Interview with Michael Del Pizzo
By: Gary Flinn
My first exposure to Sunflower Dead came last April at the Masquerade in Atlanta when they were touring with Hellyeah and All That Remains. At that point I had never heard of the band and had no idea what was about to happen. The lights dropped and then it began. A ghastly figure walks onto the stage, cloaked in black, smiling and staring into the crowd with coal black eyes, and oh yeah, did I mention he was playing an accordion. Yes, you read it right, an accordion. I have seen a lot of things on stage in almost 45 years of rock and metal concerts around the world. Until that moment, I had never seen an accordion. Now here’s the thing, it worked. This band, Sunflower Dead, took to the stage behind their accordion wielding lead vocalist and proceeded to kick Atlanta’s collective ass.
I took the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone in the Atlanta music scene and headed two hours southwest to Montgomery, Alabama to sit down with Michael Del Pizzo of Sunflower Dead. Going in, after a bit of research, I knew we had a common thread in that we are both from Philadelphia, and that we were both born on September 15th. Imagine my surprise when I found out that we both hail from the same town, Newtown Square, which is just west of Philly.
HHM: For those who don’t know, what is the origin of the name Sunflower Dead?
Michael: I live on Sunflower Avenue in California. One day I was driving by and it just popped in my head Sunflower Dead. I started writing a short story. It’s kind of covered in our EPK on YouTube. When it came time for a band name, Jamie thought we should have something with a flower, a lily or something, something that shows the ugly and the beauty, the ugliness and the beauty of our music. So I said well I am writing a short story called Sunflower Dead and the guys thought that was perfect. I explained to them the idea and they said lets go be the characters themselves and we each kinda went with it and started having fun. I wasn’t meant to be like we’re actually zombies, we’re just having fun and entertaining people.
HHM: Very entertaining I have to say. This is my second go round with you guys and it’s definitely a lot of fun to see.
Michael: Thank you very much
HHM: There is a lot of prior experience within the band, how did Sunflower Dead come together as a band?
Michael: Jaboo and I have known each other since we were about five and we moved to California to do music, the band we were in at the time was done. We were writing a couple of songs, a couple of them actually ended up on the Sunflower Dead record and we were like “let’s get a band going”. We called Jamie, who was in Droid at the time, and asked him if he wanted to be second guitar with us as a side project and Droid had just broken up, so he was like “let’s just do this, let’s go”. So then we just started adding people. We got Jimmie who had done some touring with In this Moment. We initially had the bass player from Buckethead and then after one tour he decided that this lifestyle wasn’t for him, so we got Lats, who was from the band, Momento
HHM: What (or who) would you say has had the most influence on Sunflower Dead’s music?
Michael: Musically? Wow! I listen to so much different stuff. My biggest vocal influence is Steve Perry from Journey. There’s no doubt about it. I listen to all different kinds of singers, but I love what he does.
HHM: Awesome. I saw in one of your previous interviews a mention about Twisted Sister.
Michael: The first record I ever bought was Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I got that one for Christmas. You have no idea. When I was a kid growing up, I didn’t have MTV, so I had to go search for music. My friend had MTV and I was at his house, I was a little kid, I was maybe 6 when that came out. The video came on and Dee Snyder was twisting around, spinning, you know the video when he says “I wanna rock!” I looked at my friend and I was like what is that and he goes that’s Twisted Sister and I can remember saying that’s what I want, that is what I want to be one day.
HHM: You guys are one of those bands that really have a unique sound. You really don’t sound like anybody else.
HHM: That’s one of the things I really like about you guys. I get bored with some of the other bands out there because they all sound so much alike. You guys really stand out.
Michael: Oh cool, Thank you
HHM: I was listening to More than a Habit the other day and it reminded me so much of Twisted Sister. It bugged me for a few days because I couldn’t figure out the song. Then it came to me, the chorus, it’s not identical, but it has a very Burn in Hell kind of vibe to it.
Michael: I’m gonna have to check that out. As a kid I used to sit there and play Burn in Hell over and over and draw pictures of rock stars. That was all I wanted to do.
HHM: The first time I saw you guys it was on the Hell Remains Tour in Atlanta. I’ll never forget seeing you walk out on stage with the accordion and honestly, my first thought was “What the Hell?”
Michael: What the hell, this is gonna be terrible. (Laughs)
HHM: No, I really didn’t know. I’m always open-minded when it comes to music, but you definitely had me wondering where it was going. Where did the idea to bring an accordion into your music come from?
Michael: When I was 19 or 20, I was just very bored musically, and I said to Jaboo, who wasn’t even Jaboo at the time, we were in Philadelphia and I said I think I’m going to go buy an accordion and see what I can do with it. I went to a pawn shop by Widener University and asked the guy if he had an accordion. He said yeah, I’ve got two. He showed me two and I picked one and said this one, I’ll take this one. I took it home and started playing it and it just felt like it was supposed to be. People started calling it my inhuman lung because of the way I played it. It just feels right to me. I don’t play it like an accordionist or however you say it. I play it more like a twisted keyboard.
HHM: Well it certainly works. I love when you walk out with it. I know the last time you when came from back stage it just added that unexpected element and like I told you happened to me, for people that haven’t seen you before it makes them say “what the hell”.
Michael: That’s so awesome.
HHM: You cover Every Breath You Take. I love the darker, more sinister side to your version of this song. Its kind of like a Silence of the Lambs type song, definitely not a love song anymore.
Michael: No, it’s a stalker song now
HHM: Where did the idea to do this come from?
Michael: We were sitting in a bar, Jaboo and I, and we were writing songs for the record with the guys and I said hey you want to do a cover for fun. Jaboo said sure, he was really drunk, and he said let’s do that song from Top Gun, Every Breath You Take. I said, Every Breath You Take wasn’t in Top Gun. You’re talking about another ballad, Take My Breath Away. I said no, that will be terrible. Every Breath You Take will be great. I knew exactly how I wanted to do it. We slowed the tempo down and we redid the arrangement and showed it to the guys and they were like, oh yeah, this is cool.
HHM: A lot of people say the music industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 20 years. What is right and what is wrong with music today?
Michael: I don’t know. I don’t really focus on that. As an individual, the music industry, whether it’s flourishing or not, has no effect on me. I would still be doing music no matter what. So I don’t really care. The music industry has its problems it’ll get sorted out at some time or another. I’m still doing music and that’s just the way I think about it.
HHM: With this being your fourth U.S. tour in a little over a year, you guys are no strangers to touring. What have you learned as a group during those previous tours that you are doing differently?
Michael: Yeah, this one is our fourth. You know, in our last tour we were direct support for Il Nino the morale of the band just rose so much. We became really tight on that tour. We came back a family. We were excited and you could just tell there was a different feeling after that tour. We learned how to keep it positive, have fun with it, and not worry about what we can’t worry about. It’s going great.
HHM: That’s the vibe I get from you guys. First, I’m a fan and both times I’ve seen you, it has felt like you guys are having fun with it and to me that makes a big difference.
Michael: That’s the only way to be.
HHM: What is the best venue you have played?
Michael: I don’t know about the best venue, there are definitely a few that I have really loved, but my favorite show, there are a couple that stick out, was when we played New York City on the last tour. I don’t know why it was, because usually, you know New York, LA, they are rough, but everything just came together perfect and it was just one of those shows I’ll remember forever. I don’t even know what was different about it. From the sound on stage to the sound off stage, to the way the crowd reacted, for me it was just great.
HHM: What’s the ultimate venue you would love to play?
Michael: The ultimate, oh man, I’d have to say Madison Square Garden. Let’s be realistic here.
HHM: What is your favorite song to play live?
Michael: My favorite song on the record is Starting Over Again but we don’t do it live yet because of the piano, but probably my favorite to do live is Point of Decision.
HHM: If you could take the stage with any musician living or dead, who would it be and why?
Michael: Steve Perry. He’s my idol. There are so many others though, if I had the chance. After that, I’d probably have to say Bon Scott of AC/DC.
HHM: I read somewhere that you like to write. Do you have any aspirations in writing?
Michael: Like novels? Oh yeah, we will, at some point, put out the graphic novel of the story of Sunflower Dead.
HHM: When all is said and done, how do you want Sunflower Dead to be remembered?
Michael: As a band that went out an entertained people and had a great time doing it. That’s it pretty much.
HHM: Anything else you want to put out there?
Michael: Check us out on Facebook, Sunflower Dead, Sunflower Dead.com and all the regulars.
Interview by Gary Flinn HHM
View photos from the show! HERE
Sunflower Dead on Facebook
- photos: Sunflower Dead live at Rock Bottom 2/20/14 - credit Gary Flinn
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