INTERVIEW WITH STEELCITY FOUNDER AND GUITARIST MIKE FLOROS
Date: April 7, 2020
Photos: Jeremy Saffer (first photo), Lea Caffrey of Morningstar Reflection Photography (third and fourth photos)
STEELCITY RELEASED THEIR CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED SOPHOMORE ALBUM ‘MACH II’ LAST MONTH VIA PERRIS RECORDS AND THE ALBUM TITLE COULD NOT BE MORE APPROPRIATE. THE BAND UNDERWENT A MAJOR LINE-UP OVERHAUL WITH GUITARIST MIKE FLOROS BEING THE LONE MAN STANDING WITH THE ADDITIONS OF LEAD VOCALIST ROY CATHEY (COLD SWEAT, THE FIFTH), DRUMMER BJ ZAMPA (HOUSE OF LORDS) AND BASSIST JASON CROMWELL. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH FLOROS TO DISCUSS THE NEW ALBUM AND WHAT LED TO THE VARIOUS LINE-UP CHANGES BETWEEN STEELCITY’S ALBUMS ‘FORTRESS’ AND ‘MACH II.’
Sleaze Roxx: Congratulations on your new album ‘Mach II’! Before we go into the album, I am hoping that you’ll address the big change in the band with the change in lead vocalists from Bryan Cole to Roy Cathey. Back in early December 2018, Bryan cited “personal and creative” differences and made comments such as “I’m not a hobbyist” and “for a brand to be successful, it also needs a strong, professional machine to run it.” So what were the issues with Bryan that led to his departure?
Mike Floros: Hey, Olivier, thanks for reaching out. It’s always a pleasure to chat with Sleaze Roxx. Wow… It’s like that, is it [laughing]? First question, right off the bat!
Sleaze Roxx: We don’t beat around the bush [laughs]!
Mike Floros: Let me start by saying that we’re extremely excited to have Roy in the band. He’s a perfect fit for what we do in SteelCity and he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with. As for Bryan, I sincerely wish him the best. I know he’s been working very hard on his solo music and he’s got a great gig going with Duane Morano and his band, Morano. Ultimately, I believe that’s where his heart lies and are the most likely reason he left. I’m happy he’s pursuing his passion in the way he sees most fit and took no offense at his desire to move on. As for his comments? From the guy I know, they seemed totally out of character for him, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m really proud of the album we made together and again, wish him the utmost success.
Sleaze Roxx: You announced your new singer Roy Cathey about a month later. How did the process work for Roy to join the band? Were there any auditions and/or anyone else considered for the job?
Mike Floros: After Bryan left, there was really only one name on our list to take his place and it just happened to be Roy. I met him at Rock N Skull 2017 and honestly, my introduction to him was with The Fifth, both online and at that show. I didn’t know he was the lead singer of Cold Sweat until afterwards. For someone who’s very active on Facebook and other social media, that may come as a surprise. I was absolutely blown away by his showmanship at Rock N Skull and that voice! Oh my goodness, that voice! Yeah, I went back and found the Cold Sweat album soon after and was just floored. In any event, I was contacted by Roy’s manager, Dave Tedder, and we had conversations about expectations on both sides and when we both felt satisfied, it was then up to me to chat with Roy about fronting SteelCity. In our discussion, Roy and I found some common ground on influences and what we thought a new SteelCity album could sound like. That pretty much sealed the deal and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the differences between Bryan and Roy in terms of working with each of them?
Mike Floros: First, how about we talk about their similarities? Let me start by saying that each of these guys is an absolute pro at what they do. They are both extremely talented and anyone who has the good fortune to work with upper echelon singers like these two guys should count themselves blessed. Seriously. Both have a strong work ethic and a dedication to their craft that is unparalleled. And while both were given a “road map” as to melody and song design, they both were also given complete autonomy to work within each song. Art isn’t art unless there is freedom. Both of these cats took that freedom and delivered in spades!
The differences, at least to me, are simply in their style and performance. Bryan has a lush voice that echoes the likes of Michael Sweet, Dan Huff and Steve Perry. His roots seem firmly entrenched in AOR rather than all out rock and metal. Roy, on the other hand? He just oozes hard-rock confidence.His vocal style is remarkably different and his influences are much heavier. Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, and Geoff Tate are guys that immediately spring to mind. He has the ability to hit any note and does so with relative ease, including notes that would have Brad Delp smiling down from the heavens, beaming with pride. Ultimately, while both men are fantastic, Roy is perhaps a better fit for what SteelCity does.
Sleaze Roxx: You released a lyric video for the single “A Little Love” in August 2019 which would be most people’s first time hearing Roy singing in SteelCity? Were you happy with the reaction that you got?
Mike Floros: The reaction that we got from that video was nothing short of spectacular. People were extremely receptive to the new sound of SteelCity and I do believe we gained a lot of new fans with Roy on board. That was pretty evident at our live show last year, as well.
SteelCity‘s “A Little Love” lyric video:
Hey peeps, we hope you dig the second single from our album, Mach II, which is officially OUT RIGHT NOW! As a band, we wanted to find a way to say THANK YOU …
Sleaze Roxx: In early January 2020, SteelCity announced that it had parted ways with Kivel Records. What prompted this change so close to the album getting released?
Mike Floros: That was an extremely tough move for the band, most notably for me. People often like to fall on the sword of “creative differences.” In this particular case, it’s the complete truth. From art design to album production, we simply weren’t anywhere near the same page and rather than lose a friend in John Kivel, it was just assumed the best course of action was to step away from Kivel Records. We still have a lot of good friends on that label and wish them all great success moving forward.
Sleaze Roxx: You ended up going with Perris Records, which handles a lot more artists and, from what I gather, is more hands off on the creative side than Kivel Records. How do those two labels differ and why did you end up going with Perris Records?
Mike Floros: Ha! One could simply say, “Refer to the previous question” but I’ll elaborate a little. It’s very important for me to thank our current label for having enough faith in SteelCity to sign us. We did our homework before inking that contract and can tell you this — every single person we spoke with had amazing things to say about Tom Mathers and Perris Records. Big thanks to label mate Duane Morano for connecting the dots, for certain! Yes, you are correct in the belief that Perris is a bit more hands-off than our previous label. For us, that was welcome. John Kivel has an incredible track record with his bands and he’s been around for a long time. He likes to be involved and that’s OK, I suppose. We’re just a little more comfortable in doing our thing, our way.
One of the other significant things about Perris is global marketing and distribution. From the day we signed, we noticed the difference. Our music was now being offered and has sold in markets where we were unknown in the past. We’re being played on more radio stations, internet stations, and podcasts than ever before. Moreover, our streaming numbers are increasing considerably. That can be directly attributed to Perris Records’ unwavering ability to promote, promote, promote! They may handle more artists but you’d never know it. Sure, they have Dirty Looks, Helix, and other high-profile artists but we feel like we get the exact same treatment as they do. That counts, big-time, for us.
Sleaze Roxx: Beside changing lead vocalists, there was also an overhaul of SteelCity’s rhythm section. What led to the departures of Scott [West] and Ron [McCloskey], and how did BJ [Zampa] and Jason [Cromwell] get in the band?
Mike Floros: Oh, man. The end of 2018 was rough. Bryan, Scott, and Ron left in relatively the same timespan but for different reasons. We’ve talked about Bryan already. Let me say that Scott, Ron and I are all still friends and hope to do something together again someday. However, when Scott got elevated to CEO at his employer, that pretty much spelled the end of his tenure in SteelCity. With him and Ron being best friends and a package deal, I said goodbye to Ron, as well. So there I was, going over songs for the new record with Tony Stahl, our sole, remaining member! As for the new guys, I have to give credit and thanks to John Kivel. He reached out to BJ and Jason to ask if they had any interest in joining the band. BJ was on board from the get-go and after meeting with Jason at NAMM 2019, he was completely sold on SteelCity. The resume of both men is quite formidable.
Sleaze Roxx: Given the substantive personnel change, was there any thought of starting afresh with a new band name rather than continuing as SteelCity?
Mike Floros: Changing our name was something we thought about, yes. However, there was a foundation with SteelCity and it just felt like that was something that needed to be built upon.
Sleaze Roxx: Aside from the change in personnel, what do you see as the key differences between the albums ‘Fortress’ and ‘Mach II’?
Mike Floros: Great question. Some of the key differences are some of the things we mentioned already. The vocals are key, for sure. Roy’s vocal style is a bit more “metal” and aggressive. The backing vocals on the last record had more of a Stryper quality to them, whereas this album has a bit more of a Winger or Europe feel to them — at least to me. That’s due in large part to the expertise of Erik Johnson from Bombay Black, who coordinated backing vocals and is part of the new production team consisting of Ty Sims, Erik and myself. Ty’s mixing and mastering has a distinctly different feel than that of ‘Fortress’ producer, Johnny Lima. Both men achieve masterful results but have a distinctly different approach to mixing.
Sleaze Roxx: What was the writing process like for ‘Mach II’?
Mike Floros: The writing process for each song is different, honestly. Some of these songs have been floating around in my head since 1985. Yes, 1985! The words or the music can come first and one is always built around the other. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — praise the person who created the “voice record” app on cell phones! The recording process was pretty cool, though. I would provide Ty a completed song demo. He’d strip it down to just guitars and it would then make the rounds to BJ, Jason, Roy, Tony, and finally, back it went to Erik and Ty. I’d periodically get “Christmas gifts” of near-completed mixes that would just give me an ear-to-ear smile… Every damn time!
Sleaze Roxx: I think that the ‘Mach II’ album title is pretty obvious [laughs] so what was the idea behind the album cover?
Mike Floros: The idea behind the album cover was a simple one. The band wanted to convey speed and power. What better way to do that than with an SR-71 Blackbird? Our name might be the same but this was definitely a new beginning and we wanted to convey that in a massive way. To do that, we enlisted the incomparable Nello Dell ‘Omo to not only design the new album but to also create our new logo and shield. I think you’ll agree that he did a masterful job at every task that was asked of him!
Sleaze Roxx: What are your favourite songs off ‘Mach II’?
Mike Floros: All of them, dude! Seriously, though? My favorite song, performance wise, is “Give It Back.” The arrangement of that song couldn’t have come together better. The rhythm section starts it off and then Jason and I get to have that solo jam just before Roy rips into the vocals. “Down To One” is an open love letter to my wife and possibly is my favorite song off the album, for that reason alone. I do think Roy said it best in a recent interview, though. Each song has its own personality and its own, distinct, “a-ha!” moment. Hopefully, it can sound enough like our genre to take people back while still moving forward.
SteelCity‘s “Hearts On Fire” lyric video:
Here’s the latest single from SteelCity’s upcoming album, Mach II, due early March 2020 from Idora Entertainment. This powerhouse band features Roy Cathey on…
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Mach II’ was released on March 20th, which is pretty much when the coronavirus pandemic really started kicking into high gear in the States. Do you think that had an impact on the album release?
Mike Floros: Leave it to us to release during a pandemic [laughs]. At first, I wasn’t so sure but I can tell you that the impact has been surprisingly positive. Perris has mentioned that the album is performing very well. Our streaming numbers are way up for both albums, too. Perhaps now, more than ever, people are turning to music as their “comfort food.” If we’re able to provide that comfort in some small way, we’re more than happy to oblige.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the plans to promote ‘Mach II’ knowing that it might be a long while before you can play any shows to promote the album?
Mike Floros: Well, we’ll promote any way possible. The bummer for us is that all of us live in different states, so we can’t do one of those cool live concert streams we see other bands doing. Our new management team, Brad Lee Entertainment, is busy building relationships with concert promoters throughout the USA to help us hit the ground running when the “stay at home” orders finally subside. We’re really pumped to be working with them, too! As for our promo, just keep an eye on our social media and our website, and we’ll go from there.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention that we didn’t cover?
Mike Floros: Nope. I think you’ve pretty much covered it but I would like to take a moment to thank Jason Cornwell, Tony Stahl, BJ Zampa, and Roy Cathey for coming into the fold and a shout-out to Perris Records for giving SteelCity a home. As for our friends out there in the universe, thank you so much for supporting the band. We get to make music, thanks to you. You’ve won our hearts and we can’t wait to see you all, live, in the near future. Peace!
SteelCity‘s “I Cry” lyric video:
3rd lyric video off SteelCity’s latest album, Mach II, out now on Perris Records. The band features Roy Cathey from Cold Sweat and The Fifth on vocals, BJ Za…