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Howdy Mike, what's been spinning recently?
Haven’t been listening to much metal lately. This week I’ve been listening to the Ramones “end of the century”, Alice cooper’s greatest hits, Kiss “Alive”, and Phil Lynott’s second solo album, which honestly isn’t very good. Also the new Warning (UK) album is great, and I’ve been rediscovering the early Misfits recordings, which I haven’t listened to much since high school.
Second album on Cruz Del Sur Music. How did the deal with the Italian label come about? Enrico seems like a very cool guy from the email interactions that I've had with him.
Pretty easily. They asked us because they knew that our contract with Dragonheart was over, and they were the only label that offered the same amount we were getting with Dragonheart. Enrico does a great job and puts a lot more into it than a lot of labels.
How do you like the other bands on the label?
I dunno. Some good , some bad. Bible of the Devil and Hammers of Misfortune are great.
What's the deal with Cobbett playing in your band and you playing with his band Hammers of Misfortune? How did that happen?
He asked me to play in Hammers, and then offered to play bass in Slough Feg way back in 1999. He played bass for a while, then we got another bass player and he played second guitar. Then things got too busy and insane, so we departed from each others' bands, mostly because we both wanted to focus on our own bands, rather than playing someone else’s songs.
I know he's written something for Slough Feg. Did you write anything there at all?
I wrote a few things on the first Hammers of Misfortune album. A lot of lyrics and some of the riffs as well.
Do you think the two bands have influenced each other knowingly or unknowingly?
The metal you play is right after early Maiden, Priest, Iommi along with loads of Thin Lizzy. There's actually so much of a Thin Lizzy meets the raw 80s metal of Brocas Helm or Manilla Road going on in Slough Feg. And the rawness and the underground ethics of the punk scene back then. Is it just the way it has turned out or is it what you intend to play? Who else are the influences that I've missed pointing out?
It's how I intended to play and it's also just how it turned out. You hit all the influences right there. We’ve never actually tried to sound like Brocas Helm or Manilla Road, so that’s just sort of a coincidence. We sound raw because I don’t get the same feeling playing with a standard metal guitar sound. We don’t use that much distortion, that makes everything too wimpy, and you can’t tell what anyone’s playing with all those distortion boxes and effects. Bands these days use these weird things - like these computers or whatever - they call them rack-mounts and they sit on top of their amps with all these blinking lights and make their guitars sound like static. Really shitty, and they’re expensive too - bands spend thousands of dollars to make themselves sound like shit!! We played a festival in Minnesota this year and I got an email the next week from a kid who was there - he asked “why is it that I can here what you guys are playing, but all the other bands’ guitars are all unclear?” I told him that it's because we just plug into the amps and turn up, rather than using all those effects.
When it comes to the leads and guitar harmonies who are your influences?
Thin Lizzy, Maiden of course, Alman Bros. and Judas priest.
And as a vocalist?
Freddy Mercury, Dio, Henry Rollins, Richard Burton, Phil Lynott, Jim Morrison, Scott Reagers of St. Vitus.
About the latest Slough Feg lineup, where are the guys from? You think you've hit a stable lineup finally or it doesn't bother you at all?
They’re actually all Californians, except for me. It always bothers me and I’m always thinking about the future. It seems pretty stable right now though. We’ve been on tour a lot and we seem to all get along.
The writing process on Hardworlder.
Very simple. I write riffs, melodies and chord progressions at home, and bring them to the studio and rehearse and arrange them with the band, for months. And then we record them. Simple, yet complicated.
Do you have some recording setup at home Mike? Like when you have this awesome riff or a possible part of a song and you'll just have to plug in and record it for future reference? Or is it all in your head, safely locked up and all burst out when you hit the studio for the album recording?
I don’t use anything besides an old boom box. I record my guitar parts and melodies onto tapes to make sure I don’t forget them. I don’t do any kind of pre-production. I tried using a four track and it never seemed to help. I just always kept the harmonies in my head until I practice with the band.
The artwork on Hardworlder. Nice comic book feel to it. What's the concept here?
The idea is from Alfred Bester’s “the stars my destination”, a book I’m obsessed with. I just wanted the artist to draw the main character from that book for the cover.
Lyrical concepts on Hardworlder.
It should be obvious to anyone who hears it. Sci-fi, life on the road, sometimes through sci-fi metaphor, sometimes in real life terms. And of course basic misery, madness and frustration. I always have an evolutionary theme running through the lyrics as well - because I try to explain things to myself in terms of evolution. Like “why do I feel this or that way? Why can’t I stop thinking about that girl? Why do I want to kill this person? Or protect that person?” I think there are evolutionary purposes, that it, answers involving preservation and enhancement of traits, DNA , whatever, to these questions.
Atavism was your rawer album. How different was the approach from Atavism on this album? Hardworlder has come out better in my opinion.
There was no different approach. I used more Marshall amps this time than last time. Different drummer and guitarist too. That’s about the only difference. We went for a little more a produced sound this time, with more reverb.
And the gear that brings the great tones.
Not much to say that hasn’t been said. I use a Marshall JMP (from the mid seventies) and a Gibson Les Paul classic, turn it up loud and use add a small amount of gain with an old Boss DS1 Distortion pedal. I hardly use it though, it's turned up very low, about one quarter of the way.
My favourite tones for leads are Wolf Hoffman from Accept, Michael Schenker from UFO/MSG and Uli Roth from the Scorpions era, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Leslie West from Mountain, Gary Moore from his pre-blues era and of course Brian May from Queen, Criss Oliva from Savatage.
Brian May’s my favorite, he has the best sound ever. Uli Roth is great too. Tony Iommi and Greg Ginn of Black flag were my favorites for a long time, love that raw sound.
What do you do when you're not recording and touring?
Beat up yuppies and scare little children. Actually I teach philosophy part time at a state university, and bartend at night. I’m very busy.
Some of those guitar parts are difficult to play and sing at the same time. And the guitar harmonies have more than two guitars. How is this done live?
We do the best we can with the harmonies, and I find that anything can be played and sang at the same time with practice. A few songs we don’t do live, but I can do most of them. Practice Practice Practice.
Any touring schedule for the new album figured out already?
In November we go out for three or four weeks in the USA, then Europe in the spring. We just did a two fifteen date tour of the states in June.
6 albums out. How come you haven't released a live, unplugged or a symphonic album yet? Seriously, I'd like to see a live DVD of the band knowing I'm mostly never going to get to see the band unless I travel abroad to catch you play or do something to bring you down to India.
That’s a tough thing to do. A Live album takes a lot of support on the road, you have to have a good tech setting up mikes and all that to make it sound good. There’s a lot of really shitty live albums out there, and I don’t care to do one of those. If we can get a good live recording I’d put it out, but we haven’t come up with one so far.
Mike, what do you make of things getting easier for musicians these days. It's easy to just plug in and record your shit on the computer and spread the word around on the internet but it also means it's all over youtube, myspace and everywhere else. I personally think the overall picture is good, because there's so much to listen to and choose from. What do you think of this whole scenario?
I dunno. I guess it's good, other than the fact that too many shitty bands get a shot, and it's over saturated. It’s actually hard to get anywhere these days because there are 400000000000000000000 bands out there, and no one seems to have any taste or preference of one over another. I can’t say I fully understand it, but one thing’s for certain, it ain’t going back to the way it used to be, so bands have to adapt or forget about it. It's cool that everyone wants to sound like 70s and 80s metal bands now, but the business isn’t gonna be like it was back then.
I ask this every time. If you're organising a Slough Fest at your backyard, who're the bands, both past and present you'd get to play there?
Brocas Helm, Solstice, Sacred steel, Iron Sword, St Vitus, Early Maiden with Paul Dianno.
What have been some of your favourite concerts you've been to?
I saw Black Flag in ’86, and that was my favorite show up to that point. Also when I (finally!!!) saw maiden in ’93 (yes, that was the first time I saw them) that was actually the best thing I ever saw. And back then there weren’t a whole lot of people out to see them because metal was on sort of a down swing then - so I got right up front and it was fantastic. I did a small tour with Sacred Steel a few years back, and they were excellent live, really blew me away. Really fun band. Brocas Helm can also be amazing live, they’ve blown my mind before.
What do you think of these?
Skyclad – the UK folk metal band:
No opinion, not familiar enough.
Tyr - the Danish band that plays metal with folk influences:
No idea, never heard them.
Helloween worshipping bands in Europe playing cheesy power metal with no rock'n'roll in them at all, heheh:
Well, sounds like you already gave an opinion. I like blind guardian kind of, and some of Nocturnal Rites stuff. Otherwise I don’t like power metal.
Nice guy, has done some great songs too. Really fun guy to hang out with, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Wrote one of my favorite songs.
Hardworlder is my personal favourite Slough Feg album so far.
I like Twilight of the Idols I think. It’s the most weird, personal album we’ve done. It has the best songs on it.
You guys have been at it for what, 16 years now? How's this old school/70s and 80s/style metal coming along now in the States?
People like it again over here, but it's underground. The sad thing is, a lot of people would dig what we do, I think a huge amount of people, but it takes advertising to get the message to them, and that takes a lot of money. It's tough. We’re doing better than ever over here, but its still underground.
Any special future plans?
Writing albums and touring. That’s it.
Check out Slough Feg's new album in its entirety at this location. For more info, hop over to their website or their MySpace. Also read the kvltblog review of Hardworlder and the latest Hammers of Misfortune album, The Locust Years.
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