Sunflower Dead have spent this summer on tour, much like they have the last year. Supporting their 2015 release It’s Time To Get Weird, from their own label Blood Bat Records, the band has gone from unknown to underground sensation in a few short years. Just off the road from the tour bus, we spoke to frontman and leader Michael Del Pizzo about the bands’ recent tour with Avatar, breaking an “art rock” band in today’s climate, and the fun challenges of being a “different” kind of band than people are used to.
With Avatar and Sunflower Dead being like-minded bands and talents, we asked first how the tour went:
The Avatar tour was great. The way it happened was we had not signed onto a booking agent for our first album, and then this album, we were picking up so much steam that their booking agent came to us and said “Look, we want to pick you guys up and then we’ll put you with Avatar to get it going.” We were like ” That’s perfect.” It’s a perfect match. Those guys are very theatrical like we are, but they are a little more metal than we are, and I think we’re a little more rock than we are. The fans, in my opinion, really got their money’s worth. It was a great show and I know people have been emailing me already being like ” Are you guys going to tour with Avatar again? We’d really like to see that again.” I’m like “Hopefully.” We definitely got along great and the show, every night was just phenomenal.
In addition to the recent tour, Avatar played dates with Hellyeah and In This Moment, and have another leg of the Hellyeah tour booked, along with Escape The Fate. As a relatively new band in the last few years, we wondered how the band deals with trying to convert new fans all the time?
The live thing has been great for us since day one. The weird looks we get, they are purposefully weird. We usually start with me just playing the accordion by myself for the crowd, and for people that don’t know or haven’t heard of us, they are just bewildered that a guy in makeup would walk onstage by himself with an accordion at a metal show, but I’ll tell you what, it gets everyone’s attention and makes them shut up. The camera phones start coming out. They start filming and then when the band joins me, we start our set, and by the end of the night, we’ve made a whole slew of new fans.
Michael is a well-known multi-instrumentalist and singer, but the accordion is his main weapon of choice. We asked what drew him to him to a non-traditional instrument and when did he figure out if it could work in rock context:
When I was younger, I played the piano. I play the piano in Sunflower Dead and we haven’t been able to bring it out on the stage alone yet. I play the piano, so I just wanted to pick something up that was challenging. I never has any kind of magnetism towards the guitar or the bass or drums. I just wanted to challenge myself, and I went to a used music store when I was a kid and bought an accordion. I picked the thing up and it felt like eerily right. I just started writing on it. I don’t know why, it just worked. I showering it to my guitar player at the time when I was a kid and he was like “Wow that is really cool.” I showed him how I was playing and he was like ” Wow. That is he creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.” I don’t know how it worked for me when we started Sunflower Dead. Jamie, my guitar player in the band said ” Why don’t you play that instrument you play, the accordion. It’s just so visual.” I was like “Cool.” It’s coming to the band, and when you put it together with the band and the makeup and the music, it just fits.
Do you use a special custom microphone? How do you mic that for a live a club setting, a club PA?
I have a mini accordion. It’s made by Roland. It’s made completely different from an acoustic accordion. The mic actually plugs directly into the accordion itself and I go direct into the PA system. It’s all MIDI. It’s like this little keyboard thing I have. It’s crazy! Roland did a really great job with mocking what an accordion does, but giving something with the versatility to create sound and just have it be very simple work. If I had the mic and the acoustic accordion with the band, that would be terrible.
There is a tactile thing about accordions, if you’ve ever played one. There’s a pressure and a feeling like a real piano. Does your instrument simulate that well or did you have to get used to it?
It worked really well. The feel is there, it’s amazing what you can do with these things. There’s no doubt about it, what Roland did and the feel of the instrument is incredible. I love it. I actually love it more than the acoustic accordion because of other things I can do with it. It’s quite an instrument. They’re not cheap, but I’ve beaten it up. I’ve broken it a couple of times already because I’m a little violent with it onstage, but hey, it’s all about a show, right?
It is all about the show, and that’s the thing. I know there’s an audience of people who appreciate theatricality, not just makeup and costumes. It’s putting on a show. It’s a display of performance art really. It comes from art. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that and just making your music as art, not a band with a gimmick.
Sure. The thing about having an image, it’s funny. There are a million bands who try to be the whole image thing and if you really don’t have the art part of it to back it up, people just see through it very quickly and write it off. They’re like ” Oh, it’s a gimmick.” In fact, I believe we do have the art to back it up, but we still have to fight in Sunflower Dead to show people that no, it’s not just a gimmick. They are actually challenging you to pay attention with this image and what I’m doing artistically. It’s easy to write people off when they have makeup or look, but I believe that what we’re doing is challenging people a little bit to have fun with them, and then when they get it, they’re like okay cool. I see what’s going on here. That’s just my personal feelings on it.