When did you start playing guitar and why did you choose it?
Well let’s see, I think I was about- actually I started late. I was about 16 when I started playing and it started because I liked listening to different metal bands. I started off as a fan, you know? So I’d say I was 15 or 16 and I had all the posters on my wall, and in the mid to late 80’s there was a guitar lesson thing called Metal Method. On the other side there was a poster of Robbin Crosby from Ratt, and that thing folds down and there’s a metal method guitar lesson. So I thought, maybe I should play guitar? Maybe I should do it? And it was sort of a hunch thing, like I would order two lessons at a time because I thought if I ordered just one I wouldn’t really get to it, but if I got two I would be like a full fanatic. I would just do two lessons and after that immediately I felt like it was my thing to do.
Did you ever have a moment of ‘I want to play this instrument as my career’ or did it kind of just turn out that way?
Well for me I knew it within a couple weeks.
I know you went to Berklee School of Music and a lot of musicians tend to skip out on formal schooling like that- what made you want to study music?
For me, it was a combination of me not wanting to graduate high school and just get a job because I felt like it would eat up a lot of my time every day. It was all based on my guitar playing, and I read that the guys from Dream Theater went there so I figured I could go there, too…and I like Randy Rhoads, he influenced me to start learning how to read music and things like that. So I thought of this as something I could try for myself in order to not have to get a job and be able to go ahead and study music for four more years. At that time I was about three years into playing and I felt like I needed to practice more, so I decided to go. And I mean that was my only shot, there was no plan B.
What was your major? Was it guitar performance or more theory based?
I took a major called professional music and that was a thing that you could do to basically make your own schedule. I took some guitar classes, I took music production and engineering, I took some arranging and then I could just basically graduate. I didn’t want to do guitar performance because I felt it was very jazz oriented and the one thing that helped me was that I knew what I wanted to do. I figured that if I wanted to be a metal guy, which I am, I really don’t need to hardcore study jazz composition.
So were you playing in bands while you were in college or did you graduate with a kind of ‘what’s next’ mentality?
It was both, actually. I was in school for one year and I auditioned for a band from Massachusetts and they were called Roxxi, they were a local band but they already had videos on Headbangers Ball and stuff like that. So I joined that band and then I decided to go back to school- different members of the band were leaving and at that point I just wasn’t really sure about the band. It happened to be a good choice because the band disbanded after that. I went to school for one year, left for the summer- so I never really missed any school, and then went back and finished my three years. I went back to Long Island for a while and taught guitar and then after that I decided to go back to New Jersey.
What was your first big touring gig that you had?
I would say the first big official thing I had was when I joined the band with the Metal God, Halford.
And how’d you get the spot in Halford?
You know what, right before that I was in Jersey and I was kind of the local guitar guy, like a shredder. When Guitar Heroes would play east coast the promoters would call me to open up. So I would open for Ronnie Montrose and Steve Morse and Yngwie and guys like that. And I had all these tapes of me playing in front of like a thousand people with no singer, just Marshall amp’s, all metal. I sent those over to Rob’s management and that was around the time when they first came out of the 2wo project with Trent Reznor, and they loved it. The timing was just right, Rob wanted to get back to his roots and it was just perfect. I had a ton of tapes and with little luck and some perseverance that’s how it happened.
And I know you’ve done a lot of miscellaneous different projects; do you have any favorite things you’ve done?
There were quite a few things. I felt that when I did work with my old band Painmuseum, we did a ‘Metal for Life’ record and I thought that was a really strong album. I also thought it was a little ahead of its time. It was 2005 and we combined more aggressive type vocals with some more traditional stuff and there weren’t that many bands out there at that time who were doing that. And then you have Children of Bodom and stuff like that that came out with that sound so we were just a little too early with that. I think the record I did with Sebastian, ‘Angel Down’, was a good one and I also like the record I did with Joacim Cans from Hammerfall called ‘Beyond the Gates’. Not a lot of people in the US know about that record but it a really interesting and cool album.
As you said you worked with Sebastian Bach, I believe that was 2007. How did you end up there?
Working with Rob opens up a lot of doors, he’s the Metal God. A lot of vocalists judge themselves according to him, so being his guitar player really works to my favor. Actually Sebastian and I at the time lived in New Jersey so he was just like ‘dude, we gotta jam!’ so I said alright, and he had a bunch of festivals lined up and joined him for some festivals in I think ’05 and we ended up jamming for 3 or 4 years. It was fun.
How was working with Sebastian? I’ve heard he’s a lot of fun.
It was fun! I would say that Baz certainly can be a lot of fun to hang around with, and he doesn’t have a really big filter. Whatever is in his brain he will just spew it at you, and that worked to an advantage and disadvantage at times. That’s what makes him a great front man. Whenever I was playing shows with Sebastian I felt like we were all part of this gang, I swear to god it was some of the rawest shows ever. It really felt like we were just going to go there and kick ass, you never knew what was going to happen. See, Rob Halford is more reserved, he’s more British. There’s a different dynamic with Sebastian, it was just complete craziness. Some of the craziest tour experiences were with Sebastian, needless to say.
Moving towards what you’re doing now, I know you have the Metal Heroes Academy that you started- can you tell me about that?
There’s definitely like a mission for it. A lot of younger players had started to reach out to me to help them learn to play metal and stuff like that, and then I started to feel a sense of responsibility because of the younger kids. Somebody has to teach them correctly, you know? And then I start realizing that a lot of players who reached out to me are like, ones and two’s in their school. Like I actually had a student drive up for a four hour lesson from North Carolina the other day, people drive here all the time. He’ll be like the only kid in his school with long hair, so he’s cool with his teachers and everything but he’s just a little different than what the other kids are like. Those are the kids that reach out to me, and I feel like I’m providing not necessarily a service, but almost like a home base for these metal head kids.
It’s a place for them to go to learn what they love, basically.
And where is that, New York right?
Yeah! I do a lot of Skype and in-person lessons in Jersey, but then I do the summer camp in New York in a place called Big Indian…it’s not too far from Woodstock. So that was in August, and later on in the fall I’m going to do a retreat for some slightly older players too. I get a lot of dads who reach out to me who are like ‘I really love playing metal but I’ve got a job and a family and I don’t know many people like me in my town’- so it’s really cool for them to meet other players that are into the same thing as them. I try to do my very best to help them along. It’s cool, it’s cool.
At this summer camp, what exactly do they do?
We actually do all kinds of stuff. We have workshops not only for guitar, but for bass and drums and we also do workshops of sort of behind the scenes type stuff, like production and things like that. We’ll talk about what it costs for a band to tour and we’ll talk about riders and requirements for bands. And this year we have somebody who released their own record and they’re going through all the growing pains of having to try and get it promoted, where to go to print your own t-shirts and stuff. See I do these camps and I think to myself, like how can I give these kids the ultimate information. For me, when the campers get completely blown away by the camp is when I know I’ve done a good job. So yeah it’s pretty wild, we’ll rehearse songs and do a final full out concert with all the lights and smoke machines for the parents so it’s really a lot of fun. The kids are saying ‘can we do camp for two weeks?!’ and I’m like ‘man I don’t know if I can put up with you guys for that long!’ It’s a lot of fun, I love it.
Is there anything you’re working on now or hoping to start?
I am going to continue to build the academy because I really want it to have a good start. And then I am more than likely going to start playing my own shows with my band.
And what’s your band?
It’s basically just Metal Mike. I’ve done so many records with so many cool musicians like Rob and Sebastian that I would really like to take some of these songs and do them live.
And lastly I’ve got two questions that were sent in from Twitter, one of them is how does working with Sebastian differ from working with Rob, as you mentioned earlier. Do you prefer one of them and why?
That’s a very hard question. The only thing I can say is each situation is a little different. Rob Halford for many many reasons is seriously the Metal God, there’s a reason why people refer to him that way. Not all of it has to do with his voice, although his voice is one of the best in metal, a lot of has to do with when you’re next to Rob you just feel a certain way. He’s got a lot of power around him, not powerful people necessarily; he’s just a great person. I’ll be honest I compare everything else to Rob too. Every band I work with whether they like it or not is compared to how it was when I worked with Rob, you know. He set the bar for me.
And that’s a high bar!
A very high bar. To me he is just the ultimate metal vocalist. Now Sebastian Bach, he comes in a little after Priest in his career. Baz has a lot of raw energy; he’s so full of life. Rob lets his own musician’s just shine around him, and Baz is out there- he’s loud, he’s off the hook. And I really like that energy as well, I felt like with Baz’s band anything could have happened at any minute.
It sounds like things were more spontaneous with Sebastian.
Yes, very spontaneous. The crazier things got, the more it set him off. Those are mainly the differences between them, but there isn’t one that’s better than the other. Rob is the ultimate metal god, but with that said I loved jamming with Sebastian too.
They’re just on really opposite ends of the spectrum, so it’s hard to compare them. And my final question is when you we’re growing up were your influences purely rock and metal or was there anything else mixed into there?
That’s an interesting one. When I grew up I loved music but it wasn’t heavy metal, I grew up in Poland so I didn’t have access to it. I just listened to like, Polish songs. But the cool thing is that those songs have so much melody in them, the melodies were engraved into my mind so now when I play, I play with a lot of melody. A lot of the melodies that you hear are there because I grew up listening to it. When I first started playing guitar, I was influenced by metal only. It was hardcore, metal only. My two favorite tapes that I bought were Twisted Sister’s ‘Come Out and Play’ and Motley Crue’s ‘Theatre of Pain’- those were my first two metal tapes. I bought them at K-Mart. And I don’t know if you remember this but like when you open up a brand new tape it has this almost metallic smell, and I was like- I love this! It was like an addiction. I joined the Columbia House and that was like, you got twelve tapes or something for one penny and I was totally into that. It was all very metal, and I will say when I was just about to go to Berklee I found players like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Gary Moore that were still very intense, but not strictly metal. So then I went back and looked into all of that stuff, and after a while I was back into only metal. But I mean one of my favorite singers is Tina Turner, she projects with so much power and I love that. I just love great singers. To me, heaviness is not always how fast something can be played, it’s how it’s delivered.