GC: As a music retailer, we're pretty interested in model numbers and things like that. Tell me about your guitars - what do you use and why?
Mike: I play the Ibanez SC type, XL scale guitar, basically for sound quality and playability, they really suit what I'm doing which is a lot of the lower alternate tunings that can sometimes be very difficult to get on a regular, you know, just standard guitar. I end up stringing it with .14-.75 gauge strings.
GC: Do you use any pedals or effects? Or do you just the sound you get from the amp?
Mike: Most of the time it's the sound from the amp but I do have a Lexicon MP2 processor that I use with a Bradshaw rig that can call up a Chorus or Flange sound depending upon how it was recorded and I basically use the rack unit because it makes it a lot easier for me than dancing on pedals.
GC: What do you think of the guitar rig you have now? What do you use and why?
Mike: I'm very happy with it. I've actually used the same rig for many, many years, and it wasn't until we finished recording this record that it actually changed. It basically it consists of two separate amp set-ups - one is the 9200 Power Amp made by Marshall with the JMP-1 Preamp and the other one is a Diezel DH4 head that is a German, handmade "Boutique" type amp and I used that in the studio. I really liked the way that it sounded, and decided to incorporate it in my live rig. I basically run both of those at the same time. The Diezel is a 4 channel head, and it has a really nice clean tone that I use quite a bit.
GC: What is the coolest recent addition to your setup?
Mike: The Diezel. Before I changed my rig, I had the same setup for like 6 or 7 years. Which is basically the same JMP-1 and 9200, but I also had an old JCM800 head that I was using. I still have those, and I use them in the studio, but I went to the Diezel and the other amps.
GC: What's the next thing that you'd like to get? What's on your wish list?
Mike: You know we're very fortunate because doing what we do, that the list is pretty complete. I'm really happy with what I have. For me it's really about trying to write good songs and, obviously have a good tone, but I'm pretty content with where my sound is right now.
GC: OK. Say I'm an intermediate player. I already have the basic setup and I want to expand. What's the next thing I should get to improve my sound?
Mike: With a good head and a good cabinet, you should be all set. I'm real happy with the way the 9200, and the JMP-1 sound. I think it's a great rig with a Marshall 4x12. I think a lot of people play with a really super saturated type of tone, and it's really easy to play that way, but sometimes it makes it muddy, and you can't really hear what's going on, so you've got to kind of be careful of that also.
GC: Do you have a home studio? And if so, what's in it, and what do think about the equipment that you have?
Mike: I actually just ordered a Pro Tools rig. I was hoping to get it today, so I'm really not too familiar with it. Korg also makes this 4-track recorder that you can record onto a little disk, and you can dump whatever you do into Pro Tools. They're sending me one of those which I'm going use in our dressing room so I'm looking forward to that.
GC: Do you practice a lot? What is your practice routine?
Mike: There isn't one really. I really don't practice a lot actually. I spent many years practicing 8, 10, 12 hours a day. What I do now, is when I pick up the guitar it's either to warm up, or when I want to write something. So the guitar for me now is really to write, and I don't really work on my chops anymore. I just really try to come up with different tunings, different chord voicings and try to come across something that I like that I think is kind of unique and interesting and make songs out of it.
GC: How do you write? Do you have a songwriting routine?
Mike: I usually just kind of pick up the guitar, and if I'm bored with the tuning I'm in, I'll grab a tuning peg and change it. And see if I can come up with some kind of interesting chord out of it, and write a song. It's happened, you know. Like if you play a chord in some new tuning and it sounds cool, before you know it, it turns into a song.
GC: Does everyone in the band contribute to the writing process? Do you tell one another what to play or is it more a democracy where you all play what you want?
Mike: No, it's pretty much everybody gets to do what they want. If somebody is doing something that we don't like, we come to an agreement whether or not you change it or you know, you let them do it. But everybody in the band is really competent on their instruments, and that's why we are a band, because everybody else does their job very well, whether it's Jon, the drummer or Johnny, the bass player or Aaron. I'll come up with an idea, bring it down, and if everybody is down with it, we just all start playing on it, and everybody adds their part. If there are certain changes people don't like, we'll work on it and come up with something else. Sometimes Aaron comes down with a song and usually, his songs are like an acoustic piece and he's pretty much got the song from beginning to end. He'll write on acoustic, and he can sing and he has the melody, and he has the words. We'll add our parts to that, to make it a band song.
GC: Do you warm up before a perfomance? And if so, how?
Mike: I should say yes. I try to at times, but most of the time I really don't. I'm usually handed the guitar about 3 minutes before we go on. I'll just play some of the more difficult chords that I have to play during the set.
I'm going to get a new guitar, and have a new wardrobe case which has an amp built into it where I can just sit around and play, which I'd really like to do. That's definitely going to happen. There are times when we were touring on the Dysfunction tour where I really was concentrating on writing songs for the next record. I was playing a lot before we went on stage, trying to come up with ideas. So it goes through phases.
GC: What advice would you have for a young player who might want to model a career after yours? What would you tell someone who said to you "How can I be successful and get to where you are?"
Mike: There's a bunch of things that you can do. First off, you definitely have to be proficient on your instrument. I don't really practice now, but I spent years playing guitar for hours on end. It was really for a different means, as I used to be more of a solo instrumental-type guitar player, for no other reason other than I never really could find anybody who could sing, that I liked. Sorry, all the singers that I worked with! But when I met Aaron, I really just wanted to write songs. The first thing to do is realize that you have to be able to write music, you have to be able to create your own music and it has to be something that at least is a little bit different, you know? Everybody is going to go through a phase where they're going to write songs like their favorite band. And that's not a bad thing, but you have to get out of that, and you have to realize that's what it is. You have to be able to take that and grow and make it into your own thing. I'd like to think that we're at least a little bit different, and I know it comes from having so many different influences and not just listening to hard rock. The other thing is, you need to find other people that you're happy playing with, and that you all have the same goal. Work on writing songs and play as many gigs as you can. Get out there and play wherever you can, whenever you can. And when you're doing that, be cool to the other bands that are playing with you. Basically, the reason we got signed, is because we were friends with other bands. We would always call each other, offer each other gigs. That's how we got the gig with Limp Bizkit that eventually led to us getting signed. There was a band that always used to play with us that called and said, "Hey we got this gig." That's a good way to get your music out into other areas too. If you find out about a band that's doing really well in a town., 4 hours away, try to get in contact with them. Say "Hey we're playing over here," and trade gigs. That's what we did, and it's a really good way to get into a different geographical area and be able to play.
GC: Have you, or do you, shop at Guitar Center at all? What do you think of it?
Mike: Yes, I do. I think it's a great place to be able to go in and pretty much get whatever you need. It's like one-stop-shopping, you know? But don't go in there on an early morning if you drank the night before, because it will drive you crazy! I walked in there on a Saturday morning, and there were a bunch of guys with amps on 10, and guys playing drums and I'm like, "Oh my god, get me out of here." But it's definitely a cool place to go. We definitely go there, especially if something breaks down on the road. It's always like, "Where's a Guitar Center?"