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Michael T. Ross (Hardline II)

Interview with Michael T. Ross from Hardline II
by Eleni at 27 May 2004, 11:26 PM

Michael Ross, keyboard player for L.A. melodic rockers Hardline II, Ramos and other interesting rock bands was kind enough to state he's a Metal-Temple reader! Well we wanted more than just to thank him so here's the Interview he gave Eleni!

When did you join Hardline and how did this happen?   

I was asked to join in 2002 for the ten-year comeback. A good friend of mine, guitarist Joey Tafolla, hooked me up with singer Johnny Gioeli at a studio in Huntington Beach, California. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be asked to join because Hardline never used keys, as Neal Schon played the guitar synth.

Why do you think it took Hardline so long to release their second album Hardline II? What was the band doing between 1992, when the debut album Double Eclipse was out, and 2002?                                      

When Neal Schon went back to Journey, Johnny and Joey Gioeli started up an internet company, which is a multi-million dollar business today. Not only did Johnhy concentrate on the company this whole time, he also remained active in the music this whole time releasing several successful records and performed live with Axel Rudi Pell in Germany. I don’t know why Johnny never decided to put out another record until lately. But I’m telling you, I’ve been hearing from a lot of fans that it was worth the wait.

Your performance in Live At The Gods festival in 2002 was recorded on tape and a DVD was released. Tell us your impressions of that concert.

We were flying for 12 hours and then we went on stage at 1a.m. after Jeff Scott Soto and Eric Martin had already played, so it was not an easy task, especially with no sound check. I did have some keyboard technical difficulties during the first three songs. There were troubles with the monitors on stage and the backup singers, who were standing next to me, seemed to sing a little off key at certain moments because of it, but overall the vocals were good. Johnny’s voice sounded as strong as ever. I wish Josh Ramos’ guitar was louder. Bobby Rockdid a cool drum solo. I got to do a shred solo at the end of the set, which was not planned. I said screw it, I’m going for it, and when I started to play the intro to the last tune, Dr. Love, I quickly changed direction and broke into a 3 minute solo. Thank god Johnny didn’t kick my ass after the show and really dug on it.

Could you give us some information about Hardline III? When should we expect it?

We are happy to say another record is in the works, called Just Add Water. Josh is writing a lot of the material with Johnny and I’m working on a ballad.  I’m sure the record will be in the same vein as previous Hardline, sounding somewhat like Slaughter, Van Halen and Whitesnake. Johnny is looking into Brunette material from the past and may be bringing a few tunes to the table to possibly redo because the songs still kick ass. The record will be released by Frontiers Records hopefully by the end of the year.

Have you scheduled any tour dates?

Not yet. Johnny is in Germany right now touring with Axel Rudi Pell and when he gets back we will all be concentrating on getting the record done, so if any tour, it would probably be next year sometime.

You played the keyboards in Ramos’ Living In The Light. Ramos (the group) also appeared in Live At The Gods festival together with Hardline. How is your co-operation with Josh Ramos in general? Is there going to be a second album?

Josh has received a lot of recognition with his debut solo record. I play on the track, Tell Me Why with bass virtuoso Stu Hamm (Satriani and Vai’s bassist) who plays a harmonic like solo over the keyboard intro. Josh has become a good friend of mine and one of the best guitarists I’ve ever played with. With the popularity of Living In The Light, I’m sure there will be a follow up sometime in the near future.

In November of 2003 you also joined the 70’s legendary band Angel. Who took the initiative for this reunion? What about the concerts you had planned?

The return of Angel is a work of tour manager Danny Stanton from Coallier Entertainment, who also represents Thin Lizzy. Yes, I’m a part of the upcoming European tour playing in Switzerland with Sebastian Bach, Germany with Alice Cooper and performing at the Kiss Convention in Holland. I’m very excited about it but knowing that metal is pretty heavy in Germany, I just hope Angel, dressed up in white and playing melodic rock tunes will be accepted by the crowd.

You are now working on an Angel’s new album. Is it going to be released before your live show at Bang Your Head festival?

We just begun the writing process in the beginning of this year, so there is a lot more work to be done. I’m writing a lot of the keyboard riffs and drummer Barry Brandt actually works on the guitar and constructs the tunes that way. Frank DiMino’s voice sounds better than ever and he seems really excited about the new release and the upcoming shows.

Besides Hardline and Angel you are also a member of the progressive metal group Accomplice. Accomplice are ready to release a new album. Give us some information about it.

We have all the right ducks in a row on this recording and it sounds like it. We hired Simon Phillips (drummer of Whitesnake, Judas Priest, Toto) and locked out his studio to record the drums, so they sound unbelievable. Derek Sherinian (Billy Idol, Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen/’s keyboardist) produced the record and recorded the guitars, keys and bass at his studio in Hollywood Hills, California. Yngwie’s engineer, Tom Flethcer, mixed the record. The record is slated to be released by Frontiers Records early next year.

What about the 5 song EP you made with Bonham’s Charles West on the vocals?

We recorded the project at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood with the producer Andy Johns. He recorded Rod Stewart and many other of our favorite classic rock records there. Charles, the singer, recently performed live with George Lynch. Charles is a great vocalist and sounds very much like Robert Plant.

Let’s talk about your solo record now. When will it be out? What is its musical style?

The material is almost complete and is an instrumental record with Derek Sherinian producing it to make sure everything sounds superb. Atma Anur will be on drums. It is a true honor to have Atma on my record, as he drummed in some of my favorite Shrapnel Records, such as Jason Becker’s, Tony Macalpine’s, Joey Tafolla’s and Greg Howe’s in the past. I’ve approached Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Malmsteen and Dio’s bassist) to play bass and he has responded favorably as long as his schedule permits it.

So, I’m in the process of getting him the material before I split for Europe and before he leaves on the road with Dio. I’m telling you, after seeing Rudy live with Yngwie last month, I have no doubt that Rudy can shred and I look forward to him ripping it up with the keys on some of my tunes. What is unique about this recording is there will be no guitars, just keys, bass and drums, yet with the distortions on the keys replacing the guitar, there will be plenty of chunky monkey on the record. Besides, I don’t want the listener to hear a keyboard solo and swear it is a guitar when it’s not. I’ve been known for fooling even some of my great guitar buddies.

It seems that there is always a famous person behind your works. Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin’s producer) produced the EP we mentioned before. Simon Phillips and Derek Sherinian are the producers of the new Accomplice’s album. Sherinian is responsible for your solo album, too. Do you believe that an excellent production guarantees an album’s success?                                                          

I don’t think anything is a guarantee in the music business but I always believe that things should be left in the hands of the experts. I feel confident having Derek right there during the recording process of my solo record because he has an incredible ear for this stuff. It isn’t like someone buys a record because a certain guy produced it, but if the album sounds amazing, it is usually because the producer’s work was magical.  

I read in a site about you that Derek Sherinian is a close friend of yours. How did you meet him? Is your personal relation beneficial for your co-operation? What happens when you don’t agree over a subject?   

When Derek was no longer in Dream Theater, I simply watched out for him in live shows in Los Angeles because I new he lived out here. One night I saw Planet X playing at the Bake Potato in Hollywood and I approached him. He was very cool and agreed to let me work with him. I took private lessons at first and then returned to him, which lasted several years. We then became bros along the way and continue to work one-on-one today. We recently had a disagreement over Angel because Derek feels I should concentrate solely on my solo record right now. I was a bit surprised because with Angel being such a keyboard friendly group, I thought I would get a lot of support from him. I think it is awesome being in the group. But I have to put myself in Derek shoes and understand that a revived band from the 70’s really doesn’t reflect myself or my generation of today. My solo material is cutting edge keyboard works of our time. Being in my early thirties, it may seem a bit out of place being in a group with members reaching 50, but I believe that all my projects should represent a different time of music history. Angel in the 70’s, Hardline in the 90’s, Accomplice in 2000 and my solo today. I follow almost everything Derek says but I need to sit down and talk to him more about Angel to convince him that being in the group is a good thing.

There is a strange thing I noticed about you. You may be playing with many bands but your partners don’t really vary. Hardline’s vocalist Johnny Gioeli is Accomplice’s singer, too. Josh Ramos is Hardline’s guitarist and he also has his own group. Atma Anur plays in both your and Ramos’ personal works. Can you explain why this is happening?

Just like any business, you keep it all in the family. I believe this is how a lot of musicians get in groups. And it is common to be in several groups at one time because each group has a considerable amount of down time, which allows you to work on other stuff. I also tend to jam with my musician friends and once a record is done, we are all fired up to write/record more, and if we were all in just one group, we wouldn’t be working with each other until the following year. This way, we can all stay working close together and hone in on our abilities as team players.

Rudy Sarzo will by all probability participate in your personal album. Stu Hamm and you played together for Living In The Light. How do you feel about working with such stars? Are they inspiring you in some way?

Very much so. I recently performed at Musicians Institute in Hollywood with Rudy before he went on the road with Yngwie. It is a true honor to work with these guys. Man, they are part of rock’n’roll history. Derek has accomplished the same thing, having the best bass players in his solo record, Billy Sheehan and Tony Franklin.

After all the above I have to ask you this: don’t you ever get tired?  How do you have the energy and creativity to deal with all these? I suppose that sometimes you need a break from recording, performing and composing.

For sure. One thing that sucks about being in this business, is that when I go out to have a drink at the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset, I can’t hang out without guys coming up to me and wanting to talk Dream Theater talk, when I’m actually out taking a break from the studios and want to escape from the music for a minute. I go out to meet chicks, not to talk to some drunk wanna-be rock star dude about the Dorian scale and John Petrucci’s guitar solo the night before. On my spare time, I like going to the Hollywood Hills and go hiking right by where Eddie Van Halen lives.

Which of all the bands is your current top priority?                                

Angel is because we are ready to embark on a European tour and a new record. Once the gigs are done this summer and when Johnny Gioeli returns from Germany, Hardline will be the priority. My solo record is always priority too during the other projects.

We were very happy to know that you are a reader of our magazine. What is your relationship with internet and the press in general?

Man, without the internet, I don’t know whether half of us the musicians would have a music career. Honestly, I’ve been getting a lot of response with the rock keyboards and am so glad we are in a time and age that rock keyboards are finally being taken seriously.

Is there any chance that we will see you in Greece with any of your bands in the near future?

I sure hope so.

I think we have covered everything concerning your career as a musician. I want to thank you very much for your time and your willingness to answer to our questions. You can end this interview with a message to our readers and your fans worldwide if you’d like.

It is true, I’m a big fan of your site and recommend it to any rockers out there. Keep up the good work Eleni. You Rock! For more information on upcoming releases and tour dates, please visit my website at www.michaeltross.com



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