Interview with The Romantics Guitarist and Founder Mike Skill

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello Mike! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.

CV: Experimentation in music has always been an underlying path for many artists; whether it’s subliminal or overtly in your face and over the top. How important is experimentation for you as an artist and even more so, how important do you feel it is for the listener's experience? 

Mike Skill:
For me the process, it’s all a spontaneous explosion. Experimentation is the foundation of creativity. Apply that to song, melody, harmony, & rhythm (beat), feel (mood), color (style), it’s all very spontaneous. Well…for me it is!

An artist’s environment also determines what is said, felt, projected, & heard. Growing up in Detroit it was 6 months of raw winter, 6 months humid summer and at a time when the city was somewhat smelly, dirty, often smoky, & was a tuff, hard working class, union town. Early 1960’s the big 4: GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Chevrolet, building cars 24 hours a day, all year…minus the three big Holidays.

I grew up hearing the beginnings of Motown and their songs on the powerful AM radio station from across the river in Canada. They had their own music director, they played what they wanted, all of the early vocal groups Smokey Robinson & the Miracles “Shop Around”, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Supremes & James Jamerson “cutting time” on the Fender Bass. The popular stations in Detroit were WKNR, & Soul Station WJLB! During that time, mid-sixties Detroit Rock’ n Roll bands & the teen club scene were just exploding…with Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seger & the Last Heard, Grand Funk Railroad, The MC5, the Psychedelic Stooges w, Iggy, The Amboy Dukes featuring Ted Nugent, and later the Sky with a young Doug Feiger on Bass Guitar.

After high school, I worked through those winters in small shops that manufactured small auto parts, one of hundreds around Detroit, just to earn money to buy a better guitar, amps and gear…when the month of June came I took the Summers off! At the time, Rock ‘n Roll was looked at as a hobby, a phase, something to get serious or grow up from. I was originally off to Art school, but the Romantics endeavor and success changed all that. (Back tracking, the summer before entering High School,) I discovered John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, the Yardbirds Beck, Clapton, & Page. It was now a different guitar world! First it was just learning songs, chords, structure, and dexterity. Now it was learning to play a solo. With melodies and phrases, in the right key. I was collecting guitar licks…jammin’. “Look out”, my fave, Steve Cropper.

Today someone in Austin Texas, Los Angeles or NYC writing songs, or just playing music will have a totally different makeup, different outlook, different influences, & upbringing, to draw from as a song-writer.

I think the listener is looking for an escape in music, and a songwriter is creating that escape, that dream, that other world. I can’t imagine not being a songwriter, having that place to go to, where I escape to find it… that universe.

CV: Does writing for you ever involve taking the audience’s perspective...writing in such a manner that what moves them musically and lyrically is taken into consideration? Or is it more of a personal approach and more geared toward what you want to do?
Often a more personal approach, I’m not really thinking of the listener, I’m not thinking of me, and honestly thinking too much gets in the way of getting to the openness needed to be “tuned in” to it…that zone.

However, sometimes it can be a beat or groove, a small piece of a melody, or just a few chords, that kick starts an idea! Now lyrically is another thing, and not always, I do like to make someone think, and to get a “what does that lyric mean”, or an “I never thought of it that way” or I will ask a question with the lyric. Artists have always been there to provoke thinking or looking at things…life in another way, from a different angle or place to bring a deeper awareness out of someone in that way. I would rather inject thinking into someone than just be preachy, generally my songs lyrics are not that deep.

CV: How essential is it for you overall as an artist to be able to connect with your audience? Is there a line you feel that shouldn't be crossed when looking to make a connection between artist and fan, thus always leaving some gray area?
MK: Grey area is an important part too, you don’t want to always spell the meaning of a lyric out, don’t give away the truth, or the lies…the lesson. I feel like I’m giving away all of my secrets.

CV: Do more personal compositions tend to be more draining on you as an artist than those songs of a far less intimate connection? Are there certain types of feelings and emotions you prefer to avoid when writing songs?
MK: No not so much drained. To me it doesn’t matter what I’m writing, I just have to stay open to ideas coming in. I think it’s just really important to know when you’re connecting within, and when you’re not, and take a moment, walk away from it. I guess lyrics, they can stop you in your tracks, if you let it, it can be daunting, but can’t think that way when you’re starting…that’s building a wall before you’ve given yourself a chance. The best way I can describe is, you try to be unpressured!

A straight ahead rocker, you can throw all caution to the wind. All that you can do is just try to stay open, and let the words and music release to you! Get stuck…set it aside and come back to it. But write everything and anything down! Or stream of consciousness. I don’t want or need to get to negative lyrically, but any feeling is wide open!

CV: After an album is written and recorded, where do you find yourself as a guitar player and songwriter? Is there a sense of accomplishment or is there a feeling of loss now that the project has concluded? Do you find that you leave a little piece of yourself on the table after each project?
MK: Well it’s a great feeling. I’ve always loved getting into the recording studio, the recording process! Taking the time to have great, inspired songs! And then walking out with a true reflection of yourself, a finished product, it’s an, “I can’t believe it was created, recorded and in my hands now finished/how did that all happen”, kind of exhilaration!

But there has been a couple of times, long ago, when I have been in situations where, former management has thought it best & told you; you must get back in quick, and do a new record…coming right off the road from touring. Frantically pull together some ideas, bits and pieces of music, lyrics, choruses, guitar parts, solos, hooks, & arrangements go over them with the producer, and in a just a matter of weeks, go directly into the studio. Get and set the right tempo or groove for the songs, record backtracks, overdub guitars and vocals. Mix each song all in a whirlwind! Then not recall much about the experience, that will never be the right way to give or introduce a true representation of yourself. I guess…well I know now, I was too na├»ve to know better and didn’t stand up for myself.

CV: Being a guitarist, there must be a million riffs and melodies coming to you daily. Does the song you initially hear in your head eventually become the song that ends up on the album? Or is it most often something entirely different? If so, why do you think that is?
MK: I don’t think you leave it anywhere, after doing this, & writing for so long, the music, the lyrics, the experience is always with me, and a part of me, it doesn’t go away, it’s still there, and later playing it all comes out in the performance of it. Yes! Your right! Yes most of the time. Any chaos in the early stage of a song… Wait hold it! When I’m doing it I’m not even thinking what I have is a song, I’m playing with sound, like a child plays in the sand…very freeform, just on a search of what feels right…what works best.

Getting back to what I was saying, usually any chaos is usually worked out early on. At times, depending on the song, you may want to keep that type of energy in. There are moments where I don’t want to know what’s going to happen until I get into the middle of recording and want the spontaneous fire to happen, so I consciously leave it open for that spark to happen. In other words, the room, the studio becomes the canvas I’m drawing upon, that actually does happen often, or I let it happen...

CV: Gene Simmons of Kiss was recently quoted again this past New Year’s Eve, claiming that Rock is dead. Do you agree? Do you feel Rock as a whole has been on a steady decline in popularity over the last 30 years or is this just another sound bite to be in the press?
MK: No, I don’t. It’s been taken away, it’s now a hostage! Radio, venues, and streaming are ruled by the labels and elites…Rock ’n Roll has been bullied! We are handcuffed getting heard on the radio. There are so many other distractions for people and the listener. And darn! You actually have to sit down and learn to play the guitar! Piano…Learn to play drums! There’s still a good number of Rock ’n Roll bands out there making really great music, good honest Rock’ n Roll! Whether it’s Garage Blues/Rock, Alt-Rock, or Pop Rock. It takes a bit of discovery on the fans and listeners part to discover it. I also think really great Rock music is not perfect and shouldn’t be over produced or sanitized! For example; as I was coming up, singers/vocalists were not so much in any way trained, coached or perfect at their craft, they maybe sang in choir at church, in school, on street corners. With these new T.V. shows, the Voice, etc., the contestants…some have had years of professional training. What the great Rockers came up with was a lot of feel, inspiration, for the music. Rod Stewart, Jagger, Plant, Janis, Joe Cocker, they all learned from the black Blues and R&B singers, and they banged around singing in clubs for years! Imitating Sam Cooke, David Ruffin, Elvis, and now I think there’s a different expectation by the listener, of what and how a singer, a Rock singer and the music should sound! Perfected to the point of everyone sounding the same…it should have flaws, character and a whole lot of feeling! Not carbon copies of each other! They must create an identity, a sound of their own!

Another hurdle or problems is the big dollars it takes to get visibility, for just a song. You do still have to build a foundation…interviews, blogs, videos, Zooms, getting behind the Art, the Music, by getting out there & somehow getting it talked and played. But now it’s a new ball game with You-tube, streaming, etc.

CV: Do music fans, particularly Rock fans, really want originally in your opinion? Or are they more content with what they know to be “tried and true” when it comes to the music they like and choose to listen to?
MK: Artists like to climb Mt Everest, want new fulfillments or just want to change gears, and don’t want to be pegged in one thing. Something that I really believe is inherent in artists, or for me anyway, I feel like I see my world in 360 degrees, and my brain takes in a full view of the world around me, more sounds, more sights & colors, that may be the reason why we do what we do! Does everyone have that, don’t know, but I think most “Creatives” do. I think we take in more info, more data. But we can get overloaded and maybe need to change things up regularly. So I guess like it or not, artists will just gush new works, and aim for the loftier heights!

CV: What lessons have you learned as a veteran artist living through the events of 2020?
MK: That I’m in control of my work more than ever, I think all musicians, artists, painters, writers are now but I can’t sit still and wait for others to catch up. All in all it's mine now from conception to day of release, sales and shipping it’s a lot more work, but it’s satisfying and pays off because in the end, it's fully completed product of your vision!

CV: What can fans expect to see coming from you in 2021?
MK: 2021 is shaping up for more great music releases and videos! Let’s see…another digital single is coming out! I’ll release a nice Spring surprise, a little change up from the “Not My Business’’ & ‘’We Got Your Rock ’n Roll’’ Rockers…something a bit more SOULFUL!! Some Sweet Soul Music!! Also a worldwide vinyl album release & a couple of new videos.

CV: Thank you again Mike for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.
MK: A big THANK YOU to The Cosmick View & Mick Michaels for being so nice to ask me for the interview. Let’s talk again soon!

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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, show host, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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