Interview With Mike Sweigart Of Level-Zero
Los Angeles based metal band LEVEL-ZERO have been taking their own form of hardcore and melodic music to the diehard fans of the underground metal scene since making their debut in 2000. They have one main philosophy to the way they approach their audience: "We want to blow you away onstage," says vocalist Mike Sweigart. "Of the people, by the people, and for the people, we are!" Blending the lyrical and sonic genius of the Deftones with Dry Kill Logic's crushing, heavy hammer-driven sound, this critically lauded act is rounded out with bandmates, guitarist Keith Covert, bassist Todd Arostegui and drummer Jesse Billson. I am more impressed by the seemingly endless supply of band unity that is going on with this group, and I consider it an honor to have conducted this interview with their world class singer, Mike Sweigart.
Rocket: Are you originally from Los Angeles?
Mike: Yes, I was born here in 1979 in San Dimas, California.
Rocket: When did you start singing?
Mike: I have always been interested in singing. When I was a little boy I used to sing along with my favorite artists. Then when I was about 14, I scored my first acoustic guitar and began learning the guitar and eventually not long after started writing my own tunes and recording myself with an old Karaoke machine my mom had. I jumped on a few bands here and there through high school playing the guitar and singing. So I guess it has always been in my blood.
Rocket: Did you ever take any formal voice lessons?
Mike: I wouldn't say formal lessons devoted to singing. The most I have ever done is by warm up CDs which help you warm up your voice so you don't hurt it during a show or session. But I guess you can say I kinda had my share of lessons from my favorite artists. I have always paid very close attention and studied all of my favorite singers and such, which helps form you into what you become later just like if you're a guitarist.
Rocket: Who are some of your biggest singing influences past or present?
Mike: My background is extremely wide. I am a major Pink Floyd fan and I pull a lot out of them and other bands from those eras whether they show through in me or not that is a different story. But I love bands like The Moody Blues, Steely Dan, Zeppelin, Boston and all the big hitters in the 70s: Styx, ELO, the list goes on and on. I really started getting into metal in junior high with bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera. Alice in Chains has always been a big influence for me as well. Going through high school everything kind of changed when I got the first Korn album and I was really into the down tuning and the deep heavy low tones that they pretty much brought to the fore front of metal in that time and kind of started a little bit of a shift away from that grunge era we went through in the 90s. Lately I have been getting into a lot of Swedish bands in the past 5 years like Meshuggah, Soilwork, In Flames, and so many more bands that have came out in the past 5 or 10 years I really like DevilDriver and listen to that band regularly. I still have many days were I just go back and listen to old school Pink Floyd and tons of different classic rock stuff that I enjoy. So I guess I have just kind of skimmed through a lot of everything since I was about 12.
Rocket: I can totally hear all that stuff in Level-Zero's music, bro. When and how did Level-Zero originally form as a band?
Mike: We formed in the summer of 2000. I had been living in NC for a couple years and the bands I was in out there for those couple years just didnt do it for me and I needed to come home and find my place. So I moved back and joined two bands (one of which was called Level) a couple months later I left the first band and went full time in Level which we later changed the name to Level-Zero. Keith was jamming with a drummer at the time I met him and Keith and I really fit well together. Song writing became second nature it almost felt like the songs were done before we wrote them. From then on Keith and me have been writing and playing countless shows, playing with many talented musicians, which has lead us forward through the years and created the Level-Zero we all know today.
Rocket: Briefly, how does the songwriting process work for Level-Zero? It is a team effort?
Mike: It is definitely a team effort. 99% of our songs are written right in our studio as a group. We always bounce ideas off each other maybe once in a while someone will bring a riff or beat from home and we will play with it back and forth. Most of our stuff we write on the spot. We just go free style and see what sounds bad ass. It really seems to work great for us. We write pretty fast and without too much thought. We pretty much just let our emotions come out.
Rocket: Man, I love the song "Wronged". What exactly does that song mean to you? I know people find their own meanings in songs. But what it is it about to you?
Mike: That's one of the best things about music for me is you can make it relate to you in your own personal way. To me Wronged is about the relationships we go through as we grow older and learn more about ourselves and other people. I talk about being really crushed emotionally, I also talk about how your mind is always working toward something like there is an invisible finish line out there somewhere and these are very bred in cynical views of a life with no pain or the perfect home with the perfect family or relationship. We all go through these things and there is a percentage of us who really cannot handle these experiences very well. I have learned to think very hard and meditate, trip out, on my down falls and hard times. Life is the cycle, we are the students, if we cant grow and learn or make some kind of logical sense of the things that happen to us, whether by others or self inflicted, then were really going around in circles over and over. We will always be the students, you just have to learn to be able to take what life throws at you I guess. Love and pain are both mortal and in the break down I express that this person isn't in my mind haunting me anymore because my love and pain are now mortal and they have died all the feelings you once thought would never go away. No ones gonna haunt my mind.
Rocket: Right on. Man, that's some heavy shit! Ha! I totally dig it though. What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you on stage?
Mike: Shit there are lots - I have fell off many a stages - that's always funny. I've spilled beer down the front of myself and done the show looking like I wet my pants, slurred words. Once in a while we have a drunk show where we get pretty tossed up there and that always turns into a riot, or Jesse came flying over his drums a few weeks ago tackling me with a pitcher in my hands which ended up all over someone in the front. Hahaha.
Rocket; Yeah, you guys really seem to get along well in this band... even just in all the pictures you guys take it looks like there's something crazy going on. That's actually what drew me to the band in the start, before I even heard your music. What's been your favorite metal album for 2006 so far?
Mike: A year ago that would have been an easy question for me to answer but this year, so far. I really have been waiting for that album to come. It will probably be released in late October... wink wink. I guess my favorite so far is the new In Flames album Come Clarity definitely going to be a classic and will be in my logs as one of their best to date. Last year quite a few came out that I embrace to this day. Korn came out with see you on the other side in December, which took me about 2 listens to really feel and I think now it is one of their most defining cds. My absolute favorite from 2005 is by far DevilDriver's sophomore album Fury of The Makers Hand which I personally believe is one of the best metal albums in the past 10 years. I also got knee deep into the latest Soilwork Stabbing the drama very good fucking CD. I encourage anyone who likes heavy metal to check into these cds.
Rocket: Is Level-Zero working on some new material?
Mike: Absolutely! We actually never really stop working on new material. We are constantly working on new tunes and trying to push the bar up a notch and see what we can accomplish. You can definately expect to see a lot of new stuff on the full length release in Oct as well as some older tunes we have that we feel need to be on this CD. You can definately expect to be hearing a lot of brand new L-Z coming out this year.
Rocket: I know Level-Zero is unsigned. Who are some of the record labels that you respect?
Mike: Well, we have the utmost respect for any label that takes care of their bands. We wanna get out and tour the world and in almost any case that takes a label that is devoted to promoting their bands and getting them the most exposure that they can. We have a lot of respect for labels like Roadrunner and Nuclear Blast who bring me 75% of the music I listen to as well as the big boys like Universal, Epic, Sony, Warner Bros. I mean the list goes on and on. We would gladly sit down and talk business with any of these labels.
Rocket: Do you ever take the time to answer your MySpace fan mail?
Mike: Yes! We make it a point to answer all of it. Sometimes it takes awhile but we always get back to our fans. These are the people who will make it possible to get L-Z in Germany or in New York or even the tiny towns we've played in like San Angelo, TX. We love our fans and love it when they send us mail.
Rocket: What are a few of the next Level Zero shows we need to watch out for?
Mike: Definitely look out for the party bus this weekend. That one is going to be a riot. Were doing a great show in San Diego in October and were planning a trip out to TX to do some touring. Pretty much any Level-Zero show you go to is gonna be a smash from 10 people in the middle of the desert on the floor of a fucking legion hall to the bigger ones out here in California you can expect a great show. We always give it 110% not matter where we are.
Rocket: Thanks for taking time out with me, bro. Give a shout out to your biggest supporters.
Mike: A very special thank you from me to everyone in the L-Z camp out there, our manager who makes a lot of this happen for everyone, our awesome street teamers you know who you are, KM KUSTOM Guitars the official Level-Zero Guitar maker, Ironman Corp. your official Level-Zero Gear, Level-27 Clothing, the countless internet radio stations who support us and have L-Z in constant rotation, and an extra special thank you to all our awesome fans everywhere for your continuous support and inspiration. Oh, and of course, a big thanks to you at The Metal Den for making this interview happen.
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