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An Interview with Ironweed’s Mike Vitali

Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop

Mike Vitali is a busy guy. While probably best known in the Stoner Rock circle as the guitarist for Ironweed, he is way more than a one trick pony. Whether he is starting ANOTHER visionary musical project, launching a record, or just keeping life straight around the house…the man has obligations. I have gotten acquainted with Mike over the last couple of months and there is one thing for certain, he is someone that deserves some credit for his work. I was happy to get the chance to pick his brain about music and how he goes about it.  I am glad to say that he was happy to comply with my inquiries.  Check it out…

I saw that you went to Berklee School of Music, which is known for putting out top-notch Jazz musicians. Did you go to school for performance or something else?

I had just completed a trade school in Mahattan a place called Center for the Media Arts on W27th street for a music production and engineering certificate. It was a 9 month program. I’d attended Berklee with the idea that I would continue down the MP&E path however within the first week at the school I’d met two fellas – a kid playing chapman stick and fretless bass named Chris Jones and a drummer named Ryan Bell. The three of us started a band which I named Ajna Chakra and we were sort of a mix between Isis (before they ever existed), King Crimson and Black Flag.

AC was very active playing over 200 dates and writing nearly 100 songs in addition to being a band that improvised full sets on the spot at times. This all happened due to the 3 of us sharing a house and rehearsing and just playing together usually 6 nights a week. So longs story short I’d switched to a performance degree because I just didn’t have the time or interest to stick with engineering at the time.

Was it always your intention to go to school for music or was there something else that you thought you might do as a backup plan to playing music?

Growing up literally next door to Billy Joel’s long time drummer Liberty Devitto and also having a grandfather who owned bars in NYC and played Jazz with the Al King Orchestra really gave me the false impression that if I placed all my eggs in the music basket I could be successful and have a comfortable living off making music. Jesus, hot damn that is a wrong assumption.

Anyway, after being tired of being broke and riding around in vans with men I’d decided to hit graduate school and grabbed a macro practice clinical social work degree. Music, management and social work all sound unrelated however I see connections between these fields so things have actually started to work out and blend nicely for me.

Were you always in “heavy” bands or did you just end up playing heavy music by chance?

I’ve always been in bands and others have always commented that the bands are heavy. I definitely have enjoyed enough loud, powerful, fuzzed out, chaotic music as much as I’ve enjoyed acoustic music and minimalist composers and other forms of music and art. I think during my early 30s with the introduction of the internet I’d reverted back to the teenage dilemma of giving a fuck what others think.  Luckily as the internet becomes just as irrelevant as what the hell the college kids are doing with themselves these days I’ve just reverted to doing things I love and really not looking to impress or satisfy anyone other than myself…and that my friend is totally where it is at in my book.

Tell us about Ironweed.

Ironweed just rules. I’ll skip the history and the comings and goings other than saying when we made our debut it was Brendan Slater on bass, me on all guitars, Jeff Andrews singing and Jim Feck on drums. We really worked well while playing however our lives and how we defined the band and where we wanted to take our music diverged over time. With the writing of our new record which just was released on Small Stone Records last month the line up was myself on guitars, Jeff Andrews on vocals and guitars, Brendan Slater on bass and Dan Dinsmore joined us on drums replacing Jim. After our debut Indian Ladder we did add a second guitarist just to fill out our sound live however it ultimately changed and confused our dynamic and direction and therefore for this record, Your World of Tomorrow, we’ve returned to a four piece. Now that the record has just been released we are looking into our options as time and money is very limited so we’d love to hit the road and tour with the likes of Clutch, Karma to Burn, The Sword or an established act which would be worth the time and money it takes to get a band out there in a serious way. However, with the world seemingly coming unhinged and everyone scared shitless and fearful of risk we are on the runway sort to speak just waiting for mission control to give us some instructions. Therefore, I’ll leave everything alone until we get the word. And finally, in terms of Ironweed and this record Your World of Tomorrow, I will say that for the limited support given and our own individual constraints we are really excited about the end result and we highly recommend folks either grab a CD, digital download or the best way to absorb the record is on vinyl.

Small Stone has copies and we/ Magnetic Eye Records also has copies and the 180 gram gatefold showcases the beautiful work of artist Alex Von Weilding, Benny Grotto the engineer, Chris Goosman the mastering engineer, United Record Pressing and Rainbo Records where the record was pressed, Scott Hamilton of Small Stone Records good judgment and business savvy and of course Ironweed’s musicianship and vision.

What were the bands and albums that got you into playing music?

My cousin gave me a mixed tape of Led Zep and at age 11 I was just blown the ef away. Then I heard Jimi Hendrix a year later and though, damn, he has some shitty amps and plays the wrong notes. Then I got some sex for the first time a year later and though, hell yeah, Hendrix is the God Damn Man! Then of course I got into Bela Bartok, Rob Fripp and Crimson’s records and the list just goes on and on. I do want to stress that I never got into learning how others make music or what the had written. I always hated transcribing and learning to play others music for some reason and I think I’d unconsciously kept that view because I’ve always hoped to develop my own voice in both composition and performance.

What would you consider your biggest musical achievement to date?

All of the notes that I don’t play and al the times I am in a band or project and someone else is taking the lead. Just learning how to shut up and let others shine is really the gift. And in terms of tangible achievements which others can experience I’d say all the time with Ajna Chakra and all we created will probably never be paralleled although I will keep trying. Coming in in second place would certainly be Ironweed – Your World of Tomorrow on wax. For sure. With the best tune being Now Stronger because for me this is one of the first times I’ve written a song and the lyrics.  Jeff and I collaborated a lot on the concepts and lyrics just as I collaborated with Alex Von Weilding on the art work. For some reason I had a pretty strong vision of what I thought Ironweed would like to be saying with this record and I think the timing and the vision we’d started kicking around in late 2009 is pretty clear to everyone at this point being that the government and mainstream everything appears to be speeding towards a Brave New World or NWO or whatever terms you’d like to use to describe the world’s state of affairs.

Do you have any other musical projects in the works?

Love Kiss, Carcinogenic Corpse, Greatdayforup (GDFU) and more Ironweed records. And I am probably overlooking some projects or discussions I’d like have related to music, bands or one off projects.

Do you have a day job?

As far as I know I am still a highly stressed investigator for the State dealing with the horrors which man experience while trying to find their way in the world. I’d really spent years trying to hide my day job life from the rock/ music world for fear of losing the street cred because I pull in a salary and have a family and I am general responsible and vice versa – hiding my tattoos and not walking around telling coworkers hey, I just got home from recording last night at 6am and that’s why I may look a little beat this am as I pound a second cup of coffee at 9:15am. These days, as a full grown man who pretty much answers to know one other then the forces of nature and life I am starting to integrate both lives with the hopes that one will prevail and be enough to support me and my family. However, I’d imagine this will never really materialize and I am okay with that fact.

You just launched your own label, Magnetic Eye Records. Can you tell us more about it? What kind of music/recordings you are trying to put out? Are you taking submissions? What are your plans for the label?

Yes, Magnetic Eye Records was started in theory in November 2010 and I was going to go it alone. I won’t say much at this time other than to say talks are ongoing and the hope is the label will have multiple owners, have staff and offer a full line of artist services and really have a killer eclectic line up of bands/ artists. That’s all I’ll say for now as the label game after a while opens your eyes to the realities of human nature and power imbalances. It’s sort of like having a parent all over again and if/when Magnetic Eye Records grows and relaunches into a viable business model which generate a profit and treats artists well and is branded towards the more spiritual and musically mind folks well then I’ll be happy to share more on my thoughts and direction I’d like to take the business.

I’ll add, yes, we are taking submissions for consideration and will for some time. MER, PO BOX 38005, Albany, NY 12203

What kind of projects would you like to try your hand at in the future, musical or not?

I have certainly been interested in being in a band with two drummers and the second obsession I’ve had is being in a band that brings the funk. I want to gig and know that everyone in the damn room is going to go straight home and make sweet love to their woman or man. Isn’t that a nice thought to shut my damn mouth on.


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