Welcome to an interview that is four years overdue. Legendary vocalist Mike Howe of METAL CHURCH was on the horn. In 2016 we were supposed to connect, but a glitch happened and I never made it onto the conference call. So here, now, in 2020 when my dear friend Kevin at PFA Media told me there was an opening I jumped on it right away. Mike was eager to talk about their new album From the Vault, among other things. Have a look:
Amps: From the Vault is a little bit confusing. Because these songs sound like they belong on already released METAL CHURCH albums!
Mike: Well, they’re on an album now, right? I think it just shows the writing process of Kurdt Vanderhoof and myself. He’s very prolific, and he writes a lot of songs during an album cycle. Only ten or so make it onto a record, and the rest are just there. So it was time to go and revisit some of these songs and see whether we had anything that could be used. And we did have some.
Amps: My attitude when hearing the record was, “Holy Shitfire! What have they been sitting on??” Three songs in I was really digging the hooks, the riffs, and of course, your singing. The two instrumentals (“Insta Mental” and “432 Hz”) show a very nice contrast of light vs. dark as well.
Mike: Well, I appreciate that, thank you.
Amps: Talk to me about the covers on this record. By the way, your “Black Betty” has been stuck in my head for hours today!!
Mike: ALRIGHT!! It’s hard to take yourself outside of the stuff and really listen sometimes, so it is always nice to hear people tell us they like our versions of the songs. With “Black Betty” it’s so rapid fire I actually had to work at it. Kurdt and I would text each other a lot after it was done with just, “Ram-a-lam” (laughs)! SUGARLOAF was an interesting one for sure. We had several songs to cover and we wanted to see what would stick and what wouldn’t. Well, that one stuck, and I’m glad it did.
Amps: What are your favorite songs on this one?
Mike: Well, “Dead On the Vine” is my favorite right now. I think that one came out of nowhere and turned out really great.
Amps: Don’t know if you’re aware, but you sounded JUST like William Shatner right now answering that. “Dead On the Vine” is my favorite, Spock.”
Mike: (Laughing) that’s funny!! I don’t even have Scotty to beam me up! I really like the thrashier songs we can put a melody to. Thrashy guitar riffs with a melody that can carry it as well. I love that combination.
Amps: How are you still singing like a young buck, and do you have any vocal do’s and dont’s?
Mike: I was lucky when I was younger in that I learned to use my diaphragm when singing. My body is my instrument and I learned how to project like a Classical singer. I took lessons up in the Seattle area and I was shown how to use my diaphragm correctly. if your mechanics are correct you’re less likely to throw your voice out and lose it, you know?
Amps: Do you get excited more for certain songs in the setlist, or no?
Mike: Not really, but “Fake Healer” is a great one because it’s great for crowd participation, which is always a pleasure to do. But I get more excited for the new stuff, just because it’s new. We opened our last tour with “Damned If You Do,” which was really exciting, especially with the hums coming out. “Needle and Suture” is a great one, too.
Amps: When “Damned” dropped I sent my buddy the YouTube clip and asked what he thought. He texts me back three minutes later with, “HUMMMM!!!” We love it!
Mike: (Laughs) that’s great!
Amps: What do you like to do away from music for fun?
Mike: I live in Northern California. I have a beautiful place by the ocean, so I kayak a lot. I love hiking in the forest, outdoor stuff.
Amps: Wow, while you do all that I’m over here working on my Dad Bod (Mike laughs). Why do you think you’re making some of your best music in the second half of the band’s career?
Mike: Honestly, because we’re older and more mature. There’s no pressure on us, not from record companies or management. It’s just me and Kurdt being relaxed and having fun. We’re writing with no expectations. it’s like, “Hey Kurdt, do you dig that? I dig it, too!” The childlike enjoyment of making music together, that’s what it’s all about.
Amps: When the album comes out, what would you like the listener to take away from it?
Mike: I just hope that they get what METAL CHURCH always wants to deliver: quality, melodic heritage metal. We’re a heritage band. Just the fact that we can deliver on a consistent basis. That’s what makes me happy. I hope people enjoy it, and get their brains away from the hardships and scary times we are going through today and escape for a bit.
Amps: What would you like to say to all the METAL CHURCH fans out there in the world?
Mike: I hope that you are all safe and reflecting on how precious life is. We need to really just spread love to everyone around us through our actions. Everyone please take care of yourselves and practice safe distancing. We will get through this together.
Mike Howe is really and truly a super-nice guy. He may sing like a demon spawned in Hell, but he is very down to earth and a pleasure to talk to. I hope this is the first of many with him. Pick up From the Vault if you haven’t already, and let’s hope we can see METAL CHURCH raging live again as soon as possible!
LIVE IMAGE 1: EM COULTER PHOTOGRAPHY
LIVE IMAGE 2: AL CASE