MICHAEL T. ROSS INTERVIEW:
May 17, 2004
Michael T. Ross is likely best known for his keyboard work with the revamped Hardline. But Michael doesn’t stop with just one band, he is also releasing albums with Angel, Accomplice, Kry Freedom and a brand new solo album called Deep Freeze. To promote all of these upcoming releases, he was willing to answer several questions for Sleaze Roxx.
SR: You have a solo album called Deep Freeze coming out soon. What kind of music does it contain and did you tackle some instruments that normally wouldn’t play in a band setting?
MR: This is a three-piece instrumental record in the likes of Tony MacAlpine, Pink Floyd and Rick Wakeman. What is unique is there are no guitars on this recording, yet when you pop it in the CD deck, your ears will think they are hearing guitars. I use distorted like sounds when soloing, along with many guitar like techniques such as dive bombs on the pitch bender, to playing in modes, which has become a trademark sound of mine. I’m actually a guitarist stuck in a keyboard body.
SR: What other musicians are involved in your solo release and how did they get involved?
MR: Drum guru Atma Anur is on drums. He was the number one pick, so when he agreed to record the drums on my record, I was ecstatic. He is on some of my favorite albums that came out of the Shrapnel Records era, such as Joey Tafolla, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker and Greg Howe. He also had a short stint with Journey and did a world tour with Steve Perry. I have been in discussion with legendary Rudy Sarzo to track the bass, which he did show a lot of interest and I just hope to catch him on his down time because he has been very busy touring with Yngwie J. Malmsteen and now DIO. I originally began discussions with him regarding joining my group Angel, as he was their first bassist before he joined Ozzy, as bassist Randy Gregg went to Thin Lizzy. Then, once Thin Lizzy bassist Randy Gregg returned to Angel, I pitched Rudy Hardline and my solo record.
SR: How did you hook up with the revamped Hardline?
MR: Long-time friend and guitar virtuoso Joey Tafolla introduced me to vocalist Johnny Gioeli and he asked me to join the group. I didn’t have an audition but Johnny did come check me out at a studio in Huntington Beach when recording the last record and he really dug on my playing. I was a bit nervous at first because they never had a keyboardist, as Neal Schon played the guitar synth on “Double Eclipse.”
SR: Hardline is working on a third studio album. Who will be in the band this time?
MR: Unfortunately, it appears that drummer Bobby Rock is not apart of this line-up. He has been extremely busy touring with Slaughter and doing his own US tour with his clinics and gigging with Gary Hoey. Atma Anur did agree to play the drums, so we are very happy about that. Rudy Sarzo is slated to record the bass tracks. Josh Ramos is on guitars and he is writing most of the material for the new record. Myself on keys and of course Johnny Gioeli is on vocals and I’m pretty sure his brother Joey will be involved at some level. The record will be released on Frontiers Records, Italy.
SR: Hardline seems to have a larger following in Europe, do you think American audiences will ever warm up to melodic rock again?
MR: I doubt it. Hardline was very popular in the US when they broke out in 1992. I remember seeing them headline at the Universal Amphitheatre in Hollywood, California and listening to “Hot Cherie” on the radio. I think those good days are over. That is why you see so many talented rock bands having no choice but to look elsewhere for an audience. It is sad to live in Hollywood and have to go half way around the world to get some recognition.
SR: You replaced Gregg Giuffria in Angel for their latest tour, were you at all intimidated by filling such large shoes?
MR: For sure. In my eyes, Gregg was the first progressive rock keyboardist, who has paved the way for players today such as myself. I remember my older brother playing me Angel records when I was little and seeing Gregg’s long blonde hair. Too bad I have long brown hair and not long blonde hair but I’m just glad I have the keyboard chops, which is most important.
SR: Where there any hard-core Angel fans that simply refused to accept you as the new keyboardist?
MR: I’m sure there are some out there but thankfully no 6’5″ stocky drunk dude has approached me after a gig and said, “man you suck and give it up you wannabe Giuffria jerk.” So far, the response has been positive. I feel that with my style of playing along with keeping the integrity of the original Angel sound, the keys will fit right in and everyone will accept my playing.
SR: What are the future plans for Angel?
MR: We are getting ready to embark on a European tour next month playing with Sebastian Bach in Switzerland, playing the Kiss convention in Holland, and playing with Alice Cooper and Iced Earth at the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany June 25th. I’m working closely with drummer Barry Brandt on a new tune called “Even Now” and will be sending it to Frontiers Records for their consideration, so hopefully a new record will be released this year. Singer Frank Dimino is excited about the upcoming shows and the new record. Let me tell you, Frank’s voice sounds better than ever.
SR: You are also recording with Accomplice, what is the story behind this band?
MR: This is a group out of Orange County, California (about one hour South of Los Angeles) and they are my bros that I grew up with. When I joined in 2000, we hit the road as the supporting act for King’s X, Leatherwolf and Skid Row. We recently completed the new record entitled “She’s on Fire.” We used Hardline’s frontman Johnny Gioeli on vocals, and had Derek Sherinian (keyboardist for Billy Idol, Alice Cooper, Dream Theater, Yngwie) produce the record, and Simon Phillips (drummer for Toto, Whitesnake, Judas Priest) produced the drums. We are waiting on engineer Tom Fletcher (Scorpions, Toto, Yes) to complete the mix so we can send it to Frontiers Records.
SR: With many of the same musicians appearing in Hardline, Accomplice and Ramos, do you feel fans may get confused and for those that aren’t familiar with each group, what separates each of these bands?
MR: I hope not. Hopefully the fans of each of us like to see each member in a different setting. This is quite common, for example, I saw guitarist Jason Hook last year perform with Vince Neil and the next day he was on the Rosie O’Donnell show performing with Mandy Moore. Just like any typical business, you keep it all in the family.
SR: You have also recorded with Kry Freedom and Rattleface, what are the histories and memories behind these bands?
MR: Rattleface is another group out of Orange County, in which I was in a UFO Tribute band in 1999 with guitarist Ron Sachs. The latest release “Freak of Nature” was featured on the 20th Century Fox release “Dark Wolf” with the song “Seventh Sign.” Kry Freedom is another side project that includes the guitarist, bassist and myself on keys, all from Accomplice (speaking of your last question regarding the same musicians) along with vocalist Charles West (The Jason Bonham Band) and legendary producer Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin). We recently recorded a 5-song EP at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood and intend on completing the album this year.
SR: With so many projects on the go, do you ever have free time or do you consider yourself a workaholic?
MR: Since all this work pertains to music, it doesn’t feel like work, so I don’t classify myself as a workaholic, just a musicaholic. Even though I’m in several groups, there is a lot of down time, so at one given time, it is rare that all the bands are revved up all at once. For example, Johnny Gioeli is in Germany right now touring with Axel Rudi Pell, so I’m working on Angel stuff right now and once Johnny returns and starts on Hardline again, the Angel gigs will be over.
SR: What are your thoughts on the current FCC indecency crackdown?
MR: I love Howard Stern and I know he doesn’t like the FCC, so either do I! I think the censorship stuff sucks.
SR: Do you think file sharing hurts or helps up and coming artists such as yourself?
MR: It is a catch 22. On one hand, I like the easy access for fans to be able to listen to new material, but on the other hand, the composers need to be compensated for their product. There are already too many starving musicians out there already.
SR: Which band would be your top priority if each of them where to hit the road at the same time?
MR: Are you trying to instigate something here? Just joking. Who ever pays the most! Honestly, I hope this never happens because there is something special about each group that I’m in and I like them all. It’s like having three children and trying to pick who your favorite is.
SR: Your first band was called Possumdeth, what did they sound like and was any material ever released?
MR: This group was popular in the 90’s and sounded like the Dixie Dregs and Dream Theater. I was introduced to drummer Michael Maysonet by Shrapnel Records owner Mike Varney. We opened for Yngwie, Dixie Dregs, Blue Oyster Cult, Great White, among others, and were interviewed on KLOS by Joe Benson and were featured on KNAC’s last show. We never released an official recording. After four years with the group, I joined Accomplice.
SR: You have taken private lessons from legendary Derek Sherinian, what kind of relationship have you two established and does he ever tell stories about the several bands he has played with?
MR: I have been working with Derek for about five years now. Being a big fan of his, it was a dream come true to have him as a teacher and now manager. He has told me several stories that unfortunately they are so good, I can’t repeat them. Derek is producing my debut solo record and I’m actually going to ask him if he would play on the last track and duke it out with me on trade-off solos, like Joey Tafolla did on his solo record with Paul Gilbert.
SR: What are some of the groups you have supported live and any memorable or horrific stories about them?
MR: We’ve basically covered all my groups but out of all of them, but the most memorable one was when I performed with the UFO Tribute band and we went on stage in front of 650 people and the curtain didn’t open all the way and it draped around me, so I missed the first half of the opening tune. Every one was laughing at me.
SR: Writing for a magazine in the late 80s in California, did you get to experience the Sunset Strip metal scene first hand? If so, what are some of your memories from that time?
MR: By the time my brother started Mean Street Magazine in 1989, the Sunset Strip was turning into a ghost town. I did get to catch the last part of the “good ‘ol days” and remember seeing “Cold Gin” a Kiss Tribute band at the Country Club and seeing “Brunette” with Johnny and Joey Gioeli at the Roxy. The restaurant/bar The Rainbow has always been a great hangout- even to this day, you’ll find me there on the weekends. It is a cool place for all the washed out musicians to drink and reminisce about how they thought they were going to make it and didn’t.
SR: What are your favorite bands and influences? Also, has there ever been a bar band that you thought was incredible but that just disappeared?
MR: My favorite group is Thin Lizzy and my favorite musician is Yngwie J. Malmsteen. I’m not much into blues, so that strikes out most bar bands that I like. My favorite copy band right now is Boogie Knights, who play disco like Led Zeppelin was playing it. I go to Las Vegas at least once a month and try to see them at the House of Blues. I liked Alcatrazz with Graham Bonnet and wished the group stayed together, especially when they got Yngwie on guitar.
SR: You auditioned with Yngwie Malmsteen years ago. With all the horror stories you hear about Yngwie, how was your experience with him?
MR: Yngwie is the nicest guy, which sounds like a surprise. He is truly a legend of our time, and I like to describe him as the electric Mozart of our time. Even though I didn’t get the gig, it was an honor to have the shot at being in his group, which has been a dream of mine for many years now.
SR: What do you have planned in the way of tours and promotion for your upcoming albums?
MR: Well, although Hardline didn’t tour off the last record, other than headlining the Gods Festival in England, I’m hoping with such a cool line-up this time, we will embark on some form of a tour. It is just that Johnny is so busy with him and his brother’s internet company and touring with Axel Rudi Pell, his schedule may not allow us to go out on the road. Angel is ready to go out on tour and Frank Dimino is so hungry for it all, I’m sure we will do even more shows this year. I’m not sure about touring in support of my solo record but it is something that I’m working on this year.
Thanks to Michael T. Ross