Hailing from Long Beach, California, Sunflower Dead proves to be a powerhouse alternative rock and metal group centered around vocalist Michael Del Pizzo, guitarists Jaboo (Two Hit Creeper) and Jamie Teissere (Droid), Leighton “Lats” Kearns on bass (Snot, Momento) and Jimmy Schultz on drums (In This Moment).
The members of Sunflower Dead are beginning to make waves with their second studio effort ‘It’s Time to Get Weird,’ which was helmed by producer Dave Fortman and Mikey Doling, recognized for their collective works with Evanescence, Godsmack, Slipknot and Gemini Syndrome.
It was during this year’s NAMM convention that Music Enthusiast Magazine spoke with frontman Del Pizzo in Anaheim, California, to discuss the thirteen new songs that comprise the new Sunflower Dead album and their unique stage presence.
Music Enthusiast: You’ve been here all day; are there any particular vendors you’re looking at?
Michael Del Pizzo: I’ve been here all day yesterday and today. I actually never come to NAMM, I’m not a really crowd people person, but I had interviews all day yesterday and today. I spoke on a panel today about making it as an Indie artist and that went well. There were a couple of people, me and Dave Lombardo from Slayer, so it was cool. Now I’m going to do this interview and see some people and hopefully get out of here. (laughs)
With your first album self-titled `Sunflower Dead’ you went straight into the studio to record, then toured Europe for two and half years. What do you feel is the difference between your first release and the latest release `It’s Time to Get Weird’?
The first record as a band we purposely made it very raw sounding, very new band sounding. So when we did our second record we wanted it to be very polished so it would be a totally different genre. In the time from touring the first record for two and half years we actually grew a lot, learned what really worked and what didn’t, that’s where the whole thing `Time to Get Weird’ came about. You can totally tell it’s the same band, but more polished and mature and just focused. This `Time to Get Weird’ thing was a joke because we wear makeup and I play the accordion, our guitar player would say, alright let’s go get weird, we started saying it, then our fans that we were gathering started saying it, we thought we have to call a record that. We wrote a song about it, which comes out February 16th on the radio and the video came out Monday, January 25th featuring Jonathan Davis from Korn. It’s an animated video, it’s us in our makeup and Jonathan Davis. It’s like a Scooby Doo cartoon, it’s really cool.
Following up on the makeup. It seems bands nowadays have to do something different to make them stand out. Is this why; and where did this concept come from?
We all just wanted to entertain people, it had nothing to do with standing out. I feel that a guy in a t-shirt and jeans who writes purely honest music that comes from his heart will stand out. We’re all going to feel it right? So it had nothing to do with standing out, we just wanted to entertain people give them a show, give them an outlet to get away from their week, and how long it was and whatever they are going through. That’s really where it came from. I’m shocked because none of us ever worn makeup, and never thought we would and we are, it feels like Halloween every day and we are having fun with it.
Each one of you has a different look. Was this an individual choice, or was the look laid out for you?
Our first photo shoot we ever did for the band, we got a makeup artist that does horror movies, just showed up at the photo shoot not knowing what we’re going to look like, just described it to her what we wanted, each one of us came out the way we did, and we were like right on, we looked pretty cool we’ll stick with it. I said what I wanted with the veins on my head, the spikes on my jacket, my guitar player has the bleeding eyes, one of them has stitches on his mouth, it’s just an extension of everybody’s personality, it just works.
Talk about your costume, I understand you made it yourself and with real spikes.
Yes, I made that myself, correct. Oh yeah those are real spikes, heavy spikes I have paled my head on both sides with them.
Once you start touring the recent album release `It’s Time to Get Weird’ you’ve stated you would like to start in Europe, why abroad first?
We were in Europe over the summer, trying out all of our new songs and getting them ready. Touring with Snot and Korn over there. But really it’s to go worldwide, to be honest because there’s people everywhere, you can’t be a band in one area anymore you have to go far out as possible that’s the idea.
I understand, all rock and metal bands push to tour in Europe, being its more popular there. Being a local band, I’m surprised you haven’t pushed more in this area.
Yeah, and that was done on purpose. Instead of playing the local thing and building out, we decided to start touring the US, and getting on the bigger tours and touring to build up the buzz, then come back here. We figured not to bring our friends to see us play, we wanted real people to come and see us play. I mean they are real people (laughs), but we wanted fans to come see us. Who cares if three hundred friends come, it’s not real it doesn’t count. We wanted there to be a buzz so when we play here it mattered. So the only time we played Southern California was when we came here on tour. Now were finally doing our CD release show on February 5th, were headlining our own show, because we have enough buzz after three year of touring, now when we play it will be a good show. We went backwards.
That’s worked well for you?
It’s been great. It allowed us to grow. Before we did our first record we hadn’t played a show, we just recorded the record. It allowed us to figure out who we were and what we wanted to do.
Taking your time?
Yes, taking our time, slow and steady. 2012 was the first release and this is 2016 for the second one. It’s been three years.
I personally am new to your music. I pulled up your website, Facebook and started listening, I really like it.
While I was listening to your song “Dance with Death,” instantly Rob Zombie came to mind with a little twist of Staind such a smooth transition within. Is this something you try to do with your music, change the vibe within?
The vibe of the band is simple. My goal is to no worry about being Metal or anything, just to write great songs. Great songs with a huge courses and big melodies, that’s the goal, that is what every song does, now I play the piano, so there’s piano ballads, some heavier that has its Rob Zombie four on the floor thing going on, big hooks are all I can say.
It’s huge Alice Cooper, and that’s where the makeup comes from, it doesn’t come from bands like Slayer, Slipknot or Mudvayne which we love it comes from. Alice Cooper and KISS, the seventies, the original guys, that’s what inspired our look.
Does it inspire your music as well?
It does, you will hear that on our third album, if things keep going well. A little bit of Alice Cooper kind of inspiration. It does inspire us cause these guys wrote real songs, they wrote real songs that you could sing along to, they were song, songs. I think that’s where all this comes back to.
What’s your writing process like, is this a band collaboration?
We sit in the room and we write together old school. We do demos by pressing the record on the recording unit and microphones, send it to the producers and say give us your thoughts. No pro tools, no drum machines, no email, I mean we email the track. We are together in a room going what do you think or feel, for some reason when a song feels right is when all of our ideas meet in the middle. If it’s too far this way or that way, it’s not right, but when it’s in the middle it works. You have to be egoless and respectful, you might not agree where a song is going but all of a sudden, you get to that place where you say wow this is great.
The bassist is the only member change since inception?
Yes, the original bassist after a nine-day tour we did, was so shocked about the response we’re getting with autographs and this and that. He was like, “I don’t want to be a rock star.” We said no worries and were are still great friends. He came to terms it wasn’t for him.
How long was the transition on getting a new bassist?
The transition was done before I was even notified. My guitar player took care of it.
The band members have known each other a long time. Have you worked together on other projects?
Yes, me and my guitarist have known each other since we were five. We moved to California from Philadelphia to do music.
Your guitarist is Jaboo, correct?
Yes, and then Jamie Teissere that was in a band called Droid, we’ve always been friends with him. Then our second and current bass player’s name is Lats, he came from Australia and was in a band that was signed by Columbia I believe, that did OZ fests. And our drummer Jimmy Schultz is from Southern California. Jim and I kind of went to all the bands we liked and said we’ll take you, take you, and take you, we cherry picked. Every band has one or two drivers and a bunch a guys they drag around. I wanted a band that had five drivers, I wanted the rock stars, I wanted the guys that really wanted to do it, because it’s so hard now a day. I needed five guys that are in this to win, no one that’s lazy that’s why we cherry picked.
Did you have to sell the concept to the guys?
No, we had mutual respect when we talked about it. Everybody seemed to be on the same page, it’s hard to get five guys to do makeup, none of us had or were interested in, but we were all like yeah this is cool, why I don’t know. So far so good.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Sunflower Dead started from a short story idea I had. Well I’m doing the graphic novel right now to debut at comic con. I’m co-writing it with a very esteemed famous horror author, movie maker I’m not allowed to say until we sign one more agreement, but its huge it’s so cool, we’re going to make this twisted Sunflower Dead story, and it’s going to be awesome.
You’re a novelist too?
You know what I am, I’m just creative I have ideas and I have to get them out, I wrote this short story about the Sunflower Dead, and it ended up years later becoming the band, I would say in interviews, really it’s a short story that I would like to make a graphic novel, I guess you throw stuff out into the universe it comes back and now I’m doing it. So I guess I’m a writer too.
Any last words?
Hope to see everyone on tour soon, until then stay weird!