EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MAGNA-FI GUITARIST/SINGER MIKE SZUTER!
Better late than never. In March, MetalSucks.net sat down with Magna-Fi founder, guitarist, and singer Mike Szuter to discuss all things Magna-Fi, his current stint as touring bass player for Paul Gilbert’s G3 tour, Mike’s love of Journey, the art of the breakdown, meeting Dimebag Darrell, and singing karaoke with Lajon from Sevendust, among other things. The full transcript after the jump.
What’s going on with Magna-Fi? People are wondering what’s going on with you, the band, and any project you’re working on?
It’s a pretty big question. Well today I’m actually getting ready to leave tomorrow to go on the G3 tour. I’m playing bass guitar with Paul Gilbert. I know Paul for, I don’t know, 15 years, just after he got on the Mr. Big thing. We both live in Las Vegas and we jam a lot together and he’s had me play on a bunch of his albums, and I’ve gone to Japan with him probably ten times. Over there he’s a huge mega star. He’s like the David Hasselhoff of Japan! The tour is doing North America, and some of Canada, it’s 5 weeks. It’s gonna be cool, he’s a ridiculous guitar player! He has me playing the same stuff he’s playing, like harmonies on the bass, so people will think I’m a ridiculous bass player too!
So what does that mean as far as Magna-Fi goes?
We finished the album [VerseChorusKillMe] and we’re totally happy with it, and we started shopping it to people. We haven’t found anyone to pick it up yet, so we said screw it, we’ll put it out ourselves. We’re selling CDs, selling it on our website and all that and doing digital downloads, selling it from our MySpace page. Everybody who hears the album, you know, bands, or kids or whatever, they love it. So we figured it’s gonna come out eventually, we just have to find the right label to pick it up. We just started working with this new management company who’s shopping it to labels, and in the shopping period it always takes time to work those things out – and I’ll be on the road while he’s doing that, so hopefully I’ll get home and he’ll have things set up for us.
What happened with the old label?
We were with Aezra. They put us on the road for about 2 years, spent a ton of money doing that. We did Ozzfest 2004, toured with Sevendust and Fuel and a bunch of other bands. Did one offs with a bunch of really cool bands. And when it came time to make the new record… I wrote this record immediately after that record was done. Cause I was like, I gotta write a record, it’s gotta be amazing, so I flipped out and wrote a bunch of songs. We had already tracked a bunch of ‘em, so we sent them in and the A&R people at the label were like “This is amazing! Can’t wait to make this record!” And the president came to us… and I have a non-disclosure thing so I can’t really say what happened, but I’ll try and get around that… I’ll give you a “for instance” that explains why we’re not on that label anymore. We’re on our tour bus in Florida, and the president of the label gets on the tour bus and says “We need to have a meeting,” so we’re like “Cool.” So we start talking, and he goes, “Instead of doing a full length album I’m thinking about doing an acoustic EP,” and we all look at him like what the hell are you talking about? Cause it was these songs, the songs for VerseChorusKillMe, that he heard. And he goes “Well, you know, it’s worked for a lot of other bands. Angels in Chains was very successful with it.” And I say “Excuse me? Do you mean Alice in Chains?” and he goes “Oh yeah, yeah, Alice in Chains.” So I said “Give us a moment.” So we all went in the back lounge of the bus and said “Let’s get the hell outta here!” (laughs)
So the record was already written after the first one was written… when was it recorded and with whom?
Actually the band wrote and arranged everything. I produced it, mixed and engineered it. We did it here in Vegas at a studio called the Tone Factory and then we did the rest of the stuff in my house.
What’s the songwriting process as far as the other band members? Do you bring in a finished product or is it more collaborative?
Pretty much I bring in a finished product. Those guys will throw stuff at me, like “Let’s try this or let’s do that,” and a lot of that stuff makes it in. Especially the drummer [Charlie Smaldino]. The guy is into really heavy stuff… and I think that’s reflected on this album a little more than the previous album cause he was always like “Let’s do a breakdown!” cause we had just gotten off a tour with Slipknot and Hatebreed, and Hatebreed is the king of the breakdown… you know? And they’re great at it. You might say, well, this is kind of a formula… but when they do it, when they go to the breakdown, it’s like holy shit that’s amazing! So my drummer was always advocating that, and I said yeah, let’s try some of that stuff.
What happened as far as your brother [CJ Szuter] leaving the band?
My brother and my drummer got into an argument about music, unrelated to the band. And when we were on tour my brother wasn’t really happy. I can’t really peg it… but it probably had to do with the girl he was with at the time, who was filling his head with stuff like “You should be way bigger than you guys are now,” and “You should be doing this and that.” So we went through the tour with this one guy who was pretty much unhappy the whole time. And we’re doing great shows, and we’d come off stage and I’d be like “Dude, how can you not be happy after that show?” You know? But there he was on that cell phone. So anyway, they [CJ and Charlie] got into this argument. And I got them both on the phone and said, “Listen, you guys have to work this out, or one of you guys has to leave, and I don’t care who it is.” And my brother said “Fuck this! I’m not working this out!” so I said “Fine then, you’re out of the band.”
Are things OK now between you two on a personal level, or are you on the outs?
No, no, things are actually better than they were because we’re not in a working situation and I’m not feeling like “Why is this guy bummed out all the time?” So things are better, we talk more and stuff.
Have you heard any of the music he’s been putting out recently?
I have. We used to write stuff that was poppier, and he was always into that kind of stuff, and the stuff that he’s writing now is definitely more in that direction.
Yeah. I saw you guys play and do a Journey cover at one point. With him singing.
That was classic. Where was that at?
That was in Detroit [at the I-Rock in 2004].
Yeah, we were definitely wasted! That’s cool. When we were on the road our agent booked us sets that were pretty long and we’re like, we’ll play the stuff on our album but we should also throw in some cover stuff. Just to do it, cause we’d always play covers.
I think you guys played a Van Halen track too.
Yeah, we’ve done “Hot For Teacher.” I did “Eruption” on the road. Every day at Ozzfest actually, I’d play “Eruption” to srart the show. And, um, my brother can sing Journey songs!
So… you have had heard some of his new stuff and think it’s cool?
Yeah, actually, I’ve heard it all. I think it’s cool. He’s got this guitar player, and I can’t remember his name… he used to play with David Lee Roth… and that guy’s playin’ on his stuff, and the guy’s totally ridiculously good.
What are some highlights from past Magna-Fi tours… bands you’ve played with, shows you’ve done, funny road stories?
Well we played a show with Damageplan which was in Rockford [Rockford, Illinois]. The cool thing about playing in Rockford for us, is we’re big Cheap Trick plans, and that’s kind of like their hometown. And a lot of people knew that about my brother and I and brought us tons of really rare Cheap Trick gifts and stuff. So that was cool… but we also played with Dimebag and Vinnie, and they had us come up on stage and do background vocals on “Walk” and that was cool… that was like three months before the shooting and all that… so it was really cool to finally meet those guys. My drummer was a huge fan. But it actually freaked us out, because we were in Columbus, Ohio when we heard about the shooting and it was right after we got off stage… just knowing that we had just hung out with those guys blew our minds. That was such a crappy thing to have happen. It totally changed the way we think about going on stage, because you’re totally vulnerable up there. I had never got to meet those guys before that. They were totally cool, and everybody on their crew was cool.
Another thing that was funny… we were on a tour somewhere and there was a karaoke bar next tour. And that’s when we were playing with Sevendust. And Lajon and I got up and did “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol!
Are you still in touch with any of those guys?
The only guy I really stayed in touch with was Carl from Fuel. He lives here in Vegas. We sometimes jam together and stuff. And Lajon… I actually had his phone number in my phone, and we do this thing where we’d sit down and go “Let’s see who’s got the coolest phone # ever,” and I had Lajon’s number. I went to call and it was changed. Cause when you’re on tour you almost always change your cell phone number when you get off the road. Cause at some point you got wasted and gave it to someone you didn’t want to have your phone number. (laughs)
Do you listen to any new music? Are there any new bands you feel are worthwhile?
Probably one of my favorite new bands to come out in the last couple years would be Muse. They just have some ridiculously cool stuff! Yesterday my drummer came in, and he goes, “Hey, have you heard this new Judas Priest record?” and I go “No, I haven’t heard it!” and he goes “It sounds like the old one!” so he’s really into that. And actually my bass player called me yesterday and told me to go get the new Sevendust record, the one that just came out. He says they put it all together and self-produced that one.
I’m actually producing a band here in town from Vegas, they’re all 20 years old, they’re called Lydia Vance. And they are totally awesome!! And I just got done… I was actually just in Japan with Paul [Gilbert] for about a month, and I got back and had just enough time to get ready for this next tour. And during that time I recorded some new songs with these guys, and I think they’re gonna get a huge record deal cause they’re really good.
Any plans to put a tour together for Magna-Fi when you get back, or are you kind of waiting for a label to fall into place to give you tour support?
That’s definitely what we’re looking for. Cause we’ve gone out on the road and even with a label and tour support we would be doing a show in Tennessee where the radio wasn’t playin us, and some people knew of us from the Internet or whatever, but it was just so hard to get people out there without that major backing behind us. So for us to do a tour… I mean we do the regional stuff around here, we go play LA or whatever, and of course we play in Vegas… but for us to do something like that we’d definitely want to have backing. It has nothing do with having pyro or any of that crap! Stuff doesn’t have to blow up to do a good show! (laughs)
Anything else, any shameless plugs?
Check out Lydia Vance… and be sure to check Magna Fi out on MySpace.
Thanks for taking the time Mike… really appreciate it.
[Visit Magna-Fi on MySpace]
[Visit Lydia Vance on MySpace]