Mike Scala is currently roaming the outback of Australia finishing a tour supporting the international release of his album Heart on a String. We caught up with Mike to discuss the Hong Kong/Australia tour, his youth foundation, performing on glaciers, making a difference in the world, and what it takes to follow your dreams.
EV: Welcome to Entertainment Vine, Mike. Before we begin, I should tell you that Australia is my dream destination so I am a bit envious that you are touring over there. I would love to go one day.
Mike: Honestly, it will change your life. Australia is one of those amazing, unbelievable type places. You have to go. You’ll never want to come home.
EV: I can only imagine. I know this is a busy time for you so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today.
Mike: Sure. Yeah, it’s been absolutely crazy I haven’t even had a second to breathe. And, I just got endorsed by D’Addario.
EV: Wow! Congratulations!
Mike: Thank you! I’ve been working on that for a year and a half now. The head of A&R called me and said “Let me know where you’re going to be, and we’re going to send you stuff in Australia when you’re on tour. Wherever you’re at let me know if you need strings, if you need cables, and we’ll have it ready for you.”. I can’t believe it.
EV: That’s awesome! All of your hard work has paid off.
Mike: It has been such a roller coaster. I can’t even tell you. It’s been crazy these past years. I’ve been on the grind so hard. So I’m just glad that here and there things are finally starting to pull through.
EV: That’s really exciting! You’ve worked hard for this and you deserve it. I think as hard as it has been, it’s worth it. How cool that everything is starting to fall into place for you and your band. Great timing too. Is your band touring with you?
Mike: On this tour not all of the guys were able to go. My team are some of the guys who have been with me the longest like Dan Vosk, Marcus Miller, Brian Caine, Phil Crayton, and Ernie Gerardo. They’ve become great friends and they’re great musicians. They’re very talented and they’re definitely contributors to moving forward with everything. They really are part of the team and are really good people. They were with me making the last record and everything. They’ve been on all of the tours in the past two and a half years except for this one. Just because financially it’s tough. It’s a whole month tour. The flights alone are two grand. I finance everything and it was just too expensive this time around. It’s hard for independent artists.
EV: I think a lot of people have the misconception that all musicians, when on tour, have someone else paying for everything. However, like you said, you’re financing it yourself out of your own pocket. What kind of preparation goes into planning a tour when you’re doing it on your own?
Mike: I’ve been working on this tour for four and a half months. That’s about how long it takes per tour. Because I do all of the booking, the tour management, the PR, the advertising, set up everything over venues, the production management, and everything front to back. So it’s a daunting task, but I’ve got it down to a science now after doing it so many years. You make a lot of mistakes. You screw up a lot. (laughs) You kinda learn from things on how to make it run like a well tuned engine. It takes a lot of preparation. It’s non-stop. I don’t sleep. I mean that’s really the key, don’t sleep. Don’t plan on sleeping. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Just stay awake forever.
Mike: Yeah. I literally work in my sleep. There’s been so many times where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, and just started writing a bunch of stuff, and then I went back to sleep.
EV: How do you keep your energy and motivation going while you’re on tour once you’re able to relax a little bit from the planning aspect of it? I mean so often after having non-stop action and chaos once you stop you end up sick as a dog.
Mike: There is no relaxing on tour. That doesn’t happen. When I’m on tour all I want to do is sleep. The whole partying thing that people see on TV, you know that kind of stuff, that does not happen at this level. I don’t drink on tour either. I won’t touch a drop of alcohol until the last day and then I’ll have a beer or two. Because if people are paying to come and see me then I’m going to give them the best show possible. That way every single person in that audience, whether they like the style of music or not, they’re going to walk away and say “Wow, that’s a great show!”. That’s my goal for every show. Honestly, my goals are bigger than just myself. My main goal is to inspire people and to inspire the world. I don’t want to change the world I just want to inspire it. That’s really the position that I come from. You know with my charity work, and all of that kind of stuff, there is no down time. Pretty much where I’m going with this is that when you have big goals, and when you have big dreams like this, you just constantly go. I do the best I can to take care of myself. I try to eat as best as I can. Sometimes it’s literally apples, and peanut butter and jelly because that’s all you can afford at times. You know it’s not like I’m sitting on stage making it rain backstage tossing twenties everywhere. (laughs) It’s by no means glorious. But, I’m passionate. I’m really passionate about what I do. I really believe in the vision, and the message, and I just try to get as many other people to see that as well so they can get involved and inspired. And, I have a great team. I’ve got great people working with me now. Both friends and people in the industry like Alaina (Bendi). I don’t have a booking agent, or a manger, or anything like that so I hope one day I will. But, I guess I’m fortunate for doing it on my own, and happy that I’ve done it on my own. Because I know when it comes time for those people to become involved I can kind of tell who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t. Just because from doing it I know when someone is not doing their job. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) That’s true. You need someone who has your best interests at heart, and wants to help you inspire others through your music and charity work.
Mike: Yeah. That’s what I’m hoping for. One thing that I really need at this point is a good booking agent. Because I can only do so much between trying to book all of these things and set everything up. I mean I got us onto CMJ, SXSW, and the CBGB Festival with Alaina and Tim Hayes. I hung out with him a little bit he’s the guy who runs it. I got us onto MusicFest, Alive at Five, and I got us onto all of these things. Imagine if I had a little bit of help. Because I can’t be everywhere. And, on top of that I wrote sixty songs for this next release. So I’m trying to do everything here. I’m ready to rock. I’m ready to go. But, to be honest, at this point I need support of someone who’s gonna really see what the vision is and be able to get behind it. So it’s a tough position to be in. I do my best to do everything, but let’s face it, I have a lot to learn. And, I can’t be good at everything. So I just do my best, and try, and hope that people support that.
EV: There is someone out there who is going to have the same vision as you, the same goals, and they’ll be at the right place at the right time. They’ll jump in and help then at that point you’ll be relieved … but then you’ll just add some other stuff to your plate. (laughs) At least you’ll have the help.
Mike: (laughs) You’re absolutely right.
EV: Would you mind talking about how you got started in music? Also, when did you make the decision to really take charge of your career and do everything on your own instead of waiting for it to happen?
Mike: To give you a quick background, I pretty much started writing lyrics and poetry when I was about eight or nine. I taught myself how to play guitar when I was about twelve. Did you ever do a letter where you write to yourself when you’re in second or third grade, and then your teacher delivers it to you when you go away to college?
EV: No, but I think that’s an awesome idea.
Mike: Well, one of my teachers ended up doing that. In that letter, when I was seven or eight, I said that I wanted to do music, and that I wanted to play at Madison Square Garden. So I guess it was always kind of in me that I wanted to do that I just never knew how. And, I loved to help people. I was always that kid that was trying to help everybody, and I wanted to save the world. I don’t even know where it comes from I just feel that I’m destined to do this. It sounds crazy, it sounds silly or cliché, but it’s really how I feel. I feel that I’m destined to do this. I feel like this is one of the reasons why I was put here. To make some kind of difference, or a change, or something to help people. Music is kind of that avenue that I have been fortunate enough to learn how to play, and everything that comes along with it. So I guess the inspiration is somehow innate I don’t even know how. I kind of knew from a young age that I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or if it was ever going to happen. It’s a dream that you have as a kid, and for some people it sticks and for some people it doesn’t. I don’t know. I grew up in a really really bad neighborhood. A lot of violence, a lot of gang activity, and music kind of saved my life. I was the only one that made it out. So all the rest of my friends either ended up in jail, or dead, or had kids at a young age. So it was kind of a tough situation. For me, I always loved music. It always inspired me. I guess it was my ticket out in a way.
EV: And, you taught yourself how to play guitar? That’s really impressive.
Mike: What initiated that for me to start playing, and writing, and all those kinds of things was I was driving in the car with my mom and I heard Jimi Hendrix on the radio for the first time. I was around eleven or twelve. “Fire” and “Purple Haze” came on and I was immediately hooked. So I went out and I bought the VHS for it. (laughs) You know, cuz there wasn’t DVDs. I must have wore that thing out. Eventually I got the DVD cuz I love it so much and I wore the tape out. I ended up learning every single song front to back. I taught myself how to play because in my family we couldn’t afford lessons with a single mom and there were three of us. And, that was it. My parents kind of went through a bad divorce when I was around twelve. In addition to everything that was happening outside, you know on the street or whatever, in addition to the home life and everything that kind of happened music was an outlet for me. That’s what really inspired me to write. It was always my ticket away from everything. And, it was a way for me to express myself. Obviously, as it is for most artists. So that’s kind of how I started playing. Then from there I just learned every single Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Metallica song. Every single song I could get my hands on by those bands. I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop too, Dr Dre, Run DMC, and a lot of everything just across the map. But, hip hop is how I actually started writing poetry initially, and then the whole rock thing came after that.
EV: That’s interesting that hip hop is what inspired you to write poetry. That makes sense. But, I would have never guessed that.
Mike: Yeah. I mean because everyone I grew up with that’s what they listened to. It was all hip hop there was no rock on the street. (laughs) You know? They’d have their boom boxes out break dancing and all of that kind of stuff. It was crazy. Hip Hop is what inspired me, like I said with Dr Dre, Tupac, Biggie, you know all of those guys and then rock. I got into a lot of heavier rock, and kind of like the 70’s rock, but mostly Hendrix. So then my first performance was at the high school talent show in ninth grade. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) How did that go?
Mike: Oh, it was amazing. I performed “Iris” by the Goo Goo dolls crossed with “Pennyroyal Tea” by Nirvana. That was my first performance. It was amazing. Me and my buddy Matt Evko, one of my childhood friends that I grew up with, just went up there. After getting off that stage I just knew it. I knew I loved it and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t care what odds were going to be against me. I knew that this was what I had to be doing. And, everything kind of all started. Then one thing led to the next and I started playing around locally. When I was about seventeen I started getting into the scene in New York City playing CBGBs, The Bitter End, and I did the Viper Room out in L.A. I started touring around at a young age. They allowed me to play at the clubs and it was great. It was an honor. I did my high school senior trip talent show that was the next time when I knew that I wanted to tour the world. (laughs) Honestly, it was a bunch of random stuff like that which kind of led up to everything. I decided to take a risk and I did my first tour in England and the UK. I went out with a gospel choir from college. I branched off and did my own little mini-tour off of it. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do it worldwide. I wanted to be able to have the influence to do good through music. For example, like what U2 does. Whether you like U2 or not what they do for the world is amazing. I mean that’s what I want to do.
EV: So you already had it in your heart at a young age that you wanted to make a difference. When did you decide to start your foundation (Mike Scala Foundation for Youth)? Was it from that young age, or was it more from when you went out and really saw the world?
Mike: Naturally, yeah. I think it was once I was out on the road. On all of my tours, from day one, I always volunteered in the local communities wherever I was in the world. I did music programs with the kids, or I would take some of the money from the tour and go out and buy food, clothing and educational supplies, or whatever the kids needed. I always donated things. I don’t give money. I give things. You know that way it goes straight to the kids and what they need. So on all of the tours I always did that along the way. I decided after the second tour in Australia. I was working with some of the guys from the John Butler Trio on my album before this last one. I was solo for all of that time as well. I came back to the States and I wanted to start a foundation, and start a solid band, and have solid people, and create a team. It kind of all came together after the second tour in Australia and New Zealand. From traveling the world before that, and doing the tours and everything, I just knew that I had to make a difference. And, I wanted to. I genuinely thought ‘Well, if I’m going to be doing this anyways I should turn this into some kind of business.’ You know that way I would have something reputable as well. I’m not just this random artist that’s going around helping people. People can actually start to get involved, and I can get some volunteers to work with me. I wanted to create some kind of team. Everybody gives back. I mean I have so much to learn from people. And, I’ve met so many amazing people on my journeys and tours that have taught me so much. I’m so thankful for that. I just want to continue to learn, and expand, and do my best. To just do what I can through music besides the music itself. So my goals are bigger than just me. It’s not about me at all.
EV: I think maybe that’s part of the reason that you do so well because it’s been instilled in you for so long. You go out there and you help the world. It comes naturally to you. At some point, whenever that seed was planted in you, I think your journey from then to now has taught you the best way to go about doing things. I want to be sure people know how they can pitch in and help out with your foundation. How can folks get involved?
Mike: Thank you. I appreciate that. People can get involved by just getting in touch and saying “I want to get involved”. Or, come out to a show, or pick up an album, because a portion of all of those things go to that. I would be nothing without my fans. All it takes to support is for people to enjoy the music, and then want to get involved in whatever level they want to get involved in. I mean whether it’s actually coming down and helping out, or like I said just coming down to a show and having fun for a night. That alone inspires me to want to keep working even harder. You know because people are enjoying the music and they are enjoying the show. Our live shows are crazy. I would hope that you would leave and say “That was so much fun!”. That’s what we want people to do. I mean our motto is, when people ask “What do you sound like?” or “How are the shows?”, we say “Fun as hell! Just come down.” (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Great motto. Let’s talk about the concert you streamed that anyone in the world could log in and pay what they wanted to watch the show. That is such a great concept. How did that come about?
Mike: Thank you. I just thought it would be cool so I did it. A company contacted me and asked me to be a part of it. They said “Look this is what we’re doing. We’d love to have you as a featured artist. You’ll have full control over the platform. And, you decide how much you want to charge for the show.” I said “I’m honored. Cool.” Music should be available to everybody. If you can pay one cent that’s fine. If you can pay fifty bucks that’s cool. If you have a thousand, that’s even better. (laughs) But, you know what I mean? I want the music to be available to everybody so I just decided to take half and donate it to charity and to a cause. So I pretty much took the check when it came through, I went down to the YMCA here in the village, I asked them what they needed, I went out and bought it, then showed up with all of the stuff and left.
EV: Wow! You’re such an inspiration. The work you do is so amazing because you’re not just in it for the creative aspect of having an outlet, you’re also in it to help other people. I think it’s brilliant that you are able to use your music to help others. Think about all of the kids who are in the same boat you were when you were younger. They are dealing with their parents’ divorce, or with stuff that’s happening in their neighborhood, or whatever. You’re inspiring them. You’re giving them the tools to succeed. Now they can get out on their own, stand on their own two feet, follow their dreams, and do whatever it is they want to do. Really whatever their heart desires. That’s really cool.
Mike: Well, I appreciate that. I want people to know that they have the power over their lives. You can do anything you want tomorrow. It’s just up to you whether or not you want to do it. What are your real goals? Everything is daunting in this world. But, think about it. I mean, God forbid, I could walk outside and be hit by a bus. I could be gone tomorrow. But, you have to take risks and you can’t be afraid of failing. You can’t be afraid. I think people are afraid to take that risk. They’re afraid to fail. They’re afraid. I want to inspire people to move past that and show them, try to share my experiences with them. I’d say “Hey look, I went through the same thing. I was in that same boat right there. I was where you guys are too. But, I chose a different path”. There were a lot of people who told me that I would never make it, that I would never do it. “Oh your music is just a dream you’ll never…” Well, you know what? Now I’m touring the world. So … whatever. You want something you have to make it happen. No one is going to hand anything to you. I just think that everyone has the power to do that. I don’t think that anything is impossible. I really don’t.
EV: Well that perfectly leads me into my final question. I was wondering if you would talk about your experience performing on a glacier?
Mike: Alright, so this is a crazy story. Another awesome dude that has been so amazing, Andy Farmer. This guy has been one of my closest friends and supporters for I don’t even know how many years. Probably about seven years now he’s been on board. I’m going to tell you two quick little stories. One time we were in Ireland right off the coast of Galway. We’re playing in this smaller town. Awesome venue, but smaller town. Not much resources in the area, but it was an awesome pub gig. Really cool. All locals and a really chill, really fun gig. I forget my guitar cable, and I forget my picks, I forgot a bunch of things where we were staying which was like forty-five minutes away from the venue. So I’m freaking out and literally there is nothing open since it’s about eleven o’clock at night. There’s no shops open. Nothing. There’s nothing for miles. Andy says “Dude, what’s the matter? Are you alright?”. I said “I don’t have this, I forgot my cable I can’t even plug into the PA. How am I going to do this show? We have a hundred and some people waiting. How am I going to do this?”. He said “What do you need?” I said “I need this, this, this, oh and a rubber chicken” and I was joking around. (laughs) He says “Hold on. I’ll be right back.” He comes back with all of the above. Literally twenty minutes later he comes back with everything. I don’t know how he got it. I don’t know where he got it from. He must have knocked on doors. I don’t even know what he did. I have no clue. But, he came back with everything. And, the rubber chicken. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Anyone who can find a rubber chicken in Ireland at night is someone you want on your team. That’s awesome!
Mike: Yeah! He’s that dude and that became a prop for the tour as well. I met him randomly on the very first tour in 2008 when I was in the north island of New Zealand up in Auckland. I was staying in a hostel called The Fat Camel and he was staying there too. I was playing at a pub called The Mustang Bar which is a really cool live music venue in Auckland. I was playing there that next day. The owner of The Fat Camel heard that I was playing there, and he found out that I was a musician. I ended up playing a couple of tunes at the hostel. He set me up with a PA, I did a tiny gig, and they hooked me up with some free food and things like that so they really looked after me. Andy happened to be there. I played Hendrix “Purple Haze” and did one cover. I’m not really a cover dude. I don’t really like doing covers. I have a weird thing with that. Anyway, I play Hendrix because of course I love Hendrix. I’ll play that anytime. And, here comes Andy. He’s just a crazy dude. He has on this long black Ozzy Osbourne wig with these purple sunglasses on, and he’s got a beer in his hands going “YEAH!”. Just like Ozzy Osbourne. In walks this crazy dude. (laughs) We ended up hanging, and eating, and became really good friends. One thing led to the next when he had this crazy idea of this glacier tour. Andy is that dude. He’s that dude that comes up with crazy ideas. And, us working together, he helps those ideas come to life no matter what they are. He had this idea and we chose the Franz Josef Glacier. In the south island you need all of these permits and all of these permissions from the government, so it ended up making international news headlines. He rented a helicopter. I don’t know how he afforded to do this. Again, I don’t know who he knew or what he did. I have no clue. All I know is I walk out and there’s a helicopter waiting for me to go to a glacier for a concert. I’m like “What is going on?” I have on these spiked boots, I have ice picks to climb over stuff. I felt like I was Rambo, or something, about to climb the glacier. It was nuts. It was just crazy. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Oh my gosh, that’s insane!
Mike: I can’t wait until the day when I get to that level when I can afford to bring all of my friends on that really are such a great part of the team. I feel if I can get to that level, and that place, then this next album … wow. Well, hopefully I’ll find the right producer, and hopefully people will start getting behind it properly. I can’t wait to bring everyone together from all over the world. I feel like it’s going to be such a great team. The people are good people with good hearts. They share similar interests of wanting to help the world. I want to create a coalition of musicians.
EV: I think that’s a great dream. Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate your time, and for sharing with me, and laughing with me. I love the fact that you are just willing to jump in the deep end and see what happens. You’re like “Let’s go. Let’s figure this out.”
Mike: Thank you, Jan. I appreciate that. Thank you for listening.
EV: My pleasure.
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