I'm doing it! I'm doing it man!
25 January 2008
Words by Michael O'Brien
Metal Mike Chlasciak is one of the hardest working guitarists in the business. His list of accomplishments includes playing with Testament, Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach and his own band Pain Museum. On top of this he also has a couple of guitar books on the market and has guest appearances on various DVDs. The obvious question is how he manages to keep on top of everything.
“Well, lots of beer and a little sleep! I guess somehow it just works. It doesn't always work out scheduling wise but I just love to keep busy and immerse myself in the music that I like and artists that I like to tour with you know? So it works somewhere in there.”
Regardless of all the success he has had, he is not content to rest on his laurels and is completely focused on the business of being a world renowned guitar player but in the end has to look out for his own best interests.
“Everything has to fit into what I feel I should be doing not only as a guitar player but maybe an artist in my own way so when I feel things are getting stale or things might not be going in the right direction I just move on or whatever you know?”
Having been lucky enough to see Guns N' Roses and Sebastian Bach myself in LA last year I am still acutely aware of the huge amount of intensity and energy that is displayed on stage by this band. With the tour now coming up to almost 12 months in duration one wonders how a musician maintains that level of intensity consistently for such long periods of time.
“I think it has to do with us really liking what we do because it's our excitement. You've seen the fans and in L.A., L.A.'s seen everything so when we play our shows and the fans are so into it we get excited by it. We're kind of like a bunch of little kids who can't wait to go and play really! Sebastian's like a 14 year old boy who never grew up. We just don't really know anything else. There's nothing else I would really want to do outside of it so for me it's just like this is how I keep going you know?”
For all of the excitement Mike gleans from touring the world and playing to packed stadiums, the harsh reality of being away from home so often is all to evident.
“It's very hard. That's the hardest thing about the business. I have a two and a half year old son named Steel and it's hard to be away you know but what are you going to do? It's the life we chose.”
Mike's services are highly sought after and it even took someone of Sebastian Bach's stature quite some time to find the right opportunity for them to start collaborating together.
“Sebastian would contact me every six months saying 'You've got to be in my band,' and I'd say 'Dude I can't, I'm in Testament now'.”
This went on for some time but eventually it all worked out for the two artists.
“Then he actually called at the right time because Chuck and Erik decided to get together with Alex again for a reunion so Sebastian called me and said 'Hey man, can you write some songs because I'm putting a record together? You wanna write some tracks?' So I went over to Sebastian's house and he played me some stuff he's done and I played him American Metalhead from the Pain Museum record and he was like 'This is like the youth gone wild. This is like the new anthem.' So I said 'Let's give it a shot. I'll write some tracks for you'.”
After the initial success of this encounter more and more opportunities started to flow in for the band.
“He called me two weeks later and asked if I wanted to play Sweden Rock Festival with him. We started working on the album and Sebastian got a call from Axl and we've been on tour with GNR for pretty much a year now. It's been great.”
Even though Guns N' Roses have had little new exposure in the music world over the last ten years or so they still maintain a huge fan base and many of their original hits still enjoy plenty of air time, so for a guitarist with old school tastes like Metal Mike's the opportunity to play with Guns N' Roses, in any iteration, is extremely exciting.
“Guns N' Roses are one of the greatest bands of all time. They are a band that is capable of totally turning rock around. Even though now heavy metal and hard rock are really big they could be responsible for making things big. They have a huge dedicated fan base. The other thing that has blown me away about them is that the kids are so young you know? Most of these kids weren't even alive when Appetite came out!”
Mike clearly has a lot of respect for the band and class their work as an art form that will pass the test of time.
“If you make quality music or anything like photos or art, people will respect that. Metal or rock is definitely like an art form upon itself like no other. If you make a good product it's going to live for 10, 20 50, God knows how many years.”
Aside from a hectic touring schedule Mike finds time to work on new material with his respective bands. One of these albums is the delayed, though forthcoming new Sebastian Bach album Angel Down. He was able to provide a little insight into what fans can expect from it.
“I guess lyrically the album is more about personal things, growth struggles and a lot of stuff about what's going on in the world with the wars and that kind of thing. The record sits in the perfect place because it will not alienate the fan base that Sebastian has. There's no like 'Here I am' on it. It's a really strong record that's just modern enough without being Linkin Park and it's got enough chemistry, well you know we all grew up on the old stuff so when I play guitar I really play that kind of stuff. It's got some ballads, and some of the stuff is probably going to be the most metal stuff that he's done which makes me happy.”
As well as working on Angel Down, Mike is also working on the new Halford album tentatively titled Halford IV and was able to give an update on what's going on with the recording process.
“We started working on the new record but then it became clear that Rob wanted to stay with Priest for one more record that they are finishing. We're going to finish that record but it's going to come out after the Priest touring schedule is done which will be about a year and a half so the new record should be out in 2009 but it's going to be something where we do a record and then tour. I'd rather release a record with Rob and then go on tour than put a record in stores and have it sit there. I love making albums that I know people are going to listen to so when I play live people are going to know the songs. That's my payback you know.”
With the frantic pace of his career he rarely gets to stop and look at things as they are happening but was able to tell me about one defining moment.
“I was just at Rob's house writing new stuff and putting new ideas down. So I've just finished jamming with the Metal God and I've got to get ready for the Guns 'N Roses tour so I'm like 'Fuck! I'm doing it! I'm doing it man!'.”
When asked about his experience meeting Rob for the first time the level of respect that Mike has for Rob is extremely evident.
“When I went out to L.A. we were walking through LAX (Los Angeles airport) through the gate, and I see the Metal God standing there with a camouflage outfit on. He put me at ease because this guy is the Metal God, but he doesn't have to meet me at the airport. We got along really well.”
This conversation led on to an answer to a question that I have had in the back of my mind for a while now.
“I was filling him in on what's going on in metal in 1999 and he saw my love of metal and the way I played so he started calling me Metal Mike. So I got my name from the Metal God.”
After a successful visit to L.A. with plenty of writing and work in the studio, a powerful collaboration would be born and Mike's career would take a major upward turn.
“I asked, 'So what do you think, is this going to work?' and he shook my hand and said 'I'm not going to look any further,' and he gets into his car and drives away. So I'm like 'Alright man, this is it!'. I got back to New Jersey and my life changed from that second on.”
With Rob Halford's stature in the metal world anybody would be forgiven for being a little nervous when fronting up to play for the Metal God himself but not so in this case. In fact Mike paints a picture of ease and comfort.
“I was concentrating on doing something good but it wasn't nervousness. I really wanted to do my best. Rob knew I was a capable guitar player but he was more about writing songs and the big picture. There are a billion guys who can play guitar licks you know so it was more about being a good person and wanting to make it happen. Rob showed us a lot of respect.”
Mike has been given a lot of credit for Rob Halford's resurrection, with one article almost implying that it had been done by Mike single-handedly. He isn't quite so sure about that.
“I think I was a big part of it but I wasn't the saviour with the golden guitar. I worked really hard and overcame a lot of things that were stacked against me but there were a lot of other great people who helped too you know. (But) it is nice to be put into that kind of light.”
In closing Mike gave a quick plug for his website but he also gave a sincere thank you to his Australian fans.
“You can always catch all the latest info on what I'm doing at metalmike.net. We opened up a great store called the Metal Mike Armory Store where some of the hard to find stuff and unavailable stuff is available but more importantly I want to thank all the Australian rock and metal fans for welcoming us to Australia. This is one of the best trips I've had and hopefully we'll be back!”
Painmuseum's Metal For Life is out now on Riot! Entertainment. For more information on Metal Mike, check out www.metalmike.net.