Q1: What’s it like balancing your solo career as well as touring as full-time member of O.A.R.?
For the first bunch of years, I focused entirely on O.A.R. There was a lot of material to digest and I needed to learn how the band communicates through their music. Once I started to feel comfortable in those areas, I began to put some energy back into my solo career. The key for me was to find creative ways to integrate both into a smoothly functioning whole.
Q2: Where did the inspiration come from behind the single “Great Unknown”?
I wrote the basic chord structure, melody, and feel of the song in one inspired sitting. Sometimes that happens. When it does, it’s important for me to stay close to that initial inspiration. I remember I was on tour with O.A.R. in Austin, TX. It was one of those rare dressing rooms that had a piano in it. Off in the distance, muffled through the walls, the opening artist (Eric Hutchinson) was soundchecking and I felt, more than heard, the drum pulse and let my fingers do the walking. Jerry DePizzo walked in and said to me “What’s that?”. I told him it was something I was working on and he said “Let’s record that.” We set a date and I motivated myself to work on the lyrics. I remember I was walking around an elevated running track on a college campus and the concept of “Great Unknown” popped into my head. Once I had that idea, the rest of the story fell into place. The song is also now available on iTunes, Amazon, and streaming on Spotify.
Q3: In the past few months, you’ve been touring with Chris Sheridan and Simplified. How did that come to be?
At the referral of Jerry DePizzo, who produced Simplified’s last album, Brighter Days, I was brought in to records keys, percussion, and sing backing vocals on the record. I had met the guys a few times when they opened up for the band. Since I knew all the new songs, and had sporadic downtime of touring and working with O.A.R., I made myself available to Simplified to perform live shows. It’s been very rewarding. They are good guys and have written some great music.
Q4: O.A.R. recently completed a tour called Extended Stay in a few cities around the country. Did you enjoy playing the intimate venues with O.A.R. or do you prefer playing bigger amphitheaters?
I enjoy both. I know, cop out answer, but it’s true. Playing those big arenas reminds me of being a kid and seeing shows at the Hartford Civic Center in CT. Those were awesome, booming shows. But playing the smaller venues gives me a much closer connection to the fans and I love being able to see their faces and reactions.
Q5: When did you first begin your solo project GuitarDrumming and where did the inspiration behind that come from?
I started experimenting with drumming on an acoustic guitar with a friend of mine fresh out of college. He would finger the chords and I would drum on the strings with juggling sticks. I then realized that I didn’t want to rely on a partner for this sound and started experimenting laying it flat on my lap. Then I got into Stomp and that reinforced my confidence to pursue something different and really started developing the sound that you hear today.
Q6: Prior to joining O.A.R., you performed with Stomp, Pink, and the Dan Band. How did you cross paths with O.A.R. and when did all the magic begin?
I had just completed a tour with my Stomp friend Dan Finnerty, the brains behind the Dan Band, and I received a text from his sound guy, who also had done some work with O.A.R. The band was just about to release Stories of a Stranger, which had a lot of great keyboards on it (performed by the legendary Bernie Worrell), and they were looking for a regular keyboard guy. They’d had people sit in with them but never a full time, dedicated person. I told the sound guy to give them my contact info. I spoke to Jerry on the phone…got 8 albums in the mail…met with Marc and Benj in NYC…and the rest is history.
Q7: What are some of your favorite O.A.R. songs to perform live?
Black Rock. About an Hour Ago. On My Way. Over and Over. Taking on the World Today. Dareh Meyod. Poker.
Q8: Do you have any plans to release a solo album in the future?
I’m in the process of recording the MikelParis EP Project. 4-6 EP’s to be released over the next 2 years. A travel and music show. And a workshop series.
Q9: Who are some of your musical influences?
Billy Joel. Elton John. Mozart. James Taylor. Peter Gabriel. The Police. U2. Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marvin Gaye. The Doors. Led Zep. Prince.
Q10: Does playing with O.A.R. influence the way you play your solo music, or are you able to keep them separate from one another?
I’m inspired by the guys every time I play music with them. I can’t help but be influenced. Benj’s bass lines lock perfectly with Chris’ drum bop. Richie’s guitars are tasteful and sonically engaging. Jerry’s sax and guitar playing is super tight and emotional. And Marc’s singing and lyrics are non-cliche and thought provoking…how could I not be influenced?
Q11: If there was one festival in the world that you could headline at, which would it be?
Woodstock would have been epic. Isle of White in UK would be incredible.
Q12: Last year, you guys brought SOJA on tour and this summer, Rebelution will be joining you. How does the process work behind discovering opening bands to bring on tour with you guys? Do you find reggae music influences your style of music?
I’m not actually involved in the opener selection process. I know that reggae music has influenced O.A.R. and I’m finding that it’s starting to seep more and more into my solo music.
Q13: If there was one artists or band that you could share the stage with for a performance, who would it be and why?
I would love to co-headline someday with O.A.R…of course…but that goes without saying…even though I just said it. Next in line? That’s a tough one. So many…
Q14: When did you first start playing music?
My parents had a piano in the house and I started messing around on it when I was 3. My mom noticed my interest and asked me if I wanted to take lessons when I was 4.
Q15: Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to? Did any of that music influence the music you create today?
I started listening to and playing songs by singer/songwriter artists like Billy [Joel] and Elton [John]. They have definitely influenced how I write today.
Q16: If you could collaborate with an artist/band on an album, who would it be and why?
I’d love to work with Prince. One of the most talented musicians. One of the most creative artists. Developed a unique sound.
Q17: If you have to pick one person as your musical idol, who would it be?
I have no one idol musical idol. I’m too influenced by many and my environment to have just one.
Q18: What do you love most about living in New York City and do you think being in NYC offers more in terms of a musical setting rather than a smaller city or town?
I love the energy that brews in this city. It permeates everything. It’s all about controlling that energy. Not letting it make you crazy. I purposely make myself walk at a normal pace and take in my surroundings when I’m on the island. I believe that music is inspired by your environment. Wherever a person is, they can allow themselves to be open to inspiration from their surroundings. Yes, NYC has a plethora of opportunities, but in today’s day and age, you can be anywhere in the world with an internet connection and get connected.
Q19: How many different instruments are you able to play? When playing with O.A.R. you always seem to be playing one instrument after the next as well as singing vocals. Is it difficult switching back and forth between instruments?
I play keys, percussion, sing, guitar, stomp, body and mouth percussion, clarinet, drums…triangle. 8? My O.A.R. rig is my dream setup. I get to do all the things that I love to do. I’ve always been the type of person who likes variety in my performance. I don’t want to play the same songs in the same way every night. Finding my journey through each night’s different set list is a joy. It’s such a part of my nature to multi-task that I don’t have to think about it anymore.
Q20: What point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a musician and when would you say you had your first “big break”?
When I decided as a senior in high school that I was going to music school. That’s when I knew. When I got cast in Stomp. I walked around NYC and thought to myself “No more waiting tables! I’ve made it!”
Mike, thanks for speaking with us today about playing with O.A.R. as well as your solo project. Good luck on the road this summer and we look forward to seeing you out there! O.A.R. will be on tour with Rebelution across the country this summer. For tickets and more information visit www.ofarevolution.com