If making music for a living is a blessing, then making heavy metal music for a living is a gift from above (or below). As long as you’re into that kind of thing.
It certainly is for New Jersey’s own Metal Mike Chlasciak, the faithful axe man of Rob Halford in his solo ventures for the better part of a decade. But the versatile metal guitarist has also done fill-in work with Testament, served as Sebastian Bach’s guitarist for his latest solo album, and led several incarnations of his own solo material, including the defunct Painmuseum.
And it seems he’s got his plate full, with a new solo record from Halford, Halford IV: Made Of Metal due out in October, just short of a year since the last Halford release, the holidays-themed Halford III: Winter Songs. And between touring on Ozzfest and Halford solo work, Mike’s working on a new album for his new solo band.
We talked at length about all the above, as well as sharing our awe at Rob Halford’s Judas Priest performance at the PNC Bank Arts Center last summer.
So there’s another Halford release already?
In June, we did a double live album, Live In Anaheim, and that is basically a soundtrack to a DVD release. Then, we reissued the second studio album, Crucible, in July, and what we just did, the single called ‘The Mower’ is from the forthcoming album. I believe the new studio Halford record is going to be out in October. We’re sort of playing live dates now in support of the catalog records, and then in October, that’s when the new record comes out, officially.
Are you doing Fight stuff as well as Halford solo stuff as part of these live shows?
Yeah. It’s mostly Halford, it’s more about kind of letting the world know about Rob’s solo band, but we always did some Fight stuff, because that War Of Words record is still one of the top downloaded records on iTunes. It’s weird how these records kind of live in their own little world. We do some stuff from those releases, and a little Priest, because I don’t think anyone’s really going to let Rob walk off the stage without hearing something. But it’s not going to be about Rob Halford playing best of Priest tracks, it’s not going to be that. You know, why? You have Priest to play Priest, and they do it like Priest (laughs). It’s more about reestablishing Rob’s solo band, and we have new music. It all kind of makes sense.
I’m guessing 2wo material is not included. Have you ever done any of that?
We never did. To be very honest, we never really talk about it. It’s hard to play that when you can play Fight’s ‘Into the Pit.’ Tough choice there (laughs).
When do you find time to record this stuff? Did you record it at the same time as the Winter Songs?
No, it was done at another time. Winter Songs was done in its own time, and then following that, we started working on the new record, and I just came back from a cool studio in San Diego. Rob lives in San Diego now, and he was stopping by the studio while we were tracking guitar solos and stuff. I came back from there in May, and so we were just finishing it. It was wild, boom-boom-boom. San Diego, do the record, come back, start working on songs for the setlist, go to rehearsal.
I literally am packing my bags and I get a call from Roy Z, the other guitar player and also the producer, ‘Dude, you gotta do more solos. They’re on an FTP server, download them, record your guitar solos, and jump on a plane.’ (laughs). It’s unbelievable. I remember last tour, I was doing solos and on the way to the airport I told the driver to stop because I needed to drop something to FedEx, dropped it in the FedEx box, and then hopped a plane to Japan. It’s a completely ridiculous world, but as long as you have a good time with it, and there’s always something going on, it’s cool.
It seems a pretty short period of time. Two records in, what, nine months? The assumption might be that you did a whole bunch in the studio at once and cut part of the upcoming record at the same time as you were working on Christmas music.
I could totally see why somebody would think that, but when we make a record, we always record more tracks than goes on it, so we have more stuff put away if we ever want to do a b-side or a bonus track. But anything that’s being released as a new single or a new free track to download, it’s all new stuff.
The Winter record and the new Halford IV album, which is called Made Of Metal, it’s a different mindspace too. It’s hard to do a winter album and then go into full-on metal mode. It was a break, but it was basically, ‘We’re done with this project, let’s go do something else.’
What was the fan reaction to Winter Songs? As far as the open-mindedness of people who listen to heavy metal. It’s not the most ‘metal’ thing to do.
When the idea was introduced to the band, Rob was like, ‘Man, I wonder what these guys are going to think about recording this.’ I was like, ‘A Christmas album? How are we going to make that one go down?’ You’ve got to understand that Rob is one of the few artists who has done so many records and on top of that, all those records were sort of different.
Rob never really repeats the same album time and time again. He gets very bored in being in the same place at times. I knew that, and if it’s Rob Halford, if you want to do a winter-based record, then we should do it, because it’s a challenge. We can embrace something that’s not standard chucka-chucka double bass stuff. We’re all supportive of each other’s decisions too, so it ‘s never like, ‘I won’t do it,’ or ‘It’s not metal enough.’ It’s not what being a professional is about, in many ways. So we decided to do it, and we did it, and generally, I think fans really enjoy it.
I know it spans the whole range—people thinking that the winter record is the greatest thing that has ever been released, that’s one extreme, and the other is the people thinking ‘Can we please have a metal record now?’ The bottom line is people just love Rob, you know, and to hear Rob sing songs that are not only typical heavy metal tracks, it’s amazing, because foremost, Rob Halford is a person who has this amazing talent and this incredible voice, and so we should embrace him singing different stuff. Just for that, it’s definitely worth it.
And it was cool. There are always some songs that you really love and there are some songs that you’re like, that’s a 7.5 of 10, for me. There’s a song on that called ‘Winter Song’ which is just an incredible song in my opinion, and the whole record is worth it for just that one song. It’s a pleasure dude. It’s all different colors with Rob and I think it’s all very cool to be a part of it.
Are you just doing the single, ‘The Mower,’ from the upcoming album live?
We are also going to introduce another song, ‘Made Of Metal,’ just prior to the commencement of Ozzfest dates, and we are going to include some things from the new album. I don’t think too much, because the record is not out yet and there is so much stuff that we still need to play. There are like 33 records we can choose from with Rob, and just the Halford stuff by now, I think we have two double live records, two DVDs, three studio records, and an EP, and a Japanese EP, and there’s so much stuff.
I think we’re going to play a lot of Halford, some Fight, some Priest, and a tiny bit from the new album. But we’re going to have to really condense it, because we’re not going to have an hour and a half set at Ozzfest, you know. I’m not sure exactly how long it is—it’s going to be decent because we’re right before Crue and Ozzy, so we’re going to have a decent set—but it’s not our show.
Sure, it’s a festival.
(laughs) Yeah, but if it’s going to be any festival, Ozzfest is the stuff. That’s always been one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, so I think it’s going to be fun. It’s so killer that we get to play New Jersey. New Jersey never lets people down. Even in the mid-to-late ‘90s when heavy metal touring was so difficult, bands would still make a five, six, seven date tour in the U.S. and the Birch Hill was always a staple. Bands go where people want to see them. That’s pretty much the bottom line. You can only go to a place once or twice that doesn’t want to see you, and you’ll never come back.
When I saw Priest do the British Steel album front-to-back, here in Jersey, it was fucking amazing.
It was incredibly good. I saw that show too. You could see why Judas Priest is a world-class heavy metal band. It was perfect. Those songs were like, ‘Oh man, how do you cram so many killer songs on one record?’ And those guys didn’t even think about it! That’s the beauty of it. They were touring an album, and like ‘Okay, let’s do another one.’ Boom, British Steel.
These days, it’s like, ‘Can we get out of a band meeting and fucking make a record? Must we talk about it for fucking 8 months before we fucking record it? Can we just go and play?’ Even though Halford is the biggest band of any band I’ve played in, obviously you’ve got to plan some things out, but as you can tell between the Winter Songs and the new record, stuff moves pretty quickly.
And Rob is a blue collar English guy from Birmingham, home of the metal gods and steel mills and stuff, and he’s got that ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and go to work.’ It’s not like, ‘Oh, that’s good, let’s chill out and do a couple of festivals.’ And look at Rob’s body of work. He’s done it, man. It’s absolutely killer. Opportunity is one thing and all that, and that’s great, but to do that with Rob, one of the living legends, it’s absolutely killer.
One thing I will say that I found curious about that performance of British Steel was that Rob kept his eyes to the ground, he wasn’t getting up front at all, sort of walking near the back. It was a great vocal performance, but in terms of old Judas Priest footage where you see him grandstanding, there was none of that.
I will tell you why exactly, and this is going to blow your mind. When I spoke to Rob about that PNC Bank Arts Center performance, he says, ‘I have the worst fucking mix in my ears. Before I went on stage, I couldn’t hear shit.’ He says ‘I walked out on stage so fucking pissed off.’ And Rob is a total pro, so you would never know that, but that amazing voice, that power, that sheer fucking energy, is Rob just belting these songs out, but I’m sure he’s just concentrating on getting these songs out, and you hear the performance because it’s real, but it’s the worst feeling on stage when you can’t hear yourself man, it’s really hard. When you go out there and you’re going with the audience, then you’re faking it. This is not a Las Vegas show, this is a metal concert. What you see on the stage should be real.
Not only that, you go out there and you can’t hear something and you make a mistake, you’re the idiot.
Yeah, nobody knows. People pay $40 and they want to see a show (laughs). So I’m like, ‘Dude, you sounded absolutely incredible.’ And he’s like ‘I couldn’t hear shit.’ You just blew me away. I’ve never heard Rob sing as incredible as he did at that show.
After the new record is released, do you have plans to tour to support it?
I believe there will be more tour dates announced past Ozzfest. You know how those things go, there are different tour packages that might be offered, and it takes a while to commit to the right move. So the answer is yeah, we plan on going out and playing a little bit more in support of the new album, and it definitely deserves it, and we’re going to do that and it’s going to happen, but we’re going to be announcing some stuff soon. It amazing, the music business, there’s stuff in the pipeline months prior to official announcement. Thirteen agents and managers and everybody’s talking and it takes forever (laughs). I’m glad somebody’s there doing it.
What about you personally? Is Painmuseum doing anything? And I know you had started a guitar course.
The Metal Heroes Music Academy, basically what happens is I keep getting a lot of emails from people asking if I give lessons, and I always say no, because when I’m home I just like to do other stuff, and I don’t really feel like teaching guitar. But then I get a lot of emails and I’m going, ‘Well, if there’s people who want to learn. What’s a way to wrap my mind around it?’ And I say if I put together a Saturday gig for people with six students who are at the same stage and we could all get together for two hours and it would be cool for them, it would be like a club, where they can meet other players who are into the same thing and we can call it a day and it’ll be fun for everybody. The whole hourly come in for a lesson thing, I’m totally not into it (laughs). I just do it for some gas money to be honest. I don’t need to teach stuff, but it’s cool, because I still do enjoy it, if it’s done in small quantities. We did that, that’s kind of cool, but as luck would have it, as soon as I launched it, I got really busy. It’s sort of waiting for the right moment. Probably something toward the end of the year, beginning of next year, we’ll have more workshops.
Painmuseum is not an active band anymore, but what I ended up doing was I put just a solo band together under my name Metal Mike, and we go out and play heavy metal, you know. Basically a small group, I have a singer named Carlos Zema from Texas. Just an incredible vocalist. He’s also clean. Where Painmuseum had a little more of a harsher, raw type vocalist, Carlos is more of a cleaner type of vocalist. Not power metal, but clean, and really loud. The way he projects is absolutely killer. We did some shows with Primal Fear in the U.S. and I did a headline gig at Dingbatz here in New Jersey in May to break the waters.
Long story short, in the midst of all that, I’m also working on a record (laughs). We just finished with Carlos, and I grabbed his vocal performances, and I just have to finished my guitars and mix. The plan is that if we continue touring with Halford through the end of the year then I will not be releasing my record, but I will release it in 2011 when the Halford cycle is done. I want to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. These days, if you release a record and you don’t promote it, nobody remembers it in five days. I’ll wait and when it’s time I’ll do more shows. Either way man, I always like to keep busy. I always like to have something to do.
Well, you’re working on two records at the same time. I’d say you’re kind of busy.
(laughs) Yeah. Records and touring and Metal Heroes stuff and this and that. But it’s cool man. The bottom line is, if there are people interested in hearing some of it, then it’s worth it, and it’s cool. One day when no one cares, you won’t do it, and that’s it. The truth is that I must honestly say that every day that I wake up I feel blessed to do what I do. It is one thing to do music as a living, but the other thing is that I did what I wanted to do. I play heavy metal and I play with Randy Rhodes Flying Vs. I don’t try to audition for Reba McEntire’s band. I’m a Flying V metal guitar player. For me, it’s extra special.
This is going to sound weird, but if I didn’t play heavy metal in the way I wanted to do it, I probably wouldn’t even do music. It’s not like, ‘Well, let me play guitar because that’s what I want to do.’ I feel like it’s my calling. If I wasn’t doing it, I’d totally do a different profession. I’d work on cars.
Halford performs at Ozzfest in Camden, NJ, at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Aug. 22. For more info, visit robhalford.com and planetshred.com.