One of the Coolest and sought after session bass players and regular 4 string twanger in Crown OfThorns, Michael Paige has a new solo release just out. He gave us an exclusive interview that went something like this:
Cool to catch up again Michael. Just before we talk about the new solo release let’s just re-wind the clock back because you learned to play violin and saxophone etc at a young age. When was the last time you actually played violin or sax?
MP: I haven’t played either in quite a while. And that phrase at a young age means that it was a looooooong time ago!!!
With a little practice do you think you could get up to recording level again?
MP: I would love to do that!!! I just wish I had the time to dedicate to it. Life in here in LA tends to keep you on your toes and busy with things that you need to stay viable. I figured out long ago where I wanted to go with this music thing, and decided to concentrate on what it would take to get me there! Violin and Sax, although were a passion, wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to be.
We are interested to know what you recorded with Julian Lennon. Was he there whilst you were laying the bass down?
MP Yeah, that was round 1993 or 1994. It was just for some single that Tony Thompson had gotten me in on with him. Tony was my hero. He got me involved in several things including that Badly Drawn Boy and others.
I always thought he was a dead ringer for his dad John. Did you enjoy working with him and on the release?
MP Didn’t do too much hangin’ per se with Julian, just worked on my parts while Tony was cutting his tracks and I popped in to throw my parts down after that. It was released in Japan.
You also played on Badly Drawn Boy album which is a change from the rock roots we associate you with. How did that project come about?
MP As I mentioned Tony got me in on this one, and it was for LA Producer Tom Rothrock. Once again, Tony and I popped in did our thing and bounced! LA is full of opportunities when your best friend is one of the world greatest drummers. We did countless sessions as such.
It was cool to finally see you laying the bass down on one of my songs when we hooked up at Paige 1Studios. It was very much old school ethos because you had not heard the song before just like the old session guys; just feel the track play along a few times and down it goes. Is this how you like to work or would you rather have the backing track to spend time working your parts out?
MP I love doing it in either way it’s very easy to work with. You can tell me what, how, where to play and I do my best to give what you want. Or I can give you what I hear and think would work as well. Due to modern technology, what I often do is give the producer/artist several tracks, via the web or hard drive shipment with different feels that I think would work. That's how we did the last several COT records. Then they have the option of picking, choosing and cutting whatever it is they want. I have even had producers point out to me exactly where they want the finger, pick, thumb or pluck!!! I am from the organic old school of thinking/playing. Many times recording on a track I haven’t heard before, where I’m completely lost in the song; it turns out to be the best take ever. I’m not a believer in over thinking or -overdubbing a track. Keep it organic and let the spirit of the track come out. The song will dictate what I play.
Let’s talk briefly about Crown Of Thorns. The Bailey’s met Jean and Tommy over 20 years ago with Voodoo x, we thought he was one of the coolest looking black dudes we had ever come across and he also happens to be a nice guy too. How did you first meet and what was your initial reaction to being in a band like COT?
MP Well you know the story or do you???? I was this green wet behind the ears kid from punk/funk/rockin’ Austin Texas who got the chance to meet and play with several of my long time idols!!! As a bass player I’d always been a fan of Tony Thompson’s, since Chic and all of his recordings up through Power Station and the Distance. I saw Jean Beauvoir in Austin TX my freshman year of college at a punk club called Club Foot when he was playing with the Plasmatics. Holeeeey Shit was all I could say when my ears stopped bleeding from the explosions!!!! Everybody used to play there. I even still have my original album of Drums Along The Mohawk that I bought several years later!!! (Hey, I need to get him to sign that!!!) Obviously, I was a huge fan of KISS and Shalimar as well. I’ve always been sort of an anomaly. A black guy that who not only digs funk and soul, but hard rock and punk! I got the call from my friend Tori Ruffin that his buddy Micki Free was in a black rock band and they needed a bass player. It had me written all over it!!! For the audition, I walked into a room with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley (who were our managers at the time!), Tony Thompson, Jean Beauvoir, and Micki Free, totally freakin’ out!!! (But not letting on that I was, had to stay COOL!!) I felt immediately comfortable after Tony came over and introduced himself, smiled and said, all ya gotta do is follow me. Nicest fuckin guy in the world!!! Little did he know that I’d been playing with him most of my life!!! Following him was my forte! Needless to say, I got the gig!!! My life’s been one helluva ride since then!!!!!!!!
I note you speak very highly of the late Tony Thompson. It would appear you guys who started out together in Crown Of Thorns remained close throughout the years?
Mp Yes we did. After Tony left the band to hit the road again with Power Station, we did remain best of friends and constantly talked about forming a band. He even gave me a call to join Power Station after the touring bass player that they had didn’t work out, but I wasn’t able to make it in time to the south of France where they were rehearsing. Robert Palmer pulled in a friend of his to take over. (Damnit, I already knew all of the songs from playing them in cover bands in Austin Texas!!!)
You had planned to do a band together called NON TOXIC what was the meaning behind the band title and what were you looking to achieve musically?
MP no meaning to the name at all! It just popped into Tony’s mind and it stuck because we needed a name. We had already recorded and were about to sign deals and move onwards when Tony was diagnosed with kidney cancer and passed away. To this day that music is the dearest to my heart and I feel is some of the best music I’ve ever had the joy to be a part of. I have the original tracks and someday, his widow and I will figure out a way to get them out for the world to enjoy.
So back to COT you have enjoyed many releases which one gives you the most pleasure performing on and promoting live?
MP Still to this day, I get Goosebumps when we play the title track to our first album, Crown of Thorns! I play constant 16 th notes throughout the whole song! A bass player’s workout!!! It’s just so powerful and grooving and it makes me quiver!!! My newest favourite is Rock Ready our latest single, which you know I co-wrote with Jean. The video makes me giggle and is quite titillating!!!!!
The latest COT album has been a long time coming. Was it frustrating not getting another album done with the band for such a long time?
MP Of course, but we all still have the fire burning in us as brightly as ever. Time doesn’t really quell what is meant to be. Timing and opportunity are still very important in being really successful! Hopefully our time has come again, because we’re always prepared!!!
It has been well received by the fans and critics. Has it been cool to get back on the road with the guys again?
Mp Yes we’ve done several gigs, but not really any touring like the old days. You remember those wild times!!! When we all get together now, it’s like nothing has changed!!! We have a fuckin blast! We rock hard, bag on each other, talk shit and pretty much cause trouble where ever we go, STILL!!!
Let’s get up to speed with your new release It Is What It Was. Well, It was 7 years in the making; how come?
MP Well for one I’d gotten involved with several other projects after COT slowed down. Brindle Creme a rock soul band that Hawk Lopez (Crown Of Thorns drummer) actually turned me on to. Wenty Morris, a band mate is featured on Teacher and extra guitars on All in Vain. I also submerged myself into doing the local club scene with several theme band companies including the guys from Steel Panther (those are some crazy mofos!). Then I formed Non-Toxic with Tony. All the while I’d been doing solo acoustic shows with my own music that I never stopped writing. I’d also gotten into computer recording and started recording all my stuff. Paige One Studios has had several different incarnations! Including turning my kitchen into a drum room in one residence! My Aquarian nature dictated that I did everything myself, so I started playing drums several years ago on a kit that Tony left me. J As my studio grew and changed I constantly recorded. These songs are a collection of songs that I just needed to get out! I finally decided to actually do it a couple of years ago when I finished building my in home studio here in Pasadena, CA. (You remember, we were both in the middle of construction hell?!!!) (Yes I still am bro) It wasn’t necessarily meant to be a cohesive flowing album, but more like a regurgitation of what’s been rattling around in my head and sitting on my computer for all these years. It was kinda like throwin’ up a bunch of feathers to see which one the wind would carry off into a successful direction. A Movie soundtrack? Commercial? A Television theme song? Catharsis ya know? Anybody got a cigarette???
You played me the ballad “Without My Heart” in your studio and I was really taken back with your vocals, not what I expected. It’s a really nice ballad not the most impressive guitar solo I have heard LOL but a nice arrangement and I like the way the drums come in later at the start of the song. Do you feel you wanted to do everything yourself to have full control of getting the music with in your heart recorded?
MP I carry the Austin Texas independent spirit with me where ever I go. That means I hate depending on others and I can do it myself, damnit!!! And we all know the musician breed isn’t always the most dependable animal! I needed to be able to record when I wanted, what I wanted, and how I wanted it. That solo, I did and developed thinking along the lines of Pink Floyd. Not too many notes. I like solos that you can hum and have a semblance of a melody. Besides I just wanted to finish the damn song!!! My motto is right now is the only time. It means just do it NOW!!! (Ironic that it took me so long to finish this, hehe!!!)
Life In LA is an up song your Texas buddy Derrick Edmonson played saxophone on the song? It was my favourite bit so how come you didn’t lay the sax down?
MP As I mentioned before, I haven’t played sax in years, besides when I really need some good shit, I know when to call in the big guns. Just like most of the solos on the CD. Derrick and I played Austin's famous 6th street club scene for years. We both moved to LA in the early 90's and just kept on doing our things. When I felt" Life In LA" needed something special, Derrick immediately popped into my head! My ego doesn’t blind me to my limitations!!!
I love the chorus to This Time - it’s also an interesting chord progression in the verses how did you come about choosing that groove to sing over?
MP I’ve always said every band/musician should have at least one 6/8 song in its repertoire!!! It actually started out as full instrumentation from the beginning of the song. I wasn’t feeling it that way so I stripped it down and threw in the loops and samples and made it build up to the big out.
So out of the songs on this release which bring you the most pleasure and why?
MP Actually, one of the earliest songs written on the album. “All in Vain”. It really hits me the hardest because I think it has the deepest message. No matter how bad things may appear, all of our efforts aren’t in vain. Never give up.
The thing about recording over several years is the recording equipment changes either out board or plug ins and then you want to go back and remix with all the new shit to play with. Did you find yourself going back and remixing to balance out the album?
MP As a musician you know you can chase your tail around forever This album was recorded with 4 different operating systems (yup loss of plug ins!) 4 program upgrades, 3 different audio interfaces, 3 cutting rooms, 3 computers, 2 different vocal mics, at least 4 different drum mic configurations, glitchy sound cards, noisy preamps, an ex wife and a teething puppy!!! I finally had to say just finish it! Otherwise I would spend more time remixing, re-cutting, overdubbing, etc. Do I overdub the performance but lose the vibe??? Do I hide the rattling snare and lose the nice overtone??? Believing in being as organic as possible, I left many things as they were, IT IS WHAT IT WAS.
The Prophet I have to say, sounds like you turned the wet button on the Lexicon reverb to MAX rather than Min with the drums mate. It was really heavy on effect and for me it lost all separation and the crash symbols were so in my ears I felt it didn’t do the song justice as it’s a cool little tune. Now I could of course kiss your ass and not challenge your thought process with the drums but I know our readers also record music and engineer so it’s a good topic for discussion. What’s your approach to mic placement and recording drums?
MP I’ve learned a lot doing this CD. One thing I learned is that doing your first album is a lot like having sex for the first time. You ask your friends for advice, you read all you can about it and you go in with a naive confidence that carries you thru to the end. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing and make a few awkward moves, it still feels pretty damn good when you’ve finished!!! Just hope that your partner enjoys the outcome as well!!! If not, oh well, what can ya' do????!!!!! The in your face-ness of the cymbals and hats,was left in that way as a kind of amusement to myself. I’m a very loose drummer (i.e. I am not a fraction of a fraction of the drummer that Tony was!) and to me it kinda accentuated that aspect. It was almost a sort of, tongue in cheek poke at myself. I had to force myself NOT to mix in flanger on the drum track! (Listen a little closer and you will hear a little phasing, heeeheee!) When I mix I try to bring out the personality and vibe of the song and that’s how I heard it!
Ok technical bla bla we can save for the musicians but back to the album. All in Vain for me is the best song on the album and benefits with introducing a guitar player. Was that Bart Ryan doing all the nice lead guitar harmonics and lead soloing at the end? It’s a cool song; tell us how that all came about and your choice of musicians?
MP As far as choice of musicians, I’ve just been blessed to have some very talented friends that decided to help a brother out!!! Yeah, that’s Bart on all of those swells and soloing. He’s awesome. Bart Ryan is a blues-rock musician here in LA that I met and played with years ago during my solo acoustic gigin. He came down one night to my Wok N Roll Sushi nights that I was hosting to hang out and sit in. After several bottles of sake, I talked him into coming over to record on this tune. We were hammered!!! I just plugged him in and coached him thru several passes. He went on his way and afterwards, I passed out on my couch. Woke up the next morning not knowing what the hell we had recorded. As I fired up the computer, lo and behold, “All in Vain”. There are about 4 tracks of parts that I mixed in and out to get the final mix. I love his playing! Tori Ruffin is an all around badass! He taught jazz and funk at the world famous MIT here in Hollywood. He has been the guitarist for Morris Day and the Time since the early 90's ,
Pushit is very sort of dated early 80’s rock a bit AC/DC in places; did you just let loose all your influences on this album?
MP That’s exactly it. They used to call it cock rock in Texas!!! AC/DC is one of my all time favourites. Can you hear this one in a NASCAR commercial??? Or an Ultimate Fighting promo???!!! Most of the songs on the album were written on acoustic guitar. That’s where I usually start. Instrumentation changes as I feel the personality of the song mature. puShit was written because I was fooling around with alternate tunings and wanted a cock rock feel!!!
Teacher - now this I like, very Doug like vocals from Kings X; anything from Hendrix, to Living Colour to of course Kings X how did this collaboration come about with Vocalist Matt Mayes?
MP Matt Mayes came as a recommendation from my friend Tori Ruffin as a vocalist for Non-Toxic! He moved here too late to get things going with Tony and I, but we’ve remained friends and have played together many, many times. I had the track and wasn’t really impressed with my vocals for the track, so I threw it his way and he knocked it out of the park!!! I’m sure I will be doing more with him in the future. He’s killer to work with!
Overall there’s a diverse mix of styles on this release and i think its hats off to you Michael for finally letting the public see there’s more to you than just being a cool bass player. Let’s just quickly wrap this interview up with some info on those cool open mic things you have been doing in LA etc. I remember a flyer you sent us way back something like WOK N ROLL - I think you had a meal then there was a band on? Anyway you have done some cool nights tell us how that started and where you are with it now?
Haven’t hosted any nights or promoted any live music events since MCing Tony Thomps’s Memorial Benefit at the Hard Rock CafE here in LA. Nile Rogers, Jean Beauvoir, Michael DeBarres, Eddie Martinez, Carmine Rojas, Tal Bergman, and a host of others were there. I have been spending my time running a well known steak house here in LA with plans to open my own venue sometime in the future. THERE WILL DEFINITELY BE LIVE MUSIC THERE!!! You can bet yer sweet ass there will be!!! I’m pulling out the Gretsch acoustic as we speak to prepare for doing some live shows again!
What’s next for the Crown Of Thorns and Michael Paige musically?
MP COT is looking forward to doing more touring and festivals next year to bring Faith to more and more crazy rockin folks round the world!!!
Michael it’s always a pleasure to hang with you bro good luck with your new album “IT Is What ItWas” and we look forward to catching up again in the near future bro
MP Once again thanks for the support and I appreciate all that you've done for us!!!!! Rock on Brah'!!!!
Interview by The Bailey Brothers
Michael Paige on MySpace