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Interview with Mike Mellinger (Intrinsic)

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Last Updated on 05:28 PM by Nikos Nakos

U.S. heavy metal seems endless in all of its aspects. In every genre, there has been unsung heroes, who crafted real gems in the past and now they have a second chance, for the general public to get to know them. Learn everything about Intrinsic.

 

Hello Michael, since it’s the first interview we have the pleasure to post from you please give us a short, if you want make it long of course, biography of Intrinsic.

Intrinsic formed in the spring of 1984 in San Luis Obispo, California. I had met the other original guitarist, Ron Crawford, at college – California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, in late 1983. We formed an early version of Intrinsic at that time, but never played live. After summer break in 1984, we reconvened and found a new drummer, Chris Binns, and bass player, Joel Stern. Chris was 16 years old at the time and still in high school. Joel went to Cal Poly, as well. We wrote songs as a 4 piece during the rest of the year and played our first show on Dec 31 in 1984 with a temporary singer. Garrett Graupner joined as vocalist in early 1985 and we recorded a 4 song demo that year. Two of the songs made it on to our first album. The next year was spent honing our live show all over California and writing songs. In the fall of 1986 we went into the studio to record our self-titled album. We released it ourselves in the summer of 1987 with the original black album cover.

In the fall of that year we parted ways with Graupner and started looking for a new singer. In the meantime, I sent the album to a long list of fanzines and magazines that I knew of from my underground metal days. Kerrang! gave us a really good review and things just took off. Relativity/Important Records signed us to a deal to do a worldwide release of the self-titled album. We went through a couple of singers, one of whom was David Wayne of Metal Church/Reverend fame. David was in the band for about 6 months and we wrote some music and did a little touring to support our album, but ultimately it didn’t work out. We didn’t see eye to eye on music/lyrics and he really just wanted a band that was kinda based around him. If he was going to start over, he wanted it to be with his own band, not an already established band.

In 1989, our manager at the time, Bob Zemsky (Savatage, Vicious Rumors) found singer, Lee Dehmer, through a club contact in Arizona. For the next year, we shared him with his Arizona band, Mr Shade. During that time, we started recording the 4 song EP, Distortion of Perspective, at our producer Ed Sandor’s studio. We recorded all of the tracks, then we parted ways with Ron. It was a messed up situation. Not good timing and a messy departure. We soldiered on with guitarist Matt Nunes, currently in the US metal band Motograter, replacing Ron’s guitar tracks, except on the song, “Maximator”, which I did all the tracks on. Matt left the band shortly thereafter, so we were essentially a 3 piece with a part-time singer. Not a great time for the band, especially after all the ups and downs we had previously with singers. We didn’t let it get us down though and started writing new songs, 3 of which ended up on the Nails album – “On Gossamer Wings”, “Yikes!” and “State of the Union”.

In early 1990, Lee determined that Mr. Shade had run its course, so he decided to leave Arizona and join Intrinsic full time. Since we also needed a guitarist, he brought the Mr Shade guitarist, Garrett Craddock, who ended up being a perfect fit musically and personally. Package deal!

The band released Distortion of Perspective in 1990 and set out writing a legion of songs that would become the Nails album. It was a very fruitful and rewarding time for the band. We really enjoyed that time period. Started in mid-1991, recording Nails proved to be a long and arduous process. It was eventually completed in 1992, but we couldn’t find a record deal to release it. Having very little money and energy to release it ourselves, we shelved the album and moved on. It was bitter pill to swallow.

I would say a lot of that bitterness went into the subsequent music, as it took on an angrier tone. We recorded a 7 song demo in 1993 called, Demonstration. At about that time, Lee decided to move his family back to Arizona and the band decided to follow him in early 1994. By that time, Joel had left the band to pursue family life and career. Mike Mclaughlin replaced him. Again a perfect fit for the band.

That summer we signed a deal with Japanese label, Teichiku Records, to record an album. We started recording that album, Closure, in the fall of 1994 at our Ed Sandor’s studio in San Luis Obispo. We were once again residents of SLO, although only temporarily. Recording Closure was an intense experience. We put our all into it and it took a lot out of us physically and emotionally. It was released in Japan in late 1995 and in Europe in early 1996. We got back to writing and were coming up with some good material, but, ultimately the experience of recording Closure took its toll and Lee left the band in 1997.

When was the moment when you decided to become a musician and which were the difficulties you found from the very beginning until now to fulfill your dream?

The first time I thought about being a musician was at 16 years old. I and a couple of friends bought guitars and started to try to play. I listened to heavy music before then, but it never occurred to me that I could learn how to play it. I am thankful that I had some friends who showed me the way. One of the difficulties is I have found that I have to work pretty hard at playing guitar. A lot of practice. It works out, though, because I love to play.

I think one of the biggest difficulties in trying to fulfill your dream is the lack of professionalism and organization inherent in the music industry. It’s an artistic endeavor that needs a business approach and that combination is difficult to reconcile for some people. I think the feeling is that if the business side is focused on at all, it takes away from the organic spontaneity of the art of music. To me, though, the art and business go hand in hand. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to be organized and run your band well?

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Your last effort was remarkable but unfortunately not too many paid attention to it. Who’s to blame about it? It’s the brave new world where no one has time for anything but to consume? Is it the big gap between your last recordings that was back in 1995?

Thanks for your kind words. I find it hard to place blame for Nails not reaching a larger audience. We knew going into the release of the album that it probably would be more of a cult appeal because of the long absence of the band and the style of metal on the album. Plus, I think, as you say, it’s hard to get your music heard in the world today. Because so much entertainment, including music, is available at your fingertips, it’s easy to get drowned out. I mean, at any moment we have access to the music of pretty much every band in existence in the world today. Back in the old days, it was very hard to find bands, but if a band did get some good publicity, word travelled fast and there were not a lot of other bands competing for attention, like there is now. There were just as many bands back then as there are now, though. Music is becoming more of a commodity these days and that is not a good thing. Because it’s free all over the web and ubiquitous, it’s not valued in the same way as in the past. I do worry about the long term survival of metal with there being no money to be made. I guess we figured out how to do it in the past with no money, though, so maybe it will survive.

The band was formed in 1984 and after 3 years you released your debut self-titled album. Are these your best moments in life? What would you change from that era?

It was a pretty fun time, for sure. Maybe not the best moments of my life. The best moments are always the present moments, I think. I am really trying to live in the now.

That period from 1984-1987 was special, though. I was learning how to make music, how to be in a band, how to perform on stage and we were just having fun. No pretensions, no expectations, just fun. It was a little hard being in college and a band at the same time, though. There were some serious late nights studying after band practice, for sure. I think that made it even more special though, because of the achievements of graduating from college with an engineering degree and recording our first album.

You were lucky enough to work with Howie Weinberg. As he was famous working with big names such as Aerosmith, Slayer, Beastie Boys, Scorpions among others, how did you convinced him working with you?

It was the record company’s and our manager’s suggestion. We jumped at the chance to work with him because of all the great albums he had been a part of.

In the next 8 years before you suddenly get silent for a long time, you released another 2 LP’s and an EP. In these 8 years many changes have been taken place not only in the band but in the music industry too. How these changes affected you in music terms and how difficult was to have a prog band in the middle 90’s?

Well, we were plugging away in San Luis Obispo, California, making music that we liked. In the meantime, the music industry was changing in a big way. In a natural reaction to the glam metal of the 80’s, a more organic, simple heavy music came along (grunge) and pretty much swept away all rock music for a period of time. Metal either went more commercial sounding like the Metallica “Black Album” or much more extreme. We got caught in the middle. It was not a good place to be.

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Until the release of “Nails” there was not many news about you. How did you spend these 20 years period?

Well, 4 of us (myself, Mike Mclaughlin – bass, Chris Binns – drums, and Garrett Craddock – guitars/vocals) formed a short lived band in Phoenix, Arizona called Sack after Intrinsic broke up in 1997. We recorded a 4 song demo, but never really did anything with it.

After that, some of us went on to other bands. Chris joined an early version of the US band, Motograter in 1999. He went on to record an album for Elektra Records with them and did the Ozzfest tour along with some other tours. The singer from Motograter now sings for Five Finger Death Punch.

Garrett went back to Washington state and formed a metal band called SPUnlimited. They were a real good band and were on the cusp of success when, sadly, their singer passed away. It was tragic. He went on to form an Americana rock band in Seattle called The Big Medicine. They recorded a couple of good albums, but just recently broke up.

Mike went back to college in San Luis Obispo and formed a band called Snubnose32. I actually co-produced and engineered their album, “Isolation”, in 1999. They broke up a couple of years later. He went on to form a band called Ghost Machine with Chris and Ivan from Motograter/5FDP. They were more of a project band and never played live, but they recorded a couple of really good albums.

Lee Dehmer (vocals) and I didn’t play in any other bands in that time. Lee started a family and was completely out of the music industry. I played a lot of ice hockey, went fly fishing all the time and pursued my electronics engineering career in Arizona and Silicon Valley. In 2005 I was married and started a family, who I am living happily with to this day.

Intrinsic actually did some reunion shows in 2005 and 2007 that helped light the fuse to reactivate the band a few years ago.

Is it true that the material of “Nails” is been written from 1992?

It was written and actually recorded in 1992. We did a fresh mix of the songs at The Mouse House Studios in Los Angeles for the Divebomb release. It sure was fun reliving those songs again. It was pretty emotional, too, because it brought back all the hard times, hard work and disappointment we went through with “Nails” earlier in our career. It also reminded us of the fun times, the brotherhood of metal that is Intrinsic and the fact that we could write and play some good music. We were not prepared for the emotional component of releasing “Nails” for sure, but that really helped add fuel to the fire to reactivate the band.

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How do you feel that the material is almost a quarter of century old but still sounds so fresh?

That is quite a compliment, I think. Artists strive to create works that are timeless. I am not saying “Nails” is a timeless masterpiece, but for people to think it sounds fresh all these years later means we must have been doing something right and that feels really good.

How different would have things turn if you released the album at its time?

I have wondered about that because some of the reviews that we received have brought it up. My first thought is that it probably would have gone relatively unnoticed in the musical climate of the time period. But, who knows, with a lucky break or 2 it might have been a springboard to something big for us. I just know how hopeless it felt at the time for the kind of music that we wrote for “Nails”. It was before the Internet, so there was no way of really knowing that plenty of people still wanted our style of metal. All we knew was the record companies were not interested. Now we know there is a good audience for 80’s/90’s thrash/power/speed metal. So, maybe it is better that Nails came out now.

Are you working on new material? Are any of these songs you are working at this time from any past recording, any old idea reworking on it?

We are working on new material. Progress on the new songs has really picked up since we had a get-together in March in Arizona. Since we are spread out all over the western US, we need to be pretty creative and intentional in how we get together to write music. We use a collaborative software called Ohm Studio that allows us to write and record parts onto the new songs almost in real time. We can’t play together at the same time, but I can hear a part that someone else in the band writes and records seconds later. We do conference phone calls where up to 4 of us have been on the call at the same time working on the music. We do video chat jams, too. Especially when we are working on guitar parts and need to teach each other the parts.

None of the songs are from our past, but an unused riff or 2 from the past might re-surface. We are focusing more on writing brand new material, though. The new album will not be Nails 2.0 or some nostalgic attempt to recapture some past magic. It will have elements of everything we have done, but will be an album of the present. It will definitely not be some attempt to be modern and trendy, though. We are who we are. We are writing songs that we like and music that makes us happy and creatively fulfilled.  I feel that we are going to write and record the best music of our lives and can’t wait for the world to hear it!

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Shall we expecting you in any festival in Europe in the near future?

We really want to come to Europe (are you listening, promoters? Up The Hammers?). I think it would be the peak of our careers.

What does the future hold for Intrinsic?

Let me look into my crystal ball…. A new album in 2017 and a series of European tour dates. Those are our goals and dreams. We won’t stop with just one album, though. The way we are feeling is like it is a rebirth. The slate is clean and our best days are ahead of us. No matter what happens, we are having lots of fun and cherish the opportunity to make music together again.

Shall we have to wait another 20 years to hear news from you?

Ha! No, we better not do that. We would be very old men by then. We would still be rockin’, I am sure, though.

Do you have any closing words for the readers of Metal Invader?

We have always had great support from the metal fans of Greece, even back to the early days of Intrinsic. We got many letters, radio airplay and magazine/fanzine reviews over the years. Greece always held a special place in our heart because of that. Thank you and we really hope to come play for you soon!

Giorgos Tsekas
Giorgos Tsekas
"Κάποτε Όταν Θα ‘χουμε Καιρό... Θα Σκεφτούμε Πάνω Στις Ιδέες Όλων Των Μεγάλων Στοχαστών, Θα Θαυμάσουμε Τους Πίνακες Όλων Των Μεγάλων Ζωγράφων, Θα Γελάσουμε Με Όλους Τους Χωρατατζήδες, Θα Φλερτάρουμε Όλες Τις Γυναίκες, Θα Διδάξουμε Όλους Τους Ανθρώπους" Μπ. Μπρεχτ

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