Michael Angelo Batio
By Jay Oakley
I'm sitting here with Michael Angelo Batio. You just got done playing here at Fish Head Cantina, how'd your set go?
I liked it. Yeah, I felt very good about it.
So you were doing a solo show tonight.
You had mentioned that depending on what venue books you, it's either just you or with a band.
Is it just solely up to who books you or do you like to perform equal parts with both?
I think I prefer to play with a band. It's more fun and you interact with the musicians. My solo show is great because it's all me. It's the absolute epitome of narcissism but with a band it's all my music, we do only a couple cover songs and I really enjoy it. But, I have an agent, I have one here in the United States and one in Europe, I just go with the format they book and the Fish Head Cantina booked my solo show. That's really how it works. I feel like I'm a soldier that gets deployed.
You said that you just got done with 5+ weeks over in Europe. How did that go?
It was great. They want me to come back a couple times more this year but I might do something different. I have an opportunity to go to Europe several different ways so I'm just weighing the options right now but the year's pretty much booked. It's a couple different things but I've got another, at least, seventy-five shows to do this year.
You talked in your set about being quite the European traveler. You've played there multiple times and in China. How does playing in Europe differ from playing in the States?
I don't think it differs that much. People think it's so much more popular there but the people know the music. Maybe, sometimes in Germany and Italy, the crowds might be bigger and especially when we tour out there because I'm not from there it's a big event and I've been to Europe at least twenty times. So, I've really established myself more with a band over there then over here and also we partner up with other artists sometimes there. If it's a festival, I might play with Uli Jon Roth, I might play with other artists so, I mean, the crowds are huge. But, I don't think it's that much different, I really don't. People think it is but it's not.
When you're in Europe, is it typically with a band?
Yeah, almost all the time, yeah.
One thing that I really found interesting, that you talked about during your set, was when you talked about your playing and the people you influenced but also your particular style of the way that you play. You mentioned that you're left-handed. When you're traditionally playing a regular guitar you do play it right-handed, was it always that way? Did you start off left-handed?
No because when I started the ratio from right-handed to left-handed guitars was probably ten thousand to one. So, there were no left-handed guitars available and guitar is one of the only instruments that affords somebody the choice. I mean, a piano's not left-handed, a trumpet's not left-handed, a violin's not left-handed, a flute's not left-handed. Guitar, drums that's it. So, guitar's one of the only instruments on the planet that even will allow you to be left-handed and play it. So, there really weren't many choices. There's much more today. So, what I did is I said, "OK, I'm either going to play guitar or I'm not and it's going to be right-handed or not." So, that's how it worked.
I'm sure, every interview or very often you get this same question. The double guitar, it's what you're known for. Where did it come from? Where did the idea spawn from?
When I was a little boy I studied jazz and I liked a lot of things. When I was a late teenager I listened to a lot of crazy this that people wouldn't associate me with and so, when I first started playing guitar, at ten, I studied jazz and I saw, at eleven years old, a concert with this old, black guy, he was blind, named Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He was a jazz saxophonist that ended his show playing two saxes at the same time. And, I saw this guy play and I went, " That's mind-blowing!" He had two saxes around his neck and I heard that he could actually play three but I didn't see the three, I only saw two. He played this thing and he's tearing it up and I said, "I want to do that on guitar." But, he really played, two right-handed saxophones so it's kind of like the Jimmy Paige style I'd never seen anybody play two instruments. Later on people, like Keith Emerson, would play two keyboards but they were two right-handed but seeing a sax player like this reminded me of a guitar because it was like an up-side-down V, like an up-side-down ice cream cone and so I said, "I'm gong to do that on guitar." Then, I had the whole vision in my head, from my whole childhood up through high school and I had designed the double guitar on paper before I ever had it built so I knew I was going to do it. But, it was a jazz saxophonist that inspired me to play a rock, double guitar.
A little thing that I do when it comes to my interviews is I love to talk a little history. When you look back on your time in Nitro, do you ever look back wishing that it was longer? Are you happy with what you established? You said that you are still friends with Jim (Gillette) to this day so how do you look back on that time?
I was, kind of, sad because we, unfortunately, were in a era that was very, radically different then it is today. For example, Jim was nineteen years old when our first album (O.F.R.) came out, or singer Jim, so by the time our second album (Nitro II: H.W.D.W.S.) came out he was only twenty-one and grunge hit. The grunge scene hit, MTV classified us as a hair metal, Hollywood band, we were old. Our singer was younger then Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) or, the worse case scenario, we were the same age as all these new bands coming up because we were a super young band. MTV refused to play our videos, they refused to promote us because we were a Hollywood band. It was like, STOP, and it broke our band apart. Our label dropped us because they couldn't promote us anymore.
Our next album would have been called Lean, Mean, Mother Fucking, Fighting Machine. It was L, M squared, F squared, M and we had songs like "Blood Red." We had this song, "Life ain't pretty and life ain't fair. Trade me places if you dare." I mean, we had all these killer songs. We had this heavy, heavy record ready to go for our third album but it was called L, M2, F2, M: Lean, Mean, Mother Fucking, Fighting Machine, that's what it was. It was evil and it was just intense and we had this one song "Love Me 'Til Your Black And Blue" and that was our love song. [Laughs] But, Jim and I wrote a lot of great songs together. On the newest record I just released (Soul In Sight,) Nitro had a song called "You Broke My Heart In Two" it was like a Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore-style blues and we never recorded it because our label back then felt that it really wasn't a Nitro song but it's a beautiful, killer ballad, intense chords, great chord progression so I asked Jim if I could record it and he said, "Yes."
So, do I regret it? Yeah because we had a lot of music left but we were a product of the times and then Jim went into real estate and made millions of dollars and I went and did my solo career and did really well but we're still best friends. We talk all the time.
As a fun question to wrap things up, I put it in front of you to sign because I was always a fan. You were the stunt double, to a certain degree, musically in the movie Shock 'Em Dead and I would love for you to talk for a minute on how that came about. How did you land that?
The role was actually made for me to do, the main role because it was based on me. Angel Martin was Angelo and what happened was, they asked me to do a reading and I had never acted in a movie before and so, I didn't know a reading was a screen test. I had been on tour and I was dealing with musical stuff so I go to do the audition and I didn't read very well. I was like, "I know...that you want...me." It was not good and so the director of the movie (Mark Freed) said, "Listen Michael, we really wanted you for this main part but you're not cut out for it but we have another part for you." So, I played the demon in the movie and then I was the double for Stephen Quadros, which is Angel Martin and Stephen and I are still friends, the actor in that movie. But, that's how it happened, because I auditioned and they said they were actually prepared because they knew I wasn't an actor so they had another role for me ready. So, they said I'm in the movie no matter what. So, that's how it worked out.
That's phenomenal. Michael, thank you so much. You totally killed it on stage, I had a great time and I look forward to seeing you again.
Thanks, Jay. Great interview. Great questions.