Shortly after arriving in the United States in 1984, discovered a whole new world, a world in which he would set his sights on rock n’ roll glory. It didn’t take Metal Mike long to set the wheels in motion, carving out his own “Heavy Metal Cinderella Story.” Along the way, Chlasciak not only became a graduate of Berklee College of Music but became a accomplished solo artist, sharing bills with the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Morse, Ronnie Montrose and Savatage. He has released three acclaimed solo instrumental records, two instructional books, and even helped Rob Halford reclaim his heavy metal throne. Even after accomplishing these amazing feats, he assures us that he has no intentions of slowing down and that the best is yet to come! Metal Mike is truly a man on a mission and one that is living his heavy metal dreams. Jason Price of Live-Metal.Net recently sat down with Metal Mike to discuss his metal roots, his past work alongside rock greats Rob Halford and Sebastian Bach, as well as the other projects he will be unleashing on the masses in the coming year. For those with true metal hearts, our journey starts here – Welcome to Planet Shred!
Live-Metal.Net: How did music first come into your life?
Metal Mike Chlasciak: When I was a little kid, my grandfather liked to play violin and the more drunk he was, the more of a virtuoso he thought he was! [laughs] We would go to weddings and my grandfather would play the violin and play a crazy song. I always got a kick out of it. That is when I realized how people love to see musicians and how they embraced them. I was little at that point, probably about eight or nine years old. It really wasn’t until I moved to the United States in December of 1984 that I was listening to a radio station in New Jersey, WSOU, that I heard Iron Maiden on my Walkman. I fell in love with that kind of sound. I couldn’t really make out how that sound was made but I was really interested in it! I would say that it was somewhere early in 1985 that I really became fascinated with music in general.
What drove you to make music your career?
It just felt like a natural thing. I was interested in soccer. Anybody who grows up in Europe is into soccer, ya know? [laughs] Everybody in the neighborhood plays soccer, but I never felt like I was going to become a soccer player. I was looking for something that I really wanted to do and I couldn’t find it. My Mom said “You should go into computers because there are a lot of jobs there.” I said, “Well if that is what everyone else is doing, then I am definitely not going to do that!” [laughs] I said, “I am going to be a guitar player. Not only a guitar player but a heavy metal guitar player!” From day one, my Mom got me a hundred dollar B.C. Rich copy guitar and from there it became an absolute, instant obsession or practicing up to 8 to 10 hours a day. Really disciplined. I just know that this is what I was going to do! I have never built a backup bridge, so I have to make it happen.
Who and what were some of the influences that have helped shape you, the musician, that we know today?
The first two cassettes that I bought when I was 15 were Motley Crue’s “Theater of Pain” and Twisted Sister’s “Come Out and Play.” [laughs] You are talking about the most obvious, 80’s heavy metal revolution. That was me. I was absolutely engulfed in the whole Jackson Flying Vs, Marshall Stacks, hair bands, smoke and women running around in videos! [laughs] That was me, man! I was into Motely Crue and I had bought enough Motley Crue T-Shirts to wear in school everyday! Then I heard Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” album and at the same time, I heard Megadeth’s “Peace Sells” album and Overkill’s “Taking Over.” I said, “Now, this is what I am REALLY into!” I got out of the Sunset Strip Metal and got into the other stuff because it was a little more musician based and I was really into guitar playing.
As far as guitar players go, it is definitely Yngwie Malmsteen foremost. Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert from Racer X, Randy Rhoads. Those were the guitar heroes that had the most influence on me. Riff-wise it would be Metallica, Dave Mustaine, Chuck Schuldiner from Death. I loved the Death records that he did. I was always a person who had a really wide range of metal tastes. For example, I would go to school wearing a Metallica “Master of Puppets” t-shirt and come home and listen to Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s first record at night. I was really open to all these styles of metal. I think that really helped me and that it shows in my playing as it is not just one dimensional.
How do you think you have evolved as an artist since starting out?
I guess that I have gotten smarter and a little more mature with things. I guess this is a little bit cliche but I have gotten more interested in substance. I really pay attention to what kind of music I release. I want to make sure that not only the quality of it is good but that it talks about things that I feel strongly about. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily write an album about Satan because I don’t happen to subscribe to an idea about something like that. I wouldn’t do it just to be crazy and mean. The music has to be more of an extension of my thoughts. It isn’t about how fast you can play on the guitar or how much smoke you can put on stage! [laughs] There is still plenty of that! I want it to be worthwhile and a piece of art.
What is the typical songwriting process like for you?
It varies on the artist that I work with. For myself, it is simple. I come up with all the riffs and I have a drum machine where I program all the drums. It doesn’t involve the most complicated drum patterns but I want to convey my message. For example, when Bobby Jarzombek, who is a drummer that I have been playing with for years, hears a part, he will know what I want. I program drums that would give him the skeleton of the riffs and I will demo everything. By the time a singer, drummer or bass player would hear the stuff, they almost have a mini-album in front of them. It is a very one-man process for me. Working in the basement and creating riffs and completing a demonstration album to make it happen for real.
Are you always working on material?
I am always working but I am working in different ways. There could be a time where I concentrate on getting a web store going. I figure, this might take four days that I have to get together with a graphic designer and a guy who’s going to hookup a PayPal thing for me. It might take four days just ironing that issue. If I hear from Rob Halford or his camp saying that they need a bonus track for something, they might need it in three weeks and I say “Ok, that is what I am going to work on.” It is difficult for me to do to many things at the same time because then I just feel like I am just running around or patching things up.
How did you originally become involved with HALFORD?
It was one of those guitar player Cinderella stories. I did my first solo project with a band called Isolation Chamber. In 1996, when everyone was releasing Joe Satriani-esque albums, I did a really heavy album. It wasn’t a kind of “Look at me, I can play guitar” type album, ya know? It was heavy riffs, there were industrial parts in it, samples and a decent amount of guitar playing but it wasn’t about me putting together chord progressions that I could play arpeggios over. I made this album back in 1996 and back then it was still $3,500 to print out 1000 CDs. [laughs] I put it on my parents credit card and asked my Mom if I could pay her 100 bucks a month while I gave lessons. It was time, no more demos, I needed to put out an album.
So, a year later I put together a band, just a three piece with myself, a bass player and a drummer. Whenever a guitar hero would play the East Coast, a promoter would call me to open up for them. I would open up for Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Morse or Ronnie Montrose. Anytime that a great guitar player would be in town, I would open up for them. I would do things like “pay to play.” I would sell tickets to all my students and family and I would show up with 130 tickets sold and give the promoter $1,800 in cash and get paid like $160 bucks! [laughs] Lesson number one about the music industry, right?!!
I would videotape all this stuff. I remember that I played the Birch Hill in New Jersey. Yngwie had like eight Marshall Stacks all lit up and you couldn’t even see my stack. So, it’s me playing in front of 900 people with no singer, in front of eight Marshall Stacks and that is the video that I sent to Rob (Halford). I heard that Rob was looking for a touring guitarist. He had just come out of the Two project. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for someone to play industrial music and if so, I wasn’t the guy. However, if he wanted to do heavy metal, I felt that I was definitely the guy for him. As luck would have it, Rob wants to go and reclaim his “Throne of the Metal God” and my video comes in with me playing in front of 900 people with 8 Marshall Stacks! [laughs] So, Rob said “Well, if he can do that in New Jersey, he can do that anywhere. Get him out here!” And that’s the story!
Any idea on when we might some activity on a new release from HALFORD?
Rob’s band, the musicians are quite prolific, and probably some of the most professional guys that I have ever been on stage with. There is so much material that has been accumulated over the past few years. It is just a matter of wrapping it all up and cutting out the songs that are not as good as the others, mixing it and then releasing it.
Well it sounds like we definitely have something to look forward to at least!
Yes, certainly. As you can imagine, we have to be very respectful to Rob’s commitment to Judas Priest because we all know what that band means to him. We would all like to have one more stab at going out and playing some new music. We all feel, and this is including Rob, that the HALFORD band was a little more than just a solo artist hiring a bunch of dudes to play cover songs. We really have something to say as a band. It was just a little unfortunate, in my eyes, to release an album like Crucible and not have a fair shot at promoting it. That’s alright and it’s all cool and we have all been busy but when the day comes that we all get together and play as a unit, it is going to be really fun! Not only for us, but hopefully for the fans as well! It seems like there are a lot of them out there.
You also worked on Sebastian Bach’s latest offering Angel Down. How did you first get hooked up with him and what was that experience like for you?
Sebastian lives about an hour and fifteen minutes away from me. He has been a big fan of my work with Rob. Steve Digiorgio, who I met when he was playing with Testament when they toured with Halford in 2003, we ended up becoming good friends. He played on the PainmuseuM Metal For Life album and he ended up playing with Sebastian. Steve called me and said “Sebastian is putting together this metal album, do you want to write a couple of songs?” I am always up for writing metal songs so I told Steve that I would write a song or two for the record. In the next thirty seconds, I got a call from Sebastian saying “I want you to join my band, man!” I couldn’t because I was doing, in 2004, a short run with Testament.
So he called me again and said “I am playing Sweden Rock and Bang Your Head in 2005.” I have such a soft spot for these festivals overseas because they are a lot of fun. I said “Alright! I will go out and play these few shows.” Before you know it, it is 150 shows later and we are on a World Tour with Guns N’ Roses and then Poison and the record is out! It has been fun! It is a pure rock n’ roll experience with Sebastian. Really, what you see is what you get.
Sebastian Bach is currently dabbling in the country scene. Have you checked out any of that yet and is there any chance we might see Metal Mike cross over to “The Dark Side” (Country Music)?
The answer to you is double no. [laughs] I haven’t heard any of it. Well, I heard something he was playing, “Battle with The Bottle”, on the bus. I didn’t even know it was Sebastian.
It definitely has a different sound for sure.
Yeah, it sounded pretty good. At this stage, everyone has a blessing to do whatever they want to do. If he wants to do a country record, then more power to him. I mean, it is a big world and you only live once. I am not interested at all in playing country. One, I don’t really like it and Two, I don’t really know how to play it.
Yeah, you would look a little funny up on stage with an acoustic guitar in front of all those Marshall Stacks.
Yeah, playing “I Remember You” is already a stretch for me! [laughs] But, it is a great song, people love it and it is a wonderful thing to be a part of too. If Sebastian is having a good time doing country that is a beautiful thing for him to do and I would rather go on and make a metal record in the meantime.
What is the current status of your band PainmuseuM?
Well, it was interesting because I really felt that we put out a unique album in the metal world. It wasn’t easily categorized and it was a kick ass metal record. Anytime we got some shows, to be very honest, I got sidetracked. I got sidetracked into going to California to work on some Halford music. I got sidetracked by going on tour with Sebastian. I got sidetracked by going on tour with Testament and just living life. I don’t regret any of those things because they were all really nice things to be involved with but that is what happened. The record has been out and it has become too old to really go out and tour on. That is what happened with PainmuseuM. I was really, really relieved because even though the music industry didn’t know what to make of it, the fans really embraced it. It was a critically acclaimed album which I thought was a really nice for a band’s first album.
To cut to the chase, I already have a whole album done and demoed in the fashion that I mentioned earlier. There are 12 songs, some awesome music in there. I am just not sure whether I am going to make it a PainmuseueM type of release or if it will be my own solo album with half of it being instrumental and half having a singer on it.
Any idea when we can look forward to a release of that material?
I am hoping to for it to see the light around the later part of 2009. While I am working on that I will also be working on my first heavy metal instructional DVD.
You do a lot of clinics and have even put out two books, Monster Coordination – Guitar Boot Camp and Ridiculous Riffs For The Terrifying Guitarist and now you are working on an instructional DVD. Was the transition from guitarist to teacher something that came naturally for you?
When I was teaching music, before I ended up doing music full-time, the thing I recognized about myself as a teacher was that I am patient with my students. I could listen to them and really talk to them. I could gauge their progress and so I could explain at their ability. So that helped me to be a good teacher but now it has been become more of showing the approach and technique of heavy metal. I don’t have a daily student roster anymore. The response to the first two books has been really strong. I felt I had something that people really responded too. I started putting together the idea of “Metal Day.” I grab a rehearsal studio and send out a quick mailer to my mailing list about it and I will take ten people into an open session. We will all talk together and guitar players can meet other guitar players and get in contact later. Every time I have done these things, we have always had a full house. I know there are so many people that want to learn and I really like doing it. The next step is making a guitar DVD that people can take home and put in their DVD player and learn to play.
What do you think about the state of metal music today?
I think there are a lot of positives. I think for one, the scene has become really strong and two, you know the stereotypes and segregation of metal styles that we saw in the 80’s and 90’s is almost gone. You know, now you can have a death metal singer and a clean singer in the same band. You could break into a Sunset Strip riff and then into a Slayer riff and no one is going to tell you that you are kinda doing it wrong. I love that because who wants to be held up in the box. Remember in the late 80’s, it got as bad as “If you liked Iron Maiden, you can’t like Judas Priest.” [laughs] That is so ridiculous, that is how you kill something, by segregating it into small little underground pockets. I love that metal is strong right now. There are always going to be bands that are going to be more commercially accepted or commercially minded with the material that they put out. If that makes them happy, good for them but I really love bands who take the later route. One of my favorite bands of all-time is Death. I thought that Chuck Schuldiner was doing such productive and great things. I really respect that. I think it is important to stand out from the pack because it is all about being individual and doing your own thing. That is really the idea behind heavy metal.
What does a lifelong musician like yourself think of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video game craze we are currently having?
You know, to be honest it must be bigger than even I know about. I know the game and I have seen it and only played it for a few minutes. I felt like “Man, I should be playing my own guitar and not trying to press buttons!” [laughs] I was really bad at it! I thought it was so wild when the packaging (on Guitar Hero) had these metal looking guys and I don’t know if anyone picked up on it, but you basically have Abbath from Immortal on the cover. That is who the guy is. It just blew me away, because now the dude from Immortal is in every K-Mart! I think it is great, ya know! I think that Guitar Hero and Rock Band are great for rock music in general because rock is huge and what is metal? Metal is just a “dark child” of rock music.
One of the biggest stories in music this year is the release of Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses. Have you had a chance to check out any of the music yet?
Well, I hate to brag, but! [laughs] I heard the album two years ago when Axl (Rose) played it for me on his laptop. I heard it and it was a lot to take in and then I heard those songs live when we were on tour with them. First of all, I think that it is absolutely incredible that the record is coming out. It still blows me away, how much of an anticipated album it is. Rightfully so. I heard the first single, “Chinese Democracy,” and I thought it was a great song. It shows you that someone like Axl, like we were talking about earlier, is a true artist and he refuses to bow down. He is the Elvis of today. I think it is beautiful and I think it is a really important album for hard rock and heavy metal. I’m going to get it and I think Axl deserves all of his success!
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know?
Most importantly, I want to thank everyone for following all of the crazy paths that I have taken. I get email and good wishes from people often and I really appreciate that. I really appreciate people caring and lending an ear to what I am doing. The last thing is to remind them that there is a whole lot of music that is going to come out from me. I feel that everything up until today has been just a really good warm up. I really have my stuff together and it is going to get really creative, really soon with my record, dvd and potential stuff from Rob. I’m ready and I have stuff cooking! Go over to MetalMike.Net visit me there and check out all the stuff!