May 2016 interview by Todd Jolicoeur, photos by mintypics.com
What is more metal than five guys on stage in costumes and make-up, as well as supporting backstories as to the origins of their stage personas? How about tossing in an accordion? If you take these components and swirl them together, you get Sunflower Dead. Front man, singer, and accordionist [is that a word?] Michael Del Pizzo took some time out while traveling between show to speak with us about all things Sunflower Dead...
Toddstar: Hey there Michael?
Michael: What's up man?
Toddstar: We appreciate you taking the time out for us today.
Michael: Yeah man, my pleasure.
Toddstar: Sunflower Dead is out on the road. Let's jump into that. How's the tour going right now?
Michael: The tour with Avatar has been great. We are at the tail end of it. We have two more shows left here in Alabama and Houston tomorrow and Friday. It's just been a phenomenal tour. It's such a great match up. We're both theatrical bands. Avatar is a little more metal, we're a little bit more rock. The fans are getting their money's worth. It's been great.
Toddstar: That's cool. You mention they are a little more metal and you're a little more rock, but you guys also bring that kind of bring that metal vibe to the show.
Michael: Yeah. We definitely have the metal sprinkled in there. I think when you see us live you really get the sense of how off the cuff and how more rock and roll we are at times than a lot of the metal bands out there. It's pretty cool. It kind of gives its own little flare when we play live.
Toddstar: I have had the opportunity myself. I saw you live a few years ago in Detroit. It was a small little club called the I-Rock.
Michael: Oh yeah, with Ill Nino.
Toddstar: Yeah, with Ill Nino. I was shocked man. You were there at a rock club and you're a rock band and you guys come out and you've got your personas and everything going on. Then there is this hard rock metal sprinkle and an accordion. That comes way out ofleft field. How is it something that you guys said, "Let's do this."
Michael: You know, the accordion is something I've been playing since I was late teenager. I picked it up just out of boredom because I thought it would be challenging. I already played the piano so I figured let me learn the accordion. It would be cool. For some reason when I picked it up, it felt cool. It felt right. When we started Sunflower Dead, my one guitarist Jamie thought, "It would be pretty cool if you used that instrument in this band. It's very visual. It's very different. It sounds different. You're actually playing it. It comes off as a gimmick, but you're actually playing it. It's legit." He thought we'd try it. I did it and it worked really well. When we put on the costumes and the makeup and you see me with the accordion, it really works well. It's a great attention-getter. Because I'm actually playing it, I feel that it's legit. I love using it.
Toddstar: It goes well with what you're doing. It's not like you have that straight two guitars chugging the heavy rhythm section. You guys are actually mixing the sound but you're getting a good blend. The thing kind of accentuates the rest of the music.
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Toddstar: You guys have an album out, your second, It's Time to Get Weird. What was it like going and putting that second album together versus your first one which was the self-titled disc back in 2012?
Michael: We did the self-titled album, but we never played a show. We were just really fresh, and we just wrote a bunch of songs and recorded them and put them out. It was just getting the ball rolling. With this one, It's Time to Get Weird, the difference came in that we had two years and six US tours of touring the country figuring out who we were as a band and what worked and what didn't. That's where the whole It's Time to Get Weird thing came from. We realized we weren't this angry metal band trying to be evil. We were guys actually entertaining people and people having fun and smiling and the crowd was smiling when we were playing. It's the whole It's Time to Get Weird thing. We just absolutely figured out who we were. We grew a lot into the band that we are today which is very focused and centered. We know exactly what we are delivering live when we walk on stage.
Toddstar: You mentioned the title track a couple times - "It's Time to Get Weird" - which features Jonathan Davis. How did you pull that together?
Michael: It was the record label's idea. We met with a bunch of record labels when the record was done. There was actually another version of the song with just me on it. One of the labels that we did not sign to suggested it. "Why don't you ask someone to sing on a song with you? Maybe Jonathan Davis." My one guitarist has a nice relationship with those guys; he's been friends with them forever. He called Jon up and asked him. Jon said, "Yeah, I'd love to do it." We went to his studio in Bakersfield in California and tracked the vocals. It turned out great, and he had a good time. We had a good time. The song is doing well on radio, so everybody's happy about it.
Toddstar: Talking about the album Michael, when you're looking at the track list, or you guys with your set list live. What songs from the album still excite you? Enough to where, when you know it's coming, you can't wait to tear it open on stage?
Michael: On this tour lately, I've been enjoying "I'll Burn It" a lot. We added that into the set, and it's going over really well. "My Mother Mortis" is really cool. Anything that has a really good groove to it is fun to play live, because it forces your body to do odd things. So I enjoy that.
Toddstar: Were there any of the songs on the album that fought you guys tooth and nail, from inception? Just didn't come out the way they started out, or just were super hard to get out?
Michael: The hardest song to get right was the title track, "It's Time To Get Weird." Because, from where it started to where it ended up, it just changed so many times. We weren't happy with it, we weren't happy with it, and then I recorded the vocals. I wasn't happy with it. We just keep tweaking on it in the studio until we got it right. Now it is perfect to me, especially with having John on it. That was the hardest one to get right, for sure.
Toddstar: You mentioned you're wrapping up this tour, out there with Avatar. You guys are on the road most of the summer.
Michael: Yeah. We meet up with HELLYEAH! for a west coast tour, this weekend starts. After that, we’re on In This Moment's Hell Pop Tour all summer long. It's us, HELLYEAH!, In This Moment, Shaman's Harvest, and Nonpoint, on some dates. Now we're booking for the fall. We're actually expecting a call today, to see what our fall touring schedule will be. We'll be promoting this record a lot.
Toddstar: You guys play a lot of different venues, and you just recently played one that's near and dear to my heart. You guys have played there a couple times. What's it like when Sunflower Dead hits a stage at The Machine Shop?
Michael: It's incredible. We played there three times; it's always been either sold out or completely packed. It's just a special venue. It's a venue that people know all over the world. They really know how to treat everyone that walks into that venue the right way. The owners are incredible, the staff is incredible. It's just a special place. I think it's a place that every band looks forward to going to. You know it's going to be a good time. I've yet to meet anyone that has anything bad to say about that place.
Toddstar: I'd agree with you there. Do you prefer a smaller, intimate place like that, where you're on top of your fans? Or do you like that where there's 20 feet between you and the front row? What do you prefer as a performer?
Michael: Probably the biggest venue possible in the universe. I'm all about the bigger the better. It's cool to be up close, and I know a lot of people enjoy that intimate thing. I like it too.
Toddstar: Let's talk about you for a second. Who inspired you to want to do this for a living?
Michael: When I was a little kid, really young, I saw the video from Twisted Sister, "We're Not Gonna Take It." I didn't know what it was while it was going on. I just knew when I looked at it, that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. Music just kind of steamrolled from there. Band after band after band I got into. To the point now where my vocal idol, for the last ten years, has been Steve Perry from Journey. Not that I'll ever sing that way, but he's still my idol. They were probably two of the biggest influences I've had. A lot of others in between, but that's the beginning and the end of where I'm at today.
Toddstar: Being a touring musician is no cakewalk these days, especially these days. The music industry has changed so much, and it changes every day. What inspires you to still get out there on a daily basis and leave friends and family behind, and do this?
Michael: I equate it to this. People ask me advice, and I'd say it comes down to this. It comes down to want and need. If you want to do music, if you want to be an artist, if you think it's cool, you want to get a guitar, get on stage, it's not for you. If you need to do it, you have to do it, no matter what the cost, no matter how the industry is at the given moment, you just need to do it, then this life is for you. I just need to do it, there's no other way around it. I'm going to play music, and that's it and that's that.
Toddstar: With everything said and done, like you said, you're promoting the hell out of this album. Have you guys already started putting together the next disc or are you guys just kind of in the moment, and seeing where this takes you?
Michael: It's a combination of both. I'm always writing songs, and so are some of the other guys. We're always thinking about what's next. We've been doing acoustic radio spots, as radio's blowing up, and that's been cool. There's some talk of maybe doing an acoustic EP. Then, we've already talked about songs for the third record. But at the same time, I believe, and I tell our management this, we have to work this record to completion, and really see where it grows. We wouldn't have been able to do this record unless we had worked that first record. This record is a direct result of touring and working that first one, so I believe the same thing will happen with whatever comes out next. It will be a result of what we learned from touring this record. Whether it's acoustic, and it's another record, or whatever it is. That's got to grow naturally, I believe.
Toddstar: With all the bands out there that you guys have toured with, who's out there that you would love to see yourselves on a bill with? Doesn't matter who's the headliner and who's the opener Who do you think is a great fit for Sunflower Dead, and that you guys would love to do a tour with?
Michael: I personally would love to do a tour with Evanescence. That would me my favorite. I know the guys would like to tour with Slipknot. We've toured with Korn, and we'd like to tour in the US with Korn, that'll be killer. But for me, definitely Evanescence. There's no doubt.
Toddstar: You mentioned Korn again. With Jonathan Davis showing up on your latest album, if you had to pick someone that you could get to grace a song with you and do a duet, who would it be?
Michael: Amy Lee from Evanescence. I think me and her, doing some kind of epic ballad. Don't know if she would be into it, but I would.
Toddstar: I'm noticing an Evanescence theme there.
Michael: I know, right? I'm throwing it out to the universe.
Toddstar: I know you guys are out traveling, trying to get where you need to be for your show in Alabama tomorrow. We wish you well, safe travels, and can't wait to get you back up here in Michigan soon.
Michael: Thank you so much my friend.
SUNFLOWER DEAD LINKS:
You can read more of Todd Jolicoeur's interviews at