Ibanez: How did your recent tour with Dragonforce, Chimaira, and He Is Legend go?
Mike: It was pretty amazing. It was our first official headlining tour in the U.S. The crowds were bigger than we had ever seen. We were slightly nervous after taking a year off before this record, and we weren't really sure that people were even going to remember us. They came back in full force though. It was a real heart-warming experience.
Ibanez: Were there any particular shows that stood out for you?
Mike: The hometown ones are always amazing. There's always funny stuff that happens, and we always try to make them extra special. Our DVD was shot there, and we always try to give back to that crowd as much as possible. Phoenix, AZ was the big surprise of the whole tour. 5,000 people at a sold-out outdoor venue. For us, that was an extra special day.
Ibanez: How do you think your bass playing has changed from the first album to "As Daylight Dies"?
Mike: Just being in the surroundings that I'm in and playing with Joel and Adam, who are not only perfectionists when it comes to guitar but also have a wealth of theory knowledge, has helped tremendously. They know how to bring out the best in every player in the band, which is awesome. It's always a learning experience with those guys.
I'm completely self-taught. I've never taken a lesson in my life. To have members in the band that can show me the right way rather than just telling me to play something, it really helps a great deal. It's like having a teacher right there playing with you every day.
Ibanez: What do you consider to be the primary role of a bass player in a band?
Mike: It absolutely varies from band to band. For a metal band like us, the more you stray from the root notes the more muddy things can possibly be. You need to know when and where to do your fill without screwing up whatever lead is going on over the top of it. It can be really tricky. There's definitely a lot more that I would like to add to Killswitch. When it gets down the studio, there would be things that I would want to try, and Adam would say, "Alright. Let's try it, but I think this is going to happen." That would usually end up happening. It's all about root notes and knowing when to branch off from there. You gotta stay in the groove and realize that you're the foundation and not the lead guitarist.
Ibanez: When did you start playing Ibanez basses?
Mike: Probably around 2001. I went to Joel and Adam and asked them what they thought would be the best style of bass for me. So we went down to Guitar Center, and they picked out several basses (most of which were Ibanez). I originally started with an Ergodyne model, and it was so comfortable. I'm sort of one of those guys that likes to throw the bass around a lot on stage, and it was so lightweight that it was effortless. The very next step I took was the SRX700, which I think you guys had just introduced. Ever since I got my first one, I haven't stopped playing those basses. They're just really comfortable.
The pickups are amazing, too. I've been asked to put in different pickups by different companies to see what I thought of them and all that stuff, but I've always gone back to the stock pickups. They just resonate better, and I get a better grit to my tone.
Ibanez: What were the most important things to you when designing your signature bass?
Mike: A lot of the stuff on the signature bass is trial and error based on what I've been doing for the past couple of years with my SRX basses. Taking the tone knob out and moving the volume knob all the way to the back came from bumping in to the knobs on stage all the time. There's only so many controls you can have on a bass to get your tone, and I just felt like hard-wiring the bass at 0 was the best way for me to get the sound that I wanted without having to screw with 30 different things to get it. That was one of the main concerns was just to get all the knobs out of the way and have one volume switch.
Not much else is totally different. I tried to contour the body a little bit. I wanted to give it more of a metal feel. I took off the fret markers, because I don't use those at all. I only use the fret dots on the top. I added a design rather than have any function to the fret markers. The paint job is flat black. I've always liked that finish, and I thought a glossy design on top of that would be enough to be there without being so in your face. I'm not a flashy guy. I like things to be there subtly, but if you look deeper there's more going on. I feel like this design does that. You could look at it for about an hour and maybe see something that you didn't catch before.
Ibanez: Where did the graphic on your signature bass come from?
Mike: I had done several SRX basses with a Killswitch Engage belt buckle that I had carved out and glued in the there. It looked really cool, and I think when they originally came to me they thought I was going to do that same thing. I wanted to move on to something different that didn't rely as much on the band as it did me as a graphic designer and as a person. I wanted a graphic that portrayed ferocity without using the band to do it. That was what came out. I thought it had a really good flow to it. Like I said, I thought it would be really cool to have it be glossy. As ferocious and crazy as it is, I thought it would be a little bit muted.
Ibanez: Did you draw it yourself?
Mike: I'm a graphic designer, and I do things on the computer. I can't really draw all that well, but I can put elements together. I do a lot of different bands' stuff, and I do all the Killswitch stuff.
Ibanez: What are you guys looking forward to most about your upcoming European tour and the Warped Tour?
Mike: Download Festival of course. It'll be our second time doing Download, and the first time was pretty intense. Just getting up in front of that many people...if you think about it too much, it'll make your knees knock. It's stressful, but at the same time all you want to do is get out there and do it. You're just anxious to get going.
I remember we were hanging out behind the curtain getting ready to go out on stage in 2005, and Howard, our singer, turns to me and goes, "Hey, you know how many people are out there?" And I was just like, "Please don't tell me." As we're walking out, he says, "Oh yeah about 75,000". I was like, "You fucker!" [laughs] The usual amount is like 100,000 people at this thing, and we're playing right before Evanescence and Maiden. I would imagine that Maiden is a pretty big draw out there. The crowd is going to be pumped for sure. That is a major, major show that we can't wait to do.
As far as Warped Tour goes, we've never done a summer festival that wasn't a metal-motivated festival. We've done Taste of Chaos, which is kind of like the winter version of the Warped Tour. We've done two of them. Both of them went really well, and it's a totally different kind of crowd. It's a bunch of 16 year old screaming girls rather than a bunch of 20 year old screaming men [laughs]. It'll blow your mind when you go out there expecting to hear low grumbles, and you hear high pitched screaming. We really wanted to do a summer tour that wasn't geared so much to metal, but we could still bring the heavy with us. We have no qualms with being the heaviest band on a bill. It definitely helps you stand out.
Ibanez: Any words of advice for young musicians?
Mike: I can really only go by what happened to me in my life. My parents were really down on me playing music. They kept telling me that I needed to go to college and get a real job and not worry about music so much. Music was really an important thing for me in my life. I wrote all my own music and got bands together. I did a lot of the tour managing, the graphic design, setting up all the tour routing, booking agent, the whole deal, and practically being my own business. I didn't really get my parents behind me on something like that, but I pushed on.
I went to college for graphic design, and the whole time my graphic design teachers were telling me not to do all this music stuff. They said, "You'll be pigeon-holed, and you'll never get a job doing graphic design as a musician or for musicians. You'll never make any money. You need to branch out and do other things." I just feel that, in my life, I've had all these people telling me not to do all this stuff.
Now I'm at a point where I can do graphic design whenever I want and for whoever I want in any style. I have a successful graphic design company that I run out of my house. I play music for a living. I'm actually able to pay rent doing it [laughs]. I just feel like my life has turned out fairly well by not listening to the people around me and just doing what my heart wanted to do. I guess my advice would be that if you have the heart for it, then nothing should stop you. Do what you feel is right. Make sure you don't sleep on your parents' couch until your 40 though [laughs].