Tapping Into The Machine: Crushed Guitarist Mike Halland
Photos by Melody Hudson
The latest album by Crushed, My Machine, taps into numerous influences from heavy metal to prog-rock. For band members Mark Lauer (lead vocals/guitar), Mike Halland (guitar), Michael Brown (bass), Harry McCaleb (guitar/keyboards) and Jeff Garten (drums), the album is as much a reflection of their own musical influences as it is about making contemporary metal and energetic modern rock music. Whatever it is about Crushed's music, it has audiences feeling an innate attachment to the band's songs with each consecutive listen.
Halland says, "We have been told over the years that the music has too much of a contrast, it has too many different styles. But, ultimately, this is what makes people like the band and really love the music. We've been told we are not a one-listen band. It's funny, one guy reviewed the record and said, ‘I wasn't blown away at first, but the record grew on me like a fungus.' I have had people that bought the record in January tell me that they still listen to it every day. We seem to grow on people, and it seems that people don't get tired of the music very easily. I think a lot of people in the industry want immediate gratification that is a blatant hit kind of thing. You know, the song you instantly like but are sick of it in three days. I guess we're delayed satisfaction. From what I've heard, chicks dig that…sorry that was cheesy."
It's not just girls who come out to see Crushed live. Guys find the band's steady rise of gratification appealing as well. It's what attracted record producer Mike Clink (Guns ‘N' Roses, Heart, Eddie Money) to the band. He offered to produce the band's latest release My Machine even though a record deal was not securely in place for the album.
"Mike actually chose us," Halland reveals. "We got ourselves out of a shitty record contract and he decided to produce our record without a deal based on the merits of our songs. Mike brought total professionalism to the table. He had some of the Guns ‘N' Roses crew fine tuning drums and intoning instruments. He also manages to make everything he records sound huge. He didn't rearrange our songs as a whole, but he worked with Mark Lauer a lot on the lyrics, so they made a little more sense. He also messed with the tempos a bit. He would have click tracks that changed tempo from verse to chorus. That was a bit challenging."
He explains, "We recorded the drum tracks at Glenwood Place in California. That is where Mike recorded Appetite For Destruction. It's a killer studio with a lot of history. Mike had Phil Banano helping out, who just passed away. He was a really cool guy and a great producer. I know he will be missed by a lot of people. We did most of the guitars at The Salt Mine studio in Mesa, Arizona. The owner, Don Salter, has the biggest collection of amps I have ever seen. We got some killer clean guitar tones out of some old Hiwatt amps. Then Clink and Mark Lauer jetted off to Can Am in California to record all of the vocals. Mark said it was very difficult, as Clink is a total perfectionist, but they got it done and actually rather quickly. Mark and I also recorded the song ‘Everything's Gone' there."
Halland describes lead singer Mark Lauer's lyrics as conveying a lot of imagery, which encourages the band to create a backdrop for Lauer's words so people can feel them. "As long as the songs make people feel something then we did our job," Halland reflects. "Mark writes all of the lyrics. He uses a lot of imagery and is very poetic. The songs are open to interpretation. We have had people really relate the lyrics to their own life. We're not afraid to play a heavy, detuned metal song and follow it with a pretty acoustic track. Check out ‘A Game Of You,' then the next track is ‘Everything's Gone' - big contrast."
Though Crushed's album dabs across many musical styles and creates different contrasts between the songs, the album's title and cover of a photo depicting a ‘50s classic car grill ties the tracks all together and conveys the vintage horsepower contained in each song. Or, at least that's one interpretation that can be gleaned from the music, title and photo.
"Mark came up with the title My Machine," Halland tells. "It's a lyric from ‘Further Down' and actually relates to an answering machine. We took the title into new territory with the car theme. Who doesn't like cool cars, especially old ones? They are works of art. We had a photo of the car and thought it had a cool vibe. Mark has a big Goth background and thought of adding the crows and storm clouds ala The Damned. We had a friend of ours, Jon LeVon, Photoshop the images together and created the vibe."
Crushed is a band that welcomes plunging into the visual medium and makes correlations between their songs and visual images. Currently, their MySpace site ( http://www.myspace.com/crushed) features a music video for their song "Hovering."
Halland admits, "Music videos are a prerequisite in the industry, but I am not a big fan of the ‘act like you're playing this song,' so we used real live footage. We know people want to see what the band looks like and we had very little footage of the band, so we used our parents old home movies which included drag racing from the sixties and Mark's dad on a motorcycle. It created a cool vibe and went along with My Machine."
Crushed's bond with the past like vintage cars and their parents old home movies is due to their family's impact on them. "Most of my family has always been supportive, but my grandfather didn't like it and wanted me to give it (music) up," Halland shares. "My dad was always encouraging, but was always trying to bribe me to get a hair cut. I guess it grew on him though, no pun intended. He finally got to the point where he said he respected me for not selling out. I decided to cut my hair after he passed away. He got to see us live at Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, which holds a few thousand people, one of our best shows ever. He called me the next day and said, ‘I couldn't be more proud of you if you were the President of the United States.' That had a long lasting impression. My mom is still in Hawaii, very supportive but kind of removed."
Crushed (l-r): Harry McCaleb, Michael Brown, Mark Lauer, Jeff Gartner, Mike Halland
Though Crushed is based in Phoenix, AZ, Mike Halland is originally from Hawaii. "I grew up in on the island of Oahu. There was a band named Hawaii there when I was a kid. Marty Friedman, who as we all know ended up in Megadeth, was their guitar player. I met him when I was a kid. We went to his apartment and he was sitting on his couch ripping on his guitar. There was also a killer guitar player named Jeff Thorpe. He ended up moving to California and started a band called Vicious Rumors. These guys were a big influence on me."
Halland remembers, "I started playing guitar around the age of 12. My sister brought home an acoustic guitar and I immediately took it over. She was dating Richard Smothers, son of one of the Smothers Brothers. He played bass in a rock band and showed me some power chords. It was all over from there. I figured out how to play by ear."
Playing guitar and jamming with other musicians became rudimentary for Halland. He made his way to the west coast of America and hooked up with singer/guitarist Mark Lauer and drummer Jeff Garten in Arizona. The songwriting, he says, "began immediately. We all met up at drummer Jeff's house. We had several phone conversations. I was like ‘should we learn a cover song?' Mark said if it's going to work we should be able to come up with something. I showed up with my guitar rig and PA and said ‘I hope this works.' It did," he beams. "Mark started playing this cool, eerie clean guitar riff. Jeff and I chimed in with a detuned heavy riff, and Crushed was born. Once we got Michael Brown and Harry in the band, the lineup got even stronger."
Halland describes the chemistry between the band members from the onset as being natural. "Mark Lauer has a great ear for melody and I have always been able to writer guitar riffs and music, so writing songs is pretty natural for us. Harry is also a great songwriter. I would say that my mentors are the above-mentioned guys (Richard Smothers, Jeff Thorpe and Marty Friedman) and my friend Joey Romero. He showed me a lot on guitar early on. (Other) Influences would be Alex Lifeson, Tonni Iommi, Angus Young, Tommy Victor, and J from White Zombie. I also really like The Cure. You can kind of hear their influences in the song ‘Leaving.'"
Crushed's first live show, he recollects, "was at a place called Boston's in Tempe, Arizona. It was open mic night and we didn't have a name. We called ourselves Seventy-Five Cent Kamikaze, a line made famous by Franco, the owner of the Mason Jar. Anyone that has played there knows the line. We rocked it and got a lot of feedback that what we were doing was very original. This was back before nu-metal was around."
Halland's connection to the Mason Jar began in his youth. It was the club in Phoenix that introduced music fans to the hottest bands coming through the pipeline, "The Mason Jar was huge," he reminisces. "I saw Rage Against The Machine, Tool and STP there before they blew up. The place only held around 300 people."
Though the band's tentative moniker Seventy-Five Cent Kamikaze was switched to Crushed, the band's essence remained the same. He avows, "We are very passionate about our music, which is what has kept us together so long. We keep writing songs. That is the main thing that has kept us going. I also enjoy recording very much and love the creative process. Some of the other guys in the band love playing live. I guess the reasons vary, but the bottom line is we still get along, we still have something to offer and we all love making music."
Their music creates a brotherhood and a natural vibe which correlates to their stage clothes. Halland says, "We dress in what we are comfortable in. To me the focus is the music, not how tight your pants are, but to each his own." He asserts, "I hope we don't change."
Their fans relate to the comfortable feel in the band's music and their stage presence. "We love our fans," Halland swear. "We really relate to them through the music and lyrics. We are not really a one-listen band. Usually we tend to grow on people with the recordings, but live we seem to be heavier and more immediate. We have heard over the years that we are better live than on the recordings."
Crushed's music does well visually, which the band used recently at their CD release party in Phoenix when they had a troupe of belly dancers that included a sword performer execute stunts before the band played. Halland explained, "Mark is friends with one of the dancers so it was his idea to use them as an intro to our show. I don't want people to get the wrong idea.
“These girls are not cheesy strippers. The dancing is very middle-eastern and almost gothic. The movements are very flowing, which seems to lead into our music pretty well. These girls dance with fire and real swords. I was told that one of the sword dancer's had cut herself pretty bad before. The audience's response was great. Our merch booth was empty before the show. After the show it was packed. We will definitely be using the dancers again at select shows. I think everyone was receptive to what we were doing. I was told that the intro with the belly dancers was totally original and feedback from the show was very positive.
“I also sent an email to Dave Ellefson to thank him and his band F5 for playing the gig with us. He replied that he enjoyed the show and that ‘Crushed is a great band.' This really meant a lot to us. We have so much respect for him and his band.
"In the near future, we will be playing quite a few shows in our area and regionally. We will also be part of the Hyperactive Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that is happening on May 19th. We're excited about that. Hopefully people will buy the CD and we will be able to tour again. People have been downloading the record on Itunes from all over the world. We hope to keep moving forward and progressing."
He professes, "I think we still have something to prove. We would like to see this record a success so we can tour. We constantly get emails asking when we are going to be in this town or that state. We just can't afford it right now."
Some of the band's means of acquiring new fans to purchase their album is by using Internet sites like MySpace. "The Internet is extremely important for a band that is not that well known," Halland declares. "Crushed is definitely relying on it right now for interviews and record sales. On that note, thank you for the interview," he expresses humbly. "Sites like Garage Radio are huge for introducing people to the band."
Crushed is aurally and visually a band that impacts audiences by tying in influences from their past and immortalizes them in songs and videos. The band members also immortalize their past with individual tattoos that have a personal meaning, "We all have tattoos," Halland affirms. "Mine are Polynesian style. I have the Hawaiian Islands on my arm and a Hawaiian tribal band. I also have a pretty big Polynesian style tattoo across my back. Right now, I have an amazing artist from Kauai named Derek Glaskin working on a design for me. Jeff has an insignia of his family on his arm. Michael Brown has a full sleeve. He has a mermaid, the Statue of Liberty, New York Yankees and the Rolling Stones lips among others. Harry has quite a few also, not exactly sure what they are."
The band members are entitled to keep some of their mysteries a secret which may explain why their music gets better with each consecutive listen. When getting to know someone better sometimes makes you wish you hadn't, Crushed has the exact opposite effect and makes you like them even more. Thanks to Mike Halland and the rest of the band for sharing their story with me.
Visit Crushed online at: www.crushed.net
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