Mike DiMeo of Riot/The Lizards/Masterplan May 29, 2006 9:22:54 GMT -5
Post by HARD ROCK UNIVERSE on May 29, 2006 9:22:54 GMT -5
Mike DiMeo Of Riot/The Lizards
Interview by Nightwatcher
August 28, 2005
Ever since joining Riot back in 1993, vocalist Mike DiMeo has been responsible for some of the most soulful vocals laid down in the modern metal scene. Beginning with 1994's 'Nightbreaker', DiMeo soon found his footing, contributing not only fantastic vocals, but also well thought out lyrics which are some of the most articulate in the melodic power metal genre. Another testament to his considerable vocal talents is the not generally known fact that this Long Island native was tapped by then Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore to work on their 25th Anniversary album 'The Battle Rages On,' going as far as recording sessions for the album before record company pressures brought Ian Gillan back into the band, leaving DiMeo kind of the odd man out at the time. In 2004 the most versatile frontman joined up with ex Rainbow, B.O.C. and Sabbath drummer Bobby Rondinelli, guitarist Patrick Klein and bassist Randy Pratt in The Lizards for the excellent 'Cold Blooded Kings' album, and is now doing double duty in both bands quite admirably. Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with Mike shortly after The Lizards completed a U.S. tour with hard rock legends U.F.O., where the topics discussed not only included said tour, but also Riot (who have an upcoming album, the long awaited follow up to 2002's 'Through The Storm,' release date still TBA as of this writing), his influences both growing up and the present day, his thoughts on the current music scene, as well as his future with both bands. Special thanks go to Billy James at Glass Onyon PR for coordinating this interview, and a BIG thanks to Mike for doing this interview for Rock N Roll Universe!
Rock N Roll Universe : First off Mike, how was the tour with U.F.O.?
Mike DiMeo : It was great, we started in Europe, it was an extension of a tour we were doing with Ian Hunter. Right after the Ian Hunter tour we jumped on the U.F.O. tour. It was more our type of crowd than Ian Hunter. Ian Hunter was great, but the U.F.O. tour was better for us because it was musically better suited. The guys were great, really nice guys. Unfortunately Pete Way couldn't be with them in the States, but it was fun in the States too, we had a good time, really cool.
RNRU : You also toured Europe with The Lizards recently with Glenn Hughes. You've previously stated that Glenn has been a big influence on you vocally. How was that experience?
MD: Glenn was great, he's a really cool guy and he's got a really great voice. I like to watch him sing. After all these years, he still sounds really good, he's one of the few singers that can still sing from his era. A lot of the guys that came up when he came up can't really sing anymore. He's really a good musician. It's really good to learn from people like that who have a lot of experience, you see what they do right, and what they do wrong and you learn from it. Something like that is always a learning experience.
RNRU : Did you pick up anything from him on this tour?
MD : Our voices are really different, so as much as I really dig his voice, first off, I don't sing as high as Glenn. There's many different nuances to our voices. I really love Glenn's voice, a lot of the stuff he does, he does a lot of high stuff that I couldn't even think about hitting.(Laughs)
RNRU : Who were your other influences vocally when you started?
MD : That's another thing that I was going to say, as much as I love Glenn, appreciate stuff like that, my biggest influences musically and vocally were the old blues guys. My favorite singer is a guy named Bobby "Blue" Bland. Guys like that are the guys that I really learned how to sing from. Otis Redding, things like that. To be honest with you, I'm a blues musician, that's what I've been doing for years. I play piano, and I play Hammond organ. That's what I really love, that's where my heart is. That's where I learned to be a musician was listening to that kind of stuff. It's cool for me to sing Rock, but I definitely feel more comfortable in a blues setting. It's great music, and being a musician it's really great to express yourself in that music. The thing that's cool with a band like The Lizards is that Bobby and Randy both grew up listening to blues.Bobby's biggest influences are all Blues Rock bands. Randy is amazingly into the blues, and he's really into early Bad Company and Free, which all comes from the blues, which is cool.
RNRU : You also play with other bands and musicians around Long Island. I saw an album by The Dare Ya Blues Band, that has a certain Mike DiMeo on keyboards. Is that you?
MD : Yeah, that actually was me. They hired me to play some keyboards, and I actually sang a couple of songs on I think their first CD. It's not straight blues, it's some songs that the songwriter wrote. It was a fun experience.
RNRU : That's pretty much your first love then, the Blues?
MD : Yeah, that's the stuff I grew up listening to. I shouldn't say that it's my first love, because I do love singing heavy music. The one thing that's different about blues, and rock, and heavy rock, is that playing to a live audience is a completely different game when you're doing it with a rock band. A blues setting, it's great, it's a lot of fun to be a musician, but when you're fronting a rock band it's a whole different ball game. THAT is an extremely cool experience, it's great. I would never want to change, or trade that in. When I play in a blues band, a lot of times I'm playing piano and singing, I focus a lot of energy on arrangements and soloing. When I'm with The Lizards, and we're playing, it's more you just want to be heavy, want to be cool, you want to go over cool, and you're thinking about the show. I never do that when I'm playing blues for some reason. I don't think about putting on a show, it's about the music. Not that it's NOT with a rock band, it's just a different type of experience. That's why people love to play rock music, it's more powerful.
RNRU : Besides Bobby Bland, who are some of your favorite Blues artists?
MD : I would say, when I heard Muddy Waters my life kind of changed. Those records that he made, even the Chess years, it's so cool, so earthy. It feels so true to an art form.It's stripped down to a guy with a voice and a guitar, sometimes the guitar's out of tune, but that doesn't really mean anything because what he's saying,even though he might not be the greatest singer, might not have the greatest pitch, although in Muddy Waters' case he happened to have a great voice. Those early guys, it was ALL about the soul and the expression. To me, that's what a lot of rock music, especially heavy rock music has lost. I think essentially all music comes from that early blues period. In Rock N Roll, you can trace it, like you can trace the lineage of a family. You can trace music back to the roots. If it doesn't have a trace of the original roots, it loses something. I think a lot of singers have lost that sort of earthy groundness that they need to excel a song. A lot of guys, singers, and I don't want to say names, but there's so many guys out there that worry about their pitch, doing licks, doing this, doing that. The first thing I do when I listen to a singer is, I have to be able to feel what he's saying, to have him tell me WHY I should dig his singing. Either with the character of his voice, or the way he's using his voice. Those early Paul Rodgers records, he doesn't have the greatest range, and he didn't have the greatest pitch on those early records, but EVERYTHING that he said, you believed. That's why guys like Rod Stewart, and all these guys say he's the greatest rock singer that ever sang, Freddie Mercury, all these guys say that about him. Because he knew how to sell a song, and he felt it. You can trace him right back to Otis Redding and stuff like that.
RNRU : There's a lot of soul in there...
MD: That's why, in my opinion, music has lost some of that, some of those roots, the traces of the roots, it's really important, in my opinion to have that. Without it, I'd rather be doing a day job, which I've done, which is cool. If I can't express myself the way I feel, it wouldn't be as legitimate to me. Then you get songwriters in a room, professional guys to write a song, you go up there and sing the song, and it sounds as plastic as it is.
RNRU : What is the main difference in how you approach doing a Lizards album versus a Riot album?
MD : There's a lot of differences as far as we approach writing. The main difference with Riot, is that it's a whole different cup of tea, because Riot has had so many problems with logistics, being able to actually ever become a band. For a long time that I was in the band, some of the guys lived on the West Coast, we never were able to rehearse and write the stuff together as a band. A lot of the stuff that we wrote, Mark and I, we'd write and send tapes out to the West Coast, and it was a very arduous, tedious process, and it always hindered the band's production, as far as becoming a band, touring and rehearsing. That said, I think the records are really cool, I'm very proud of them, and I love them. The process with The Lizards is that we rehearse every single day, that's where I'm going right now. The things that we write, we write as a unit. We strip down as a unit, we decide what we're going to use as a band. First off, it comes out much faster that way, and second off, there's a certain cohesiveness to the songs that maybe you don't get the other way. That said, the new Riot album should be coming out in a matter of months, it's being mixed now, and I'm really proud of it. I think it's probably my best performance with the band. The songs are really heavy, really cool. Reale is a tremendous writer, so it's hard to not get great stuff from him. He's such a good writer that no matter what way he does it, his songs usually come out great.Typically, I'm saying it's a really hard way to write that way, again, that said, it's been over a year and a half in the making, that's one of the problems.
RNRU : Do you have a title for the album yet?
MD : No, we don't have a title yet.
RNRU : On The Lizards' 'Cold Blooded Kings,' since you've joined the music seems to have taken a heavier turn, in a 70's hard rock, Purple, Zeppelin, Rainbow type of style. "Down" in particular, sounds like something that could've been off of Rainbow 'Rising.' How much of a fan are you of bands of that era, and what are your favorite albums of that era?
MD : I'm definitely a fan of that era. I worked briefly with Ritchie Blackmore, and I think he's a great writer. Some of those songs on the early Rainbow albums are really cool. "Tarot Woman" and "Stargazer", those are really great songs. I'm really into that stuff. First off 'Cold Blooded Kings', was intially demos that the band recorded, and when I first joined the band, we just threw these demos together, and I put some really quick vocals on them so we could have something with me on it to get some gigs, and to become a band. We didn't initially mean that to become a record, because of the fact that the songs were written with another singer in mind, most of them. John Garner was in the band, and they had written a lot of those songs with him in mind. I just came in and sang my parts on top of that. Except for some of the songs that we wrote as a band, like "Down." and "Rising Star". Actually, "Rising Star" was already written, I just came in and threw some vocals on it, Hammond organ and piano.
RNRU : How difficult was it to come in and do vocals on music that you hadn't had much input on?
MD : It's not that it was really hard, it's just that the stuff was already written, with the melodies. It's kind of hard for me to work that way because some of the stuff is just not what I would've typically sang. Not that it's not good stuff, it's just a different approach. I think the record ultimately came out really cool, and it was a cool start. I think that the next record that we do is going to be really good, because I think that I've become more suited in the band. The stuff we're writing, obviously I'm writing the vocal lines, and it's going to be more suited to my voice. The music is definitely getting more progressive. It's cool, because I'm really into the Allman Brothers, stuff like that, and I think a lot of the new stuff that we're writing is a cross between the Allman Brothers and early Santana or Deep Purple.
RNRU : Speaking of the new album, when is that due to be released?
MD : We're still writing for it, and we're just beginning to record on it, so it's going to be awhile.
RNRU : You also have a live Lizards CD and DVD coming out soon..
MD : Yeah, we definitely have a live DVD coming out. That we're working on now. We've been doing a lot of filming, we filmed in Sweden, Germany, Sweden again at the Sweden Rock Festival. We filmed in New York City, we filmed in Milano, we filmed all over the world. We have a lot of material. We have at least four shows, we might have more than that. The footage is cool, I really like it. It's going to be fun to watch the finished thing.
RNRU : As a lyricist, where do you draw your inspiration from?
MD : I always tend to write about personal feelings or experiences. That's pretty much how I've always come up with lyrics. In Riot, a lot of the stuff that I wrote about, especially early, was politically influenced. I don't like to write about things directly. I like to write about things the way I feel about them, and a lot of it came out kind of indirectly about politics. I don't really do that with this band. It's more of a blues rock vibe, and that doesn't really go over in this type of setting.
RNRU : Now getting back to what you mentioned earlier, about working with Ritchie. I know that you worked with Deep Purple in '93 for 'The Battle Rages On' album, then Ian Gillan came back halfway through. Did any of the songs that you worked on end up on the album?
MD : I worked on three songs, Ritchie called me, and two days later I was in the studio with them in Connecticut. Roger Glover and I sat down, he had some words, and I sang on I think three songs. Those three songs, when BMG told Deep Purple, and BMG pretty much put the squash on the whole thing. They said that, in order to release on BMG, it's the 25th Anniversary, we want the original band back together. Ritchie was holding out as long as he could, but eventually the band said look, we want to go ahead with this. Those three songs came out with Ian singing vocals and melodies, lyrics, so that was that.(Laughs)
RNRU : Were you disappointed about Ian coming back into the band?
MD : You know what? To be completely honest with you, I was disappointed. When I think back about it now, I say to myself, "Wow, that would've been great", but I'm not the type of person who dwells on things a lot. It happened, and it was cool, it's unfortunate it didn't work out, I think it would've been great. There ARE demos floating around. with me with Purple. As a matter of fact, I was in England for the Hughes tour, and every time I go to England, there's the Deep Purple Appreciation Societies.Everytime I go there, they find me. I was in some small hotel, in some small town in England, I'm getting out of the hotel, it was me and this guy in the elevator, I'm getting out of the elevator, and the guy comes up to me and says "Mike DiMeo?" I didn't know this guy, and I was like "What's this guy following me to my hotel room for?"(Laughs) He starts saying "Look, I have these bootlegs, these demos, with you singing on Purple songs, and I'm a huge Purple fan, would you care to do an interview about it?" I don't do interviews about it, I don't really want to talk about it, I'm not really interested in it. Because it didn't happen, and there's not much to say about it. I did some demos, and they came out good, the band wanted to use me, but these were not finished products. This was stuff that Roger and I worked on in the studio really fast. As a matter of fact, Bruce Payne called me, Purple's manager, and said "Ritchie wants you in the band". It was very brief, it's just not something that I really like to talk about because it didn't happen, and I'm not going to go around saying "Yeah, I was Purple's singer," because I wasn't. The one thing that I do find very odd about this is. there's only two people that had these demos, Ritchie Blackmore and Roger Glover. Roger Glover took a copy of this stuff, Ritchie Blackmore took a copy of this stuff. About a week later I was at Ritchie's house, and he gave me the copy of the stuff that he had, So, the ONLY way that stuff could've gotten out was through Roger, that I know of, unless the studio made copies. But, I know people have these demos, they know the names of the songs, because the names have been changed, so anyone who knows the names, knows the names back then, you know what I'm saying? So, when he said that he knew the name of the song, I was shocked. I don't know how they got these demos, it's strange.
RNRU : Now, that was around the time when you originally joined Riot. If Ian hadn't come back, would you have left Riot to become vocalist for Purple full time?
MD : Well yeah, I probably would've, because Purple was working a lot at that time, they're still working. That's the other thing about Riot that has always been a major problem with the band, they just don't work. Even when I joined the band, I was a full time musician when I joined Riot. I was gigging four or five times a week, and as soon as I joined Riot, I didn't do gigs with them for YEARS. I joined them in '91, and I don't think our first tour of Japan was until '94. It's ridiculous for a band not to work. After '94 we started to work a lot, up until 2000. That's one of the big sticking points with me, because I like to work.
RNRU : A few months ago, you released a statement saying that you were quitting Riot to devote yourself completely to The Lizards, then apparently you had a change of heart?
MD : You know what the whole funny thing about that is, that never came from me. That was the whole problem with that situation. I can't remember where we were, I think it was Sweden, and I didn't have a cell phone at the time, because I had just switched my cellular service to a European company so that I could have my cell phone over there. I got a message from Reale saying all this stuff, and I went online and checked it out. It didn't come from me, it came from someone who thought that I should quit the band, said that I quit the band, but it was not from me. Immediately I issued a press release saying that's not the case.
RNRU : So you never quit the band?
MD : No. I'm not saying I'm going to tour with them, Riot and I really don't know what's coming in the future. I'm on the new record, and the record's great. But, I'm working full time with The Lizards, so as much as I love Riot and my heart is in the music, and I love to play with them, the band just doesn't work enough for me to leave this situation.I need to work, I'm thirty six years old, you know what I'm saying? I've got to pay my bills. So, unless Riot decides to become a full time band, and go on the road, stay on the road, which is where I want to be, I don't know what's going to happen with the future of Riot. We're not really sure. Again, anything's possible, I have no idea.
RNRU : Is the band still signed to Metal Blade here in the States?
MD : You know what, I really don't know. I think that the CD that we just finished, we're looking for a label for release. I don't know if Metal Blade is getting the new record. I'm sure they'll want it, but I'm not sure what's going to happen. It's definitely going to get a release. I don't know if it'll be with Metal Blade though.