Sometimes and album just ‘hits the spot’ and ‘Sonic Healing’ by Todd Michael Hall is one of those albums this year – a huge album of Classic Rock influenced songs that comes as a collaboration with Kurdt Vanderhoof of Metal Church. We caught up with Todd to talk about the record, his career so far and also his experience on ‘The Voice’ where he belted out ‘Jukebox Hero’ and proved beyond doubt that the show has no room for real singers…
Mark: Hi Todd how you doing?
Todd: I’m doing well thank you Mark. Is that Glenn Hughes as your icon or is that you?
Mark: I wish I has a voice like Glenn, but sadly not, that’s a good spot. I did take the photo but it is Mr. Hughes. A great singer, as indeed are you Sir. I must admit when I heard ‘Sonic Healing’ I knew I had to have a chat but I mistakenly didn’t think I knew you until I read the bio and realised I have a good few albums by you in my collection.
Todd: Oh really which ones?
Mark: ‘Burning Starr’
Mark: Let’s get things out there right away. I must admit I’m blown away by the album.
Todd: Thank you very much Mark I appreciate that.
Mark: And as someone who doesn’t watch a whole lot of TV I missed The Voice, but I loved what you did with ‘Jukebox Hero’.
Todd: The funny thing for me was I hadn’t really watched it either, and this is probably sound kinds stupid but the reason I don’t watch that kinda stuff is, firstly there’s a lot of talking in there and I kinda just want to see the performances and also the other issue was it would fill me up with this desire to try out and then it would really frustrate me. Especially with something like American Idol because I was always too old (laughs) but with ‘The Voice’ I though what the hell. It would be nice to get the exposure and also see what happened. I thought just getting to sing ‘Jukebox Hero’ and hitting all those high notes in front of all those people on National TV would be fun because you don’t hear a lot of that on the show and the other aspect was just the experience really. Life’s all about experiences and things that stick with you and I’m not so materialistic really, so the people that you love and family and friends and your experiences are the most important things. But here in the U.S. is really Pop based and I think you see that after the first song they start forcing more and more Pop stuff on you, and the sad part is in the live rounds they let me start picking songs again but I didn’t make it! (laughs)
Mark: What did you have lined up!
Todd: I had Iron Maiden on the list, and the interesting thing is the music producer for the show – he was seriously considering it for my dedication song – I was going to send it out to my best friend since childhood – the song ‘Wasted Years’ so there was that. And actually Dio –‘Holy Dive’ was actually one of the options for my knockout round, but they just didn’t give me that song. But you know, whatever, I was glad that I got to do ’Jukebox Hero’ and everything else was just gravy, you know.
Mark: The album’s been out for a week now, what’s the initial reaction been like? Has it surprised you?
Todd: You know in a way, you never know how people are gonna think, I felt myself that it was a good album, I was really enjoying it, it had some decent hooks and a lot of positive energy and some great vocal melodies to Kur’s awesome writing. So I was hoping people would like it but I think you’re always pleasantly surprised when people respond positively. The hard part is that it’s just so hard to reach people that’s why people like you taking an interest and doing these interviews is so important. You guys are such an essential part of the machine because people’s lives in general have so many distractions, not even just music. And like you said you had a couple of my albums and didn’t even realise it so when people see my name they might just skip over, if they see Glenn Hughes they might click on it! So just trying to get noticed is really, really tough. But I’m definitely pleased by the positive reviews, it definitely makes you feel good. I think ultimately for me I’ve always loved music and its always kinda been the soundtrack of my life and especially in my younger days when certain albums and certain bands they just really touched me, and at this point in my life – I’ll be 52 this year, at this point my fantasy is just to be able to do that for other people – just write some music that they really enjoyed and felt like it really touched them to. That to me is my goal.
Mark: its great music and I certainly get a lot out of the record. It’s timeless Rock. I got a real ‘Rainbow’ vibe from the opener ‘Overdrive’ and there’s a wonderful groove to ’Let Loose Tonight’ and I love “All on The Line’ it’s so catchy!
Todd: We debated that one being the first single, but we went with the others that have that instant energy that pulls you in right away, ‘All on the Line’ just takes a second to get it going, you know.
Mark: And you do a great ballad too ‘Running After You’ is a great song, and the album is up there with my favourites of the year so far. I’d love to know where it all comes from – what were you listening to when you were growing up? I see a few things name-checked in the bio- but who were the bands that were most important to you?
Todd: Well what happened to me is my older brother John, he’s 4 years older than me, and I have another brother Rick who’s a year and a half older than me, so they were around and getting into music, but certainly my older brother John for sure because he had taken guitar lessons at nine, ten years old and by the time I was ten he was starting to play in bands and bring people over to jam in the basement. So this was in teh70’s and starting to roll up into the 80’s. And before that my Mom always loved music too, and she was incredibly diverse – we would be driving around in the old Cadillac with the 8-track cassette player and we’d have like the best of Bread, Tom T Hall who you probably don’t know who that is (all I knew as the song ‘Harper Valley PTA’ and that he wrote novels) but we’d also have The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple and stuff like that. We also had like this giant wood cabinet with speakers built in and a flip-top lid and that was the turntable, and we’d just put on songs and jam there in the living room. And I remember so specifically how my brother would lean against it and throw on Ted Nugent – he loved Ted Nugent and Van Halen. My Other brother Rick really liked Styx and REO Speedwagon. We also had the Queen album ‘News of the World’ and stuff like that. So those were the kind of things I was putting on,
But I think what happened to me was in the 70’s when you looked at the Rock especially the stuff that was popular on the radio, a lot of it, not all of it had these really big range singers that could naturally just sing all over the place. Look at Boston and Triumph and Rush and all that kind of stuff – the singers had these great ranges. And even as we rolled into the 80’s and music started to shift and my tastes started to shift to heavy Metal by about ’83 – that style of singing and that notion of the big range that stuck with it – it was kind of a golden era. I mean there were also virtuoso drummers – you knew the drummers by name, you knew the guitar players by name and of course the singers by name. And Hit Parader magazine would have these articles like Bruce Dickinson vs Rob Halford –it was just that time! So that’s where I came from and so I think going into this album I did seven Heavy Metal albums in ten years – three with Burning Starr, two with Reverence, and two with Riot. And in general Heavy Metal in the way I would distinguish it from Classic Rock is that Heavy Metal doesn’t always but it tends to have a lot more double bass so the music’s more (Todd does a double bass drum kick pattern vocally) whereas Classic Rock tends to have more space in the drums which creates more groove and almost like a sway. More ‘left to right’ music than ‘up and down’ is what we joke about in Riot because the early stuff is more ‘left to right’ and the later stuff is more Power Metal so more ‘up and down’ and by up and down mean your head bobbing up and down! (laughs) So I think for me I wanted that Rock. The challenge for me though as a singer songwriter is that I pick up an acoustic and it comes out more ‘Pop’ so I really needed a good complement for that and that’s what happened to me. I’d talked to Joe from Rat Pack about doing a solo album a while ago back in 2018 and he was thinking more Heavy Metal but I thought I wanted to do something more Classic so nothing really happened till I got on The Voice and sent to ‘Jukebox Hero’ link to Joe and said “Hey check it out” I thought it really hit so I called him and told him I wanted to do some old school Rock – and I told him I had a bunch of song ideas and could he hook me up with somebody? So he came back and said “I got a guy, do you know Kurdt from Metal Church?” I had briefly met him when Riot opened up from the in 2017 in Switzerland but we’d not shared contact information. So he told me that Kurdt loved classic rock too – so we hooked up by zoom and I told him what I wanted to accomplish and he said that sounded great and that when he picked up a guitar that was the sort of stuff that naturally rolled out of him. I think what happens is that, it’s not that you don’t like Heavy Metal but when you’re in a band like Riot or even a band like Metal Church, people develop these expectations that you’ll play so blistering Metal, but I just wanted to do something different and I think Kurdt felt the same way. So he just said let me just write a bunch of stuff to get in the mood, and I remember him calling me one day, and I’m sorry for these really long answer!
Mark: That’s fine.
Todd: So I remember him calling and he was just finishing up some stuff and this was like the middle of March and he said “OK I’m ready to start now” so we set up a drop box folder and in a week he had five ideas in there. And every day he would pretty much load another idea so he wrote 18 songs over the course of 21 days. And it just so happened that mid-March that’s when I had to shut down my business so I could really focus on things. And it was almost like we had a contest I’d say “I just uploaded one for you” and he’d be like “I just uploaded one for you”. So what I was doing I was taking these demos and walking around listing to them and they were just singing to me and the lyrics and the vocal melodies were just popping, you know! They were just hitting right where I wanted to be – we were just firing on all cylinders and within four weeks – just a week after he’d sent the songs I had vocal melodies for 15 or 16 songs. And we really liked what we had so there was no reason to go back to my original ideas – so basically everything you are hearing is right on the spot, brand new written for this album. So it was a really interesting experience, I’ve had songs that went really fast before but not whole albums!
Mark: It sound like a huge sure of energy and a match made in heaven!
Todd: It really helps in that Kurdt is just such a good musician. He was able to lay down guitars, bass and drums and that’s why we don’t list any other players because he did all the music and I did all the vocals at my home studio, I’ve been doing that since the second Burning Starr album. We had the album ready by April and final recordings midway through May. And Kurdt took some time missing it as he’d keep going back and changing things, but we certainly had it in the can in June. And then it just took forever to put together the promo material –make videos and do the artwork because during the lockdown it was really hard and I finally flew to California at the end of December, so it took a while but we knew more than anything that we just wanted the package to be right. Originally the release was planned for the fall of 2020 but we didn’t quite hit the mark there.
Mark: One of the tracks I’m loving at the moment is ‘Somebody’s Fool’.
Todd: I love that one too.
Mark: But I think ‘All on the Line’ is probably my current favourite at the moment.
Todd: I have a funny story about that one. If you listen to the end of that songs in the outro there’s a spot where it goes (Todd sings) “I Know We’ve Got What it Takes” it’s like an alternate melody than the chorus – that was the original chorus for the song but when I showed it to Kurdt he wondered if we could come up with something a little bit better – and that was the chorus that is on the song now. But I just wanted to keep it around for a little bit of interest which was kinda cool that he kept it in for me!
Todd: ‘Somebody’s Fool’ that one has a nice vibe. It’s one of those songs like a lot of modern songs that in the Pop Rock world that are a little subdued in the verses and then kick in with some energy on the chorus. And I think ‘Sonic Healing’ is kinda like that and also ‘Somebody’s Fool.’ There’s a groove on that chorus, honesty to pick a favorite I’d really really struggle. I love ‘Overdrive’ and both Kurdt and I knew it had to be the opener but I don’t think it’s the best there. I love ‘To the Bone’ too but for me I love ‘Running After You’ because it’s classic me- and has big notes in the Chorus but I also love a lot of energy. I’m really happy with all of them. In reality the album has ten tracks on it because that’s what would fit on vinyl but we’ve added two tracks to the Cd because as it’s dedicated to my brother I really wanted to have ‘The Other Side’ on the album as it’s dedicated to my brother who died last March, as well as ‘Not With the Sword’ – the challenge I had with ’Sword’ is that it’s tuned down to ‘D’. And that’s what Joe (from Rat Pack) said he felt that the ten songs were the core ‘in the same pocket’ whereas the other two were just slightly different musically speaking so that’s why they’re bonus tracks. But there are 3 more bonus tracks that were on a CD in one of the bundles and we haven’t really officially released those because you can’t find them digitally or on YouTube or anything. And one of those was called ‘Rise Again’ and actually that one I really liked too. Kurdt taught me to play it on guitar and it’s got some great energy, but we had to cut somewhere.
Mark: It’s been great to talk to you today Todd, I could talk all day about the album and to be honest I would have loved to chat about Riot and Burning Starr, but you’ve also been in a number of other bands over the years and the only one I think I haven’t checked out is Harlet.
Todd: The funny thing is way back when the one official album that we put out independently in 1988 I sold my Triumph TR7 that I bought with my paper route money to be able to fund the recording. And the funny thing is I don’t think anyone would have heard of it unless a distributor who contacted me when we had changed the name of the band to ’Pulling Teeth’ and who put out an album in 1994 that was kind of really eclectic, so when I was trying to sell the ‘Pulling Teeth’ to the distributor because he sold stuff to Europe and Japan, I remember him asking if we had any of the Harlet albums left. So I sent him a few and he asked for more, I think I only sent him a batch of 100 – so he took that batch and sold them in Europe and Japan and so just a small amount got out, and coincidentally he never paid me for them! He totally stiffed me and never returned my calls. But by putting that out there were just enough that heard it that now there’s an entry in Encyclopaedia Metallicum and stuff like that! There’s still such a passion for 80’s music that they’re still finding independents like us. At the time we were playing night clubs in Detroit so in our own minds we were a semi-big deal here in Mid-Michigan and down to Detroit, but the rest of the world knew nothing. So what I would say about Harlet is that there were flashes of brilliance, but I mailed it to Kerrang and they were a little more harsh wondering if maybe shouldn’t have sold my car! But we were young, I was 18 and out song-writing wasn’t so mature! But I think back really finely on the alum because we were so full of passion and wanting to impress the world, so I was throwing in a high scream everywhere I could! I hold it back more nowadays!
Mark: Thank you so much for you time today Todd, it’s been great to talk to you, and thank you for such a great record.
Todd: thank you very much Mark, this is a passion project for me and I just really wanted to have an awesome album out so thank you man for telling people about it.
Mark: My pleasure Todd, stay safe.