Posted on March 08th. 2018
Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
Mike Varney and its legendary label Shrapnel Records impressed me back in the very early 80s with the first edition of the great series US Metal ! Ever since, my passion for this great style of metal music grew on and on, now more than 35 years later on, I’m still hooked on US metal !
I supported this awesome gem as good as possible due to the fact, most of the bands had guitarists on board that make me crazy. All those so called shred guitar magicians I met through multiple decades made me a real fan, I really need my daily dose of US metal including scorching solo’s manufactured with a lot of technical skills… I still adore flammable guitar moves with all of my heart.
Right now I will have a conversation with the CEO of American based Shredguy Records, the leader of the house where “Shred Is Not Dead” named Michael Sean McDowell gave me the opportunity to dig into his life as supporter for all that matters guitar sorcery. Let’s move on…
Stefan: Hi Michael: How long have you been in the world of masterful guitar playing?
Michael: Ha ha, I have always been into great guitar playing… guitar music… guitar fronted bands. As a kid liking Kiss and Ace Frehley, to discovering Hendrix and Blackmore. Then Van Halen and Randy Rhoads came out and it just progressed. The big release for me that totally hooked me to virtuoso guitar playing was Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force. I picked it up in 1985 and was blown way.
Then the floodgates opened… Vai, Satch, the Shrapnel guys Vinnie Moore, MacAlpine, Chastain, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, etc… Then in the 90’s as grunge began to emerge and a lot of shred went underground. But that’s ok because the passion was still there in the shred movement. So a lot of new guys arose, even in my state of Ohio.
I like to point to three great players that came from the state of Ohio in the 90’s…Michael Harris (who is now in Darkology)… Jeff Kollman and Rob Johnson.
Stefan: Do you have a statement about your passion for shred guitar actions?
Michael: SHRED IS NOT DEAD right?? People will always want to hear great guitar playing.
Stefan: What type of guitar do you prefer above the others, why?
Michael: A softball question… ha ha. Of course my Shredguy Series guitar made by Rick Hanes Guitars in Indonesia but have to say also Fender Stratocaster… the tone you get from a Strat. Two of favorites play a Strat, Blackmore and Yngwie.
Stefan: Name me a few individuals which drove you to insanity and made you a die-hard fan.
Michael: Like I mentioned before Yngwie and some of the Shrapnel guys really got me hooked. Then also I went back to some of the 70’s players like Uli Roth, Frank Marino, Tommy Bolin, Michael Schenker, guys that really got a lot of bite in their notes, their phrasing and vibrato. Remember speed is just one aspect of virtuoso guitar playing.
Stefan: Ever played in a band yourself?
Michael: The short is answer is yes… and I would like to tell about the project I am playing guitar on. It’s a tribute album to the band Europe… the songs John Norum played on. I love John Norum’s playing! I am joined by some great musicians from Indonesia and Brunei. So many great musicians from Southeast Asia. It’s been a process… one track has been completed and pressed.
Also I am collaborating with Elyse Thomas… a great female vocalist. She was the vocalist on the Speed Metal Project. We released the video of the band a few years back. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7QTTCunrH8. These wont be on the Shredguy label… but watch for them later this year.
Stefan: One day you decided to set up your own label with the appropriate name, Shredguy Records? What were the ambitions and what was your very first release you’ve ever launched?
Michael: The goal was to be a platform or instrument for guitar players to become better known. To get the music out there. Discover new players and help promote established ones. My first effort was remastering and rereleasing a local Columbus Ohio band that guitarist Rob Johnson was in. The band also featured John Homan (drummer for Magnitude 9, Paul Shortino) on drums.
They were a 90’s band, so me and Rob along with producer Ashley Shepherd remastered it and brought it up to date. The rerelease didn’t sell too well but it gave me a lot of experience of what to do and what not to do. Incidentally you gave the album a good review… lol
The label didn’t really take off until our fourth release. That’s when Tracy G (Dio) agreed to do a song for our compilation album “Shredding Across The World Volume Two”. Ray Luzier of Korn played drums on the track, and the track was kick ass track. Having two names like that on that release really gave us great exposure and credibility.
Stefan: The series “Shredding Around The World” might be well-known articles in the US but what about the rest of the world? Have you never thought of a world-wide distribution of all the albums released to date?
Michael: I think I need to inform you that we do have distribution in most parts of the world. And our biggest audience is actually in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Also Japan has been great for us… And most parts of Europe our CDs our sold. In the U.S. we get some great support from some indie radio stations and some syndicated programs…. especially with the Clownhammer release.
Stefan: The compilation albums were loaded with so many outstanding guitar wizards, how did you get involved with them? Most of them were unfamiliar to me Michael.
Michael: Some I knew personally, some sent in demos, others I found by recommendation or stumbled upon them on social media.
Stefan: Therefore you had to make a selection of who was given priority to produce a full record. Making a choice is never a pleasant undertaking but you had too, tell me about please.
Michael: The compilation albums were tough to make. I made some mistakes by not including some great players on them. And putting some guys on there, who really didn’t promote at all. I looked for guys who were new or unique, and also wanted to promote the release and label. Then you have the factor of trying to master all the tracks so the total sound of the album is let’s say even. So you are dealing with some tracks where a guitarist used a big studio… others will use a home studio…. see what I mean?? It can be difficult to make it sound cohesive.
Stefan: Can you make a list of which albums you have released so far, why did they take precedence over the rest, what makes them better than the others?
Michael: I think our best releases so far have been Shredding Across The World…Volume Two… great players like Tracy G, Toby Knapp, Gregg Livesay, Michael Harris, Mike Abdow, Tom Kopyto, etc etc..
Toby Knapp-The Campaign… there is a track on this album called “Reanimation” with Attila Csihar of Mayhem on vocals, that remains one of the best tracks Shredguy has ever released.
Chris Bickley-Tapestry of Souls: Anytime you have guests vocalists like Mike Vesscera (Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen), Jimmy Kunes (Cactus), and Kelly Keeling (TSO, Baton Rouge, John Norum)… you know you are going to have a great melodic rock record.
Tom Kopyto-Resurrection: Incredible shred guitar album. Great songs, playing, artwork, production … just a great; complete album.
Sean Baker Orchestra-GAME ON!!: Just listen to the track “Shrapnel In Your Ear” and you will know why… lol
Clownhammer – s/t: I love this release. It took a lot of people and work to get this out there.
Sean Baker writing great catchy songs, Matthew Figurski did a great job mastering, Fred Goza with the artwork, Curtis Wray with the layout. The Clowns posing, it’s not Shred but just brutal yet melodic metal.
Stefan: Hard one, give me the name(s) of albums you’d like the describe as outstanding please.
Michael: Sean Baker Orchestra-GAME ON!! And Tom Kopyto-Resurrection. Can’t pick just one…
Stefan: What can you tell me about the sales figures of all the albums released through Shredguy Records so far?
Michael: They are solid. It’s just the way people listen to music now. They don’t buy cds as much anymore. Especially here in the U.S. So you have streaming services like Spotify. And yeah a release like Clownhammer gets a lot of songs streamed everyday, but the payout is like pennies.
Stefan: Please spread the word of the upcoming releases, I’m a right that a new Toby Knapp (one of my favourite shred artists) effort is well underway to be launched?
Michael: It’s great to have another Toby Knapp release on Shredguy Records. This one is called “Archives of Magick Volume Three”. 14 tracks… spanning almost 30 years of music from Toby. On this album we have the remastered demos that got Toby signed with Mike Varney and Shrapnel Records. Also music he did with Defile. A 2018 track called “Cold Warrior”, which is pure melodic shred. A lot on here… check it out …
Stefan: I recently just wrote down the reviews for both The Sean Baker Orchestra and Clownhammer, are you agree or not with the mines I penned down? Speak frankly please.
Michael: I think they were for the most part fair. I think with Clownhammer, it’s not a shred album…. and the strength of that album in the catchiness of the songs. And those damn catchy riffs. I was really happy with the production… it has a real in your face sound…. very aggressive.
Stefan: Are you a producer too, or am I wrong?
Michael: Yes I am a producer… have learned a lot over the years… especially from Ashley Shepherd.
Stefan: When certain CD (‘s) doesn’t sells as expected, are you sometimes discouraged from continuing?
Michael: Ha ha…. yes… but then I get great demos from Toby Knapp…. or Lars Lind… or discover someone like Phoenix Van Der Weyden.
Stefan: Not that much labels concentrate themselves on shred guitar players. Besides Shredguy Records, do you know some other ones worth to check out. You definitely heard about Shrapnel and Leviathan Records, right?
Michael: Mascot has put out some great guitar releases lately… also a new label Crushing Notes here in the States. Of course I have heard about Shrapnel and Leviathan. I have all their early releases…. the classics in shred.
Stefan: Now what’s on the list to come out soon Michael, some new releases in the pipeline?
Michael: We have Lars Lind teaming with vocalist Jan Le’ Brandt on “More Than I Need”… an instrumental album from Lars called The “River Flame”. Back in January we released single by Shadow Eden (featuring David Mercado) called Brooklyn 1978.
It was released at Namm. Incidentally Shadow Eden is touring a lot including the Guitarmageddon tour this fall that includes Desiree Bassett and Joe Stump. That will be great!! And a new female shredder named Phoenix Van Der Weyden from Brazil will be releasing a full length album….plus the stuff I mentioned earlier that I am working on…. a pretty busy year.
Stefan: What’s the ultimate goal you want to achieve with Shredguy Records?
Michael: To grow the genre and have more live guitar shows like G-3, like Guitarmageddon.
Stefan: One last question, what is a real good guitarist in your own opinion? Gimme one name of a guy that fits the word perfection.
Michael: Yngwie Malmsteen from 1984-1990… the Polygram years. His technique…tone….fiery playing…he had great musicians, singers, and guys he could write and collaborate with. To put out 5 great albums: Rising Force, Marching Out, Trilogy, Odyssey, and Eclipse.
Stefan: Than I wish you all the very best my friend, I appreciate all the precious time you spend to spoil us, shred guitar maniacs with finger scorching actions. Labels focused on skilled to the bone axemen are rather hard to find so keep up the good works brother… any last words to our readers?
Michael: Just want to thank everyone who has supported us over the last 10 years!. I want to give a special shout to guys that have helped me get started and progress…..Rob Johnson, Seven Goza, Joey C Jones, Herlaka Rose, Lene Lind, and Curtis Wray. And of course all the guitar players that I have worked with.