Her Chariot Awaits – Embrace the AgeFriday, 29th May 2020
Over the past decade, guitarist Mike Orlando hasn’t been whittling his time when it comes to music and production. He owns his own studio Sonic Stomp, has been an integral part of Adrenaline Mob, and also play in a Brazilian progressive metal band Noturnall. His latest act Her Chariot Awaits contains ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn, bassist Brian Gearty and drummer Jeff Thal, and it’s melodic hard rock/metal in the vein of Halestorm, In This Moment, and Flyleaf as far as solid melodies, strong musical hooks, and catchy songs. Pushing Ailyn a bit out of her comfort zone, but still using her multi-octave power and emotional resonance to allow the listener to sway and swing to the material.
We reached out to Mike by phone and his infectious attitude and energy level made this talk whirl by in quick but informative fashion. Prepare to learn about the work behind the record, their KD Lang cover/remake, thoughts on video shoots around New York City, and thoughts on the changing landscape to launch new rock/metal bands plus healthy discussion on many other bands/projects he’s developing for the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us the genesis of Her Chariot Awaits – as Frontiers came up with the idea, but how did you end up deciding on ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn to be the proper voice for this set of songs? Did you familiarize yourself with her previous work before making the final decision to have her as the singer?
Mike Orlando: It all came about with Ailyn through the label. We were looking for different vocalists, myself and Michael Caplan, who manages me and was the bridge to Frontiers. Then they sent me Ailyn, I didn’t know of Sirenia and her past work, but she has an amazing, beautiful voice. It’s five octaves I believe, so it was pretty easy to say, ‘great!’. It was a little different because she’s from a different background in music. This is more of a Halestorm, Flyleaf, In This Moment, No Doubt kind of thing- so it took her a little bit to get used to it, into that style of singing. But she was awesome, she’s a champ. I think she did an incredible job.
I was approached to do a hard rock, but female-fronted band. I jumped at the opportunity, as I love all those bands I just named. The music is fun to do. Hard hitting fun, hooky songs type of things.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you choice the rhythm section for the band?
Orlando: It started with what I do always with any album I’m writing. I sit down and do the songs in pre-production with drums, bass and guitars – sing the songs and send them to Ailyn. Then I started to think about the rhythm section. Jeff Thal I’ve known since I was 14, and his brother is Ron Thal (Bumblefoot). I’ve known them forever as we were all from the same town. And I used to go see them practice at their house when they were jamming. It was a no-brainer, this seemed like a perfect opportunity as he’s a great drummer and a great guy.
Dead Rhetoric: The self-titled album sits in that melodic metal platform with familiar elements that you’ve developed in Adrenaline Mob – but also showcases you pushing your lead breaks in spots to showcase some of your seasoned, neoclassical flashes and shred touches. How did the songwriting and recording process go for the record – were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges that came up?
Orlando: There are challenges when it comes to what I do, how I want things to sound. This is more of a song-oriented platform with a lot of hooks and vocal harmonies. The guitar moments come in their spot, and I take advantage to say what I can say in those 30 seconds or so. It was really easy for me, it was drawing from everything I listen to with the female-fronted bands. As far as keeping myself in there, it’s just the way that I play. I just do what I’m doing, I don’t consciously say I need to do this kind of lick or anything. I try to play what the song needs, play something exciting and something a little bit left of center so that it keeps the listener’s attention, pull some kind of emotion from them. You hope that with these eleven songs people enjoy them, and it makes them feel great, rocking out. I try to do something that people would enjoy and hold their attention – that’s pretty much it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the choice of covering KD Lang’s “Constant Craving” come to fruition? Myself, I enjoy when heavy music artists take risks on pop or outside the genre covers and make it their own, which I feel you accomplished here…
Orlando: Thank you very much. I love doing that, I love all those older pop songs. We did this with Adrenaline Mob, we did “Come Undone” from Duran Duran as a duet with Lzzy Hale. I love doing that. KD Lang – what a great song, it was always stuck in my head. I had this idea for a few years, because I love to remake songs. Once I’m doing an album with Ailyn who has an amazing voice, it was a no-brainer. It’s a creepy, dark version, sucks you in. Some people even say they don’t even know it was a KD Lang song until the chorus hits, which is great and I think I did my job to make it different.
There’s two ways of doing remakes – you can do it your own way, or you can be very true. There’s two angles of looking at covers or remakes. I would put this more in the remake category, as I changed it up a bit.
Dead Rhetoric: As a producer and mixer of the album as well – how do you differentiate the needs when you have to put on those hats to arrive at the best sounding final product? Are you consistently strive to improve on all fronts to serve the needs of the songs first?
Orlando: Without a doubt. I learned a long time ago that I have to take the guitar player hat off, the writer hat off, be the producer and the engineer. It’s the song that matters. The only thing that matters is – is the listener going to enjoy this? That’s it – it’s not is my guitar solo loud enough? I’m not a player anymore at that point. I’ve done this for over a decade- the last five Adrenaline Mob albums I’ve engineered, tracked, mixed and mastered them at my own Sonic Stomp Studios. And I use it for many other clients, and it’s important to know your place. When you are an engineer, what matters most is the song, not the individual parts. I’m always striving to be a great producer and engineer – it’s equal to my desire to be a great guitar player.
Dead Rhetoric: The video for “Take Me Higher” takes you and Ailyn around various parts of New York City. How did the video shoot go, any strange occurrences or highlights you’d like to share and how do you feel about the value of video clips in social media platforms?
Orlando: I think they are totally mandatory – you have to have a video. People are doing them all different ways – people can even shoot them with their phones. The visuals still have to be there. I enjoy a video. The director who shot “Dead and Gone” and “Take Me Higher” did the treatments and wanted us to go through Manhattan and New York City. I’m from here so it’s a beautiful city. We went through Central Park, where we almost got arrested for shooting in there. (laugh). There’s a shot of me in a huge tunnel, and literally after that we are running out of it, because on both ends they told us it was time to go. The shots right in Times Square, a total flip side. They were so nice, the directors told the police they flew in from South America, the singer flew in from Spain, do you mind if we shoot this beautiful city? And they said, yes – so that was awesome.
“Dead and Gone” the other single is about my girlfriend’s biological father. When you see the shovel and dirt, putting out the fire with dirt, there is a huge symbolism there of putting your past behind you. It tries to tell the story with the video.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you personally handle that fact that it seems like major corporations make it much more difficult for newer hard rock/metal artists to have any chance to develop a living at their craft compared to the opportunities available during the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s even through the early 2000’s? Or is this just a domestic issue in the United States compared to other territories across the globe?
Orlando: That’s really hard. It’s so hard to launch anything if you are not established and out there already. I don’t know how these newer bands are going to do it. It’s definitely different overseas. One of my other bands is based in South America. In Europe and all over it’s different than the United States. I think it’s a shame, what can you say. The effects of the downloading and the streaming took its toll. In the United States it’s a different platform – hip hop seems to be the major platform. Yet rock is still filling stadiums. You have Metallica, Slipknot, Guns ‘n’ Roses still filling arenas – yet not in the forefront of popular music, which I think is ridiculous. Rock is not dead, give me a break – it’s out there, not just in the popular eye. Overseas it’s just better, hopefully we can get back to it – rock is the greatest genre out there.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your highlights or proudest accomplishments you’ve had to date in your musical career?
Orlando: Just everything I’ve gotten to do and am doing now, I’m so grateful for. Adrenaline Mob is huge on that list, to get to perform and tour for all of those years, the people I’ve got to play with. Being able to do Rock in Rio twice with my band Noturnall to 90,000 people. Getting to tour with Sonic Stomp, playing in China to 3,000 people doing instrumentals. Everything I’ve done, I’m honored to be able to do this for a living. Every show, it doesn’t matter how small or big of a place, it all means so much to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Now having to quarantine with your pets, do you believe that they at least provide some level of normalcy/sanity when you have to social distance from others? And how are you handling this downtime, as it seems like you are relatively busy with studio/session work?
Orlando: I laugh because I adore my two cats. I did a piece with Loudwire on them. I’m a huge advocate of pets – they are family. 100%, keeps me sane, at least me. I’m still very busy in the recording studio, I’m doing a new album for Frontiers of a whole other different band. I’m mixing it now and handing it in in a few weeks. I was on tour with Sons of Apollo with my band Noturnall, and I came home straight from Sweden because we had to cancel everything. I have been hibernating in the studio.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some tips or suggestions that you think younger musicians in the heavy music scene need to think about and pay attention to either on the performance, songwriting, or recording fronts?
Orlando: Just do as much as you can. It’s tough today, I don’t know how in this day and age, it’s a totally different game now. Back in the day for myself, it was playing all the time, write as much as you can. That’s a tough one, this is a different age. Embrace the age, do as many videos as you can and get them out there, build your fanbase on the internet because it’s all about that now. As artists you need to tour, or have multiple bands to tour, that’s big right now. Do as much as you can. Don’t stop doing it until you get that audience.
Dead Rhetoric: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Orlando: For me, in the last two and a half years I have a different vision or take on life now. Since the Adrenaline Mob accident, because I know I’m not supposed to be here. How I escaped that, I have no idea. Since then, I have a whole different mindset. Every day is great day, breathing fresh air. I want to make music and play music with people that I enjoy being around. That changed my whole life, that accident.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Mike Orlando in terms of music or production work over the next twelve months? Would you think about putting Her Chariot Awaits on the road depending on the response to the record?
Orlando: Definitely I want Her Chariot Awaits to play on the road. Everybody in the band wants to do it. When we get back to live shows, I hope we can get on the road. I don’t consider this a project, it’s a band – I don’t do projects, I do albums with bands. As far as music I have a lot coming. I have a new band called Blacken the Sky that will be coming out on Frontiers. It has Aquiles Priester on drums, Andrew Freeman on vocals, and Junior Carelli, ex-Nortunall keyboard player. It has symphonic elements to it, huge vocals, really hard hitting. I’m doing an album with Corey Glover from Living Colour, we are eight or nine songs into it. I have a new Noturnall album as well – we just put out a single which features Mike Portnoy on drums called “Scream for Me” and we toured on that before this pandemic hit. All these albums will probably be out in 2021.