ReGen Magazine is privileged to present this special contribution from Michael Mitchell, in which he speaks with guitarist/producer Michael Ciravolo about his latest musical creation, the dark alt. rock dream team collective of Beauty in Chaos.
An InterView with Michael Ciravolo of Beauty in Chaos
By Michael Mitchell (MMitchell)
Michael Ciravolo has been slinging guitars for bands like Human Drama and Gene Loves Jezebel for decades. He’s also been the President of Schecter Guitars for the last 22 years. He’s produced albums for Rozz Williams’ Shadow Project, as well as guitarist and frequent Rozz Williams collaborator Eva O. Multifaceted doesn’t begin to describe him. In this special contribution from Michael Mitchell, he was able to question Ciravolo about his recent activities with Schecter and his incredible new album, Finding Beauty in Chaos by his latest musical creation Beauty in Chaos – not so much a band as a dream team as Ciravolo has had the good fortune of knowing and working with a wide array of talent who all coalesced for him to create a masterful collection of songs.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations on such a mammoth album!
Ciravolo: Thank you!
How does it feel stepping out from sideman to frontman (in a sense) for Beauty in Chaos? You are the mastermind after all.
Ciravolo: Ha! I hope I didn’t dub myself that! Sure, BiC is my concept, but I wanted to make sure it was not just written off as a guitar player’s ‘solo album.’ I wanted it to be perceived as more than that and I do think we accomplished it. Within Human Drama and Gene Loves Jezebel, Johnny (Indovina) and Michael (Aston) cast some very big shadows – singers usually do. Doing this record has more to do with pursuing creative freedom than a cry for attention! The process of stepping up and being the person in the end that is ultimately responsible was both exciting and a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, I have some amazing people in my corner.
What was the inspiration for this project? It reminds me of the record label 4AD when Ivo Watts-Russell and John Fryer created This Mortal Coil out of bands on their roster and other musicians that they admired.
Ciravolo: The genesis of BiC was certainly to shake some of my own frustration and to prove to myself that I could do this. I’m fortunate and blessed to have amazing contemporaries that consider me a friend and were willing to not only lend their time and talents but also really put their heart and soul into this record.
How did you select the people who contributed to Beauty in Chaos? I know some are long time collaborators, some are Schecter guitar users, but some are surprises.
Ciravolo: Other than Ice-T, whom I haven’t met yet, all are artists I have played with in various bands or artists I have met through Schecter Guitars. I really feel truly blessed to call them all my friends. The process was very organic and just evolved. Mark Thwaite introduced me to Wayne Hussey, who in turn introduced me to Evi Vine, that type of thing. It was certainly fun sitting back and putting the personal pieces together, matching artists that may have never been on the same album, much less the same song together!
Were the songs written specifically with some of these people in mind?
Ciravolo: Honestly, most of the songs were written first. Then Michael and I sat back and thought ‘this would be perfect for so-and-so, let’s see if they are into it.’ Ashton and I discussed the title track prior to writing the music and also the last two songs that were written for the album. I knew I wanted a track that I felt captured the ‘feel’ of earlier Human Drama and ‘Memory of Love’ was written for Johnny to sing. I had also been revisiting the ‘shoegaze’ part of my record collection and was listening to Lush, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine. I knew I wanted my wife to sing on a track, so I sat with a guitar and loads of effects pedals and banged out what became ‘Look Up’ for her to write to.
There is one cover song on the album that is ’20th Century Boy’ by T. Rex. Was it your decision to cover that song or Al Jourgensen who sings it?
Ciravolo: I have always loved the song and to me, it’s the ultimate rock & roll guitar riff. I wasn’t sure about putting a ‘cover’ on this album and had considered holding it for a ‘Pinups’ style record that I have on my to-do-list. It was one of the first songs we tracked, focusing on really ‘deconstructing’ the original.
I didn’t really have a singer in mind to start, but as the song started taking shape, it became clear that I should ask Al. It turned out that he is a big T. Rex fan and came into our studio a few days after getting the track. He brought his Eventide H3000 harmonizer in, even though we had a pair. I think he said, ‘This one’s the shit.’ When we fired it up and the patch defaulted to ‘Psalm 69,’ Michael and I just looked at each other and smiled. Al had a blast singing it, and even came back another night to add some distorted harp. Life is certainly comical, as my wife and I had our first date seeing MINISTRY in ’92… then fast forward 26 years and there’s Al, singing on my couch!
Ashton Nyte features heavily on the album, which I am glad because I’ve been a fan of The Awakening for quite a few years. Are you featured at all on their upcoming album, Chasm?
Ciravolo: Ashton is amazing. Mark Thwaite kindly made the introduction, for which I am forever grateful. ‘Storm’ came together so effortlessly with him, it was a natural progression to do more, which spawned ‘Bloodless and Fragile’ and the title track. I think he had ‘Chasm’ completed for a while, so none of my noise is on there! I do know Ashton and I have a lot still to create together.
Why did you make the decision to have no keyboards on the album? It sounds like there is a mellotron in a few of the tracks. Is that guitar too?
Ciravolo: Good ear! Yeah, as the album proudly states… ‘No animals harmed and no synthesizers used in the making of this record!’ Every texture is my guitars, manipulated and processed since pressing a plastic keyboard key created nothing. We had so many different guitar pedals, it looked maddening at points with them all spread out on the floor. It was during the recording of the last Human Drama record that it became obvious that what I wanted to do didn’t always mesh with the Human Drama sound. There was a level of frustration that came from trying to fit ‘sonically’ on a track that already had a lot of instrumentation… acoustic guitar, organ, piano, etc. Equally frustrating was having – at least what I thought was – some beautiful guitar textures only to be later buried or lost in the mix. That lit the spark for BiC.
What was the process behind getting everyone ‘together?’ Was it mostly done via technology or did you have people actually in studio with you?
Ciravolo: The evil technology certainly played a big part in making this record possible. Wayne recorded his vocals at his studio in Brazil, while Evi Vine and Simon Gallup recorded their parts in the UK; all made possible by today’s recording technology and Dropbox. The Offspring’s Pete Parada tracked his drums for ‘Un-Natural Disaster’ at his studio in Nashville. We did have the fortune of having Robin Zander, Al Jourgensen, and Michael Anthony come in to our SAINTinLA Studio to sing, along with dUg Pinnick tracking his bass at an incredible volume – all amazing to witness, I might add! Come to think of it, Wayne did actually redo a few lines in ‘The Long Goodbye’ with us, as there was some distortion on his original track.
Was there anyone you approached who was not able to participate for one reason or another that we may see performs with you on future BiC albums?
Ciravolo: Robert Smith. I sent him a track that I was hoping he would sing on. He did say he thought the track was ‘fab,’ but he was struggling at the time with lyrics to what should be a new Cure record. So, I completely understood. I am going to take another shot at getting him to be part of this… even to add guitar or do a remix. It’s definitely not a given, but I can try!
And I will change the ‘rules’ for the next record and have my amazing guitarist friends be on it. I do have a ‘wish list’ for singers… so if Richard Butler, Leslie Rankine, or Shirley Manson are reading this, my number is… ?
Are there any pieces recorded that did not make it on the record?
Ciravolo: No additional songs, but my original plan was to have each song sort of morph seamlessly into the next with a musical ‘interlude.’ But as this record continued to evolve, we had to edit a few of the songs to fit under the 80 minute CD limit! For a fleeting moment, I actually considered having only one track ID – one 79 minute plus song! But I quickly checked myself and got over my disdain for people skipping through or shuffling tracks.
For you, what are the stand out moments in the making of the album?
Ciravolo: It’s just been an amazing experience from the beginning. To have artists that take up a big part of your record collection treat you as an equal and as a contemporary, having the BiC cover turn out just as I envisioned it over a year ago is truly special. Having Simon Gallup playing on ‘Man of Faith’ is so amazing on so many levels, especially with it being the first time he recorded outside of The Cure. Being a big Cheap Trick fan as a teenager, and then having Robin sit in your studio listening to the playback of his amazing vocal take and asking me what I thought is nothing short of surreal. Quite a few of those moments happened along the way in making BiC.
What are your personal favorite tracks?
Ciravolo: That has certainly changed over the year plus of making this record. ‘Storm’ is always on that list, as it was the track that proved to me that I could make this record happen. It encompasses all of the elements I wanted BiC to have. ‘I Will Follow You’ is such a beautiful song to me. When I hear it, I seem to listen without hearing it as if I wrote it, if that makes sense? The two songs I wrote with Wayne are standouts to me; even getting beyond the point that it is Wayne Hussey singing – lots of nice textures swirling in that song. The last track written for the album, ‘Look Up’ is my most recent ‘favorite.’ I think it fully captures the hypnotic ‘shoegaze’ vibe we were going for. Tish did an amazing job on this song, both lyrically and melodically. As we were recording it, I felt it was going to be the ‘surprise’ track on this record.
You still have double duty as President of Schecter Guitars. How do you balance BiC, Schecter, and home life?
Ciravolo: It wasn’t always easy… lots of coffee and little sleep! Being a dad to two amazing daughters (who do appear on the album cover) and having a full time plus day job definitely has its challenges. I’d be lying without acknowledging that some guilt crept in since I was in the studio until 1:00am on nights that I could be home with my family. Thankfully, we have an amazingly small but mighty close-knit family that are very supportive of what I do. And I know that with all of the amazing artists on this record, only Ice-T impressed my two daughters! Trying to get them in the studio just to do added handclaps on a few songs was like pulling teeth. Besides writing and singing ‘Look Up,’ Tish also played some great bass lines on ‘I Will Follow You’ and ‘The Long Goodbye.’
What is next for you, for BiC and for Schecter Guitars?
Ciravolo: I have always oddly drawn a comparison of what I do at Schecter Guitars with making an album. Maybe it’s some weird justification! Each year, we design and create a line of guitars, new models, colors, and features, while trying to stay innovative and relevant. This is put into the marketplace and is judged by consumer reaction and sales – not really so different from doing an album in many ways. We are doing our annual NAMM party in January 2019, at which Body Count will be our guest performer and I will indeed get to meet and thank Ice in person! As for BiC… lots in the works! Shooting a video in a couple of weeks for ‘Look Up,’ again with Director Vicente Cordero, who we worked with on ‘Storm.’ We hopefully will follow that up with at least one more video. We are working on Beauty Re-envisioned, which is a remix record we will have out in March – some really great mixes by John Fryer, Tim Palmer, Mark Thwaite, Ummagma, and others. There will also be some cool stripped down versions of a few of the songs, including an amazing piano version played by Lola Bates of ‘The Long Goodbye,’ which Wayne Hussey sings brilliantly on.
Michael Rozon will also be working again with MINISTRY on their next release. Then, there will be BiC3!
Thank you again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. It’s an honor!
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