The coronavirus pandemic has put the entire music industry on pause—but someone forgot to tell Mike Orlando. The guitarist best known for his time in Adrenaline Mob is adding to his list of bands seemingly by the day, as you will read below. Next up on his release schedule: the debut album from Her Chariot Awaits (Frontiers Music, May 22, 2020), on which he teams up with Spanish singer Ailyn, formerly of Sirenia. Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Mike to discuss this band (and others), the impact of the pandemic and the lingering aftereffects of the horrific Adrenaline Mob accident.
LIVE METAL: First of all, how have you been making out so far during this pandemic? Where are you?
MIKE ORLANDO: I’m right outside of New York City, so this area is tough and hit real hard. I guess they call it the epicenter of this whole pandemic, which is pretty crazy to think about. I’m doing OK now. Thankfully, everybody is doing OK. I was on tour when it hit. We were out doing a month run with Sons of Apollo in Europe. So it hit, everything got canceled, came home. I got a little sick for a couple of weeks. I definitely had some really tough breathing issues. So that was tough. And being an asthmatic on top of that, it was really tough. Thankfully, that passed. We have some family members who, unfortunately, have it. We’ve lost someone to it already in the family. Man, it’s just a horrible time. My god.
Knowing all the various bands you’ve been involved with, you don’t seem to be one to just sit around during this time. What have you been doing to fill the time?
Thankfully, I’ve been wrapping up a new album, for a new band, that hopefully will be coming out by the end of the year or first of the new year. So I’ve been locked up, thankfully, finishing up this album. It’s a new band called Blacken the Sky. I’m extremely excited about it—really heavy, symphonic, really rockin’ metal type, but with huge vocals. It’s myself, the amazing Aquiles Priester on drums and the absolutely incredible Andrew Freeman on vocals. Couldn’t be more excited about that, and to be honest, that’s what I’ve been locked away doing, thankfully. I’m mixing it now and wrapping it up in the next couple weeks.
Let’s get to the next release coming up for you, Her Chariot Awaits. How did this get started? Did you make it known that you were looking to start a new band?
It all started through my manager, Michael Kaplan, who is a legend in the record industry for decades. I go back with him from the beginning of Adrenaline Mob; he signed us to EMI. So Michael’s like family. Michael was the bridge between myself and Frontiers, and now I’m working with them. That was the first album that we started, Her Chariot Awaits; Blacken the Sky is the second. And when they approached me to do something with a female singer, I was like, “Hell yeah! I love it.” I’m a huge fan of bands like Halestorm, In This Moment, Flyleaf, Paramore, No Doubt. I love that stuff. So I jumped at the idea. I jumped at the opportunity.
Did they put you in touch with Ailyn?
We were looking for singers back and forth—myself and Michael, and then the label—kind of going around a few ideas, and then they sent us over Ailyn, and it was a no-brainer. I didn’t know her nor did I know her previous band, Sirenia. But what I heard was she had an absolutely beautiful voice, she’s a beautiful woman, and she’s one of the sweetest people, period, to work with. It was like win-win-win. (laughs) She was great. It was like OK, let’s do this. That’s really how it went down. As soon as we were together in this, I went to work on writing the album.
How did that go? It’s kind of a different style for you. To me, it sounds like you kind of took your style and her style, and then sort of met in the middle. Is that what you were trying to do?
Actually, she was so far removed from this style, because she’s from a symphonic metal band. It really was so new for her. For me, not so much, because as I said before, I love those bands. The Halestorm guys are like family to me. We toured with them, and we did a duet with Lzzy. I love that music, so it was just like go in that mode, and that’s kind of how it went.
I pretty much just wrote everything myself. As I always do with albums, I do all the pre-production, and I’ll write all the drums, the bass, the guitar, and with this, I would sing the songs and send them to Ailyn. There was a few parts in a couple of songs that she worked on that she came up with some killer shit. There’s a whole middle section of “Misery” that she came up with a great thing for, and she gave some lyrics for some verses.
But basically, the bulk of the album was just me doing it here and sending her the tracks already recorded, pre-production-wise—some of them very funny sounding because I had to sing in falsetto (laughs), ‘cause it’s hard to sing that high for a woman to understand. So that was kind of funny. But other than that, I would sing in my regular voice and say, “Hey, it’s got to go an octave higher.” (laughs)
Is that you doing the male vocals on “Turning the Page”?
Yes. I have a more mid-type of voice, so to say, where she is an amazing, five-octave singer.
When it came to writing the lyrics, did your approach change knowing you were writing for a female singer?
Yeah. That was the cool thing about it. I love different opportunities and doing different things. I would do a country album, I would do a jazz album—anything. With this, it was great to see a perspective from a woman’s point of view. So yes, the lyrics had to be completely tailored for her. I even sat and spoke to my girlfriend and went over, “OK, what would you, as a woman, feel about this?” There’s even a song that’s kind of a story that my girlfriend wrote about her father. It was like a letter she wrote to herself, and I put it into song and developed it, and it’s called “Dead & Gone.” That’s one of our singles, our videos. So again, from a woman’s perspective on things, and that’s the whole album. I thought it was a great challenge, and I was excited to take it on.
When did the other guys in the band come onboard, and how did you find them?
Jeff Thal, who is Ron Thal’s brother, from Bumblefoot and Guns N’ Roses—so those guys grew up down the block from me. (laughs) Yeah, I’ve known those two since I’m like 14. They’re incredible guys, great people, incredible musicians, and I always wanted to do something with Jeff. So this was the opportunity that came, and he was really the first one I thought of to do the drums. Of course, like I said, the album, as I do with all of them, I write it and I do all the pre-production so I can send tracks to people and say, “Hey, man, this is what it sounds like. Go for it. Do your thing. Here are the songs.” That’s how it worked out with Jeff.
The bass guitar, unfortunately Brian Gearty came at the end of the equation. So the bass on the album is myself. But then Brian came in, and Brian’s in the video, and he’s an incredible player. I had done a show with myself and Corey Glover, who we have another band that we’re launching, and Brian was the bass player. Brian is this incredible rhythm and blues, funky dude. He’s just a great player, great guy, so it was real nice to get him in the band.
The fact that you brought him in, brought a bass player in after the fact, seems to indicate that you intend this band to keep going forward into the future. It’s not a one-off thing.
Yeah, without a doubt. I’ve never done something where it was just a release, like a project. I know people call them projects—I don’t. For me, it’s a band. This is the lineup, these are the songs, and this is the group, and of course I want to launch it. I want to tour it and do everything we can for it. Unfortunately, it’s coming out at the worst—well, I can’t say the worst time, but my god, what a horrible time in the world right now. So we can’t get out and support it. We just can’t. Nobody can. But it’s definitely not a project for us. This is Her Chariot Awaits, and when we can get out there and support it, myself and Ailyn and Jeff and Brian would love to.
When the time comes and you can go on tour again, I know nobody really knows what’s going to happen, but do you have any thoughts or guesses as to what touring will actually look like then?
My god, I don’t know. It’s a scary thing. I have another band called Noturnall, which is based in South America, and we do a lot of touring. We were out with Sons of Apollo, and we had about three months of touring this year planned, which unfortunately got all canceled. But we’re gonna put it in 2021.
I don’t know, man. As with all of us, we’re all praying that this thing gets taken care of and goes back to normal and there’s a vaccine. Part of me is speechless. We all don’t know right now. No one does. I don’t foresee doing the drive-in concerts. I’ve seen some stories about that. But hey, whatever it’s gonna come back as, I just hope it comes back. That’s all.
How did you come up with the band name, Her Chariot Awaits. I know some bands will agonize over the name. How was it for you?
For me, this was a female-fronted band, and I wanted the focus to be on Ailyn. I’m not that “look at me, look at me” kind of guy, where it should be called Mike’s whatever (laughs). I think that’s crazy. So when I was researching Ailyn, you would see her in Sirenia and she would have all these majestic outfits. It was a beautiful appearance, the way she presented herself. It was very majestic-like, which led me to envision her getting on a chariot and being driven away—something like that—which I just spun into Her Chariot Awaits. The band is almost her chariot—here it is, and let’s go. Let’s take this on a journey.
On a different note, how did you end up working with Disney and doing the “Whole New World” cover?
What an honor. What can I say? That came through between Ron Thal and a guy named John Gomez, who approached me. Very thankful about that. Man, what a stellar lineup to be involved in, with Zakk (Wylde) and George Lynch and Paul Gilbert and Phil X, my buddy—just so many great players. That was a huge honor for me. I had such a great time doing it.
Aside from the bout of illness you had, how are you doing health-wise? I’m sure you’re not 100 percent, but how are things for you?
Yeah, I unfortunately am still dealing with everything from the accident, the Adrenaline Mob accident. I have a plethora of neck and back issues and a lot of stuff going on there. I’m just trying to get through it. It’s been two and a half years now, and every week is just chiropractors and physical therapy and pain management. I’ve had about five procedures already. So it’s tough, definitely tough. Ongoing thing, but I’m not gonna complain, because man, I wasn’t even supposed to be here if you look at how that went down. So I’m happy to be alive and grateful, and I just take it as it comes. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again, physically and mentally. But the physical aspect of it? It’s tough. (laughs) There’s no sugarcoating that, unfortunately.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Any other bands you want to plug?
Like I said, I’m just wrapping up this new Blacken the Sky album, with Aquiles Priester and Andrew Freeman. I’m about nine songs into a new album with Corey Glover—the absolutely amazing, jaw-dropping Corey Glover of Living Colour. So I’m super excited about that. I’m working on a new Noturnall album. We just released a DVD—we previewed it, streamed it, and we have Noturnall, “Made in Russia.” We toured with Disturbed, and we filmed it at the Moscow stadium, I think. It was incredible, so that DVD’s gonna come out from Noturnall. Yeah, just a lot of stuff up, and just grateful to be playing and making some music, man, making some noise.