I first met Mike five or six years ago when I moved to Cape Cod, Mass and was working at a record store called Newbury Comics. I picked up the FIRE IN THE HEAD ‘The Remedy Has Become The Affliction’ CD. The artwork caught my attention which was done by Gee Vaucher (Crass). We got talking about music and shit, started going to shows.
Dan: Mike, what sparked the transition from FIRE IN THE HEAD to SKY BURIAL?
Mike: F/I/T/H was fun for a while as a cathartic outlet but I felt limited with where I could take the project and wanted to compose material more along the lines of what I actually listen to (ambient, early industrial & electronic, kosmische, drone, early 4AD, etc.) so SB was born to facilitate that desire. Not that F/I/T/H had any firm boundaries of what it could or could not be sound-wise, but I felt starting a new project would provide a clean slate with no limitations in sound or composition. I didn’t want the project to be pigeonholed as belonging to any particular genre since it draws inspiration from so many.
Mike: I asked them. Simple as that. Many of the artists I worked with on the new release are people whose music inspired me to begin recording and composing myself; Danny Hyde’s work with Coil, Anni Hogan’s work with Marc Almond, Jarboe’s solo work and her time with the Swans, Jóhann’s work with Reptilicus, Bridget Wishart as one of many amazing artists to have been part of the Hawkwind family, etc. Having such a diverse group of individuals altered the way I had been composing on the last few albums which had been longer “epic length” tracks. Each guest has such a unique and individual approach to their art that I decided to work on shorter tracks which would accentuate their contributions. Some of the tracks were built around the material the artists provided, some was worked into works in progress. Prior to this cd I had never had any semblance of vocals on an album. The addition of such on this record definitely affected the composition of those tracks. “Incantare” was built around Jarboe’s vocal intonations and much of the “drone” in the track is her voice heavily layered. “Beyond The Veldt” is the only track I’ve composed with lyrical content and is probably the most “song-like“ piece I’ve done.
Dan: Cape Cod is a miserable, shitty, chunk of sand in the Atlantic, I have no idea why we live here honestly. So I guess the isolation makes it an ideal place for noise artists, does this affect your creative process at all?
Mike: Well, Dan, as you know we have differing opinions of the Cape as you’ve chosen to live in the ghetto of downtown “suboxone central” while I live in an idyllic seaside village of 2500 residents. That said, yes, it definitely affects the creative process. The outer Cape essentially shuts down for seven months a year. The only thing open in the dead of winter in my town is one bar and the local market. Having so much downtime obviously affords one the opportunity to be productive and relatively prolific. Most of my free time in winter is spent walking trails and beaches for hours at a time. It’s absolutely humbling. Things move at nature’s intended pace during the fall and winter here. I try to capture that isolation, desolation and pace on my recordings. SB is an exercise in duality. I attempt to make each track evoke multiple, often conflicting, emotions.
Corey: What’s your musical background? What are you listening to these days?
Mike: No formal training whatsoever. Music has always been my religion and drug of choice. I’ve been obsessively going to shows since ‘83 and buying/collecting since ‘78. I first started experimenting with soundscapes in the early 80s when I’d borrow a friend’s analog synths and spend all hours of the night twiddling knobs. In the mid 90s I was singing for a local hardcore band and at the same time working on synth and junk metal recordings in my basement. Some of those four-track tapes have actually been used as source material on SB albums.
Lately I’ve been listening to a ton of King Crimson and 70s prog, late 70s minimalist synth bands (Vice Versa, The Futurre, Human League, Cabaret Voltaire), 80s post punk (Chameleons, Sad Lovers And Giants, The Sound, early Modern English, Mission of Burma), industrial/ambient acts (The Anti Group, Coil, Social Interiors), modern composers like Giacinto Scelsi, Jani Christou, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis and early 4AD label bands.
Dan: Other than music and the New York Rangers, what feeds the Sky Burial machine?
Mike: Doctor Who, travel, single malt scotch, reading. Literary subject matter plays a big part in SB’s music. The tracks “Fools Circel 9wys” from the new cd and “Pas The Sarvering Gallack Seas And Flaming Nebyul Eye” from the forthcoming LP of the same name take their titles from the post-apocalytic novel “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban. Bridget’s lyrics on “Beyond The Veldt” are inspired by Ray Bradbury’s story “The Veldt” from the “Illustrated Man”. There’s plenty of esoteric subject in the mix of inspirations. Mythology and metaphysics play a big part. Sky Burial obviously takes its name from the Tibetan practice of jhator in which a body is ritualy dissected and returned to the elements, usually via the bellies of vultures. There’s a little bit of everything I enjoy, everything that fuels my existence, in SB.
Corey: You’ve put out a ton of releases and worked with many different labels, what’s your take on the music ‘industry’ these days.
Mike: Indie labels seem to be suffering a similar fate as the majors. Fewer small labels are willing to risk the investment of a physical release unless they feel it’s a guaranteed sell. The switch from physical release to digital release was inevitable I guess. Having grown up with vinyl I’m a huge advocate of the “whole package”, getting something tangible for your cash. An LP or cd’s art can (and should be) an integral aspect of the release. I see more and more artists bypassing labels and releasing work on their own, both physically and digitally.
Dan: So… you voting for Romney?
Mike: We have two choices this year, useless or delusional (narcissist or nut job). No intelligent, honest, altruistic human being would ever become a politician. A viable third party would be a welcome addition.
Dan: Mike, thanks for the interview, good luck with the record, let’s hit up some record stores after FISTULA wraps up the ‘Northern Aggression’ tour, shameless self-promotion haha!