INTERVIEW WITH STRIPWIRED GUITARIST MICHAEL MROZ AND SINGER DARREN CAPERNA
Date: December 10, 2018
GUITARIST MICHAEL MROZ AND SINGER DARREN CAPERNA HAVE HAD AN INTERESTING MUSIC CAREER. ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO, THEY FORMED THEIR SUCCESSFUL AC/DC TRIBUTE BAND BACK IN BLACK, WHICH PLAYED 100 SHOWS THIS YEAR! THE DUO EVENTUALLY ALSO FORMED ORIGINAL BAND STRIPWIRED, WHICH RELEASED A SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM IN 2007. BACK IN BLACK KEPT GOING STRONGLY WHILE STRIPWIRED WAS PUT TO THE BACK BURNER UNTIL CAPERNA GOT TO AUDITION FOR AC/DC IN MARCH 2016 TO REPLACE BRIAN JOHNSON. INSPIRED BY THEIR VERY COOL ENCOUNTER WITH AC/DC, MROZ AND CAPERNA REFIRED THE STRIPWIRED ENGINE AND THE BAND WILL NOW BE RELEASING A NEW ALBUM TITLED ‘ANOTHER SHOT’ IN JANUARY 2019.
Sleaze Roxx: Stripwired started off as the AC/DC tribute band Back In Black. What made you decide to record original material and release an album back in 2007?
Michael Mroz: Darren and I have always enjoyed writing. It started when we had our first original band in LA around 1990, but the music scene was so tough, we gave up and started the tribute band ten years later. So we were performing as Back In Black and the great AC/DC fans kept asking us if we had any original material so that kind of sparked the idea for us. We thought it would be fun to write again and just put out a homemade CD that we could sell to the fans at our tribute shows. It turned out really good and the fans really enjoyed it.
Sleaze Roxx: We are of course going to cover Stripwired’s plans to release a new album next month and how the new album was inspired by Darren’s audition with AC/DC back in 2016 but before we go there, what happened with Stripwired between the release of the band’s debut album in 2007 to Darren’s audition with AC/DC?
Michael Mroz: Like I said, we’re really proud of our little homemade CD and it was doing well but unfortunately I was dealing with some personal issues such as a divorce after a long-term marriage and my Dad being diagnosed and losing his battle with cancer. All this really kind of killed my inspiration to write.
Sleaze Roxx: So let’s chat about Darren’s audition with AC/DC in early 2016. How did that come about?
Michael Mroz: The AC/DC audition was incredible! I had heard about Brian’s departure on social media and I immediately contacted Darren and his response was, “Well, go get me an audition.” I turned away and I thought, “Yeah right!” But then I knew I had a couple resources so I made a couple calls. The next day, their management was trying to contact me and I couldn’t believe it. After a couple [of] phone calls, we were set to fly to Atlanta and meet the band. Management drove us to their rehearsal room and after a quick sound check with their techs, the band walked in and we had tea and crumpets. It was so amazing! A three or four song audition turned into a five hour AC/DC concert that included every song off their current Rock Or Bust Tour plus a couple [of] additional songs. The coolest part of the whole experience is that AC/DC treated us as their peers. Darren and I also experienced their amazing work ethic. It was so educational and inspiring. Unfortunately, they went with Axl Rose but they told us, they consider us part of the AC/DC family. We were able to catch up with the band when they were on tour and saw them perform in Buffalo, New York [USA] and hung out backstage with them again.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, an audition with AC/DC doesn’t happen every day so Darren, please take me through step by step how the experience was with as much details as possible [laughs]!
Darren Caperna: The first thing that blew me away was when I walked into the rehearsal space for the audition. The setup was like a live concert. A wall of Marshall full stacks on either side of the drums, +4 bass rigs, and Chris Slade’s full drum kit. We met the crew and management first, and they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and like part of the family. They asked me if I wanted earplugs and of course I said “No. I like it loud.” They warned me that I have never heard loud like this before. They were right. When they hit that first guitar chord, it shook my bones! They got everything ready and then the boys showed up. Angus came up to me, shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and asked me if I would like some tea. Then he introduced me to the rest of the band. I calmed myself down because at that moment, I had forgotten how to breathe. But they made me feel so relaxed and welcome that it was like I was jamming with my friends in my garage. And my God! It was loud!
I was told I would do about four or five songs, but we ended up doing the whole Rock Or Bust Tour setlist. Two hours of jamming. When we finished, I went out back to smoke a cigarette, and all the guys came out back with me. We all started talking. They were telling me stories about Bon Scott. I was telling them stories about growing up in New York, and we were all having a great time laughing our asses off! We went back inside and I thought we were finished, so I went up to Angus and said “Thank you so much for this opportunity, I will never forget this.” He said, “Don’t you want to play some more?” I said, “Yes please!” And then we rocked for another two hours. When we were done, they told me they would make a decision in the next few weeks and that I should keep everything on the down low until then. I can’t express how hard it was to not tell anyone anything! My friends from New York heard about Brian Johnson not singing for them anymore, and sent me messages saying you should audition for them [laughs]! And it drove me crazy that I couldn’t respond to them that I already did!
Sleaze Roxx: Darren — How and when did you find out that you didn’t get the AC/DC gig?
Darren Caperna: We waited anxiously for the e-mail letting us know what the decision was. Longest wait of my life! Then we received the e-mail letting us know that they went with Axl. Of course I was disappointed, but if I’m going to lose a singing job to somebody, Axl Rose is pretty good company.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that the AC/DC encounter inspired you guys to write some new songs and “resurrect” Stripwired.
Michael Mroz: So after we returned from the audition, I was so inspired to create music again so I immediately started working on the songs. I’ve always wanted to produce a professional record and I felt that it was time, plus we have such a great line-up now with Back In Black. Everything just lined up. And I knew in the back of my mind that we now have some credibility with the AC/DC fans now.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the big difference between this album and the debut released way back in 2007?
Michael Mroz: The songs we released in 2007 was a collection of songs that we recorded in my home. The new record that will be released in January 2019 is a professional record! I spent 60 days on the guitar tones! Casey, our engineer really helped me achieve what I wanted. He found a 62 Gretsch that just sings. Listen to the beginning of “Another Shot.” I hope Malcolm would be proud!
Sleaze Roxx: Another big change this time around is that the both of you are the only remaining members from Stripwired’s debut album. What happened to the three guys [Mike Wagner, Taylor Smith and Jay Benzi] that recorded the first album and how did Ken [“Da Crusha” Schiumo], Sheldon [Conrad] and Ramiro [Noriega] end up joining the Back In Black and Stripwired bands?
Michael Mroz: Unfortunately, Jay and Taylor decided to pursue professional careers. Mike had some personal issues that he had to deal with, so he ended up leaving as well. We actually just saw Mike last week and he is doing great! We had our eyes on Ken for awhile. He was in a Bon Jovi tribute that played with us a lot. He has very heavy hands and feet. For the non-musicians out there, that means he plays hard. When he hits his snare at sound check and we are not expecting it, we all jump and curse him! The drummer is so important to a band. He is a big part of our sound. Sheldon also joined us from another tribute. He was in Def Leggend. He’s just an incredible bass player and singer. He knows how to be in a band. He’s a real team player and the nicest guy. He is also Canadian! Ramiro came to us as a suggestion from another previous member of Back In Black that stepped down after Mike Wagner. It’s a big committment to be in our band. We did 100 shows this year! Ramiro is an amazing guitar player and singer. Again, he’s real easy going, and knows that the songs come first. By far our best line-up. No drama. Everybody works really hard. I’m very proud of this band!
Stripwired‘s “Another Shot” video:
Another Shot (Official Video) Connect with Stripwired: https://www.facebook.com/stripwired https://www.instagram.com/stripwired https://twitter.com/stripwiredtx http://www.stripwired.com Directed by Michael Mroz Produced by Alex Michael Kennedy Music video by Stripwired performing Another Shot. © 2018 Supercel Records
Sleaze Roxx: Are expectations different this time around with the upcoming release of the album?
Darren Caperna: Yes, our expectations are bigger because we did this the right way. We just want to deliver a quality product to the great rock and roll fans. This was a life time dream/goal I always wanted to do. I have such a great band now. We needed to capture our energy.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, you guys have a lot of playing experience with Back In Black. Are there any plans for playing a set as Stripwired and then a set as Back In Black?
Darren Caperna: Yes. We’re getting close to 20 years with Back In Black and our plan is to perform shows separately and together with Back In Black. it’s a very unique way to launch a record because opening for Back In Black would allow us to perform to the exact demographic that our record calls for.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems that playing in a tribute band is way more lucrative for you guys than playing originals. What do you think of the market and demand for tribute bands versus original bands?
Darren Caperna: The tribute scene has been an incredible ride. We had no idea we would see the kind of success that we are experiencing. There’s definitely room for both tribute bands and original bands.
Back In Black performing AC/DC‘s “For Those About To Rock” at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA on AXS TV‘s World’s Greatest Tribute Bands:
Back in Black performs For Those About to Rock on AXS TV Worlds Greatest Tribute Bands Season 1 at the Roxy Theater Hollywood, CA!
Sleaze Roxx: What are Stripwired’s plans for 2019 after the release of the new album?
Michael Mroz: Our plan for 2019 is pretty simple. We will continue to work hard performing as Back In Black and perform as many Stripwired shows as we can and hopefully get our music all over the world. We need some great rock music again.
Sleaze Roxx: For each of you, what are your top three albums of all-time and why?
Michael Mroz: My top three albums are ‘Toys In The Attic.’ It’s the very first album that I ever owned. I’m a huge Aerosmith fan. ‘Heaven Tonight’ by Cheap Trick. Growing up in Chicago, you couldn’t help but be a Cheap Trick fan. Rick Nielsen inspired me to pick up the guitar and Robin Zander is one of the best singers ever. And of course, AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black.’ This album is incredibly crafted. The guitar tones are amazing.
Darren Caperna: Three top albums…. I actually have a tie for first. ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘Back In Black.’ When ‘Highway To Hell’ came out, I was blown away by the songwriting and singing of Bon Scott. Then Bon Scott passed away and Brian Johnson came in. I didn’t know what to expect but I thought nothing can top ‘Highway To Hell.’ And then I listened to ‘Back In Black’ and was totally blown away! Second would be ‘Blizzard of Oz’ by Ozzy Osbourne. When I bought the album, all I knew was that the singer of Black Sabbath, a band I love, was going solo. When that first song titled “I Don’t Know” came on, and I heard Randy Rhoads’ guitar playing, I was totally amazed! Third would be Van Halen’s first album. There is not one bad song on that album. And of course Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was nothing like I had ever heard before.
You can pre-order Stripwired’s new album ‘Another Shot’ on blue vinyl and/or on CD directly from the band’s website.