White Wizzard's Joseph Michael on His Cousin (?) Ronnie James Dio
The running joke about L.A. metal band White Wizzard is that they've gone through more lineup changes since 2007 than Deep Purple did in 45 years. At last count, 16 musicians have been among Wizzard's ranks, and the only founding member who remains is bass player and chief songwriter Jon Leon.
Photo by Alex Solca
The current lineup -- intact for a full year now! -- features singer Joseph Michael, whose voice is astonishing both for its power and its similarity to the man who is said to be his cousin, the late Ronnie James Dio. We asked him about that, and we also spoke to Leon ahead of their record release show at The Roxy tomorrow, July 9. Topics discussed include sadomasochistic metaphors for religion, the right way to be retro, and, of course, Dio.
See also: The 20 Greatest Metal Albums in History
What are the characters on the cover of your new album, The Devil's Cut?
JL: The bottom is a priest that's ball-gagged, and what's riding him is a nun. She's beating him with a ruler, with stiletto high heels on.
Do they have names?
JL: No, it's just a tongue-in-cheek poke at organized religion, something you'll see as a theme in my lyrics from time to time. I'm pretty big-time about freedom of expression and thought and not letting yourself be oppressed by any sort of group mentalities, so I've got a pretty big problem with organized religions...I went to Catholic school all my life, of course. I think [the album art] kind of symbolizes how, even within religion's own confines, it kind of balls and gags you. It tries to make you conform to a certain belief pattern that's almost a cult-like mentality.
Joseph, How long have you been singing?
JM: Well, who hasn't been singing their whole life? Seriously singing, maybe for 13 years.
Did you ever take voice lessons?
JM: No. Originally, I played guitar and piano. I've been doing this professionally since I was 16. I dropped out of high school [in Utica, New York] to teach music and couldn't find a singer that could do everything that I wanted, so I just started doing it myself, started learning how to do it properly.
When did you move to L.A.?
JM: When I was 19, I was managing an Italian restaurant, and literally on the spur of the moment, I just quit my job and gathered up my songs, and I bought a Greyhound ticket. I know, it's so cliche. But I just came out here. I didn't know anybody. I slept on the street for, I don't know, five days? A week? Met a local drummer who had a band, Peppermint Creeps. The drummer is Traci Michaelz, who recently passed away...I joined his band [as the bass player] within a day and had a place to stay. And here I am, 13 years later. It's been quite a ride.
White Wizzard's music sounds very influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It's almost like you're doing an homage to that era. It's easy to fault bands who try to be retro, but in this case, your musicianship is so strong, I can't find anything to hold against you.