Hi Mike! I’m so psyched ‘n’ enthused to be interviewing you regarding your electronic rock project Dangerous Muse. It’s been a super-busy time for you since the release of Red this past November, the 1st of 3 EPs which will be compiled into your debut album. What’s the vibe like for you now?
It’s great to see how people are reacting to the new songs – sharing them with their friends and even finding new friends by connecting with each other over Dangerous Muse. In the last week of November a record amount of people visited us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dangerousmuse) to download the new EP – over 200,000 people! For this release, we are experimenting with a new music business model. The music is available for free to all. But friends and fans can support Dangerous Muse by purchasing “Red Physical” which is a numbered, limited edition package (disc, poster, and print) or by donating in any amount at http://www.dangerousmuse.com/.
We also recently relaunched this site with a brand new design and many new features: “about” (updated biography), “musetube” (page dedicated to dangerous muse fan videos), “Q+A” (anyone can ask anything to Dangerous Muse!), “donate” (way to contribute whatever you wish to support), “muse of the month” (a new fan or friend that we highlight each month who has contributed to Dangerous Muse in the form of donation or contest/social media participation) – and the standard twitter/facebook/youtube/mailing list/contact links.
Cool! Can you divulge some details about Red, like the tracklisting, who produced it, what the tunes are like, and if the other EPs will contrast each other or be in a similar vein as Red?
I would say that each of the three EPs has its own musical style. The first, Red, is electronic dance. The second will be more rock-leaning and the third is a collection of ballads. The three EPs will be bundled together with some bonus songs to form the full-length album—official titles TBA.
Track listing of Red:
1. “Homewrecker”, Produced by Bloodshy & Avant
2. “I Can’t Help It”, Produced by Blazing Lazer
3. “Fame Kills”, Produced by Dangerous Muse
4. “Brother”, Produced by David Sisko
5. “Mr. StrangeLove”, Produced by David Sisko
I’m really into your tunes and how they alternately seduce and rock out, depending on the song, or even part of the song. You move from colder, electronic rock sonics to melodic electro-pop to down-tempo synth-pop seamlessly, recalling the greats like Depeche Mode, a more subdued Trent Reznor, The Faint, and early Apoptygma Berzerk. Would you consider any of those artists influential to you sound? If not, who did you look up to when starting Dangerous Muse?
I’m honored to hear all of those comparisons. Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins, Sisters of Mercy… these artists were all influential to the beginning of Dangerous Muse and resonate with me still—now maybe even more than ever. I met Dave Gahan a couple years ago at the New York premiere of Sweeney Todd. He told me to “enjoy this time” and that “this is the best part.”
Speaking of enthralling vocalists, I love how you vary your vocal delivery depending on the intent of the song, sometimes singing in a smoky, tantalizing tone (“I Want It All”), at other times exclaiming against the relentless dance beats (“Take Control”), and on occasion imbuing a longing melancholy to tracks like the especially lovely “Mr. StrangeLove”. Do you have a preference for singing your lower-key numbers over your more up-tempo tunes, or vice versa?
Thanks. I take live performance into consideration as I work on new songs and new arrangements for already written pieces. I think the right mix of uptempo and mid-to-downtempo songs is important for the most compelling show experience. I wouldn’t say that I prefer one kind over the other. There are parts of each that I like for different reasons. I like singing slower songs because there always seems to be more room for my emotion and intention to be voiced/heard. But faster ones allow me to lose myself – to blur the lines in my head between myself, my band, and the audience in the flashing lights and video projections.
You also have something to say lyrics-wise, as opposed to a lot of the more superficial synth-pop that’s out there. While the subject matter of relationships might be familiar, you delve heavily into vivid metaphoric imagery on “Fame Kills” (spaceships and traveling through space and time to be with the one you love) and are perfectly blunt, yet complex on “I Want It All” (“My hunger is insatiable / I’ve never heard the word no before / without “problem” after”). I particularly dig “Take Control”, but I was wondering if it’s about being in control in a relationship or if you’re referring to other battles in life.
I’m glad to hear you are connecting with the songs. Sometimes I feel as if the best way we are able to communicate our emotion and experience with each other is through song. That’s what I mean by “Reaching out / The only way we know how” in “Fame Kills.” I would say that “Take Control” is a rally song. It’s about staying strong and dedicated to fighting for your convictions.
It shouldn’t be an issue, but there was a huge blogosphere commotion when Frank Ocean’s album came out because of certain love songs where he’s addressing another man. The lyrics for your gorgeous song “Mr. StrangeLove” could potentially make waves too (“It must be you / Mr. StrangeLove… / What are we gonna do? / What are we gonna put each other through?”). On this song are you writing from your own perspective or as the narrator of a story?
“Mr. StrangeLove” ties in with “I Can’t Help It” a bit because it centers on an internal struggle – Me versus the part of myself that falls in torturous love. I am singing to that essence – that idea that manifests itself in the form of a person/relationship with “a different face” and “a promise of a different way.” Some people told me I should consider dropping the “mister” or changing it. But their suggestions only confirmed how important it was for me to keep it. It’s my responsibility as a songwriter and artist to remain true to my emotions – especially when they don’t rub everyone the right way.
On the starry-eyed rave-up “I Can’t Help It” an old-school hip-hop refrain and choppy rhythm play at the start, leading to a smoother, soulful chorus. Is that beginning segment a ‘found sound’ or did you bring someone else into the studio for that part?
That is my voice with some effects on it.
Wow, you’re very versatile! You did, however, collaborate with Esthero in some aspect on your future releases. How did you hook up with her and did she contribute to your EPs?
I was introduced to Esthero through the legendary Craig Kostich and Orlando Puerta. Esthero produced a song called “Too Much to Ask,” which will appear on the third EP.
Is piano the first instrument you learned to play and is that what you compose all your songs on, or do you use other instruments like guitar or keyboards?
Yes, I started playing piano at around seven years old. There are some touches of piano coming in the third EP release – actually, the Esthero tune! But I would say that most of the music was written with synths and guitar. My writing process varies. “I Can’t Help It,” for instance, just came to me as one complete lyric with melody one afternoon. I started typing as if I was writing a pitiful email that you never actually send. Then as I read it back to myself it sounded like the beginning of a song. Over the course of the next ten minutes the whole song spilled out. Then I worked with musicians and producers to get the music and production right. On the other hand, sometimes songs are born from beats sent to me by producer friends.
You’ve released a lot of videos over the years, including the dancy “I Want It All” and the dreamy “Mr. StrangeLove”. Are you working on any new videos to tie into the release of your EPs and debut album?
Yes! We are working on a short film at the moment. More on this soon…
Can’t wait to find out more about that! You’ve also performed live numerous times. Is there a particular show that stands out in your mind above all others? Do you have any upcoming gigs scheduled?
For each show, I try to add a new feature that will intensify the live experience. In our last performance, Ray Shuy, a new guitarist I have been collaborating with, joined us at the Highline Ballroom for the official release party of Red. A friend and another recent collaborator, Sandflower, joined me to sing an extended version of “Mr. StrangeLove.” I played the piano and we sang as a duet. Mojo, our video tech visionary wowed with custom designed video sequences. For information on upcoming shows, join our mailing list. Go to http://www.dangerousmuse.com/ and follow us on https://www.facebook.com/dangerousmuse and
You performed twice for Fashion’s Night Out at Bloomingdales in SOHO back in September. What was that experience like?
We didn’t use all of the lights and sound that we would typically have at one of our live shows. We agreed to do a stripped set – digital piano, bass and drums – to highlight the fact that we perform live as a band. Each performance comes with a new challenge. In this case, the challenge was to convert a retail space into a performance space. Our friends at Calvin Klein Collection dressed the band for this special event. Jack Hruska, Julie Dahlen and the Bloomingdale’s staff were a pleasure to work with. It’s no wonder the company does so well.
You’ve been featured in H&M’s Fashion Against AIDS campaign and designed a t-shirt alongside such musical luminaries as Cyndi Lauper, Katy Perry, Moby, and Yoko Ono. What was it like to design the t-shirt and is it still available to purchase?
We wanted to create a piece of art for the shirt that would be both aesthetically pleasing and revealing. I like to subvert stereotypical characters and archetypal symbols in my work. In this case, used condoms were arranged in the shape of a heart. The shirts are sold out but every once in a while one pops up on Ebay.
Speaking of fashion, I love how you casually name-drop Balenciaga in your song “In This Town”. Who are your most fave fashion designers? My main faves are Alexander McQueen (RIP), Dolce & Gabbana, Thierry Mugler, John Galliano, and Lolita Lempicka for their fantasy and beauty elements.
Gaultier, Ghesquière, Riccardo Tisci, and Yohji Yamamoto can do no wrong. I have collaborated on original pieces for limited edition sale and/or live performances with H&M, as mentioned above, and Brian Lichtenberg, Alex + Chloe, Zaldy, and Asher Levine. Calvin Klein Collection, Dior Homme, Levi’s, Converse, Zana Bayne, Alexandre Herchcovitch, and Dr. Martens have shown great support by dressing us for performances and event appearances.
How did your involvement in the film House Of Boys, directed by Jean-Claude Schlim, come about? I’ve seen the film and your sexy, electrifying concert performances are definite highlights in my book, as well as the tender and tragic storyline of a developing relationship taking place during the 1980s club scene and devastating AIDS epidemic.
I got a call one night from a friend in Paris who said he was cast in the film – Layke Anderson. He told me that the script called for a live band sequence and that director Jean-Claude Schlim was very interested in Dangerous Muse. I read the powerful script, said yes, and about three weeks later we were shooting in Germany.
From what I can glean online, there’s a House Of Boys soundtrack which features your red-hot rendition of Amanda Ghost’s stone-cold kiss-off “Girls Like You”, your dangerously sexy cover of Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf”, and your own songs, the breakout hit “The Rejection” and the, ummm, again, dangerously sexy “Give Me Danger”. Do any other songs of yours appear on the soundtrack?
I think it’s just those four Dangerous Muse recordings. Other contributors to the soundtrack include Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat), Spandau Ballet, and Roy Orbison. The New York Times gave the music a great review, saying that there are “more than a dozen excellent songs” and that “the soundtrack rocks.” Check out this video to see some behind the scenes in Germany, followed by clips of each live performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNz3aEGs1tY
What was your experience like on the set of House Of Boys? Did you get to hang out with Layke and meet legend Udo Kier?
Udo is certainly a legend. I had a chance to spend some time with him – mostly cast dinners at a local Italian place. The night after we shot the concert sequence he sat me down and told me his visions for our future stage performances. I’m still working on integrating some of them! He, Layke, Steven Webb, and I all became fast friends. There was absolute magic in and around that set. It made me want to do more films.
Do more films in what way? Do you mean as an actor or performing musically in films, or maybe both?
The energy on set was something I had never felt – maybe even more intense than being on stage in front of 100,000 people. It literally feels like magic is being made. They were shooting on real film. I think that might have something to do with the magic – because every second of film has a cost and it feels like money is burning while you’re rolling so it had better be damn good. I want to feel that again, that’s what I mean.
You’re a New York City boy and I was wondering what your favorites are for clubs, restaurants, and/or shops.
I host a monthly party with Mike Madrigal at 218 Bowery – a kind of incubation space we developed where young musicians and New Yorkers who want to see emerging talent can come together. The best sushi in the city is at Sasabune on the Upper East Side. For inexpensive but really good Nepalese, go to Cafe Himalaya on 1st and 1st.
Sorry for this totally superficial question, but I’ve always had a fascination with Morrissey’s coiffure, and yours has gotten up there in height. I was wondering how you keep it styled so high.
It just grows that way—like it’s a plant toward the light. I swear it has its own consciousness.
Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) where we can find out more about Dangerous Muse?
Visit http://www.dangerousmuse.com/ for free downloads, live videos, and more!