Paola Bread 'n Water: You've been teaching guitar for 16 years. A lot of people take guitar lessons at some point in their life. What makes a good guitar student?
Michael Day: The best students I have ever had are the ones that are curious in their own right in the sense that they pursue information without having to be pushed by their teacher. I often times, as a teacher, have been in the situation where you're pointing the direction of where they should be going and you hope that they not only go in the direction that you had intended but that they are kind of like a mongrel with information and go after other aspects of the initial kernel of information you'd given them. It's really a sense of pleasure to see a student take what you've given them and run with it.
PB'nW: When you first started playing guitar do you remember what you had trouble mastering and how did you master it?
MD: Well, the most difficult thing about music for me was sort of aligning what I could actually do and what I was capable of musically, lining that up cognitively in terms of actually understanding the theory behind it. I was always really good at replicating sounds - playing instantly what I heard but not understanding it. Oftentimes I would tell myself I can't wait until my mind catches up with my hands.
PB'nW: What are the most important lessons you've learned from your students?
MD: My best students are the ones that don't get frustrated despite the fact that they're struggling. I always think that the more information you learn the more difficult a nuance to your playing can become and oftentimes it's difficult to continue to polish what you're improving. So I have to remind myself when I'm practicing to think about my beginner students and how they're completely laughable in the face of frustration.
PB'nW: What was life like before you got hired for Patrick Stump's band?
MD: In a lot of ways it was very much the same as it is now because I try to continue to implement the same rules I place upon myself on the road and with Patrick as I did on the road before I played with him. That is just keeping the same routine with exercise and practicing. So life before Patrick was similar in that regard. I treat Patrick's music with the same care and respect as I did the other artists I've worked with. You have to sort of treat every performance, no matter how seemingly insignificant it is, as Carnegie Hall. Because if you don't really, and I don't mean this climactic, but you really should be doing something else.
PB'nW: Has anything changed? What have you had to adjust to?
MD: The adjustment of nominal recognition! I've never signed an autograph before. I'm happy that this is happening to me now rather than at 19 or 18 because I have a really great perspective on it all.
PB'nW: It seems like you have genuine enthusiasm regarding Patrick's music. Is 'Soul Punk' something that you would usually have given a listen?
MD: Without a doubt. Because I grew up listening to, admiring and pursuing a lot of the music that informed 'Soul Punk'. Patrick and I sort of had a few talks about some of the music that we both grew up on. I would have recognized instantly what had informed 'Soul Punk' and loved it.
PB’nW: What bands did you grow up loving?
MD: Growing up in Chicago for me I had a lot of exposure to blues and I had a lot of exposure to - The Smashing Pumpkins were ubiquitous - so I enjoyed listening to them a lot. Later on, in my mid teens I started to listen to Prince exclusively. And then David Bowie, and Michael Jackson as a little boy. A lot of those influences are somewhat benchmarks for me.
PB'nW: What are some highlights of the tours you've done with this band so far?
MD: I would have to say this last Friday night headlining at the Metro because along with growing up in Chicago, the Metro was and still is the Carnegie Hall of venues as a musician. It's this iconic hall where the Pumpkins established their identity, where a lot of international acts broke - not only in the midwest but in the country. I used to go to that club as a little kid all the time with a knot in my stomach, filled with excitement walking up those stairs to go inside that venue. To play the Metro let alone headline it playing music that I love with musicians that I love in front of my family and friends undoubtedly that was the highlight for me.
PB’nW: Was that the first time you ever played the Metro?
MD: Yeah. It's a really cool venue. Great sound, it's a beautiful venue and they take care of it. It's a really great place.
PB'nW: It looks like you guys have cut down the time to an absolute minimum between the songs, so the show is sharper now. What are other aspects of the show that you guys have improved on since that first stint of shows?
MD: I think both between the group and Patrick there is a lot more trust now. The musicians on stage are representing the initial idea of the music, the idea of the record and Patrick gives us the ability to inform his own music with our identities. So we're all very much playing music from what we bring to the table. There's a great interaction now between musicians on stage where we're blending all of our ideas into the music live and there's so much energy on the stage now because there's so much trust between us. So the audience tends to be seeing that energy and that trust when we perform now as opposed to back in April.
PB'nW: As a fellow musician, what are some of the qualities that you admire or appreciate in the other members of the band?
MD: Every musician on that stage is world class in what they can do, and everybody has such a unique set of skills that you're learning from them every day. Casey is world class at interpreting phrasing and his harmonic concepts - I'm constantly amazed and dazzled by him. Skoota is always throwing in new spices on stage. We're all turning our necks around to nod and smile whenever he's throwing in new things to stir up the whole rhythmic concept of the show. Matt's understanding of rhythm, his phrasing and his pocket playing are second to none. Max is completely gifted at understanding texture and he knows exactly what to play and what not to play. He's incredibly tasteful. Patrick obviously inspires me every day as a singer. I'm just the luckiest guy in the world to get to stand to his right and sing next to him.
PB'nW: You've been teaching Patrick some music theory and whatnot. Can we have a progress report? How's he doing?
MD: You know, lately we haven't had a lot of time but the thing that's amazing about him, going back to what I had said in terms of pointing the way for a student and watching them get to point B and C is he's really insistent on doing things step-wise even though he might not know the answer. So if you give him a question 'how many sharps are in this key and why?' and you know that he knows the answer, he will walk through a minutia of steps to get you that answer properly. It's amazing to see how thorough he is yet it's not a surprise because every single track of all of his records have received that same type of thorough love. He said something to me about how he did a remix of a Cure song. So he had received all of the initial tracks of Robert's - the company sent him all the original tracks and he said the thing that was so remarkable about listening to them isolated was how much love Robert Smith was giving each track no matter how seemingly insignificant it was. Patrick is applying that same passion to his performances and to learning. It was a surprise but as I'm answering you I realise it's not such a surprise.
PB'nW: Something I think a lot of people don't know yet - aside from the fact that you have a masters in guitar- is that you're actually a decent singer too. Tell me about your singing history and has Patrick helped you out?
MD: Man, Patrick teaches me something without saying a word every day. He's teaching me how much I suck! Haha. I've been singing since I was 12 or 13 and performing since then. I'm a little shy about proclaiming that I'm a good singer while I'm singing next to one of the most iconic singers of this generation.
PB’nW: You're vegan. Is anyone else in the band vegetarian or vegan?
MD: Actually Skoota was eating sushi in California and got terribly sick so he's become completely vegetarian. Casey and Patrick are going vegetarian through Christmas just to see how they feel. Max is 100% vegan and has been for a very long time. So we usually go eat with each other or we point the direction - 'oh, we found a restaurant where there are a few vegan options!' - so we look out for each other that way. We all have the routine of working out every morning now, and we all have the routine of looking out for each other's diet! It's a very interesting dynamic - it's such a great group.
PB'nW: Why do you care about animal rights/welfare? When did you first realise that animals are important?
MD: Well, I've always been an avid animal lover going back to owning pets as a boy. I passionately cared about the way that animals were treated, how much or how little they were to be fed. Seeing my friends' dogs and cats and looking out for them and playing with them in the corner endlessly. I became very conscious of animal rights at about 16. When I was in school a teacher of mine played the movie called Meet Your Meat and it was a PETA film and that was the last day I ever ate meat. I was horrified by what I saw. I had no idea that animals were mistreated in that capacity. I was just blissfully ignorant. So those images were scarred there.
PB'nW: What are the life philosophies that inspire you to maintain this lifestyle?
MD: I don't really adhere to any sort of philosophy other than I think that it's really important to treat people and animals well. I don't see anything wrong with eating meat. I see so many things wrong with the way animals are treated and the way they are slaughtered. So if we took better care of animals I feel perhaps my opinions would be different. I've driven past livestock houses, and I did one job cleaning up after the Taste of Chicago. This is sort of related to this philosophy. We brought all these picnic tables down from the Taste of Chicago down to the south side where the Chicago stockyard used to be. Now, The Union Stock Yard in Chicago was the largest slaughterhouse in all of the world for over 120 years. There's a place in Chicago along the Chicago river near those stockyards which is nicknamed Bubbly Creek where they would put all the carcasses of the animals for over 100 years. Even to this day there are the remnants of those creatures’ bodies bubbling up in those waters - you can see it. There's still an after-smell. When you realise how horribly these creatures have been handled at the time that I did that dayjob I was like 16 so I'd just become vegetarian and it only strengthened the resolve I had to become vegetarian. Although I don't think there was a philosophy I was supporting - I just knew the way these animals were treated was wrong.
PB'nW: You were vegetarian for 14 years before you went vegan. Why did it take you so long, and what prompted you to take the plunge?
MD: Cooking for myself. I suddenly realised I wasn't using any cheese or cooking with any dairy. I used almond milk and it was so simple. It just made sense to me.
PB'nW: Since you've become vegan what's the best discovery you've made food-wise?
MD: All the substitutes for cheese and everything. There's no reason why you can't eat hardy, with lots of flavour and have a great variety to your meals. People think because you're vegan you eat rice patties.
PB'nW: Since we’re in Florida, are you aware of the Orca incident at Sea World last year? What was/is your reaction to the news?
MD: Well it's just tragic. There's no reason whatsoever why those animals should be in captivity. It's ludicrous. It's ludicrous to have creatures like that trained for our whim and our fancy to see them jump through hoops and play with balls and 'look at this tamed beast!'. It's ridiculous to see a creature so massive and so powerful swimming around in some little tank splashing people for fun. I think the vast majority of people that go and pay ticket prices to see that don't understand what's really going on. It's really sad that that happened. I understand why it happened, it's just very sad.
PB'nW: What would you say is the best alternative to going to Sea World?
MD: Going to the beach… going snorkeling! It's all there for you. You know, Sea World and all that stuff, they have these safari retreats. I understand all of it; I think they're examples of what's easiest. It's very easy to go to Sea World and have an experience with creatures that, under normal circumstances, you'd never see. But all you have to do off the coast of Catalina or San Francisco is pay 15 dollars, take a boat and go whale watching. It's all there for you.
PB'nW: Patrick has a song on 'Soul Punk' entitled 'When I Made You Cry'. Has anything to do with animal cruelty ever made you cry?
MD: Yes, absolutely. I think it was another PETA film about fur and how it is procured overseas. I saw a fox skinned alive. It was as though the hide was pulled over its head and yanked off, and you saw this creature moving, looking up at the camera... yeah, I can't even talk about it... It was horrifying. And yes, I'm a grown man and I'm not afraid to admit I cried.
Follow Michael on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MichaelDayMusic