LINKS TO INTERVIEWS (CLICK ON NAME):


BANDS
AUGUST INFINITY (aka SHE SAID FIRE)
BLACK SHAPE OF NEXUS
KALLING
MILITANTS
THERAPHOSA

SINGER-GUITARISTS
RAYMOND BALLY
REV. DR. BILL GRAM ..... (Killing For Christ)
PHIL JONES ..... (Phil Jones Band)
THEO CEDAR JONES ..... (Swaybone)
SCOTT KELLY ..... (Neurosis)
SETH MAJKA Interview 1
SETH MAJKA Interview 2
SAM PARSONS
UNCLE BOB NYC ..... (3tles)

GUITARISTS
J.D. BRADSHAW ..... (Debbie Caldwell Band)
PAUL CROOK ..... (Anthrax, Meat Loaf, Sebastian Bach)
NICK DOUKAS ..... (Full Circle, Half Angel, student of John Petrucci & Al Pitrelli)
MATTHEW MEADOWS ..... (Rango The Dog, Somewhat Seven)
JAMES NICKERSON & SARAH NICKERSON ..... (Bangtown Timebomb)
DAX PAGE ..... (Kirra)
MARTY PARIS ..... (Paris Keeling, Permanent Reverse, Barbarian Way)
RUINED MACHINES & MICHAL BRODKA ..... (Celestial Bodies: A 12 Month Galactic Collaboration) Interview 1
RUINED MACHINES (aka KENYON IV) ..... (World Of Rock Records, Celestial Bodies: A 12 Month Galactic Collaboration) Interview 2
CHRIS SANDERS ..... (Knight Fury, Lizzy Borden, Nadir D'Priest)
TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY & DAMOND JINIYA ..... (Rebel Pride Band, Under The Gun Project)
"METAL" DAN SORBER ..... (Thy Kingdom Done, Ferox Canorus)
ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 1
ERIC STROTHERS & ZACH LORTON ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2
CHRIS MICHAEL TAYLOR ..... (Carmine & Vinny Appice's Drum Wars, Sunset Strip, Hair Nation)

VOCALISTS
A.L.X. ..... (Love Crushed Velvet)
GRAHAM BONNET ..... (Rainbow, Alcatrazz)
BRANDYN BURNETTE
JOE DENIZON ..... (Stratospheerius, Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp, Sweet Plantain)
LESLIE DINICOLA Interview 1
LESLIE DINICOLA Interview 2
TOMMY FARESE ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Kings Of Christmas, Place Called Rage)
ANGIE GOODNIGHT ..... (Fill The Void)
CORNELIUS GOODWIN ..... (12/24 Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute Band)
DAMOND JINIYA & TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY ..... (Savatage, Retribution, Under The Gun Project)
STEFAN KLEIN ..... (Dethcentrik, Dod Beverte, f.k.k.d.) Interview 1
STEFAN KLEIN ..... (Dethcentrik, Dod Beverte, f.k.k.d.) Interview 2
GUY LEMONNIER ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Kings Of Christmas)
ZACH LORTON & ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2
SARAH NICKERSON & JAMES NICKERSON ..... (Bangtown Timebomb)
PARK SIPES ..... (Sunset Strip, Barbarian Way, Tune In To Mind Radio Kelly Keeling Tribute album)
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle) Interview 1
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle) Interview 2

KEYBOARDISTS
SHAYFER JAMES
SCOTT KELLY ..... (Wizards Of Winter)
ERIK NORLANDER ..... (Asia Featuring John Payne, Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane)
DOUG RAUSCH
MICHAEL T. ROSS ..... (Lita Ford, Missing Persons, Raiding The Rock Vault Las Vegas Revue)

BASSISTS
CHRIS NUNES ..... (Ornament Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute Band)
JOHN WETTON ..... (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music)

DRUMMER
RAFA MARTINEZ ..... (Black Cobra)

SONGWRITER
TROY MONTGOMERY & DAMOND JINIYA & TOM SPITTLE ..... (Under The Gun Project)

MUSIC AUTHORS
RODNEY MILES & ALISON TAYLOR ..... (365 Surprising & Inspirational Rock Star Quotes Book)
SEVEN (aka ALAN SCOTT PLOTKIN) ..... (Exile In Rosedale author, Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes)
ALISON TAYLOR & RODNEY MILES ..... (365 Surprising & Inspirational Rock Star Quotes Book)

MUSIC MARKETING
MATT CHABE ..... (Bangtown Timebomb, Chapter Two Marketing)
JAMES MOORE ..... (Independent Music Promotion, Your Band Is A Virus Book)

MUSIC INTERVIEWER
MIKE "THE BIG CHEESE" CATRICOLA ..... (Heavy Metal Mayhem Podcast, Stillborn)

June 13, 2018

"I'm Where All The Cool Kids Are" An Interview With LESLIE DINICOLA

Click here to visit official page of Leslie DiNicola.

April 2011 (live broadcast, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #16)

Since 2010 NY based singer/songwriter Leslie DiNicola has released 5 solo EPs that seamlessly fuse rock, blues, country & pop music with her own personal lyrics & unforgettable melodies. The later 4 albums are collaborative efforts with producer & multi-instrumentalist Julian Coryell. His expansive career has included working with Loretta Lynn, Leonard Cohen, Jewel, Carole King, Alanis Morissette, Dave Brubeck, amongst many others, making it a triviality that he's the son of famed jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, the "godfather of fusion". His diverse musical background has found a common soul with Leslie, creating lush bedrocks for her intimate ballads of hearts broken & healed. Her second album, Draw Back Your Bow, featured unique low-key versions of Journey's "Separate Ways" & U2's "With Or Without You", featuring Coryell's guitar, which both peaked on CMJ charts. Leslie's performance resume includes clubs, festivals, sporting events, as described in this interview, & even singing backing for frontman John Waite of supergroup Bad English.

I discovered Leslie when she sent me her debut EP, It Resembles Fiction, for my album reviews blog. I was instantly hooked & considered it one of the best albums of 2010 for both indie & major label artists. I had the opportunity to see her in some intimate club performances in Manhattan while she promoting the album. We did this hour long interview live on my podcast during these days. The last time we saw each other was a double date with our respective others at a Lower East Side Indian restaurant listening to live sitar & tabla playing. I moved from Manhattan not long after & we lost contact soon after, though not before I had the pleasure of hearing Leslie's second EP. It was a covers album that paired her with Julian Coryell & opened unexpected new musical doors. Posting this blog I looked up her current music efforts & found that her career has continued to grow with more albums & higher profile gigs outside the Tri-State area. That makes me proud to see. Note that the musical direction of her later albums is different than what she foretold in this interview. For how that change came about can be discovered in a short interview we did over e-mail in March 2012 also on this blog.

* * *
AJ: Leslie, welcome to my humble little show.

LESLIE: Thank you. It's not humble at all. I'm humbled to be on it.

AJ: I wanted to open up by talking a little bit about the past. But, before I do, could you share with my audience where they can find your music online?

LESLIE: Sure. The best place, always, is my official website. I'm pretty much everywhere on the social networking sites. I'm where all the cool kids are.

AJ: The problem is it takes up a lot of your time to keep on top of all the sites.

LESLIE: Absolutely.

AJ: You probably spend as much time on social media as you do on the music sometimes. I know from my own experience.

LESLIE: Bad days are the ones where you find that you're spending more time on the computer doing it than actually sitting with your guitar or singing. It wears you down after a while. In the evenings I just refuse even look at the computer.

AJ: These days, Leslie, you're pretty much focusing your whole day on music in some way. In past personal conversations you told me you are focusing on moving you career forward & not worrying about a day job or stuff like that, right?

LESLIE: That was something that I decided at the beginning of this year. I was working bartending, working in restaurants, doing the thing that every musician does, ever since I moved to Manhattan. As much as we lose time draining our energy into social media, which helps our music, we also lose a lot of time working at the restaurants & bars. I realized that I just needed to put as much energy as I could into my music, especially at this time, because things seem to be working out. Opportunities are opening up for me. I wanted to give it a 100% from the beginning of 2011 to the end & see if I can finally get to that point where I'm making my full income based on music. That's the challenge I've given myself this year. I took that opportunity because the restaurant I was working at in Jan. was closed by the Manhattan Transit Authority, as the Mayor is building the 2nd Ave subway & wanted to build an entry to the subway right where my restaurant was. So, I kinda took that bad news as an opportunity to devote myself completely to music & see how far I can get with it.

AJ: A person might even say that maybe it was meant to be.

LESLIE: So, you are one of those! That's the way I like to see it.

AJ: With the direction you're going & with the path you're trying to brave, what's the biggest challenge?

LESLIE: The biggest challenge is kind of what we talked about a minute ago, that is juggling all the balls. Musicians these days have to wear all the hats. I have to be my own manager. I have to be my own publicist. I have to be my own booking agent. Sometimes you just want to sit back & just enjoy being a musician &put a 100% of your energy into that, because that in itself is a career & when you're juggling all these other balls it takes away from where you really want to be putting all your energy into. For me, that's been the challenge so far. That & knowing, you know, which people are there to help you. Which people can give you advice or make some connections for you & what people are just trying to, you know ... claim they are your manager & climb up on stage & grab the microphone & blur some drunken words into it for your show. It's hard to tell sometimes.

AJ: Do you find not being burdened by having to show up for work at a certain time has affected your music?

LESLIE: I think definitely, absolutely. I schedule my own work week now. I say from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. I'm at work, which means maybe I'm in my apt., maybe I'm at the studio, maybe I'm working with people, but it's all devoted to the music, whether it's social networking or actually writing or working on old tunes that I want to finish or just working on the old tunes that I want to bring some new life to. I try to be very diligent about that. It's working out great so far, because I can say in the past couple months I've been writing a lot more than I had been. I definitely went through a dry spell once. It was when <u>It Resembles Fiction<u> came out. It was all about pushing that album. I started getting kind of drained by the fact that I wasn't creating & when you're not creating new things you feel like you're kind of cheating. So, it's been nice to really have a lot of extra time to work on that & not be rushed with it. To be able to actually put a lot of time into each song & see what it can become.

AJ: We're going to talk about that album in a bit, but you have a very interesting background. You have a theater degree & spent many years working in the nautical world, until deciding to stay on land & pursue music. Folks can read your website & find out more about your background, but what I'm curious about is what was your defining moment that made you decide to go to Manhattan & take up the musician's struggle? I don't know if defining moment is the right word.

LESLIE: You're right. I can't say if there was a specific moment, but I do remember where exactly I was when I kinda woke up, stumbled up on deck of the boat I was working on at the time & realized it was time to do my thing in Manhattan & make a go of it. It was when I realized that as much as I loved sailing & as exciting as it was to discover the North & South Pacific the way I've had the opportunity to do, I couldn't ignore the fact that there was something I wanted out of life which couldn't be obtained sailing.  I knew that if I just dedicated myself to sailing & moved to the Pacific Northwest & did that full-time & never went back to the music, I'd always be regretting it. I'd always be thinking about it. I'd always be writing songs & wanting to play them for someone or trying to find people to play with to fill that void that I would be feeling. Whereas, I pictured my life living in Manhattan & pursuing music & the void that I feel not being out on the ocean is sad to me, but it's something I can live with. I have no regret over leaving it, because I have wonderful memories. I do feel like I did that & there was a time for it & that now is the time to do what I believe is my actual calling in life.

AJ: There is definitely something to the idea of pursuing a course which might be risky, but doing it so you will avoid the regret down the road. That can be a major motivational factor. I speak from my own experience of the lots of stuff I do, which has been driven by that exact same feeling. If I don't do it now, will I regret it in 10 years I wonder? So, let me do it & if it fails or if it doesn't, maybe it will go in a direction I have no clue of now & I can't predict, but at least I tried.

LESLIE: You need to be able to look back & know that you tried & that you gave it everything you had.

AJ: Your album is It Resembles Fiction. Will you please explain the title to me?

LESLIE: The songs that I write are personal stories. They all began from something that I either experienced or witnessed. I was on one side of the relationship or the other. With everything that I write there's an essence of fiction to it on a certain level. My writing process, I don't know if it's different or similar to other musicians, but I write from a place where I've experienced something. I want to put music to it & it almost helps me a little bit to get over that 1st hurdle by finding a story that is similar to it that is someone else's that I can relate to. Writing about that breaks through that barrier & I can start really throwing myself into it & then bring it back to my own situation. So, It Resembles Fiction is just the fact that these songs are stories that are true with a little a little exaggeration. A little bit of fiction thrown in there to make it a little more interesting. It also is meant to describe the fact that some of the songs are about stories that are so ridiculous that one would think they would be fiction.

AJ: Is there a particular song on the album that is so obviously crazy that it does seem like fiction?

LESLIE: Well, there's one ... no, all of them! I don't know, but probably the song "Back To Me" is kinda absurd in the fact that it is about a relationship that I was part of where, you know, you're completely devoted to a person. It's that person, who everyone has had, that just comes & tells you that you are the one & they love you so much that they can't live without you. Then, the 2nd you fall for it & let them in they just disappear & run off. It's pretty absurd that I was stuck in that for about 5 yrs & didn't snap out of it until I wrote this song. It's something I think everyone can relate to. That person who keeps coming back & keeps coming back & its about the strength you find in that one moment where you realize 'fine, go do your thing, go sleep with everybody in town, but we both know you are coming back.' It's about empowering yourself with that knowledge.

AJ: Its so absurd it feels like fiction.

LESLIE: Yes.

AJ: Leslie, let me confess, that the 1st time I heard you perform live in concert I had my typical audacity to actually suggest a song for your repertoire.

LESLIE: Yes, you did.

AJ: What I heard was a 30-45 minute little show. You ended with "Jolene" & I suggested afterwards that you do an additional country song in your set, which one is trivial, because I heard something in your voice that could be expressed via country music in a very good way.

LESLIE: Are you speaking of "Fancy" by Reba McIntyre?

AJ: The name of the song your mother couldn't remember & neither could I the last time I saw you.

LESLIE: You're right, she couldn't.

AJ: But, I think your song "Back To Me" actually somewhat shows what I heard & was hearing. You have this part of your voice that has a little bit of a country feel or it lends itself to the country genre, even though this isn't country music that you do. It's a little rock, a little bluesy. Is the sound on It Resembles Fiction something you had in your head or was it organically created?

LESLIE: My background is pretty diverse, to be honest. But, when I started really pouring myself into creating music & singing songs that I was passionate about I was living in Texas at the time & I was listening to a lot of alt-country, UNCLE TUPELO, WILCO. OLD 97'S. Those were the bands that were breaking me out of my classical training & into writing & creating & performing music that was inspiring me. So, I think I definitely got a little bit influenced vocally by those styles of music, but I've never wanted to fully invest myself into country music, even though there's a lot of country music I do love. It never felt like the right fit, because I was so ingrained in the rock & the blues that I had absorbed throughout the early stages of my life. So, I'm really trying to create a nice fusion between the 2. I don't want anyone to say to me 'Wow, you're a great country singer.' To me that that doesn't feel like what I want to be doing & I don't want anyone to say 'You're a great rock singer,' either, because that doesn't feel right. I feel very passionate about fusing the 2 together with a little bit of blues & that's where I feel comfortable singing. Those are the things I've been singing along with my whole life & that's what I was hoping to accomplish with It Resembles Fiction. My greatest joy was that in the end I really did feel as though I captured every element of every genre that I wanted to without making it feel scattered & unrelatable.

AJ:  In creating the album you had a particular person you were working with who's really put a stamp on this album as a producer, co-songwriter & guitarist. Will you share with me a little bit about Mr. Ellis Traver, who has also worked with Mick Ronson & Sean Lennon.

LESLIE: He's a wonderful gentleman. I'm glad you asked.

AJ: I've met him, too. He is.

LESLIE: He's a wonderful person who I am so grateful to have met. I met him years ago, actually. It was when I had 1st moved to NYC. I had gone on a couple of sailing excursions that were distracting me from the music, but I knew it was something I needed to start planting some roots in. When I 1st got to the city I really didn't have any confidence in starting a rock band or starting with my own music that I had created. I had never done that before. I was always a part of someone else's rock band & was just the front man or woman. So, that's what I wanted to do when I moved to the city. I thought the best way to do that was to create demo of me just singing covers of the type of music that I wanted to perform. I went online. I was looking for a studio. It was around the holiday time & a bunch of them were offering some specials. There are a number of producers that I started emailing with, but Ellis, in particular, had really well punctuated grammatically correct emails that really spoke to me. There was something about his emails that stuck out & I was very excited to go see his studio. When I got there & met him I listened to some of the stuff he'd been doing & just got a really good feeling about it. I liked what was going on there. What I didn't know was that it was an apt/studio that all of my future band members were living in at the time. I think there was just something in the air & I just felt very creative in that space. Working on that demo with him we were just doing 4 covers & I just wanted it to be an acoustic guitar & my voice. I just wanted something simple. I was on a very limited budget. He, being the musical phenomenal genius that he is, just kept saying 'You know, how this would sound really good if it had some drums. I've got a drummer upstairs. You know what you need? You need some bass. Let me get someone to put some bass down. Let's throw some violins on here.' The next thing I knew I was sitting in a room with the people who would eventually be helping me create It Resembles Fiction & performing with me on stage. The demo just came out so well that I'd already out grown it by the time we were done. As I picked up my master copy of the disc Ellis mentioned 'Why aren't you creating your own music? Why did we spend all this time doing covers?' I told him I didn't know how to write songs. I'd never done it before. He just suggested we sit down on Mon nights. We'd split a 6 pack of beer & he would look at the stuff that I was writing secretly, under the covers. It was absolutely terrifying to hand like a journal over to somebody for the 1st time. I mean, like here's what I think could be songs. Please don't judge me. He was great about showing me what worked, what didn't, what basic structure formulas are &, you know, how to pay attention to this or that. Basic songwriting 101 that I never got because I was a theater major. It was those little things that you start thinking about that completely change your writing & all of the sudden stories can come together & really become something more powerful, because you're thinking of joining them with music, which makes them that much more impactful. That's where we began & we just stayed in touch with each other. He went out on tour with Sean Lennon. He was out doing a lot of stuff & I was still sailing & pretending that was what I really wanted to do with my life. Once I got back to the city after that final trip I heard from him. Not not much longer after I got back. He just kinda said 'Hey, I've got a free weekend. Do you want to come in & lay some stuff down? Have you been working on anything?' I didn't want to lose that opportunity, even though I really only had like 4 or 5 songs that were actually done. So, I just went in & said, 'Alright, let's pick a couple & let's let's work on them & record it. I would love to get some things down.' The next thing I know it's locked into his studio for 3 days with the band & we just plugged away. We did those 1st 4 songs that I actually had in the 1st day. He'd ask 'What do you got?' I'd sing a melody line that was in my head & then we'd start jamming on it together, formulating a whole song & just laid it down. Next thing I knew I had 15 songs to choose from for my EP.

AJ: There's only 5 on the EP.

LESLIE: 5 of my favorites.

AJ: There's 10 more out there in the mist.

LESLIE: You've heard at least one of those.

AJ: You got together with this group of people. You recorded an album together. How long after recording the album did it take before you turned to them & asked if they wanted to join you on stage? Was that even a consideration when you were doing the album? Did you think this would also become your live band?

LESLIE: That's a great question, because it wasn't. It was a little bit of an odd situation, so I thought, because these people are just phenomenal musicians who play in a million other bands & are constantly touring & working. I always knew them as like my dream band that would never actually be mine. People I could get into the studio & record with when they were available, but I had many other musicians who I was performing with. I was in a band I was singing back-up for. While I was writing these songs & fleshing them out & until the time we were done recording I was asking them to be my backing band whenever I booked shows on my own. They were busy as well, so I started to put together my own group. They were also fantastic musicians, but there's something about the chemistry that happens between me & the band that I play with now that I was always missing & wishing I had on stage with me. I finally just turned to Ellis one day after one of my shows & I said 'Can you guys be my band?'  I was a little drunk. He was like 'We'll talk about it, we'll talk about it.' The next thing I knew these people were actually interested in playing with me, as long as I booked shows that work for all of us. The 1st thing I do when I get offered a show is text everybody & see if they're available. If 70% of them are, then we do it & it's fantastic. I've never been happier than this past year & a half playing with them.

AJ: What's the future hold for those 10 missing songs? After all this work, will you be sharing them with us?

LESLIE: A lot of them make appearances at shows. Most are finished. I think there were like 2 or 3 that we just tossed away, that just weren't really working for us. Just seemed like they were a part of a different project in the overall essence of how they sounded. We put those away & focused on what was remaining. Finished most of them, but they just need to be mastered or a little more mixing. One of them needs a little more instrumentation. They are things that we play live almost all the time & they're definitely songs that I'll be considering for my next EP.

AJ: You sent one of those songs to me in an e-mail, "Can't Change It Now", with a little note that said it was one of your favorites, if not the favorite.

LESLIE: I did say that.

AJ: What is in that message to me?

LESLIE: I wanted you to hear more. I remember in your review of It Resembles Fiction that you wanted to hear more & that 5 songs was too short. It is one of my favorites because I think it truly blends a little bit more of the country side that I was think I was a little bit too afraid to show when we 1st started writing the EP. I mean, I'm in the Manhattan music scene now, but if I had stayed in Texas that song would have gone over great. I was a little hesitant to let people hear that, because I felt a little bit of pressure in the beginning when I was younger to fit into this indie rock scene that is so prominent here. Not a lot of people want to go to the country side with me. As I kept performing people were very responsive to the song. People kept saying that they loved it, not because they love country music, but because they loved what was coming out of me when I was performing it. It's because I think what is coming out of me is a little bit of my home in music. It's the music that truly inspired me & got me creating & I think that comes out in it.

AJ: I should clarify, when I did the review last year I did put that it was too short. There's a lot of albums that I listen to that you get beyond the 1st few songs & then you're just watching the clock waiting for it to end. The musicians think what they are doing is great, but shorter can sometimes be better, in terms of you're not surprised by what you're hearing & everything on the album sounds alike. Then other times, as in your case, you hear an album that is incredibly strong & you want more. You feel like you've been left hungry & so much more could be said or served. You don't want the journey to end. I felt like with your album that we were on a date & I didn't want it to end. But, why did you release an EP & not a full-length album? You obviously have enough songs.

LESLIE: There was a lot of factors that played into the decision to release an EP. It was  a big decision. We went back & forth about a million times. It just got to the point where we'd been working on it long enough. It  needed to come out. It was time. We just kinda said, 'Hey, let's throw something out there. Let's look at the big picture. If we throw out a full-length album right now we can continue writing obviously & keep creating & push this album as far as we can go. But, if our intention is to hopefully get some recognition from some investors or a label or what have you, it's probably better to release 5 songs, get some interest, & say, 'Hey, if you want to invest in me, I've got 10 more in the can that we can get out right away & I'm writing more.'' It just seemed business-wise to be the right course of action. I definitely made the final decision, but, you know, I kind of let the people who had done this before & knew what they were doing advise me & I rolled along with that. I'm not upset about it, because I think I didn't pigeonhole myself anywhere that I can't escape from. I feel very free to bring out another EP or full-length. We haven't decided which it will be yet & I can really not feel limited in where I can take it musically, because I didn't release an album that specifically defined as a genre what I'm doing. I still feel very free to keep investigating where we're going musically.

AJ: With your background with a classical training & being a back-up singer & you've done different things in different parts of the country, when you got It Resembles Fiction done was there any hesitancy to share it with your friends or your family & go, 'Okay, you've been listening to me all these years, but this is the result ...' Did you ever have that fear?

LESLIE: I definitely never felt hesitancy in it. I definitely was just like overwhelmed with the urge to get it out there, because I feel like I did have so many people supporting me along the way, who were so invested in me whether they be friends or family or even the bands that I was singing with & providing backup vocals for. All of them were kept asking when they were going to hear my stuff. When were they going to get to hear what I'd been creating? It was probably the most exciting thing to finally have that CD release party & show everyone what it was that I've been working on & what it was that I had in me all this time. I just needed time to get it out & I wanted it to be perfect. I didn't want to start playing lots of little shows where I'm like figuring it out along the way. Even though I did, I didn't really publicize them too much, because I just wanted to get that experience under my belt & have a really polished finish fantastic product for all these people who'd been waiting perfect.

AJ: Now you have gotten recognition, both personally & the album itself. Would you mind sharing some of the interesting gigs you've had? I'm thinking in fields with audiences around you in bleachers. You know what I mean?

LESLIE: Surrounded by sweaty athletes.

AJ: Something like that.

LESLIE: It was a fantastic year. It was very exciting. I let the album release on March 4th in NYC. We did a release party at Arlene's Grocery. There was a woman there who was affiliated with the Atlanta Braves. She approached me after the show & said, 'I love what you're doing. This is so fantastic. You've got to come down to Atlanta & sing the "National Anthem" for the Braves.' After I fell down & got back up I, of course, agreed. She wanted to fly the whole band down & get some shows for us. That's really where it started. Before we even got down to Atlanta to perform at the Braves game she called me again after setting it up & said, 'You know, I've been working on some things & about a week or so after you come down to Atlanta we're going to be in NY playing the Mets, so you should just sing it again at Citi Field. That's when I actually went unconscious for about 5 minutes. Finally woke up & accepted that offer. So, it was a great summer. That's where it started. We went down to Atlanta & I sung the "National Anthem" for the 1st time since I was in high school. It's a difficult song. It's got a little over an octave in there. But, there's no greater honor for a singer than to be asked to sing that at a sporting event & there's nothing cooler than standing in the middle of an empty baseball field doing a soundcheck with those acoustics. I did try to steal the Atlanta Braves microphone, but I was caught. It was very fun & then we came up to NY & did it again. We had a big wrap-up party. Things got quiet for a couple weeks. I was just sorta resting from my 1st tour, quote/unquote, & I got a call from the NY Rangers asking me to perform the "Anthem" at Madison Square Garden. I guess they had seen the youtube videos from the baseball games. That was just hugely amazing. Before I even got to Madison Square Garden to perform I got an e-mail from the NY Red Bulls asking me to come sing for them. I had to actually look at my boyfriend asking who the NY Red Bulls were, because I don't know anything about soccer. I didn't know we had a soccer team. So, it just kind of all happened in waves & it was fantastic. It kind of, you know, brought me a little bit to the next level. It was a great stepping stone for me. To get my name out there. Get a lot of experience singing at arenas like this, which there's no way to prepare for it other than to just go out there & do it. It was just a great great time.

AJ: Now I have to ask, because I'm probably not going to have this opportunity again with someone. You're singing in Madison Square Garden the "National Anthem." Now, you know as well as I do, we all like to watch people sing this & mess up. But, tell me, what is it really like in that moment, in that venue, singing this song that's really difficult? We sit at home teasing folks, but give us the insider's view.

LESLIE: I enjoy watching people mess it up too. because it gives you that validation of like 'I didn't mess up, but Christina Aguilera did. I'm just as good as her.' But, the reality is, it's a very very stressful situation. It's a very very stressful thing to do. The acoustics, the electronics, the rushing, the crowd ... What I learned from performing in one baseball stadium was 120 degrees to another baseball stadium in the north to Madison Square Garden with ice on the ground to a soccer arena that's completely enclosed. Every stadium is different. No matter how many times or if you're a famous star & have done it, it's always going to be different. You can't prepare for it. Sometimes it gets the best of you & you're going to mess up. The thing that separates the people that can be successful from the people who can't, is your ability to run with anything that pops up at you. Christina Aguilera messed up some lines, but most people didn't notice because she just kept going & didn't acknowledge it & didn't let it get her down. That's really what you've got to do. When I sang at Madison Square Garden I actually ... I have a little digital recorder I keep in my pocket that has my starting note, because you get so nervous backstage you can't keep that note in your head for too long, so I always have it there just in case. At this point I had done this 3 times. I was feeling pretty good. I was having a good time, joking with the guy that was escorting me cause it was his 1st day on the job. I was about ready to go out & I just figured I had it. I had the note in my head & didn't worry about it. I went out & started in the wrong key. But, you just got to roll with it & realize you can sing it in that key, too, ain't no problem. Most people didn't notice, even my boyfriend who had been there for every single other performance had no idea. You just have to be able to jump over the challenges that get thrown at you.

AJ: Let's talk about your home life, for a minute, because you mentioned your boyfriend. You live with a fellow musician, John-Paul Baker, who is a drummer in a heavy metal band here in NYC, a complete contrast to what you do. Does living with him & being in a relationship with a musician of a different style effect your music any?

LESLIE: I think because of the particular situation that we are in it actually benefits my music hugely. I'll say that for a couple of reasons. Number one, I've had my fair share of relationships with musicians. My album is about 5 of them. It doesn't usually work out. It's a tricky situation. In fact, I guess it was probably a year before I met John-Paul I had totally sworn them off altogether. The 2nd, I would meet a guy & I was interested in him & he would say, 'Yeah, I play guitar,'  it would be like, 'Nope, sorry, I'm out here. I gotta go.' It just doesn't usually work, but I'd never tried a drummer before & I think the difference is that I'm a singer & he's a drummer & there are no 2 elements of a band that are more different. The drummer is the rhythm section, the anchor of the band. He's driving the boat & keeping it on course & it's a very reliable & steady individual that has to fill that role. You know I'm not dealing with the frontman & all the drama & the narcissism that I was before. I think the other key element to it is that we are in completely different genres. Our bands are not even remotely similar. We're not competing for the same gigs. We're not competing for the same fans. It's almost as if we have 2 totally different professions, but we can totally support each other because we are both musicians. We both know what we're going through & we can advise each other & help each other & just be there & understand what the other person is going through. I think we have found that unique combination of 2 musicians that actually can work together.

AJ:  We're getting near the end of our time together, Leslie, but I wanted to mention the fact you have licensed a track to an indie film.

LESLIE: I licensed to Pocket Full Of Gold, an indie film out in L.A., a Scatter Brothers & Wolf In The Grave Production. It was 'Can't Change It Now' which we talked about. I had met the director & co-writer Jeff Prugh when I was out there a couple years ago visiting my brother. We just crossed paths & he mentioned he was a filmmaker & I mentioned I was a musician. I heard from him about a year later asking if I had anything that he could listen to for his new movie. This was right before It Resembles Fiction was finished. I sent him all the songs on the album, which were done & just needed to be mastered. I also made the mistake of sending 3 of the songs that weren't finished that aren't on the album. The whole time I was thinking that no way would he be interested in any of the unfinished songs. He's going to love the ones that are done because they sound so good. He wrote back & said it had to be "Can't Change It Now." He said he loved it & it was perfect, to which I replied, 'Did you notice that there's no chorus? Did you notice I'm not finished writing it & I have no idea what the song is about?' I was very upset that he had chosen that song, because I was at a point with it that I knew what it was about, I knew where it was going, but I just could not write a chorus to save my life. I just couldn't really get there. I was getting really frustrated with it, so I'd thrown it out & didn't want it to be a part of anything. But, him choosing it was great, because all of a sudden I had a deadline. I had to finish it. I had no choice if I didn't want to lose this opportunity. I just finally found an afternoon where inspiration struck & I was finally able to write that chorus that I'd been trying to figure out for like 6 months. It was great. The movie did pretty well on the indie film circuits. It won some awards.

AJ: Leslie, as we approach our last few minutes is there anything you want to share that we haven't?

LESLIE: If anyone should come to my next shows we're doing something different. On my album a lot of the songs were created right there in the studio with tape rolling. For this next album I'm taking a different approach. I've written the songs, though I'm still writing more, & I want to know what it is like to play them for a year & find out what they become when they are heard by an audience for awhile. That's what we're doing now.



March 24, 2018

"Heavy Metal For A Real Metalhead Is A Way Of Life" An Interview With MIKE "THE BIG CHEESE" CATRICOLA

Click here to visit official page of the Heavy Metal Mayhem podcast.
Click here to listen to the Heavy Metal Mayhem podcast.

September 2011 (live broadcast, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #29)

In 2008 Mike "The Big Cheese" Catricola started broadcasting out of NYC the Heavy Metal Mayhem podcast, via hosting site blogtalkradio, featuring music & interviews with an array of rock & heavy metal musicians from across the spectrum. Continuing to the present with 2 shows a week & available permanently online, the show can claim longevity that many podcasts never reach. It can also claim a list of guests most interview shows can be jealous of, while listeners are never disappointed - ranging from new bands to classic rockers like John Mikl Thor, from indie to household names, to leaders of the genre like David Ellefson, Rob Halford & Chuck Billy. Heavy Metal Mayhem, with Mike's cool but edgy NY attitude, is the epitome of heavy metal podcasts & a template of how to do it. It serves as publicity for the musicians & their current efforts & is a time to recall past glories, but even more so is a tribute & thank you from a lifelong fan of the music. When he was younger Mike played bass with numerous punk bands, such Stillborn, thus he is also a musician with insight & understanding of the music beyond just being a listener.

During the few years that I was doing weekly music podcasts I paid as much attention to other podcasters as I did musicians on the scene. I wanted to know what others were doing so I could find my niche. Putting together a podcast or radio show is no casual matter, but it is rare when one finds an interview with someone whose not on stage & can talk about the efforts behind the production. A podcaster interviewing an array of musicians over a decade likely has as much if not more to say than a band that has only existed for a year, but folks want to hear from the band. I thought it would be interesting to share behind the scenes & share the person who is sharing the music, so I asked Mike to join me for an hour in what might have been his only interview as a podcaster. I had been following Mike's show & we had struck up a connection that included sharing thoughts & advice & getting me an interview with the late John Wetton of Asia, which I cherish as a fond memory. Though, as I was told by a musician afterwards, it was less like an interview & more like a conversation between 2 people in the same field of work.

* * * *

AJ: Mike, thank for being here with me.

MIKE: Aaron, thank you for having me here. Your introduction was so incredible I don't even know how to follow it up. I actually impress myself. Thank you very much. Congratulations to you on your one year anniversary of your show.

AJ: I think you know how hard it is to do a show, so that means a lot coming from you. You know, when you're starting something that 1st year it's like it could live or die & so many things die. It's a big deal for me.

MIKE: Exactly. You put on a great show. Your interviews are always so top-notch. I mean, you had a whole bunch of shows celebrating your year anniversary & that Sophie B. Hawkins interview. After hearing that I said I can't do anybody anymore, because it was such a great interview & it was so personal. It was beyond like a question-answer type thing. You just blew me out of the water with that one.

AJ: Well, it wasn't deliberate, Mike, you know how these things go.

MIKE: I know.

AJ: You don't plan this stuff. It just happens. You know, the show started & I didn't know she had a breakdown, just that she wasn't calling in. Then there's a phone call coming through 30 minutes in & when the 1st words out of her mouth were suicide you either go with your interviewee or you work against them. Sometimes the mood isn't right for a 20 questions thing, you know. But, please don't stop interviewing, Mike, as you're getting the folks I'll never reach & I'm listening to your show.

MIKE: It's a lot of work. Like you said, people don't realize how much work goes into putting on a show. You know, like researching the artist, especially the people that you're not familiar with or you really haven't heard a lot of their music over the years. Just putting the whole program together is such a chore, but it's an enjoyable one, but it is a lot of work. I know exactly how hard you work on your show.

AJ: You can tell by my questions I do research & I listen to the musicians before they come on. But, you have 2 shows you do. You're actually playing music on the Thursday Metal Matinee. You're playing stuff where you've actually had to dig into your collection & think of stuff, which is a whole other challenge.

MIKE: I have been a fan of hard rock & heavy metal since the 1970's, so I still have all my vinyl collection & demo tapes & cassettes & 8 tracks & CDs & now mp3s. I was just thinking there was a lot of shows out there, but no one was playing the stuff that really didn't make it. Like if you go back to the 1980's you have JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, Ozzy, all those big bands. Everybody plays them. Nobody plays those other bands that kept the scene alive & going & just didn't make it or don't have that kind of fan base that the bigger bands had. I thought it would be a good idea to focus on those bands & that's what I've been doing.

AJ: I know also a lot of what you do, Mike, is you look at bands that for a lot of people are one hit wonders, but they're one hit with like 20 albums. There's one episode I remember of ACCEPT. Everyone thinks of ACCEPT as "Balls To The Wall", but they've done how many albums? Or the SCORPIONS, "Rock You Like A Hurricane," but look at all the stuff they've done. You do those great episodes where you talk about a whole band for a little while & you really expose people to more than the MTV hit.

MIKE: Exactly. Those are the timeline shows & I try to play something off every album or at least as many albums as I can fit into the one hour format of the show. It gives people a sample of like the earlier stuff, because, like you said, people know ACCEPT. They know "Balls To The Walls." They don't know their 1st record or 2nd record or some of the ones that came after metal kinda fell out of favor in the '90s. It's a great way of just sampling a band's whole career & then going back & maybe buying those albums.

AJ: That's so important, because those musicians are still out there making money. What I did see the other day in an interview with Lou Reed? He said something like 'it's funny being alive, yet all your albums are out of print.'

MIKE: That's so true.

AJ: So, it's hard for folks to discover your old music.

MIKE: That's true & that has a lot to do with the record industry today. It's in really bad shape. It's kinda an upheaval of chaos. People, like the next generation younger than us, they'll never have an opportunity to hear these songs or these records if they're not re-released, so that's kind of a shame.

AJ: This is the way it goes & now with record stores cutting back on stock you can't just flip through the racks & have the world at your fingertips. There's few places to go. I miss Virgin Records & Tower Records. Those were like an oasis.

MIKE: They were great. I miss them, too. Especially Tower Records. I remember going there in the early '80's. That was like one of the only places you could get like import records back then that were hard to find from Japan & overseas. I remember the first record I brought in Tower Records was QUIET RIOT's 1st record that was only released in Japan. I think I paid like $24.99 for it & this is back in like 1981. That was a lot of money for a teenage kid to spend on an album. I do miss those days of going to the record stores. There's no experience like that. You can't get that on the internet.

AJ: No, not in the least. You've been listening to metal since you were a kid. What makes metal so special?

MIKE: I guess maybe because it was the 1st music ... I grew up in a house where my parents played rock'n'roll, do-wop, '50's & '60's music. As a kid, you know, you always want to find your own niche. I had cousins & neighbors who were older than me who were always playing KISS. I think that was probably the 1st band a lot of people people got into back in the '70's. I don't know, there's just something about the music. The power, the intensity, it's just rock'n'roll. It's there for you.

AJ: I know you're not a musician today, but did you ever get into playing anything?

MIKE: Oh yeah, when I was a kid I was in a band called STILLBORN. We were like a hardcore punk band, only because I wasn't good enough to play heavy metal. Hardcore punk back then was a lot of noise, so it was easier. I played bass. We played for about 5 years from '84 to '89. We played at CBGB'S. Actually, a record company put out an album for my band last year. They took all our old demo tapes, remastered them, & they released an album last year called Answers Left Unquestioned.

AJ: Wow, I have to look that up.

MIKE: I'll send a copy. I've got about 400 cases at the house.

AJ: Please do.

MIKE: You can use it as coasters, anything you want.

AJ: Well, you know, the living room table is sagging. I need to put something underneath.

MIKE: This is perfect for wedging it up. Don't worry.

AJ: Okay, Heavy Metal Mayhem is now 3 or 4 years? I just know its over 200 episodes.

MIKE: It'll be 3 years in 2 weeks. We'll have a 3 year anniversary show. There's about 300 episodes.

AJ: That's amazing, man. You do 2 week. You do take holidays, but that's like 2-3 hours a week you're on the air?

MIKE: 3 hours. The Metal Matinee on Thursdays. An hour long theme show. The Sunday night show is 2 hours because that's the maximum I could do. That's just music & mostly interviews.

AJ: How do you do it? Where do you find the time & the prep time to create the show?

MIKE: I tell you, it takes a lot of time away from my wife & she's not happy about that.

AJ: You have that problem, too?

MIKE: You get that little voice in your ear, "You're on the computer again?" I'm lucky that I have a job that I work nights at, so it gives me a lot of time to prep & prepare. It is really consuming. I mean, there's planning out a playlist. Then when you do interviews, you know ... a lot of times with the artist, I'm familiar with a lot of them, so I don't really have to prepare too much, but then you have some bands that are new. You've got to look a lot of stuff up. It does take a lot of time. It really does. You know that.

AJ: I don't think people know that. I didn't know that when I started doing this. Then I started talking to bigger people, like my big interview with Graham Bonnet who's got a 30 year career. 1I don't want to ask the same questions. I can't say how many hours I spent listening to other interviews doing research to try to do something different. I don't think anyone realizes just how much time you & I & others like us put into this thing. We work as much as any musician.

MIKE: It's true. There's a lot of time that goes into this, especially if you care about what you do. You just don't want to throw something together. Like you said. asking honest questions. It's really hard to be different, because everybody's asking the same questions over & over again. You try to find something different & it's not so easy. You manage to do it all the time, which I'm really impressed by. You never go to same direction with your interviews.

AJ: Thanks, man.

MIKE: That really impresses me. I wish I could do that.

AJ: You know what it is, Mike? Every episode, every hour, I'm standing on a pier just about ready to jump into the ocean. I'm waiting for someone to push me into the ocean & I don't know if I'm going to sink or swim,

MIKE: Oh god, I know that feeling.

AJ: I'm not reading a script to you right now. We didn't plan this.

MIKE: Nope.

AJ: We haven't talked before outside of e-mail. I never know what's going to happen. I literally freak out every time I have a show. I don't know about you. But, then, if I'm talking to someone who I really like, like Sophie or Graham, I've got goosebumps at the same time & I'm worried I'm going to go forget how to talk.

MIKE: Yeah, that happens. You're right. I know exactly how you feel. It's funny when you talk to someone else who does the same thing you do, because we both have the same train of thought. We both know where it's going.

AJ: You know then, the other thing is, you don't just not know where it's going, but you don't know how your'e going to click with the person. As you mentioned, the interview with Sophie was like a highlight for me & we just clicked, but I've had other interviews where I've talked to some great folks but if we didn't click in the same way. I know you've had them & there are musicians out there who are a little bit known for being a little rough in interviews. So, how are you going to relate to someone when you're spending an hour with them. That's a long time not to click with someone. So, you're literally ready to jump into the ocean.

MIKE: Oh, I know, I know. Like you were saying about getting nervous ... I've had a 178 interviews, but a few of those guests I've interviewed a couple of times so it's over 200. The only time I was nervous was the first one I ever did, because I don't want to run out of things to ask & when I interviewed Rob Halford. That was probably the only 2 times I got nervous. I know exactly what you're saying about clicking, because I've had interviews where I felt like I was extracting teeth to get an answer out of somebody. It was funny, because a lot of those people have been around a long time, they're well-known & they've done hundreds of interviews, so you think they would be a little better at it. Some of them aren't. Then you get some young people that come on & they're just like full of life. They just go for it. Those are the great ones, because you don't feel like you have to keep pulling things out of them. They're right in there.

AJ: Have you ever had someone you've spoken to who, like maybe you were expecting something in the interview or maybe you weren't, but they just blew you away. They just started talking. They just gave you like a volcano & you didn't expect it was going to be like that?

MIKE: Frankie Banali from QUIET RIOT was like that & Craig Gruber, the original bass player from RAINBOW & ELF, those are some interviews that were like that. They just went off like on a lot of things & they mentioned a lot of personal stuff. With groups like that I know a lot of stuff about them that people might have forgotten, so they kind of get like impressed that I can recall that stuff. I couldn't tell you what I did an hour ago, but I can tell you stuff that happen with a band 25 years ago. I think that kinda puts them at ease. They don't hear me ask like the regular questions that most people would ask.

AJ: I don't know about you. but I find a lot of times when you can tell the musicians something about their career that shows you've done more than read their Wikipedia page it's like they're impressed by that. It's like they kind of respond a little better.

MIKE: That's what a lot of people do. They go right to it & they don't know the stuff they are finding in there is wrong. I remember I interviewed somebody I knew nothing about. I look some stuff up on them. I mentioned it & he goes, "That wasn't me. I was never in that band." I felt like an idiot after that. You got to stick to your guns & just go with your heart. It can take you in any direction these interviews. You've just got to be able to go with it.

AJ: You don't have to mention names, Mike. We don't have to accuse anyone of doing something bad, but have you had any difficult guests?

MIKE: Tony Harnell. I don't care about mentioning names.

AJ: Oh well.

MIKE: The original singer from TNT. He was a difficult interview. I couldn't get much out of him. He felt like he was doing me a favor by being on the show. I don't know. It was a very uncomfortable interview. He felt like he didn't want to be here & it was a bother to him. That's something I just don't get in to. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. This is part of the job, in a way, for these guys. He was the only interview I did where it really left a sour taste in my mouth.

AJ; Well, he lives abroad so I doubt he'll hear this. But, he may know it already.

MIKE: Even if he did, I wouldn't care. I'm always polite to every guest on the show. I never say anything bad about them on the show, even after they're on the show, but that was one of those interviews that didn't go well.

AJ: You & I have talked in the past about interviews where the person doesn't show up. How do you deal with folks who don't show up? You're waiting for the phone call & you're waiting for the phone call & you're waiting & you've got to do some back-up plan.

MIKE: That's rough. We have a book on my show everybody goes into. If they don't show up & they don't call me the next day with a good excuse they go right into my book. It's like the 10 Commandments. The bands, their names are stricken from the obelisk of heavy metal & they have nothing to do me anymore. It is bad, because I can understand if there's an emergency. Stuff does happen. It happens to everybody. As long as they call to explain the next day that something happened, I'm okay with it. But, not to call in because you were busy with something else or you forgot, I don't go for that. When you're on air your listeners tune in to hear a certain artist & they are looking forward to it. They don't blame the artist for not coming on the show. They blame you. I set it up, but if they don't call I can't help it. You kinda just gotta wing it. I'm lucky that my friend Tommy calls in every week so I can have someone I can bounce off of & keep things going, so we're never really without anything. I always have something in the can I can always play if I have to. But, it is a hard thing. I know it happened to you not long ago & you were really upset about it.

AJ: It happened a couple times. We were talking about that, because you'd told me that, 'I had that happen to me for one person & I didn't say any bad things about them. Come to find out they had something like their father died. Then someone else I did criticize because they blew me off.' Because, I was trying to figure out how to respond. Do I shit on the person knowing they fucked up & they quite deliberately fucked up, or do I bite my tongue thinking they can fix this & do a second interview, even though I'd lost my interest.

MIKE: I did the same thing too. The first time it happened I went crazy on the air & then the next day I found out somebody passed away & I felt horrible. Now I wait. If they don't call then the next week we just go off on them. It's terrible, because it puts you on the spot, especially like when you prepare. You spend hours preparing for this interview sometimes & then they just stand you up. It doesn't feel good.

AJ: I've been stood up 3 & Sophie called late, but she had a very good excuse as her truck broke down. All 3 times if you would asked like a week before if that was going to happen, you know what, I would have said 'I think something's going to happen on my show this week.' All 3 times I literally knew something was going to happen & it did. 2 of the times I actually had a backup episode planned & the 3rd time I just let the feeling go & I didn't. It's just weird how that's been. What do you do for back-up, Mike? Do you have back-up episodes ready to go?

MIKE: No, there's no back-up. Everything is live on the show. 90% of the interviews are done live. A few of them get pre-recorded because guests are in many different parts of the world & we can't do it time-wise. I just have to wing it. Because I play a lot of music on the show it's easy to fill up those 15-20 minutes with 3 or 4 songs or I've got my friend Tommy who I can talk to about different things. It's not that difficult for me, outside of just disappointing the fans who tuned in to hear that artist. You can always fill in the time, You, you're in a different with your hour long interviews & not playing music. You focus on interviews, so you're stuck without them.

AJ: I'm in quicksand.

MIKE: You can always call me.

AJ: Now you tell me. Next time I'm screwed I'm going to call you & you better pick up, even if you're at work or sleeping on the sofa.

MIKE: I'll pick up. I'll be your back-up plan.

AJ: Okay. I've got a comment coming in on the chat board. "I love the book," says our mutual friend Ken Pierce of the Piercing Metal blog.

MIKE: He's talking about the banned book for the artists that don't call in.

AJ: Mike, tell me about your co-host Tommy.

MIKE: Tommy has been a friend of mine for probably close to 30 yrs. As teenagers we met. He was actually a couple years older than me. Tommy was a guitar player in a great heavy metal band from Brooklyn called TEMPEST & I met him at a concert his band was playing out in Brooklyn. We've been friends ever since then. Tommy was actually the one who came across our hosting site Blogtalkradio about 3 yrs ago & he started a podcast called Metalheads United. He did an episode or 2 & then he stopped doing them. I asked if he minded if I changed the name, pick it up & carry on with it. I can never figure out why he wanted to stop doing it, but after doing one myself I realized why. Its a lot of work & he just didn't have the time. So, that's how it goes. Tommy hangs out with me every week & we have a good time, you know.

AJ: 2 guys just talking about metal.

MIKE: Yeah, that's all.

AJ: Bullshitting about metal.

MIKE: Yeah, that's it. We have a good time & I'm glad that he hangs out with me every week because it makes it a lot more fun.

AJ: It's easier, too, I know. You actually just answered what I wanted to also ask. How did your show gets started. Tommy created the initiative.

MIKE: He started it with his show & then when he didn't want to continue with it I changed the name. I remember I did 2 or 2 like half hour practice shows getting used to the equipment & everything, because I'm not very good with computers. Then like after 3 episodes I became so bored. I just was playing music & talking & nobody was listening. I thought I'd do a theme show. It all took off from that show.

AJ: It's funny, Mike, you just hit my next question. It's like you're reading my mind.

MIKE: I've got to stop talking.

AJ: I was going to ask how the show started, what was your vision, & how has it changed? You basically said you started with just the music & kinda grew into the interviews. That's what happened to me. I started doing reviews & then the interviews kinda took off & now I'm basically doing that. I like doing it better & I think the audience likes it better & that attracts more listeners.

MIKE: I agree. I think I think the people love interviews, especially when you get artists people don't really get to hear too often. For me , it was the same way. I started just playing music & it got boring. I decided to do a theme show & I did 6 degrees of METALLICA for the weekday show. Nobody listened, but suddenly I had 21 people listening. All my family is at work, so it wasn't them. I was like so impressed, you know.

AJ: You do more interviews & you get more people & it grows & grows, then look where you are now. 3 yrs later you have this commitment 2 times a week

MIKE: It's amazing how things just snowball. Like one interview leads to another & then another & contacts. I stand back from time to time. I'm like a kid in a candy shop. I get to talk to all these great artists that I listened to growing up. Even though a lot of people might not have heard of them, to me they were big deal because I played their albums growing up as a kid. So, it's just an amazing thing.

AJ: You said earlier, it's good talking to people you know about. It's better to talk to someone who you've been listening to, versus some new band whose name you might have seen in passing. I do the same thing. I talk to the people I know or whose music I like already.

MIKE: That does make it easier. Like the whole first year of the show that's what I did. I looked for all the artists that I liked growing up & I started reaching out to them through any place I could find their info. That's what I did for the whole first year, then as you move along you start making contacts with PR people & record labels & management, you know. Sometimes you have to interview people that's really not what you're into just to kind of get somebody else. That's what happens along the way & I've done a lot of interviews along the way & I don't know who they are.

AJ: Well, you do now!

MIKE: To get Rob Halford from JUDAS PRIEST I had to get 25 other bands that I didn't know. Sometimes you have to do that to get your foot in the door with these people.

AJ: It's alright. You never know what happens. Now, I've done interviews where someone heard my show and I get this email ... actually, it was keyboardist Michael T. Ross who was in Lita Ford's band. I've never heard of Michael T. Ross & he knows that, you know, & he knows he's not a Jordan Rudess household name. But, he sent me an e-mail because he heard the show & wondered if I would be interested. I looked him up & the guy had a great background. Sure. I don't have to know you, because I know who you've been with. 6 degrees of separation. It's good enough for me. Should be good enough for my listeners, you know.

MIKE: Is that like a great feeling when an artist reaches out to you?

AJ: You know what it means? It means someone is recognizing your efforts on some level.

MIKE: Yup.

AJ: It also means they think they can get PR out of you.

MIKE: That's true.

AJ: It is. I mean, he's coming to me because no one knows him. I'm one more PR step for him & there's nothing wrong with that, because that's what you & I do. We share music with the audience. We share people. We share one group of people with another group of people. It's not about you & I. We're just a bridge, you know.

MIKE: You're right.

AJ: But, if someone comes to you it also means that they think your show is good. They think they're going to get something good on your show, too. I don't know about you, but I don't listen to a lot of shows. I listen to you regularly & there's a few others I keep an eye on, but every so often I'll come across one & I like to hear what someone else is doing & how they interview. Some of them are really good & some people out there are really bad. I think the artists do pick up on that. You know, they know where they want to go.

MIKE: You're right about that. I've had so many interviews that afterwards it was like that was horrendous & then you walk with something that was really good, you know. The artists do pick up on it. If you're not able to go back & forth with them & keep a conversation going & bring out all the points they want to hit & get everything that you want to get out of them, it can go south real quick. It's a slippery slope.

AJ: You do a show 2 times a week & have been since the beginning. Why did you give yourself such a big challenge, Mike? Why didn't you start small with a little half hour here or there?

MIKE: That's a good question. In the very beginning I did a show on Sun. with Tommy when he started his program. So when he didn't want to do it anymore, a couple of days later on a Wed. I said let me do a 15 min show. Just to get the feel of it, you know. In the beginning I did a 15 min show on Wed. & a half hour show on Sun.. As the show started moving along & I started getting more guests I started making it 45 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes & I kept expanding. It took about 2 yrs to get up to the 2 hour show on Sun..

AJ: I didn't realize that.

MIKE: If you go back to the early Matinee they are all a half hour long & the Sun. show was an hour. Sometimes I had to cut guests off because of that time frame, so we made it a little bit longer.

AJ: In order to introduce this interview today I went back over all the episodes & made a rough list of all the people you've talked to. Then I had to figure out how most people listening to this would know. You've talked to a lot of folks who are indie or local musicians that a majority of your listeners may or may not know. I looked back, but I didn't pick up on the fact that you did change the time frame. I just was listening to many of them. I wasn't paying attention to the time.

MIKE: It happens, but when you're doing it, you remember the time. Sometimes a half hour can really stretch out if you're having a bad show.

AJ: Then there's other hours, I'm sure you've had this too, where you're with a guest & you're wondering how much longer you can go on because they have nothing to say & you have nothing to ask.

MIKE: I can't say how many times that happened. Sometimes I get so excited about having guests that I overbook & have too many. It's bad in a way, because I find myself doing the same interview week after week or just being bored. That's a bad thing, so I have to start cutting back

I use the word "ah huh" & "we're starting to run out of time". Those are the two famous lines to get a guest off the air when we have nothing to say.

AJ: I have a friend up in Canada who listens to all my interviews he told me that whenever he hears me do "ah huh" I'm about to light a rocket ship with some great question. That's my cue. It's like I'm listening to you & I'm thinking about this & I'm about to ask you the question of your life.

MIKE: Oh god.

AJ: That's what I've been told by a faithful listener of mine.

MIKE: So if I hear "uh huh" I have to start thinking real hard.

AJ: That's right, you're in trouble. But, before I ask you my rocket ship question, Mike, have you ever ... as I just pointed out, this is from a listener ... have you ever gotten feedback from your listeners & you went 'oh gosh, I do that on the air?' You know what I'm asking?

MIKE: Exactly. 2 things I get all the time is slow down when you talk & you got a heavy Brooklyn accent. Those are the 2 things I can't do anything about. I was born in Brooklyn, NY.

AJ: You & Tommy are both Brooklyn guys, right?

MIKE: Yup, both of us are from the same neighborhood, so we can't do anything about the accent. We get excited & we talk fast. I remember I had Tommy Bolan on my show. He played guitar with WARLOCK with Doro for awhile. Tommy is a Brooklyn guy like us & we had him on the show. The 3 of us were talking so fast going back & forth even I couldn't understand what we were saying.

AJ: That's the homeboy thing going on. You know, a couple guys sitting on the park. You're both from the old neighborhood together. You're just talking about the music you love.

MIKE: Exactly. You know, the show is like for us. We're just hanging out, having fun, having a good time & just getting to talk to these great artists. We're not professional DJs. We don't do this for a living. We make no money off this, as you know. It is what it is.

AJ: You probably are in debt for stuff you've bought from the show. An album here or there.

MIKE: Better equipment. It's an expensive hobby.

AJ: It is. It's expensive & it's time-consuming & nobody knows that until they do it & they do it well. For the people who don't do it well & they think you can just get on & blah blah blah for an hour their shows ain't worth listening to. So you got to me all committed. But, I think the results, we may not be rich, but I think they speak for themselves. We're reaching out to people. We're sharing music. We're talking to musicians who need the attention. The results are really valuable on this other level.

MIKE: They are. You're right. There are a lot of shows out there that I think are really great great & I enjoy, like yours, & there are other ones that I don't think it's so great, but I'll never criticize them because I know how much work we put into it. I know that they're doing the same thing. &everybody has their own audience, so I would never say anything bad about another show, because it is hard work. Everybody puts a lot of time into it.

AJ: You know, it's interesting, what you were just saying, we're doing it for ourselves, we're really just talking about the music we like with the people we like & it's just like we're hanging out ... I was watching That Metal Show the other day. I actually don't watch that very often. Yngwie Malmsteen was on it & Chris Jericho from FOZZY. I'm watching the hosts. I'm watching these guys talk about music & I thought to myself, Mike, metal has changed. I'm a kid of the late '80's, you know, & I remember when metal was young & now it's gotten older. So, I'm watching tv & everyone on stage is over 40 yrs old, over 50 years old, a couple of them. I'm watching them thinking 'I remember when it this would have been a bunch of 20 year old guys. Now it's a bunch of middle-aged guys with families. They don't look crazy. They don't have purple hair & they're they're really intelligent. Yet, they're talking about this music that has a whole different stereotype around it. It just really hit me how metal & one part of the fan base has grown up. It's really changed, I think. the way the metal community in the world is. Do you know? Because you're in that community I'm kind of talking about. You've grown up with this music.

MIKE: I agree with you 100%. If you go back to the late '70's, early '80's when it was 1st taking off it never got the respect it deserved back then as music. Today it still doesn't, yet it's one of the genres that's still around & still productive & it's still putting out a lot of music for both the either from the younger fans or the older fans. It's true. Like you said, we're all middle-aged now & we have families, so we don't kinda have that gun ho approach that we used to have when we were kids, but the music is still with us. It's in our hearts & we can never get rid of it. I mean, it's a way. Heavy metal for a real metalhead is a way of life. I mean, we were always a united scene back in the day. We still are today. There are so many heavy metal shows on the internet where I'm friendly with the host & I work with them & I help them out. A good friend Alex Alvarez, a young kid 17-18 years old, had a show called The Diopriest Radio Show.

AJ: I know it.

MIKE: He asked me for advice & to help him with guests. That's what the metal community is about. It's about being united. It's about being together. As you grow up & get older you want to like pass it down to the next generation coming, & that's what a lot of us are doing these days.

AJ: That is true & I don't think people outside of the metal community know that. At the record store I work at in the East Village, Rockit Scientist Records, my boss is always saying that one of the last groups left that still buys an entire album is the metal community. If you want support from a musical community, it's the metal community. You know, we're like united. We support the bands. You're not going to get the same type of support from the Britney Spears community, you know, or the grunge rock alt-rock COLDPLAY community whatever, but the metal community there's like ... I don't know about you, Mike, but I meet someone else & they say to me that they like metal, & that person might be an asshole & maybe we don't agree on anything, but on some level I feel like 'You know what? You like metal, I like metal. Great.' Maybe you like a different part of MEGADETH's career than I do, but it doesn't matter, because on some level we're like kin. We're like brothers. We're in the same musical field.' I don't think any other group really has that. I don't see it. I don't see it with like classical people going 'Oh yes, you like Beethoven, I like Beethoven. Yeah! You rule!' You know, it's not there.

MIKE: Yeah, it's true. Metalheads have always been a close united group. You know we wanted always to further the cause, especially because in the '80's it was all underground. Who would have thought when METALLICA 1st started playing they would be one of the biggest bands in the world today? You would never have thought that back in the '80's. It felt like it was our little thing. You go back the '80's metal was like that & so was rap. Rappers were on the streets. It was underground. It was a different style of music, but we both had the same focus. The rap fans were really loyal. The metal fans were loyal. And, we stood with each other. It's carrying on today. I have friends that I met in clubs back in the '80's that I'm still friendly with today because the music has kept us together. The internet has made it a lot easier to connect & keep those bonds. It's a great thing.

AJ: Absolutely. You mentioned earlier that you play a lot of like older bands that have fallen to the cracks or maybe they've been, you know, pushed into that one hit wonder category. Do you pay attention to the newer bands as much?

MIKE: You know, unfortunately I don't. I really don't even give a lot of new bands a chance anymore. I'm so focused on like the music I grew up with. When I first started doing this show I did a segment called The Sunday Night Spotlight. I used that to feature newer bands, younger kids, that are kinda playing in that classic '80's style & sound. It was a great thing. I did that for about a year or so & then I kind of like lost track of that, because it was getting to be difficult trying to find bands every week & contact them to get music. Yeah. I don't really give a lot of new bands a chance, even though I do interview a lot of the newer bands, but that's mostly because of the PR people I deal with & the record companies.  I kinda like gotta do them favors & get some of these bands on, but I really don't give them much of a chance. I tell you, there's a band called BRUTE FORCE. I interviewed them today for the next week show. There are a new band & I think these guys are fantastic. So, when you say that it's a shame that I don't give a lot of new bands a chance, that's mostly because of time. You do comes across some good ones & these guys will like that today.

AJ: You know, I've interviewed a lot of folks that have one or 2 albums out. That's another thing with a new band. When you only have one album out or you've only been playing for a few years, its like sometimes I have to stretch to talk about stuff. It's harder to talk to a new band that just released their debut E.P., you know?

MIKE: That's very true. There's not a lot of information out there. You know, what's a shame? With the internet today & this goes for a lot of older bands, you go on to their website & they have nothing on there. They don't really take advantage of the internet like they should. Just to put their information out. It is hard with a new band, because you don't have much to talk about & you are stretching the conversation over the few things you can pick up about them from that E.P..

AJ: It can be really tough & I know you feel this way that you want to present the bands in the best light. I don't curt controversy with any of my musicians. Though, there have been some musicians I have talked to who I knew had something in their career that was controversial & we might even have spoken about it before the show & I asked if they wanted to discuss that. They said it was up to me, but I chose not to. So, you want to present a band in a good light, but if you don't know anything about them & they're fresh out the barn door, it's really sometimes tough to be fair to everyone.

AJ: I think it is. I agree with you 100%. You do the best you can with those ones & hopefully they come far & in between & it's not too bad when it happens. I think the worst thing when interviewing is, is when the whole band wants to come on & you have 4 or 5 members. The worst is they get into a private conversation with themselves & it's like you're not even there. I think that's even worse than having a new band that you don't know much about. It was my second interview, a little group called ICKY'S EGO out of California. I really liked their music & they have some great videos. All 4 of them I was talking to. I had no idea all 4 of them would be there. I thought it would just be the founding husband & wife. I thought that would be it. I get 4 of them & I don't even know who they are until they introduce themselves. I actually had to write their names on a piece of paper & kinda keep track of who I just spoke to & who I asked a question to & who I'd talked to too much or too little. I wanted to be fair. Then the photographer called up. Then someone came into the room. They were on speaker phone so I was wondering who was talking.

MIKE: I know, it's hard, especially when you're on the phone, because you don't know who exactly is talking & if it's people you're not familiar with you don't even recognize their voice. I interviewed the A.N.M. (i.e. ANTI-NIGGER MACHINE). That's the name of the band. It's all black guys in the band, so they can say that. It's Doug Pinnick of KING'S X & members of 24-7 SPYZ, FISHBONE & RWA. I had them all on & after like one question they started talking to each other. It was like they got a free business phone call. The whole half hour was just them talking to each other about when they were getting together, we're they're going on vacation, what are they doing. I'm like, let me know when you're done & I'll do my show after that.

AJ: You'll just be waiting.

MIKE: You know, I've never played back one of my shows. I've never heard one of my shows after I've done them.

AJ: Really? You haven't?

MIKE: I can't listen back to the show. I think I would  cringe if I heard myself.

AJ: Well, I do cringe when I listen back as I hear the way I talk & the way I ramble & my particular accent. I don't sound like the guy I think I sound like. While the words never come out the way I think they do. When you're doing live & you're talking off the top of your head, I'm always fumbling my words. It's kinda my personality. I do this normally. You know, if you meet me on the street I normally bumble like this, but there is something about the live thing & having to fill the air. There's a little pressure here, you know, & to get the thoughts out clearly. People may not realize how truly difficult that can be sometimes.

MIKE: It is. I'm the same way. I fumble over what I want to say all the time, because I have so many things bumbling around in my head that I want to get out. I wan't to mention this & I want to mention that & then I forget to mention it or I mention something else. There's such a short amount of time. I pack these shows with so much music that it doesn't leave a lot of time to talk sometimes, so I try to get it out quickly. You just start fumbling trying to get it out. You never want to hear dead air. That's like the worst thing you can do I feel in radio, so you're always trying to fill it up & it can get hard sometimes.

AJ: Plus, you're looking at the clock. You're looking at the songs. You're thinking 'I have 5 minutes left & this song is 3 minutes 50 seconds.' Plus you're listening to where the interview is going & I'm making the questions up on the spot. You're thinking about what are we talking about & what can we talk about? The mind is in 5 directions at once. The other thing is a few I've been interviewing someone & I realized, shit, I'm not really listening to them. I'm thinking about the clock or the next song.  I'm not even hearing them. You know?

MIKE: I've been there, too. You focus on so many other things that sometimes the most important thing takes a backseat. Sometimes I have 2 guests on the show & I want to give them as much time as I can to talk, but I have to kind of get one off to get the next one on. Sometimes I start rattling on. You know, you try to think of nice ways to end it. Then I have Tommy who doesn't really say much for most of the shows, who knows when I'm running late on time & wants to chime in with a 20 min speech. I'm trying to move the show along & it gets hard. The clock, the music, the interviews. Everything is going on in your head & it can get all bottled up sometime, I agree.

AJ: Remember about a half hour ago I think I said there was a rocket ship question coming up, before I lost track of time?

MIKE: Yup.

AJ: Well, my last question for you is that question. Mike, you've been doing your show for 3 yrs & 300 something episodes. You've talked to seemingly everyone or, at least, you're doing a really good job working on it. How is Mike the Big Cheese different today after this experience than he was 3 years ago? How has the show changed you?

MIKE: One step closer to divorce court, cause I spend too much time doing it. I think that's the biggest one. I was very uncomfortable doing the show in the beginning. Talking on the air with my heavy Brooklyn accent. I feel so much more confident & comfortable today than I did 3 years ago. Early on, you feel like you're always the guy on the bottom of the totem pole & people don't think much of you & give you the respect for what you put into the show. I feel like I've earned the respect of record companies & PR people & different manager, where they come to me now & I don't have to go to them anymore. I feel like I've given people a really good dose of what the '80's were all about. I'm proud of myself for doing that. Made a lot of great friends over the years, you included, & I think that's the biggest thing right now for me.

AJ: What have you learned?

MIKE: Definitely make sure you've got money on your credit card to pay blogtalkradio, because they'll knock you right down to a free account & erase all your music. I also learned just to enjoy life & have a great time doing what you're doing & just take advantage of all the opportunities that come with doing this show. To me that's I get to go & meet all these rock stars & talk to them & hang out with them & it's like a thrill. It's almost like being a kid in a candy shop.

AJ: Well, you're reliving your childhood really on some level.

MIKE: Exactly.

AJ: You're having your childhood dreams come true.

MIKE: That's exactly what it is & I'm loving every minute of it.

AJ: You've interviewed so many people. Just this past year I was impressed by hearing your interviews with Rob Halford of JUDAS PRIEST & Lizzy Borden. If someone came up to you tomorrow & gave you the opportunity to name any artist to be on your show, what name would you give as your dream guest or maybe a couple dream guests?

MIKE: It would have been Ronnie James Dio. I was close to getting that done right around when he got sick. I never followed up. It felt s so funny asking, you know, as he was going through his treatments & everything. But, any member of BLACK SABBATH. I'm really close to getting one of them right now. I think Ritchie Blackmore. I would love to talk to him.

AJ: He's on the top of my list. He's one of my personal guitar gods.

MIKE: A friend of mine was like his assistant in the '80's when he was in RAINBOW with Joe Lynn Turner. He's still great friends with him. He's actually a singer in his own band that I've had on my show. I was going to start working on him to see if he could get me in touch with Ritchie. I don't think it will happen. He's very reclusive these days.

AJ: For me, Blackmore is my Hendrix. He's the best.

MIKE: I feel the same way. Maybe we can do an interview together.

AJ: Mike, we're down to the last minute of this show. Is there anything left you'd like to say?

MIKE: Aaron, I think you've covered it all. You've got a great show. Like I said, congratulations on the one year. You've told me a few of the interviews you have lined up & I'm excited to hear them. I can't thank you enough for having me as a part of this. I feel honored that you would even ask me.

AJ: Why not? It's important to talk to people like you. Just because you're not on a stage doesn't mean you're less interesting. Actually, I've been able to ask you more questions than I have some of the musicians,

MIKE: This was great & I had a good time talking with you, too.

AJ: I can't thank you enough for joining me & I know this is a very rare moment when you're on the other side.

February 10, 2018

"He Always Made Me Feel Like I Was Important" An Interview With NICK DOUKAS

Click here to visit official youtube of Nick Doukas.

February 2011 (phone)

Since the age of 13 New Yorker Nick Doukas has been honing his high energy rock guitar chops in numerous NY area bands, such as Half Angel & Full Circle (aka Head Case), playing covers & originals. He has studied music theory & guitar at Five Towns College & Nassau Community College &, according to this interview, in one-on-one lessons from guitarists John Petrucci of Dream Theater & Al Pitrelli of Trans-Siberian Orchestra & Megadeth. This was as a teen before either were superstar guitar heroes. Presently, Nick is expanding his musical palette through studying classical guitar with Dr. Nelson Amos, the head of the guitar dept of Eastern Michigan University, where he has been accepted to study for a degree in Music Education. Outside of music he has studied nutrition & life sciences, with extensive experience in the bodybuilding-weight lifting world. This interview focuses on his teenage years as a student of Pitrelli before his career took off via touring the world with Alice Cooper.

For some years I dedicated a lot of energy into researching the musical biography of Al Pitrelli, who might be one of the most under-rated melodic lead players of the last few decades. Nothing ever came of the effort, except new friends & a wealth of new music & musicians I might not have discovered otherwise. I became a fan of Megadeth & post-Wetton Asia because of Al's contributions to these bands, let alone discovered Savatage & Joe Lynn Turner, amongst others via his extensive studio work. Not having any central location for Al's musical output I searched far & wide for whatever I could find. I don't remember how I came across his guitar student, but Nick was happy to spend nearly an hour with me sharing memories of learning with Al before fame arrived & they were essentially 2 young bucks just playing & sharing music they loved. We've remained in contact via Facebook & I've had the opportunity to see Nick post guitar playing videos online, return to music school & play in local bands in his new home of Michigan ... still as passionate about playing those old Van Halen riffs as ever. This interview has never been heard or shared or even excerpted until now. Starting this blog I knew this interview would finally get a home & I only regret it took so long.

* * * * *

AJ: I started researching Al over a year ago & trying to find his place in the musical world. You are the 1st person I've encountered who knows the non-performance side of Al's music career & the early days when he was still a teacher.

NICK: Do you just want me to tell you about my experience?

AJ: Why don't you give me a timeline. I know only a little bit about his teaching years.

NICK: Al used to teach out of a store called Focus II Guitar Center, which was in North Bellmore, Long Island, NY. It was kinda like the guitar shop at the time. I had started playing guitar about 1984 or so & I had studied with another teacher there. I studied for over a year & then I went off on my own & did my thing. I wasn't studying for awhile, but then I started looking for a really good teacher, like a hot rock player. I was into Eddie Van Halen & Randy Rhoads & all those players. I remember going into the shop & going 'Yeah, I'm looking for someone to study with. I don't just want to get any teacher.' The owner is like 'We've got this guy, Al Pitrelli. He's an amazing player.' He told me all this stuff about him. I was like sign me up. I started studying with him late '86, maybe early '87.

AJ: Before he went off on tour with Alice Cooper.

NICK: Way before that. I think that was '89.

AJ: Yeah, that was '89. So, at that point when you met him he was the guy that played with Michael Bolton & had studied at Berklee.

NICK: It was after he'd came back from touring with Michael Bolton. It wasn't long after that. I had heard of him, too. You know, he's a local boy. He was in a band called MAGIC many years ago. Before Michael Bolton, before he went off to Berklee. They used to rehearse in East Meadow & I grew up in East Meadow. They used to rehearse in this ... I can't remember the name of it, but there was video game arcade there. I remember being a young kid, & this was a couple years before I met him & started studying with him, & going to play games there & hearing some music from downstairs. So, anyways, when I first started studying with him it was right after he got back from the tour with Bolton. He was just hanging out & teaching. I remember my first couple lessons with him & as soon as you heard him you knew he was an amazing player.

AJ: Even back then.

NICK: Just really special. I know a lot of hot guitar players & have been around the scene for like 30 years, but as soon as you heard him play it was just a level of professionalism that was above & beyond most people that I heard. I remember that he taught in a little room downstairs in Focus II Studios. They used to have their lesson rooms down in the basement. He had this little 4 track set up with a couple of studio monitors & he used to run a couple of pedals into an old Tom Scholz Rockman amp. I, of course, had to emulate him. I was 19 or so & he was about 23. So, I bought the 4 track & the Rockman. It actually had a great little sound. What he used to do, is he used to record. Actually, I still have a bunch of those old cassettes. I came across them not that long ago in my attic. He used to record for me on the 4 tracks. He'd record for me on one track a clean guitar & then he'd record a hot lead over there. Then he would tell me to take it home & pop it in my player & just play over what he played & try & work with it & stuff. That was like a really really cool thing. Like I said, I still have a bunch of those tapes with a bunch of his jams & stuff, just playing leads. He would just play like different rhythms in different keys & different modes.

AJ: Real basic stuff.

NICK: Yeah, basic stuff but everything he played was cool. Even the basic stuff just sounded great. I always remember that. That was really cool. He'd give me stuff to work on. I'd ask him to show me leads from Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads or George Lynch. We'd take stuff apart. I remember he had a lot going on during those 4 years I studied with him. He was good friends with Steve Vai. Vai wanted him to play with David Lee Roth after he left. So, I remember when he had the audition. He had a cool picture of him & [Roth's bassist] Billy Sheehan hanging out. Then he was playing with [bassist] Bruno Ravel [of DANGER DANGER] for awhile. He was also playing with [bassist] Randy Coven [later of Yngwie Malmsteem & Steve Vai's band] quite a bit. He did some really cool instrumental stuff with him. I remember going to see him with Randy a couple times. I would try to go round & see him in whatever he did locally.

AJ: Of course.

NICK: I remember he played in a band HOTSHOT with singer named Mike Pont [who also sang with DANGER DANGER]. I remember seeing him in all the old NY clubs in the 80's. That was such a great time for original bands on Long Island. I remember he was such a great player & he had a good amount of opportunities, but it never really took off, you know. Then after I'd been studying with him for awhile he started teaching out of his house.

AJ: In Long Island?

NICK: He was in North Port, Long Island, probably around '88 or so. As I said to you, too, I also studied with John Petrucci in King's Park, Long Island, when John was teaching out of his parents house.

AJ: It was a small world out there in Long Island.

NICK: I didn't go out there for too long, but I'll never forget the point right before Al got the Alice Cooper gig & he literally said to me, 'I don't know what I'm going to do.' He was talking to his father-in-law at the time about going into carpentry, because he didn't know what was going to happen to him. Which is crazy, because the guy is so talented.

AJ: But, that's the world of music. It really is.

NICK: Sometimes it doesn't matter. Sometimes the most basic players become the most famous, while the people are more technically talented don't really get noticed. But, you're right, that is the world of music. I assume you're a musician, too.

AJ: I play a little bass & guitar & I also work in a record store in the East Village here in Manhattan. I know the scene. It's the luck of the draw almost.

NICK: Absolutely. That was the thing. I remember he didn't know what to do. You know the thing is, he had success. It's not like nobody knew who he was. He had toured with Bolton.

AJ: But, it was a bit regional.

NICK: Yeah, not enough.

AJ: It was smaller stuff.

NICK: Then he got the Alice Cooper gig. I remember when he told me he got hired to be Alice's musical director & go on the road with him. That was that. That was the last time I saw him. I went off to study with Petrucci at that point for awhile. I was a music major in college. I remember starting to see ads & interviews in mags with Al.  Then ASIA & MEGADETH. I've followed him over the years the best I could. It's a lot easier with the internet & I started to hear more about him, particularly via youtube, which is a great resource.

AJ: Have you ever watched the video of the tour with Alice, the Trashes The World video?

NICK: No, I never did.

AJ: Because, if you did I wanted to ask what it was like seeing Al on stage, suddenly catapulted from guitar teacher to touring at all the big venues with the legendary Alice.

NICK: Let's put it this way: I still play. I'm a professional musician. I still play guitar every day, play in bands, record. But, I've always said who my guitar teacher was. I remember seeing on the internet a video of Al. It was from that what you told me about. It was a video of him doing a guitar solo going into the song "Poison".

AJ: That was Al's big spotlight moment.

NICK: I remember coming across that on youtube & commenting that 'I was very fortunate to study with Al.' You'd see a bunch of people responding that this was amazing & could you tell more about it. It was always nice to say that was my teacher, somebody who was that famous. Then the TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA thing came around & I didn't really know at first that that was him. My wife had heard the stuff & thought it was really cool. She was telling me 'You'll love it. It's orchestral Xmas music but with great lead guitar.' Then I realized who it was. I looked into the background of it & saw he'd been working with Jon Oliva & SAVATAGE. I have all the TSO albums. We bring them out at Xmas. I've figured out some of his licks. It's great stuff.

AJ: I'll confess I'm a big 80's rock guy, so I'm more of a SAVATAGE fan as I like things grittier & heavier.

NICK: I'm a little more on the melodic side. I like my music heavy, but I like the melodies. The stuff TSO plays really appeals to me.

AJ: To me the album just before TSO, SAVATAGE's DEAD WINTER DEAD, Al's debut with them, is one of the best melodic prog rock albums out there. That's the album that bred TSO.

NICK: Yes, it's very prog rock with its concepts. It's all very cool stuff.

AJ: Before Al SAVATAGE was very different. TSO would be very different without him, too.

NICK: That's the other thing about Al. He's not just a guitar player. He's so much of a musician. Obviously, guitarists are musicians, but its his composition skills, the way he composes. I remember when I was studying with him he had written that song "Temptation." I thought it was a cool pop rock song. Then all of a sudden he told me Y&T was going to record it. I thought that was really cool. I remember him telling me he'd been back & forth with frontman Dave Meniketti. I remember when the album Temptation came out with the song. I remember Al playing me the original demo in the rehearsal room, just popping in the cassette. Just this little basic version of it. To me, whatever the guy played, just everything he played just sounded huge & authoritative & just really cool. I mean, I was a young kid & obviously very influenced. But, even to this day when I hear him play I know I was very lucky to have a great player like him teach me.

AJ: Obviously it's been like 20 years, but when you listen to him now & you think back, do you notice an observable difference in his playing? Does anything jump out?

NICK: I can hear how much he's matured. I think he's less ... First of all, the guy is a great shredder. Technically, he's an amazing player with the speeds & chops. But, he was always more melodic. That was something that he taught me when I was a kid. In fact, Gary Moore just died recently.

AJ: I know.

NICK: He was a big Gary Moore fan. I was never that into him, but Al turned me on to his cover of the YARDBIRDS' "Shapes Of Things". The solo on that is really cool. I remember back in the day Al saying to me he was going to teach me that lead because it was the perfect combination of chops & feel. That sort of summed it up for me on what he was about. Yeah, he's about the chops & the flash, for sure, but at the heart of it he's got a lot of melody. I can say his playing today is the same, but yet it's not. I hear today the same guy, but he's really matured. Not even that, as he was a great player back then.

AJ: I understand.

NICK: The guy was a technical wiz even 25 years ago. But, I think about what he always tried to show me back then about being melodic & about making sure whatever you were playing still fit the tune & wasn't just a bunch of flashy licks. He was very modal. He was really into the modes & how each one has its own mood & how it works against whatever the chords are. He would always show me that stuff. I came across his Star Licks instructional video & he's kinda doing the same thing. It was very similar. It reminded me of being in lessons with him where he was very into how stuff works melodically & modally & how things works against particular chord constructions or particular chord progressions. Another thing about Al that was pretty cool was that he had a really cool personality. A very cool laid back guy. Very funny. He was always very encouraging to me, too. Like I always felt, when I went to have lessons with him ... like I know there are people out there who would accuse him of having an ego or whatever, but I never found that with the guy. He was always so encouraging to me. He always made me feel like I was important, not just some other kid he was teaching. He'd always give me compliments. Not just some blanket bullshit compliment. He would notice things, like "You played that passage really well because of this or whatever. I notice your picking is really coming along. You can pick like the Yngwie kind of thing." I'd really appreciated that. He was always very encouraging & very nurturing as a teacher. That's why I stuck with him for so long. As I said, it was a good 4 years I was with him & I had a lot of other teachers in there besides Al & John Petrucci. I had several other people that I studied with it, but it was always Al that was my main influence. He was also really into everything I was into. You could sit down with him & talk about Randy Rhoads, talk about Eddie Van Halen, talk about Paul Gilbert of MR. BIG, talk about Yngwie. He got it. He was that kind of guy. He was always really cool & always willing to talk about anything to do with guitars. You know the guy loves the instrument & I was the same way. I was always very excited to go to my lesson & always very motivated. I can't even tell you how invaluable his instruction was & how much I learned from him.

AJ: Well, all these years later you're still playing guitar & still making music. There's the proof. Is there anything Al has taught you that comes out a lot today when you're playing?

NICK: Yeah, just the melody. Just being able to get in there & not only play a bunch of notes, but to put something melodic together. Something that just sounds musical. That's kinda how I am. Whenever I'm improvising something or listening to a chord progression to play over that's what always comes to mind. Yeah, I could throw in a bunch of flashy licks & I do, but I always remember the most important thing is the melody & the feel & having a really good vibrato. Things like that. Those are the things that he taught me that are just invaluable. Like teaching me appreciation. I like guys like Yngwie & Paul Gilbert, but teaching me appreciation for somebody like Neal Schon of JOURNEY, whose also a great player, but you listen to his licks on "Faithfully" or the solo on "Don't Stop Believin'" & its the not the most technical thing ever, but it just sounds beautiful, authoritative & melodic. To me, that's what Al was all about, how important that is. I can't tell you how many shredders I hear that just sound like a frickin' typewriter.

AJ: I know what you mean.

NICK: There's just something lacking. Also, I think that constant shredding, its almost like all emphasis equals no emphasis. I prefer to hear, like in a 10 or 16 bar guitar solo, a build. That's another Al taught me. A guitar solo itself is its own little composition, you know? You're really thinking about where you are going to go with it, building on it, dynamics, melody, speed, how you're going to end it. Al taught me to think very compositionally as a guitarist. I think that was probably one of the biggest things I got from him.

AJ: I'm reminded that a couple days ago it was George Harrison's birthday. I'm a big fan of his & always loved his solos. His solos, to paint it broadly, were like 10 notes. The most sparse solos in the history of music, but you always felt like every note was important. Versus a lot of the shredding or whatever that's out there now where it's just notes for the sake of playing a lot of fast notes. Speed is the most important thing, not the melody or anything else you mentioned. You know, Tony Iommi didn't play fast, but melodic & that's what made BLACK SABBATH so untouchable. But, we don't follow his lead enough.

NICK: Absolutely. I hear a lot of bands nowadays with what I call those Cookie Monster vocals. To me, if you're going to have heavy heavy music you need some sort of melodic edge over that or else it all starts to sound the same. It all starts to sound like noise. That's what I have always like about that 80's metal or even the classic rock bands like QUEEN or JOURNEY or LED ZEPPELIN. You had this heavy music, but you had a melodic vocal over it, because you need something beautiful to go with the heavy pounding ugly. You know what I mean?

AJ: I listen to a lot of heavy metal, but honestly so much of it bores me for the reason you're saying. It's all riffs with no contrast. The melody lifts a heavy riff into something else. The technical playing isn't enough. I'm bored with it.

NICK: That's the thing! When I was a kid it was always like whose technically the best, whose the fastest, who this or that. As I got older I started to realize that its not really all about that. It's about individual style. It's about tone. Like I said, your vibrato technique. I'd rather hear a guy like Eric Johnson who has beautiful tone & vibrato & the note choices, then somebody like ... not that I don't have a lot of respect for METALLICA, but it's not my type of guitar playing. It think its kinda shrill. I don't like the note choices. But, that's just personal preference. To me, Pitrelli is exactly what I'm talking about. The speed & technique is there & he's flying, but then he just drops one note & just makes it sting for some seconds. That's the type of playing that I dig & what he was always all about. Like I said, from the very first time I heard him play & the very first time I had a lesson with him, I was impressed. There's something intangible about what he does, but it speaks to you, you know what I mean?

AJ: Absolutely. Let me ask, how did learning from Al compare to someone like John Petrucci?

NICK: Petrucci was very cool too. He was a really nice guy. He had a similar personality to Al, just very encouraging & a very good guy, but he was a little more technical. John was a little more about the exercises.

AJ: What about any of your teachers? You mentioned you had a few over the years.

NICK: My first teacher was a great player & nice guy & really into southern rock, ALLMAN BROTHERS & classic stuff. I remember he had a brown Les Paul. He used to come to my house. I was about 15 when I first started taking lessons. By the time I started studying with Al I was more on the intermediate level, although when I went in with Al I still wasn't that hot. Over the couple years I studied with him that's when I first started to blossom.

AJ: How's your playing now, Nick?

NICK: I think it's pretty good. I don't practice the way I used to. But, I built such a foundation as a kid that at this time its sort of self-propelling. I sometimes feel like I'm a little stagnant. But, it doesn't really matter, because if I play for you or someone, you haven't heard me for the last 15 years to compare. I would like to have more time to be able to study again & progress a little. But, I think I built such a good foundation back then because it was my whole life. From the age of about 15 to about 25 music was all I did. I was so inspired by reading about guys like Paul Gilbert or Van Halen. He used to practice 8-10 hours a day & that's what I did. I remember it came to a point that I would play things & almost feel like how did I do that? Like it sounded authentic, you know. So, as far as how does Al compare to other teachers, I had a few other guys. I studied with this guy named Peter Green.

AJ: I'll assume not the Peter Green, the founder of FLEETWOOD MAC.

NICK: No. Actually, this guy used to have ads in all the guitar magazines. He used to have a thing I think was called Metal Method. He basically had a series of instruction tapes of lessons he did. I studied with him for awhile. He was a nice guy & good player, but not particularly inspiring. There was a point where I was studying with him & Al at the same time, because I was so hardcore I had to have 2 teachers. The other thing was Al would sometimes go out on the road. He wasn't always around, so I'd go off & find somebody else, but I'd always come back to him. He was always my favorite teacher. Of all the teachers I had, Al & Petrucci were obviously the best.

AJ: Was John in DREAM THEATER at the time?

NICK: Absolutely. This was about 1989. He was in DREAM THEATER & they had a couple of records out, but it was in the time when their original singer Charlie Dominici left. They were auditioning guys. I remember him telling me they brought a guy out from Seattle & he was staying in his house. DREAM THEATER was around & doing their thing, but they had not become ... they were still local. They hadn't quite had their chance.

AJ: Did Al ever instruct you any when it came to gear, like what guitar or strings or amp?

NICK: We talked about that stuff. I mean, I was at the time ... you have to remember, too, in the '80's you didn't have the Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier amp.

AJ: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

NICK: I've got a 15 year old amp I'm running right now that sounds great. I'm pretty basic in the effects dept.. I don't like having a lot of processing devices.

AJ: I understand.

NICK: I like that Eddie Van Halen brown sound. But, I remember always looking for the tone. At the time I had a couple old Marshall amp heads. That was probably like a 1985 or so & I had a head from the 70's. It was an old one with the blueish-gray kinda panel on it. It was like the black ones like they have now. I had them modified actually a bit. Back in the '80's all the rage was having the extra gain stage. He used to tell me that's kind of a good thing to do. I don't know if he hooked me up with this guy or if I might have found him on my own, but I took my head to this guy & had them modified. It sounded great. Al & I used to talk gear & stuff. He used to have this awesome old black Schecter guitar.

AJ: I don't know what that is.

NICK: It's like an ESP. It's a brand name. He had this really cool black Schecter Strat. I just remember its action. I like my action low. I like my action right on the fretboard. He was the same way. I remember playing that guitar. We would trade. I had this blue ESP & I would give it to him. I remember how nice that Schecter was. It had super low action & felt really nice to play. So, we talked a lot about that sort of thing, about the guitars & the amps & stuff. We definitely got into a lot of that.

AJ: I want to know, what are you doing now? What's your music gig now?

NICK: Honestly, right now I don't have too much time. What I'm doing right now is just working on some original stuff. I have my Marshall set-up down in my basement. I went & got myself one of those nice little pod forms that plugs right into the computer. So, I can plug my guitar right into the computer. I got myself a little recording program. I try to do some instrumental stuff. I'm not really sure if I'd like to be in a cover band again. I actually have a good time playing rock covers with a really good band. I was in a band called FULL CIRCLE for many years. They're still around, but they have a whole new line-up. I played with them throughout the '90's. It was a was a cover band doing all kinds of stuff, everything from VAN HALEN to AEROSMITH to Pat Benatar. We had a female singer. We did '80's & '90's stuff. You know, I love the '80's music, but I try not to be too rooted in the past. I like a lot of new stuff, too, but, there isn't really that much out there for me. It's either that nu-metal shit or ... There's a band called HALESTORM that I just discovered. They've got a girl singer, but they're straight up 4 piece hard rock. It just sounds like '80's rock.

AJ: There's a few of them out there.

NICK: There's just not that many bands with the sound I like. I jam with some friends locally. I'm thinking right now my options are maybe either looking to join a really cool cover band or I'll put together one. It's really got to be something good. It's got to be top-notch. I'm not looking to do dance music or pop. I'm looking to do JOURNEY, VAN HALEN, HEART. That's the thing. Not always hard to find a great bass player. Not always hard to find a great drummer or keyboard player or whatever. But, when it comes to vocals, you know.

AJ: That's the worst.

NICK: Plus, you're doing cover stuff. Find me a female singer that can sing like Ann Wilson of HEART or Pat Benatar spot on. It's hard to find.

AJ: That can kill the band before it gets started.

NICK: Absolutely. I was in this band & we had this chick singer. She was okay. She could sing some stuff well. We were doing a couple Benatar songs. She just couldn't cut it. You could hear it. She didn't have the pipes. She didn't have the power. That was the thing that always burned my ass. The band sounded great. The music was perfect, but the vocals didn't quite cut it.

AJ: I had that in a band I was playing in. We had both a guy & girl singer. She didn't know what it meant to count into the song, but she had a good voice.

NICK: It makes you feel like you're putting in extra work.

AJ: Her tone was great, but it wasn't functional. Then the guy was so caught up in being a singer he would never show up or do any writing. We ended up playing instrumentals until we died. Without a good singer we didn't have all the pieces, though we had some good riffs. It was the Achille's heal, you know?

NICK: Absolutely. That's how I feel. So, if I could find the right situation with someone who could hit that stuff. Doing stuff like JOURNEY & BOSTON I would say it's even harder to find a male singer. At the very least, if I can find a good female singer she can do Benatar & we'll let her try her hand at JOURNEY.

AJ: She can hit you with her best shot.

NICK; That's one of my favorite tunes, that's why I mention her. That's me. I don't pretend to be a jazz player. I'm a hard rock guitar player. That's what I put all my time & energy into being. I love that stuff. I never get bored of that stuff & these type of guitar players. I mean, you listen to some of Schon's licks in JOURNEY. It gives me chills.

AJ: So many of those bands are being rediscovered, too. I'm hearing that older influence more & more in music now.

NICK: I agree with you. I see a lot of youtube videos with young kids playing Randy Rhoads, Joe Satriani, Van Halen.

AJ: A lot of that music vanished & now it's back.

NICK: You know what they say, man, you can't kill rock'n'roll. That's the thing. Maybe not so much anymore, as things have changed so much with the internet & the ability to put your own music out & be heard, but when I was a kid you were paying thousands in dollars for studio time for a shitty little demo. Now you can have the tools at home to make professional quality recordings that you can instantly upload to the internet to be heard by thousands of people. To me its changing, but the music industry is very cyclical. It goes on a 10 year cycle. You had the '80's stuff between new wave & hard rock. Then you had the grunge bands. It's almost like the decades start out with really talent bands & then all the shit comes along with worse & worse versions of this music. It's so watered down & people get so sick of it that they kill it. That's what happened in the '90's with Kurt Cobain in his old dirty sweater looking like he just got out of bed with a shitty guitar. He single-handedly killed all those pretty boys with the hair & make-up.

AJ: I totally agree. Though, I was never into NIRVANA until after the band ended, as I was still listening to TWISTED SISTER.

NICK: I remember SISTER even before MTV. I saw them play at a local roller rink. Their really old stuff is really some of their best stuff, when they didn't really have any albums out.

AJ: Speaking of which, after you stopped learning from Al Pitrelli, I think, that's when he went to WIDOWMAKER with Dee Snider? That was '91, after his gig with Alice Cooper.

NICK: Yeah, that was after. I remember hearing about it & I remember they played at a local club. I didn't see them. I don't remember why. I remember hearing Al was with Dee for awhile.

AJ: They're really good albums. Very heavy, very much not TWISTED SISTER hard rock, but more heavy metal. Al had a big influence writing the second album. Did you ever see Al play with bassist Randy Coven?

NICK: When I was still studying with him I saw them do a gig together locally. It was amazing. Absolutely awesome. So much great instrumental stuff from their albums.

AJ: Sammy Says Ouch! & Funk Me Tender.

NICK: Randy was just an amazing bass player. I'm a big fan of those style of bassists & even a bigger fan of those bands where you a guitarist & bassist doing that kind of crazy shit together, like MR. BIG.

AJ: I was just going to suggest them.

NICK: That's exactly the kind of stuff that I love. So, I loved seeing him with Randy Coven. I thought those couple albums were very cool. Another bass player buddy of his was Bruno Ravel.

AJ: From HOTSHOT and DANGER DANGER.

NICK: Andy Timmons took over from Al in DANGER DANGER. Another great guitarist.

AJ: Yes. I actually have the HOTSHOT album featuring the early demos by DANGER DANGER with Al &  recorded in his grandmother's basement. Vocalist Mike Pont released that stuff in 2005. You listen to this stuff from '88, but they're playing as good as ever. Just young kids in their 20's & already up there on the top of their game.

NICK: That's the thing. You asked me how much did I notice Al changed or whatever. Aside from maybe some stylistic choices, he was as hot as he was going to be at 23 years old. Al was already amazing.

AJ: There are a lot of guitar players who you can hear change over the years, like Eric Clapton from the YARDBIRDS to his most recent solo stuff it's almost not the same guy.

NICK: You're right. Some guitar players are like that. To me, when I hear Al now he doesn't really sound that different. His style & licks now sound very similar to the past. If anything, I think he's even more melodic than he used to be. His chops are in there, but he keeps the stuff in the pocket. It just sounds so good when he goes from like a nice sound melody very smoothly into a fast lick & right back into some melody. He's probably more adept at that now. He was probably a little more shred back then. Not that he can't do it now, but I bet he chooses to be a little more laid back.

AJ: There's something I read on a lot of fan blogs & forums about his one album with MEGADETH, The World Needs A Hero, that he never fit in exactly because he wasn't thrashy & wild enough.

NICK: I can see that.

AJ: I don't know if you've heard that album.

NICK: You know, I really didn't listen to it much. I've heard him play with MEGADETH via some videos, but I've got to admit I've haven't really listened too much to the album. Al took over from Marty Friedman. Marty is a really good thrash player, but he was always a little bit too technical for me. I can see how Al might not ... I think he can fit into anything he wants & I haven't heard enough, but I can see how folks might criticize it a little bit.

AJ: It's not a criticism of his playing, just the context.

NICK: Especially from the hardcore thrash fans who might not appreciate his melodic playing as much.

AJ: I'm a big MEGADETH fan. I prefer them over METALLICA.

NICK: I'm not a big fan of either band. I have a lot of respect for both of them. Just because I don't like something that much doesn't mean I don't respect the musician or the music. With METALLICA you just take one look at the band & you know what a good band they are. As far as me, I'm very poppy. I like my hard rock. I like it hard. I like that hard flashy guitar playing, but that's why I always like VAN HALEN. With VAN HALEN you still had melodic tunes & the riffs are still catchy, like "Dance The Night Away." It instantly catches my ear.

AJ: But, then, you're talking about Eddie Van Halen, who at once was called the world's greatest guitar player.

NICK: The thing about Eddie is he's a massive innovator. He single-handedly brought a certain sound to the guitar world. He also changed the instrument itself, as before him you had the Les Paul players or whoever. I have a custom built guitar made by a local guy inspired by Eddie. The right tone, the right sound. That's the thing for me. It's kind of effortless to play.

AJ: You find that guitar or set-up you really like & that's it.

NICK: Absolutely.