Hi Mike welcome to Anylouder. How have you been ?
I’ve been doing really well, thank you. How about yourself? Good!
Take us through your formal years in music. Who were your influences growing up ?
The first huge influence was The Beatles, from when I was about age 4 or 5. I started playing keyboard when I was 7, started taking organ lessons at age 8, and Keith Emerson was a major influence on me starting shortly thereafter when I heard Tarkus on the radio at age 8 or 9. That’s around the time I first heard Frank Zappa for the first time and that’s when the heavens really parted and I saw the cosmos laid out before me. I started on guitar at age 11, and taught myself how to play.
How did you meet Frank Zappa. How was it working with the man ?
I called up his office and asked for a job. I told him I was familiar with all of his music and could play it on multiple instruments, and fortunately for me he didn’t believe me and told me that I needed to come see him and prove it to him. It worked out fine! I absolutely loved working with him, he was funny and brilliant and so talented. Frank was my main influence growing up and I’m very grateful that it was not at all disappointing to actually work with him. It was a dream come true, actually literally many dreams come true.
Tell us about Piano Reductions. How did the record happen..What were your and Vai’s take on the whole thing?
Steve Vai told me that he had a dream of a solo piano record of his songs, and gave me the list of songs he wanted me to arrange. Then he left it in my hands to decide how faithful I would be to each composition. In some cases I would play the song very straight, pretty much a direct transference from guitar to piano, but in other cases like the song “Salamanders In The Sun” (which is my favorite Vai piece) I took the opportunity to create very different harmonies, to find new chords and rhythms to support the melodies. He was totally encouraging and gave me a lot of room to create things. It was the hardest record I ever made – solo piano is such a naked medium – but I’m very happy with the end result, and Steve, thank goodness, was extremely pleased with the album.
Being a multi instrumentalist how do you cope up with playing different instruments for different musicians and adapting to the different sounds?
It’s always about feeling the music that’s going on and working out in the moment what the most effective contribution I can make is. I’ve played both guitar and keyboard for such a long time now that they kind of feel like one big instrument to me at this point. I’m grateful to have multiple choices at hand to work with and try to help a piece of music come to life in the most vibrant way I can.
How did Dethklok happen ?
My friend Brendon Small created an animated TV program called “Metalocalypse” about a death-metal band called Dethklok. The cartoon is very funny and very brutal and Brendon, who is an amazing musician and writer, created a lot of great music for it. When an album of songs from the show was released it became a success beyond anyone’s expectations, and there was a need to form a real-live human band to play the songs onstage, as part of a total multi-media brainmelting live experience. I had never played such serious metal before – the TV show is a comedy, but playing the music onstage was serious business. I loved it, the Dethklok concerts were some of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. Brendon is about to put out a solo album called “Galaktikon II” and all of us Dethklok players are very hopeful that we can reunite onstage to play this new music.
Tell us about KMB and the touring experience with Joe Satriani .
KMB was a trio of myself with Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann, both of whom I’ve been involved with in many different musical projects over the years – we haven’t really played as a trio for a long time (except for last year at the G4 Experience guitar camp), but when Joe Satriani asked me if I could recommend a bass player and drummer for his band a few years ago, I was happy to recommend these two guys, obviously! Right now we’re in Asia finishing up the lengthy touring cycle for the Shockwave Supernova album we made in 2015, and it has been such a fun ride – so many shows, so much traveling, and so many great memories. Joe is a terrific guy to work for, very easy-going, and we just have a fantastic time onstage, backstage, at dinner, hanging out on the bus, whatever – it’s a terrific touring environment and we’re all glad to be a part of it. And of course Joe is such a brilliant guitarist – it’s very inspiring to stand next to him and play guitar every night!
From hat. to Inkling what has changed for you as musician and your music ?
When I did my first album hat. I was obviously very much in thrall to Frank Zappa’s way of doing things – of course I will always be influenced by Frank, but back in 1992 I was really influenced by him. In the years since I think I’ve been influenced by so much additional music, and I’ve hopefully synthesized it all enough to develop an individual voice as a musician and a composer. The most recent releases, Scambot 2 and Inkling, represent the absolute best of what I was capable of doing in the studio at the time, and I’m extremely pleased with them both.
Any Indian artist you want to collaborate with. Any plans of touring India ?
I had the honor of playing with Zakir Hussain when I worked on the Yo Miles albums with Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith – that was almost 17 years ago and I would love an opportunity to play with him again, he is so wonderful and inspiring. I hear lots of stories of touring India from Bryan and Marco’s experiences there with The Aristocrats, and yes I would certainly enjoy to have some of those experiences myself, but as of yet there are no plans. Perhaps if you can convince many people there to buy Scambot 2, it will make it possible for me to come over!
Give us a sneak peek into your future projects .
After this Satriani tour is finished, I will be going to the Larvik Festival in Norway in March to play music with a couple of brilliant Norwegian players. Then in late March/early April I’ll be doing some dates with my own band Beer For Dolphins (featuring Bryan Beller and Joe Travers) in the US (we’ll also be playing further US dates later in the year). In July and August I’ll be teaming up with my European trio for several weeks of dates in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. I have bands all over the world who know my songs, it makes it quite a bit easier to travel around playing my music – I’m very fortunate in this way!
Thank you for your time Mike. This is your space . Leave a message for your fans.
Hello to everyone and anyone in India who is familiar with me and my music – I very much hope that it’s possible for me to come there and play my music someday. I’ll do the best I can, my friends, I promise.
Interviewed by : Ashiqur Rohman