Guitarist Mick Michaels of Corners Of Sanctuary Interviewed

Hailing from Philadelphia, New Wave of Traditional American Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary (COS) formed in 2011 with a desire to bring back the sounds of Classic Heavy Metal. Corners of Sanctuary has performed with many notable artists including: Saxon, Anvil, Stryper, U.D.O., Butcher Babies, Grim Reaper, Tracii Guns, Saving Abel, Tim “Ripper” Owens, David Shankle (Manowar), Tantric, Marc Rizzo of Soulfly, Green Jello, Act of Defiance, Britney Fox and Damon Johnson among others. Guitarist Mick Michaels took some time away from slaying dragons to enlighten us on all things Corners of Sanctuary.

 

How did you first get in to music? Who turned you onto rock/metal?

Mick Michaels: Several family members played instruments. My older brother and grandfather played guitar. My grandfather also played in the Philadelphia string bands playing the banjo and accordion among other instruments. Around the age of seven I wanted to play the drums. After what seemed like a long campaign on selling the idea of me getting a drum set, my parents finally broke down and bought me a four-piece Ludwig blue-sparkle jazz kit. It was awesome and I wish I never sold it. My father was a big Beatles fan as well as Ritchie Valens fan. My older brother was into bands like Black Sabbath, Kiss, Rainbow, Zepplin and Deep Purple – this was my first introduction to early Metal.

How did you become a guitarist and are you proficient in any other instruments?

MM: I played the drums for about five years until I decided to make the switch to guitar. I had always dabbled with the guitar but nothing that would constitute that I actually played. Being that my brother was already heavily involved in music and working with bands playing guitar, I am sure this was a major factor which affected my decision to go to guitar. But I also started to realize that songwriting for me seemed easier with the guitar than on the drums… it made more sense and seems to be the thing I was looking for. I still play some drums but not at a level where I could sit in with a band for a full set. I play bass and a little bit of keyboards. I play just well enough where I can lay some recorded tracks in a pinch if needed.

What was the local scene in Philadelphia like in the beginning, was there a particular band you aspired to be like, favorite local bands back then, favorite local bands now? 

MM: As history shows, Philadelphia was a hot spot for music. Many famous artists are from the area: Patti LeBelle, Frankie Avalon, The Roots, Pink, Hall and Oats, Cinderella, Jim Croce… Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was produced here in the early days. A lot of energy and soul lives in Philly, especially with regards to music. For Rock and Metal there were so many cool places to play or go see bands back in the 80’s, The Empire, the Galaxy, Rock n Roll Ridge, Bonnie’s, The Silo… hell, even local roller rinks had bands perform. It was a cool time. Back in the mid 80’s my favorite local Philly band was World War III. Johnny Dee from Britny Fox and Doro played drums in that band. They were awesome and embodied that next level sort of attitude and delivery. Britny Fox was also big on the local scene in the later 80’s after Cinderella was signed. They were a really cool band to see live during that time.I remember local music being very inspiring. There was so much raw energy and excitement. Every show was electric… going to a local venue like the ones I previously mentioned was like going to the Spectrum or some major concert venue… it was always an event. The fact that people keep creating music and write songs, put bands together and go out and perform is inspiring. Without them there would be no scene at all.

Has there been times when drugs and alcohol were beneficial to the band.

MM: Never. Doesn’t exist for us… never has, never will… the music is all we need.

How would you best describe your sound?

MM: We are a modern take on the Classic Metal sound… The New Wave of Traditional American Heavy Metal.

Is doing pre-sales the same thing as pay to play?

MM: I don’t feel they are the same thing. Pre-sales are no different than what your favorite pro band does when they come into town for a show. Tickets are made available prior to a show to ensure people will be in the audience. Selling tickets has always been part of the game. Just these days, bands get far less of a cut even with the same amount of work. Selling tickets should motivate a band to spread the word and reach new audiences. It’s hard and adds to the constant struggle a band faces to stay positive and stay noticed. But we must ask ourselves… do we want to play to no one? Do we want to rely on people just showing up? It’s a gamble.

The pay to play thing is a buy on scheme plain and simple, and seldom, if ever, do you get a kick back. Even with the pre-sales, bands usually get some percentage back per ticket. Major acts are doing the tour “buy ons” with many of the supporting bands. Bands buy on a tour package to ultimately get exposure but have to cover all their own expenses. If they are lucky, merch sales are their only means of looking to balance things out. The money paid to get on the tour goes directly into the headlining band’s pocket. It’s crazy but it’s happening, and is part of today’s industry.

What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?

MM: I remember buying a 45 of “Shout it Out loud” from Kiss in the 70’s. The B-side was “Sweet Pain”. I have bought a lot of Kiss records over the years. I had stuff on vinyl which I later bought on cassette, to later buy on CD and more recently bought again on vinyl. It’s not uncommon to have multiple copies of a release in different formats.

DIY forever or signing with a label at first opportunity?

MM: That’s a catch 22 question… and no matter how you answer it, someone will always have something to say. First off, who wouldn’t want to make it to the big time and be a success? If you have a favorite band or artist, then chances are they done did the deal. So signing with a big label for your run at that chance is a no brainer. But there is so much more involved that even people outside of the music industry have come to learn. Ownership and control is what it comes down to and that is what will dictate how and where the money goes. Without that, the artist always ends us owing.

Being DIY comes with its own set of pros and cons. All the ownership and control is yours to keep, but so is all of the work and expense. This comes down to the ability to be creative, be flexible and to keep swinging. Being DIY builds character and integrity. But it also involves being a band or artist that others want to work with and like to work with, otherwise it can be lonely.

After all these years, I have come to terms with if given a shot at the big time, I am more than comfortable signing over one album of material to make that happen. If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to writing albums for myself. Better to love and lost than to never have love at all. J Let the judgment begin!

What’s the biggest show you have played so far and do you still get nervous before a gig?

MM: The biggest show we have played so far was opening for UDO this past February. It was amazing. We received a call two days before asking if we would be willing to do the show. Of course we said yes without hesitation. But we didn’t get the green light until about 3pm Friday afternoon and the show was the following night. We were the only support band and the place was packed. Though we didn’t know how packed until we hit the stage. We had arrived earlier in the day for a sound check and all, and then went out for some dinner. We were escorted in and out through the back of the building, never really seeing what was happening out front. The place went black, we were being introduced as we made our way to the stage and the lights kick on and at that moment we realized how real this was. It’s like a bolt of lightning hitting you. All you can do is play. I absolutely still get nervous before shows. I think it is normal, healthy and demonstrates that I am alive and that I still care.

Is commercial rock radio dead?

MM: I don’t believe so. Commercial rock has always found its way onto Pop oriented stations… and Pop has always added in some form of rock to give themselves an edge. I don’t think rock is dead… it’s just been laying low and preparing itself for the next big change over. Music, like anything else, is a cycle. If you wait around long enough everything makes a comeback. Be patient. Rock is forever.

Favorite songs on the new as yet to be finished album and why?

MM: We are currently working on our new album “The Galloping Hordes”. All the songs have something that I am connected to by my favorite song on the album is definitely a track titled “If You Dare”. For me it is just flat out rockin’… straight forward, driving Heavy Metal that I know and love. The song’s about standing up to all those who oppose you because of jealousy or hatred towards what you have accomplished. To me I find the song inspirational and a reminder that there will always be people looking for you to fail. It is up to us to prove them wrong.

Out of all your songs which one touches you the most when you perform it? 

MM: I would have to say “Only One”. This was the very first song written when Corners of Sanctuary formed. The song was co-written by Mad T and myself and originally appeared on COS’ first EP “Forgotten Hero”. The song was then rerecorded for another EP a couple of years later but has never been on one of our albums. However, “Only One” has been a part of our live set from the very beginning and will most likely remain an essential part of the show.

Are there any political or social issues hidden in Corners of Sanctuary songs?

MM: We write a lot about war and battle and how it affects those who are involved. I guess there can be some subtle political commentary included but we tend to see it more as a social awareness message to what is going on in the world.

We also tend to write about self-empowerment and overcoming odds. The simple message is that we are all capable of so much more and we should all strive to be the best we can be. Not to sound like a recruitment commercial, but people tend to give up way too easily and way sooner than they should without ever really trying. Quitting is way too easy but is becoming more of a norm. Life is gonna throw a lot stuff at us, we shouldn’t add to it by just letting it come at us without a fight.

What was the process of putting the songs in order.

MM: Placing songs in a particular order for an album is based on flow and continuity. For me the order is very important. It has more to do with the beginning and ends of tracks than anything else. Like watching a TV show where the action is halted at a commercial break or at a cliffhanger. We are left with wanting more… and the next song, the right song, can provide that. This is of course unless song order dictates a theme or story line… then there can be no deviation.

I realize, however, that in today’s market most people don’t even care about song order let alone download complete albums. But since the CD format is still available, as well as the rising interest in vinyl and cassette tapes making such a comeback, to me song order is still relevant and a vital part of how the album is delivered and received. Song order can make all the difference.

What endorsements do you have and what endorsements do you still want?

MM: Currently the band has a number of really great endorsements including Von York Strings USA, Sinister Guitar Picks, Coldcock Whiskey, George L’s Guitar Cables, Metal Babe Mayhem Clothing (who is also sponsoring our West Coast tour this November), Explore Apparel, FUNctional Accessories, Tuned Up Brewing Company (where COS has a signature line of craft beers), Cooper Groove Drumsticks, The Sweet Spot Drum Dampeners and Fireplant Guitars. It is so cool to have companies believe in what you are doing enough so that they are willing to attach their name to yours and mutually work to foster a relationship and to build a brand. We are truly grateful for their confidence and support.

James and I would love to get an endorsement deal with Carvin for amps.
I know James would like to have a deal with Hohner Basses… and it would be cool to have a relationship with either B.C. Rich Guitars or ESP Guitars. I have been playing both for quite a number of years.

Bands you would love to tour with and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate.

MM: We would love the opportunity to be able to tour with Judas Priest or Accept, even Kiss!
Who wouldn’t? These are bands we grew up with… would be an amazing dream come true to say the least. It would also be cool to tour with Disturbed… actually I’m pretty sure we would tour with anyone if asked.

I personally would like to meet Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Paul Stanley and Jon Bon Jovi. These artists have been very inspiration to me as a songwriter and performer. All of them had to work to reinvent themselves multiple times and each time came back stronger than before, at least from my point of view. There are definitely lessons to be learned from these gentlemen.

Song to be played at your funeral and 3 albums to take to your grave?

MM: Would love to have the theme to the Godfather played at my funeral… and while they are lowering me down into the ground, the theme to Rocky.

Three albums I would l take to the grave with me…
Judas Priest “Stained Class”,
Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album,
and the new Corners of Sanctuary album “The Galloping Hordes”

Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?
MM: Thank you Capital Chaos TV for taking the time to speak with me. It was a pleasure.

Also want to thank all our families, friends and fans for their constant support…we would not be able to do what we are doing without you all. We are extremely grateful.

The band has been very fortunate over the last several years to find an audience. It’s humbling and it’s inspiring. So much on the horizon…we have a new album we are planning to release later this year and a West Coast tour happening in November. Plus, look for some new singles dropping as well as several other cool things coming. We are extremely excited and look forward to seeing the fans and making new friends along the way. COSnROLL!

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