HeAd’s KoRner: One on One With Islander Vocalist Mikey Carvajal
Brian ‘Head’ Welch, guitarist for Korn and frontman of Love and Death, contributes a popular monthly column called ‘HeAd’s KoRner’ to Loudwire. In his newest entry, Head interviews Islander singer Mikey Carvajal. Check it out below:
I can't get enough of this 'Islander' record! It's pretty rare to find a record with no "filler" tracks, but this one seriously doesn't have any, IMO.
Islander just wrapped up a tour with KoRn and Avenged (along with MANY other killer bands) on Mayhem Fest, and they were one of our favorites. They didn't have the best time slot because they are so new, but whenever we crawled out of bed before 1pm, many of us were over there checkin' them out. I caught up with Islander's vocalist Mikey Carvajal; check out our interview below. And after you purchase their album 'Violence & Destruction,' make sure and listen to the entire thing, because the songs keep getting better and better as you go further into the record.
What motivates you each day?
Every day that I wake up and I'm still breathing, I know that I'm still here for a purpose. Sometimes I wake up tired and not feeling extremely motivated. But whenever that happens, I really have to stop for a moment and remember that it's amazing any day that I am blessed to even open my eyes and still be here. The idea that God still has me on this earth. It's for his purpose. Even if it's just to hang out with my friends and play music on certain days. Also, knowing that I am responsible for my wife and taking care of her. That’s a huge motivator.
How did you know you wanted to be a musician? What was your path to being where you are currently?
In the mid-'90s my brother took me to a punk rock show to see MxPx and Ninety Pound Wuss. It was crazy. I was in the fifth grade and it totally freaked me out. I went home and told my mom that she had no clue what my brother had been going to and that I would never ever like music.
Fast forward some years and I was in the 8th grade. My brother begged me to go to a show with him at a small club near our hometown of Greenville, S.C. He said a band called P.O.D. was playing (Guano Apes were also there). I was a huge fan of professional wrestling and was still collecting tons of wrestling action figures during the time, so I specifically remember him begging me to go while I was sitting around a huge box of wrestling figures. So as plastic figurines of Sting and Hulk Hogan were present, I agreed to attend this show because it seemed like it meant a lot to him. About 150 to 200 kids came to the show that night and it was one of the most intense shows that I’ve still been to. People were diving off the stage and screaming every word and for some reason, I guess it was just the right time, I was really…REALLY into it.
I started searching for more and more bands and I eventually discovered a band called Luti-Kriss, which went on to become Norma Jean. I went to see them play at a gymnasium on a school night. The band was going nuts on stage. The singer, Josh Scogin, was hanging upside down from a basketball goal, the band was doing handstands and tackling the drum kit. I remember standing to the side of the stage with my jaw dropped. The 9th grade version of me had never seen anything like that at the time and that is the night I decided I wanted to play music for a living.
I started listening to more and more music and searching for people to play music with. I was in some garage/basement bands in high school. During that time, my friend Daniel Tapp taught me what song structure was. He was into writing Weezerish/Synthy pop music but was also influenced by bands like Bad Brains, Lightning Bolt, U2, hip hop …. really everything. He taught me a lot about what it meant to be an artist. We were constantly recording crappy demos on an E Machine computer in the dining room of my mom's house.
Eventually I wanted to take music more seriously and met the dudes in Islander, but it wasn't Islander at the time. We were in local bands here and there but eventually we ended up going our separate paths. Some of us moved or went to college. I got married. Several years later we ended up in the same town again and decided to start jamming for fun. Then we started booking our own tours and shooting our own music videos and we even recorded 2 EPs. I sent a Facebook message to A&R at Victory Records that included one of our songs. We drove up to Chicago for a showcase and here we are.
What are your top five albums all time?
It's hard to pick five albums, I've become more of an "I like these songs from this album and this band" type of person, but I can definitely name the five albums that had the biggest impact on me musically growing up in no specific order.
- ZAO, 'Save Yourself From Hell' (This album is so dark and tense. It has a punk and metal element going on with sludgy riffs and great lyrics.)
- P.O.D., 'The Fundamental Elements of Southtown' (This was the first thing that made me enjoy music with a passion. The lyrics and music weren't cookie cutter.)
- Saves the Day, 'Stay What You Are' (I remember lying on the floor in my brother’s room which was filled with black lights and listening to this album straight through while reading the lyrics several times. I listened to this album for years to come on a daily basis.)
- Joy Electric, 'Robot Rock' (Synth-pop music is my favorite type of music outside of rock and roll. This album has perfect pop melodies and a nostalgic vibe for me.)
- Norma Jean, 'Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child' (If you had the chance to see Norma Jean around 2001-2002 before Scogin left the band, then you know just how special that band was. Something was different and refreshing about that version of the band. This album captured a bit of that charm that awoke rock and roll in my veins.)
Who are your top five artists?
-Edward H. Johnson (The inventor of Christmas lights.)
Who is a producer/mixer that you would like to work with or have worked with and why?
I've always wanted to work with Howard Benson because he has produced several records that I've enjoyed and from what I hear he lets the artist be the artist and doesn't try to control them. However, on that same note. We recorded with Cameron Webb and I would do that again in a second. He was amazing even down to the way he spoke to us as people. He is a legit dude and I have so much respect for him. He didn't try to change Islander but instead wanted us to be the best version of Islander that we could possibly be. He was sacrificial and didn't see us as a form of a paycheck. He was genuinely interested in what it was we were creating and being a part of that process. There were times where I would get really frustrated with him, but at the end of the day he got the best performances out of me, and even taught me a little bit about how to speak to people when sharing criticisms, which is something I still need to work on daily.
If you had a loud speaker that reached everyone in the world for two minutes, what would you say?
I would let them know that I am so sorry for any hurts or anger that they have toward Christ because of me or any other person that claims to follow him. But that Jesus Christ loves them so, so much and that he came here to die for us and that he's risen from the dead and he wants to have a real relationship with them and be the best friend they could ever have. And then I would tell them that if it is difficult to believe that this is all true, then I wanted them to know that it would still be really hard for me to believe that there was a loud speaker that reached all of them so I understand that this is all crazy, but it's all still true. And then I would tell them that if they were busy working or watching a movie in the theatre or asking their girlfriend to marry them or something while I was on the loud speaker, then I was sorry I was bothering them but I only had two minutes of loud speaker time, but that what I said is the most important thing I could think to ever say to anyone if I knew I were never going to talk to them again on this earth. I would say something like that.
What are some of your favorite songs you have written and what were they inspired by?
When we were in the studio, we wrote a song called 'New Wave.' The music sounded like palm trees and the ocean being set on fire. Cameron (our producer) sat me down in a room and turned on a DVD with the volume muted. I listened to the instrumental version of 'New Wave' in my headphones the entire time I watched the movie and started writing the lyrics. I don't remember what the movie was called but it was a little over an hour of footage of people surfing in slow motion, walking through towns, shopping, hanging out, riding in cars -- just random imagery. To this day whenever I hear that song, I think about sitting on that couch while watching that movie.
We also wrote a song which features Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D. called 'Criminals.' The song deals with the fact that no one is better than anyone else in that we have all done something wrong. None of us are perfect so we are all on the same level of being guilty of something. We kinda poked fun at ourselves a bit in the studio calling ourselves outlaws. It's a fun song admitting that we know we aren't perfect, but that we can be forgiven.
'Coconut Dracula' is one of my favorites, as well. My family is from the Dominican Republic, and one night while speaking Spanish, my uncle Rey said something that sounded like 'Coconut Dracula.' I'm not sure what he actually said but I liked the way Coconut Dracula sounded, so I came up with this story about Count Dracula finding a coconut on the ground and taking a bite of it. He realizes that there is sweetness and beauty in the world and that he doesn't have to be evil and kill people and suck their blood anymore. So he gets his name legally changed from Count Dracula to Coconut Dracula.
He is roommates with a Witch, a Werewolf, Frankenstein, and a Mummy. His monster friends are curious as to why Dracula is full of joy, wearing Batman pajamas, planting a garden and helping with charities. The song is from the Mummies point of view as he represents someone that is dead and covered in dirty rags. He is asking Dracula to teach him how to have the same kind of joy in his life that he has discovered.
What are your favorite cities to play and why?
We love our hometown of Greenville, S.C., of course because that's our home. Our friends and families are here so it's always nice to see everyone and be home for a minute. We really enjoy Denver. They have a VooDoo Donuts shop and we really like donuts. Pittsburgh, Pa. is a town that loves rock music. Dallas and Houston, Texas are both amazing. Phoenix, Ariz. was great to us. Anywhere in California because In-N-Out is everywhere. New York is amazing because Andrew and I both have family up that way that we get to see and it's always nice to feel that since of being home even though we are hundreds of miles away still.
You mentioned recently you need to go on vocal rest more periodically. What would be your preferred alternate form of communication?
I really hate texting/Facebooking unless it's not a serious conversation. Texting is an easy way to be misunderstood. Sometimes it can be difficult to find vocal rest when you’re on the road because of interviews, wanting to spend time with the fans or wanting to speak to my wife on the phone. Being a better listener is one of my goals though. I feel like if I can learn the art of listening better, communication will improve in general. So maybe it's a good thing that I'm trying to speak less.
What's next for Islander?
We just take one day at a time. We can't decide what hand we will be dealt in all of this, but we can definitely play our cards to the best of our ability. Right now, our goal is to tour as much as possible and meet as many people as we can.
Do people ever confuse you for Michael Carbajal (American five-time world boxing champion)?
Hahaha. When I was younger everyone would ask me if I've heard of him. But I've never been mistaken for him. At one point, my dad had me training at a boxing school. Maybe if I had stuck with that it would have happened.
What do you think of weird people who have a fear of public restrooms?
It's funny you ask because before we were touring often, I was one of those weird people. Now I view all restrooms like they belong to me. Sometimes I still find one that is so bad it freaks me out though. That happened on one of the last dates we were on tour with you guys. I just couldn't do it so I actually asked Fieldy if I could just use the Korn restroom instead…
What was the experience like working with H.R. from Bad Brains on the track 'Lucky Rabbit'?
We actually had recording time booked for him in California and it ended up falling through because he decided last minute to miss his flight and play a show with Fishbone. We really can't blame him though, haha. After he missed the recording time we had scheduled, we had to figure something out, and came up with the crazy idea of him recording vocals through a phone like he did for Bad Brains at one point while not being able to be near an actual studio for whatever reason. So, I got in contact with him and asked him if that is something he would be into and he was totally down. So, I found an app for my iPhone that allows the recording of phone calls. He listened to the track and I explained to him what the song was about and told him to just do what he wanted to do. So yeah, that's how H.R. ended up laying down vocals through a cell phone.
You've said before that one ultimate goal of yours would be to tour with Korn. You can scratch that off your bucket list. Was it everything you hoped it would be?
A month after we signed our deal, we had a meeting with our label to discuss our goals. I told them several things, but one of them was that we needed to be on tour with Korn. When I said that, we hadn't even recorded a full length record, so I am sure it sounded crazy. We knew what we were shooting for though. So for our first major tour to be with you guys was a dream come true. However, the one thing I didn't expect to come back from that tour with was some of the best friends anyone could ask for. I didn't expect to feel so much love or to see so many people’s lives changed during that tour. And I surely had no clue that I would end up with my own bunk on your tour bus for the last few days of tour. So to answer your question, it was far more amazing than I had ever hoped it would be.
Usually people say that I am better looking in person; do you hold that to be true?
Hahahaha. Sure. You wear just the right amount of makeup.
Thanks to Lisa Monti, who also contributed to this article.
Brian 'Head' Welch is a founding member of the multiplatinum band Korn and frontman of Love and Death. He is the New York Times best-selling author of the book 'Save Me From Myself.' Brian has won multiple Grammys and MTV Music Awards and is currently active in both Korn and Love and Death. Pick up Love and Death's expanded edition of their debut album, 'Between Here & Lost,' at iTunes. Korn's latest album, 'The Paradigm Shift (World Tour Edition),' is also out now, and can be ordered at iTunes. Also, be sure to catch Korn on tour this fall with Slipknot. Get the dates here.
Watch Islander's 'Coconut Dracula' Video: