who they were, and then you bring them up, so I check my library and I have a bunch of their songs. Spotify is like the H&M of music; it makes music so disposable.  I don't have this collection anymore, where I really cherish artists, and learn all of their quirks and even their crappiest songs on their album. Now I just take in anything that is gratifying in that moment, and then forget about it a few weeks later.  This being said, I'll for sure check out Daftside.... on spotify hahahaha....

Disc Breaks: Thank you so much mate, some really great music here, a lot i’d never heard before, and some even better stories. Take care.

MIKE: Anytime bud

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