Mike is someone that I'm familiar with in an industrial community I frequent. I knew he has an interest in gear and I figured that this would make for an interesting interview. I think that this interview turned out interestingly.
Links and socials:
Cyrus: Starting with the basics - Tell me about yourself.
Mike: Well, I'm 39, my day job is boring IT sys admin stuff. It funds my music making hobbies and other things in life well enough. I've been married a couple times and have kids, and I've been interested in and trying to make music since I was 15. And, because I'm not too sharp with answering questions sometimes, I make music currently (solo) as Hitchcock Guillotine, and as a band in Long After Midnight.
Cyrus: What got you interested in making music? Any influences?
Mike: So, I have a cousin that's a couple years older than me, and I remember as a kid thinking he was super cool because he owned a guitar and listened to all this grunge stuff in the early 90s -- some of the more mainstream stuff like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, but also less mainstream stuff like Dinosaur Jr. -- I think he had some Tear Garden and Legendary Pink Dots too. Anyway, when I was 14 I started begging for a CD player, and got one for Christmas that year, then it was (in retrospect) a pretty rapid succession of buying heavier and darker music. My first CD was Green Day - Dookie, then within a year I was listening to White Zombie, Primus, Nine Inch Nails. Anyway, all that music really got ideas going in my head. I liked to write, I guess poetry which just became lyrics, and wanted to turn it into something more. So my dad got me a guitar when I was 15. I took some lessons but it was never really what I wanted. My first band I ended up doing vocals and traded the guitar and amp to my drummer for a small vocal PA. As we got going at some point I was like "I want samples from movies like Frontline Assembly" so I got a sampler and that kind of lead down this road of finding software to make electronic music with.
I got started writing electronic stuff in Guitar Pro using tab and the general midi on my soundcard, then moved into Fruity Loops v2 and an old 4 track version of Cubase.
Cyrus: How old are your kids? Have they shown any interest in musical endeavors?
Mike: My daughter is 17, she's shown a little interest in music, but mostly just does her own thing. She wanted an acoustic guitar when she turned 14 and I made her take lessons for most of a year. She still dabbles with it and I put Live Lite on her laptop at one point. She's more into drawing/painting though. My son is 10, he sometimes shows interest in music but it seems like for both of my kids they encounter the challenge of learning and get put off. Not sure if it's that the learning curve is too intimidating or if I make it sound overwhelming by rambling too much though.
Sometimes my daughter will take pictures of my studio and brag to some friend or friends that are into making music. My fiance's son -- he's 6 -- he's really interested in all of the gear I have, but he's also pretty young to understand it. Mostly for the younger kids it's like they might decide to poke at the space station in the corner sometimes to hear the weird noises then get bored.
Cyrus: If one of your kids wanted to take music seriously, what advice would you give them? Anything you wish you knew sooner?
Mike: Oh man, honestly, make time to practice whatever instrument you're going to focus on at least 30 minutes a day. I wish I'd been doing that my whole life -- I'd be a badass on keys by now but I'm extremely not. Just make the discipline happen, no other way around it.
Cyrus: You mentioned you have gear - What sort of stuff do you have? Any favorites?
Mike: I've got a bunch of hardware, I've actually been selling a few things off I don't use anymore or haven't turned on in months to clear some space. The studio right now is Arturia Minibrute 2S with 3U rackbrute full of eurorack modules, Arturia MicroFreak, Sequential Prophet REV2, Akai MPC Live, Soundcraft MTK22 mixer/audio interface, Elektron Analog Drive and Analog Heat and (the boring stuff) Akai MPK Mini MkII, Arturia Keylab Essential 49.
As far as favorite stuff, I got the Minibrute mid March and the eurorack stuff followed pretty rapidly after. It's really changed my whole way of approaching writing music and gotten me into a place where I can make the kinds of sounds I've always wanted to make very quickly. The other hardware stuff I've got are my other favorite things. I'd count the Microfreak as a desert island synth -- like if I had to get stuck with one complete synthesizer to make sounds with.
I'm going slightly Marie Kondo with my studio, if it doesn't spark joy why is it here?
Cyrus: What's on your wishlist? If you could have any synthesizer in the world, regardless of price or exclusivity, what would you pick?
Mike: I really really want to justify a Novation Summit. Just something about that thing that's really cool and I've always been a fan of Novation. Maybe some day when I have more physical space.
Although on the other hand, I'm pretty damn happy with what I've got. If you told me 20 years ago I'd be working with the setup I've got right now I wouldn't believe it.
Cyrus: Where did you envision yourself now 20 years ago? Any ideas?
Mike: Probably as some sort of big shot music producer and in a nationally touring band. A lot of life events happened in that 20 years, took 10 years or so off making music, sold all my gear, then started getting back into things about 4 years ago.
Cyrus: Where do you see yourself in the future? Any goals or hopes?
Mike: My goals are a little more realistic these days (maybe?). I want to be able to have a band I play some shows with regionally -- not really looking for huge success, maybe a small tour or something -- and I'd like to try and figure out how to get into doing soundtrack work. Whether that's TV, movies, video games, whatever. It would be nice to get to a point that I can make a comfortable living waking up and making music every day.
I've got the band so far, but unfortunately shows are probably a ways off due to all the everything right now.
Cyrus: Going back that - Tell me about your projects.
Mike: So the one getting the most attention from me right now is my band Long After Midnight. It's me and two other guys -- Nick Heidt is our guitar player, Ross Morgan is our singer. I met Nick a couple years ago posting ads looking for a guitar player for my previous solo project that I called Liberation Theology. We started talking and throwing some ideas back and forth, ended up doing a few songs with a different singer. When she quit, I figured it was a good time to retire that band name and try something fresh. How I ended up meeting Ross was through the guitar player from my metal band from way back in the day. That guy was trying to get some kind of industrial project going and I was the only synth nerd he knew. That ended up falling apart but Ross and I had talked a few times so he reached out when I started putting word out looking for a singer again.
We started working on our first song, a track on our EP called Brave New World, back towards the end of last year just to see how the process would work. We were all really happy with how that turned out and started working on more stuff just as all the quarantines hit, so I guess we all ended up with a lot of extra time to devote to it too.
My other project, Hitchcock Guillotine is basically the dumping ground for all my electronic ideas. Ambient things, super harsh noisy things, more techno oriented stuff. I've always had something like that and this is just the current iteration. Although I've got some stuff in the works with a guy in the UK that releases music as Thought Crimes that should be really cool when it's done.
The band names don't really have a lot of background meaning. For Long After Midnight, we had our EP ready to go and had to pick something. We tossed some ideas around -- Ross keeps a running list of possible names -- and that's the one we all thought was good. He got it from the name of a Ray Bradbury short story collection. For Hitchcock Guillotine, I decided I needed something new to use for my solo stuff and immediately thought of that gif of Hitchcock exercising by pulling a guillotine blade up and down, it's a little bit meme culture and also guillotines because eat the rich.
Cyrus: What was your writing process for the EP like?
Mike: Our process for this started with me sending a bunch of instrumental ideas to Ross. All of it was synths -- pads/leads/bass/etc. -- and programmed drums. He'd pick something that he felt inspired by and would record some vocal adlibs and start writing down lyric ideas. He'd also chop and tweak the arrangement a bit. Once we had a track that Ross was into, Nick would start coming up with guitar parts to throw on it. Then it was a lot of them recording their parts in their home studio spaces, sending the tracks to me through Google drive where I'd pull them into Studio One and do a final mix. The stuff we're working on currently hasn't changed that at all -- it's entirely an online process, dropping iterations of tracks into a group chat for everyone to give input.
Ross is also a solid guitar player too so, for instance, on Prophecy, he came up with the verse guitar riff and we just went with that, and he added a lead part in the bridge of Brave New World.
Cyrus: What are you most proud of on the project? Anything you think you'd do differently a second go around?
Mike: For this EP, my big pride point is I wrote the guitar riff in the chorus of Brave New World. I'm a crap guitar player, but occasionally I'll hammer out an idea on a demo and in that instance Nick didn't want to change it. He played it a hell of a lot better than me though. As for this release, I think I did the best I could with the tools and knowledge I had doing it. I think with finishing any song or set of songs, there's a tendency to want to over mix everything, strive for perfection and ultimately spend all your time hearing everything you wish you did better if you only knew how in the moment. I definitely learned plenty through finishing these tracks, but I don't really like to dwell on what I could do different -- I'll just do it for the next release.
Cyrus: You have a solo project and you're in a band. How would you describe the difference?
From my end it's mostly how my influences manifest in whatever I write. There's a lot of stuff going on in my head, a lot of bands and sounds that have shaped my perspective through my life. When I come up with ideas, I almost never know what's coming out until it's fleshed out with several layers. Sometimes that could be a more traditional song structure, or could be 8 minutes of droning on a distorted pad. For the band, things that can fit into a more rock/metal context with distinct verses and choruses that aren't too harsh tonally are what gets picked. So in that regard, I have a bit of a sense of what to pitch at the group and what to keep to myself. But like I said, my solo project is kind of a catch all, I don't really find myself being conflicted over whether something becomes band or solo material.
Cyrus: Earlier you made a comment about eating the rich - What's your political beliefs like?
Mike: I'm a pretty diehard socialist. I don't think there should be billionaires that control industry, and I don't think there should be poverty. How that happens is something to be debated for sure, but I think it's clear the current capitalist system in the US has failed millions of people for decades.
Cyrus: Anything else you'd like to say? Any soapboxing you wanna do, advice you wanna give, or stories you wanna tell?
Mike: I think just the obvious: check out our EP on Bandcamp, buy it if you can, and it hits Spotify and all the other streaming services July 31st.
And thanks for the interview, this was fun 🙂