Most will certainly know the name John Macaluso, drum virtuoso, who has played with countless bands, including ARK, TNT, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vitalij Kuprij, James LaBrie, MCM, and Starbreaker, to name a few. Well, this amazing talent has just released his first solo project, and the band is called Union Radio, the CD titled Radio Waves Goodbye. It's a stunning release, filled with plenty of prog rock textures, technical metal bombast, as well as pop melodies and jazz experimentation. Macaluso has gatherned an impressive list of guest musicians to help him out on the CD, including James LaBrie, Mike DiMeo, Randy Coven, Vitalij Kurpij, Chris Caffery, and more. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz recently caught up with the superstar drummer to talk about the new release, and what the future holds for this exciting new band.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: Hello John. Congratulations on your new album. What are you up to these days?
John Macaluso: Just getting ready to be a drummer again and go out on tour. I have been so crazy busy working on my solo album for the last year and a half, just writing and producing. It feels great to have it done, and now I am ready to go out and do what I do, play drums. I am currently out on tour with Chris Caffery of Savatage/TSO, touring the U.S.
SoT: You must be busy promoting the CD?
John: Yeah, I am very excited to see the reviews and they are the best reviews of my whole career for this record. I am so happy that people get it. When I did this album, I locked myself in the studio and just shut out everything, it was just me and the musician I was working with at that time. It is easy to lose your head in this situation, not being attached to the world around you and the new music that is out. This is what I had to do though and I am glad now because it seems that people are connecting with the music and that means everything to me... everything!!! So now I am promoting and planning a fall tour for UNION RADIO and a drum clinic tour for August.
SoT: Your solo album is one of my favorites so far this year, and also one of the best discs Lion Music has released. How did the idea to put a solo disc come about?
John: Wow, that's amazing to hear, because I have been following your site, and it's a very popular one, so thank you for those kind words. I thought it was time to put my music out. I had so many ideas and needed to get them out. I was a main writer and arranger for the music of ARK (My Baby). When we finally really split up, I needed that outlet to record music that I co-wrote and get it released. There is no greater fulfillment to me than starting with just a beat or title and in months, it's on record and is a song now. This is why ARK I called my Bombino, because I started it with Tore and Jorn and watched it grow into the proudest music for me in my life until my new album.
SoT: You've played on around 200 CD's so far. How do you think The Radio Waves
Goodbye differs from your past work?
John: The sound and production is all my work and I had full control to do it the way I wanted to do it. Usually when you record an album, you record your drum tracks and wait 4 months until a CD shows up in your mailbox and usually is mixed like shit. This has happened to me on too many occasions from Yngwie to TNT and I was not going to let it happen here. I started to get really picky with production and mixes after this kept happening to me and records like Starbreaker and ARK's Burn the Sun are examples of how I really sound in the studio. Being a studio drummer, you don't always have control, but I really wanted this solo album to sound like the drums are right in the room with you and make the sound heavy but crystal clear. I think I did it here. I love the sound of the whole record.
SoT: What does the album title mean?
John: Union Radio is from a book I bought while writing the music in Southern France for the third ARK album. I found a book in a market that was in English, and I was looking for some new inspiration and wanted to read something I knew nothing about. I found a book on the Spanish Revolution. In it they had the term Union Radio, I thought what a great name for a band; it's modern and ancient at the same time. The Union part I loved and I was always a fan of old radio scratchy noises and victrollas. The Union Radio in the book was the rebel radio station that the rebels would tune into to get the dirt and find out the news underground (How Rock And Roll Is That!!!) So I took the name for my band. The Union works because I used musicians from all over the world for this album and even travelled all over the world to make it. A union of cultures and people, musicians from Brazil, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Corsica, France, Ukraine, Russia, U.S.A., and England. That's my union of freaks. The title of the record The Radio Waves Goodbye is a double meaning and a play on words, but states that the radio is pretty much over as we know it and people can't be handed the shit they want us to hear and say "This is good, listen to it and buy it". No, corporate music blows and we will never have another Led Zeppelin or Frank Zappa unless people are able to choose their music. The internet is a beautiful thing and satellite radio also. Power to the people and musician, that's what the title means.
SoT: Did you write all the lyrics or were the singers allowed to make some contributions?
John: No, actually I wrote them all and in the beginning I was debating on whether to collaborate or write them myself. James LaBrie of Dream Theater opened my eyes when I asked him if he wanted to help with the lyrics for the song he was going to sing and he responded by saying, "John, it's your story, it's your solo album." He hit it right on the head. It wouldn't have felt right having other people write lyrics on the record. I sat for months and wrote while driving the car, on the beach, in bed, on the plane, everywhere, and one day, I was shocked because the lyrics were done. I am very proud of the lyrics on the album. They are equal if not better than the drumming. What do some of the lyrics address? The lyrics address the time I was at while writing them and it was a crazy time but an end was in sight, so they are desperate but soothing as well. They deal with religion, the occult, spirits, happiness, sadness, desperation, emptiness, drugs, peace, and giving and relationships. All rolled into one. They might sound sometimes way out, but they are very realistic when you go deep in to them.
SoT: Being a very respected drummer and having played on hundreds of CD's, it mustn't have been too difficult for you to get some of the genre's finest singers and instrumentalists?
John: Yeah, when I got the record deal, I said I don't care what it costs, I am getting Vitalij, LaBrie, DiMeo, Sfogli, Larry Meyer and my other freaky friends. I know all the players on the record extremely well; we have all been on tour together at one point or another. I called the best I know and had to get them on my record and wrote the parts with each player in mind. It was all planned out for a while. I knew I needed Coven, DiMuti, Adrian Holtz, Za Gray, Don Chaffin and all the other guys and girls, I mean they all know me, we have been on tour together, arrested together, kicked out of bars together, played massive shows together, played shit hole bars around the world for 2 people in the audience, rocked the world together, gone through pain together and so on. You get the picture, these are my real friends on this record and that is why it sounds real and not like a studio project where I paid some dude for his name to come play on my record. I always say, "You know who your friends really are when you have to move and you need help moving", "and when you are recording a record". If they are your friends, they will rise to the occasion and fucking rock for ya!
SoT: How do you feel all your guest friends worked out onthe CD?
John: They ALL kicked major ass on this record and I will use the same exact lineup for the next UNION RADIO album, it's a real union of freaks all right, the best!!!
SoT: Singers like James Labrie and Mike Dimeo work perfectly on the songs they appear... did they come up with their own melodies or was everything written before they came into the picture?
John: I actually wrote all the vocal melodies and lyrics. I wrote these with each singer in mind though. So these songs were written for LaBrie and DiMeo as well as Chaffin and Holtz.
SoT: Where did all the singers and musicians record their parts?
John: All over the world, mainly in D-City Studio, where I record most of my records in New York. Some was done in Adrian Holtz's studio and as far as James LaBrie, I sent him a lyric sheet and a CD of me trying to sing "Soul In You Mind" up to Canada . He went in the studio with my reference track and lyrics and sent me back that amazing performance, I was completely blown away, James is a real pro!
SoT: Did the others also send you files or did you invite them over to your studio?
John: DiMeo, is a old friend for years, he came to D-City Studio and did the vocals right there, again with a lyric sheet and my bad reference CD of me singing. He listened once and said let's do it. Mike is the best and I'm glad he is out kicking ass on tour again.
SoT: What was it like producing your own album?
John: Everyone was such a pro that it was actually fun, but there was a bit of stress in that it was taking too long because, I am such a freak with getting it right, so that was stressful. I knew it was going to be different so there was no pressure to try to get a particular sound and try to get the song to sound like anyone else, it was just do your thing, you are here because you kick ass. Everybody had a blast and had a great attitude and it sounds that way.
SoT: Let's talk about Adrian Holtz a little. He is credited as the singer of Ark , but ever since Jorn Lande left the band, Ark has been inactive. What is scoop on Ark these days?
John: ARK is over and will never, ever be a band again, never. Me and Randy, Jorn and Mats still keep in touch and I will work with all of these guys again, but not ever in ARK. It's a shame, but the situation got too painful for everyone because of one. Adrian Holtz, I met in Boston , while searching for a new ARK singer, he is the coolest guy and an amazing singer. He lives in New York now and we work together on a lot of projects. My solo album is the first you will hear him on. We wanted him for ARK , but the band couldn't go on anymore. He rocks, very dark but hooky voice and that's what I love about him. I wanted the music on my record to be dark and moody but have a pop aspect to it, Adrian was perfect for that, a mixture of David Bowie, Roger Waters and Bono, with a metal way.
SoT: Holtz has a fantastic voice. How did you initially hook up with him?
John: He never really joined ARK. We split just as we were meeting and talking. Then he moved from Boston to New York where I live and we started work on my album. He is one of the best I have ever heard and never runs out of ideas.
SoT: Are you still in touch with Tore Ostby and Randy Coven? What are they doing nowadays?
John: Randy and I talk everyday, in fact, that's his girlfriend at the beginning dialogue of the drum solo "Pretzel" on my record. We record a lot of records together and hand all the time. Tore never.
SoT: Chris Caffery also appears on your CD. Are you a fan of Savatage?
John: I up until recently have only heard "Hall Of The Mountain King" by Savatage. But on the last tour I did with Chris, we played a festival in Belgium with John Oliva's Pain and the guy was outstanding, I was completely blown away by him and couldn't stop watching. I am a fan of his now!!!
SoT: You've also toured with Caffery before. How did you meet him?
John: Chris and I just met last year when we did the Spread Eagle reunion tour. I was on the album Open to the Public and my buddies called me up and we went out to rock on tour, Caffery was Paul DiBartollo's replacement and he kicked ass. We had some crazy times out on tour and promised that we had to keep touring together, so we do. I just got back from a European Tour with Chris and now we are in the U.S. for the month of June with his band, we are touring with my great friend Doro. You can get the tour dates from my website johnmacaluso.com come see the shows, the band rocks!
Sot: Are you still in touch with Yngwie Malmsteen or have all ties broken since the Jorn Lande incident in 2001?
John: No, the management called me back after the incident, but I couldn't go back. As much as I loved playing for Yngwie, too much shit went on to go back at that time.
SoT: It would be cool to see you guys working again.
John: We did play sick together! We locked in and understood each other's playing... you never know.
SoT: You've played on Vitalij Kuprij's album and he has played on yours. The way Lion Music musicians support each other reminds me of the way things were in Magna Carta. How did you get Kuprij to do all those moody, almost Floydian soundscapes?
John: Vitalij is one of the best musicians in the world and it is always amazing to watch him play. When we did "T-34" in the studio, it was so cool because we just got together the night before it was recorded and drank some beers and I had the drum tracks already recorded. I wrote a chart of the rhythms of "T-34", note for note, then we just hung out and listened to the drums and I would say, "Vitalij this is about Russia in a desperate time and has to be very dark here and this vibe here and this vibe here". Vitalij is so brilliant that he just wrote the notes to the rhythms as we hung out. At the end of the night we had "T-34", which is the Russian World War 2 Tank. In the morning we recorded it and it came out incredible. I have it all on video, awesome to see him play this stuff, one day I will make the making of the record DVD and you will see him. I recorded Vitalij's last two studio albums, Revenge and Glacial Inferno. We are friends for life and will play together forever. As for the moody key stuff on the album, that is all DiMuti, a friend of mine from Corsica. He is responsible for all the moody Floyd like key stuff. Vitalij mainly did the solos on the songs. My favorite bands are The Who and Pink Floyd, and I knew DiMuti had that Floyd vibe with modern sides, so we worked together like crazy and even made our own sample sounds to use for key sounds. They are not your standard key sounds. We used broken glass, chanting, foot stomping, backward sounds, animals, whatever, anything was possible. He is the one I worked closest with in the production of this record. DiMuti was the right hand man one the record. Totally different stuff.
SoT: Was this solo album a one-off kind of thing or will you be doing another one in the future?
John: I am thinking of ideas and song titles already to do my next solo album. I want to tour for this album first, for a while, and do drum clinics with the music playing and I play along to it. I am doing solo shows and full band shows.
SoT: What drummers do you like best nowadays?
John: My favorite is still Terry Bozzio. I also love Phil Collins and can't wait to see him on tour again with Genesis this year. I dig Danny Carey from Tool for the guys of today and the Meshuggah drummer is cool. Danny Carey has a special thing, and so does the band Tool, the mess with your head on and off the album, with a thing called patience. They play with your mind by repeating and repeating a part until it is almost too mush and then they let you down, "Brilliant". He and the band have a thing, which is not easy to have.
SoT: What prog bands and albums have you enjoyed recently?
John: I still listen to my classics, Genesis, Floyd, Yes, Zappa. I dig some bands like Evergrey, Meshuggah, Trisphere, and Tool. I have been kind of in a shell making my record now I can get some new inspiration again but these are some bands I really dig today. Scandinavia I lived in for years and they always have a great level of talent and some very deep interesting bands.
SoT: What are your plans for the near future now?
John: Take UNION RADIO on tour.
SoT: Considering the huge lineup on your CD, would it be hard to take these songs on stage?
John: I am actually, with Adrian Holtz on vocals, Marco Sfogli on guitar, Za Gray on bass, Me on drums, DiMuti on keys and guitar and Vitalij Kuprij on piano and synth. It's going to be sick!!! I am also finished with my drum book "Repercussions" ready to be released.
(Click here to read our reviews of Radio Waves Goodbye)