The Howe Factor4/1/2016
Seattle-based band Metal Church will perform at Vaudeville Mews this Sunday in support of its new album, “XI”, which was released on March 25 and features the return of vocalist Mike Howe. Howe spoke to Cityview writer Mark Skaar about the process of returning to the band and the making of the new album
CV: You appeared on “Blessing In Disguise,” “The Human Factor” and “Hanging In The Balance.” What happened after that?
Howe: I retired from the music business, which was driving me crazy because it’s a crazy business, and I had a belly full of it. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore because it was ruining music for me at that time. I went off to be a regular guy, got married and raised two boys for the last 20 years. Now that my boys are a little older and more self-sufficient, I had the spare time to get with Kurdt (Vanderhoof) and do what I’m doing now.
CV: I think you got pulled into this when you were asked to do something with Kurdt and Nigel Glockner from Saxon.
Howe: I think that was his premise, you know? To try to get me back! Then, when that project didn’t come to fruition, it wasn’t long after that he had contacted me about that that Ronnie (Monroe) had left Metal Church, so he switched his focus to Metal Church and started talking to me about that. The thing with Nigel never really came to fruition.
CV: I think a lot of the Metal Church fans are excited to have you back.
Howe: It’s pretty exciting for me, too. Who would’ve thought I’d be where I am today? I, for sure, was done with the music business, so to Kurdt’s credit and our talks over the last year-and-a-half about how it would be different and how we could manage this and do this, we took it step by step, and here I am.
CV: You are getting ready to go out on tour and were a part of a cruise not too long ago. How was that?
Howe: I didn’t know what to expect from a heavy metal cruise because I’ve never been on one, and it was amazing. I had a great time, and the fans were just incredibly warm and giving. It was overwhelming. I was very grateful to their reception. It was way better than I ever thought it could be.
CV: Can we talk about songwriting and how that process works?
Howe: Well, the way Kurdt and I worked in the past is similar to what we did this time, except that we had the advancement of technology on our side, so it was a time-saving tool to help us. How it works, basically, is Kurdt goes into a studio and lays down basic tracks and structures for a song and writes his giant riffs and puts them together. Then I come in when we have enough songs, and we put up a mic and plug it into the board on the computer and start rolling the songs, and whatever melodies start flying out of my mouth and lyrics, we say
“Yay, that’s awesome” or “we should try something different,” and we just go about it like that. We try to be as spontaneous and organic as possible. That’s how we went into this album. “Let’s not overthink it. We haven’t been together in 20-plus years. Let’s see if we can re-ignite that creativity.” I think we had a lot of fun doing that.
CV: We talked about the advancement in technology, and I know you guys filmed the making of the album and put it out there so the fans could follow your progress. I looked like it was a blast.
Howe: Our attitude about this whole coming back together was, “If we can’t have a bunch of fun doing it — which is what bands should be doing — then it’s not worth doing. I think the fans recognize whether you’re struggling or enjoying what you’re doing, so our main goal is just to enjoy what we’re doing. I think in our older age we have a little bit more maturity and hopefully more wisdom, and we know we can sit back a little bit and go at it in a more controlled and focused way, and I think that’s what we did. When we were recording, if things weren’t written the way it flowed, we could just go into the computer and take something out or move a part around, and Kurdt and his great capabilities could just snip something out or move it around, and that was a great tool in the writing process
CV: You also got acquainted with Jeff (Plate, drums) and Steve (Unger, bass) and Rick (Van Zant, guitar). It’s a different lineup than last time.
Howe: For me, this is all great because I’m a person who likes to look forward, and that’s why I wanted to do new material if I was coming back. And it’s a new band with great new players. I loved the band back in the day. That was awesome. But now I’m excited about the new version of Metal Church and playing with these guys. They are awesome players.
CV: That said, Chris Caffery from Savatage is going to be filling in on guitar for this upcoming tour.
Howe: Yeah, he is. We’re lucky to have him. He’s stepping in for Rick, our lead guitarist. Unfortunately, Rick had a detached retina. That was a crazy thing that happened to Rick so he had to go into surgery, and it was scary for awhile, but he came out of it great. But he’s not allowed to travel for six to eight weeks, so Chris is stepping up for us, and I look forward to being on the road with him on this next leg.
CV: I’m guessing Jeff helped pull him in because they were in Savatage together?
Howe: That and he was on the Monsters of Rock cruise playing guitar for Doro.
CV: Now you are gearing up for the aforementioned tour and you are coming to Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines on April 3. We’re looking forward to it.
Howe: Me, too! I’m looking forward to it as well. There’s nothing like recording an album and going out and meeting the fans that appreciate your music. Getting face to face with people is an amazing thing to do, and I cannot wait!
CV: You have so many great songs in your catalog to make a set list.
Howe: We sat down and went through them all, made our set up, and we were like, “How can we leave this song out? And how can we leave that one out?” So it was a very tough decision. We keep saying, “What a horrible problem to have.” CV