An Interview with
(Solo Artist and Vocalist Of Leatherwolf & Soul Sign)
that took place at The Rainbow Bar & Grille, Hollywood on 13th April 2011
By Glenn Milligan
Glenn: What encouraged you to be a singer?
Michael: Well seeing as I got a beer - still beer.
Glenn: So actually it was beer.
Michael: Actually - my brothers. I grew up in a very musical family. We had music all over the house and we sang together in like 3-part harmonies and in the early days of Leatherwolf I was not the singer I was just the guitar player. We went through a bunch of singers but when they wouldn't show up in rehearsal I was the guy singing in rehearsal with the band. When we couldn't find one the band actually made me do it. I was forced into it - at gunpoint. HaHaHaHa. It was gunpoint and a bottle of Lord Chalvert. Lord Calvert was gin then gunpoint and then I was a singer.
Glenn: Nice One. Who would you say your favourite influences are as a singer and why?
Michael: Well since I like so many different styles of music it's kinda hard to say. There's everybody from Rob Halford to Lenny Kravitz. I appreciate all kinds of sounds. In a rock world an influence of mine was Graham Bonnett actually, Graham Bonnett and Klaus Meine, Rob Halford, Paul Dianno actually. In a real sense of like my true roots I go back to probably like more Southern Rock guys like Greg Allman and Don Henley - you know just more rich tones, soulful tones - Glenn Hughes stuff you know?
Glenn: Yeah. It's got the emotion.
Michael: Yeah Yeah..
Glenn: In the voice and the music compliments him and vica-versa.
Michael: Exactly. Just anything with passion and soul really.
Glenn: What would you say were your highlights in the heyday of Leatherwolf?
Michael: Actually I liked our European Tour of England & Europe through Scotland - we threw some good times. Right around between '86 and '90 I guess was our peak of our run. A lot of memories - I was touring with Queensryche. We played Europe and we were really tight as a band. We came back and we played Irvine Meadows with Queensryche - that was a good highlight show in front of our hometown crowd. I remember that run being a good one.
Glenn: How would you say the UK or the European crowd at the time were different to a US crowd?
Michael: Much more responsive.
Michael: Much more responsive and appreciative and attentive.
Glenn: They sing along to the songs more and give you more back?
Michael: Very much so. The fans were, you know, were real fans.
Michael: The US are always like so flavour of the month kinda thing and you give more (Europe). Especially in Germany, like if you're somebody's favourite band in 1989, chances are they are still your favourite band today. So people hang onto their influences a lot longer.
Glenn: They bond more with you.
Michael: Yeah - that's what I felt about Europe. The different between them and the USA.
Glenn: What studio work have you enjoyed the most?
Michael: Well all the sessions we did at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas were all very great sessions. Working with Kevin Beamish- we did the 2 records with Island with Kevin Beamish. They were just great learning experiences - just great. Being in the studio for 2 months - not leaving everyday - that's like a full-time job to make a record. I am making a new record right now and trying to get it done within a month on a part-time basis. So just anytime you're in the studio on a full-time basis working on music - that's a good scene for me. But actually yeah, the 'Street Ready' record - that was kinda cool. So I think we had a direction and we knew what we wanted to do as opposed to the 1st one - we were kinda just figurin' it out.
Glenn: Would you say that there are parts of the world that stand out to you more than others that you've been to as a tourist or a frontman that you've liked so far?
Michael: Holland - for various reasons. (We Laugh). Holland was great. Sweden - I went to Sweden last year with Bjorn and Soul Sign. That was a great country - I really liked that. England - England was a favourite. I'm not just saying that because you're interviewing.
Glenn: I know. A lot of people say the same - just the place and the people.
Michael: We had 2 off in between our UK Tour and the German Tour but the record company didn't wanna send us home and then send us back so they just put us up in the Columbia Hotel up Hyde Park. We just had run of that place for 2 weeks - so that was a good time. We got to know England pretty well. There was a place called 'London Dungeon' - have you ever been there?
Glenn: Not yet.
Michael: It's like the Disney round of torture chambers.
Glenn: What do you miss most about the heyday of Leatherwolf?
Michael: Just everything we did was on a big grandiose and everything was big in those days - to the stages to the hair to the sound. Not that I miss that but what I do miss about it - it was just the drive that people in the band had at the time and the work ethics of musicians of what it took to make something happen on that stage on that level. I kinda have it with my band right now but Leatherwolf was the army and we went and rehearsed every night and hung out everyday writing songs or promoting whatever. So a full time career is like 5 guys to make something happen. It's really hard to do - especially as you get older when people have families and careers and what-not. So I kinda miss that the most. Just from the morning you wake up from the time you go to sleep - you work - everybody's working on something and 5 people are trying to make something even bigger themselves. It's probably the one thing.
Glenn: I guess it's not the same as it used to be - it's all business these days whereas it used to be a gang back then.
Michael: And another thing is that it was more of a novelty to be in a band. I mean, there was a lot of bands and a lot of music but not like now. Every kid has a band and a CD and videos on it so it was much more of a novelty to be successful or even to be a young viable product. For us being from Orange County - we're not part of this area but out in the south that way. We were kind of the big fish in a small pond out there. So when we brought our band out here, we got a band house and we had to build the following up that we had in Orange County here - that was a pretty good stepping stone for us to take that on and kinda run with Poison and Warrant and just tear down their posters and they'd throw down ours.
Glenn: So it's all true what they say then?
Michael: Yeah - haha. Oh man, we'd go staple up a poster as high as we could on a telephone pole. Then we'd get somebody to staple a little higher - but our drummer, Dean (Roberts, Drummer) was a roofer and had no fear of heights and he'd scale up 90. We were always the highest for posters.
Glenn: That's cracking that. So it was like a big competition to get the highest posters.
Michael: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Glenn: You always won no doubt.
Michael: We always won. Our thing after rehearsal which was usually like 7 to about 10 or so, we'd get in these 2 pick-up trucks and we'd fill these buckets up with wallpaper paste and mops and stacks of big posters and we'd go down this lightbox on every interection, pull over, one guy was driving, one guy was doing the postering. On to the next one - all the way through the beach and up to inland and up/down every street. Like every night we had a route planned out. So that's how we promoted.We glued up.
Glenn: That's it - there was no internet back then - it was all..
Michael: Yeah exactly.
Glenn: Hard work. Hard grafting.
Michael: Yeah. There was no easy way to let people know you were playing.
Glenn: No not at all. How did you come to meet up with the guys in Soul Sign and become a part of that band?
Michael: I met Bjorn through a guy called Pat Mennesee - the guitar player - a local guy who was doing some cover stuff and Bjorn was saying he was doing a record and he would like me to sing on it. So he came over to my studio a couple of times a week for a few months and I didn't really know it was gonna be a band type of thing but after a few days he said, "I've booked some shows in Sweden", so I go, "Oh ok - it's a band I guess right?". Yeah Bjorn's always been more of a friend than a workhard network.
Glenn: Yeah. What are you most proud of so far being a member of that band with regard to songwriting or the vocals because it's such a different style of band than what Leatherwolf is - it's more heavier and dare I say it - it's got more a Seattle thing to it mixed with a Malmsteen...
Michael: Yes. Well it's a different direction for me - it's somewhere between Leatherwolf and what I do now. What I like about this is the playing. Bjorn is just a monster player and Rob Math and Michael Taylor. There's these three guys and I stand in awe and watch them play. That style of music's not really my bag but I love Bjorn and I wanna go to Sweden and I want to make a record and I was just into playing and doing different things. But that's kinda what I got most out of it was just the level of musicianship from those guys. But as far as me going and laying my thing into it, Bjorn pretty much had everything written and we worked together to come up with some melodies that worked. As much as it wasn't my thing I really kind of like stepped into it and enjoyed what I did. I had to leave some of my real self at the door each time I step into a situation like that and the older I get the more I know exactly what want to do and I start saying no to other projects. The older I get the more I know what I don't wanna do.
Glenn: Would you say there's any styles of music you wouldn't wanna do?
Michael: Well you know what I'm pretty overtired of doing real heavy stuff. I mean I enjoy listening to it and I can do the Leatherwolf stuff every once in a while - we go do some shows and some festivals in Europe and whatever kind of gigs we do but the more I do 'em the less I actually enjoy doing 'em because I feel like I have to talk myself into leaving myself kinda at the door more than I'd like to. So the more I do that, the harder it is to get into that mode.
Glenn: What did you most enjoy about putting the 'Goodbye Rain' album together because it's such a warm, well produced album - it's just amazing?
Glenn: No matter what you pick from that it's incredible.
Michael: That was done in my home studio - most of it was done in my home studio and late nights. It was going into my little den and just being creative. So that was a real experimental record because I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to make a record and I had some ideas and some songs. The record I am making now was much more focuessed on a direction on and working with who I am as a soul artist or whatever. So that was a kind of finding myself record 'Goodbye Rain' was - getting my feet wet a little bit.
Glenn: Would you say there's certain songs that stand out that you like more than others?
Glenn: Which ones?
Michael: 'Goodbye Rain'; 'Good Thing Better'; 'Freedom' & 'Apologies'. I really like 'All That You Could Give' too. I can listen to 'em all and enjoy 'em but others that I'd not listen to twice in a row maybe.
Glenn: Would you say it was a long process to get all the songs together or did you have some of them sticking around for a few years?
Michel: Some of those songs went through so many lyric changes, key changes, tempo changes. I was working on that for quite a while. But it was like, 'Finally I just gotta put this thing out'.
Michael: Or it'll never be done.
Glenn: Yeah. It's just like every song is a real diamond - there's no stocking filler in the album.
Glenn: You've got that country style, you've got more of a Lenny Kravitz/Jeff Scott Soto style and you've got a bit of metal there and it's got all you want. There are songs there you can get your ears around. You don't get bored of it at all.
Glenn: Your vocals are just spot on.
Michael: Thanks very much. Thanks.Thankyou.
Glenn: No problem man. Where did you get to meet all the musicians that appear on the album?
Michael: Well the 'Goodbye Rain' album I had the drummer Dave Goode who I've known forever and I've played in some different bands with - some local bands. I always wanted to work with him so I used him and a friend of mine, Jimi Riley played the bass on some of the stuff that.. I play bass on most of the stuff but - so it was pretty much me and Dave and my good friend K.K. Martin who I've always really loved as a player came in and gave it that flare on the pedal steel and slide for a few days. So it was pretty much the 3 of us that did it and Marco Forcone - my friend and Producer - he helped me out a lot on it as well.
Glenn: Is there certain instruments that you enjoy playing more on certain songs or do you enjoy playing everything that you can play?
Michael: You know what, I am leaning to be like a lot more sitting behind the piano a lot more and approaching music that way. But it just depends. On some of the stuff I'll be playing my guitar and inspiration comes from either driving around or just sitting at my guitar but I think the older I get, the more I like playing at the keyboards. I think I've probably got to the level I am going to get to as a guitar player - I an not gonna sit down for 8 hours and practise, you know guitar?
Michael: I'm just not gonna do it. So I've probably got to the level I'll be at but I feel like I'm still growing as a musician and keyboards for me, I'm getting that real confident kind of a level. So the more confident I get, the more I approach it.
Glenn: Talking about piano, I was watching the video for 'Apologies'. Whereabouts was that filmed?
Michael: That was in a dry lake about half an hour south of Vegas. Swan Lake I think it was called.
Glenn: Did it take long to put that video together?
Michael: Well actually I just went out there to do some pictures and Marco my producer, who helped me produce the record said, "You're not gonna make a video while you're out there?", So I go, "Well let me call my crew right?". He goes, "You don't need any crew", and he just hands me this HD Camera. He says, "Just put the CD in your car, blare it so you can hear the audio..", so we filmed it about 3 or 4 times and pieced it together. I think I paid him like $200 to edit it for me - so that's like a $200 video. Seriously it's a $200 video.
Glenn: It's a pity you can't do that all the time - it's a cheap way of doing it. I was watching the other one as well - the one that you shot down on Sunset Strip & Hollywood Blvd.
Michael: Right. That was something that was fun to do. I think the 'Apologies' one was kinda serious and I just kinda wanted to get a little sense of humour side going on and keep it light.
Michael: I wrestled with what song to do for that - the next video. I wanted to do a band thing but I'm saving it for this new record to come out and I'm gonna do this. This one is more of a band - well it is a band. We recorded a multi-tracked record with 14 songs that we just recorded - that'll be out some time next month I hope.
Glenn: Awesome. What songs are you pleased with so far are for the new album and what can we expect from it?
Michael: There's a song on there called 'Talk Me Down' that's pretty cool. 'Broken Glass' is one of my favourites. Errr.... there's 14 of 'em and I didn't let anything go on there that I didn't like. There's nothing worse than like.. because if I'm gonna record something I am gonna have to listen back to it, you know through copying and editing and all that like a million times - so I have to like it or it wouldn't be there.
Glenn: Especially if you gotta go out there and sing it everynight.
Michael: And I got these crazy players - these guitar players - KK (Martin) and Buzzy James and Tom Croucier and Paul Wilson - just a great bunch of guys - it's really took the songs to a level. The 'Goodbye Rain' was really a solo record as for like performance, although on this new record I wrote all the songs but it's a definite band and as it came together and the whole sound of it is taking on a whole life of its own. I'm pretty excited about it definately.
Glenn: What sort of a style is it? Is it more of a Southern style?
Michael: It is actually more of a southern style. It's a lot more southern style. It's a lot more bluegrassy rock. It's more rock. The other one was really slick and produced a lot of drum loops and I didn't use any loops on this one - this is real. Like I said, we multi-tracked it so we overdubbed some guitar solos and it's really just a real more throwback to Allman Brothers/Doobie Brothers kind of a thing.
Glenn: Did you do it analogue or digital?
Michael: Well we were gonna do it on tape but I was recording so many songs and I was trying to do it on a lower cost budget and there's the reality of using tape and that many songs we were doing and the length of my songs because we have a lot of 6, 7, 8 minute jams on there - so it's a real hippy 70's kind of a vibe so we go out and just into tangents. So I just didn't have the budget to use tape. I really wanted to but the guy who recorded at the record studios over there - Keith's been doing that a very long time and he knows how to get that saturated digital thing happening so that's why I chose him. I wanted to use tape for the drums and bass and the rhythm sections because there's something resonant about that.
Glenn: What are your thoughts of having the internet now?
Michael: it helps everything. I'm not gonna get out at 4 in the morning and glue up posters.
Michael: It's huge.
Glenn: Yeah it's amazing how you can gt in touch with people at the touch of a button.
Michael: Yeah - we'd never have got out to Sweden last year without that contact we had with the internet because of the fanbase and being able to do that and be keen and keep it viable - it's a huge tool. We can't really do without it now - like a cellphone.
Glenn: Exactly - it'd cost you a fortune as well. It's the time when they are gonna be available to talk to you as well.
Michael: Well next it'll be hologram messages popping out of your phone. We'll be doing this interview via holograms.
Glenn: What influenced the song 'Brand New Life' - it's such a stand-out title to say 'Brand New Life'?
Michael: Well that song got written during a divorce and the whole record was kind of, I was going through some like personal issues, like financial - losing the house - kinda divorce all at the same time. So a lot of doors were closing and other doors hadn't quite opened yet. So that's kind of where the whole 'Goodbye Rain', 'Brand New Life' - that's kinda where it comes from. You know just trying to take bad situations and just trying to stay positive. It's trying to have a positive outlook on unfortunate events. That's kinda what I'm about - staying positive and trying to keep a positive... like my band... I just surround myself with positive energy and I don't want no negative morale.
Glenn: Where did you discover those incredible gospel vocals because it puts the icing on the cake?
Michael: I am a big harmony guy. If you listen to some of the old Leatherwolf records, we kind of overdid it in the back-ups a little bit but I just love harmony, like just use.. not only typical harmonies but I like to use in where you get the gospel thing, I like to sing in the 7ths and 9ths and 11ths so it's not like a 1,3,5 typical harmony. I like to mix it up and throw different textures in there and make movements happen and use the voice as an instrument. That's what turns me on.
Glenn: So that's all you as well?
Michael: Pretty much yeah.
Michael: I did all the vocals on there.
Glenn: That's incredible.
Michael: There's a couple of songs where I had some friends come in and do some things.
Glenn: What made you decide to cover the Pink Floyd song 'Brick In The Wall' ?
Michael: It wasn't really set out. We were jamming in our studio one night and I was experimenting with these loops that I've been using. We were just jamming around these loops and I had some friends over and it was of a party night in the studio for a bit and we were just jamming out and it was like "You should put that on the record". I wasn't really into putting a cover on because I wanted to make it all original but it, I don't know - it felt cool and it kinda broke things up a little bit. It's weird because I wouldn't have thought that would have been the song I would have chosen to put a cover on an record. There were many other songs I probably would have chosen but it was kinda happenin' and it was done and we did it and I just kinda threw it out there.
Glenn: Have any of the remaining living guys left from Pink Floyd have the chance to listen to it yet?
Michael: I don't know. I mean that song's been covered more than you you know, 'Happy Birthday'.
Glenn: Every bar band plays it.
Glenn: That and 'Comfortably Numb'.
Michael: Exactly. It kind of like gave it a different feel for the record - it as like a techno feel, dance feel to it.It felt like the record kinda needed something like that on there. I could have just changed the words and changed the chorus and made my own song out of it.
Glenn: I was gonna ask you what cover song you would chosse for the next album but you've blown that question out of the water.
Michael: You know what, there's not one cover song. There's 14 original tunes on there.
Glenn: And you're happy?
Glenn: So basically it just happened and it was a fluke anyway?
Michael: Yeah. You know I'm into doing cover songs. I'm into like covering something and just totally making it your own.
Kimberly Cravotta (Michael's Girlfriend): How about somebody else do one of yours as a cover song?
Michael: Oh that'd be a good thing - I'll take that. I did hear of this band called? I forget. They covered a Leatherwolf song 'Rise Or Fall' and the keyboard player, like made it progressive and they took it to a whole new level. I was like, "Oh my god!". I sent them a message saying, '"Guys you just killed that song". It was crazy though. It's always a good experiece like hearing somebody take what you've done and kick its ass and go, "Here's how I hear it". This keyboard player was like shredding on Geoff Gayer's (guitar) solo with his right hand.
Glenn: I guess it's good for someone to take your material outside the box because you don't know what they are gonna do to it. Future dates? Any UK dates? European dates?
Michael: You know what, I would love to get over there. The guys who brought us over in Leatherwolf a couple of years ago are trying to get me over there and talk me into coming over there. I just wanna wait for the right opportunity and not just go over there and play a couple of pubs and lose $2000 in the process. I am just trying to wait for that right opportunity. It's just meeting the right people and getting it over there. It's not an easy thing to do.
Glenn: Plus because of the recession, the economy is totally on its *rse.
Michael: It really is really, really hard.
Glenn: What would you say your hobbies are outside of music?
Michael: Well I's been a pitcher in a hardball league for many years but in the last years I couldn't play - my elbow got blown out. Other hobbies? I don't watch TV. I don't really go to movies. I only read books. Man I'm sounding like such a loser right now (laughs).
June: That's just like him!!
Glenn: Well I'm the same - I always like to know where the bars and the bands are no matter where I happen to be.
Michael: I just like to spend time with friends and my girl here.
Kimberly Cravotta: That's a hobby!
Michael: I try to stay in shape and excercise a lot to stay active. I guess lately I don't have any hobbies as I've been in the studio just working so hard and trying to get that... get the band together and getting the record done. I rarely have time for hobbies. I probably need one.
Kimberly Cravotta: As long as he has music in his life he is happy.
Glenn: Like when you wake up one morning and say, "I am sick of music!". It's not gonna happen is it?
Michael: But you know, I do need a vacation. I would like to go to England and just take a backpack and trip around.
Glenn: And when you are on tour, that's not a vacation - that's just work.
Michael: That's exactly not a vacation. Especially as a singer for me. Having days off. Evetybody goes out sight-seeing and I'm like, "Dude, I just need sleep", because I got to sing tomorrow. Everybody else can put their guitars in their cases but you take yours to the afterparty with you and you are talking. So being on tour is very stressful actually for a vocalist. Basically it's a lot of, 'How am I gonna sing tonight?" - you ask yourself a whole lot of that.
Michael: Is anything gonna come out of this tonight? I remember back in the day the record company putting us out 13 or 14 nights in a row. It's expensive to keep a band out on the road so you gotta work every night to keep it happenin'. This is brutal. I see some of these guys itenarys - I don't know how they do it.
Glenn: There's guys like Motorhead that...
Michael: Two hour shows too!
Glenn: Yeah. It's incredible really. How do you keep your voice in such good trim? It's never faultered - it seems to be perfect all the time - how do you do that?
Michael: I'm really not a schooled singer. I have bad habits and I don't take care of my voice at all. I don't warm up. I drink. So that's a good question. I don't sing a lot. I don't do a lot of shows. I know if I do like 3 or 4 shows in a row I'm hurtin'. I know last Summer when I did those 4 nights in Sweden, we did like 4 nights in a row, 5 nights in a row - that was tough. It was hard. You can play around town probably once every two weeks and belt it out and be great but it's like every night - that's when it's really hard.
Glenn: I was actually gonna ask you about road stories but I thought, I'll not go that way tonight!
Michael: Road Stories - well they don't always have to be sexual. You know what's a good one - Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle - you know the grassy part?
Glenn: Yeah - I was there when I was about 7.
Michael: We were up there and it was like, it was kind of a frosty day - it was cold. We found this trash can that had these big cardboard boxes in there so we took these cardboard boxes, we made sledges out of them. We all got on top and we had a race down that big grassy hill. It was like the coolest thing ever. We got kicked out on our *ss*s and told never to come back!
Also when we recorded in the Bahamas and we had this rent-a-car and our manager was like, "I'm giving you my card - this rent-a-car is on my card - don't f*ck it up!". So first day it was like, "Oh dude, dude you dropped ashes in the car - you gotta watch out - Tim said not to f*ck it up", and the next day it was, "Oh we spilt a beer!", "Jeeze, don't spill it!". Next day it was like, "You've burned the seat with the..", next day it was, "Dude you've just spilt coke or shake all over here". Next day it was like, "Oh you've thrown up in it", next day it was like, "Oh dude, you've scratched the side of the car". Next day it was, "What did you hit?", so by after 2 months this thing was so torn up we could not turn it back in. There was no way we could take this thing back to the rent-a-car so the only thing we could do was drive it to the other side of the island and we had to push it off the cliff.
Glenn: No sh*t! Honestly?
Michael: Honest to God. Then we had to go back and tell them the car got stolen. It's an island! It's an island! You know, statute limitations, that was like 20 years ago.
Kimberly Cravotta: They are probably not in business anymore!
Michael: That was probably the 1st car I watched go bouncing down a rocky road. It's like, "Dude - it's not sinking! It's not sinking. That'll be our final say.
Glenn: That's incredible. You can't beat that one can you? That's an off-road story.
Michael: The only person that can't read this is my old Manager, Tim Hieney.
Glenn: what would you say you are most proud of so far apart from pushing a car off a cliff?
Michael: Still being here. Still Rockin'. But I'm singing better than ever. Writing better songs than ever. I treat people better. I'm happier so.. those things.
Glenn: I'd call that a wrap - that's great.
Big Thankyous also to Doug W. Deutsch (of Doug Deutsch PR) Rick Snyder (Michael's Manager), the Staff @ The Rainbow and of course Michael Olivieri himself, Kimberly Cravotta and June Valentine