Alright folks, here's an interview we've been taking a really long while to post. In fact it took us so long we started feeling really uncomfortable that the honourable Michael Harris, who's been so kind as to talk to us, would start thinking some really bad stuff about us… But, better late, than never, as we at TTI always say, so here comes… Virtuoso guitarist Michael Harris, whom fans of hard rock and neoclassic guitar music should know from bands as Arch Rival and Zanister as well as by several solo records…
When and where you were born?
I was born in Dayton, Ohio (U.S.A.) in the "turbulent '60s!"
When did you start playing music and why?
I started playing trumpet when I was 11. My father is a "big band leader and trombonist", so that influenced my choice of a brass instrument, although I really wanted to play French Horn, but the music store had none to rent, so I ended up on cornet, which is like a smaller version of a trumpet.
Why did you choose the guitar instead of bass, piano or drums?
I had some friends down the street that played. I was able to see them play "close up" and I was instantly in awe…the guitar is such a "cool" instrument…being able to strap it around thyself and jump around. So I started when I was 14 and never looked back.
What were your influences when you started?
Guys like Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, & Robin Trower at first, then evolving into Michael Schenker, Uli Roth, Frank Marino, John McGlaughlin, Al DiMeola, and anybody good that caught my attention.
What do the following names matter to you? Do you know any of them personally?
a) Ritchie Blackmore
One of my all time faves. I loved the way he used the harmonic minor scale, not just in soloing, but in the foundation of the song.
b) Jimmy Page
I respected Jimmy more for his writing than anything. His best electric work is still probably on Zeppelin, but we can't forget his wonderful acoustic playing either!
c) David T. Chastain
Of course I know David, as we have done 3 albums together and he has licensed many deals for me around the world. He's a very talented and versatile musician, and one of the few honest people in the music business I believe!
d) Yngwie Malmsteen
I was into classical music at a young age, as my mother is a pianist/flutist/instructor and is very classically oriented. I went through an "Yngwie" phase, as I was blown away by his speed, technique, and maturity of songwriting at such a young age. It was refreshing. He had taken Blackmore and Uli Roth to a new level. I don't listen much anymore, as he stopped "progressing". But Y is still the best at what he does.
What was the first band you played in? Did it record anything?
I had a 3 piece band after having only played guitar for 6 months….we just toured garages though.
You became famous after playing with Leather Leone on her solo album "Shock Waves" in 1989. How did you hook up with her?
That was totally David Chastain's idea, as he produced the recording. It was challenging and got things "kickstarted" for me. I was grateful for the opportunity.
What does Leather do now? Does she have any plans to produce more records in the future?
I have only actually met her once, believe it or not. She lives in San Francisco and I don't know what she's up to nowadays. But she sure does have some "pipes".
After Leather, you started Arch Rival. How did it happen?
I'd actually had Arch Rival together since 1986. We had already toured the country before the Leather album. The band at that time though was not content with our vocalist, so after working with several singers, we found Steve Snyder in 1990, and with him found our chemistry, and became "recording artists" instead of just a live act.
I know that besides three albums, Arch Rival has two mini-LPs. What songs do they contain?
The band had actually recorded 2 EPs prior to finding Steve, but nothing that we were proud of enough to re-release. They contained some songs that eventually ended up on "In the Face of Danger", but in a much more primitive form at that time.
I know that the third Arch Rival album "Third Degree Burns" contained three bonus tracks in Japan which are "Frightening Lightning", "All The Way From Memphis" and "Me Against The World". Were those tracks published anywhere else in Europe or in the USA?
No…they just happened to be on live tapes we had sitting around.
Originally Arch Rivals were issued on Bandai Music and Alfa Music in Japan. Both companies are out of business, at least Alfa Music is. What company in Japan has copyrights on your albums?
That's a good question. I'm not sure of the legal details of that, but the publishers (mainly "Limb Music" and "Watanabe") still are collecting and distributing royalties to us.
Were there any unreleased songs left over from those three albums? Is it possible that they will see the light of day someday?
AR did have some strong material that never got released, but none of it was recorded & mixed in the studio.
What is the future for Arch Rival? Did the band split up or it was put on hold for several years?
AR is presently on "standby". I am personally too busy to pursue the band at the moment, but would like to do another recording within a couple years. Steve & myself are now 1000 miles away from Gary & Greg in Ohio, so that makes it difficult as well.
Your first solo album "Defense Mechanizms" was released in 1993. Why did you decide to record an instrumental album?
I had written an abundance of instrumental material over the years, and I finally had enough for a complete recording. Not to mention, I love the challenge of composing and the "no limitations" of instrumental music.
Why did it have different covers in the USA and Japan?
Apollon decided to change the cover in Japan, which was totally their option.
On your solo albums you don't limit your style with only hard rock sounds. I see you like classical music, blues rock and other different styles. Is it possible that one day you will record with an orchestra like Yngwie Malmsteen did on his "Concerto" album?
That would be a fun endeavor someday if the budget would allow it, but it is not "in the cards" at this point in time. As far as the different styles is concerned, I have always absorbed many genres of music, so I feel comfortable composing many, as I never cared to limit myself to only one type of music.
In 1992 you released a live concert with David T. Chastain "Live, Wild And Truly Diminished". How and where the album was recorded?
"Chastain/Harris" did two mini tours in the early 90s: one in the U.S. and one in Mexico. The live album is from various U.S. dates.
By the way, do you play concerts regularly or just occasionally?
I kind of go through phases, where I will tour for awhile and then take months or even a few years off to create music. I plan to keep the performances more regular now though, as I do enjoy playing live, and have now composed some vocal songs, which can satisfy my audiences more than a barrage of non vocal music.
The Surgeon album "Encyclopedia Of Insane" came out in 1997 and showed a much heavier direction of your music? Was it your personal project or you were invited to play there?
SURG was my idea right from the start. I advertised for a singer, found Len Jarrell and decided I would try co-writing with someone a bit instead of writing everything myself. It was a fun challenge and allowed me to unleash a lot of heavier music that I'd had for awhile.
Is it possible that we will see a new Surgeon album in the future?
Yes - I would like to do another when time allows. In the meantime, I am accumulating material.
As far as I understand, you always wanted to have a common project with David T. Chastain. Finally it became possible with Zanister. Why did it take so long to create such project?
David & I stay very musically busy, so that is always difficult. Zanister was David's "brainchild", so there wasn't a big commitment in it for me, other than cutting my solos, writing a few parts here and there, and engineering.
Zanister sounds like the true heavy metal with classical influences. Can you say that that's the music you've always wanted to play?
I definitely have metal roots, but am curently moving away from that "pure metal" style into a more "progressive fusion" direction. But metal is always enjoyable to play, and seems to come natural to me, as I grew up on it. David did a great job writing the Z albums though. He has great focus, musically and lyrically.
I hear that your new album after "Sketches From The Thought Chamber" will feature yourself on lead vocals. Is it true?
Yes, "Sketches" is my final instrumental album, at least for now. My follow up (which is 50% finished) will feature me singing with maybe an instrumental or 2 sprinkled in.
One more question about Arch Rival. On the Ebay auction in the Internet I saw a promo live album of the band. Why did you never release any live albums with Arch Rival officially?
We did 4 live shows broadcast on a local radio station in Dayton, Ohio, WTUE, all on New Year's Eves. The first one was pressed by the station. It was probably the worst show of the 4 though. It's flattering to know that it has found it's way around the underground marketplace, but I'd just as soon forget about it!!!! haha Since it was broadcast only over one telephone line, it was only a mono recording that was "simulated stereo" later on. Maybe we can accumulate some live stuff in the future, but the problem is lack of properly mixed or quality recordings....
Do you earn your living from music or you have a permanent job anywhere else?
I am a guitar instructor, so it's all music for me…..
What do you think of European power metal bands like Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Blind Guardian, etc.?
I like some of what I've heard from those bands, which hasn't been that much. If I'm listening to Metal, I prefer a more progressive variety, like Symphony X, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, etc. A lot of the power metal bands just seem to be re-hashing what Judas Priest, Deep Purple, and early Metallica did years ago. I am very objective when I listen to anything though. That just hasn't been that much lately, as I have been so busy with my projects and I don't like to absorb other people's music when I'm trying to be creative. More "power" to the bands mentioned above though, as they seem to be the "cream of the crop" when it comes to that genre.
What are your five favorite albums right now?
Well, if I wanted to throw on something right now to really be amazed and moved by, it would be early/mid Rush, Kansas, Yes, or The Beatles. There are a lot of newer groups that are impressive technically, but most severely lack in melodic content. King's X is another group I like a lot.
Do you have plans to release an instructional guitar video?
I don't have any plans to do that. I guess I would consider it if a company approached me, but don't really have the urge to throw a bunch of licks on a tape. I would envision a lot of my teaching to be verbal advice, which makes for a boring video.
Have you ever thought of working with some popular heavy metal singers like Rob Rock, Michael Vescera or Ronnie James Dio?
Oh sure…that always enters one's mind….actually I very highly respect Michael Vescera the most of those 3…great great voice….so have his people contact my people, OK? haha
Do you plan on organizing guitar clinics and what are your general plans for the future?
I have done "clinic type situations" before….I prefer just to play live, which I am preparing for presently. I am forming two "Michael Harris TranzFusion" bands…one in Dallas, TX, where I currently reside, and one in Ohio, my home state. I'm excited to get back out with the new instrumental and vocal tunes!
That's it, Michael. Thanx a lot.
It was my pleasure.
MICHAEL HARRIS DISCOGRAPHY
Shock Waves (1990)
Live! Wild And Truly Diminished!! (1992)
In The Face Of Danger (1991)
Wake Up Your Mind (1993)
Third Degree Burns (1997)
Michael Harris (solo)
Defense Mechanizms (1993)
Ego Decimination Profile (1996)
Distorted Views (1999)
Sketches From The Thought Chamber (2001)
Encyclopedia Of The Insane (1997)
Symphonica Millennia (1999)
Fear No Man (2001)
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