Artist Spotlight: Mike “Gunface” McKenzie

Artist Spotlight: Mike “Gunface” McKenzie

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(Photo by Nick Sayers:
What’s the earliest musical experience you can remember? And what made you decide to become a musician?

I think it was my parents playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller in our living room in our apartment.  I think there were a number of factors that made me want to play music.  When I was nine, my neighbor and I would listen to a bunch of tapes on the front porch on this little boombox I had.  We were really into Skid Row, Metallica, Megadeth, Testament.  At some point we decided to start a band.  He had a snare drum and one cymbal and I had this crappy acoustic guitar.  Somehow, we thought we’d make thrash songs out of that.  The “band” evolved into different variations of people throughout school, eventually playing local shows mostly for our friends and parents.

Any cool high school band stories/early recordings etc?

My high school band, Alewife, played the school’s annual coffeehouse show for the final time during our senior year.  All the bands had to audition for the school band teacher to play.  He was a pretty unfun guy when it came to music and hated metal(he mocked me when I played Ulver – Nattens Madrigal in his “Listening To Music” class).  We auditioned with acoustic songs and got the approval.  On the night of the show, we played a mostly acoustic set but finished with a surprise abrasive heavy song that the band teacher hadn’t heard.  Needless to say, he was furious and chewed us out for a bit.  What’s better is that our art teacher played bass for the band that night.

In early 2000’s Massachusetts/New England produced quite a number of known bands (too many to list here) and had a strong scene in those days, do you think it was the strong scene that made the bands play harder? Unity? Or was it purely geographical? (close proximity to other important cities)? Something in the water?

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure.  Boston has always had a pretty strong output in terms of music.  Maybe it’s the long winters.

What was different in the music business when The Red Chord started getting recognition/signed with Metal Blade? What do you miss from those days and what’s the thing you don’t miss from those days?

Everything is different now.  I think we really were at the tail end of a very different time for music.  I remember talking about digital downloads back then and thinking “nobody wants to buy a digital download instead of a CD!”  I don’t know that there are things I miss or don’t miss so much.  The music industry is constantly evolving due to its ties to technology and the shifting mediums it inhabits.  I could say something like “people don’t care about music anymore” but I don’t find that to be true.  There will always be people who find music and are passionate about it.  I try not to dwell too much in the past and how things used to be done, because those times are over and now we are here.

Clients, just recently turned 12 years old.. Any memorable moments from the studio?

We ate this buffalo chicken pizza from a local place on most days there.  I think it was called the Wing Zing.  We still talk about it.  We had a nickname for Zeuss: Bruce.  We also tracked 4 guitar tracks on that record, which was difficult.

Prey for Eyes has that cool 90’s Victory records sound (Hatebreed/All Out War etc) did you feel at the time that the follow-up for Clients needed to be more “organic”/live/different/etc?

We always wanted our records to sound organic; that’s what we’ve gone for every time.  Sometimes it might have sounded more organic than other times.  We did go to Trax East in Jersey because they had recorded the Buried Alive record, The Death of Your Perfect World and we loved its production as well as the songs.  

You guys toured a lot around the world.. Ozzfest, Japan, Europe, Summer Slaughter.. You name it. Do you miss the ~200 gigs per year life? And what would you say are the Top 3 lifesaving items on the road?

There are things I enjoyed about being on tour a lot but I love being home.  I’m certainly not going to completely stop but I don’t foresee myself returning to that kind of schedule.  Going to Europe with Wear Your Wounds this April was an excellent experience.  We were out for a couple of weeks and it was the perfect pace.  Top 3 items for me are:
1. Baby wipes  2. ipod  3. coffee

In the past few years you’ve done sound designing, film composing and other musical projects..what are some of the recent highlights?

Putting a tune together for Sesame Street is certainly a highlight for me.  I never thought I’d be contributing something to a show I grew up watching.  And about toilets too!  I’ve also greatly benefited from the need to learn about other musical styles that I would probably never have explored, had a project not called for it.

What kind of tools (software/hardware/DAW) do you mainly use these days?

I’m using Cubase 9 and I’m really into it.  I do a lot of stuff in the box and Cubase’s interface is so intuitive and streamlined.  A lot of power and ease.  I’m fairly impatient when I’m working and it really keeps my frustration level low.  I use a lot of sample libraries for all the instruments I don’t have.  Lately I’ve been using all the East West Quantum Leap tools that come with their Composer Cloud service.  I also recently got Positive Grid’s Bias Amp and Bias FX plugins.  I’ve only scratched the surface with their features but I love it.  Been playing around with Kurt Ballou’s Roomsound drum library as well.  To have some of Kurt’s engineering power in your arsenal is really great.

Let’s talk about technology here.. You would lead a team consisting of 4.0 kids, the brainiacs from MIT, Silicon Valley, Oxford, NASA, you name it; and you guys could eliminate some annoying things from the music/studio world. What would your team get rid of?

Incompatibility.  And they would create a neural link device that would allow me to instantaneously record my ideas as I think of them, even while I’m away.

Current status of the Music world? The pros? the cons? Where would you like it to go from here?

I’d like to see music programs in schools survive the current climate.

Any last comments to our readers/metalheads/fellow earthlings?

Make stuff and have a good time!

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