The more I get a chance to talk with some amazing guitarists, the more I find out that as big as the music industry appears at times, there is a much smaller fraternity of amazing guitar shredders. I like to picture a smoky underground club where amazing guitarists like Bumblefoot, Rusty Cooley, and Mike Orlando all hang out and just jam. While this probably doesn’t exist, a part of me still believes its out there.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Mike Orlando, who was selected as a top ten finalist for Guitar Player magazine’s Guitar Superstar of the Year in 2008. Similar to some of the RBN master shredders referenced above, Mike will have some music on the RBN sure to challenge some of the best players out there! Check out my chat with Mike below, as he tells us about himself, his music, and his enthusiasm about Rock Band.
RockBandAide: For some of those in the Rock Band community not familiar with you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mike Orlando: My name is Mike Orlando and I’m an instrumental rock guitarist who fronts Mike Orlando’s Sonic Stomp Band. I also perform and am with Russell Allen’s (Symphony X vocalist) solo line-up,which our new release will be out soon on Frontiers Records, Adrenaline Fueled Junkies with John Macaluso on drums and a metal band entitled Tred with John as well on drums. All CDs are being tracked and will be done this late fall into winter.
RBA: How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it?
MO: Well, Sonic Stomp is somewhat of the rock instrumental guitar genre pushed to a bit more of the extreme. On Sonic Stomp II, which will be out this September, the 14 new tracks range from real intense playing across the board, but yet always concentrating on the groove and structure of a well put together enjoyable song. I always feel even if you don’t enjoy instrumental guitar playing, I would always like the average music listener to still groove along and enjoy the songs. The tracks range from extremely intense guitar-driven rock to beautiful ballads to bluesy rockin’ tunes and everything in between. There’s also a beautiful acoustic piece entitled “A Sitting Ovation”.
RBA: What was the initial catalyst to get you to pick up a guitar for the first time?
MO: Well my mom bought my father a new acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was real young an he just started showing me stuff right away on it. Some bluesy old Honky Tonk riffs were the first thing I ever learned. Always listened to Les Paul with my father from real early on and that always made me want to rip like he was doing. Then came Van Halen, Rhoads, Malmsteen and I was hooked!
RBA: Who were your early musical influences?
MO: Well at first it was Les Paul. He was an amazingly fast player back in the day and always blew my mind listening to the old Les Paul & Mary Ford albums. All the tracking and playing grabbed me instantly. Then I heard Eruption and it was game over! Of course then onto Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Al Dimeola which all just blew me away even more making me constantly strive to be better and better. John Sykes, Akira Takasaki, Ronni LeTekro are huge favorites of mine as well as Jake E. Lee & Zakk Wylde. I love and have so many influences and so I always tried to just take an amalgamation of all of them but yet constantly striving to be my own and never copy or imitate.
RBA: What album do you remember listening to growing up that had the biggest impact on you?
MO: To many to list! Started out with Kiss super early. My room was covered with Kiss pictures from ceiling to floor! Van Halen… I would say was the guitar driven rock album that really put me over the top, though. “Blizzard of Ozz” and “Diary of a Madman” were big impacts, as well. I also grew up listening to bands like Rush and the Doors a lot as well because my old sister was very into them.
RBA: Which one of your songs has the most meaning to you?
MO: Well the ballads like “Horizons & Velvet Sky” from “Sonic Stomp I” and “A Vision of You” and “A Sitting Ovation” from “Sonic Stomp II.” Especially “A Vision of You…” It has to me some of my finest work on there and I the track came across with exactly what I was feeling the day I recorded it. I love doing the ballads and slower tracks where I get to be more emotional with my playing, but still always love to just haul some ass as well on all the other tracks too!
RBA: How often do you perform live?
MO: As much as I can. This past year I toured a good amount so far… my first three week tour of Asia across China & Japan. It was amazing, to say the least! Before that was Germany, Shanghai and a bunch in the states. I head back to Shanghai and China this fall and I’m planning a clinic tour with Sonic Stomp drummer extraordinare John Macaluso this year as well. In 2011 I will head back to Germany, China, Japan and through the states as well.
RBA: What is your favorite song to perform live (originals or covers)?
MO: I would say “Wheels in Motion” off “Sonic Stomp I.” It always gets the crowd going and seems to be a great start to every show and performance I do. “Jam On It” is another favorite. It’s just a real bluesy rockin’ groove based track with some cool twists and turns. Though the tracks on my new “Sonic Stomp II” are a blast to play and are becoming big favorites as well. I enjoy pulling out the fretless on the new tracks and having a ball.
RBA: What can your fans expect to see, or more importantly experience, when you perform live?
MO: When I perform live I try to have as much fun as possible and just give an honest, pure, straight from deep down inside performance. I always give 100 percent to each song I perform but always having a ball doing it as well. I try to keep a certain amount of fun and enjoyable aspect to the live show as well, never taking it too seriously. That keeps it entertaining, I feel. The greatest show I ever saw in my life was David Lee Roth’s “Eat Em & Smile Tour.” Dave, Steve and Billy were having so much fun up there yet they were shredding and killing it at the same time! That show was the biggest impact on me to this day for that reason alone.
RBA: You’ve worked with or are close friends with a number of big names in the industry; Zakk Wylde and Bumblefoot, just to name a few. Are there any artists that you would really like to work with that you have not yet?
MO: Well for the new “Sonic Stomp II” I have some really great guest appearances like Mike Romeo (Symphony X), who is a great friend of mine. It is an honor to have him on a track! Also, my bro Gary Hoey who rocks, Shane Gibson (Korn) did a rippin’ solo, Joe Stump, Mike Pinella (Symphony X) plays an amazing piano track on “A Vision of You…” unbelievable performance! I would love to do something with Ronni LeTekro (TNT) and Akira Takasaki (Loudness). I had the pleasure of doing a 25 minute jam session with Akira in Osaka, Japan while on tour. It was the highlight of that tour!
RBA: And just like Bumblefoot, I’ve heard that you are no rookie when it comes to the fretless guitar. What’s it like to learn to play on a guitar like that?
MO: The Fretless is one of my favorite instruments now. Ron turned me onto it a long while back and when I signed with Vigier a few years ago, of course I was pulled right to it. It’s such a great sounding guitar and I use it all over my new “Sonic Stomp II.” Its like playing a violin in ways were you can’t bend the strings, your vibrato is back and forth. You have to pay extreme attention to where and how you position your left hand techniques. I always say never just practice it alone. I always felt when I was learning it, it was best to play to tracks or something so you now when you’re not in key or playing out. That helped in getting used to it a lot quicker.
RBA: Do you ever go back and listen to previous compositions to critique yourself, or does it feel more like looking back at an old yearbook photo?
MO: I don’t usually listen to critique. I enjoy it for what it is usually, but yes I always think what I could have added or done a bit different. But then I just sit back and try not to and just enjoy it.
RBA: What has been your favorite memory as an artist thus far?
MO: I will say the three week tour I just did across China and Japan this past May was amazing. To be able to go to those other countries and perform and be so well received as if I were there all along is such an honor. The people and fans there are just so amazing. It was breathtaking!
RBA: Is there any aspect of your musical history that you would change?
MO: Playing wise , I am happy the journey I took as it has made me into the player I am today. Would I change things, sure. All the bad decisions and bands you get involved in where either this person or that person flakes or has a meltdown and all that stuff that comes into play in music. But the four bands I have now (Sonic Stomp, Russell Allen, Adrenaline Fueled Junkies, and Tred) I am absolutely psyched. I can not wait to debut them all!
RBA: Any advice for aspiring musicians?
MO: I always say just play from your heart and never try to think to much about it. Don’t let what you think might be limitations from your hands hinder what creativity could come out from your mind straight through those same hands you might feel limit you. Also never stop. There’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I want to strive to be better then the last. That determination, to me, is the key.
RBA: How did the opportunity present itself for putting your music in the Rock Band Network?
MO: It came through my rep and now great friend Ron Renn. He contacted through another friend of mine Jason Achilles Mezilis who started the whole thing going. We hit it off and now we are doing all of my projects and bands with Alt Strum and the Rockband Network. It is beyond an honor to be working with Alt Strum and Rock Band! I look forward to working with them for as long as I can do music!
RBA: What about games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero having an impact on a player’s interest in playing a real instrument at some point… do you think fans of the game would be more or less inclined to give the real thing a shot after playing these games?
MO: I think it’s an absolute amazing thing for guitar in general! It makes fans of guitar from the average listener who might not ever be a fan to begin with. The fact now that they’re making it even more like a guitar then ever is so great to me. Once you have the passion to play from just playing the games, that’s the only catalyst you need I feel to pick up the real thing! Plus it’s great for the artists as well for people to hear and enjoy music in the Rock Band store there might never have come across. It’s a win-win situation in my book!
RBA: With Rock Band 3 coming out later this year, gamers will finally have a chance to play REAL guitar in the game, not just a plastic version. What advice do you have for those who wish to make the ultimate transition and learn to play the real thing?
MO: That is just absolutely amazing to me! The best thing they could ever have done! Sure my advice is just dive right in and give it as much determination on that real guitar as you would trying over and over to win that game! Eventually you win, and eventually those beginners become players! Thats the beauty of it!
RBA: Being that your music will be featured in Rock Band, have you played the game? Would you play your own song in the game to see how it is?
MO: Sure I will will definitely try to play all my songs, but as of right now I just kinda suck at it! I so will try over and over to play myself! Hahaha! Ok yes, insert joke right there! Gotta love it! Rock Band rules!
RBA: Is there anything that you would like the Rock Band community to know about you that we haven’t touched on yet?
MO: First off thank you so much to Alt Strum Productions and Rock Band for this tremendous honor! I hope all of you in the Rock Band community enjoy playing all the Sonic Stomp tracks as much as I did creating and recording them! I am so psyched to hear back from you all hopefully and please let me know what you all think! Can’t wait to have Russell Allen, Adrenaline Fueled Junkies, and Tred on Rock Band as well! All the best to everyone in this great Rock Band community!
RBA: Thanks, Mike!
For more info about Mike Orlando, check out his Myspace page. Mike’s music, including his song “Burn,” will soon be appearing in the Rock Band Network! Directly below is a gameplay preview of his Rock Band debut.