Guitarist Mike Alvord about Mindwars
In 2013, you established a new group, Mindwars. I think the moniker speaks for itself, right?
Right after HT, I reconnected with my childhood friend Ron Cerro, who I mentioned before. He was playing in a band that used to be punk, but were shifting to more of an alternative style. You have to remember this was 1989. I went to see them play and Ron asked me to join them for a couple acoustic songs. I ended up joining the band and we change the name to Black Apple Forest. It was a pure alternative genre band. We played together for about a year and went through different bass players and drummers. The last drummer and singer for BAF moved on and formed a band called H.A.G.S. It was the last initial of all the members. The bassist was Steve Hansgen, formally of the punk band Minor Threat.
We rehearsed a lot and wrote about 10 songs. We were set to record in the summer of 1991 and start playing live, until I decided to go back to university. Steve wasn’t into a part-time band arrangement, so the band dissolved. I continued writing material until around 1993 and then from 1993 until around 2003, I barely touched my guitar. I played a little acoustic, but that is about it. I started playing a little more around 2005. I dug up some old cassette tapes and started using my computer to record songs on my own.
In late 2013, Roby Vitari and I reconnected. I had met Roby in Milan, Italy when HT was on tour with Exodus and Nuclear Assault. I think Milan was our last show as HT. Roby and I reconnected through Facebook and started chatting. He asked me if I still played guitar and I sent him some mp3s of songs I had written during the last year of HT and right after. He put some drums to the songs and Mindwars was being born. We knew we wanted a name that connected us with Holy Terror, without disrespecting the legacy. When we settled on the name Mind Wars, I decided to combine the words into one Mindwars and actually ran the idea by Kurt. I didn’t had to get his permission, but I felt it was appropriate to see if he minded. He said go ahead and good luck. So, there you have it…Mindwars was formed.
Was your goal to keep alive Holy Terror’s heritage?
After reading my history of playing in this interview, I think you will get the sense that my roots are around Speed/Thrash Metal. While I have played various genres and I do like all types and styles of music, this is where my heart resides. So, since much of my material in 2013 was written back in the late 80’s, it had a tremendous flavor of HT and the 80’s speed/thrash genre in general. It wasn’t so much to keep the legacy alive as it was that this is the style of music I write. The connection with HT would allow people to know who we were and help give us a chance with a new and old audience. I have never wanted people to look at us as a Holy Terror reboot. Just my perspective on Holy Terror and the 80’s genre as a whole. With our latest release The Fourth Turning, I did write songs titled MindWars and Holy Terror, so I am purposely paying respect to my old band, but we are definitely not Holy Terror.
What about your bandmates and their musical past?
I actually don’ know a lot about Danny’s past other than he is a natural guitar player and not a bassist. Roby played in several well known Italian bands. He played, recorded and toured quite extensively with Jester Beast, Head Crasher and Creeping Death. Rick used to play, record, and tour with a band called Green Vinyl Dream and actually toured as a supporting act for Pat Benatar. Rick is not a Thrash Metal guy by any stretch of the imagination. He has also palyed in various other bands and is currently in a Pat Benatar Tribute band. They are called Live From Earth and the singer looks and sounds exactly like Pat Benatar.
The band’s line up seems to be steady from the start, this year bassist Rick Zaccaro joined the band, while Danny „Z” Pizzi switched to guitar. Does it mean that all of you are on the same musical wavelength, there is a chemistry among you and you get on well with each other? Since you are living in Los Angeles and the others in Turin, Italy, how can you practice? How often do you practice at all?
I’ll take these two questions together. When MW formed, both Roby and Danny lived in Turin, Italy and me in Los Angeles. So, rehearsing was out of the question. If it wasn’t for modern technology, a band wouldn’t be possible. The main reason we got Danny was because he was willing to play bass. His main instrument is the guitar. And two, it made sense to have the rhythm section of the band be in the same city. This allowed the two of them to rehearse together. In 2017, Roby actually moved to Southern California and applied for US citizenship. Now, two of us were in the same area and Danny was the remaining member in Italy.
Roby and I had the opportunity to rehearse now and actual start writing music together. We started getting offers to play gigs locally, but without Danny in the Los Angeles area it was impossible. When Schecter Guitars asked us to play their 2019 NAMM After Party, we were about to decline and then I thought of a friend of my by the name of Rick Zaccaro. I had only recently met Rick through a mutual friend. We had jammed a bunch playing cover songs. Rick and I developed a friendship and had mutual musical interests with bands like Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, and Rush. Rick was not much of a thrash guy, but did like some of Mindwars songs off the album Do Unto Others and Sworn to Secrecy. Not wanting to turn down the Schecter Guitar offer, I asked Rick if he was interested in filling in on bass. He said yes and then we talked with Danny. Danny completely understood and for the most part this was a one off gig.
After the show, Roby and I were talking about how great it was and how the sound was different with an actual bass player. This is no disrespect to Danny. He did a great job playing bass on our first three albums, but Danny is a natural guitar player and Rick a natural bass player. You can clearly hear the differences. Roby and I talked about asking Rick to join us and asking Danny to move to guitar. We first approached Danny and he was in to it. We then talked with Rick and he said he would give it a shot. We played couple other shows in 2019 with Rick and things were beginning to take shape. Roby and I try to practice at least once a month and during the writing and recording of The Fourth Turning, we played together almost weekly for a couple months. Rick rehearsed with us several times, too. Unfortunately we have not had the opportunity to play together as a four piece yet.
After releasing your second album, Sworn to Secrecy you left Punishment 18 Records and got signed by Dissonance Productions. Did they offer you a good deal? Did they promise you tour support, promotion etc.?
We were very fortunate and grateful that Punishment 18 gave us a shot and released The Enemy Within and Sworn to Secrecy. When Mindwars formed, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest and P18 gave us a chance. They really helped us get things going. We didn’t have any plans for a third album and I get a message from Steve Beaty with Dissonance Productions and Plastic Head. They offered us more money than P18, but it wasn’t just the money that made us switch labels. It was the fact that they were a UK label and affiliated with Plastic Head. Things are different nowadays and unless you are an established band, there is no tour support. We are pretty much on our own when it comes to playing live. The sales of Do Unto Others weren’t very good and large festivals and tours were only interested if we would play a Holy Terror set. We were a bit disappointed and got to the point where we discussed moving on from Mindwars and doing something entirely different. After the first show with Rick, we got a little revitalized. We started talking about doing a fourth album, but with a completely different approach. Dissonance was also disappointed with DUO, but offered to give us one more shot.
When did you start working on the new album and how were the songs penned compared to the previous albums?
The writing process started about the same as DUO. I would record riff after riff after riff and send them to Roby. This time though we were much more critical. We wanted to maintain the speed of our faster songs, but wanted to stick more to heavier midtempo songs when we slowed things down. TEW and STS were mostly written by me years earlier. There were some newer songs on those albums, but many of the riffs I already had laid down. Once we had about 15-20 riffs, we did something we never had the chance to do before and that was Roby and I played together. We would play each riff and find ones that worked well together. This sort of writing is how it is supposed to happen, but for the first three albums it was impossible with Roby and Danny living in Italy. We ended up with about 12 or 13 songs. As we continued to rehearse and arrange the songs, we ended up cutting the number of songs down to 10. We felt this was more than enough. We really focused on each song. We merged various riffs and even created a few new ones to make sure each song had the right tempo and sound. I was listening to a lot of different music and this help form the songs, too. It was more of a collaborative effort this time around.
How did the recording sessions go?
Recording this time around was also different. Roby recorded all his drums for the first three albums at his study in Italy. Danny would record bass at his studio, too. I recorded guitars at my home studio, but my recording equipment wasn’t the best and I think the overall sound was sacrificed. The guitars do sound much better on STS than TEW because I recorded DI tracks and Bill Metoyer reamped them. This time around I was in the studio with Roby when he recorded drums. We would bounce ideas off each other and I could give input on what I thought sounded best. This dynamic really helped polish the sound. Rick and I recorded the bass tracks together and Roby popped in during my guitar and vocal recordings. This approach felt more like a band effort as opposed to our first three albums. Roby also kept pushing me to add various harmony guitar parts. This is something I did a little on TEW, but not much on STS or DUO. I spent more than a month working out the various harmony guitar parts. When it came to mixing and mastering, we hired Cris Copat with KK Studios. This proved to be the game changer with the sound of this album. Me, Roby, and Cris spent hour after listening and adjusting the mix. Cris was very patient with us and I think it paid off.
Could you tell us any details considering the album?
The mixing and mastering process was much different this time around. Roby and I were much more involved and with Cris being about 10 years younger than us, it provided a different perspective and idea with how things should sound. There are no fillers on this album. Since we wrote 13 songs, we were able to take the top 10 without feeling like we sacrificed anything. The sound is heavier, some songs faster, and the overal aggression of the album is much more intense than the first three albums. We made it a point to write some really heavy mid-tempo songs. It was something we really lacked with our first three albums. The lyrics of the album follow a similar theme as the album title. Much of what I wrote about has to do with the things going on in our world at this time. Some of the lyrics, such as the opening track The Awakening, I wrote in 2019, but the song (Who’ll Stop the) Aryan Race is really about WWII and Nazi Germany. While it does reflect some of the things going on in our world now, I was inspired to write it after watching a TV series called Man in the High Castle. There are definitely anti-war, environment destruction, and goverment control throughout the entire album.
Do you follow the musical path of the previous albums or did you change it a little bit?
We definitely wanted to maintain the same idea of keeping the with the direction of 80’s speed/thrash but with a modern flavor. However, we also wanted to make this album sound different than the first three. You will over course recognize some of the style as similar to the first three albums, but our sound has definitely matured on this album. The various guitar harmonies, the vocal melodies, and the more technical nature of some of the songs is a bit of a departure from our first three efforts.
The cover is a departure from your first three albums and themes. What can you tell us about it?
The first three album covers revolved around a character we referred to as Wally. He was named after Colonel Walter Kurtz from the movie Apocalyspe Now. I had a specific intent with each of the first three albums and Wally was the central theme. We also discussed leaving Wally with DUO. It seemed to fit to leave him with that album. This album I had the overall concept, but didn’t have a title until a few months ago (around July 2020). It is interesting how the cover really fits with what we are experiencing in the world today, but I actually had the concept and cover completed before the end of 2019. I have always been a proponent and interested in the enviroment and conservation. The cover shows the destruction of modern society with emphasis on pollution. With the chaos and violence all around us it fits even beter.
The title was going to be The Awakening. I had this title for a while, but when Sacred Reich came out with their most recent album, we nixed the title. For a long time we were using the working title Blood Red. It fit with the color scheme of the cover, but it really didn’t have any real meaning. If you recall, The Fourth Turning was the opening track title off Do Unto Others. It is an interesting theory about generational changes and cycles. Roby and I were not really happy with Blood Red, so we tossed around a bunch of different titles and nothing seemed to stick. The Apocalyspe, Tomorrow’s End, End of Times, etc, etc. Title after title ad we couldn’t settle of anything, until Roby threw out The Fourth Turning. It fits perfectly.
What about the Slayer cover? Why did you use it only as a bonus song?
It was really a fluke. The end of 2019, Roby saw an announcement asking for bands to participate in a Slayer tribute compilation. He asked me if I was interested and I figured why not. I first asked if we could play Epidemic. It’s one of my favorite Slayer songs. It was taken so we thought Chemical Warfare would be a great option. After I listened to it, I was reminded how long the song was and I wanted to do something quick and short. You know, something fast in a small package. This is when we ended up on Criminally Insane. We recorded it in less than a week in early January 2020 and were happy with the way it came out. We decided to ask Dissonance if they were ok with adding it as a bonus track and they were supportive.
How do you find the present and future status of metal music?
The present state of all music is a bit nebulous with the inability to have live shows. I am seeing some bands getting creative with streaming and drive in concerts, but this type of live music is not available to all bands. I am hopeful that 2021 will be a huge shot in the arm with adrenaline for the music industry. It definitely needs it. There seem to be some resurgence with bands like Raven and Armored Saint putting out new music which sound like the music from their heyday. Testament, Exodus, Onslaught, and Death Angel have also put out some great music recently, so I think things might be picking up in the thrash/speed world.
Tell us please about your future plans! Is there a show in Hungary in your mind?
Right now we are really focused on getting as many people as possible to hear The Fourth Turning. We are trying to promote it the best we can and think people will like the changes we made when you compare it with our first albums. I have my fingers crossed that Japan will host True Thrash Fest in 2021. We were supposed to play this past February, but between visa issues and the coronavirus, we were unable to play. If we get enough exposure and interest with The Fourth Turning, I am also hopeful we will return to Europe. It would be nice to play a couple festivals and tie in some shows along the way. I would love to play in Hungary!
Mike, thanks a lot for the interview! What are your closing words?
Thank you so much for the support and to ever around the world keeping Speed/Thrash Metal alive. Stay safe, stay sane, and stay metal! Speed Kills!