Metal Church – Embrace Change

Sunday, 20th March 2016

Who would have ever imagined that a lot of this scribe’s favorite metal bands in childhood would still be around creating new records 30-35 years down the line? Realizing now that metal doesn’t have an expiration date for musicians or listeners, we’ve been able to experience a veritable treasure trove of experiences from bands still deliver the goods. Twenty years beyond his last recording and touring adventures, singer Mike Howe has returned to front Metal Church – XI giving proof that his powerhouse chops and delivery hasn’t lost one iota of strength while being on the music sidelines.

Those who are familiar with the band’s discography should already know that XI features the band in their more melodic and musical dynamic state – as Mike’s voice differs from the early David Wayne-led days that had the band straddling power/thrash lines. Keeping things in house as far as recording and production values go, this is Metal Church 2016 without the bigwigs breathing down their collective necks – so reaching out to founding member guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof was a dream come true for someone who wore out multiple copies of the self-titled debut and Blessing in Disguise in their awesome discography.

Given 20 minutes we did a decent job tackling the circumstances surrounding Mike’s return, how the band deals with marketing in the social media age, as well as the impetus behind developing his engineering and production skills with his own studio while the band was first ascending up metal’s ladder in the 1980’s… and prepare for the band to hit the road to liven up your world.

Dead Rhetoric: When Ronny Munroe left Metal Church in 2014, how did the process flesh out with getting Mike Howe back on vocals? As I’ve read in other interviews that if you weren’t able to get him back on board, there would be no more Metal Church in that sense…

Kurdt Vanderhoof: Well, yes. It was literally a week to the day about a year ago I contacted Mike about working on a little side project that I was working on with Nigel (Glockler) from Saxon, and planning on doing at the time. We were trying to kick around singers and I hadn’t spoken to Mike in a while, so I reached out to say hey and see if he would be interested in doing something, what his involvement was in the music business was, etc. He was open to the idea, we caught up on life, and literally a week to the day we found ourselves in need of a singer for Metal Church. So now it was ‘forget about the side project, how would you like to be the singer again for Metal Church’? He was very open to that, we took things step by step and we didn’t jump right in, we started writing songs and he didn’t want to just do it to do it, he wanted to make sure the songs and the record would be as good as it could be. He wanted to get a feel for the new music business model and the way we do business now, step by step.

Dead Rhetoric: XI is the newest album – another great cross-section of material that is distinctly Metal Church, while emphasizing Mike’s powerhouse range and your solid riffing/hook skills. Were there any surprises that came up during the songwriting and recording sessions, and which songs do you think took on the biggest shifts from inception to finalization?

Vanderhoof: Oh, songs like “It Waits” are really odd. It’s a little different kind of a song, but we really like it because of those reasons. The rest of it is kind of meat and potatoes- I definitely wrote for Mike in mind and wrote for Metal Church in the Mike Howe-era, which is much more melodic and musical rather than the David Wayne-era which is more thrashy. That was great from a writing kind of standpoint – “Blow Your Mind” is a little different for us too. The way it developed as a record was very organic- Mike and I together was very much back to the way it was during the recording of The Human Factor and Blessing in Disguise. It was really nice to be able to do that and not have anyone else outside of the band tell us what to do or tell us what they thought. We did the demos and then when the record was done, we did what we wanted to do.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there particular times of the day where your find bursts of creativity when it comes to songwriting versus others? Are you the type of person that works great under deadline or pressure?

Vanderhoof: For me the best songwriting is in the morning, before I start thinking about the events of the day and go get caught up on business and errands. I find myself kind of good at working under pressure. I kind of like it because then I don’t have to over think it. Sometimes when you are doing art and creating something you have a tendency to second guess yourself. When you have a deadline, you can say to yourself ‘well, that’s the way that it is’. Sometimes it can backfire but for the most part I do like working under a deadline.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be touring parts of the US and Europe over the next few months – is it exciting to get back on the road with Mike and play a selection of new material plus a lot of the classics from his era with the band?

Vanderhoof: Oh totally. Mike and I were never in the band together for the road at the same time. Playing together on stage will be great because it never happened before. That’s wonderful and the fact that we are playing more songs from the Mike Howe-era, is really great for us as a band because it’s fresh material. A different kind of set list for sure- of course we will be doing a few of the David Wayne songs too, but we are concentrating on the new album and the Mike Howe-era. The whole thing feels a lot fresher.

Dead Rhetoric: Did fear ever set in when you had to replace David Wayne with Mike for Blessing in Disguise? Especially coming off of a period where “Watch the Children Pray” was in heavy rotation on MTV…?

Vanderhoof: Was there fear of bringing Mike in? Not really, because the situation with David had gotten so bad that’s why we had to bring a new singer in. If you imagine a band that’s taking off and we are going up and then it got bad enough to where we had to fire our singer. We knew we had to fix it, the band would not have been able to continue so that’s why we replaced him. It helped the band.

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