Musician Mike Richards, a true Welsh original, set up home in Berlin after 20 years of touring the UK and Holland. Forming his band after 3 months of arriving with Rowan Smy – guitarist and producer of Tricone Studios, Mirko Schmitt – drummer, drum teacher and session drummer from Berlin and Aries Guinto, bass guitarist and sound engineer from the Philippines. The band recorded and released their debut CD Anything & Everything in 2012, a compilation of songs written by Mike over a number of years, then produced and arranged with the help of the rest of the band. S2S met up with Mike to find out what led him to settle in Berlin.
S2S: The Black Flag in London referred to your music as “laid back Blues Rock.” How would you personally describe your music and what development has it passed through?
Mike Richards: I always find it hard to explain what genre of music my songs fit into, but I would say its rock with a blues influence, also some indie rock and folk thrown in. The last CD was a compilation of songs written over roughly 15 years. In this period, I passed through a lot of musical influences but also experienced a lot of personal changes in my life, many highs and lows which obviously have an influence on your writing.
S2S: How did you meet the rest of your band here in Berlin? Was it love at first sight?
Mike Richards: Haha, it certainly was! I firstly met Mirko my drummer when I moved in to my new apartment and had a meeting with my Landlord – he wore a Pearl Drums jacket. We instantly stopped talking about the apartment and started talking about music and Berlin. We went out for drinks (a lot of drinks). I found out that not only did he own a drum school, but also had previously been a session drummer living in London and touring the world, playing with bands like The Prodigy, Snap, MC lite, Imagination to name a few, and he invited me to play at a party he had organised. I’m not one to turn down an invite.
I had a 10 minute slot. So I played 2 of my songs. The sound engineer that evening, Aries Guinto, spoke to me at the end of the night and asked me if I was interested in being part of a podcast project he was working on at Tricone Studios situated at the Funkhaus, the old East Berlin broadcasting house. We exchanged numbers and a week later, I found myself at a meeting in a small bar in Kreutzberg with Rowan Smy owner of Tricone Studios. Myself, Aries and Rowan talked and drank some beers and discussed the project. When asked what I wanted to do I commented that I was up for anything & everything. The next day we got into the studio.
After a day of recording, we discussed recording an acoustic ep, which then started just weeks later. However, after a few days of recording it was obvious the songs needed a band. Aries explained to me that he had toured with a rock band as a bass guitarist, then in the same conversation Rowan confessed that he was a guitarist and had also recorded and toured with his own music. All of a sudden, I had a bassist and guitarist, and we just needed a drummer.
There could be only one, the guy that got the door open – my landlord Mirko. We invited him out for beers, discussed the plan and within a month we were working on a 12 track CD which took us 8 months to complete before we started playing gigs – our first in Berlin, second in Majorca.
I’ve never played with not only such great musicians but also great guys with great personalities, getting this mix in a band is not easy to come by.
S2S: What is your personal favorite song and why?
Mike Richards: Ahhh, don’t do this to me! Ok, a few months ago I probably would have said Out – it’s one of my less depressing songs. I wrote it after a great night out in Berlin. However, I’ve been writing new material and I have a new song called Dream on, which I really enjoy playing. It’s much heavier than my old stuff and we are looking forward to playing it live.
S2S: What’s your stand regarding large record labels?
Mike Richards: Not having a huge amount to do with them personally, I’m not in a great position to judge. But between social media being the cheapest and best marketing you can get, and the digital age driving more and more small cheaper labels and also bands recording/mixing themselves in bedrooms and basements, there’s no doubt, the large labels have their work cut out. But in saying this, in this industry money talks and unfortunately I don’t think this will ever change. If it really was just about the music, our radios and TVs wouldn’t be pouring out some of the crap that they have to right now. I’m lucky to come from an age to remember when a radio DJ chose his own playlist, that’s why he was good.
S2S: Who does your music speak to and what reaction are you seeking for in your audience?
Mike Richards: I don’t concisely write about things, it just comes out. It just takes shape depending on my mood. Therefore, I guess anyone can relate to the lyrics. When it comes to my audience I really just want them to enjoy listening to the music as much as I do playing it, and to go away from a gig feeling like they shared an experience with us. I played for many years in the UK in cover bands, so to get a great reaction at a gig from music I wrote myself is an unexplainable experience.
S2S: Complete this sentence: Sustainable music should…
Mike Richards: Have a lot of delay and reverb?
Seriously I don’t know. My guess is a hook or a catchy melody with good, sometimes simple lyrics that people remember and relate to. I’m sure the likes of Stevie Wonder or Elton John could give you a detailed formatted system that musically just works. For me it’s about feelings and emotions if a song can emotionally change the way you feel then it’s got something special.
S2S: What do you like about Berlin and why did you choose to settle here? Could you see yourself going back to the UK or anywhere else?
Mike Richards: I’m very lucky to be in a position where I have a good job and my company offered me a position here, I was unsure at the beginning but now I’m totally in love with Berlin. I don’t think any city in the world is able to offer this unique culture that has been built here, yes there is an underground music scene and it takes some time to find it through people and experience, but it’s not hard to meet people and to get involved. People in Berlin love to listen to new music and it doesn’t cost a fortune to get to see it. I’ve done more here than I was ever able to in the UK or Holland. So, to answer the last question, no, at this point I’m not planning on leaving.
The CD is available on Amazon but also Spotify, CD Baby, and iTunes.