Michael Lombardi got his start in television and film fourteen years ago, however his first love was music. Being introduced to music at a young age, and growing up in a family of musicians, one could say he was always destined for the stage. We caught up with Michael as he prepares for his first gig promoting his new EP. Find out how a kid from Connecticut made his way around the world sharing peace, love and harmony.
EV: Welcome to Entertainment Vine, Michael.
Michael: Thank you!
EV: To begin let’s discuss your EP. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve heard thus far. This is a completely different sound for you compared to your band Apache Stone. In what part of the song writing process were you aware how different this was going to sound?
Michael: Thank you! I felt like my Apache Stone stuff and the album that I wrote awhile back was very 90’s influenced. Those are my influences and they still are. I love the music of that time. I love Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Audioslave, Chris Cornell, Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses. I just find those artists and musicians, their writing, and their vibe just so inspiring. So I think that in my evolution as an artist, and a musician and songwriter, I was sort of really just honed in on a lot of that for my inspiration and my conduit, if you will, for writing. I grew up in bands playing the drums and when I decided to song write, sort of step out front and change, that was my main inspiration. So in developing now as a songwriter, 5 years later, I’ve just opened my ears and my writing influences to show much more. I actually collaborated on this EP with some amazing writers. My goal was to not lose touch to what my roots were. Like my first album, keep the inspirations that I hold close to me in the songwriter that I want to be, but also make a more modern sound with that. I felt like we accomplished it. We wrote a bunch of songs and these are the ones that we picked.
EV: You’ve been releasing the EP one single at a time like “Lost Cause” and “Magnetic Heart”. What else do you have lined up for release?
Michael: A song called “Heaven and Hell Collide” just released on Facebook for free digital download. And next is “Born to Love You”. We have our show coming up here in Hollywood at Hotel Cafe (2/27). I’m excited for you to listen to them all because I feel like “Lost Cause” is a little more commercially desirable rock or melodic. But, “Heaven and Hell Collide” and “Born to Love You” are a little harder. I’m excited for that. They get me really psyched to play and I think … I hope … you like the energy and the vibe of them.
EV: What I like is that this EP seems very versatile. It surprised me the first time I listened to “Lost Cause” because it took listening to it two or three times before I could even hear you in it. I was used to you sounding more metal or hard rock. I was really impressed.
Michael: Thank you. Well you want to know something interesting? In the development, as a singer, I was sort of worried because it is so different. But, the thing is you can’t take yourself too seriously, or worry about these things, because I’m doing what I’m doing. This is where I’m at. Five or seven years ago when I was writing that other stuff that’s where I was as a singer and a songwriter. What I’ve done is I actually found my voice, my sort of niche, a little more in the sense of lightening everything up a little bit. I think it has that same vibe where it came from, but a more modern sound. I’ve evolved with it.
EV: That’s a great way to put it. You’ve evolved. You still have your roots in the music, but now instead of trying to fit into a specific genre you’re just sounding like yourself. It’s you. You’re putting yourself out there.
Michael: Exactly! It took awhile. When I wrote that, all of my Apache Stone stuff, I wasn’t trying to sound like anybody, but I was honed in on those as my main influences growing up. Playing drums too. I saw all of those guys in concert tons and tons of times. And, that was it. I mean Bob Marley is one of my heroes by the way. I know you don’t hear him in my music, but maybe in my lyrics. He’s inspirational to me as well. So the point is you write what you know. That’s kind of all I knew, and I think I was testing myself as a singer and a songwriter. Not only wanting to grow, and also being inspired by the people who I collaborated with, but I think I was able to find my voice through that.
EV: Absolutely. I think you can hear Bob in your lyrics. His music really touches the heart. I think when you write about things that mean something to you that’s what resonates with the fans and touches their lives. It’s personal.
Michael: I write a lot of poetry and just sort of my observations. I write them all down, and then try to pick through and figure out how to put them into song form. I just went through my books of poetry and I knew what they were about. I listened back to it and it is really how it was when I wrote it down. It’s always important I stay true to the message, but what I developed through this collaboration was to be able to put my true feelings and my words into a different style of songwriting. I think it was kinda cool because we kept the message, but I think it was done in a way where maybe it is easier for the listener to connect to.
EV: Now you can have an immediate response from the listener since they have instant access to your music. Does this make it easier for you, or do you feel more pressure when writing new material?
Michael: I think I go through a phase like that with all of my art. Whatever I’m doing I’m like “Oh shit!”. You know truthfully I think the bottom line is that we sort of all want to be loved and wanted. But, then I just say “Fuck it!”. You have to. Because again it goes back to trying not to take yourself too seriously. And, it also goes back to just putting who you are in what you’re doing. I think there are people who are going to hate it, and there are people who are going to like it. The people who are going to like it you have a definite connection to and that’s a special thing. So each step that I sort of grow through this process I’m able to find myself more and more. It’s starting back from a long time ago because I’ve been through a lot now. It’s been a long journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I guess that helps us all when we are able to do that. Be able to put ourselves out there.
EV: Would you mind sharing a little about your journey from your first drum set, to when you discovered acting, to how you became involved with singing and songwriting?
Michael: Sure. I got my first drum set when I was pretty young. I think I was twelve. Both my uncles grew up in New Haven, Connecticut which is a very musical city. So they had bands. One was a drummer and one was a guitar player. Phenomenal musicians. Phenomenal! My uncle Tony just passed away.
EV: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Michael: Thank you. He was an amazing jazz guitar player. He was so ahead of his time. At sixteen years old he was commuting from New Haven into New York City to play with Jim Hall. He was unbelievable. But, what happened to him was that he got involved with drugs in the 60’s. He took a hit of acid and never came back. So it was all thrown away. But, I am so fortunate to be influenced by his music and his tracks. Seeing photos of him, his album covers, this is my mom’s brother. My mom’s other brother was an amazing drummer. My grandmother was a waitress in New Haven and she bought those guys their instruments. Which back then when she bought my uncle Tony a guitar that was a thousand dollars. My grandmother is still alive. She’s one hundred and one by the way.
EV: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
Michael: Yeah, this is my mom’s mom she still lives in New Haven. So the point is that I hold onto this, and I share this story because I’m proud of it because I think that is where a lot of my musical ability, or my love of music, has come from. From what I know in my family. Both of my parents are really into music. I grew up on the Motown vibe like Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and really that’s all my family really listened to. Of course The Beatles and The Stones, but my parents loved John Lennon and The Beatles very much so when I was a kid that’s all we listened to. But, to get back on track, my uncle Vincent had given me a drum set when I was twelve or fourteen years old. I played a lot and played in some different bands. Then when I was about nineteen or twenty I was going to a place in New York City called The Drummers Collective. Now it’s called The Collective. They do like bass drums and everything, but they have some of the best studio drummers in the country at this school. I wasn’t in a specific band at the time so I was thinking ‘Let me just go here then maybe I’ll be a studio drummer, or maybe I’ll get hired by a band’. It was that kind of thing. I studied there for awhile and then I kind of discovered acting. I was driving into Manhattan everyday from Connecticut. I lived an hour and twenty minutes north of Manhattan. I took a summer intensive program to act. I really caught the acting bug if you will. I started doing a lot of theatre in New York. I booked a small gig here and there, but never lost touch with my music. But, I definitely haven’t played the drums as much. I love sitting on the kit and ripping. I started through acting, and I think it brought out something more of storytelling in my experiences of studying in Manhattan. I studied at a place called William Esper which is an amazing acting school in New York. In my opinion one of the best. I did a three year program there while doing theatre and stuff. After that I did a couple TV shows, a couple guest stars, and then I did a show on ABC. Actually my first gig was basically like an extra on SNL.
EV: That’s so cool!
Michael: Yeah! Kate Hudson was the guest of that episode, and I played a bartender or something. Radiohead was the musical guest so I got to watch them rehearse and play. That was the best part of the whole gig. That was an incredible experience. Then after that, like I said, I did a TV show called The Job on ABC. I did a guest star on it and that’s where I met Denis Leary. I played the cabana boy in that episode. Pretty funny. (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Oh no!
Michael: (laughs) Oh yeah. About a year later I got contacted to do a show called Contest Searchlight on Comedy Central. It was a spoof on Project Greenlight that show with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Remember that?
EV: I do. I watched a couple seasons of that show.
Michael: I think at the time Shia LaBeouf was a kid and he was the star in it.
EV: I think that was their first season.
Michael: Yeah. Like twelve or fifteen years ago. I don’t remember when it was. It was awhile ago. So anyway I did that and about a year after that I got the opportunity to read for the pilot episode of Rescue Me. I had become friends with Denis. He is a huge ice hockey fan and I play ice hockey so we were like boys. We were playing hockey and hanging together. Anyway, I got the opportunity to read for Rescue Me and got it. We had a seven season run on that. Which is unbelievable. And through those seven seasons I knew that I was going to be in New York City so instead of being such a broke actor … well I was living in Manhattan before that so I had an apartment like way way north on the east side with literally a bathroom in the hallway and the shower was in the kitchen. (laughs) So it was really hard to make music in Manhattan because rehearsal spaces and stuff. Once I got the show and I was able to get out of debt a little bit, and get on my feet, I was able to afford a rehearsal space. I got some guys together and through that process we rehearsed literally whenever I wasn’t filming. We’d shoot fourteen hour days on Rescue Me, but some days I would have off if that wasn’t a day they were shooting my storyline. Knowing that I was on a show that was right in Manhattan, and I could sort of make a home base there, I was able to get the rehearsal space. I had like a monthly rehearsal space. Me and the guys would get together three or four times a week, sometimes not at all, and sometimes five times the next week. I was writing these songs, we worked them up, then we went and recorded the album. Denis, of course, knew all of this. A lot of stuff that he would use on Rescue Me were true to life in the actors’ lives or in firefighters’ lives because he holds those guys so close to his heart. He knew the true stories and then of course he would Hollywoodize them. He would make them dramatic, or funny, or whatever they were. My character was pretty crazy. The only thing I’m like my character is I sort of wore my heart on my sleeve and my character did too. You always tap into part of yourself to play your character of course. Or, you bring that aspect of your personality to your character. But, anyway there were some really crazy storylines. So Denis found out that I had the band and he listened to it. He liked the music so he wrote it into the show.
EV: I remember when that happened. Wasn’t it like the second to last season?
Michael: I think it was season four. Of course I think everyone with the band got signed but my character. They were like “We’re not taking you”. You know it’s a good lesson because like what I said about taking yourself too seriously and stuff and diving in. I had to really jump off the cliff all the time with that show and that character. It was really like “Oh my God what am I getting this week?”. It really makes you a better artist, a better actor, and probably somewhere a better musician. It just makes you a more bolder confident person when you’re able to tackle some of those scenarios that were written. But, again the writing was so good you trust it. You know?
EV: Yeah. It would have been so easy to do the tongue in cheek with your character and be like “Oh look at me I don’t know what I’m doing”. But you played him sincere. Like you said he basically had his heart on his sleeve. So I think people react to that and all of a sudden people really feel for him. But, if you didn’t play him sincere then he would have been a joke. He was funny, but he wasn’t a joke. You know what I mean?
Michael: Yeah. Thank you! I really tried for that. I thought it would be like nothing that is happening is funny to him, nor was it played that way. However, if you were peeking into the window of this guy’s life you’re like “What a fool” and you’d feel bad for him. It was funny, but I felt like everything came from a very genuine place and that was his perspective. Obviously anyone can say “This guy is so stupid”. But, rather than playing him that way I just felt like he was more sort of open, and he didn’t think of himself as being stupid but just naive. Seeing the good in everything so he got himself into some pretty crazy situations just because of it.
EV: That’s a great way to put it. So when you have parts of your real life blend into the show, like with your band, do you think that it made it harder for what you were trying to do with your music, or did it give you more of a jumping off point?
Michael: I think both. When Denis wrote the story of the band … like obviously that’s my music I’m playing on the show. I don’t really like to judge it too much just because you’re doing your thing and you’re putting it out there. What’s interesting is it was made a joke of in the show. Everything my character did was. And, you know it’s just acting. It is strange because they were my tunes. And, most of my band members at that time actually came on. But, how cool for those guys to be able to come on the set to do this? And, you know how many different firefighter charities and things we played at? It put us on the map. People would be confused, and they were like “Wait, do you have a real band?” so they would find out about it. They would actually like it and be shocked it was that good. So I think it was sort of a double edged sword in some ways. I think at first people didn’t respect it, or they would think it was a joke. But, it actually made them go on the internet and do research to a certain degree, and they really liked what they heard. Some amazing things have come out of it for me. Some amazing opportunities. Being able to travel, and play my music, and have people listen to it. I had a song called “Synthetic Self” and someone wrote me that it had helped them get through their brother’s death. So when you get something like that … I guess it was inspiring to them or moved them emotionally during that time. So for you to be able to reach people like that it is a pretty amazing thing. And, that wouldn’t have happened without Rescue Me.
EV: That’s powerful.
Michael: That was my springboard to get my stuff out there. You know?
EV: Yeah. And, then you guys were the peace ambassadors. How cool was that?
Michael: That was unbelievable. I got contacted by the Humpty Dumpty Institute. I was made a Diplomat of Peace by the US government and The Humpty Dumpty Institute facilitates this. We were asked to go to Pakistan to play music for universities throughout Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. They’ve never in the history of this program had a rock band go before. They’ve had Mary McBride, they’ve had other really famous artists like Mary Wilson from The Supremes. They’ve had some amazing jazz artists too. Different artists go, and this was the first time they had ever had a rock band. So me and my guys went and it was unbelievable. We played like three shows a day. We would do a show in the afternoon at a university where we would sometimes do a bit of a master class and talk about a songwriting session, and then play the song or play a few songs. Later that evening, we would do a huge concert where we would have a few thousand people every night. After the concert, we would go to a local radio station and play a couple acoustic songs on the radio live. So it was an incredible … incredible musical journey and experience. We were there like three and a half weeks, and at one of the concerts per week we collaborated with local artists. We had unbelievable sitars and hand drums. We would play one of our songs and they would collaborate. Then they would play one of theirs and we would collaborate with them. It was really unbelievable.
EV: Wow! That is a life changing experience, and a once in a lifetime type thing. That’s incredible.
Michael: Yeah it was. At one point we were doing this huge show, and I have pictures of it too, my guitar player leaned in and goes “Mike, check it out!”. I mean all of these kids have AC/DC shirts with jeans on, and they are rocking out in the audience. He points to the middle and there is a group of girls in their burqas so all you can see is their eyes and they are rocking out to us. They’re like shaking their heads and fist pumping. It was pretty awesome.
EV: That’s so awesome. It’s a great lesson at how international music is. It can reach audiences worldwide. Even if language is a barrier it doesn’t matter. Music touches lives.
Michael: That’s right. Exactly. I said that so many times. I guess it sounds cliché, but it’s so true. There was no translation needed.
EV: Music requires you to connect with the audience. Are there any lessons that you learned from acting that you’re able to practice while you’re on stage singing?
Michael: Well, I think the main thing is that you’re telling a story with the song, and hopefully sending people on a journey either an emotional rollercoaster or some kind of ride with it. Whether it’s high, low, and it can be different for each person, of course, just like a movie can or a scene in a movie. Playing my character people can relate to that, or they can’t, or they don’t like it, or they can understand the emotion expressed there. I think it’s the same thing with a song. I think when you write from the heart, and you write truthful, and you write to what you know, then you connect to that every time you perform. When you’re in your studio doing it I think then it’s open for interpretation. Sometimes people ask me “What did that song mean?”. I know what it meant when I wrote it and sometimes I’m willing to share that, but a lot of times I don’t like to because it’s different for each person who listens to it. Meaning I could be writing a song about my dog and that person can think of it as their lover, or their mother, or their father, or sister, or brother, or their dog, or whatever. The point is I think that if you write, and it’s truthful, and it’s feeling emotion, and you perform it with your intentions behind it, I think that it affects people. I think that’s true of any good film, play, or any piece of writing or character.
EV: That’s so true. In closing, I want to ask if you have any advice or encouragement for kids who want to pursue music or acting. Especially those who might be living in a small town where their dreams seem out of reach. If they aren’t sure how to get started where do they begin their journey?
Michael: I feel like I really have a lot to say on this because I’ve been through a pretty unbelievable journey. What I say is honestly it’s all about the work. Like the rest of the stuff comes, but you really have to love it and feel passionate about it. It’s almost as if you can’t do anything else. And, you really have to take it seriously. When I say that I mean the work. Because again we’re all putting ourselves out there to be judged. It’s really hard whether you’re auditioning as an actor, or you’re writing a song as a musician, or putting a show on. You put your heart out there and you want people to like it. And, there is a lot of rejection. You know? I just think that you need to be really passionate, and find ways to keep yourself fulfilled along the journey. It’s really about living life and experiencing things. So someone who comes from a different town than I came from, or you came from, has a completely different story or message to share than we do. So I think it’s really trying to be truthful to who you are and people will relate to it. It’s not always easy to do. You addressed getting started, I think that I was just really inspired and luckily I found the school I went to. I had supportive parents in my life who helped me follow my dream. I could only imagine how difficult it would be without that. Because it’s so hard with that. But, again, I think if you love it you find a way. I think the number one thing is that it’s really always about the work. If you’re going to try to do anything as an artist, or I guess as anything really in life, if you work hard I think that good things will come.
EV: That’s great advice and so encouraging. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Michael.
Michael: My pleasure. Take care.
*To receive your FREE downloads of Michael’s singles from his new EP please visit his ReverbNation profile. You can preorder tickets to his Hollywood show at Hotel Cafe (2/27) here. Be sure to also follow Michael on Twitter and Facebook.