interview done by Karen + Stephen Tortora-Lee
If you’ve ever seen Mike Milazzo play the guitar then you already know what an amazing experience it is to watch him – his fingers fly effortlessly over the strings producing almost unbelievably complex sounds that are not only beautiful and powerful but raw and real. As a songwriter Mike has the ability to find the core of what connects us all and finesse it into thoughtful words and haunting melodies. As a singer, Mike’s voice is earnest and true; evocative and filled with emotion. He takes you on a journey with every line he sings, and it’s not until he’s strummed his last note that you’re able to break the hypnotic spell which his music has cast over you. You only have to sit through one of Mike’s performances to know that he is one of the best musicians around.
For those not lucky enough to be able to see Mike perform in person, he’s working on getting a new album out called “The Show”. Mike Milazzo took some time in between gigs to chat with us about what inspired him to write these songs, what the differences are between collaborating and going solo, and he finally solves the mystery of who, exactly, “Mr. Barry” is. Read on …
You’ve got an album coming out called “The Show”. Tell us a little bit about the songs that you chose to be on that album. What do they mean to you?
MM: All these songs came out of the Manhattan experience of being at Under St. Marks and hanging out with the open mic crowd. A lot of the songs were developed at Penny’s Open Mic. A couple of the songs besides “The Show” (which is really the core of this album) that I like a lot are “Love is A Cage” and “Angels”.
“Angels” started out as a song about how friends of mine were having some problems and struggling with their singing voices, but how they could start finding their confidence. The rest of the song veered off into my own spirituality, and my spirituality, as if angels were singing to me, representing the angels in my life. But my songs are about a lot of different things, and mean different things to different people. I think songs should be like that.
The title of the album is very evocative … it can mean The Show as in “The performance”, or The Show as in … “the big reveal”. What does “The Show” mean to you?
It means a little of both. Yes a performance, but on another level Life itself is The Big Show. The most important message of the album is “just make it happen“. It’s the lesson I’ve gotten from working at Penny’s – that if you have an idea you should start out with what you have and build on it … the more you work on it the better it becomes.
A lot of people ask me what some of the lyrics of “The Show” mean. For instance, there is a line in”The Show” about Mr. Barry, that everyone ask me about. “Mr. Barry” as a phrase just rolled off the tongue well. He’s really the composite of a lot of people in my life. So “Mr. Bary” is really whoever you want him to be. It originally was from Barry Manilow but “Mr. Manilow” just didn’t roll off the tongue as well. When people listen to the song I imagine them adding their own layers of meaning and experiences for their own versions – their own “Mr. Barry”s of what they see in the song.
How long has The Show been in the works?
I’ve been putting it together from a lot of pieces since the last album (The World Outside) came out. So for a couple of years now.
The few songs that I’ve heard from that album are amazingly complex as well as deeply thoughtful. Where does your inspiration come from?
In general most of my songs are from my relationships, with women, girlfriends, but also relationships in general. Many of the new songs on this album came from me workshopping and performing in front of people. For example, the song “The Show” is about my experiences with those performing at Penny’s Open Mic. I like story songs, songs about characters and people, which helps me to get out of the relationship box. I tend to write about relationships, I just take a slice of life and tell a story about it and it’s those stories that people seem to be able to relate to.
You’ve got a solo career as well as a collaborative career. How do you find yourself working differently alone than with other people?
I get a lot out of working alone, I can definitely go deeper when I’m working on a solo project, but sometimes it’s hard examining your own emotions so intently all the time for months and months and months without taking a break. When I collaborate I can get out of myself and go in a different direction than I would on a single project. It keeps me from getting too self absorbed and keeps me fresh. I have more breakthroughs while playing in my other bands (Broken Arrow, Cutleri, Kill The Band, The Boardlords, Anacoustic Mind) and come back to my own material refreshed.
With The Boardlords, I get to satisfy my lead guitar jones, playing lead guitar in a punk band. With Kill the Band, I get to express my comedic side, playing a character, and its more of a cabaret act. With Cutleri and Anacoustic Mind, I get to play mandolin, which is an instrument I don’t get to play a lot. I love using different instruments, and playing different styles of music.
I get a chance to do things I wouldn’t normally do all on my own. I can move into a direction musically which I wouldn’t move in by myself and so it helps expand my range as an artist. I feel like I began to be a part of a lot of bands because I’m inherently lazy, but I’ve discovered by balancing my collaborative work with my solo work its really helped me become more of a storytelling songwriter. Now I have a lot more range from all the work I do and it shows in the songs I write.
Yeah, that experience really helped pull me into this whole scene. Joe Yoga and I went from just being sort of backup for Killy to being a part of this comedic cabaret with Killy as this mock rock icon battling against the boardrooms of America. It’s really a lot of fun, and Kill the Band has become one of my regular gigs. My work with them has given me a lot of breakthroughs that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been part of that experience.
You’ve got an IndieGoGo campaign going right now that’s got around a week left. I know how important it is for a solo artist to gain support form the community. How can people learn more about you and support your upcoming album?
This campaign is something I learned from being part of this community of artists over the last few years. It’s about not only making art, but making art the way you want to. With so many people in this scene having the same sort of goal, it just seems like IndieGoGo or KickStarter is now the smart way of doing these sort of projects. It becomes sort of a “pay it forward” sort of thing. Mads Jeppesen From Finland is using IndieGoGo for his film Somewhere In The Dark and it’s a great example of how these things can work to take artists’ concepts to a whole other level with this method of making projects happen on a bigger scale than they could have before things like KickStarter and IndiGoGo existed.
I felt it was really important to do it for myself, and also do it for my other friends. I’ve contributed to a lot of projects and being part of these communities it just make sense to pitch in a little where you can to make it happen or find people outside of the community and see if they can help. Sometimes it just becomes a problem of finding a patron. Other times patrons are looking for people they want to support and IndieGoGo and other campaigns are a great way to build awareness with new people who might not have heard of us before.
Bonus Question! You can tell me anything you want. Tell me a joke, give me your favorite quote or lyrics … or recipe … promote a cause … tell me something else about The Show that I may have not asked … anything! The mic is yours …
Through Horse Trade Theater Group, Under St. Marks Theater, and Penny’s Open Mic, a community opened up that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’d never have known them without them creating this space for artists to come together.
So many good groups of musicians and performers got their start at Under St. Marks Theater. It’s a great place for a lot of networking with supportive people. Right now, it is in risk because the building is for sale. There’s a campaign for Horse Trade to save the theater from being another venue destroyed in NYC. I Just wanted to get that message out again because it’s a really good thing that has really changed my life.
Mike! Such a pleasure to learn more about the man behind the music.
For those of you who want to help this amazing man get his album realized you can go to his Indie GoGo page … for a donation of just 25 bucks you can get a copy of his first album “The World Outside” and you’ll also get that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you helped the amazing Mike Milazzo get his next album out there for the world to enjoy. In a world of Britneys couldn’t we all use a little more Mike Milazzo? So go there now!