Mike Martin, guitarist for Agent Cooper (formerly of Fozzy & Stuck Mojo), was kind enough to sit down and speak with me recently. He told me about his early days as a musician, his time in Fozzy and Stuck Mojo, and about his solo record(s) and new band, Agent Cooper. While this was intended as an informal interview, I never imagined how long we'd end up talking. Or, rather, how much Mike ended up talking! He had so much to say, that I let him run through his stream of consciousness and occasionally tried to steer him when we had gone so far as to venture into subjects about Jackson Pollack, quantum physics, and the proper use of turn signals. There was so much good stuff in here that I when I looked to trim it down, I just couldn't. So you get it all -- nearly three hours of it. I present to you, my afternoon with the virtuosic, thoughtful, and kind-hearted Mike Martin.
For the audio interview CLICK HERE!
"This was my expectation, that I was going to become this 'Guitar Ninja' or a 'Teenage Mutant Guitar Player'."
B#: Hey, this is Barry from Better B#! Today we're sitting in with Mike Martin, guitarist for Agent Cooper, formerly of bands Fozzy, Stuck Mojo, and the Duke Project. Hey Mike, how's it going?
MM: Hey Barry, doing great! How are you doin'?
B#: I'm doing just fine. Yeah, so right now we're going to talk to Mike about the fact that, despite him being in a bunch of bands...he's in a lot of projects, a lot of bands, we were talking about where he started. And so, Mike, if you'd like to tell us how you got into music? What made you want to pick up the guitar, and we'll just go from there.
MM: Yeah, sure! My mom is a musician, and she's a classical singer, choral director, music educator and all that stuff. So me growing up in the house, music was just something that we did. Of course, when you're that little, you don't know any different. It's kind of like if you had a parent who was into sports, you would play sports. But this is what we did at my house. So, when I was four or five years old, my mom started me on Suzuki violin, which is a method for teaching very small children how to play the violin. Starts out basically by ear, and then you gradually move into how to read music and all that stuff. It basically teaches music as a language, an auditory language for children. It's really cool, it's really interesting. I have a younger brother who went through the same program as well. So it started there. I did that for a while, and then my first trappings with understanding exactly how things work in the music world was taking these lessons with a young lady who had a symphony gig. I believe she fell in love with some musician and ran away. And she was the only lady in town who taught Suzuki violin at the time, so that ended my violin career.
Shortly after that I started studying piano, and always sang in choir, whether it was children's choir or church, cause that's what you do when mom's at church all weekend long doing every mass. You're either sitting there, bored out of your mind, or you participate...so I participated, and sang at every service that I could. I probably have a reserve of church, heh, because I spent time at so many services when I was younger. Anyway, I guess I was about eight or nine when I started piano. It was kind of a feature my older brother had started. My mom thought I was a little young, but I was coming home from public school, and music class there had a great music teacher. His name was Duke Jones, and he was a graduate of Berkeley College Of Music. I love that guy. He was such a fun guy to be around, and he was just really engaging in everything musically. He was a singer, he was a pianist, he was a saxophonist. Just a really all around talented guy. And I would come home, and I would sit at the piano, and I would pick out things by ear that I had learned or watched him play in class. And mom just decided that before I started teaching myself bad habits by ear, it was probably a good idea to get lessons. So I started taking piano lessons for a while, and I tended to like to do things by ear, so it wasn't really going well for me and my relationship with my piano teacher, because, of course, my piano teacher wanted me to read the stuff. And I'd half read and improvise the rest, because it sounded alright. And she's say, "No," and make me start over and do the same thing, except I'd improvise it differently and she's say, "No, start over." And then she'd get frustrated and would play the example for me, as if I didn't know what I was doing. And then I'd just play back for her what she'd played for me. So it was a very frustrating back and forth kind of thing. I was always being disciplined and she knew that I'd play pretty much anything that she would play for me. So, I didn't last too long with piano lessons either.
Sometime after that, I don't remember where exactly,...I mean, there wasn't really a thing of guitars around me at home. My mom, very classical music...jazz was not really a thing around my house. Probably my first introductions to jazz was bands like The Police on the radio. That's as close to jazz as I really remember hearing stuff. Or Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles would use some jazz harmony, or something like that. But I didn't know quite what it was...I just thought it was rock music. I was attracted to some of that stuff. But it was somewhere around, I guess fourth grade, fifth grade, I heard Van Halen. And I was like, "Oh my God, what is this?!" I guess that was right around when Jump and Panama, when the 1984 record came out. I was just enamored with that whole guitar thing. That was probably the start of my fascination with guitar music, but I didn't get one until a couple years after that. That's the short version of how I got to the guitar anyway.
B#: Now your first guitar, did you get that for yourself? Or was that something like, your parents wanted you to do the classical thing, but that wasn't working out, so they said, "Let's give this guy a guitar. He seems to be focused on that now, so maybe he can go somewhere with that"?
MM: You know, it's kind of funny. It's a little more insidious than that. My parents, like a lot of young couples, divorced. And it was not a happy divorce. I think one of the best things my parents could have done for us kids is just get away from each other, because they were not happy. So it was that whole, visiting dad on the weekends, alternating holidays and stuff. When I was ready to get a guitar, I decided I wanted an electric guitar, and my mother was going to have none of that, because she was a classical musician and her son was not going to be a rock musician, and that was that. Of course, my father, in his infinite wisdom, thought that this was his chance to, one, be his son's hero by getting him an electric guitar for Christmas, and two, send him home to his mother where, hehe...
B#: Haha, ohhhh...
MM: Hehe, so that's kind of how that starts.
B#: That...that is quite insidious. So did you start getting into bands, or did you just practice by yourself and then...? I know that after you joined Fozzy, you were described as a basement guitarist that was a well-kept secret from everybody in the music world, by Rich Ward of Fozzy. But did you go seeking other musicians to play guitar with and join a band early on, or was it just kind of yourself experimenting?
MM: It was a bit of everything. In New England where I grew up, at least in that part of New Hampshire, there were a few guys that were older than me that played guitar, who were my older brother's age. And my older brother played guitar was well. So, I kind of started teaching myself, because I still had this ability to play by ear, and at this point I knew how to read music. My dad got me some music books and so did my mom, so I just started transcribing records.
So anyway, for me, as soon as I could....there weren't a lot of musicians around me my age, so I was kind of left to my own devices. By the time I got into high school...I think it was my sophomore year, I had gotten in a band with some guys who were already out of school. They were 18, 19, 20, 21, and that was my job. I played in a band and we'd play bars and frat parties and dances and stuff like that. And that was really my first sort of thing, and when I got out of high school I had always imagined I was just going to go straight into college, and through a bunch of other circumstances decided to wait on that. Partly because I had met a really good teacher in Myrtle Beachby the name of Tom Yoder, who was a guitar wizard, who really opened up everything in my playing to guys like Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. Just really exposed me to some really hip stuff that was going on with the electric guitar in the late 80s, early 90s, before grunge had taken over. And this was my expectation, that I was going to become this "Guitar Ninja" or a "Teenage Mutant Guitar Player". You needed to know how to do all these two-handed things, and sweep picking, economy of picking, and you needed to know all your theory.
You needed to be able to improvise on classical themes as well. He just kind of opened it all up for me. So by the time I got done studying with him, maybe a year and a half, I didn't quite feel like I wanted to go to Berkeley. That wasn't really the thing, I had gotten away from New England, and I was living in South Carolina at that point. I felt like it was about time to just get in a band in go, so me and some of the same guys that I was in that band in New England with...some of those guys had already moved to Atlanta. So when I got out of school, I made a bee-line for Atlanta and we started a band here and immediately got to work. That's where I met Rich Ward and Bonz, and Frank Fontsere, and everybody, whether they were in Salem Ash, which is now Agent Cooper, or Stuck Mojo at the time...a very young Stuck Mojo. I mean, we were all very young at the time.
Walking into Atlanta, that was everything that was going on.
My trouble from there, I had gigged a lot...I had always been gigging, since I was pretty young. That first band, I was fifteen when I started traveling around New England playing, and played all around the southeast before I got out of high school. What got me was the whole grunge scene...I didn't know how to turn that corner, because I was really designed to be a different kind of vegetable. All the sudden it wasn't cool to play guitar like that. If you didn't play like Kurt Cobain, I mean...you could maybe play like Alice In Chains, who I was into, and I was into Soundgarden. It was a really hard learning experience for me, because there were bands that I liked that kind of came out of that alternative grunge scene. I liked Dinosaur Jr., I liked...shit, I liked Nirvana! There was all kinds of stuff that I liked, but what I didn't understand was how the music industry said, "We're done with all this stuff. We're just going to go this way." And how much people just followed suite with that. And literally, I'd be out at clubs in Atlanta, and you could see bands with amazing guitar players, and then overnight they were all wearing flannel, looking down at their shoes, depressed about the world, and they hated their parents. I was like, "What happened?" It was a really bizarre experience.
So after that, I probably stuck with them for maybe a year and a half after high school, and then decided, "Well, I can't force the world to do something that I want it to do, so while I figure out what I want to do...because clearly things have changed, and I have all the wisdom of an eighteen year old now...I might want to consider going to college. That was always the plan, so let's get in a music program and figure out what the entire scope of music is really like and see what I might be able to find in terms of a place in the world." So flash forward to where I'm doing stuff with Rich, Fozzy, and The Duke, I had not been really in the "rock scene". I kind of gave up on it, right then in 1994. I thought, "This is not going to happen. I need to go another way." So I was really interested in jazz, and I got my degree in symphonic classical composition, because I figured you had to have a foundation. I needed to be able to write for any instrument, any orchestration that I wanted to. Spend as much time playing jazz guitar as I could. Kept up my classical guitar studies as well. Just wanted to be as well rounded as I possibly could be, and it seemed like, in the jazz world, you could play guitar. And believe me, jazzers will frown on you if you get over-egregious with you guitar solos in jazz music. It's not just about playing for yourself. So there was a lot to learn about being a tasty musician in an ensemble. Through that process, which I really enjoyed, because that was the one big split between rock players and better jazz musicians, because there are certainly wanker jazz musicians as well. The sensitivity to composition, over just displaying your chops all the time. And in rock, it shouldn't be rocket science. You should just put your stuff out there for people to see it and be completely over the top. I really liked that about the Fozzy gig for a while, because there was really this element of, you could be a pretty cool throw back metal groove guy, but in the moment of a guitar solo you could just melt peoples' faces with an over-the-top use of technique. It really worked with that fan-base, maybe because of the wrestling connection, where there's this whole...you know, the "Holy Shit!" thing, where a wrestler would do something so over-the-top, so dangerous, so ridiculous, a wrestler would get the "Holy Shit!" chant. And I would get those chants after doing these solos at Fozzy shows, because they were kind of ridiculous, kind of over-the-top. They were unapologetic...I wasn't worry about being tasteful, I was worried about doing something over-the-top. So it was really fun putting that stuff on display.
But the whole basement guitar player thing...I had played a lot at that point. I had played in some country bands, because you can make a lot of money in country. And I played in just a local, around town, country band, and we were a seven-piece...and I made more money in that band than just about any other group I've ever been in. That band just made money. And country is not my forte, at all. I was the lead guitar player in that band, and I have some chickin' pickin' chops, but it's not my native language at all. So I spent some time doing that. I spent a lot of time playing the blues scene. I actually became pretty well known around the southeast as a blues guitar player. And I'm in a very famous photograph of all the blues musicians in Georgia. In 2000, we took a picture in Piedmont Park. I was asked to be a part of that, and it's everybody. I think the youngest blues musician in there is a teenager, and then there's a couple blues musician in there...God, they were 80 or 90 at the time. It was everybody in Georgia. It was a pretty big honor to be a part of it, and that portrait is hanging up as a giant mural in the Georgia Hall of Fame. So I done a good bit of stuff, but the rock band stuff that I had done between that and getting picked up by Fozzy was pretty far and few between. It just wasn't on my radar. And even though I grew up as a metal kid, metal wasn't on my radar. I hadn't really kept up with a lot of anything. I had bought Tool records because I was really into them. I kept up with Dream Theater because I was really into them. I kept up with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and a handful of other rock stuff, but really through the 90s I just bought records that I was interested in...whether they were symphonic records or jazz records. I used that whole period to open myself up to as much as much history and as much of recorded music history as I could, not just the narrow path of being a "metal guy" or a "rock guy". So, I kind of came from nowhere, but I kind of came from everywhere, if that makes sense.
"It doesn't matter if I'm a decent musician, or if I can write a decent tune, or play the guitar pretty good. If I can't make the phone ring, I don't work."
B#: Yeah, I follow what you're saying. And I read that during this time that you did session guitar work as well. I believe it was on your website that I read that. Was this stuff involved in that session work, or was that something separate that you did?
MM: It was kind of everything. One of the things that I kind of set myself up to do was just to be an independent musician. So, I've always sort of worked for myself, pretty much since I got out of high school. I have either been an independent contractor who hired himself out to other bands as a side guy, or getting to know studio owners and producers. Or being a guitar player either guesting on somebody's records, or being a ghost musician where I played on records where, maybe it was a younger rock band where maybe they weren't really ready for the studio. Basically, they were going to take too much time in the studio to get them to do things efficiently, so they would hire me to come in and fill in guitar spots. I mean, it happens more in the music industry than you might want to believe. These ghost musicians come in and play stuff for people who are actually famous for being in the band who can't do it either because of studio inexperience, or budget constraints, or maybe there's too much partying going on, and they're just not with it enough to get through the studio experience. There was a lot of that stuff, and it was a great experience for me, especially now that I'm producing records and I'm engineering records, and I'm mixing records. Between having a educational experience, I can write down all the black dots for an ensemble that I want them to play, and that's really like producing a record -- you're telling everybody what to do and what the volume is and all that stuff -- it's like you're writing all the nuance onto the page. Between that and going into the studio knowing how things works, knowing how to be the guy that gets a good performance, and knowing how to listen to an engineer and listen to a producer, so that they can get a good performance out of you, because that's tough! The first few times I went into the studio, it wasn't that I went in with an ego or anything, but I wasn't ready for a producer to tell me that, "I don't like what you're doing...do this," and not take it personally, when it really wasn't personal. It was a factor being the guy for the job, but being able to give the producer what they needed for the sessions, with them seeing the big picture and you just providing that tiny little slice. So it was a great learning experience, leading up to me sort of engineering records, because I knew at that point how I reacted to certain types of instructions in the studio, or certain types of atmosphere, and different types of sessions, whether they were singers-songwriter sessions, demos, full albums, or ghosting guitar player parts for bands and stuff like that. So it was kind of part in parcel that sort of thing was in and around everything that I was doing, but it wasn't a piece of...it's kind of like that thing where you get in and you network with as many artists, producers, engineers, studio owners, band leaders...just everything. You kind of hang your sign of business out there and you just do everything you can to make the telephone ring. That's more my job than anything, just making sure the phone rings. Because it doesn't matter if I'm a decent musician, or if I can write a decent tune, or play the guitar pretty good. If I can't make the phone ring, I don't work. So, that's kind of the thing. I see all of that as part of everything.
B#: Right. Now, as far as making the phone ring, I see that back in May you were actually part of an Aristocrats gig. You opened up for Guthrie Govan, Bryan Beller, Marco Minnemann.
B#: How did you get the gig there? How did you get involved in that? Was that one of those things where you shook enough hands and somebody was like, "Oh, let's bring Mike Martin in?" or did you have to go over that to get that gig?
MM: That's a great question. It's a little bit of all of that stuff. That gig was at a venue in Nashville called the Rutledge. And my now manager David Lowery at the Lowery Agency, he promotes a lot of shows at the Rutledge. He had been in the venue and saw the information for the show coming up, saw the promotion. He asked the bar owner, because they're friends, "Hey, who's opening up for show for them?" And the owner said, "I don't think we have anybody yet." And he said, "Well, I have an artist who is perfect for this show. If they're looking for an opener, let me have it." So, knowing the right people...there's always this thing of "You have to be in the right place at the right time". And if you know enough people who are in the right place at the right time, it kind of helps your chances of getting the good phone calls of getting the good gigs like that. So that was having a good manager who is very well connected and who's just on point. He's always opened to possibilities for not just me, but all of his artists. He's got Jon Finn; another amazing guitar player, Rob Balducci; a great band, Mindset Defect; and Goldy Locks. And all of us, we're all doing very different things. He's just really good at what he does, man. He keeps an ear to the ground for everybody looking for opportunities. Maybe it helps that we're all just a little bit different, all very guitar-driven kind of stuff, which kind of ties us together, but that makes all the difference in the world -- having different people in lots of different places who can make these things happen. Like, for me, all these years have been working the southeast. I haven't been avoiding Nashville, but it's one of those towns where everybody plays guitar and everybody is really good at it, so it's never really been on my radar to go to Nashville like I was going to take over that town, because that's just a foolish idea. That might have been an idea that a young Mike Martin though he could have done. But the wisdom of having seen enough guitar players who were from Nashville come through Atlanta quickly taught me that you ain't going anywhere and teaching anybody anything, hehe! So having a manager who is based out of Nashville, and I've played Nashville a bunch at this point, whether it was with this really cool rock band back in the early 2000s named Janah, or playing through there with Stuck Mojo or a few other projects. Just going to the NAMM shows up there and jamming with the other people there from in, or around the area, it's just kind of cool having people on the ground there looking for stuff. It's like, I never wanted to move to Los Angeles either, and it's good to have friends who live there, because sometimes you don't get the phone call or opportunity for something you're perfectly suited for, simply by virtue of the fact that you aren't there.
MM: But you might know someone who is in the right place at the right time, who could say, "I know the perfect guy for you, and he's in Atlanta. Let's give him a phone call." That stuff helps tremendously.
B#: And it's phenomenal to have people in the music industry that are actually looking out for other people, other than themselves. Because I've heard and seen some horror stories about that.
MM: I've been really blessed. I don't know how to explain it, but even just growing up in the schools that I went to, I was always surrounded by the coolest...I mean, not cool as in "cool kids", but the best people. The kids I grew up with were all really good kids and they all came from really good families. Not that they were wealthy,...they were just good people. It's really funny, in the music scene here in Atlanta, there are so many guitar players here -- and some of my favorite guitar players on the planet live here, and we've played together. And there's no competition whatsoever. It's like we're all different flavors of ice cream and we all like to hang out
at Baskin Robbins together.
B#: Different flavors of guitarists!
MM: Yeah! Like, Rich Ward is a great guitar player, and he's one of my favorite guitar players, and he happens to be from Atlanta. And he's completely different from anything that I do. There's also Oliver Wood from the Wood Brothers, who sounds nothing like me. So completely different, he's one of the groovin'-nest, funkiest, earthiest guitar players I've ever heard. He's amazing! And to play with him is a joy. He's also one of those guitarists who I just love to hear play. He keeps me inspired. Guys like Rich and Oliver, and there's other guys - Randy Chapman, Chris Duarte live here, he's another one of my favorite guitar players. I'm so surrounded by the coolest guitar players. They all do very different things and they're all so unique unto themselves. And we're all friendly. There's no competitive, "I better make sure nobody hears that guy's name, because I have to make sure I get that phone call." It's not like that at all. It's like, when we all get together, we promote each others' stuff, we like to hang out together, we like to make music together. It really is a wonderful community. I'm really lucky with that, because I've been to other towns where it ain't like that. You go to Chicago, it ain't like that. You go to Boston, it is not like that. You go to L.A., it is not like that. And other musicians from other parts of the country and other parts of the world come here, and I used to host a bunch of jams in Atlanta, and all sorts of different musicians would come in and out of the door. And they'd say, "You have the most supportive music scene here." Not necessarily in the rock scene, because the rock scene here is really weird. But in terms of blues/jazz/jam band/I-don't-know-what-you-call-it kind of thing, there's a group of musicians here and we all play music and that's all there is to it. Some of it is out of that Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule-rock scene where there's a jamming side to it. But then there's a bunch of us...I like Phish. I think Trey Anastasio's an amazing writer and amazing guitar player, and there are some people that I know that hate bands like Phish, because they're so weird and loose, and so close to the Grateful Dead. But I love all of this stuff. So I branch out into all these different aspects of music that I'm just interested in. And players from other parts of the country or world will come to these jams and be like, "How is it that you all get along? This doesn't make sense. This doesn't exist." It's kind of like a black swan or a wormhole. Nobody's seen this. This doesn't really happen. This doesn't exist. And for some reason here, it kind of does. It's really cool and I'm very fortunate that I happen to be here through this particular period of time where there are all these really amazing and inspirational musicians around doing all kind of different stuff. And I get to work with them and hang out with them and see them play all the time, and they come and see me play. It's really different.
Joining Fozzy and touring with Andy Sneap's Sabbat.
B#: Now with that music scene where everybody is kind of like, brotherly guitarist love, and everything...fast forwarding to 2005, that was the first time I saw you in Fozzy. You made an appearance in the "Enemy" video.
B#: How did you actually get invited into that? I know that Ryan Mallam, the previous lead guitarist for that band had left, and so the call went out to you from who?
MM: It came from Sean Delson, initially. And again, Sean and I have known each other since I first moved to Atlantain the early 90s, when I met Rich and the Mojo guys. And back then, Sean was in a band named Salem Ash, with Doug Busbee, and Frank Fontsere and Sean's brother, Corey. That was the band. So I get to be very friendly with those guys way back when, and I don't even remember how we got to be such good friends, because I'm a few years younger than everybody. They were all kind-of established, and I was this young kid, goofy lookin', you know...tryin' to make my way just to get on the scene. And through whatever process, hanging out at gigs, and being personable, and networking, we became good friends at the time- me, Sean, and Doug. And Frank and Corey as well, but probably more Sean and Doug with me. And Sean, at the time, he was the Chief Foreman at a landscaping company. And everybody, and I mean everybody, that played rock music in and around Atlanta, at some point needed a job. At some point, Sean got them a job at this landscaping company. I mean, it's comical. Everybody came through that landscaping company. And I was no different. Sean had gotten me a gig and I worked there for a long time as well, just trying to make my bills while I was trying to take over the world with my guitar.
So, flash forward from the 90s to the early 2000s when I had gotten out of college, I had...that band Jonna that I mentioned, I had gone out to see them play at Smith's Olde Bar here in Atlanta. Their keyboardist was leaving, and the reason I got in that band was that the keyboard player was leaving, and they asked me to replace him.
Not playing keyboards, but playing guitar synthesizer, because everyone knew I was into all that weird Adrian Belew guitar synth stuff. So I had come up to see the band, and I had friends in the band as well, like Rick Shoemaker, who's played in my band, and he and I have played in a bunch of different projects together. He was the percussionist for that band, so I was going out to support them anyway. When I got there, this must have been in...God, must have been in 2000, Agent Cooper was opening up for John at Smith's Olde Bar. And I had not seen Doug and Sean, and Eric Frampton...any of them, in probably three or four years. So it was a nice surprise. I didn't know that they had started a band called Agent Cooper. It was a wonderful reunion of just "wow", having all these great friends in the room, and of course they were friends who were out to see friends play. Doug and I got to talking that night, and subsequently ended up moving in together, and part of the idea was that he was really interested in bringing in a second guitar player into Agent Cooper. He was doing all the guitar stuff, and Doug is a fantastic guitar player, but he was really looking to bring in a second guitar player.
So, we ended up moving in together, we did some writing together at the time before their second record, "Beginner's Mind" came out, which I didn't play on that record and...I remember kicking some ideas around with Doug, but I didn't contribute to that album in any way. We had rehearsed a bunch of times, and we had played a bunch of old Salem Ash tunes at a studio party here, which was kind of fun. So Sean had gotten very familiar with my playing at that particular point. He didn't remember my playing from the 90s when we were hanging out, and
I was a young punk. He got a good earful of it then, because I was pretty unashamed with my chops. They would come out and see me play. I had this band called the Hybrids, and we played a lot of these fusion joints around. So, they pretty much knew what I was up to.
The story goes, when Ryan decided it was time for him to bow out, and...Ryan does so much different stuff. I know him now, but I didn't know him at the time. He had gone to law school and he's...he's a swim coach! He does all kinds of stuff. He's a really interesting guy. He's married and he's got a family, so it was a big decision for him to step out from that kind of stuff. And he's a great guitar player! All that playing that he did on "All That Remains"...really great playing. Can't say enough good things about the guy. It was a hard decision and he made the call, and I think he dropped that on everybody when they were out on the road. Rich and Sean got to talking about it, "Well, how do we do this? Where are we going to go from here?" Because "All That Remains" was recorded and was getting ready to come out. They were going through that whole process of, do they do it as an independent label, like they ended up doing it on Ash Records, or do they look for a label to sign it? All these business concerns and now your guitar player is leaving. And this was a time when Rich and Chris had decided that there were no more wigs, there's no more Moongoose McQueen. They're going to be a real band and really go for it. So this was not good news for them. So when Rich and Sean were talking about it, and God bless Sean for having faith in me, he told Rich, "There's one guy I know, if he will do it, he's the only guy I know who would be the guy to do this." So when they got home from that particularly road trip, Sean called me and we had a long conversation, because I had just gone through an experience with another friend of mine's band, a progressive hard rock band called Man On Fire. Still very good friends with those guys too. But they had put out a record, I had done a bunch of gigs with them. Unfortunately the project just wasn't going anywhere, partly because Atlanta is not a good place to be in a prog rock band. It's not a prog rock town. It was frustrating, because we weren't working as much as we wanted to, that kind of music requires a lot of time. You need to rehearse a lot, and keep it fresh because it's difficult to play, and it was taking up a lot of my time. As an independent musician, I made my money by sitting in with bands and doing all that stuff, and they had regular day jobs to keep their bills paid. So, they wanted to rehearse at night, and of course I worked at night, so it got to an impasse with those guys. Within a couple months before that, I said, "Next time I get in a band," because Man On Fire had been on a record label, and Jonna had been, "the next band has got to be real, it's got to be happening, it's got to be on the road. I need to get picked up by a band that's traveling." So we had a long talk about all of that stuff, and I think Doug had talked with Rich too, because it was about that time that Rich didn't remember me from the 90s. And there's no reason that he should have. It's not like my band had opened for his band or anything like that. I didn't get my bands up and rolling partly because we were a little too shred-fu, I guess. So, I didn't have that same luxury. And by the time Mojo was really taking off, it was off my radar. Of course, everybody knows the lore. Or perhaps everybody doesn't know the lore of Stuck Mojo, but they had their first record signed by Century Media and put out in 1995, and I was already off and going to college by that point. So, I was living in Charleston, South Carolina, out of the scene. At that point, Mojo became legendary and I was not there participating in any of that. So Rich had never heard me play guitar. He didn't know anything about me, so he was looking into me a bit, and talked with Doug a bit. And Doug gave me a glowing endorsement as well. So we got together and had lunch, did an audition, and the rest, as they say, is Fozzy history.
B#: And you got to bypass all the wigs.
MM: Haha, yes! Because fortunately I still had enough hair to qualify. I was more concerned about wearing a frilly shirt and maybe leather pants, because I do not look good in leather pants. It's not good...you don't want that.
B#: Well, I think it worked out pretty well for you. That's where I met you. The last time I saw you face to face was back in 2008, actually, in Raleigh, North Carolina, playing with Stuck Mojo.
MM: Is it?
B#: It's been a while.
MM: Yeah, it has!
B#: But right before that, back in April 2008, you and Rich went on tour with Andy Sneap's band, Sabbat.
B#: They did a four tourdate run of the U.S., and you were doing guitar tech and he was doing managing. I caught up with you guys then, and...
MM: That's right, because we played through Jaxx.
B#: Yeah, the Jaxx Club in West Springfield, Virginia, back in April 2008. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience with those guys? And your whole experience with guitar teching, instead of actually being the man playing the guitar onstage?
MM: You know, that was a lot of fun! Here's the setup for that. Rich and Andy are really good friends, and I've gotten to know Andy through that relationship. We did some Stuck Mojo recording at Sneap's studio in Derby, England. It's beautiful. He's got an amazing facility! I can't say enough good stuff about it. You can see some pictures on his website of the facility. It's absolutely gorgeous. And Sneap is a character. Anyway, Sneap had played on some of the early Fozzy stuff, and did some gigs with Fozzy. He was Lord Edgar Bayden Powell, I think is what his stage name was. And he was kind of,...almost the token Faulty Towers/Monty Python aspect of Fozzy back in that period. But anyway, Sneap is an amazing guitar player, and Sabbat had never toured the States. They kind of had some great notoriety when they were really active in the 90s. Really good records. And
the fact that they never made it over, either says something...probably says something more about what the state of rock music and hard rock music,... and Sabbat is kind of a thrash metal band anyway,... what the state of music was in here in the United States in the 90s. Which kind of explains why I didn't do much playing here in the 90s.
So, for whatever circumstances, Sneap had been doing some Sabbat gigs and there had been an offer for Sabbat to come over and do some shows here in the States. New York, Chicago, L.A., and technically Virginia, but as close to D.C. as we got. When they were talking about that, the idea about flying more people and getting work permits and visas from the UK to come over to the States, OR, just picking up me and Rich, because we had just seen Andy on the last Mojo tour we'd done, because whenever we had the opportunity to go out and get a curry dinner or something, we would always try to do that. So, that's what was going on. The soundman for that tour was a pretty good friend of mine, James Dunkley, who at the time was also my artist relations rep with Peavey Amplifiers. He was running sound, and he had run sound for Mojo and for Fozzy lots of times too. So it was kind of like this big family thing. Playing bass for Sabbat was Gizz Butt. For those who don't know Gizz, he was playing with a band called...we toured with them with Stuck Mojo, in a band called The More I See. He also plays with, or has played with the English Dogs. And he played in The Prodigy for a while. And Gizz is an amazing guitar player. Frightening, frightening guitar player, and he was playing bass for Sabbat on this tour. So it was too much fun not to do this tour.
The idea was Rich was going to be the tour manager, just to take care of the ins-and-outs, and the concierge stuff you need done. He knows the States really well, and we'd all done those types of flying dates. Shuttling and picking up with rental vans, and getting gear from here to there, so Rich was a great guy to have for that. Plus, you know, very trustworthy, because he had a long-term relationship at this point [with Andy Sneap]. And they just needed one guy, me, to make sure guitars were there and the stage was set up. I mean, it was a really easy gig, because it's not like they needed a tech, or even much of a guitar tech. Andy really takes good care of his guitars. I did a little bit of setup, tweaking some necks and stuff for them. But you know, it really had more to do
with, if there was a battery in there wireless unit, that there was a fresh battery in there everyday...little things like that. It was fun! That was a fun, fun tour. It was so short, but at the same time, I don't think at that point that James Dunkley had ever been to the United States before. Or, if he had been, he'd never worked there and toured before. So, a lot of that fun, "first time in the States" kind of thing. Plus, just the comedy that always ensues when you're running around with a rock band anywhere. It really was a good time. I can't say enough good things about that little tour. It was a blast.
B#: I remember standing out back of the Jaxx, because I had just talked to you, and you were like, "Okay, well we're bringing stuff in, so can you go stand by the guitars and equipment and make sure nobody comes up and takes anything?" So, I went back, and I was standing by the guitars, and Gizz walks out the back door of the Jaxx and he looks over at this little white kid standing next to all of his equipment. And he walks over, doesn't say a word to me, and just stands next to it as well.
B#: I look at him and I'm like, "Oh, it's alright! Mike told me to stand here." He said, "If it's alright with you, I don't know who you are. So I'm just going to stand here and make sure you don't take anything." And I mean, you have to be careful about things like that, because I could have just been anybody!
MM: Anybody can say "Oh, I know so-and-so! They told me to be over here." All kidding aside, I would do exactly the same thing, because that kind of stuff does happen. If word doesn't get transmitted that somebody knows somebody, that he's cool, and that he's going to be standing here helping me out...I know, there's been plenty of times I've been in a similar situation and was like, "Hey, who is that fucking guy over by my guitar?" "Oh, that's so-and-so." "Really? Because I don't know so-and-so." And it's not a personal thing, but when you're out on tour, everybody has horror stories of guitars getting stolen, or pedals. Or sometimes just peoples' bags, their personal bags, because a fan has an affinity for an artist and just wants a token, a souvenir, or something like that. And stealing, in some peoples' warped moral sensibility is an acceptable way of doing that. So you're kind of always on a defensive when you're on tour. You're always running into new people. And even if people don't necessarily want to steal your guitar, they know you're a musician and you're hanging out, chances are you probably have cash on you, so you can get robbed. You may have a laptop, you may have an iPhone or something like that. So, it kind of happens. You kind of naturally put your defenses out there. It only takes one good experience, having a gun pulled on you someplace, or having your car broken into, or your trailer stolen, before you end up naturally always checking your six.
B#: Yeah. Hopefully you haven't had any guns pulled on you on tour. But, I guess you've heard of someone who has.
MM: I've heard lots of stories, and I've been around situations where there was the threat of someone pulling a gun and there was no reason to believe that those individuals did not have a gun. Fortunately those situations never turned into a really bad situation, like they could have. But, they're out there. Lots of stuff has happened to lots of different musicians. I've been very fortunate that any of my bad stories really aren't that bad. Nowhere near that bad. I've skated tragedy many, many, many, many times.
Fozzy, Stuck Mojo, "2 Of 5" and Steve Vai's Digital Nations
B#: Now you're solo album, "2 of 5", came out back in 2005, 2006?
B#: Yeah, I picked it up when I went to my first Stuck Mojo gig, when they went on the Preliminary Hearings tour to kind of...there was the whole reunion with Bonz and they were about to release "Southern Born Killers". And they went on tour, and I'd seen you on the Enemy video, I kind of knew who you were. And there your CD was for sale on the Stuck Mojo merch table, so I said, "Yeah, let me grab that." Fantastic album! And now it is out on Digital Nations, which is Steve Vai's label, a subsidiary of Favored Nations.
B#: How did you get onto Favored Nations, and maybe tell us a little about the recording process for that album.
MM: I'll tackle the Favored Nations thing first. That was always the design. There's not many labels in existence that deal with instrumental guitar music, and Favored Nations had been around before I started working on that record. So it had always been my intention to submit it to somebody there. It just so happens that when I was working on the record, and doing my preliminary, "What labels might be interested in this?" Favored Nations was not accepting any submissions, which was kind of heartbreaking. They were putting out records, such as Marty Friedman's "Music For Speeding" had come out. I think Eric Johnson's "Bloom" record was out on Favored Nations. If not that one, it was the "Alien Lovechild" record, that live record, had come out on Favored Nations. My friend Rob Balducci, he had put out,...was it "The Color Of Light" record, or "Violet Horizon"? I think "Violet Horizon" came out after that...but anyway, records were coming out, but they were already signed guys. They weren't taking any other submissions. And it was pretty clear they weren't taking any unknown people anyway, even if they were going to sign a new record. They were only putting out records by already established artists.
So it only left a few other labels, like Mascot, Lion Music, so on and so forth. I got to know some of the Mascot people through touring with Fozzy and Stuck Mojo, because we kept running into people who had mutual friends.
Once again, just knowing people that know people. Just trying to get a foot in the door to submit some of the early, early mixes to people before I finished the record, just to try and get a budget for it really. It was kind of frustrating. It wasn't going as well as I had hoped for, which is why I ultimately just put it out myself in 2006, and just created Serpa Records as a means to get it out and be able to broker and license distribution. That way, I could have it out on the merch stand for any tours that we were doing. And unfortunately, it came out after most of the touring I had done with Fozzy. That really would have been the band to have it on the merch stand. I sold a few copies while I was in Stuck Mojo, but really, it's a huge disconnect between styles of music. People that were into Stuck Mojo, very few of them were the kind of people who would buy a Satriani or Steve Vai record. They were more into metal. Especially people that were veracious Stuck Mojo fans, you're talking about people who were into "Rising" and "Pigwalk", very aggressive records. And "2 Of 5" is aggressive, but nowhere near that kind of a metal record. So, I sold a handful on the merch stand over the years of my tenure with Stuck Mojo. But really, I could have sold more in Fozzy, because in Stuck Mojo I'm the rhythm guitar player and Rich is the lead guitar player, and that's the right answer. In Fozzy, I was the lead guitar player and I had a little more...I had my soapbox to put all my chops on display for people who are wowed by that kind of thing. It was a good place for them to see it, and I could have gotten a lot more people to buy the record that way. And really, more of my sales have gone, since then, to that audience than the Mojo audience.
Anyway, flashing forward, any of the labels that I looked to broker distribution with didn't work. Like, the last really big push I did was when Stuck Mojo was on tour with Volbeat. Volbeat was sort of the biggest band on Mascot at the time, so all of the upper executives were coming out to the Volbeat shows and, of course, they were checking out Stuck Mojo. We had already signed that deal with Napalm for the re-release of "Southern Born Killers" and "The Great Revival". All of that business dealing was already done, so I had met with them and gave them copies of "2 Of 5" to see if they were interested in distributing that one. If they'd be interested in picking up my next record, which I was very interested in getting to work on writing. The trail kind of went cold at that particular point, and I don't think it was because Mascot wasn't interested...it's just the nature of the way things happened after that tour. "The Great Revival" came out, and I think we were all disappointed that, whatever our xpectations were of Napalm Records at that point, we were disappointed in the way that was going. Whether our expectations were realistic or unrealistic doesn't matter. That record came out...we did that tour before the record came out, and the record just came out. It wasn't reviewed well. For a Stuck Mojo record, it was somewhere between Stuck Mojo meets The Duke, which for us as a business, that was the right answer. Because Stuck Mojo as a very aggressive metal band wasn't doing what we wanted it to do anyway, so we were really going for a different demographic. But when all of the reviews were from reviewers who were expecting "Declaration Of A Headhunter Pt. 2", of course they were disappointed that there were maybe only three or four aggressive tunes on the record. And then there was "Country Road", a weird song that's somewhere written between Rich Ward, John Denver, and Mike Martin. That's really weird, you know...that probably shouldn't exist on a "Stuck Mojo" record, if you're familiar with the band. But in our heads, it's where we were, and it seemed like the right answer for where we wanted to go. It just didn't work. So the disappointment over that, and diving right into...immediately Rich went into work on "Chasing The Grail". So everything became about that and just sort of,...what do we do with all this Mojo stuff? So, I kind of dropped the ball with trying to be cushy with all the Mascot guys, because I didn't know where my career was at that particular moment. I knew we were going to do something with Fozzy, but I didn't know what. I mean, we had just put all of our eggs on this other record, which now we were kind of abandoning. So, it was through that period of working on my contributions to "Chasing The Grail" and just keeping up with other elements of what's going on online. Trying to see what's going on with fans, what's happened with our reputation with the Stuck Mojo thing, kind of capitalize on the new fans with the Volbeat tour. Volbeat was getting huge traction! And I was kind of doing a lot of the marketing for Stuck Mojo. I created the Facebook page, and all that stuff. So I was trying to connect with all of the people who we'd really had the luxury of being in front of. We had some really good press with Metal Edge magazine when it was still in existence. We had some good feature articles there. When we were on the Volbeat tour, we were on the cover of Aardschok magazine. I mean, there was some good stuff happening. Just trying to make sure we didn't lose that stuff. Trying to keep up with where these people were, where we were on their radar, and just make sure we're keeping contact with these folks.
In the process, flashing forward to how did I end up on Favored Nations. I saw a blurb from Favored Nations on, I think, their Facebook, about experimenting with a new label. So, I called Sean, my A&R guy now at Favored Nations, and asked, "What's going on with this?" And he explained the idea of doing all digital distribution, trying to a little forward thinking, and such. I explained to him who I was, and this record that I had, and being in Fozzy and Stuck Mojo. I said, "Maybe this is a good opportunity for some cross pollination." Because I don't have much of a name, in terms of Mike Martin. It certainly means more to say Fozzy or Stuck Mojo than it does to say Mike Martin. In all of my tenure with those bands, I really spent more time just trying to be the best possible member of those bands than trying to be some pariah and all about myself, the Mike Martin thing. I just wanted to be Mike from Fozzy, or Mike from Stuck Mojo. It was more about the promotion of the band, because that's a better gig. I didn't want to be a side guy in Fozzy, a side guy in Stuck Mojo, because that's not what we did. Those were bands. That's honest to God what we were trying to do, so we served it up that way. So it was a little bit of an opportunity for some cross-promotion with the label. We signed a deal with them for "2 Of 5" to get that stuff distributed, and it's kind of interesting. It's all digital distribution. I already had it in all the major distribution networks worldwide through what I had done with CDBaby already, so I had to take it all down so we could put it back up. Except now, I can put Steve Vai's name on everything, so it was worth the effort. It was good to do that. So that's how that happened. Through that whole process I was looking for distribution to license. Through 2006, just through the process of doing all the touring for Fozzy, and all the touring with Stuck Mojo, and then being brought in as a member of Stuck Mojo and doing two records with them. Writing and so on and so forth. It just took a much longer process, and that's fine. It really was a smarter way to go about it, because it's not like the world is on fire for the next great instrumental guitar record, you know? Steve Vai himself just put out a new record, and it's a great record called "The Story Of Light", but I don't know how well it's doing. I mean, everybody is doing such soft numbers now. I'm sure, it's a nitch market, so guitar players are buying it. I mean, Steve's going to sell the copies he's going to sell to the people who follow him everywhere, so he'll probably do better numbers than most folks. Certainly, numbers well beyond what I can do. But I'm sure it's still less numbers than his last record, because that's just the nature of how many records are being sold.
"I write instrumental music, because I'm trying to express something that I lack the language and vernacular to accurately make somebody understand the feeling that I have in my heart or my spirit about something. "
Now, recording the record is kind of interesting...I'll try to give you the shortest story possible on that, because clearly I'm a little long winded, heh. The story is, I had been doing all the session work for years leading up to it. At this point, now, I had been in the studio working on The Duke record with Rich, and through the process we worked with Shawn Grove in the mixing process, we worked with Cheney Brannon at his studio. So it was getting to work in bigger and bigger studios with better and better producers and engineers. My ears were really opening up to this. And Rich was getting into becoming his own producer, and his own engineer. He had worked with Rick Beato on "All That Remains" and on a good chunk of The Duke record. The original three-song demo was produced by Rick Beato, and that's what spurned it on to the whole "My Kung Fu Is Good" album, carrying those ideas forward. So Rich was growing in this whole Protools revolution, where you could have a pretty slick Apple computer, and have Protools, and you could do a lot of tracking work on your own, whether you do it at your rehearsal space, which is where we did a lot of stuff. Or at your home studio, which is where, eventually I ended up building and he ended up building as well. Just through that process, and seeing that it's possible. Through being in Fozzy and doing those tours, I basically...any earnings that we did make, I just re-invested that money into a Protools studio. I got myself an MBox and bought the slickest version of Protools I could at the time. And in between tours, I don't remember exactly what was going on, but that particular year we had -- that was 2005, we had done that first Stuck Mojo tour with Bonz in Europe after some UK dates with Fozzy. We came back to the States, finished The Duke record or -- I can't remember if we'd finished The Duke record or we were getting the Duke record finished, but we did that short tour with The Duke. That spring Fozzy headlined the Astoria, we did the Duke show at that same --that was the weirdest tour, because we did Stuck Mojo shows, and Fozzy shows, and The Duke. That tour was everything. We did everything that I did in that tenure with all of those different projects. We did all of them in that two week period in the UK. It was kind of awesome. Then we came back home, we flew back to England, and did a couple of dates. We did the Donnington Festival, Download, which was really kind of awesome. It was in that period, when we came home from there, that's when I bought Protools. And I bought myself the book written by John Keane, who is a producer in Athens, Georgiawho worked with R.E.M. and all of those bands. He wrote this really great tutorial on Protools. If you're interested in that stuff, I highly recommend it. Because he's kind of a practical engineer. "You can read the book on all of the key strokes on everything about what Protools does", he said, "but let me tell you what an engineer needs to know." Coming from having worked with tape and ADATs, and all of that stuff, and into here. So basically, I did that entire tutorial in a ridiculously short period of time, but I'm kind of stupid that way. Like, if I'm going to study something, if I'm going to read a book, I'll read it from cover to cover, because I'll get distracted. I need to be Zen-like on things. So, I just immersed myself in that, learned it all, and then immediately started working "2 Of 5". That was my preproduction, was learning that book and then between that little period of doing all the preproduction, setting up all of the sessions, and starting.
I had written a lot of that music previous to this. If you've read the liner notes to the album, there's one song called "Lavender", I wrote that when I was eighteen. That song has been around for awhile. So, it was kind of easy to set up the sessions because I had already written all of the music. It was just now getting it fleshed out in the studio, and then there were some songs like "2 Of 5", which was written for the album. That was a brand new song for that. "Infection" was a song that I had not written out the whole thing, but I had written the song for "My Kung Fu is Good". Rich and I had talked at one particular point about my writing because he was kind of interested in it. So, I just started writing, thinking, "Well this would be an interesting song for this project". Not with any expectations that was going to be on "My Kung Fu is Good", but just in the idea that this was the kind of rock tune it seemed like that band was going to play. Like, the big Jon Lord Hammond organs, you know, Procol Harum kind of thing, plus some cool riffy guitar stuff, but still kind of melodic. It had some swagger, you know? And it just never went that way and by the time I got to "2 Of 5", working on that album, I liked that riff, so I kind of finished it. I didn't have a bunch of vocal melodies for it anyway, so I just wrote that whole thing as a chord melody for the guitar and all of that stuff. So, that's the thing and from there was -- everything became between tours. We had the Australian tour, and I didn't have a laptop. So, I would to work on my mixes, record them, and bring a CD player with me because I didn't even have an iPod at the time, And basically listened to my mixes over and over again and kept writing notes. I listened to my mixes everyday and wrote brand new notes on everything. And I would compare notes by the end of the tour of "Ok, what are the things that stood out to me consistently day after day after day?' It didn't matter how redundant my notes were on my mixes and what I wanted to do next. I wanted to make sure I had solidified those ideas in my mind. So those were the processes that I went through. So, we did the Australian tour, and I think we were home for three weeks to get back to work on the record, and then we had another UK tour. Somewhere in there we had that US run that we had to cancel because Chris' mom passed, and I don't remember exactly where that was in the running -- if that was before Australia, or after Australia in 2006. That gets a little fuzzy to me, because we were touring so much. Then we did that Canadian tour, so it was all in and around and between that. We'd be out for a while and it's was really disconnected in my head between "Go out and be this Fozzy thing" and then "Come home and do this instrumental thing." You know, constantly picking up the hat, putting it on, and then taking it off, and then putting on another hat and then going out and doing this, and then putting all that down when you come home. It was really interesting and wonderful experience for me to get to do so much different stuff and so much was just taking off with the whole Fozzy thing, because that was a really wonderful period of time in that band. We were just doing great touring, having the best time. And finally, having the wherewithal and the platform to do stuff with my own music, and really getting excited about that stuff too. It was a really cool period of time for me.
B#: That is a lot of taking the hat off and putting it back on with so much touring and coming back to it. It's amazing that you had the focus to go, "Ok, well, now I have to get back and make sure that I get this record completed before Fozzy does anything else."
MM: Yeah, it was kind of, "I really want to get this done." Because I could have, theoretically, gotten that done before the Australian tour. If I knew then what I know now, and that's always the way...by the time you finish a project, you know exactly how to do that project. You always walk into a project thinking "I want to do this and this and this." And by the end of it, it's "Life is what happens while you're busy making plans." You can have all that stuff lined up, and you just keep trying to get those things knocked out, but along the way you have to...what's the Marine's creed? "You have to adapt and improvise." So knowing what I know now, it's possible to have gotten that record done in that period of time. And I would have loved to have had that record to sell on the Australian tour at the merch stand, because we did great numbers in Australiaon that tour. You know, from a business standpoint of selling some albums, that would have been great for me. As a matter of fact, it would have been so great, it probably would have spurned the ability to broker distribution for "2 Of 5" much earlier, because there were certainly enough record people around all of those Fozzy shows who probably would have wanted to get a piece of some of that stuff. Same with those UK tours. That was the era of Fozzy where we were selling out complete tours. Everywhere we were going. You know, there were some smaller venues, because there were some smaller markets as well, as we were still growing. But even in the bigger markets we were selling out every place that we'd go. It was amazing to be on tour and then read the news that every next show coming up, "Tomorrow night is sold out...three nights from now is sold out." Just the excitement on those tours...it would have been good to have the CD available for those. Because after that, it took me so long to get it done just because of being new to the process, by the time I was done that album cycle for "All That Remains" was over. We did some spotty shows from there, but that was kind of it for a while, until "Chasing The Grail". And by that point, when that record was done, I was off of that project. I really missed the boat at that point.
On Fozzy's "Wormwood":
"The conversation immediately became, 'Man, I can't wait to play this when we go on tour!' I was excited, because I couldn't wait to play this, it was so much fun. And then the realization that, 'This song is too long. We're never going to play this.'"
B#: Right. Well, speaking of "Chasing The Grail," your standout performance on that has to be the closing track.
The 14 minute long "Wormwood" about the end of the world. And after that, you left the band, but that, from what I've read, is the song that spurned going back and joining Agent Cooper. So, can you tell a bit about the transition from "Chasing The Grail" with "Wormwood" to your days with Agent Cooper?
MM: Yeah! Basically, Chris and I worked on that. Rich is the primary songwriter for everything he does, and we would all write our parts for everything. And there had been some conversations before working on what is now "Chasing The Grail," where Rich was kind of open. He said, "Man, I'd like you to do some writing. Let me see what you've got on the stuff." He had some lyrics from Chris, and I had written around on some riffs and things, and I don't think I had any complete song ideas at that point. But the ideas were out there, and the Fozzy record was off the radar at that point, so I didn't have a big reason to go finish the demos. We didn't know when we were going to do the next Fozzy record. We were all focused on "The Great Revival" and getting that ship to sale,
basically. Anything I was writing certainly was good for Fozzy, but not for Stuck Mojo, which is how we all felt about the stuff I was writing at the time. And "Wormwood", I didn't even have an idea for "Wormwood" yet. I had
read over the lyrics, and there were a couple of pages of them. A long, epic poem. And I knew what Chris was thinking. Chris and I are fans of the same stuff. We're big Iron Maiden fans, we're big Rush fans, we're big Dream Theater fans. All of that was all right there in his lyrics, that this is kind of what he'd like to see happen. And it wasn't that I just jumped on it. I thought, "I kind of know what he's up to here. I don't have anything at the moment, but I know what's he's up to." So, when Rich and I were talking later, he had basically demoed out everything that became "Chasing The Grail." He had all the songs roughed in for all of that. And I was like, "Hey, you had asked me to some writing. Do you want to repurpose any of that stuff, or take a look at it. Where are you in the album tracklisting? Is there room to get a song on here? What kind of love can I get on here as a songwriter?" He said, "Well, I've pretty much written everything I want to. I know you've written for stuff, but I've now gone ahead and written for everything too. There's no point in having two competing ideas for the same sets of lyrics." I said, "No, that's fine. But is there anything you haven't written yet?" He told me, "There's this weird 'Wormwood' thing that I have no idea what to do with, because it's long and it's weird...I don't have anything for that. Do you want to take a look at hat?" And there were a couple other ones. I think, at that point he didn't have anything for "Friday The 13th". So I said, "Let me take a look at that one and this 'Wormwood' thing." I immediately got into this "Friday The 13th" thing, because that was something a little more obvious as a rock tune for me. I had a chorus going, and was just in the process of starting to demo that, and finally got a...like fishing, I finally got a bite. I finally had an idea that struck me with "Wormwood". It kind of spurned out of...it's not on the record, but I had this very heavy metal, progressive, introduction to something. And it was the original introduction to "Wormwood", and it wasn't working. But it's interesting, it was something I was trying to repurpose onto "Wormwood", and it was what lead me into how to approach the song. So, if I didn't have it, I probably wouldn't have gotten what I did get, even though it was the oldest thing and it ended up getting thrown away first. Basically, that little classical guitar part of the intro, that hit me one day, and the whole song...if you listen very intently, the little themes in and around the rhythmic motifs, and the melodic motifs, and some of the harmonic progression...everything about that 14 minute song is almost all in that little classical introduction. I went into this six day fever dream around that. Once I got that, I just went nuts. Didn't bathe, didn't brush my teeth, just work, work, work, work. Finally, at one point, I said, "Alright guys, I got something." I sent out the demo and Chris was excited because it's got a "Farewell To Kings" thing going on, it's got a "Ryme Of The Ancient Mariner" thing going on, it's got all of these really good things that we're fans of. I had touched on all of that stuff just enough that Chris was nuts for it, and I was proud of it. Rich dug it, gave us the green light and we just went into it. I was kind of heading up that project, so I got together with Sean and Eric Frampton. Eric had done all of the keyboard recording for all of the Mojo stuff, The Duke Project, and the Fozzy albums. Whenever we needed tracks, Rich would go to Eric for that. And I do that as well. He's on "2 Of 5", he's a musician I've worked with for many, many years. Just in the process of working on that, going "Okay, I know what I want here, so give me this kind of thing." It's so progressive, that just the conversation after spending a weekend with Sean and Eric, saying "What's going on here? Because this is really weird for a Fozzy song." The conversation immediately became, "Man, I can't wait to play this when we go on tour !" I was excited, because I couldn't wait to play this, it was so much fun. And then the realization that, "This song is too long. We're never going to play this." And also that this is really quirky in the set anyway. When I think about what a Fozzy set is, and what I had written,...I wrote it for Fozzy. In my mind it's very much a Fozzy tune, because it was written to the strengths of what Fozzy was all about, but it was kind of weird. I got this feeling of, "We're never going to play this tune, except maybe for a very special occasion." I can't imagine that, and just in talking with Sean and Eric about it, we thought it was a shame. This is the kind of writing that I'm getting into. It's maybe heavier than what we wanted to do with Agent Cooper, but we want to do stuff with Agent Cooper, and it's this kind of stuff that we cando with Agent Cooper. So, it kind of spurned off from this conversation of getting excited about things that I was writing, and certainly the more progressive rock nature of what I was writing, in the end...probably Chris, Rich, and I, Sean, and Eric...and Frank, we'd all step back and say, "It's cool for Fozzy. It's a really cool feature of that record." I'm really proud of the fact that it held up on the album sonically, that it reviewed well, and that it's one of the song that gets name-mentioned everytime the record is reviewed. And really the only negative thing I've heard about it is that for somebody it might drag on a little bit too long as a 14 minute tune. But on the flip side of that, I've heard people say, "Wow, it's 14 minutes, but it doesn't feel like it." It's so audio-theater, you move from one to the next thing so quickly, that next thing you know it's over, and 14 minutes of my life have just passed, heh.
It's kind of funny that way. But even in all of that, that people accepted it, and fans accepted it. I'm really grateful for that, because I'm certainly a fan of Rich's writing and producing. I wouldn't have been in the band if I wasn't a fan of his writing. Every project I've ever been a part of...Yeah, I'm a mercenary that goes out and works and wants to get paid, but on the other side I don't want to do anything I don't have to do. If you're band is crap, and you want to pay me to play in it, I'm not going to do it. That's a great project. And like I said, I'm a fan of Rich's, and I always have been. So it's an honor to be in the band and to play with him every night, and then to have a song on the record where Rich is the primary songwriter. That's huge! For me, it's a personal...not necessarily victory, but really, what an honor. It's really cool to have that, and to have worked with Chris on all that. But just in the process of realizing that, and I don't know if there's necessarily a good way to say it. It wasn't a factor of thinking that maybe I'm outgrowing Fozzy, but knowing I'm always going to really find myself as a piece of Fozzy, but an opportunity of being in a band like Agent Cooper may be a better place for this kind of stuff. It's not like I didn't have a vehicle with my own stuff. If I cared to sing "Wormwood", I guess I could go play it now, because I'm always doing gigs with my solo band. But, I don't sing like that.
Agent Cooper and Next Solo Record
MM: As a matter of fact, I have a laughable rock voice, haha! If you've ever heard me sing lead vocals, it's a comic number. It's funny...we were in the studio doing some vocals for the Agent Cooper album, and Doug really wanted me to sing some parts. He said, "Just get in there and do it." I told him, "You're going to laugh at me." He said, "I'm not going to laugh at you. I just want a different voice. You've got a good voice...just do it." And immediately, it's just comedy. And I have to laugh at myself, you know? I can't be self-conscious about it. I grew up in church singing in the high Catholic, gothic church choir, and that is exactly what I sound like. I have a voice that is more suited for singing in a Catholic gothic choir, OR, I sound like Ethel Merman. I should be in a musical theater troupe, or something like that. And it's not even a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. People who are good at that are great at that. And that's what my strength is as a singer...but I'm a rock n' roll musician, and I don't think anyone wants to see a rock band fronted by Ethel Merman, haha! I just don't think that would work!
B#: Yeah, I don't think I'd go to see that show.
MM: Hahaha! I mean, you'd go to throw tomatoes at them or something, but...but that's how it veered off into
Agent Cooper land. We were all very excited about this stuff that I was writing. Agent Cooper was in the same place that I was with "2 Of 5" at the time. They had put out "Beginner's Mind" right around 2005 when we were doing all that Fozzy touring. And it's a great record!
B#: Oh, it's fantastic!
MM: Because of all of the touring that Sean was doing with Fozzy, Sean was able to get the word out about the record, but it's not like they could turn around and do a bunch of touring with Agent Cooper based on that. Because in the end, we'd come back to Atlanta, and you can't do progressive rock gigs around Atlanta and expect to draw huge numbers. It just doesn't work. We got a handful of gigs when I got in the band before we got the European tour, and they were well enough attended, but that was because we did one show with Mike Froedge's band, The Dreaded Marco. And if you don't know Mike Froedge, he was in doubleDrive. They did a couple of records for MCA and Universal, so he's well known. And at that point he'd already been playing drums for Black Label Society for a year, so he's pretty well known from that. So his local draw is pretty good, because he's a local boy done real well. We also did another show with Billy Grey's band, Dangerous New Machine. And Frank Fontsere was playing drums! It was pretty cool. There's the whole Fozzy tie-in, as Billy has stepped back into Fozzy since I left. So it was really cool that we did a show together. And that show drew pretty well. I don't know if part of that was because me and Billy were doing a show together and people didn't know what to think about that. I don't know why anybody would think it might be weird, because Billy is a super great guy, and we get along fantastically, and he's a fantastic guitar player. And Dangerous New Machine is a great project; it's a great band. It was cool. I don't know if it was part that, part solidarity kind of thing, or what...but we had a great
turnout that night as well.
So, it's interesting. We're in that same boat of...both Sean and I had other projects that we weren't really servicing, and this approach to writing was probably better suited for [Agent Cooper]. I don't know many musicians who got into writing records, and that's the dream, right? When you're a kid you say, "I want to make records." And here were are, making records in different aspects, but we don't get to perform our own music. And really, that's what we are! We're performers. I can't imagine a time when I didn't perform. I've always performed, ever since I was tiny. And even before the Fozzy thing, I would do very dangerous stuff, like write music and then just go play it. No record. The idea of, "You need a record to play new music" is...really, when you're out in the world and you don't have a record deal, you just write music and you play it. And here we were touring the world and making these records with these other projects that we were really happy to be a part of, but I think that thing in your belly...that fire in your belly. Like, "THIS is what I want to do. I wrote this. This is ME!" It's not that Fozzy wasn't me, or that Stuck Mojo wasn't me, because certainly pieces of that were me. And certainly I'm sure Sean would say the same thing, that pieces of that were him too. But if you were just to say, "Ok, I'm going to lock you in a room for two days. Write me something that is as close to exactly what you are," I would probably write a thing closer to what "Wormwood" sounds like, or closer to what "Epiphany" sounds like, or "Misunderstood" or "Tornado Dreams" sounds like. That's probably what I would do. Because that's closer to who I am and if you think about any of those things, except "Wormwood", because it's easy to imagine it on a Fozzy record because that's where everybody was introduced to it. But, any of the rest of those things being on a Fozzy record, I don't see it. It's just weird! That's just not where it belongs.
B#: Right. And you just mentioned "Misunderstood", and Agent Cooper just released...I guess I should say, you recently released a few more tracks; an EP called "From The Ashes". You originally released three songs on it, and then you came back and added three more. But "From The Ashes" is an EP by Agent Cooper. Fantastic music. You've been hearing it on Better B# for the last few days. And you guys are, from what I understand, you've already tracked, mixed, and mastered the full length album. And you've recently went on tour with Tony MacAlpine over in Europe to promote this thing. So, tell us a little bit about that tour and tell us when can we expect this album?
MM: Here's as much information as I can give about the album. It started as a process of getting us from "Chasing The Grail" to Agent Cooper as a full-time touring project. My proposal to Agent Cooper was [audio cut out]. They had the first two records out on Prog Rock Records, which is an indie label, and it's a good label. But there was no...they didn't need to deliver the next record to them. They could do it and they could license it to them and license it to anybody that they wanted to. So, my recommendation was, "Look, I'm not doing the Fozzy thing anymore, but Sean's going to keep doing it. So, we can't just get up and go tour to break a band like we need to. So, let's just take this in bites. Let's get this band up on its legs, because we're clearly making some changes. Let's do a series of EPs and then we'll do shows around those EPs when Sean is in town. And we'll grow this thing to get some traction and see what we can do with our fanbase quickly." Basically, the idea I wanted to do is record three songs, and then for the next three months release a song, while we're writing or producing the next three songs. They kind of started out of songs that were Salem Ash songs, which is how we came up with the "From The Ashes" thing. We're being cheeky. So that was the process. We did those first three songs, which were "Tornado Dreams", "The Stand", and "Mother". And all of those were Salem Ash tunes originally, just completely repurposed. And "Mother" is fairly close to what it was. Salem Ash had actually produced that and it had gone out on the one record they had put out on Isabella Records years and years ago. It got some sprucing up with some keyboard bits, and I re-wrote the guitar solo, and a couple of little parts. But really, as it is, from start to finish, that is the song as I have known that song. And that's been around for a long time. I remember hearing that when I first heard the band, back in 1992...that's how long that songs been around. So it was really cool to give it a new paint job. "The Stand" and "Tornado Dreams" are very different...well, "Tornado Dreams" isn't very different. It's pretty much as it was written, just they never got a good recording of it at the time, because it's a hard piece of music. The only thing that I did is that fugue in the middle of it. They had originally had this breakdown, and it was about the same number of measures, and it was contrapuntal to where they had...it wasn't imitation, but different instruments would come in with their own parts that repeated, and they would overlap. So there was this sort of contrapuntal nature to it, but it wasn't imitation in the sense of strict counterpoint like a Bach fugue. So I said, "Hey guys, I know we've got this thing. We can do that, but it's not good counterpoint. It's good music, but it's not good counterpoint. If you're open to it, let me re-write something, and let me write a fugue." Because that's what I do. I'm good at that stuff. But you have to write the whole thing out. Very rock n' roll to sit and write a fugue out. So I did that, and that was my contribution to that. "The Stand" got pretty much completely redone, and there were probably four different versions of it before we got to the version that's on the album. I remember one that almost made it, that we got pretty far along with. It was so radically different. It was like Agent Cooper meets Pat Metheny Group. It was very interesting! In my head, somewhere in there, my relationship with Eric Frampton is kind of like Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. He's the other half of that equation for me. So I started working on the tune in that respect, but that was also not the right vehicle. That happening in Agent Cooper isn't the right answer either, so we checked swing on that. We came up with some really cool ideas which are definitely getting repurposed for some other places, but obviously we didn't go that way with "The Stand". But we did end up...it's interesting, you go through a process like that and you end up where you end up. So, again I'm getting long winded.
That EP was finished, we did a handful of shows, and we started talking about the way to release an album with Binary Universal. We started the legwork on that and through that relationship, that's when we started talking about that tour with Tony MacAlpine. It was going to be for his first tour in a long time. He had just put out his record on Favored Nations. They thought it was a good match, since I had a record out on Favored Nations, and it would be an interesting cross-pollination of guitar promotion and what-have-you. We were already in the process of working on the next three songs that had been slated for my brilliant idea of "let's do a series of EPs". We got the next three done and packaged them together with the first three, so we had something to sell. Because you've got to promote something on tour. And on a tour like that, when you're not the headliner, you got to fund it somehow. You've got to be out promoting something. So, having an EP to promote, to sell on the merch stand, was paramount. It was just so important. Because getting people to come to the concert hall to review the band is one thing, but having physical product out there that you can send your reviewers to get written reviews into the magazines and the webzines, all of that combined helps to promote the engine of a tour. All of it gets people to the concert hall, and the concert hall reviews lead to more people coming to the concert hall, leads to more people buying the album. So, this machine ends up feeding itself, hopefully. At the end of that tour, my thought had always been, "We'll do a series of EPs until we can find a label to land on." Because we were originally giving the EP away, the first three songs, we gave them away. The idea was "Let's just keep giving this away, because no one is buying recorded music. Let's try to get some traction, let's try to get some press. Radiohead's already done it better. Everybody has already done it better. So what? Let's just give the music away and we'll keep giving it away, until we get three EPs done." And at the end of it everybody will be like, "Ok guys, you've just given away a full album. Why did you do that?" And my thinking is that behind all of that we would be writing a full album. We could say, "Because here, now we have this album". And through all of that process, would be the setup of a completely new album of all new material that nobody had heard before. And through that process we would have had the time to experiment with our writing, because we were repurposing old Salem Ash stuff, which was already written. And most of it was written between Doug, Sean, and his brother, Corey. Other stuff, like "Misunderstood" was written by Doug; it's a Doug song. "I Can" was an old Salem Ash tune. "Power" is a Doug song. Doug is kind of the centerpiece songwriter for Agent Cooper, and bringing in a writer like me was going to take a process. And anytime you're negotiating and writing with other musicians, that's a process. I'm used to writing on my own and finishing a thought, and Doug is used to sending it back to the band and letting everybody hack it to bits. I can't really do that. I can't write a song, hand it back to a band, and say, "Alright guys, hack it to bits." If I'm left to finish a thought, that's what I'm trained to do. I finish a thought and tell everybody what to play. I may leave spots for people to be interpretive, or write a solo, or see what kind of thoughts they may have to throw on top of something. But, to have someone come in and go, "I think you need to chop that section in half," I can't really do that. Once I'm that far into the thought and I've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's, I can't have that conversation. And that's just part of me just being me. So, I knew there needed to be a process that we should go through as writers, before we really got into a brand new album of the brand new lineup of Agent Cooper, with all of these different writers brought to the fore. And the whole "From The Ashes" process was a good way to flesh that out.
Everything moved a little faster than I initially wanted. We did the first EP and got attention with the Binary Universal thing, and then quickly got the six-song EP ready to go to market. So, there were different thoughts on how we should proceed from here, because now we have this EP signed, we have this tour, what do we do now?
Do we go home and jump into the full album? It was decided by the end of that tour that we were going to take this six-song EP that we rushed to get out to promote on this tour and...we liked the music a lot, and it really didn't get the proper release it should have had...so basically, this album that we're releasing now is the completion of this album. It's basically all the thought that I had of working in the chunks of EPs, now brought to completion. So, that's what's coming to market, and we're trying as quickly as possible to see what we can do with another full record of new material. And there's tons of material we've been kicking around. But the idea was to, "Ok, capitalize on this and these particular songs" and move it out. And I was a little hesitant to do that at first, but lots of bands have been doing this stuff. I don't know if you've been keeping up with Corey Lowery, who is also Stuck Mojo alumni. He's got a band called Eye Empire, and they're fantastic. You should totally check them out. And they have, through a process of the last few years, been writing songs and released and released and released stuff. And what they did was really cool, because they've been building their fanbase as they go. This final release has alternate versions, like acoustic versions of songs, that they've released on the full album. So it's cool, if you've been keeping up as a fan, to see where everything has evolved, because things are kind of fun. Getting the full album back from mastering the tracklisting, and some of the fun stuff that we did with the album sequencing -- there's some nice surprises on there. I think it holds up as an album, even though it was not initially designed as an album. But, it did take us a minute. Clearly we were thinking when we got home from tour back in March that we were going to finish this out to an album, and we're just now getting it back from mastering. It took a minute for us to figure out "How do we get this done and how to do make this sound like an album?" And it was worth taking a minute to do that. Again, life is what happens while you're busy making plans. We had a bunch of ideas of how we wanted things to go, and we ended up with them going exactly like they did. I do not have a release date, because literally, I just got back from mastering a week ago. So we've all been listening to the masters and scrutinizing over every little detail and approving it. So we're all signing off on the masters now and we're figuring out what to do with the release. So, there's some of that fun stuff going on there.
In the process of that, the conversation I've had with the rest of the guys in the band is, pretty much from here we've got the next round of touring that we're hoping to do. Because we've got to tour. We've been off the road for too long now. Once the album drops, we've got to get back out there. Some US dates are going to happen. When and where, I do not have a firm answer. All of that is tied into, "Well, how are we releasing the album? What's the marketing plan?" There was some talk of some European dates as well. I believe one of the tours we were looking at is not going to happen...and that happens. Usually you look at all the tours that are getting lined up and you go, "Well, these three are good possibilities," so you start going after them as different bands are doing their tour budgets and promoters are deciding if they're backing a tour or not. Some tours get into the planning phase and at the last minute they don't end up happening. So, we had one we were looking at that isn't happening, unfortunately, but there's a few that we're still looking at that may not have been as obvious a shot for us to do, but they're still on the docket. We're looking at those. And in the process of that, we're writing.
"I'm not apologizing. I'm about to play one metric --blank-- ton of guitar."
MM: Like me, I'm immediately going to work on my next solo record. That was my plan when I started working on "Wormwood". There was all this talk of Agent Cooper, but I wasn't sure how much work we'd get done because of Sean doing all this touring for the album cycle of "Chasing The Grail". My plan was, especially after getting the Favored Nations deal, to work on my next record. You can see I've got some funny promotion of me riding around my yard on my tractor with my seven string, to promote my album was going to be done in 2011. And here we are almost at the end of 2012, and it's barely out of the demo phase. Part of that is we started moving with the Agent Cooper stuff, and that seemed like the best place to throw my efforts first. And now that this is done, now I can clear my head and just go into, "Alright, I have created enough room for all of the other instruments, including the lead vocals around the guitars...now let's just be completely gluttonous and just serve up the guitar on the biggest platter I can possible dream of, with the brightest, boldest colors I can paint with." It doesn't need to be like anybody else's guitar record, but it does need to be so "guitar", you know? Agent Cooper is unashamedly a guitar band, and obviously Fozzy is an unashamedly guitar band. And "2 Of 5" is an interesting record and it's unashamedly a guitar record, but it's a very written and orchestrated record, which this record is going to be as well. But there are pieces of it that I'm specifically looking at and saying, "I'm not apologizing. I'm about to play one metric --blank-- ton of guitar." So, I'm pretty excited about that whole process of just being a monk and doing nothing but playing guitar, and not even thinking about vocals. Not even thinking about a keyboard part. Not even apologizing for, "Oh, you couldn't hear your bass lick...I'm sorry." Hehehe, it's my opportunity to go "I've compromised enough. I've played in a band with five other guys. And when I come home for the next six weeks, the only guy I have to please is me. Am I giggling? Cool! Then it's staying on the record. Does this make the hair on my arms stand up? Cool! Then that's happening." Because sometimes when you're working with other writers, and they all know, because they all know the frustrations of dealing with an obsessive compulsive guy like me -- I frustrate everybody. But I'll get excited about something and someone else will go, "Nah, not so much." And I'll go, "Wow, I'm really excited about this" and someone else veto something that you're really excited about. So, on the one hand, there's lots of stuff where you go, "I really wanted to see this make the light of day in this song, in this band, in this particular presentation," but then on the other hand, knowing that I have this other outlet for my music. It's not like anything is ever just said no to. If somebody doesn't like something, I still have that "Ok, I've got a place for that," you know? I've had plenty of things I've offered up for Agent Cooper where it's a swing and a miss. And every one of those things are really good ideas, and they've all just ended up off on a shelf of things that are going to end up on either my next record, or my next next record, or possibly the next Agent Cooper record. Everything gets repurposed. There's not a theme that I've written that won't get used someplace, somewhere, sometime.
B#: And as far as your next record, how far along are you with that as far as the songwriting itself?
MM: The songwriting is ongoing. With me, I've always been a writer. Ever since I was a kid, I've always liked writing themes. I've got so much on my audio drive of demos and snippets of stuff. Lately, since I've been an iPhone user, there's a really cool voice recorder where, a lot of times you just need to record an idea. And when I was younger, I didn't have ways of recording my ideas, so I would just memorize them or write them down. I've got stacks of notebooks and folders with themes that I've written out. Some are orchestrated, some are not. Some are just verbalized. Some are very sketchy where notes aren't even specific, but I can see the gesture of the musicality on the page. And then there's just stuff that I've whistled into my iPhone. I used to, before I had an iPhone, I would call myself and leave myself a voice message while I was driving and sing an idea into my voicemail. So I've got all of that crap. It's funny! By any means necessary, when you have an idea, you've just got to get it out. So I have tons and tons of that stuff.
Without getting into too much...what "2 Of 5" was initially supposed to be. It was originally supposed to be very different. And it became "2 Of 5", largely because of me having this bold new audience and this opportunity being in Fozzy, where I needed to do a more aggressive record. So the record went that way. But it was originally going to be more sequential...maybe not necessarily concept record, but kind of concept record, where there was definite themes. Opening themes, things were going to tie in, and even if they didn't have themes that stayed together from song to song to song, but even by song title referenced each other. So, I still have a lot of that stuff that didn't make it onto "2 Of 5", so that's getting pulled forward. There's songs like "Lavender", which I wrote when I was 18, and never really had a way to get that out until I...I could write out the parts, but I didn't have a way for anybody else to hear it unless I hired an ensemble to play all of those different parts. A lot of those orchestrated guitars were initially written out for this big string symphony. There's stuff like that that's still around, that I've had forever, but has never had the light of day. There's one thing that I've got there, a longer piece called "The Redemption Of Purity and Innocence", which, just by the ostentatious nature of its title...it's like, it's taken me a long time to even grapple with that. Because I really want to go into a thing where it's not just the song idea and the guitar idea for the sake of the guitar idea.
I need to go through this emotional process, and I did that with "Wormwood", and we could do another whole podcast on what exactly I was thinking about emotionally...what was I really trying to express with "Wormwood"? There's the clever Dream Theater, "Farewell To Kings", Rush things that I was trying to point to, but then there's very...I mean, it's about the book of Revelations and I grew up in the Catholic church. So I may have had some things that I was personally getting at with that. And Chris is a Christian. This just didn't come from a place of, "Man, heavy metal is the coolest. And the Devil! And the end of the world is just a cool, heavy metal thing to do!" I mean, I'm sure there was a part of that that Chris was thinking, but there's also a part where Chris is a Christian, and I'm sure he sat up with the Bible and really looked at the book of Revelations and went, "Man, I don't want to deal with all of this in just a lyric format." He would be a really interesting...and I don't think anybody's done a proper musician interview with him. This is the tragedy of Chris Jericho: He get's tons of interviews, but he gets tons of interviews based on the cult of personality. Because he's Chris Jericho, the wrestler, and the famous guy. But he's very creative, and that creative process...I didn't see all of the press he did for "Chasing The Grail" because I moved onto other things, but I think I would have watched or read an interview with him of anybody that would have asked him very specific questions about "Lyrically, what were you getting at with this? Because this is an interesting subject. This is clearly coming from a Christian point of view. What are your thoughts, beliefs, dispositions, and attitudes about all of this?" I think that would be a fascinating interview, with him as a guy. Not as a famous guy, but as a guy. And I have the luxury of knowing Chris as a person. We know each other's families. So I have a bit more insight into what he was getting at with that as well. So, on a personal nature we get to connect on some things, which is really cool. It's not just some song. When I think of a tune like that, or "Peace Be With You" is another one of those songs where it's very much meditative. In the recording process and every time I perform that, I'm really getting to an emotional place. I'm really like a Stanislavsky method actor. I'm becoming something, and I don't always succeed at it, because, you know, it's a very, very hard thing to do. But I know some amazing actors who are trained in this stuff, and I've spent hours watching them work, and talking with them about this process. I'm really trying to adopt that as a performer. It's not enough to just go out and play something cool on the guitar; I need to become something. When you go to see a play, or you to go the theater, or you go to see anything like that...when you watch a movie, it's easier to suspend disbelief, because you can create something where people are already looking at the three walls, and the fourth wall is easy for the actors to ignore, because you're just ignoring the camera. But in the theater, the fourth wall that you're acting to is the audience. To be able to emote across that chasm, that is one of the most amazing skill sets to me out there. Live music and live performance art is where it's at. As human beings, that's where it's at.
When you're painting something, you put all this emotional expression into the painting. You can think about a Jackson Pollack painting, which is very visceral, and you're throwing paint at the canvas. It's the emotional expression of the thing. I mean, when you step back from it and you look at it, you're like, "A guy flicked paint at a canvas. What's the real art going on there?" But at the time it was revolutionary, and it was the act of creating the art itself is the revolution. The rest is intellectual: what does it mean, what does it become, what does it translate to, and how does it make you feel? Art does this to us. When it's done well, it does that. And now you can see faux-Jackson Pollack stuff at Garden Ridge or Wal-Mart. Of course it doesn't have the same visceral attitude! And no one will ever sell the a painting for millions of dollars like Jackson Pollack, because it's not Jackson Pollack. He's the one guy that gets to do that. But when you're that kind of artist, it's whatever emotional place that he was in when he created the art was real, and it exploded on the canvas, and that's it. And you buy that moment. He captured a moment in time, and you buy that, or you look at that. But forever and ever, that's it. It's just that moment in time. It's not like that painting actively does anything other than exist. So, I know that's a little weird and intellectual, and kind of philosophical, but that's the thing. When I write stuff, I kind of do that. "Peace Be With You" very much like that. When I perform that, I become that. It very much is a meditation, it very much is a place that comes from an idea of prayer for me. And it's very moving. I think about family members that I've lost, and praying for them to heal when they were sick. I literally think about that stuff, and it hurts, and I play it. Sometimes the music is terrible, but it's the real deal. And it's a simple enough tune where I could just play it. I don't have to do that to myself. I don't have to constantly torture myself and think about all these really difficult concepts and ideas, and painful places. But equally, something like that, there's songs like "Livin' The Good Life". That came from a genuinely joyful place in my life. And to play a song in the middle of all this other stuff, and it's easier for me to do moody stuff than joyful stuff...to think about moments of joy in my life, like meeting my newborn nieces and nephews for the first time and feeling that overwhelming sense of love for new family. It's instantaneous. That's a joy that I don't have words for. I absolutely, without fail, do not have words for that. And that's why I write instrumental music, because I'm trying to express something that I lack the language and vernacular to accurately make somebody understand the feeling that I have in my heart or my spirit about something. There's a lot of stuff like that, and I mentioned that one song, "The Redemption of Purity and Innocence". It's been around for a long time. It's not a new thing. Sketches of it have existed for probably ten years now, but for me to finish it now is, of course, going to have all the experience of the last ten years thrown at it as well. It's going to be a big piece. I don't know if it's going to be ten minutes. I don't know if it's going to be big in the sense of that. It may be so overwhelming that I don't get it done for this record, but I have to work my way through it. Anyway, hehe, I can probably talk my way around Sunday to answer your very simple question. I have a lot of writing, but it needs refining, massaging, and details to be done up on it. Some stuff needs to be peeled back like an onion to get to the essence. "I threw a bunch of stuff at this like Jackson Pollack, and now let me get to the heart of it and find the Picasso, or Van Gogh, or Renoir that might be under there." So, there's lots of stuff like that. Then there's other things where...I don't typically...I'm not a songwriter. Well, I am a songwriter. That's probably the wrong way to say it. I really work more as a composer. I write themes. I'm constantly writing little themes and I get excited about them. I don't know if you've ever seen that movie, Immortal Beloved, which is the movie about Beethoven.
"Everybody wants to cry about, 'Man, this isn't cool! People are stealing our music and we can't make any money!' And I find that the people who are crying the loudest about that are people who have no careers, they don't have any fans, and they would probably be blessed if people liked their music enough to steal it."
MM: Gary Oldman portrayed Beethoven. And at the end of his life, he portrays Beethoven as running around humming that Ode To Joy theme from his final symphony. I don't do that, but I get a theme in my head and I channel. I can't stop it. And it's kind of how I know a theme is written, because as a jazz musician,...I can't even call myself a jazz musician, because that's not a good service. I don't think jazz wants to identify with me, I want to identify with it.
But I'm an improviser, and as an improviser I'm constantly playing with themes in my head. And my wife laughs at me, because we have cats, and I make up songs for all the cats. And they all have their own songs. It's like a Broadway Musical production around the house. The cats are doing their own thing, and I come into a room and sudden catch them up and we just break into a music. It's kind of funny. I just do it partly because there's something wrong with me, but it's also a really good exercise for my improvisational sensibility that I'm constantly flexing that comedic, melodic, thematic part of my creativity. It never stops. For me to whip my iPhone and sing a theme into it...you'll find me at a traffic light do that very thing, or running around the house singing stupid songs to my cats. I find myself, the older I get, the worse it's getting. I'll be at a friend's house, and they'll have a dog, and I'll be petting the dog...I like animals, and all of the sudden, it's one on one with a song. I start making up a song for the dog. And my friends start looking at me like, "What the hell's wrong with this guy? Should we call somebody? Is he on his meds?"
MM: I'm kind of weird! And people kind of accept it at this point.
B#: There's nothing wrong with that.
MM: I find that I probably entertain my nieces and nephews the most. Like, when they were younger they just got the biggest kick out of their crazy uncle Mike. We'd be driving down the road and I'd be making up a song. My youngest niece, Sophie, she does it now. And she's good at it! She's so funny, and she's one of the most creative human beings I've ever met. She's just amazing. She'll just crack me up, because we'll be riding around some place and she'll start making up a song. And it's awesome, and it's funny, and it's HER! It's so HER! And now that my oldest niece, Tiffany, is a bit older, if she catches me doing it I get the whole teenage, "Come on, Uncle Mike, you're embarrassing me." Hahaha!
MM: There's a point in life, and some of that is "The Redemption Of Purity and Innocence" concept. There's a time where you can just do something because it bubbles out of you. It's joyful and expressive, and you've got to do it. And when we're young, we don't know that you shouldn't do that until somebody says, "Hey man, you probably should just run around singing songs like that. You're kind of making an ass of yourself." Somebody comes along that we look up to and they tell us that, "Hey, you really need to stifle your creativity. Life is not as beautiful as that. You can't do that. You need to act right -- act your age. You need to grow up." I think it's one
of the worst things that we do, or society does, to children. I don't believe in infantiling children. I don't believe we should keep people juvenile or anything. But it's a very delicate line to do as people and as a society, to one, foster personal responsibility -- pride in your work ethic, honesty, and just being a good person. All of that stuff that you may associate with growing up and being an adult. How do you do that and in the same gesture, the same sentence, encourage to dream as big as you can and don't let anybody ever tell you that you can't have that dream? How do you encourage them to grow up without stepping on their dreams, or encourage them to dream without ruining from being a responsible adult in society. I think we all grapple with that, whether we have children of our own or not. As an artist, I think about this, because all types of people come to me. Either because they like seven-string guitar and they like to hear whale noises,...I have an opportunity with every concert I do, every interview, no matter how small. Maybe two people will hear this and be greatly influenced by what I say, whether I completely turn them onto an idea or completely turn them off to an idea, either because they think I'm great, or they think I'm an asshole. I still have an enormous responsibility in this, that somebody is hearing me, and I'm projecting something out into the world. I need to be responsible with that. Just going to the grocery store you have that. Just driving down the road we have that. Just because the windows are up and the air conditioning is on, and I'm not talking to the guy in the car next to me, I should still probably be a good driver because, one, I don't want to wreck my car, and two, he and his kids would probably appreciate it if I don't run my car into his car. If you think about that stuff with all intention...there was this great book that an actor lent to me years ago called "Meaningful Mindfulness". It was written by a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, and it's all about the intentionality. Putting meaning and being mindful into everything that you do. It's one of the most painful experiences trying to do that accurate, heh. I'm not good at it, and I don't know many people that are. You would have to be some kind of Zen Buddhist master to be good at it. Probably a Zen Buddhist master would tell that they're not good at it, but that they keep working at it everyday.
MM: But that idea of trying to be...just try it as an experiment. Anybody listening to this, just try it. It's as simple as absolutely having a thought and doing everything with intention. It's as simple as, when you wake up in the morning, the first thing that you should have is "I am coming awake. I am breathing in. I am breathing out." And everything comes back to the very basics of the physicality of existence -- how you are. What you are and what you are becoming. The very next thought, "I am sitting up. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am putting my feet over the side of the bed. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am putting my foot on the floor. I am breathing in. I am breathing out." I mean, you start, just in your mind, cataloging. And for someone who is obsessive compulsive like me, I count my steps when I walk anyway. So, for me, it was easy to start doing this, but really difficult in just the enormity of the amounts of things that we do that we take for granted. But it's really good, and I still do this at times when I feel cluttered in my mind and life. And I'm about to go through it again as I begin this record, because I need to just push the extraneous to the side for a moment...a few weeks, where I can work on some details, so I can really zero in on it. But just try that. Just getting in the car. Think of every single little thing that you do. If you're listening to the radio, think about all the stuff that you're paying attention to there while you're driving. Looking at your mirrors, turning on your blinkers. Hopefully using your blinkers, because damnit people, if you drive a car and you do not use your turn signals, I have an axe to grind with you. That's a pet peeve, man. Use your turn signals people. This has been a public service announcement, and I approve this
MM: That's a thing with me. You've got to use your turn signals. But the mindfulness of that...I want people around me to know I'm going to take a turn. I'm not just stopping for no reason. Because if I see you step on your brakes, there could be a problem. There could be an accident, something in the road! I don't know. There could be an emergency. But if I see a turn signal, "Oh, he's just going to turn. No need to panic. Crisis mode averted." If you can walk around that way and be mindful and self-aware, it's a laborious process. It will tax you mentally to think about that stuff.
B#: I do the same thing with the turn signals. I can't stand it when someone doesn't do that. That's what your were saying, it's part of being a responsible human being, and letting people know that you are safe. All you want to do is get over there.
MM: Yeah! Just that simple. Or "Hey, I'm at the grocery store, I'm going to wait in line." Or "Hey, there's the grocery store. All the lines are really long, and I'm in a hurry. Do I rush up in this line to cut in front of one more person, or do I just get there when I get there?" You kind of have a decision to make at that moment. And there was some people who will make the choice of, "I don't have time for this. I have to be one more person in front," or "Man, this is going to take some time. No need to worry about it. I'll get to my next thing when I get there." And just have a little bit of peace. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to be like water and just flow with everything around us.
B#: Well, this interview has taken a very Zen turn, but that's fine.
The Steve Vai Show!
B#: Getting a little bit closer back to music...back in August you were actually billed for Steve Vai's aftershow at the Vinyl, and ended up performing a last-minute acoustic set for him to open up. Can you tell us a little about that?
MM: Yeah! It's funny, I've only met Steve on a handful of occasions. Once as a fan at a meet and greet, and a couple of times since then as an artist. He's a personality, man! When you meet him and he's pressin' the flesh as a meet and greet, he's a rockstar. There is no doubt about it. He has enough personality to fill up a really big room. He's a big personality, and you are immediately struck with that when you're around him. And when I got to meet him and have a very personal conversation, it was in a hotel room after he had watched me perform after he had signed me to Digital Nations. That was an intense way to meet him for the second time. Even though he wasn't necessarily "on", because it was a meet and greet, and he needed to put the personality out there...I mean, you're sitting in a hotel room with the guy and you're thinking, "I know exactly what he looks like because I've been following his career since I was a kid. He knows very little about me." So I have all of the advantage of knowing the cult of personality of an individual who is sitting in from of me, and know nothing about him personally. Nothing! Not at all. Because as an individual, I've never met the guy. This is my first time meeting him as an individual. So trying to put aside whatever mythology I've cooked up in my head, or has been marketed to my brain-- and very painstakingly marketed to guys like me -- to actually having a conversation about simple things. Like, "Hey man, you were doing this thing," and he'd ask me about some things like, "What pedal were you using for this?" And it's surreal that Steve Vai's going to ask me what pedal I was using. That's one of those little moments in time where I could probably replay that conversation in my mind like a DVD, and probably will be able to for the rest of my life. Because it was that meaningful and that cool. It was just humbling! What a great experience, and what an interesting guy Steve is, and what a philosophical...and again, I think he's a very mindful guy. And at the same time, he's very business minded. It's not like he's fluffy, like he's just going to talk about Vietnamese Buddhist monks with you.
MM: When he's talking about business, and you're on his label, it's about business. And he doesn't need to be your friend at that particular point, because you're in business together on something. And that's a big thing to respect with him, that he knows exactly where the line is and how to be all about business to where he doesn't have to be cuddly. You don't have to want to give him a hug. You need to respect him because you're doing business together. And I do respect him tremendously for that. I mention that, because in that conversation we were talking about this new Digital Nations thing, and what he's trying to do with the label, and the state of the music industry as it is, and the physical distribution. And just what's happening to monetizing music, because it's shrinking. We're all dealing with this. Everybody is dealing with this. And you hear a lot of arguments out there. Everybody wants to cry about, "Man, this isn't cool! People are stealing our music and we can't make any money!" And I find that the people who are crying the loudest about that are people who have no careers, they don't have any fans, and they would probably be blessed if people liked their music enough to steal it. People are not stealing their music, and they think they're missing out on record sales. They're not missing out on shit. They're diluting themselves and they're speaking very loudly about why their career isn't going well. And that's the honest to God truth. I know too many people and I've read too many blogs about people who want to be on the scene in the music business. And as close as they can get is being a mouthpiece for complaining about the music business, rather than creating art and getting out there. Put your ass on the line, put your money where your mouth is, and see if you can get people to give a shit. Because the music business is capitalism, pure and simple. You create something. There is absolutely no demand for your art. You have to create demand for your art. It's like you invent the microwave oven and suddenly every kitchen needs to be equipped with a microwave oven. Now, I can see that invention becoming commonplace. Do you need one? Not necessarily, but I can see why people would want to have that in their life. Now a band? A songwriter, a singer?Some self-important douche with a guitar? There's no demand for what you do. Start at home! Does your mom like what you do? That's a good place to start. How about your brothers and sisters? How about your friends at school? How about the college around you? How about the town? Can you draw 200 people in the town that you live in to see your shitty band? I don't know, maybe you are pretty good, but maybe you're a shitty marketer and you can't get people to come see your band. At some point, be a little more involved and responsible. Take personal responsibility about how your career is going. That's another PSA from Mike Martin.
MM: But Steve and I were talking about this very frankly, just like that. And Steve is the person to talk about this stuff, for a number of reasons. One, he worked with Frank Zappa very early on is his career, and Frank is, or was, the independent musician. Frank did so much on his own. Study Frank Zappa. I don't care if you don't like his music, you think he was weird because he sang songs about yellow snow and whatever. I don't care. If you can't get into Frank that way, read books about the man, because he was a brilliant, brilliant man. Philosophically, business-wise, compositionally. Just a brilliant man. If I was asked that question, "Who would you like to have lunch with?" I'd like to have lunch with Frank Zappa. I really wish I could have met him in my lifetime, because I look up to him so much, in so many ways. And Steve has a lot of that wisdom! Part of the reason Steve Vai is who he is, and is in the position that he is in, is because the independently-minded Frank Zappa gave him some great advice that lead Steve to put out a record independently, like "Flexible". And even though he probably hasn't sold as many copies of "Flexible" as he did of "Passion & Warfare", he owns 100% of "Flexible". So he doesn't have to sell as many copies of "Flexible" to make as much money as he did on "Passion & Warfare", you know what I mean? He's very smart, and creating Favored Nations was a part of that. And the whole Digital Nations revolution he wanted to get involved in. And if you look at his new record, it's not on Sony, it's on Favored Nations now. He is completely independent. He is one of the biggest independent artists out there. He knows what he's doing, he knows his market, and he knows how to get after it. So, having this conversation with him was not lost to me. It had gravity with me. And some of the stuff that we talked about at the time was,...I said, "Steve, I'm going to be completely frank with you, and I'm not just saying this because every guitar player is going to say it to you. But when you do your next record, I need to open for you. I have to open for you." And he's like, "Well, I'm really hard to open for, and I don't usually do that kind of thing. I like to get different types of artists, because I like different things, and it's hard. You can do what you do and my audience may not care about it, because they're there to see the 'Steve Show'." I'm paraphrasing, but the sentiment is he's a very hard artist to open for. So I recanted the story of Fozzy opening up for Motorhead on their 30th Anniversary Tour in L.A. And you can't open for Motorhead! Shit...Motorhead is one of those bands where people go to see [them], and they don't give a shit who you are. You can light yourself on fire and they'll just wait for somebody to put your ass out so Motorhead can come on out. That's opening up for Motorhead. And that's exactly what it was like. We were breaking our necks opening for that Motorhead audience, and Ronnie James Dio was in the audience...I mean, this was a big gig for me, man. I was very excited to be at this show. We finished one song, big Fozzy outro, BAM! A couple of people clapped, and somebody else yelled out, "YOU SUCK!" Sean and I just looked at each other. I wasn't upset...it was awesome! Because if the show's not going to go well, that's exactly how you want it to go. It's kind of like that thing in wrestling where, if you're a bad guy or a good guy, you either want everybody cheering you or booing you. But you don't want people apathetic. Because if people don't care, you're not doing your job. I would rather, in that circumstance, that people yell that we suck. So, it was kind of awesome to play in front of Ronnie James Dio, in L.A.-- my first time playing a gig in L.A. -- at a Motorhead gig on their 30th Anniversary Tour, and I'm being told that I suck. It was awesome.
MM: So I told Steve that story and like, "I lived through that. I'm sure I can live through your audience, man. But Motorhead was not our audience. You have the guitar market. I need your audience. If I can't win over a percentage of your audience, I may want to rethink some things. I know the risk I'm taking of people thinking I'm awful, but I'd rather do it and have your market say, 'This guy is terrible, get him out of here!' Then I can know the rest of my life...for the rest of my life I can fk'n know that I threw the Hail Mary pass, I did the best show I could in front of Steve Vai's audience, and I SUCK! I need to go do other things. I would rather know that, rather than feel like I have something to offer and not taking the opportunity to do it." And he said, "You have a point about that." Then he told me a story about playing for Alcatrazz. The first gig he did with Alcatrazz, Yngwie Malmsteen was the guitar play for Alcatrazz.
MM: He was very famous for being that guy. He had just left the band. Nobody knew! So, they were playing a gig and in front of all of the amplifiers were very rapid Yngwie Malmsteen fans, expecting this giant, 6' tall Swedish guy to come out and melt their faces. And he came out wearing green pants or something, haha! Nobody knew it, and all they looked at him, and they weren't really happen that Yngwie wasn't there. He said, "I couldn't really do anything right, but I didn't really do anything wrong, because nobody left." That's the point. No matter what you do, nobody leaves. So he said, "Yeah, I know what you're saying. You're right about that. I don't know, man...we'll cross that bridge when we get to it." He wasn't promising me anything, and he's right to not promise that kind of thing. He knows every guitar player on the planet! I'm just another guitar player begging to open up for him. How many other thousands of guitar players send him an email asking the exact same thing? The only leg that I had to stand on is that I'm not on his label, so as a businessmodel, this is an opportunity to break a guitar player and very selfishly make some money off the sale of his albums. That seems like a good reason to do that.
And the answer that he had was, Rob Balducci was there in the room with us, and he's on Favored Nations as well. And Rob is a fantastic guitar player and a very good friend of mine. The conversation immediately moved to, "You guys need to tour together, because you guys are both great. You don't do the same thing, but you're great guitar players. You guys need to do a thing. It's not that you need to wait for the G3 tour to pick up one of you guys, it's that you guys need to just become the next thing. Go do that!" So Rob and I have been talking off and on about that for a couple of years now, and now we're both managed by the same guy, The Lowery Agency. So that will help that process immensely as we continue to move forward.
But then flash forward to today. When the tour was announced for Steve, and his record was coming out on Favored Nations, I called the label immediately and said, "Hey, he's got an Atlanta date. I know I can't afford to go out and do the entire US run. I can't be that opening artist. But, I could probably do some dates in the southeast, and I may be worth some marketability in the southeast. Because I'm the guy in the southeast on your label." I presented them an idea of, "Maybe you should have lots of different guys. Like, there's a guy in Florida, Tony Smotherman, and a guy in New York. And there's Andy Aledort up in New England. There's different guys who are on the label that could open for you in different markets where you could be breaking the entire catalog of Favored Nations." That was kind of my idea. But, you know, as with most things, by the time the tour was announced most of the business dealings were done. You need to have insight well ahead of the curve, because by the time you've heard of something all the decisions are made. At that point, Beverly McClellan was opening up for the tour doing acoustic guitar and singing. She's a fantastic singer. And she's singing on Steve's new record. So all of that stuff was long since done. It was a great way to have her singing with Steve's band and promoting a song on his new record, and having someone very different open up for him, which Steve likes to do. He likes to have very different kinds of artists open for him. So, I was a little dejected about that, but this particular venue that he was playing in Atlanta, which is a complex that has three venues in it: Center Stage, The Vinyl, and The Loft. I know the promoter of the venue because I've worked out of there and played there a bunch of times. I called him up and said, "Hey man, would you be interested in doing an aftershow? Do you have anything booked at this other particular room that shares the same hallway?" He said, "No, I have nothing that night." So I said, "Let me see if I can get the label to promote this as an aftershow, because it's about time for me to do a gig anyway, and this is the way to...even if I can't play in front of Vai's audience, I can at least promote the show and everybody that will be at the show will at least see the promotion for me. So, for me it's a win-win. Even if I don't fill up a room full of guys, at least everybody knows my name and that I'm on Vai's record label. Theoretically, shooting fish in a barrel." So, I did that. And the label thought it was a great idea. Steve thought it was a great idea. Got the blessing and the whole nine yards, so I proceeded to go about setting up for that. The day that I got there, I got to the loading dock and Vai's crew is outside. They said, "Hey, are you with the Mike Martin Band?" and I said, "Yeah, I'm Mike." They were like, "Dude! We're seeing promotion all over the town for you and you're on Vai's label. Good on you, man!" They were just very complimentary about everything they'd seen. And I'm a hard, industrious worker. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it, and you're going to hear about it. So they were just commenting about it, how everybody in the band and crew was very excited about the show, and there was some of the best local promotion for...even just a Steve Vai show. Because the best may to promote my show was to promote the Steve Vai show. To have somebody who is vested in promoting locally for a show goes a long way. I don't know if his show ultimately sold out, but he was close to selling out. He had a good capacity show in Atlanta! And Atlantais not a good guitar market, so...I can't take as much credit as that, because I don't know how much I helped, but I know I didn't hurt. Just being out there actively in the guitar community promoting the Steve Vai show, because it very selfishly ended up promoting my show.
B#: Like what you said before, "As long as nobody leaves, it's good."
MM: Yeah! I'm loading in and I'm doing my thing. Somebody comes up, and I don't remember if they were with the venue or Vai's crew. They said, "Hey man, Beverly is sick tonight and Steve wants to know if you can open up?" And I was loading up the band, so I asked, "Do you want my whole band to come down there? Because there's not a lot of time for me to take all of this gear down there and get it up here for my show. I'll totally do it...totally do it...do it in a heartbeat. Just tell me if that's what you want me to do." They said, "No, Steve really can't do that, because he's set up for an acoustic opener. But you're welcome to come do an acoustic set, or if you have any play-along backs, if you want to do the music-minus-one kind of thing." And I have "2 Of 5" without all the lead guitar stuff on it for doing clinics and demonstration stuff, which I always have on my iPod. I said, "Well, I could do that, but I really don't like that idea. I'd rather play with a band." The tracks thing, every other guitar player doing what I do, are forced to play to tracks much more than they want to. They want to play with a band. And that's my sticking point, which is why I don't play more clinics and music demonstration stuff. I don't want to be known as a guy who plays to tracks. I want to be a guy like Eric Johnson, or Pat Metheny, or John Scofield, or Mike Stern, or Steve Vai. I want to play with a band. And yeah, they do track stuff because they have to. It's practical from time to time when the budget is to fly you to a trade show to demonstrate a new product, and talk about it, you play along to tracks. It's just not feasible to bring your band for that. I get that. But there are some guys I know who are doing all demonstration stuff, and they never get to do stuff with their bands! Because now they're kind of known as demonstrators. So I really, really try not to do that, because I see that warning of once you're known for one thing...that's it. Then you're trying to break out of that thing. So I would rather move along more slowly and be known for being a guy that comes out with a band always, you know? So that's kind of what I've been doing.
I was lucky that a buddy of mine, who I was having do an acoustic opening after for me, Brian Cameron, who is an amazing guitar player/singer-songwriter. He plays for a local southern band called "The Reluctant Saints"...and you should totally check them out. If you like the Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule and Little Feat, they are the band around Atlanta that does that stuff. As a younger band, they're phenomenal. I can't say enough good things about them. They're dear, dear friends of mine. And Brian was gracious enough to open up the set for me. He and I have done sets together for years. Longtime friends. Once again, one of my favorite guitar players in town who I am so fortunate to get to play with, and we're so different, we just have a blast when we play together because we speak this different guitar language. So he said, "Here man, just take my guitar. Go do it." The downside for me is that Brian is a slide player, so his action is set up a little bit high, and he likes heavier strings because he's into southern rock. And he's a muscular guitar player. Me, I'm a...a wuss. I play seven string electric guitar. I don't play slide. I don't like low, low action...I like a little bit of a fight, but I use relatively light strings. I use light treble strings and heavier bass strings. If you're a guitar player listening to this, I use a seven string, 9 to 42 from high E to low E, then I use a 54 for the low B. I like to use heavier strings for the bass strings partly because I like to dig in a little bit on rhythm, and they tend not to go sharp when I'm playing a little bit hard. And if I'm playing something like a Les Paul, and I have an Ibanez AS80 double cut away guitar -- very Larry Colton-looking thing -- I use 10 through 52s. Again, a little bit heavier treble strings, but heavy bass strings. More like a jazz bass string set. And again, just because I like the rigidity of that...you can get it pretty good and it won't go sharp if you're picking a little hard. And tuning stability and all that. I get why dudes use 13s, I'm just a little bit feeble and I can't do some of the frilly stuff that I do on those kinds of strings. So basically, I had to get loaded in and decided to do this thing and figure out what the hell I was going to play. They said, "You've got 20 to 25 minutes to do your thing and promote you show. Just go nuts." And I'm a classically trained guitar player, so I play solo guitar, but I'm not prepared. I have nothing prepared. I just accepted to do it and then got my load-in done, and then ran down there and had about 15 minutes sitting backstage looking at this very over-the-top stage scenario that Vai has on this particular tour. All these different lights all over the place...really cool. What the hell am I going to play?
It was fun. I just tuned the guitar down a little bit low so I could deal with the heavier strings and that higher action. It was fun, man! I managed to ink together a, what I think was an entertaining 25-minutes worth of music. Everybody seemed to dig it. I got some good applause from the crowd, and more importantly, I got more people to come to my show afterwards. And I think I got more people to come to my show directly because they had gotten to see me and hear me play a little bit, and hear versions of the stuff on "2 Of 5" that was stripped down as a solo acoustic set like that. So, it was good! It was a thrill of a lifetime to get to do it. I didn't get to see Steve, funny enough. I didn't get to see Steve that day, because by the time I was running to do my thing, he was getting ready for his show. But I got to say hello to his band. It was cool, I was walking to my room and Morgan Rose from Sevendust was sitting in the room talking with Jeremy Colson, and they're apparently longtime friends. And I've known Morgan for years, from Sevendust being an amazing local hard rock band. I hadn't seen Morgan in a long time. I think the last time I saw him was...shit, running around with Rich doing some Mojo thing. So that's going back a few years too! So it was just good to see Morgan and catch up for a minute and say hi to everyone else in the band. It was good! It was a really, really good time.
I don't get nervous about shows, but I think that whole doing something you're not immediately prepared to do and get it done. And I think that whole opening slot for me...I usually like to sit and just look at people and really soak in the moment. I love the moment! I'm not scared of the moment. I want to throw myself into the moment
and just swim in it as long as I can. So, it's kind of trying to do that, kind of trying to take a peek at the Steve Vai setlist. "Oh God, he's playing that tonight!" Because I wanted to watch as much of Steve's set as I could, but now my soundcheck had been put off, so now I didn't get to see any of Steve's show, unfortunately. So it's trying to do that, trying to geek out, trying to just live in the moment and just soak the whole thing in. But it all passes in just a bat of an eye, and then it's over. What was funny was that I was so laid back after that...not like I was a bundle of nerves, but there was so much intensity over the aftershow and needing to be completely on point, that now I've put all of that energy into this 25-minute thing I wasn't expecting to do. So I was now the coolest, most laid back guy. "Hey man, want to go over this part?" "Nah, you've got it!" The guys in the band said, "You want to run through the souncheck at all?" "Nah, it's cool." Someone said, "Hey, what do you want me to play here?" "Just whatever!" And usually I'm pretty particular, like, "I want you to play these notes and do it in this exact order. I want you to put your left hand on the piano here, and I want you to do this with your right hand. I want you to do this, and this. Don't play it too loud!" You know, I'm usually very specific about stuff, and now I'm like, "Eh, it's cool. No matter what happens now, everything is gravy." It was kind of surreal. It was a surreal night for me.
I'll tell you one of the coolest things for me, without giving away my age...shit, I'm not that old. I'm thirty-eight now, and I moved to Atlanta in 1992. And it was in August of 1992. So to come around 20 years later. I've been in so many bands now, and done so many gigs on so many continents, and plenty of headlining stuff where the band I'm in is in the marquee. I've never had my own marquee. And just driving up to Center Stage and the marquee for that night, almost twenty years to the day I moved to Altanta, says "Steve Vai...Mike Martin". That was one of the sweetest moments I've had in this career. It was really just a personal...I'll treasure it forever. There were lots of good days in this life, and there are lots of good days in this business. I mean, at the end of it, I play guitar for a living...it doesn't suck. Even if I don't make a ton of money, I absolutely, unashamedly, love everything about what I do. I love it, love it, love it, love it! I don't pursue...people ask me, "Do you make a lot of money?" "No! I don't make money...I make music." Do something for the love of it, and you will always be successful. That's kind of where I am with my whole life. I have a little thing in the world that I do. It seems to be continually growing, which I'm so eternally for just the opportunity to continue to work, to continue to sow seeds and try to root them and see my harvest grow year after year. Even if it's not growth in dollar amounts, but growth in new fans, and new friends, and new contacts, and new musicians that I know. It's just such a wonderful journey, this life. The music part is great, but it's really a life. And music keeps me connected to people and the world around me, and that makes it makes it an interesting life, if that makes any sense. So, all of that, you kind of have to stop. There are some days you just kind of have to stop. And that was one day I just kind of stopped and thought, "Alright, things are going along. There is a plan, and I don't know what that plan is, but it's doing its thing. I'm on a path. Am I on the right path? I don't know. But this is a good indication that I at least like the path that I'm on."
Return to Zen-Land & the world of Quantum Physics
B#: And if you're not enjoying yourself, if you're not...like you were saying earlier, music is a very visceral, emotional thing for you. And you're trying to capture that on the recording, because otherwise it just sounds hollow, and it doesn't sound real, and it misses something. So then you get that moment when you're just able to stand there and soak that in and go, "I am where I need to be."
MM: Yeah! And I'm hypersensitive to that emotional stuff too, because it's real...I wouldn't even want to necessarily say it's fashionable. It's just kind of commonplace for this kind of art music, whether it's a lot of notey stuff going on, you hear the expression "soul-less shredding." And I don't like the idea of being associated with shred guitar at all. And it's not that I don't like shredders, or shred guitar players, and it's arguable that I do shred in some way...whatever that means, I don't know. It's not something that I set out to do, necessarily. But I do know that idea that just being associated with this kind of music gives you a bit of mythology of you're a soul-less, only in it for yourself, just playing a bunch of notes for yourself because you're not interesting. People hesitate to even use the word "musician" with you, which is probably one of the reasons why I've thrown myself at the emotional maximum stuff. One, when you're looking for your strengths, I'm not the fastest guitar player in the world. I'm not the best shred guitar player in the world. I'm not the best two-handed guitar player. I'm not the best all of that. But I am very emotional, and I have a means to convey my emotional state of being into whatever music I happen to be playing on whatever instrument I happen to be playing it on. If that's my strength, I'll take it.
I don't want to be the greatest guitar player in the world. I don't want to be the fastest guitar player in the world, or the best metal guy, the best jazz guy...any of that stuff. I want to be the best musician I possibly can be. And being a musician demands me to focus on my humanity. It demands it. It's kind of like the old philosophical thing of, you can put somebody in a room at a young age, never having seen the color red. Never let them see anything red. Never let them see an apple, a Corvette, you know...any of that stuff. But you can give them a book
and explain all of the math that what it means to see and experience the color red. And they can know technically more about it than anybody. But who really understands red: somebody who's been living in that bubble, or somebody who's eaten an apple, or seen a red ball, or seen blood? Because when you think of the connotations of everything that is red, you don't just seethe color red. You associate with it all of your experiences. If your main experience is a nice, delicious apple, then red is a very pleasing thing, because it's tasty, it's sweet, it's nourishing, it's good! If your experience with red is blood, that can come with pain, and seeing somebody hurt. It can be traumatic. You might not want to see the color red; it might be very bad for you. But you have an understanding of the color red that the other guy doesn't have.
"I think that's kind of like defining music. It's like a quantum paradox. You can try to explain it, but by trying to explain it, you ruin the nature of the thing."
I think when you study music, strictly for the sake of, "I want to understand polyrhythmic concepts, all of the modes, scales, arpeggios, and all of these sweeping techniques and technical, technical, technical everything," you might play something like music, but you've failed to play something musically. You have to have some life experience to put into your music. And all of the better artists out there have that, where they're not just interested in guitars, and amplifiers, and metal or classical music, or hatever. It's not just a rock guitar thing, it's everywhere in music. Some people study music for the sake of music itself. They live in this theoretical world of, "I like music, and music is the best, and I don't pay attention to anything else." They don't have relationships with people, they don't knit, they don't paint, they don't hike, they don't go to the gym or watch a basketball game. They don't get into the culinary arts or drink wines. They don't know the finer points of whiskey, or cigars, or anything! There's a whole world of things to experience out there, and they can't talk articulately about any of it, because they don't care. They don't care because none of that appeals to their humanity. They're only interested in the technical nature of music, whatever kind of music it is. Whether it's guitar music or symphonic or whatever. And I think that's a shame. If they are inclined to tell me that they write music, and they think it's superior, I will often-times listen to it and my opinion will be that it's soul-less music done for the sake of music. It's a very funny thing to think about "What is art? What is music?" Define it! You can't! You can say things about music, but you can't show me, really, one thing that says that this is music always. About the closest definition I've heard as to what music is, is that all music is organized sound, but not all organized sound is music. I think that's about as true as statement as you can make about music. You can say lots of other things about specific music -- mention instruments -- but then you get into "What is an instrument?" It's all philosophical and weird from there. But that's about as specific as you can get. But there are people who organize sound, and it is not necessarily musical, because there is something else intangible that comes along with that musical, artistic experience, whether you're performing it or listening to it. It's hard to define...that's the best articulation: all music is organized sound, not all organized sound is music. And that's about as specific and vague at the same time that you can get to it, heh. But that's just, "You're right next to it, but you're just as far away from it."
It's kind of like the idea in quantum mechanics that you never really touch anything. You never really get anywhere. Like, say I have my hand on my desk, and I point my finger towards this coffee mug. I can go half the distance to the coffee mug, and then I can go half again, and then half again, and half again, etc. Forever and ever and ever. In a quantum world, I am only halfway there. I never actually get there. Because to get there would be to become the mug. My molecules are never going to infuse with the mug. I can get painfully close to it, but really, the physicality of the atomic nature of the particles that make up this coffee mug, and the atomic nature of the particles that make up my finger, repel each other. They will not intersect. And I think that's kind of like defining music. It's like a quantum paradox. You can try to explain it, but by trying to explain it, you ruin the nature of the thing. By trying to observe it, you change the nature of the thing. So you can't really see it in its pure state, because you're looking at it, haha! If that makes any sense.
B#: Yeah, I've read up on a little bit of quantum mechanics, and it gets very tedious to realize that as soon as you test something is when it ceases to be testable.
B#: And it becomes something entirely different, as you were saying. But you're really right about music. As much as some people try, and they have all the math written down, but it doesn't equal what it should equal, which is what's inside of them. They aren't really letting it out, they're just punching in numbers. But, haha, I think I've had you talking for quite a while now.
MM: Yeah, I think we have been talking for quite a minute.
B#: Which I certainly appreciate. I appreciate you sitting down with me and spending your valuable time speaking about these questions that I had, and some experiences of yours. At this point, I'd like to take a moment to point out some things that are upcoming for you and let you point out anything that we should keep an eye on. I know that on October 6th, in just about a week, there is the Atlanta Music Scene United Against Cancer concert, which is at 120 Tavern & Music Hall. And you're playing on there as well as bands like Halcyon Way, and ThroatPunch, and Inviolate. If you'd like to tell us a bit about that.
MM: Yeah! Basically it's just through the comedy of what is my career, I keep dipping my toes into everything. Here I'm in the metal scene doing the...here I will be the turd in the punchbowl at this gig. Everyone else at this gig will be metal, and I'm going in with my fusion trio. It'll definitely be rock, and we'll rock it out, but we're so different than all the other bands. I wish I had a bunch of other stuff written like Animals As Leaders, because that would probably go over better with this crowd, but I'll just do what I do and do it loud! That's the thing, most people that are into metal are attracted to guitar playing, so that's kind of why they wanted me on this bill. And anytime I have an opportunity that benefits a cancer charity, it's a personal vendetta that I have against cancer. I've lost family members and friends, and I've had friends who are ill now. And I have friends who have family members that are ill now. You have to do what you can. You pick your fights in this world, and this is one of my fights. Anytime I can donate blood for a cause, or play in a benefit that is for leukemia research, or cancer research...this thing for me is just a good opportunity for me to use my meager skill set for some good. Bring a little notoriety to this particular cancer charity, the Atlanta Cancer Care Foundation, which basically gives hospice care to people who are living through chemotherapy and dealing with the fight against cancer. So it's nice to be able to bring them attention, as well as to raise them a little money and awareness. I know we're making strides medically every year. We have yet to beat cancer, so we have to just keep the fight going and keep it on peoples minds. We can do it, we just have to get it there. So that's really cool, and it's really cool to get to do this gig with some of these bands. Like, I've nown Jon Bodan from Halcyon Way for a long time. He's been a good friend of mine. I like his band a lot, and it's cool to be on the bill with them. Looking forward to just hanging out with some really cool bands and really good friends that I don't get to see all the time. That's the thing, you're in the music scene and all your friends tend to be musicians, you know? So we all tend to be working, usually at different clubs at different times, so it'll be nice to have a room full of friends for one day, for a change, at the same place so we can catch up, see each other play, and encourage each other. Do it all for a good cause, too. It's going to be fantastic.
B#: Absolutely, and I hope it goes really well. I hope the turnout is really high. Additionally, everyone can go check out Mike Martin's solo record, "2 Of 5", and look forward to the one he's writing now. You can go to his website at, www.mikemartin.net, and find him on Facebook and Twitter. Also, keep an eye on his band, Agent Cooper, at www.agentcooper.com. Check out their new EP, "From The Ashes", which will be followed up by a record at some point later on. And hopefully they get to tour, and I can tell you guys about that whenever I hear
about any tourdates, maybe in the US or abroad.
MM: I guess I can leak this out to you. The album is going to be called "Far From Sleep".
B#: Agent Cooper - "Far From Sleep". Fantastic! Alright Mike, thanks for chatting with us. Do you have any final things you'd like to say to your fans?
MM: Just thank you guys for checking this out. And I know we had opened this up to if anybody wanted to submit any questions. I don't know if you just snuck them in the round of questions or not, but I'm always accessible too. If you submitted a question, or wanted to submit a question, send it to Barry here at Better B# and have him harang me again. We'll do another round of this. Or, you can always get in touch with me through my website too, if you want to know more about my producing, or my session work, or what guitar stuff I use...strings, picks, any of that stuff. I'll always answer questions about any of that stuff. So please contact me. I'm very engaged on Twitter and Facebook too. Don't be a stranger! Come make fun of pictures of my cats that I have up.
B#: Alright, well, thanks everybody for listening! As always, this is Barry from Better B#. Have a nice day!
More on Mike Martin:
Get "2 Of 5": iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
Get "From The Ashes" by Agent Cooper: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby