Mike, thanks for speaking with us today about State Radio and your solo projects!
Q1: What was it like playing alongside the Dropkick Murphy’s this past St. Patrick’s Day in front of 6,000 people?
It was a great thrill. We (State Radio) hadn’t played together in about four months and to be playing in front of that many people, on St. Patty’s day in Lowell with the Dropkick Murphy’s, well it doesn’t get much better than that. To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize the extent of the situation until we took the stage. I wasn’t sure if people would have all showed up by then, and I didn’t even know we were direct support until I showed up that day. When we took the stage and I looked out into the audience I was like, “Holy Crap, this place is packed!”. The way we even got the gig was pretty random. I was running an open mic in South Boston on Tuesday nights and Ken Casey was at the bar one night. We got to talking (because SR has opened for the Dropkicks before) and he told me he wanted SR to open for the matinee St. Patty’s Day show. He gave me his email address and I emailed him and we got our managers connected. And the rest is history. Crazy huh!
Q2: You recently released your first solo album “Mikewick’s Stoked.” How was the response to it?
The response was actually pretty great. I was psyched at how many people downloaded it and am thankful to have people listen to it at all. The thing about that album is that it is truly a solo record. I was the only one who played on it, and I mixed and recorded a lot of it myself too. My great friend Jeff Bousquet recorded and engineered about 4 of the 9 tracks and really encouraged me to keep going and eventually release a record. The record is a bit different from the Ratfynkt stuff (my other band besides State Radio and my solo project) because there are some songs that are full band, some acoustic songs with just guitar and vocals, and a few drum solo tracks. In general, I wanted to show that there is a lot more to me as a musician than just drumming and thus the record is pretty diverse in its sound and focus.
Q3: You also have a new book coming out highlighting your career as a musician. What was it like reflecting back on your career and looking at the transformation from a drummer to a rockstar?
Haha. I like the question because you call me a rockstar. I never ever have considered myself a rockstar, if I was I would be a lot richer than I am right now. But reflecting back on my life and writing some anecdotes about it was a lot of fun. And a lot of work…much respect to all the authors out there! I’m very excited for the release, can’t wait in fact. In the same vein as the solo record, I am hoping that my book will show people that I have a lot more going on upstairs than just my music adventures. I go off on tangents and talk about my childhood and my life before a musician as well. However, don’t get the wrong idea, there is a ton of material relating to my music adventures and the relationships I have formed through my travels (probably about 2/3 of the book). I just hope people find it entertaining and get a little bit of insight into the music industry as it really is and how I have made my way in it, as well as a more candid look at who I really am as a person.
Q4: Does State Radio have any plans to release a new album in the future and go on tour again?
Yes sir! There are plans to release an album this Fall and go on tour after Dispatch ends their run (so in late October and November 2012). It should be nice to get back in the saddle again and rip some tunes as the State Radio trio. In general, the new record is a bit more rockin than the old ones, so I’m pumped to play the new material live.
Q5: In March of 2013, State Radio will be touring in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. It appears Germany has a large following for State Radio overseas. What do you think it is that makes your music appeal to Germany so much more than other countries across Europe?
Because the Germans love us! I actually talk a bit about this in my book. We got lucky and had a big time promoter over there like our band. So he put us on some big festivals and gave us a slot opening for Incubus. Talk about an awesome time. I have a whole chapter on this in the book. Anyway, that gave us some great exposure and we built our fan base from there.
Q6: What was the largest crowd you’ve ever played in front of?
Well, I would say around 5 to 6 thousand. That St. Patty’s Day show pretty much did it with the Dropkicks, or one of the festivals we played in Germany that had around that many people watching. Also, a sold out Bank of America Pavilion in Boston was around 5,000 people. It’s almost surreal when you play in front of thousands of people like that. It’s hard to comprehend at the time. You almost don’t want to think about it because it might mess you up playing wise!
Q7: Do you prefer playing as a full band in arenas, at festivals, or small rock clubs?
It really depends on the crowd. As a musician, you feed off of the energy of the crowd. I will take a good crowd over not a good crowd at any venue. The crowd is very important to a good show experience.
Q8: When writing songs with State Radio, can you describe the process of how you guys go about it?
Well, Chad usually brings a sketch of a song to Chuck and I and then we just go after it. Sometimes Chad will have ideas on a beat or a bass line and sometimes he will just let Chuck and I take over. We jam over the different parts a bunch of times and try out new ideas with each other to see how they mesh. Then we will start to arrange the parts into a complete song and try out all kinds of arrangements, and put in different stops and starts, etc. The last phase is to battle test it live to see crowds’ reactions and come up with a finished product to put on a record. Sometimes we get to try songs out live before we record them and sometimes we don’t. But it is pretty helpful if we can so we can get more opinions than just the 3 of ours.
Q9: Who are some of your influences behind the drum kit? My influences behind the kit really are rooted in the hard rock stuff. I love Dave Grohl in Nirvana, Daney Carey of Tool, Joey Jordison of Slipknot…I totally dig John Bonham of Zeppelin as well. I’ve picked up reggae over the years by playing with State Radio but I always describe my reggae playing as ‘if a hard rock drummer would play reggae.’
Q10: What kind of music would you say you enjoy the most and who is your favorite artist/band in the music scene?
As I mentioned in the last answer, I really like the hardrock/alternative/metal scene. I’m kind of stuck in the System of a Down, Deftones, Tool, Slipknot, Helmet era but as far as new bands go I really dig the raw sound of Cage the Elephant. I saw them live a few times and they put on a killer show.
Q11: In 2005, State Radio recorded Us Againt the Crown, and the guys shifted from a reggae/rock sound to more of a harder rock vibe. Once you joined the group in 2006, was it difficult changing your style of drumming? What’s it like switching between reggae and hard rock songs mid-set?
I actually didn’t even play on that record. My first record was Year of the Crow a few years later. However, I had to learn all those Us Against the Crown songs for the first tour I went on in 2006. I never had even played a note of reggae drums before I started with State Radio. I learned the style in like 3 weeks, right before the first tour I did in March 2006. So it was pretty nerve-wracking to be on the hook to play a totally foreign style for crowds that we expecting me to be a master. Now I’m more than used to it and I expect the unexpected at State Radio shows. Chad changes the set list frequently, even mid show, and most often on the fly. So you gotta be ready.
Q12: State Radio partners with an amazing charitable organization, Calling All Crows. Can you explain a little more of what CAC is all about?
Calling All Crows is all about empowering women and fighting for women’s rights. It has partnered with Oxfam America and raised over $250,000 for women in Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. State Radio also started the Ruffshod Foundation which focuses on local grassroots community service in the cities State Radio plays in. It is amazing to see the organic growth of the service programs when we return to these cities months or years later. It is really inspiring work and if you care to get involved at any level you should immediately check out www.callingallcrows.org.
Q13: Are you planning on doing some solo shows in support of your new album?
At this point, I am just focusing on making music, writing music, and being creative. I have no plans to play out as of now, but I might reconsider if the right opportunity or enough demand comes my way. I am actually teaming up with Chuck Fay America (of State Radio, www.facebook.com/chuckfayamerica) for my next musical project and I expect this to up the ante by utilizing both of our skills and creativity. I also plan to continue my solo work by releasing a book of memoirs in the near future (there is a preview of the book at www.mikenajarian.blogspot.com) and continuing my musical progression through more solo albums down the road.
Q14: Growing up with your friend Steve DiRamio, you guys clearly spent a lot of time together over the years. How did he come into the picture working as a stage hand alongside you guys at the State Radio shows?
Well Steve has been drumming for quite a while as well (he played drums in a band I played guitar and sang in called Ratfynkt) and he has a great talent for tuning drums. So he would come early to the shows and tune my drums up before our hometown shows and then eventually was asked to come on the road with State Radio and be the guitar/drum tech/stage hand. This worked out great for me having such a great friend on the road with us. However, Steve eventually got a ‘real job’ working at State Street Bank and now only does the more local shows.
Q15: If there was one band you had to listen to for the rest of your life, who would it be?
This is an extremely tough question! At this moment, I am going to choose Nirvana. They have it all in my opinion. An amazing song writer, the best vocalist ever, and one of the greatest drummers who has ever lived.
Q16: If you could create your perfect music festival to headline, what 10 bands would you want to play alongside?
Well first I would definitely want Matt Nathanson….just kidding. I would want Rage Against the Machine, Tool, System of a Down, Deftones, Pink Floyd (or some form of those guys), Cage the Elephant, Interpol, Tyga, Lil’ Wayne, and some hot chick musician who I can look at for visual relief for a set (you can pick her Greg!)
Greg: Ok, no Matt Nathanson. Let’s go with Whitney Duncan?
Q17: If you had to pick one show that was personally your best, which show would it be?
That’s a tough question. I guess I will go for a performance on this one. We played a show down in Washington DC at the 9:30 Club and I took a few tequila shots before the show (which I never do). After the show Chuck told me I played like John Bonham. I was like, “Really??”. I couldn’t even tell that I played like that. And John Bonham is freakin’ sick! It’s weird, sometimes you think you play horribly and it isn’t that bad, and then sometimes you think you play amazing and it’s not that good. So feedback or a listen back is the true tell tale. And I hate to listen back because sometimes it ruins your perception of the show, but it’s necessary to improve so I do it now and again.
Q18: How do you feel about ticket fees regarding ticketing outlets such as Ticketmaster and LiveNation? Would you be in support of lawmaking to reduce such large service fees on concert tickets?
Hell yeah! I like music to be as free as possible. I play music because I enjoy it and everyone should be able to enjoy it without having to take out a loan to do so.
Q19: When did you decide that music was your passion and that you were going to make a career out of it?
I guess there was never a day that I decided but it happened over time. I just sort of fell into State Radio by pure luck and I decided to keep pressing ahead with the band tour by tour. Now it adds up to a career path that I can see results in the form of recorded music, places I’ve been, venues I’ve played, and people I’ve met. You don’t realize the accumulation when it’s happening, but now looking back on the past 6 years I’m like, “Wow, that was pretty cool.”
Q20: Looking back on your career, did you ever imagine you would be in a band like State Radio, playing shows around the world?
I guess I always had it in my head that if I put my mind to something, then it would happen. I think that’s called visualization. I definitely visualized being able to travel with a band like State Radio. But now looking back, I’m very appreciative and fortunate.
Mike thanks again for discussing your career with us! Congratulations on the success of your solo album, “Mikewick’s Stoked!” We’re excited for the new State Radio album and look forward to seeing you at the Calling All Crows/State Radio Halloween Weekend in Northampton, MA Oct 26th +27th.