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Holy Mother's Mike Tirelli: "I just felt like we needed a break. And when I say a break, I really mean a break from some of the pressures to produce albums on very small budgets"

Interview with Mike Tirelli from Holy Mother
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 19 December 2020, 10:17 PM

Everything appears to be connected to perseverance and strong will. When the time is right, and the scene is set for the occasion, even after a long time without that spark in one's eyes to create, it can suddenly return in a blast. After seventeen years, as if out of nowhere, the US Hard Rock / Heavy Metal band Holy Mother returns to recognition, and as it was claimed, back with vengeance, full time, leaving an appetite for more. With the release of "Face This Burn", Steinmetal had the honors to talk with longtime leader, and amazing vocalist, Mike Tirelli, about coming back, why it ended before the break, the new album, its meaning, keeping it up vocally, his past illness and more…

Hello Mike, it is an honor for me to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hello and I would like to say thank you for this interview for Metal Temple. I am doing quite well and so is my family, hopefully yours is too.

With Covid-19 pandemic still out there, especially in the US, where it actually took the lives of over 200,000 American lives, how has it been over there lately? I know that a change is on the rise in January with a new administration, but how do you perceive the public eye regarding the “where do you go from here” stuff?

Over here in America COVID-19 is at its highest. I hear it’s bad in Europe as well. As far as the new administration here in America, I feel we have to take it day by day. We first have to take care of the COVID-19 pandemic situation to put people at ease.  As far as politics is concerned, people will always disagree, to the point where it can literally ruin relationships and friendships, which is sad.  But we all need to eventually come together in the end to make the world a much happier place. Where is HOLY MOTHER politically? We are not far right or far left. We want things to be more balanced.  That’s where we can have the most success if we want to have any peace as a world or nation!

The last time I heard about Holy Mother was with the early album “Agoraphobia” and from there on, total silence. I know that you got busy with the German band, Messiah’s Kiss, but when it comes to Holy Mother, not a single clue. What were the reasons for the band’s silence all these years?

I just felt like we needed a break. And when I say a break, I really mean a break from some of the pressures to produce albums on very small budgets.  t also became difficult finding the time for me, Jim, and the rest of the band to get together.  At that time in our lives, we were starting to raise and support our families.  But Jim Harris and I were always in contact and remained good friends.  And HOLY MOTHER has always been close to my heart, so it really had to be the right time to put it all back together.

Recently I got the memo that Holy Mother is back in action, and with no less than an upcoming recording in the image of “Face This Burn”, and signed to the German label, Massacre Records. First things first, how does it feel to get back in the game with Holy Mother? What did you miss most about the band being active?

Putting HOLY MOTHER back together again has been the most uplifting experience for me in my whole musical career. And getting back with my writing partner, good friend, and drummer, Jim Harris has been priceless. Over the years, I’ve always been writing songs, but deciding where I should use the songs was a challenge. I didn’t want to use them for Messiah’s Kiss, because I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit for them.  But when Jim and I recently reunited as songwriters, we decided it’s time to bring HOLY MOTHER back, and this time with a vengeance!  Jim and I always missed the camaraderie we shared, the energy we get when we write together, the style of writing we create, and we also missed being able to express ourselves in the lyrics and melodies of our songs.

This new era of Holy Mother, other than new beginnings, shares a reunion between yourself and your drummer, Jim Harris, which was featured on the first five Holy Mother albums. What brought you back together to start working on new material? What kept you apart all these years?

Jim and I have always been in pretty close contact over all these years that HOLY MOTHER has been out of the game.  During our time apart, I was involved in a lot of different musical projects and bands.  As you know, I have been busy with Messiah's kiss, and we are currently working on our fifth studio album.  In between that, I got a call from Mark Reale of the band Riot to join and tour with the band.  We toured in Europe, the United States, and two tours in Japan.  After the band Riot took some time off, I was feeling ill, and received the devastating news that I had Stage III stomach cancer, which was the same cancer that Ronnie Janes Dio had. Through extensive chemotherapy treatments followed by a full gastrectomy (which means they removed my entire stomach) it took a long time to feel somewhat normal again.

When I was finished with my treatment and recovery, I was offered to play the part of David Coverdale in a Las Vegas rock show called “Rockstar’, which featured different singers portraying different characters such as Steven Tyler, Bon Scott, Nancy Wilson, Robert Plant, and several others.  It helped me to get focused on music again, and put my illness behind me.  That show lasted eight months.  I stayed busy after that with a wedding band that I’m in called Entourage, which is an eight-piece band that plays all over New York.  I also do lots of other projects including tributes to Ronnie James Dio, and David Coverdale of Whitesnake.  Very recently I was on a show that is featured on YouTube called Band Geek.  The show features Richie Castellano, who is the musical director for the legendary band Blue Öyster Cult as well as guest musicians.

Jim has been busy with other projects too. He’s an incredible writer, so he kept writing and produced a solo project called World Gone Mad, which was independently distributed in the USA.  He began writing fiction novels too, one of his books Sadwings Of Providence did very well on Amazon. What brought me and Jim back together?  We decided we wanted to catalogue and release a ‘best of’ Holy Mother record.  And that sparked our interest in writing a new Holy Mother album. At the time I working with a project called Rising Five and had a song I wanted Jim to assist with lyrics. Jim and I collaborated on the song ”No Death Reborn” brilliantly, and this became the first Holy Mother song.

Holy Mother, with its comeback, pretty much reshaped its lineup, in particular, recruiting guitarist, Greg Giordano, which isn’t considered to be a known element in the US Metal scene. Nonetheless, who said a no name couldn’t not fit in a come out as a pro right? How did you guys know he is Holy Mother material?

Greg Giordano was highly recommended to us by Nick Lee, the guitarist from Riot. With that said, I was always looking for someone of Greg’s caliber to fill the guitarist spot that would take HOLY MOTHER to the next level. I wanted someone who could shred on guitar, but also had a lot of musical sense. For myself, I always loved guitar players that can captivate all musicians, and Greg was that guy. He also had to be that guy who would take my songs and play them better than I could. And make them fierce with attitude.

Going back to “Face The Burn”, this record is coming out in a rather challenging period for mankind, facing the pandemic, going through changes that some of them could be rendered as barely tolerable. How do the themes on the album touch base with what is going on out there?

A lot of the lyrics and music was written during the pandemic, so it was pretty hard not to be influenced by those events. One song in particular, "Prince of the Garden", was written and recorded for the NOW album in the 90’s.  For this album, we re-recorded and re-wrote the lyrics to correspond with the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020.  I think some of the other songs on this album will unconsciously relate to people and how we now live in these terribly dark times.

When I read the title “Face The Burn”, it feels as if someone tells me to face the music or face the disaster, face the consequences of stuff that you made. What do you make of this title?

When I sing Face This Burn in particular, I translated it as facing your fears, facing your anxieties, facing everything that is negatively going on in the world right now. Just like I said before, other than Face This Burn and Prince Of The Garden, we did not intentionally put lyrics that speak about these dark times, but with the influence of world news and social media, it sometimes comes out that way.

Where do you find yourself personally when it comes to the lyrical content on the record? What pissed you off earlier that you found it fitting to write about?

Like I mentioned before, Jim and I to try to stay out of politics when it comes to music. But one song, “Prince Of The Garden” was intentionally written directly toward the pandemic and COVID-19.  The lyrics were changed from the original song to what we feel now.  We are suffering because we are not able to get together with our family, our friends, and people in general. I think this disconnect between people will have a more negative effect than the pandemic itself.

In light of the record, which I find to be as twisting and turning of a person inside himself, at least most of it anyway, how do you perceive life? What messages are you sending out there?

I look at life as every day be blessed to be alive and to be healthy. Eleven years ago I had stage III stomach cancer which was the same cancer as the late great Ronnie James Dio. They removed my whole stomach (full gastrectomy) along with extensive chemotherapy treatments.  Because of what I went through, I look at life with a positive attitude and I’m happy to be alive. Hopefully I can translate that to everybody as well.  We all have to stay as positive as we can, especially during these horrific times, and be thankful for what we have right now. Just remember there is always someone else out there who has it worse than you.

Prior to listening to the album, I took another listen to my favorite Holy Mother record, “Criminal Afterlife”, and then I came down dwelling on “Face The Burn”, even in comparison to your last record, “Agoraphobia”, this new album came out modernized, somewhat industrial / mechanical with its perspective of Rock and Metal. What kind of inspirations made you turn to a much more modern direction than before? Is it the sign of the times or simply natural?

With this new album Face This Burn it’s obviously been 17 years and I’ve been influenced by all kinds of different music styles. I sing and play all types of music styles with another band called ENTOURAGE, which is an eight-piece band that mostly plays at weddings.  I also listen to a lot of more modern rock/metal bands, which has a big influence on my writing. As far as production goes, I wanted to have a very modern production sound, so on this album we had Kane Churko mix/master and co-produce it. He’s worked with such bands as Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, Bad Wolves, In This Moment, just to name a few.  He works alongside his famous father, Kevin Churko. They have a studio together in Las Vegas called The Hideout Recording Studio.

As a songwriter, along with Harris as your co-songwriter, what do you make of your progress to come up with material? Would you say that you did things differently on this album, especially since it has been a while since you wrote songs for Holy Mother?

As far as the writing process between me and Jim, things have not changed too much.  We both have our own recording studios at home, which enables us to send material back-and-forth easier and prepare the arrangements more efficiently.  The magic between me and Jim hasn’t changed, it has only gotten a lot better!

Due to the new varied arsenal of musical directions on “Face The Burn”, would you say that you faced challenges while writing the new material?

As far as facing challenges on this new album, the only challenges would be the technical challenges of recording in your own studio, and making sure things are recorded properly. As far as writing the material, I’ve only gotten a lot more experienced and way better at my craft. And so has Jim with his writing and drumming skills.

One of the chief elements of “Face The Burn” is your vocals. I have to admit, you sound strong and energetic as on the earlier albums. How have you been keeping your voice in check? What advice can you offer to newcomer vocalists and also veterans of how to keep that voice strong?

Being a vocalist for all these years, I truly believe that you have to keep active as a singer. I’ve been singing a lot of different styles to advance my technique. There is a balance to singing. Not to over-use or under-use, which can be difficult and different for every individual to find. With no gigs on my schedule within the last 10 months, I’ve been making sure I keep my voice in shape by recording and singing my vocal exercises, which mostly include different warm ups and scales. I know it can be extremely tough to sing without any real purpose, but just like anything else, you have to be disciplined. There’s also other factors as well like enough rest, hydration, not too much alcohol, etc.

From what I could understand, there are two songs on the album that aren’t new but rather from the band’s earlier era of the mid to late 90s, “Prince Of The Garden” and “The River”. Are these newly made versions with different arrangements or mainly re-recordings? Was it a last minute decision to have these songs as part of the tracklist?

The song Prince Of The Garden is basically the same musical arrangement. However, we rewrote the lyrics to be as relevant as possible for what is going on today, especially with COVID-19 and the restrictions involved. The song The River is the same arrangement; we just re-recorded all the music and all the vocals. Putting both songs on this new album was pretty much a last minute decision.  We especially felt that Prince Of The Garden never got the recognition that it deserved back in the 90s.  As far as The River, we felt it was one of our best songs, so we wanted to bring it back to the forefront so people can enjoy it once again.  Also with a better production, and with that same off the chart energy!

Talking about these songs, in particular “The River”, now that tune made me long for the old Holy Mother, sinking its teeth on pure US brand of Heavy Metal. Don’t you miss this kind of juiced up kind of songwriting, filled with energy, relentless? You practically sound like Dio on that one

That’s exactly why we put the song The River back on this new album. Going back to my roots of music growing up with Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio, Rainbow. I felt the urgency along with Jim to re-recorded this juiced up high energy tune as you perfectly put it, back on a new Holy Mother album. And I think it fits perfectly to fulfill every rock/metal fan’s appetite for that kind of style song.

The song “Today” shares strong emotions, a modernized vibe of Metal, quite a heavy song bearing a lot of deep inner thinking. What do you make of this personal questioning of one’s self?

I wrote the song Today, before the pandemic. But like I said earlier, it can also relate to current events. We’re always troubled or pressured into thinking where our future is going.  The chorus says “Today, where I would end up Today, Where are we going Today? Where do we go?”

Certainly if there is an industrial kind of track it is “No Death Reborn”, which already sent a shudder through my skin, it actually had me thinking of my little boy, currently sleeping in his bed, fearing for him. I don’t know why, but it scared me a bit. Possibly due to the haunting chorus and emotional singing. No doubt there is an impact here that is deep. What can you tell about this song and its creation?

Well it’s kind of funny that you mentioned your little boy in regards with the song “No Death Reborn”. The song deals with the opioid addiction that is so prevalent in today’s younger generation. Wait until you get a glimpse of the video for this song!  It’s very chilling. I actually had my daughter Violet Tirelli sing on it and star in the video!  You can hear her on the choruses singing “So many young, don’t want to see, so many young, like puppets on a string, so many young, so many young!”  and you will see her in the video as well.  Also, this was the first song that Jim and I had the chance to reconnect. I wrote all the music with me just singing a vocal melody with mumbling lyrics and sent it over to Jim.  I knew that Jim would take it and write the most fitting lyrics for the eerie sounding music.

 “Wake Up America” is one of the album’s strongest numbers, a jumpy kind of mid-tempo, on the string of Pop to be honest, quite catchy, uncanny in contrast to stuff I have been used to by the band. Is this the forged path of next Holy Mother material?

I don’t think wake up America is going to be a definite forged path for the next Holy Mother album. I wrote all the music on the album and with this song, I wanted it to have a certain groove to give the album a lot of variety and contrast.  In other words, I really wanted it to be very percussive, which would ultimately give it a more pop-ish vibe.

It has been a while since the last time you covered a song that is not Metal in origin, ever since that Elton John cover back in the mid-90s. You chose to cover the old classic, “Superstar”, originally written by The Carpenters. What drew you to this song in particular? What did this mechanical kind of atmosphere of your version make you feel?

Superstar was originally made popular by The Carpenters with their version, but was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell with song writing credit given to Delaney Bramlett. What drew me to the song Superstar, was the smooth and sultry voice of Karen Carpenter. I remember it so well as a young kid. I always loved this song. I knew it would be a big surprise for people who already knew the song. But for me I wanted to do it in a more modernized hard rock style. I think because it was such a good song originally, even the people who didn’t know the original song would have a strong appreciation for what is still a really great song, and the way I remade it.

The big question is, will there be more Holy Mother albums?

There will definitely be more Holy Mother albums moving forward.  Especially with the reaction we have had so far to the new album. I have already written at least 30 or 40 song ideas. So there will not be 17-year hiatus. lol

Mike, I wish to thank you for your time for this interview, it is much appreciated. Thank you for coming up with such a diverse release that really made my heart warm. Cheers sir.

Thank you Metäl Temple again for your interview and appreciation of the new Holy Mother album.


 



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