Name: Michael Ciravolo
Occupation: Guitarist, songwriter, president of Schecter Guitar Research
Current Release: Beauty in Chaos's The Delicate Balance of All Things (Rapid Reituration Mix) ft. Cinthya Hussey is out now on 33.3 Music Collective.
Recommendations: The Cure’s “Disintegration” and The Bible.
If you enjoyed this interview with Michael Ciravolo aka Beauty In Chaos, visit his artist spotlight on the website of Schecter Guitar Research. There is also a Beauty in Chaos website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I do not come from a ‘musical family’, but in my early teens I used to watch the late-night music shows (Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, The Midnight Special) which introduced me to T. Rex, The N.Y. Dolls and Slade. Up until then, I wanted to be a pro football player. It suddenly struck me that girls liked guys who played in bands way more than football players, so my path became very clear!
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I was far more influenced by guitarists with style and swagger than the technical wizards. Johnny Thunders, Marc Bolan and Mick Ronson are not mentioned among the ‘greats’, but they sure had a unique sound that I was instantly drawn to.
Sometimes I wonder if these early influences stunted my musical growth, but, in all honesty, I think it helped me develop my own sound and style.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think my lack of ‘technical prowess’ has forced me to work harder to create something different and hopefully original. I do lean on sounds and textures far more than a multitude of playing notes!
I think it is important to ‘follow’ where creativity takes you, and learn to please yourself before pleasing others in your art. When you try to follow what you have been told is a ‘recipe for success’, I think it completely falls flat.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think it was just having the courage to take the ‘risk’. I had always been in a band but never the main songwriter. As frustration started boiling over from the bands' new album I was working on because basically, I was wanting it to go in a different direction ... my Beauty In Chaos partner, Michael Rozon asked ‘why don’t you just make your own record’. And that made sense to me.
It is really easy to say ‘yes’, then the reality of actually doing it sets in! I feel blessed that things fell into place as quickly as they did on what became our debut album ‘finding beauty in chaos’ … which ultimately gave me the confidence that I could do this as my own album.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The electric guitar is certainly what drew me into rock music, and for the longest time that was really all that mattered. A few years into my music ‘career’ I became fascinated with more textured and layered guitar sounds. I began to learn and lean on delays, reverbs and more guitar sounds to create interesting ambient wall-of-sounds. I find this far more interesting and rewarding than simple raw electric guitar.
The idea of ‘FBeauty In Chaos’’s self-imposed rule emblazoned on the LPs back cover …’No synthesizers used in the making of this record’ is a testament to that.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
As I mentioned, my guitar style and how I create is very inspired by sounds and textures, thus I gravitate towards instruments and sound machines that help provide a ‘creative spark’. Most recently, I have started to delve into alternate tunings on my guitars. I think most guitarists get comfortable with familiar chord progressions and shapes. New tunings have opened up some new sonic territory for me, and the first three songs we have started for the next Beauty In Chaos record have their genesis in tunings, as well as some unique guitars.
While I do believe there are some inherent pitfalls with technology, a project like Beauty In Chaos, with artists spread throughout the globe, would not be possible without current technology. Our DAW is ProTools, which my partner/producer, Michael Rozon, knows very well. I am sort of a guitar pedal junkie, as I use sounds as the ‘spark’ to a lot of new songs. We also just added Kontact and Omnisphere … which gives us a lot of sounds and textures for this new record.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Since very few of the artists that have been involved with Beauty In Chaos are in the Los Angeles area, file sharing is certainly paramount in the way we have to work. With our first two ‘studio albums’, “finding beauty in chaos” and “the storm before the calm”, I think the music tracks that we sent to the various singers to write their own lyrics and melodies to were probably 95% complete. With the new songs we are working on for the next record, I am purposely leaving much more ‘space’ which I am hoping will give each singer more creative freedom and will also give me more options to play off what they do - a bit more like ‘jamming in a room’.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My ’day job’ as President of Schecter Guitars, and curating Beauty In Chaos alone can be two full time jobs. That said, I am a father and husband to my small, but mighty, family … and that supersedes all.
I have always functioned on little sleep (though it gets harder with age!). I love my morning time with our two poodles, Champ and Bella! I do work in my office 40 hours plus a week, but still find time for Beauty In Chaos.
I have a small writing studio (SAINT2) in our home that I start new musical ideas. Then I bring these into our main studio (SAINTinLA) and work with my Beauty In Chaos cohort, Michael Rozon, at least 2 nights a week. I know we have accomplished a lot since Beauty In Chaos debuted in September 2018, as 4 albums to date is a good body of work.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Even though I have co-written songs in all of the different bands I have been in, I was never what you could call the major songwriter. Taking the control and responsibility of everything it takes to curate Beauty In Chaos was a big shift for me. It was really a knee-jerk to some frustration I was feeling about an album I was involved in. Saying you are going to make your own album and then actually doing it are two very different things.
When we started down the path of making ‘finding beauty in chaos’, we came out the gate quickly with doing a cover of T. Rex’s ‘20th Century Boy’ and redoing a song, ‘Drifting Away’ that I had written a few years earlier. Having Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander sing those songs certainly did not hurt! It was really the third song, which became ‘Storm’ that was the real breakthrough for me.
I was introduced to The Awakening’s Ashton Nyte, by a mutual friend Mark Gemini Thwaite. I sent Ashton a music track that I had just written and was really happy with, but it was just music. A few days later he sent back his vocals … and ‘Storm’ was born. This song, which is still one of my favourite Beauty In Chaos songs, gave me the confidence that this album could and would happen. His lyric, “there is always a light’ … perfectly captured the spirt of what Beauty In Chaos meant to me and what I wanted it to invoke in the listener.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Creating music is certainly my ‘escapism’. As much work as it is to bring music to ‘market’, I love it. And I will do it as long as I love it.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think music is different for everyone. To me, and ultimately Beauty In Chaos, lyrics are very important. I love lyrics that are open to interpretation to the listener … that’s where I think the ‘healing’ and ‘hurt’ lives. Lyrics that hurt can ultimately heal. I have been blessed to work with some amazing lyricists in Beauty In Chaos and hearing the end result of how a piece of music inspires their words is a wonderful part of curating this project.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think every song ‘borrows’ from something else. That is the beauty of music. It is all a result of your influences. I don’t look at it as ‘appropriating’ … but things are channelled through your influences. I always love to delve into what artists influenced bands I love, as it is easy to see how and where they ‘cut their teeth’.
As far as the ‘social’ part of today’s music, I tend to stay away from that … as I have always looked at music as ‘escapism’, and I never wanted to be told by an artist what I should feel or think. This sure as hell does not mean my head is in the sand about the issues we face, not only in this country, but as a species.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think a great album or even a song, certainly evokes memories … which opens the senses. To me, The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ is a perfect example, as it always made the room feel ‘cold’.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
As I stated above, I try to steer Beauty In Chaos away from social commentary. This country and the world has never been more ‘polarized’. We are bombarded with ‘left or right’, ‘red or blue’ and more in every aspect … news, social media, sports, movies, television … and music. I don’t believe that just because you are making a record, that it gives you the right - even though it does provide a platform - to push your ideals (which is probably opposite of what 50% believe) down the listener’s throat. A lot of times artists are hypocritical with their soapbox stance.
I prefer Beauty In Chaos to be the ‘beauty’ in the ‘chaos’. My personal faith, beliefs and political views should not affect yours. Do your own research and follow your heart. Just to show you I don’t have my head in the sand … here is one of my views …. sexually assault or hurt a child and you should DIE.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
There are 12 notes in music: the way artists construct these notes into chords, shapes and progressions can truly evoke a feeling or a mode. The Spinal Tap joke about ‘D minor’ is really true … a simple chord can sound, and ultimately make the listener feel … sad, happy, melancholy, etc. Music is truly amazing and personal.