Perfection In The Human Way-The Romantics Co-Founder Mike Skill Talks Recordings, Gear and The Great Hook. Interview By: Dick Beach
Written by Staff on November 2, 2021
RRX: MIke Skill is one of the founders of The Romantics and has a brand new record coming out called “Skill……Mike Skill”
Mike: That’s right. I felt it was time to actually get my name out there and display what I’ve got. A lot of people call me “Skill” anyway.
RRX: And everybody calls me “Beach” so it’s okay.
Mike: Or hey dummy!
RRX: (Laughs) I’d like to kind of start at the very beginning of when you were doing music. As I understand it you had a band originally in Detroit called High Tide.
Mike: Yeah, when I was about 16 years old.
RRX: Is there one thing about doing a gig at CBGB’s when you were a younger musician that really stuck out and made an impression?
Mike: You probably know as well I do, CBGB’S was hailed high at the time in magazines, Rock Scene magazine and a few other magazines coming out of New York. It was building up as a legendary place because poets were going there. So, we stuck it out and a lot of bands would do this… we continued to write and write and develop ourselves as writers. We were along those lines of that Detroit music energy. Like MC5, early, early Bob Segar when he was writing protest songs and The Stooges were one of our favorite bands.
RRX: I’ve got a big word on my notepad and it says hook. I’ve listened to Romantics records and I’ve run through your “Skill” at least a half a dozen times here and it’s like… you really do have a thing for how a hook works. Where did that come from?
Mike: It’s leaving yourself open to the creative side. You have to really open yourself up and tighten yourself down from getting stuck. You don’t want to get stuck and notate from this note to that note. It’s really just from inside but it’s also coming from hearing The Everly Brothers when I was a young kid, hearing Buddy Holly and getting into Motown too. When they went into a hook, the hooks that start the song are usually relative to the hooks that they sing in a song. When you leave a show, you want people to leave singing your songs to make it simple.
RRX: Let’s get to sound and touch on Pearl Sound Studios. That appears to me to be one of the touchstones for people who really love recording what they do.
Mike: Yeah exactly, that’s profound. Yeah, that studio’s been going on, he’s been working in that studio since 13 years old. I grew up in Detroit, 10 years old. My Mom and Dad wanted to get out of Buffalo because of all of the snow, they were probably 35 or 40 years old.
RRX: What about that studio is so… is it the room? Is it the people behind the console? What has changed? Has the sound changed in the studio since there is more digital than 2 inch tape?
Mike: Well, you can use it all now but it’s going to cost you plenty. Tapes are going to run you 3,4,5 hundred dollars, somewhere in that area. You’re going to run 2 sets of tapes and have 2 sets of backup tapes. You’re going to end up buying 3 to 4 rolls of tape. These days digital is getting so close and so good and if you take the time to do it properly, you’ll have a great sound on digital. In my opinion, if you’re so precise in watching your grid, using a click track all of the time and you’re perfecting songs so perfectly, it’s going to sound cold. No mistakes, you want to keep the human feel. If there’s some form of… I don’t want to say mistakes but…
RRX: Mistake is not the word I’d use.
Mike: The human factor in it. You don’t want to take it out and make it so cold and tight that it’s rigid.
RRX: It’s like buying an Asian rug. When rugs are made, the artisans know they can do it perfectly but they always make certain that they have at least some kind of imperfection.
RRX: I’ve seen in a number of photographs where you’re playing a Fender, maybe a Gretsch, a Rickenbacker but the one thing behind it that you have made a pretty big thing out of is all that Vox gear.
Mike: Yeah, the AC30 is one of the best amps other than Bassman, other than the Marshall 50 watt amp, the Marshall plexi panel amp. You use a Vox amp for the rhythm because you want that chime.. They’re all tube amps. When I start, I’ll layer with a Vox but I might bring a Marshall in there and I might use a high watt in there to embellish it. But yeah, the Vox is a big part of the sound
RRX: I’m going to ask a personal question before we get a little bit more into “Skill.” You posted on Facebook the proudest thing I have seen anyone say about their garden.
RRX: I ask this because, let’s face it, the last year and a half sucked rocks. So, was gardening something you’ve always done because you always liked it or during the pandemic did you and the family say “hey, let’s have a victory garden?”
Mike: Well, my Dad was a really good cook, Italian cook, great food and we always had a garden when I was a kid. We just enjoy growing great tomatoes and making good spaghetti and pasta. Good sauce, fresh jalapenos for our salsa. Yeah so, it’s something that we’ve always done.
RRX: This also goes back to the first Romantics record. Who the hell is Carrie? I will apologize if it happens to be a soft spot but… I’m like wait a minute. Wasn’t there a Tell it to Carrie on the first record and now there is Carrie Got Married?
Mike: Right and I have another one that’s gonna be hooked to that so…
RRX: It’s a trilogy!
Mike: I don’t want to get too much into it but I’ve got another one that seems like it’s going to fit into it.
RRX: I still do want to know who Carrie is…..
Mike: When we first started out Wally and this other guy were in a band called The Mutants were working at a magazine. They would go collect all of the magazines in the press stands and bring them back and then rip the covers off and then and then they get recycled or bought or they’d sell them. They had a lot of girly magazines, right? Not sure which one but a girly magazine had “Letters to Carrie” so it was one of those kinds of things.
RRX: I look forward to the day that the third song is put together and what you do is turn it into the Carrie Suite.
Mike: There you go. Well, yeah looks like it’s gonna fit, I’m hoping it’s gonna fit. I’m not necessarily going to use the title with Carrie but…
RRX: You never know. The other thing that jumped off the vinyl for me was 67′ Riot.
Mike: Ah, yeah.
RRX: We don’t do politics, we don’t do that. But I listened to it and a part of me wanted to ask first how did those riots affect you because that’s a really powerful song and then secondly because I know people who have been in the movement and I recall the riots in Watts and everything else. How do you feel that song pulls forward to 2021?
Mike: It’s reflecting that not much has changed but actually the answer in that song… it tells you right in the song, you’ve got to dream your dreams and come together, got to get together. To me politics is in all art, even if you go back to Rembrandt. When you go back to all the French artists and all of that, they’re drawing a person that’s a working class person that’s on the farm, making their own living. In the street you’ll see it, they show the working class, that’s a political statement right there. Anyway, the song isn’t necessarily good or bad… It’s actually fueling what happened when I was 12 years old. When you had tanks, when you had Jeeps in the street with machine guns on them, when you had helicopters in the air. This is a white middle class neighborhood and right next door is a black neighborhood.
RRX: That’s a really powerful statement.
Mike: It’s about coming together. So, let’s say it this way, from then to now, it’s getting better but not much has changed.
RRX: The last thing I do for an interview, and it’s kind of a standard with me, I ask every artist, every person if you have a statement to make to the world, maybe those last words, the last thing you want people to remember about you or think about for the rest of the world. What would it be?
Mike: Well, it’s probably the same thing that we do naturally with my son, show them the arts, take the time to listen to the arts. I mean listen to what you’re seeing in the arts and music and books, reading and poetry and the stuff around you, nature. I think that the most important thing that can bring us together is taking the time to hear the hum of the world and the music and the artists around you. That’s the thing that keeps the musical cord, keeps the soul cord going in the world, on Earth, on the planet and the universe. Just taking the time to sit and listen to yourself and the things around you. I think that’s what it is and we grow together from that.
RRX: Thus endeth the official interview