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MIND OVER MATTER – Mike Alvord tells tales of Mindwars…

MIND OVER MATTER – Mike Alvord tells tales of Mindwars…
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Released in April 2018, Mindwars’ third album ‘Do Unto Others’ copped some very respectable reviews from the metal fraternity, with, for example, Neil Arnold at metalforcesmagazine.com referring to it in his eight-out-of-ten review as “a record jam-packed not just with controversial topics but enough musical complexity and speed to fry the brain” – not a bad testament for the American-Italian thrash trio whose roots can be traced back to the legendary Holy Terror.

Despite only issuing two albums in their lifetime Holy Terror – whose line-up featured guitarist and backing vocalist Mike Alvord – cemented their place in the annals of metal history, and it’s through Holy Terror that the seeds of Mindwars were originally sown, as Mike elaborates. “Back in 1989, when Holy Terror was touring Europe in support of Nuclear Assault and Exodus, we played Rolling Stone in Milan, Italy. There was this guy working for either a local radio station or fanzine – I can’t remember which – but anyway, his name was Roby Vitari. We connected because he is from southern Italy in the area of Calabria, which is where my mom’s parents are also from. Well, that was it: two young punks crossing paths during a thrash show. Fast forward to the end of 2013: by this time, everyone and their mother was on social media and Facebook was the true fad. We made out way through MySpace and then Zuckerburg squashed it with his vision of connecting people. At least I think that was his original intent… But I digress,” he laughs. “Facebook did do its job in connecting me and Roby once again. Now, if you ask him, he will say I reached out to him, but that is not how I remember it. I specifically remember him asking me if I remember him. I remembered the Milan gig and meeting a ‘paisan’, but didn’t remember him specifically. I shared a few mp3s I had recorded over the last twenty-five-plus years and he put some drums to those songs. We immediately connected again and shared the same sort of musically interests. He knew Danny ‘Z’ Pizzi who would end up being our bassist, and I ended up giving vocals a try too. Having a three-piece made sense since we were forming a band across two different continents.”

Which must be a bit of a challenge? “This is by far the biggest challenge,” Mike concedes.  “Playing together is what a band really needs to do and should do. This is how you grow musically both as a player, but also as a band, and it also helps with the writing process. Working collaboratively with others is crucial. We’ve made it work so far. We have been together for a little over five years and things are still afloat. Roby has relocated to SoCal and this has helped a lot. He and I try and play at least a couple times a month together. Sure, this isn’t nearly enough though, as we should be rehearsing there or four times a week. However, work schedules and the distance from Newport to LA do present some problems. It would be nice to get Danny out here too, but he like me has a more traditional nine-to-five type of job and this definitely makes things tough. Since we all understand our limitations as a band, this helps us overcome the distance issues. It also holds us back a little too. We could put together more frequent and longer tours if we lived near each other.”

That said, the three band members gelled quickly, not just as musicians but on a personal level as well. “The main thing is the lack of ego. This is not to say we all don’t have egos – I think that would be naïve of me to think that. But we do not let our egos interfere with what we are doing. We are open and honest with each other, understand the needs and expectations and go about this whole thing with an open mind. This is one of the reasons we haven’t added a vocalist and perhaps another guitarist. The more people there are in a band can really complicate things. This is not to say we need or want additional members, and we have discussed getting a true singer. My vocals are average at best and I am OK with that. If someone popped into our lives and fit our goals, then who knows? But the camaraderie is definitely our biggest strength, and our similar musical tastes also make it easy to get along, write, and play together.”

Once they had a band, they needed a name, and as Mike agrees, “a band name can be difficult. However, we knew we wanted to draw the attention to my history in Holy Terror without disrespecting the legacy of the band. We threw around a few things. Judas Reward [the opening track on the second Holy Terror album ‘Mind Wars’] was one of them. Judas Redemption was another (I have a song I call ‘Judas Redemption’. It’s sort of a part two to ‘Judas Reward’). One of us came up with Mind Wars to honour the second Holy Terror record, but to distinguish things a bit we made it one word – Mindwars! It sort of fits with some of the concepts of the band, my lyrics, and has a connection to Holy Terror. There you have it!”

As mentioned earlier, ‘Do Unto Others’ is the band’s third outing, and was preceded by ‘The Enemy With’, released in 2014, with ‘Sworn To Secrecy’ following eighteen or so months later, in April 2016. “‘The Enemy Within’ is really more like a demo,” acknowledges Mike. “A lot of the material I’d written back in the late Eighties, and some of it should have been on the third Holy Terror album, which unfortunately never happened. I like some of the songs, but there are a few I can’t stand. We did all the material separate from each other; in fact, we recorded everything without rehearsing together. ‘Sworn To Secrecy’ was a little more collaborative. We actually played a handful of live shows before we recorded it, and this helped us learn a little more about each other and how we play. We also commissioned the genius of Bill Metoyer to mix and master ‘Sworn To Secrecy’. He did an amazing job. My only complaint is it is a bit flat. However, I think he did the best he could with what we gave him. We once again recorded in two different countries. Roby and Danny recorded bass and drums in Italy at Roby’s studio and I recorded the guitars and vocals in a small home studio in Los Angeles. I think the guitars came out great, but Bill directed me to record a DI channel and he re-amped my guitars. That helped a lot. We should have been a little more critical of ourselves and cut a couple songs out of the album, but all in all I am happy with it as a whole.

“Compared to those, ‘Do Unto Others’ is just an evolution of Mindwars. We played a bunch more together – we even had a mini-tour in Europe – and this helped us even more with ‘Do Unto Others’. I did write all the songs and lyrics once again, but a couple of concepts for songs were suggested by Roby. Roby also played a bigger part in the arrangement of some of the songs, too. Danny also had more freedom to play a variety of riffs in some of the songs, which provided some air and space. A buddy of mine did the mixing and Dissonance mastered it. Again, some of the recording was not up to par. We really need to take our time in the pre-production. We did record the guitars and vocals in Roby’s Number 8 Studio, which he relocated to Santa Ana, California. I mentioned earlier that he decided to try US life for a while and is living in Newport Beach now. The bass and drums were recorded at his studio again in Italy before he moved. My buddy who mixed it did a lot of work to try and fix some of the recording issues and focused on a more analog approach. I think it works, but it also took some of the power out of it.

“But ‘Do Unto Others’ is definitely my favourite of the three. We wanted to continue in the vein of old school thrash, but with a different twist. I think a few songs hit that twist. ‘Blacklisted’ and ‘Wall Of Fire’ are definitely a lot different than any of our other songs, I would say that ‘Blacklisted’ is my all-time favourite Mindwars song to date, and I think ‘Wall Of Fire’ might be Danny’s favourite. I also think ‘The Fourth Turning’, ‘Conspiracy’, ‘Allegiance To Death’ and ‘Peace Through Violence’ are definite highlights.

“We also wanted a warmer more full sound,” he continues. “I think we hit that too, but unfortunately, the result was less power, crispness, and aggression. I think some of the songs on ‘Sworn To Secrecy’ sound much more angry than ‘Do Unto Others’. But, maybe that’s how things were supposed to turn out. Who knows? I try not to worry about things too much. I am, after all, doing this because I love it. I just hope others can enjoy some aspect of what we are trying to do. If I was younger and trying to make a career out of this music thing, I think my approach and concern would be a bit different. But I’m just enjoying the opportunities that come my way. And, Dissonance have really helped us a lot as well.”

As mentioned in Echoes a while back, Mindwars are currently working on material for their fourth album, and things might be a little different this time around. “The first three albums all had a common theme,” Mike explains. “If you noticed we incorporated a bald character, who we refer to as Wally. One of my favourite movies is ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Marlon Brando played the character Colonel Walter Kurtz, hence the nickname Wally. He really can be anyone, though. I’m fascinated with conspiracy theory, politics, mind manipulation, good vs evil, etc, and the first three albums sort of encompass this stuff. Our approach to this one is different in the sense that Roby and I are really putting the songs together. I’m just writing riff after riff after riff and sending them to Roby, and he puts them in various folders on the computer and then we sit down together and pick the ones we like and start putting songs together. So this is more of a collaborative effort than before. It is also resulting in a different sound, I think. You will still here remnants of Holy Terror – after all, it is in my blood – but the songs and the structures are quite a bit different. We have eight songs written so far, and want to get a few more and then weed out the ones we think might sound like fillers. We really want to put out eight or nine really great songs. When you listen to ‘Reign In Blood’, there are absolutely no fillers. You can’t say that about too many albums.”

It’s trivia time – “I love trivia too!” interject Mike, “so here we go… First of all, Danny is actually a guitarist. He only decided to play bass because we needed a bassist; he loves Holy Terror, and he is a good friend of Roby’s. I have two degrees from University. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology and a Master’s in Environmental Health. And we recorded a twenty-minute video for a show called ‘Brutally Delicious’ where we made vegan pasta carbonara. It was a hoot!”

And finally, if the band were marooned on a desert island, and things got desperate, who would you eat first, and why. “They would probably eat me,” says Mike. “Since I am vegan, I wouldn’t be able to eat either of them anyway!”

To buy or stream ‘Do Unto Others’ click the link below