Metal Church are heralded as a founding father of Thrash, having a career spanning decades, finding their beginnings in 1980 and gaining billboard success. They are seeing a rebirth with vocalist Mike Howe joining forces with guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof in 2015, recording, releasing and touring new music to the joy of fans the world over. Now Metal Church are back again and in a big way with Damned if you Do the barnstorming new album!
Metal-Roo: Thank you so much for speaking to me today!
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for speaking to me.
M-R: So, your history with the band is fascinating, singing from 1988 to 1995, and now two massive albums in the past three years… it seems like you guys are celebrating the re-invigorated Metal Church, not just the so-called glory days, is this the case? How does it feel to be able to create this new material with Metal Church?
It’s all what you just said man, it’s been an amazing journey. I feel lucky and grateful to be in our 50s and having a second chance. For me a second go around, doing it in a more fully aware, adult situation, where we can really enjoy every moment of it and appreciate it a lot better than when we were twenty-somethings. Just reconnecting with Kurdt Vanderhoof a few years back and realising we still had chemistry together and really enjoyed writing together, it’s just been a beautiful thing. We don’t question it too much, we just enjoy it, that’s how we approach the whole thing! hahaha
M-R: Where did you guys record Damned if you do? How did the writing and recording compare to Xi? Easier, harder, neither, both?
We actually recorded it at Kurdt’s house in his studio. He’s a very capable song writer and producer. He does it all, he’s an amazing talent and I’m very lucky to have him as a partner and a friend. None of it’s been hard! We’re just lucky to have this chemistry between us. He’s such a giving partner in writing, it flows so easy. We both know what we like, and we agree on it, and if neither of us like what’s going on, we know it and we move on. If we love what’s happening, we’ll keep it. That’s why I’m back in the band! It’s such an easy partnership and I really enjoy working with Kurdt. I enjoy making music and we both say when this isn’t fun anymore that’s when we both will stop, but at the moment we are having a blast.
M-R: So, when writing, you and Kurdt Vanderhoof work on melodies and riffs together, seeing what works and what doesn’t, during this. Is it difficult to be honest when it comes to deciding what sounds strong enough to go on the album?
Yeah, we both just kinda know. In the writing process the way we do it is that Kurdt goes into his studio when it’s time to start writing a new record and, put on his metal brain and get in there and starts pounding out riffs and putting song structures together. When he has a handful, he sends some off to me over the internet. I listen to them and get excited and, then I’ll come up to the studio, go to a microphone, he’ll set up the console and I’ll start screaming. We try not to think about it too much, if it feels good and sounds good then we keep it, it’s that easy and we really enjoy it.
M-R: During your time in studio was there anything great that came out of nowhere and made an impact on the album? Were there any challenges you didn’t expect?
I think that’s the way it flows, creativity comes in ebbs and flows and you just go with it. One thing that does happen during the song-writing process is late in the game, most of the time there’s some song that comes out of nowhere and you go wow! That’s an extra one that’s awesome, and that happened on this album with The Black Things: we were getting ready to record the whole thing, and then he came in and said, ‘hey I got this other idea’ he showed me, he put it down and I said ‘hey that’s awesome!’ – so we recorded that. When I went to record vocals for the entire album, we did that one first. Songs like Start the Fire and Badlands came late in the game too and that’s a really cool thing.
M-R: It must have been something else to be going back into the studio when recording Xi, how big of a difference was it opposed to your albums of the late 80s – 90s (Blessing in Disguise or Human Factor)? Was there a steep learning curve? How had you and Metal Church prepared for the studio?
There is a huge difference in the way that we recorded opposed to the albums from the past. Like, with a huge budget from the record company, you have this professional giant studio, you have an engineer and a producer, and the pressures really on you in that situation because the magnitude of the money being spent as well as a deadline to do it in. Now with the last two recordings we did none of that pressure is on, because it at his house and our studio, there’s no record company, there’s no management looking over our shoulder. It’s just us having fun making music at his house. I think that is a huge part of why I came back to the band, we won’t have any of these record business shenanigans hovering over our head.
M-R: When bringing Stet Howland in on drums, how much time passed between jamming the first time and touring? Touring can be quite hectic and intense, especially with a new member, was there anything specific that made Metal Church know that this will work, and you can continue?
Well, it was it was kind of out of the frying pan and into the fire with him. He was known by Steve Unger our bass player, who worked with him in the past in a band called Where Angels Suffer, so they were friends from the past. He flew in and I flew up to meet them, we rehearsed together for a few days to see how it felt and it felt great and we just had alright well let’s go! We toured that summer with him, we never said you’re in the band or you’re our replacement drummer. But it didn’t take long, I think after a few tours we just said would you like a full time job? He accepted of course.
M-R: The video for By the Numbers depicts music and performance as an escape of living a ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ life. After having quite a break from music and raising a family, how close is this theme to you? Can you describe how important music is as a release to you? How does it compare to the release of yoga and meditation?
Oh yeah, I do. I think everybody does whether you play it or listen to it. I mean I’m a fan of music. I think that’s what the magic is with music, it’s a great release for everyone, their frustrations, their sadness, all the emotions. I’m just a lucky one who gets to get on stage and yell my ass off and get it out of him. I encourage everyone out there in the crowd to do the same! It’s very therapeutic!
I never really thought about it on that level, but I do say. The crazy thing that I do, which is, yelling at the top of my lungs and jumping up and down on stage for an hour and a half is just not something that people do normally right? It’s kind of a strange profession to begin with, you know, you get really amped up when your adrenaline is running and it can get the best of you, but I incorporate meditation and yoga into being centred, not getting over excited and stay in control of my singing mechanism. That way I don’t lose my technique and go up into my throat. Your solar plexus, your nervous system and your breathing, everything has to work together, so that’s how yoga helps, even when I’m screaming at the top of my lungs I’m still in control.
M-R: You have said that your musical tastes vary greatly as a fan of ‘Music’. I’m interested to hear your favourite releases of the year?
I’m a big fan of singer songwriters that are passionate. I think you could find great music in all genres, but I really love some Americana singer songwriters that the lyrics are so touching, and they deliver them with such passion whether it be quiet passion or loud passion. I like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, a duo, that are stripped down, they just play music from the heart, just things like that. Just any music that moves me. Everyone has different tastes and they enjoy different things but that’s the way it is for me.
M-R: So, when re-joining the band in 2015, what was the first show back on-stage? How did that feel?
It seemed like a typical Metal Church baptism by fire as they say. We rehearsed for my return for literally three days before the first show before in Washington which is actually where Metal Church is from. We were doing a show there for to prepare for the Monsters of Rock cruise we were going on. We booked two shows locally and three days before the show Rick our guitarist’s retina detached! He had to have surgery and we lost a guitar player three days before the first show. That was a little stressful, we brought someone in that sat in with Metal Church before and I give that guy huge credit because that’s gotta be scary, but we pulled it off. For me singing the old songs and getting back with Kurdt is like riding a bike, once you start getting into the flow of things muscle memory kicks in and it’s like you were doing it all along.
M-R: You have one hell of a perspective when it comes to music, in all shapes and sizes, how does performing and touring with Metal Church in 2018 compare with 1988?
Yeah, it really is a massive gap, and it’s challenging in ways monetarily for us because there’s no record company to give us money and help us out. Personally, it’s an amazing experience, that’s way better now. I mean it was great back then, but it’s way better now because of our self-awareness and where we are in life. We’re just very grateful to get out there and meet with the fans and give the love and get the love back.
Interview Date: 2018-12-11
Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley