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Interview with King Kobra
20 December 2013
KING KOBRA: An interview with DAVID MICHAEL-PHILIPS
Interview by Brent Rusche
Although eluding “household name” status, David Michael-Philips (real name: David Henzerling) has been successful maintaining an active career in arguably one of the most difficult and fickle professions around...music. After their genesis dating back to the mid-80’s, it is clear that David still exudes considerable passion for all things King Kobra, a band formed by drummer, Carmine Appice more than 25 years ago. As guitarist and founding member, 2011 sparked a renaissance for the band with a self-titled album released on Frontiers Records. The overwhelmingly positive response from that recording materialized in a follow up in as many years, simply entitled 'II' (again, released on Frontiers Records). What’s more, he was more than happy to talk about his ‘Big Cock’ project and what might be coming in the future for that band. All things considered, however, David hopes that opportunities begin to surface for King Kobra to perform live so they may bring their no-frills, 70's bluesy style of Hard Rock to the masses. What follows is a detailed account of our conversation:
Brent Rusche (BR): What was the impetus behind King Kobra's renaissance?
David Michael-Philips (MM-P): Well, we hadn't played in a long time but have always been keeping in contact with Carmine [Appice - Drums] all through the years. Like me, everyone pursued other projects just like Carmine. However, we always stayed in touch and remained friends. About 10 years ago he [Carmine] wanted to do another King Kobra record which I didn't take part in called 'Hollywood Trash.' At the time, I told him I would be interested if we could get the whole band back together because for me, that is the only time that reunions are interesting…unless, of course, one or two have passed on or things like that. However, Marcie (previously known as Mark) Free didn't want to do it and so I said, "Well, I think I'm just going to bow out of this one." Carmine went ahead and did it anyway with a few guys. Fast-forward years later and it [the idea of a reunion] comes up again and of course, Marcie was not interested but all the rest of the guys were. I think it was Carmine who mentioned Paul [Shortino - Vocals] and my ears perked up and said, "Wow, that's fantastic...that is exactly what the band needs!" We all got together and there was a cool magic there and we just picked up where we left off.
BR: What were your expectations for this (and yes, pun intended) Second Time Around for the band and could you imagine that it would have materialized into releasing not just one, but now two albums?
DM-P: We received a really positive response from the first one [Self-Titled - Frontiers Records] which was somewhat surprising because we were never of the status of some other bands from that era such as Ratt, Quiet Riot or Winger. Over the course of the years that I've been playing music, I've always gotten a lot of positive feedback [about King Kobra] from fans. When that album came out in 2011, the response was really positive and I think that Frontiers thought so as well. So, they asked us to do a second album…and we did!
BR: 'II' is a very organic sounding record. It blasts the listener with straight ahead blues-soaked rock & roll that that is very reminiscent of 70's-era bands. What inspired the band to forgo all the studio fanfare and keep it raw and simple?
DM-P: Well, that wasn't hard. It was a very conscious decision to not sound contrived. Well, Carmine played in various bands back in the 70's and the rest of us grew up in that decade, listening to all of those great rock bands of that era. If you rewind to the 1980's when King Kobra was making records, our influences were still those bands from the 70's but were also channeling that inspiration to write time-appropriate material. Now, we just draw from our roots…and our roots for myself, Mick [Sweda - Guitar], Johnny [Rod - Bass] and especially for Paul [Shortino - Vocals are definitely based in 70's hard rock. Paul is a blues and soul singer deep down to the core. So, it was a conscious decision to say, "Hey, let's get in touch with our roots, let's not put any rules on it and see what comes of it." And that is definitely what happened with 'II.'
BR: How long did it take the band to write and record 'II?'
DM-P: This album, in particular, doesn't draw from a lot of scraps that all of us had laying around. We, again, consciously said, "Hey, let's draw from our roots." So, we wrote material that was all brand new. We didn't have the, "Well, this song was lying around back in the 80's so let’s rework this one..." That wasn't the case at all. We came up with new stuff...so the new stuff is the old stuff [laughs]. It probably took about 3-4 months from start to finish. We let the project grow and morph as necessary. There were a few songs where we would write the lyrics, listen back and they would sound like crap. We would then re-write the whole thing. So, we did it until we thought that each song was in a good state.
BR: With regards to the whole writing and recording process, certainly for this latest record, how does that compare with the other albums in the KK discography? Was this one relatively easy or was it more difficult?
DM-P: For the last two albums, I would say ‘II’ was the easiest and best way to make a record. The music came from the band and now, we're all mature enough to know what we are capable of. Back in the old days when we were much, much younger, it was helpful to have an outside influence like a Producer to get everyone’s minds and playing on the same page. Go back to those earlier KK records and they were a bit more done by committee with a lot of hands "stirring the pot." There is nothing wrong with that, but it happens that the way that we did these last two, all the decisions were made collectively by the band. There was certainly a lot of arguing and fighting amongst us but in the end [laughs], but we put our negativity aside, got the job done and I think the album[s] are better for it.
BR: How does King Kobra function for its band members? Is it a priority that receives a lot of attention or does it simply exist as a labor of love that you do for personal enjoyment?
DM-P: At this stage, you have to do it because you love music. Even Carmine, who has a million projects happening at once and is doing a million different things...that's just what he does (and has always done). There is not a terrible amount of money to be made doing projects like KK these days…enough to complete the project, but we all do it because we just love to play music. Back to what I said before, I think that is the best way to do it. When you do something that you love and you make music that you like, there is no better reward than for it to go out into the world and have people listen to and say, "Yeah, I like that too!." It could be that soundtrack to someone's summer vacation.
BR: What stands to be a particular highlight for you during your tenure in King Kobra?
DM-P: Geez, I don't know...I thought my tenure in KK ended a long time ago but here we are in 2013 with two records in the last 2+ years. So, I'm pleased as punch, happy as a pig in S-H-I-T and ready to "rock & roll!"
BR: During your time in King Kobra, you have had the opportunity to work with three different vocalists. How does working with Paul Shortino differ from your experience with Marcie Free and Johnny Edwards?
DM-P: Well, they are all very different singers. However, I think that working with Paul...again, it really helps me get in touch with my classic, soul roots...sings with a soulful power and gut feeling that I don't hear out of many singers. Contrasted with a singer like Marcie Free who definitely has a much more precise delivery and higher vocal range, Paul has a really thick, guttural voice that I think really fits the music well.
BR: I would agree. Paul has that "gravel" in his vocal chords that the late, great Steve Lee [Vocals - Gotthard] also possessed. It's a very unique timbre. Most vocalists have the ability to sing really clean and others have that unique ability to get "down and dirty." That is clearly a talent all unto its own.
DM-P: Yeah, I think it's a bit of a lost art, really. I hear younger singers today who are really good but I don't know that they were really raised on blues-based music. As a result, you can't have that innate quality unless you grew up with those influences.
BR: What KK record stands to be your personal favorite and why?
DM-P: I would say 'II' and 'Ready To Strike' ...I can't pick just one. I like 'II' because this is (I think) the record the band would have always made if left to its own devices. However, I cannot deny the fact that 'Ready To Strike' was a "perfect storm" of simultaneous creative energy. I hope that is not a "cop-out."
BR: What equipment did you use to record your parts on 'II?'
DM-P: I used the same thing that I have used my entire career. A [Gibson] Les Paul and a 1979, 50 Watt Marshall head and 4x12 cabinet. No [effects] pedals...nothing except a tuner.
BR: Can't go without that [laughs].
DM-P: It's a little bit harder to work the notes out, but when you have to work the notes out without the benefit of all these distortion and overdrive pedals, I think you get a little bit more of the flavor from the person's playing. I can't speak for Mick as well, but I know he also has a relatively basic setup. Although he has a very different style [of playing] than I, you can still hear the fingers grinding into the strings which, for me, are what I like to hear.
BR: Was all the recording done at Paul's studio in Las Vegas?
DM-P: Mainly, just the basic tracks...bass, drums and scratch guitar. Carmine was really adamant about recording his drums to [analog] tape. Luckily, we knew a guy who owned a studio with an analog multi-track recorder, so we ended up recording bass and drums on tape. We performed a lot of the vocal and guitar overdubs in my studio here in Arizona.
BR: As a follow up, did you record as an entire band live or were the tracks constructed one instrument at-a-time?
DM-P: Well, what we've done for almost every single KK album is to sit in a room, start the ProTools [Digital Audio Workstation] and someone would play bass while I played guitar and Carmine would be humming along...or there would be a drum machine or other sort of synthetic drums to assist us in carving out the arrangement. Carmine would then take those basic tracks, go into the studio and record his drums. We would then come back and overdub to build the entire song...truly, no different than it was back in the 80's. We did the same thing, but [back then] it was much more difficult to get all of the studio time and setup our equipment in studios we didn't own. Now at least, we own all of our own [recording] equipment [making the process much easier].
BR: Although not certain, I don't think you toured in support of the 'S/T.' Will you be supporting KKII with any live performances?
DM-P: Well, we would really like to. This is a question that I've been answering for all the interviews concerning these last two records. I've talked with Carmine about it we both say, "What should we say to this question?" His response with which I agree is, "If we receive offers that enable us to play shows, we will." We had an offer to come over to the UK and perform at a few festivals, but the amount wouldn't have even covered our airline fare. So, the only thing I can say is, if there is enough money offered without going into the "poor house," then we would certainly love to do it. These days, it is definitely an issue of economics. Certainly, it is different than it was in the 80's when record deals generally included generous tour support. Even bands that didn't rank in the "top tier" were still subsidized with tour support from their record labels. However, those funds no longer exist for anyone.
BR: Is King Kobra under contract with Frontiers to deliver any future material or is the band completely free to dictate its own future?
DM-P: I'm pretty sure they possess a "first right of refusal" clause for future KK albums. If we want to do another album and/or they want us to do a follow up effort, I don't see why we wouldn't continue with Frontiers as they've been fantastic and cannot say anything but good about the label. I guess we will just have to wait and see. We didn't expect that we would have made a second album and who knows, we may be doing a third with them.
BR: I certainly hope so. I've enjoyed both records on Frontiers and 'Ready To Strike' and 'Thrill Of A Lifetime' are personal favorites of mine. I couldn't have been more pleased than to learn of King Kobra's return in 2011 with the self-titled album and now with King Kobra continuing their legacy. Is there any story and/or insight as to the cover artwork of 'II?'
DM-P: Well, for the last record, we fretted about it for a long time. We didn't want to compete with what all of the other 80's Hard Rock bands were doing and attempted to "underthink" everyone else by reducing it all to the KK logo on a black background. Looking back, it was a bit too simplistic yet apropos for the time. The artwork for 'II' was done by an artist named Rory based in Canada. He submitted to us a proof, we all liked and said, "That's fine, it's done" [laughs]. It has a cool vibe to it. It doesn't need to show any naked girls or anything like that...which I have nothing against naked girls...but I think the cover artwork is appropriate.
BR: Speaking of your career, what is status of Big Cock? Is there a chance that new material will surface on a future album?
DM-P: I've been talking to Robert [Mason - Vocals] about that a lot, actually. He has been busy with Warrant but did in fact come to me and say, "We've got to do some more Big Cock stuff." I said, "Of course! Let me just complete my Steelshine project as well as the KK 'II' album and then I'll start thinking about it." We've been toying around with doing some interesting cover material that I think would fit the band's name...but not at liberty to discuss at this moment. It is definitely being considered and some material might very well surface in the future.
BR: I know an EPK [Electronic Press Kit] video exists for the release of 'II,' is there a chosen single for the record and was a video ever produced in support of it?
DM-P: Yes we did and it the track is called ‘Have A Good Time.’ It has been on YouTube for about 1.5 weeks now and has been getting a good response. Actually, we shot it live in Las Vegas, NV last September. It was the first time we all got together as a group playing live in quite a while. We did a short set at a club in Las Vegas, invited all of our friends to come down and shot the video. It is very stripped-down, but I think it is very genuine and it has received a genuinely positive response.
BR: What can fans of KK look anticipate in the future?
DM-P: If I can ask anything from the public at large, "If you like the record, let people know." Especially in the UK and the European continent, please let your promoters know and have them contact us so we can get our arses over there and perform for you!
BR: Has Frontiers done a good job with regards to distribution of 'II' in the USA?
DM-P: Yes, they've done a good job with worldwide distribution in general. Living in the USA yourself, you probably know that it is a bit of a different animal here. There are pockets in the USA where Hard Rock and Heavy Metal are alive and well, but those genres are not [or no longer considered] to be part of the mainstream. Unfortunately, the USA is much different than it used to be. For the die-hard fans, however, it remains a small group and they are spread out...making it that much harder [laughs].
BR: Yes, I am certainly well aware of the trials and tribulations...or the lack thereof for any kind of scene that supports this genre of music over here. It seems to have a much larger following in Europe and of all places, South America.
DM-P: It's funny, but someone asked me the other day about the touring. The one thing concerning touring has to do with our maturity and age. When you are 19-20, you don't have any qualms about getting in a van with four other guys, eating peanut butter sandwiches and playing for $50 a night so you can put gas in your car and drive to the next gig. Unfortunately, it becomes a bit more difficult when you get over 30 years old.
BR: The close quarters and uncomfortable living situation when on tour can definitely grate on the conscience a bit.
DM-P: ...and I'm not sure people would want to hear me snore all night!
BR: Although it definitely smells funny, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal are not dead in the USA as evidence by festivals like Rocklahoma and M3. Has KK been asked, or has there been any interest in KK performing at any of these events?
DM-P: For the M3 festival, I can't speak of because I do not know. I know, however, Carmine performed there with his Drum Lords project. Rocklahoma did in fact invite KK, but the money was simply not enough. Personally, I played Rocklahoma for two years (or two years ago?) with Big Cock and another year with a group called Icon. Again, we did it mostly for fun and not for any financial gain.
BR: No matter how you slice it, these gigs do not seem to be very lucrative. Like you said in the beginning of this interview, you have to do this because you love it...
DM-P: The other thing to consider when you are out on the road and travelling, you have a certain amount that it costs to stay out on the road, so bands will go out for a month and will be able to perform 3, 4, 5, 6 nights a week and that helps with the economics of the tour but generally, there are not enough [consecutive] dates lined up [to make it economically feasible]. Therefore, you will witness a majority of the bands do "fly-ins" or weekend warrior performances...and then a lot of that tour budget [if there is one] is eaten up with just getting to and from the gig.
BR: As we wrap up, do you have any advice to offer any aspiring bands/musicians that want to attempt entering the music industry?
DM-P: I live in Arizona, and up until this very day I see a lot of younger people who have a lot of talent and aspire to joining the music industry in hopes of a successful career. I think it is fantastic and have witnessed a number of good bands myself like Rival Son, The Darkness. I like the bands that got their start in the 90's that are still around like Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. A lot of bands are still out there "doing it" and I think that the up-and-coming bands and those who continue to do it are doing it because they love music. It is a different world now and people are no longer out there trying to get the record deal and make a million dollars. There is resurgence in [rock] music because they love playing music which I think is a very, very good thing.
BR: I can agree 100% with that statement. What are we going to do without music and specifically without rock music?! [laughs]
DM-P: There is certainly nothing like the power of a rock show. I think if a lot of younger people get exposed to something like that, they might just start turning on and tuning in to it again, especially here in the USA...so we'll have to wait and see.
BR: Exactly. As the tide begins to shift and people start to migrate from whatever you want to call it that seems to be selling millions of records here in The States and that you see on television these days...and hopefully with the channels like VH1 Classic and Eddie Trunk hosting 'That Metal Show' and his weekly radio show on Sirius/XM 'Hair Nation' that this genre of music will gain traction and experience a true renaissance.
DM-P: Well, it's going to have to come from the younger generation. I don't know that it is going to come from us, but it will definitely need to come from the younger generation. I have a 12 year old daughter and she listens to Britney Spears, Keisha and all that pop stuff...but then my 17 year old son listens to Rammstein all day long...so that makes me proud [laughs].
BR: I wish you and the rest of the band all the best and hope to see you perform. I also that someone comes along and someone like Fireworks Magazine would come along and place King Kobra on the next bill for next Firefest [Nottingham, UK]. I just hope you guys are invited to perform and it works out in your favor financially for you to get out there and play.
DM-P: Well, the thing about KK is that it is a bit different than a lot of other groups...and was very clear when we got together to film the video…we have a really, really awesome band. I'm really proud to play alongside such a stellar lineup of musicians. It is an exceptional band and everyone can hold their own. When we get together, we can certainly pull some stuff out of our back pocket. Yes, it would be great to perform at any of those events you’ve mentioned.