Mike McCready Talks Flight to Mars Tour, Raising Awareness for Crohn's Disease, New Pearl Jam and More
Mon, 14 May 2012 11:57:42
It's easy to feel the fire in Mike McCready's guitar playing.
The iconic Pearl Jam guitarist possesses an inimitable flare that courses through everything he does. With Flight to Mars, his tribute to UFO, he practically sets his fretboard ablaze channeling Michael Schenker while imparting his own sense of soul on the English group's classic tunes.
Right now, McCready is in the midst of seven-date 10th anniversary tour with Flight to Mars [Tour Dates]. Proceeds from the jaunt benefit Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America's Camp Oasis for kids afflicted with the disease and Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness. Both are non-profit organizations which the guitarist has helped support for almost ten years.
There's really nothing better than rock music played for an incredible cause, especially when it's done by someone as passionate as McCready...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Mike McCready sits down to discuss the Flight to Mars tour, fighting to find a cure for Crohn's and Colitis, discovering UFO and heavy music, and what's up next for Pearl Jam.
What was the initial impetus behind Flight to Mars?
I was trying to figure out a fun way to raise more money for kids who have Crohn's Disease or Colitis. For me, fun entails getting together and playing with friends of mine in a cover band. That's came to mind. UFO is a band no one had really done which I knew about. Michael Schenker and that band were very important to me growing up as a guitar player. When we were kids, Stone Gossard and I were so into them we used to trade pictures of Michael Schenker [Laughs].
You're using music for a very positive goal. That's one of the best aspects of this.
Right! If we can do something and be proactive and solution-oriented, that's what life is about. Instead of sitting around, you've got to get out there. I have a lot of energy, and I want to devote that to positive efforts. It helps me to come out and talk about Crohn's and Colitis, especially when I meet other people who have it.
When did you first discover UFO?
That's a good question. I don't exactly remember. I had the record in my house in 1979. I don't remember how it got there though [Laughs]. I might've gotten it as a present or from a friend, but I remember having the Strangers in the Night live record after hearing it at a buddy's house. As a young guitar player, they were one of the bands that made me go, "Wow, what's this all about?" They had really great songs. I loved Phil Mogg's voice, and I loved Michael Schenker's guitar playing. I loved how the songs were structured. It was very exciting to hear that. Strangers in the Night is what we mostly cover.
Is it important for you to infuse your style into the covers? These definitely have your flare.
It's mostly because I don't know how to play like Michael Schenker [Laughs]. He's so good it's hard for me to play him note for note. He's the kind of guitar player who can hit every single note. He probably practiced a whole bunch. I'm not a guy who's practiced a whole bunch. I've just played in bands since I was eleven-years-old. That was my upbringing. I practiced a bit but never my scales. My flare, as you say—which I appreciate—is me not knowing how to play as well as Michael Schenker [Laughs].
There's a blues element to your renditions of the UFO songs.
That's how I play. The feel aspect of it is important to me. Michael Schenker had a feel aspect, but he was a German guitar player and he came from a different thought process—which is probably more of a classical background. Within that, he had a certain feeling. I can feel it when he's playing. I didn't come from that background though. I came from metal and blues and a mixture of those two things.
When you get back together with the Flight to Mars guys is the chemistry automatic?
It kind of is automatic. We don't play together for a whole year and we're back on it. We're having a fun time. It's a bunch of guys playing covers. We all get into it. We want to make it as good as possible. We get very serious about the parts. We'll redo it over and over again. We want it to be a good show. It's something we need to rehearse. We can jump back into it, but there are a lot more parts to those songs.
Has Michael Schenker heard Flight to Mars?
I don't know if he has, but I was on That Metal Show with him a while back, and he knows of our band. It was basically a show about him, and we talked about how great he is and how I was influenced by him. He's aware of us, but I don't know if he's heard us.
You get to pay homage to him while benefitting a cause you believe in. There are numerous layers to Flight to Mars.
There is. It's funny because I haven't sat down and thought about it that way, but it's true. We're serious about it, but we want to make it a fun atmosphere for people to come out to the concert and know they're going to get a good rock show with a lot of great leads. Some people still want to see that. We hope they'll come out to the show and know they're doing a good thing at the same time.
When did you first see UFO live?
I saw them on the Mechanix tour at The Arena, which was a twelve- or fifteen-hundred seater that doesn't do shows anymore. I also saw Van Halen there back then. It was post-Michael Schenker. I liked Paul Chapman and their songs. That was the first and only time I'd seen them. I keep missing them! They play when I'm out of town or on tour. I'd go see them in a second, but my timing has been way off [Laughs].
How long have you been involved with the CCFA [Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America]?
For about ten years, I spoke out at my first luncheon, and we had a concert the next week. I recently spoke at another luncheon about my ten years. We helped found Camp Oasis up here in Seattle, but Camp Oasis is a brand name that has been around the United States since before us. It's part of a Paul Newman camp system. The first time I saw it was down in Los Angeles. We were sending our kids down there from the Northwest. We decided to start our own camp up here about four years ago. It's neat that kids up here can have a place to go. We want to make a safe and fun environment for them to go. It's a terrible disease, but we should also have conversations about it and laugh about it. We should listen to music and get the kids together to talk about what they do for their solutions to live. We've got to stay as positive as we can because it can be very isolating and self-loathing. If we get it out there, it becomes part of the world, and it's another thing we talk about. It makes it easier. Shedding light on it will help find a cure and solutions. Awareness is simply talking about it. We need to get it out there so people affected by it know they're not alone.
It must be extremely rough for kids who have the disease.
The psychological aspect of everything that happens to you growing up with Crohn's or Colitis is overwhelming. Having to go to the bathroom 20 times when you're in a classroom in junior high with kids snickering behind your back or having to convince a teacher you need to go because you can't do anything else has to be psychologically hard and or damaging to a kid. If it's not dealt with in a way that's proactive and positive, it's very difficult. Finding solutions on how you deal with things day-to-day is so important. That's what we have immediate access to.
The disease seems like it often perplexes professionals as well.
It can be misdiagnosed. It can change as you grow older. More and more gastroenterologists have a better idea of how to deal with it now than they did 26-years-ago when I first got it. There were probably one or two medications they were using back then. Now, there are about 20, including diets and other stuff. There's also DNA research and other things going on. Medically, there are strides being made.
How do you approach the UFO solos?
There are parts I have to remember. You have to remember it, practice it, and forget it. Then, it comes out as you're enjoying and playing it. For the solo on "Rock Bottom", I'll just go for it. I'm not going to figure out his whole solo. I'll follow parts of it. Tim DiJulio [guitarist] really knows how to do all of the other stuff [Laughs].
What other heavy bands do you come back to?
Growing up, I was very much into Iron Maiden before Bruce Dickinson. Although I did see Iron Maiden on The Number of the Beast tour with Stone, we actually learned how to headbang at that concert [Laughs]. It was Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Girlschool. Motörhead for sure…they were the one band that tied the punks and the metalheads together. We could always come together on that common ground. Then, there's Black Sabbath and UFO—if you can call them metal. Judas Priest for a period of time and Van Halen. I was into a lot of the '70s stuff. I'd say Thin Lizzy to!
Where are you at on the new Pearl Jam record?
Right now, we're in the middle of it. We've got eleven or twelve songs in their infant stages. We're working on making them a little bit tighter and making them the best they can possibly be. We're all doing our different things this year. Matt is doing some touring with Soundgarden. Ed is doing some of his solo touring. Stone's doing BRAD, and I'm doing a little Flight to Mars. It's not going to be out this year. We're about halfway done, so it'll probably be out next year.
Backspacer was a masterpiece. It's exciting to hear what you do next.
I think you'll be excited about this. It's moving to a progression. It's different. I'm pretty stoked about this record.
Have you heard Flight to Mars?
See Mike McCready's favorite songs to play here!
See our most recent interview about Stone Gossard here!