Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Guitar master Michael Angelo Batio will release his 12th studio album More Machine Than Man on June 12th via Rat Pak Records. The all-instrumental album has 13 new studio tracks and is the anticipated follow-up to his 2013’s release, Intermezzo. More Machine Than Man features all of Michael’s signature guitar playing, great melodies, and superb arrangements.
From the infectious guitar riffs from album openers “Laser Guided” and “The Badlands” to the crushing bonus-track finale of “No Backup Plan,” Michael has created something truly special and engaging for his fans. The album also showcases guest performances by Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler on the title track, “More Machine Than Man,” and “The Two Sirens.” Also appearing is renowned bassist, Victor Wooten who performs on “AVTD.”
I had the opportunity to speak with the fastest guitarist on the planet about his latest release CD, the possibility of creating a jazz CD, and what it was like to audition for KISS. Pre-orders for his new CD are available here – https://ratpakrecordsamerica.com/michaelangelobatio
Robert Cavuoto: I’m enjoying your new CD, it’s fast and furious with great melodies!
Michael Angelo Batio: I didn’t want to make a copy of myself from album-to-album, so I stripped this one down. I tried to make it raw and powerful while taking a different approach from what I have done previously.
Robert Cavuoto: In 2016 you did a CD with vocals. What made you decide not to go down that path for this CD?
Michael Angelo Batio: This CD started as a vocal CD, but some circumstances took me down a different path. A lot of things happened suddenly. My mother passed away; then, my younger sister passed away, so I wasn’t able to get the demos done. The project fell apart as I had over 20 songs. It was something I just had to do. I spoke with Chris who was originally supposed to be on the entire album but only played on a couple of the tracks which he was fine with. Victor, who was supposed to play on the entire record as well, only did a bass solo. I had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like, so I just did it that way.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m so sorry to hear about your losses!
Michael Angelo Batio: Thank you. If you live long enough, some things are going to happen. I had a lot of things happen at the same time. I’m not looking to elicit sympathy; it’s just that I think that everyone goes through situations where you have to deal with a lot of things at once. This was my time, and my record is how I dealt with it.
Robert Cavuoto: We last spoke when Intermezzo was released, and you mentioned that you used a 7-string guitar because of its heaviness. Did you use a 7-string for this CD?
Michael Angelo Batio: Yes, I did. Seven-string guitars are here to stay. Eight-strings are more of an acquired taste because you are so deep into the bass register. When you are in an orchestra, and you have two of the same instruments in the same register, they can crash. I love 7- strings, and it’s very easy to play the way it’s organized. It’s not a big leap of faith to add that 7th string. I dropped tuned the 7th string a whole step so it’s really low. I’m not like a Death Metal guitarist, so I don’t have that dangling string sound. I don’t play like that, but it’s still really heavy. I love the 7-string guitar but the 6-string as it’s my primary instrument.
Robert Cavuoto: Is creating a mood and evoking a feeling from an instrumental song the hardest part of what you do?
Michael Angelo Batio: Yes. Since time began, we have developed our tonal system. It took 1000s of years as we went from modal to scalable as there has always been feeling in the music. I feel the music. To me, it always is and will be about feeling the music. I’m glad you mentioned earlier about the melodies as I always like to write songs with slower melodies. It’s the motive of the song where I’m trying to capture feelings. I feel the music a certain way, and I hope that people feel it and make it their own. I worked on the phrasing of this CD. Not to make it different as much as it was a different way to put it out there.
Robert Cavuoto: Is there one song layered with the most guitars?
Michael Angelo Batio: This CD has the least amount of guitars on it that I have ever done. On Intermezzo, every single song had at least four guitars. I would mic and crank up a mega Boogie amp to make two rhythm tracks, left and right, which are the bed tracks. I would supplement those with another guitar using my direct sound, which I created over the years using my vintage digital guitar equipment from the 90s. I would layer that underneath. Then each song had five or six different lead tracks so things could move in and out. On this new album, there are only two rhythm guitars, one on each side and then maybe one or two tracks for the lead. This is the sparest and rawest album I have ever done. There is hardly any keyboard on it except in a few spots.
Robert Cavuoto: During the songwriting and recording process, are you big on improvising?
Michael Angelo Batio: Back in the day, composers would use pen and paper to write down their songs. I write my songs on a computer then keep refining it. My rule is to take out every part I don’t like until I like the song. I start with a melody, and then in the solo section, because it’s more free form, I improvise some of the time. A lot of guitar players write so it can be released on tablature, which I think is great. I have a different approach. I have a melody that is simple to play, and then on the solo sections, I go off. If I don’t like it, I’ll re-record it until I like it.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any lead that you had to re-record multiple times to get it just right?
Michael Angelo Batio: “The Badlands” was one of the hard songs for me to play. It wasn’t technically hard to play, but it was one of the songs that were supposed to have vocals. There is so much space in the song that I found I couldn’t find an intro lead that I liked, so I must have played it four or five times until I did something I did like. So it wasn’t technically hard; it was just hard for me to find something I liked.
Robert Cavuoto: I have to believe there is nothing you find technically difficult to play.
Michael Angelo Batio: I have a degree in music, and that doesn’t make me better or smarter. What it did do was give me the ability how to learn. I don’t think any musicians can play everything right off the bat. What I found is to take things a measure at a time. I would take a few notes and work it out slowly. Like the tortoise and the hare, I’m the tortoise when learning music. I just keep plotting away at it and eventually, it comes together.
Robert Cavuoto: You once told me that you use jazz picking techniques and apply them to rock songs. Would you ever consider recording a jazz CD?
Michael Angelo Batio: Probably in my lifetime, I will do that as I have a lot of ideas! For example, I want to arrange the classic song “Misty” from the 50s. I said what I had to say for this new album in metal. A jazz album would be a fun thing to do. I would get some great players like Victor on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums.
Robert Cavuoto: What do you think your fans will make of you doing a jazz album?
Michael Angelo Batio: If we did it well, they would like it. If I didn’t, it could suck [laughing]. If I believe in something, I’m all in. Then I can express and explain myself to get the point across. It comes down to how good it is.
Robert Cavuoto: Have you ever been asked to join any big named bands?
Michael Angelo Batio: Back in the day, I was asked by Ozzy’s manager to audition for the band. They told me upfront that they didn’t want me to play over or under the neck or to use my double guitar! At the time, I was in Nitro and working a deal with Warner Brothers. I was going to be on my second label band within a few years of each other. I was young, and my career was on the upswing, so I declined the audition. Over the years, I have had several big bands offer me tours. Unless it’s a megaband, it’s just not appealing to me because they impose restrictions on what I can and can’t do. Why do you want Michael Angelo Batio in the band if you don’t want Michael Angelo Batio? [Laughing] My father once told me you don’t have to be the richest or most famous person out there as long as you are happy. I’m enjoying putting out a solo CD with Rat Pak Records. I’m happy and that’s my criteria. Like about the jazz album, if I think it sucks, I won’t release it.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it true that you auditioned for KISS?
Michael Angelo Batio: Yes, this was when they just got Vinny Vincent. I was young, out of college, and on Shrapnel Records with Mike Varney. He discovered so many may people like Richie Kotzen and Paul Gilbert. If you were a guitarist on Shrapnel Records, it was like you were in the Special Forces. Mike gave me one of the best quotes; he said, “I was quite possibly the best-undiscovered guitarist in the US.” He set up the audition for KISS. I went into it, scared to death. I was such a big KISS. Back in their very early days, my band won a contest, and we opened for them at a High School. So I knew of them before they were big. I was fanboy to the max at the audition and realized right off the bat I was not going to get the gig because of how I handled myself. It was not because I couldn’t play. I showed Gene Simmons how to play over the neck. One of the songs I auditioned to was “Calling Doctor Love,” and I didn’t know the words. It was me, Gene, Paul Stanley, and Eric Carr in SIR Studios in Hollywood. They were so nice to me even though I was a fanboy. Later, Gene and I became friendly and even went to his house. He loved Nitro and thought I was a great guitarist. I love KISS. I learned a lot from that as not to be a fanboy on auditions or when meeting artists. I got to talk to Eddie Van Halen one time as we were at a Jason Becker Benefit show. We spoke for 30 minutes, and that was a great experience.