Interview conducted June 9 2017
Interview published June 24 2017
"That is the $50,000,000 question right there.
Do you know what the answer is?"
American West Coast heavy metal
veterans Metal Church are touring some of the bigger open air festivals
in Europe at the moment and as they made a quick visit to Sweden Rock
Festival, Metal Covenant had the pleasure to talk to Mike Howe,
who returned to the band in 2015 for his second tenure as the band's vocalist
after being completely away from the music scene for over two full decades.
Tobbe: Your latest record, XI, has been
out for over a year at this point, so have you guys already started working
on number 12?
Mike: Yes! We're very excited. Kurdt [Vanderhoof,
guitar] is a very prolific artist. He's a writing machine. So the way
we write our records is, you know, he'll go in and he'll just pound
out some basic structures of some songs and then he'll send them to
me and I'll listen to them and "Yeah, this one is cool and this
one is cool, but this one
naa.", and whatever, and we just
whittle down. He's got a good pile of some basic start of songs and
he and I have started working on them and started putting vocals on
and things like that, so we're in process of doing all that. Yeah, we're
Did it come as a surprise to you that XI reached the band's highest chart
position in the States ever?
Mike: Yeah, it's mind-blowing. We had no idea,
but obviously we're very pleased and grateful and all that.
Tobbe: Does that give you a lot of energy
in doing another record?
Mike: I guess so. Yeah, sure. I mean, if you
do something that you're proud of and it has success, then sure that's
a motivation to keep going and if it didn't do well you would go "Oh.
Well, I thought it was good, but I guess people don't think the same.",
you know what I mean? Well "What's the use?", right? So, sure.
Tobbe: When your return was announced a
couple of years ago did you come out with kind of no expectations at that
point, in order to not get too excited before knowing what would come
out of it?
Mike: Yeah, none at all. That was the beauty
of it. We had many talks about that, Kurdt and I, when we first started
talking about possibly doing it. 'Cause it wasn't like "Hey! You
wanna do this?" - "Yeah!". No, it was like "No-o"
and then it was like "Well
" and then he started talking
to me, like "Well, we could do it
You know, it's not the
same." and - "Well, maybe.". We had many, many talks.
So that was part of it and we're not doing this
record the way we did it in the past. There's no timeline; he sends
me some songs and I listen to them and see how they go, 'cause unless
this record is as good or better than anything we've written we're not
doing it, right? And there was no talk
of playing live or doing anything after that even. We were just like
"Let's see if we can write some music. And
it's gotta be good. That's the only reason I would come back to this.".
it was really great. It was great to have that attitude and that mentality
and it put us in the mood of "Let's have fun! Let's just feel it."
and that's exactly what we did. It was, you know, a great reunion and
he and I were like "Oh yeah! We do have some chemistry.".
Tobbe: It's very remarkable having you coming
back after all this time, years and years, but is there a possibility
that you will leave one more time, like, for the same reasons as you left
the first time? Because, let's face it. The business of music is still
Mike: It's still pretty rough; you're right.
But what keeps us positive is that, you know, we're adults now, so we're
still in control of everything and we're not being pushed around by
a record company or a manager. So it's not like "Oh. Fuck this!
I'm not doing this 'cause of that jackass manager of ours.", you
know. So that's a big plus for us to say "Why would we stop?",
because nobody is pressuring us or telling us anything. And then, you
know, we have our lives outside of this as well, to keep us going, you
Tobbe: No matter who's the singer, a Metal
Church song always sounds like Metal Church, but could there possibly
be some adjustments to the music in the future to diverge from, like,
the straight Metal Church path?
Mike: I heard Kurdt interviewed recently and
he and I are like "We're in Metal Church because we play a certain
metal that is us.", you know what I mean? The way we write and
the way we feel about music. So it's not like "Oh, well, let's
try to expand the way we feel about
". No, we are Metal Church,
together, in our format, and we write the songs the way we write them.
'Cause that's what we like, you know.
Tobbe: I don't wanna come out too ingratiating
now, but you sing just as great as you did on your first three records
and how is that even possible? (Blessing In Disguise (1989), The Human
Factor (1991) and Hanging In The Balance (1993).)
Mike: Well, I mean, the first area is, you know,
'cause I didn't scream for so many years that I didn't damage my voice.
I don't know if that's true or not, because we can't go back in a time
machine and do it and find out, right? But, you know, as an example,
James Hetfield, you know, he's still singing strong, 'cause he sings
from his diaphragm, and that's what I do.
if you're a proper singer
You know, there's many styles; there's
screamers, you know, and then there's operatic metal singers. We're
like opera singers. We yell; controlled yelling. And so, we know how
to use our diaphragm, so I mostly think that's where it is, you know.
Tobbe: How much have you practiced to get
that vocal style?
Mike: Not since I was back, but
I sang all those years off, you know. Not metal, but I'm a singer and
I'll always be a singer. Even when I'm not singing in a band I'm singing.
Tobbe: Were you singing a lot as a kid too?
Mike: Oh yeah! My mom encouraged me to. You know,
I would sing around the house, sing to the radio, all the time, and
my mom would go "Oh, sing for me.". Yeah, she was my biggest
Tobbe: If you're playing soccer or hockey;
those players start playing when they're young and if you're a singer
and start early, of course you'll get better.
Mike: Yeah. And for me it was more, like, emulating
singers, like Rob Halford and guys who could sing loud and scream, you
know. So I played in a cover band, so I had to sing like them and I
had my certain techniques. And then I went to a vocal teacher when I
joined Metal Church and he, like, unlocked the door and just went "You're
doing well, but you know what? Just this thing here, and this thing
here.". He just confirmed what I knew and then helped me just to
that next level of keeping my whole instrument moving. You know, breath
control and support and all that.
Tobbe: And now that you've shown what you're
still able to do, doesn't it come a little bit pressure with that, for
a forthcoming record?
Mike: Well, not from the fans or any external
pressure; it would be my own pressure. Sure, 'cause I'm a bit of a perfectionist
and I want to sound good and I want to be good, so. And that's why I
take care of myself, you know. 'Cause my biggest fear is to walk out
on the stage and lose my voice. That's embarrassing, right? All those
people watching you and you [Mike pretends to lose his voice.]. That
scares the shit out of me.
A different question. A hard question. What could have been different
if you were the original singer of the band?
Mike: Wow! That's a good question. I've never
had that one. What would be different if I was the original singer?
Well, first of all we wouldn't have those two amazing albums (Metal
Church (1984) and The Dark (1986)), so it's kind of good that I wasn't
the first singer, you know.
And I'm proud of Dave Wayne. You know, he was
a great screamer. He was a different stylist and that's what made my
transition in the band easier for me, 'cause I wasn't like him. So Kurdt
was smart like that. You know, he wasn't looking for a screamer again.
And a lot of bands make a mistake, I think, as they try to get a singer
like their old singer, instead of trying to get somebody that's good,
but a little different, you know, and try to build something new out
Tobbe: In the first place, would it have
been better for Metal Church, you think, if Metal Church was a European
band instead of coming from the West Coast?
Mike: No, I don't think so. A European band,
no. I think it was very good for Metal Church to be an American metal
band on the West Coast, 'cause they were right in there with Metallica
and all those big bands at the beginning. So that was very good. They
were in the birth of metal there. Yeah, so that was very good for Metal
Tobbe: I reckon that you guys know your
level, popularity-wise, at this point, and is there a way to make the
band become bigger, or have you kind of accepted the level that you're
Mike: That is the $50,000,000 question right
there. Do you know what the answer is?
Tobbe: Absolutely not. That's why I'm asking
Mike: I do not either. I would like to know.
These are questions we talk about. I mean, and I would know, 'cause
I was out of metal for a while and I didn't follow it very well, but
these are good questions 'cause they said "Come back, Mike! We're
gonna do great!" and I'm like "How great? What do you mean
by 'We're gonna do great!'?" and like "Your album is charting!
You're rocketing towards stardom!.", but "Well, maybe, but
I don't really know what that means.".
my only comparison is: I look at bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax;
all these bands are big; that we were big in the 80's, 90's, whatever,
and see what they're doing now. And Metallica is obviously on their
own, you know. You can't talk about that. But, I look at Megadeth and
Anthrax and I go "Are they as popular as they were back then or
are they a little bit less popular, but still popular enough?",
you know what I mean?
So that's what I say! It's like "Is Metal
Church more popular than we were when I was in the band the first time,
or are we less popular, or are we right at that same, and can you go
higher nowadays?". So, I don't know. These are good questions and,
you know, we're trying to find that out at this point.
Tobbe: And I think now you have to try to
find a new generation of fans of course, because the first generation
is, like, people in their 40's and it's quite difficult because there
are so many bands out there.
Mike: Yeah, so many bands and, you know, I think
part of what it takes to do that and be successful is to be on the road,
a lot, all the time, and unfortunately, you know, for some people, for
some bands, and Metal Church included, we have families and life at
home and we can't be away from our families, you know, 300 days a year.
Tobbe: If you look back at your own catalogue
with Metal Church. Which specific album out of those 3 do you wish that
you could have recorded with today's recording techniques?
Mike: Oh, I'll tell you. Of course Hanging In
The Balance, and Blessing In Disguise. I'm pretty happy with The Human
Factor. I think that was one of our best production
Kurdt and I talk about this all the time too. We always
say "God, if we could just re-record the whole entire album of
Hanging In The Balance and mix it ourselves.".
Yeah, we'd love to do that. We'd love to, but,
you know, it doesn't make sense. And honestly, fans don't really want
it to sound different, 'cause they got used to it the way it sounded.
Even if we weren't happy with the way it sounded, some people are like
"Oh fuck! I love the way that it sounds.", 'cause that's what
they were used to at the time and they didn't really know better, per
se, but they just enjoyed what they heard.
that leads me to, you know, the new album. We did everything our way,
from beginning to end, writing, recording and mixing that whole album
and it's the most satisfying thing for us. Like the unfinished business
in our lives. We never got to do it completely our way before and present
Metal Church. Mike, Kurdt and the band did this and we can't sit here
in years to come and bitch like "Oh, our fucking producer fucked
us!" or "Our manager fucked us, otherwise it'd be better!".
So we're very proud of that fact and this is what we believe Metal Church
should sound like and be like.
Tobbe: So has the new drummer, Stet [Howland],
affected the band in those few months that have passed now?
Mike: Yeah, it's crazy. Stet's a great guy.
He's such positive, happy, trying hard, super hard to be great with
us and it's a great energy to have in the band. You know, Mike Howe
coming back was a great energy and now Mike Howe is old school 'cause
he's been back for a year and a half. Now this new guy, Stet, is in
there and he's like "I wanna be great! You guys are awesome!"
and it's a great energy again.
So, we miss Jeff [Plate]. We love Jeff. We wish
him well. He's an awesome drummer, but he's got other things that he
wants to do and that's fine, but here's an interjection of some newer
energy into our band and it's awesome.
Tobbe: So, my last question. Right now,
how do you personally look at the band's future in a longer perspective?
Mike: See, that's the great thing about being
in Metal Church now too. I don't really look at it in a long perspective.
I look at it as living in the moment, enjoying today on that stage,
and sitting here with you, you know. Like, I'm thinking about the rest
of this year, but in a long-term
We're going to finish up our
obligations that we've booked this year. We're coming back to Europe
in August and we've got a couple of shows in the United States and then
we're gonna stop and we're just gonna work on the new record, to try
to put out a new record in 2018 and then take it from there.