Michael Harris

The renowned guitarist and composer Michael Harris is back with a new solo album that is titled “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint”. It’s actually the second part of the solo album “Orchestrate” that was released back in 2006. Michael told Grande Rock about his new solo release and his future plans among other interesting music things…
Michael Harris pic
Hi Michael, I’m glad we’re given the chance to talk again. Your new solo album “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” has been chosen as the “Album of the month” on Grande Rock. Congrats!
M: Wow, that’s great news – I’m honored!
Well, first of all, how did you decide to come up with a sequel to “Orchestrate” that was released in 2006?
M: I had some material left over from “Orch I”, so another neo-orchestral release was something that I kept in the back of my mind over the years. Because that material was less metal though, I originally wasn’t going to call it “Orch II”. But later in the game after composing some heavier material, I decided to call it “Orch II” with a subtitle.
Did you feel the inner need to continue the “Orchestrate” story in a way? Has it been concluded now, or will there be a part III at some point?
M: I’m not counting out a 3rd orchestral record in the future – if so, I would push myself to what I’d consider the ultimate composing challenge: to not use a drum kit – just orchestral percussion – and to lean more towards more “soundtrack-esque” style material.
What are the differences and the similarities between “Orchestrate” and Orchestrate II”? Has anything changed in your songwriting formula or the way you approached the songs this time?
M: The two are actually quite different in many ways. All I’m really implying with the 2 “Orchestrate” titles are that they both contain classically influenced music. On “Orch II”, the tempos are slower; I was less concerned about guitar chops & much more about composing chops; the songs are probably more melody based and less riff based than any of my records; I spent more time on the string arrangements; additionally (as “Rage & Restraint” implies) I achieved much better dynamics on “Orch II” (which starts at the level of instrumentation all the way down to the recording itself and onto mixing & mastering). Also, from a production standpoint, on “Orch II” I went for more organic sounds, a la less guitar effects and drum sounds that weren’t over processed or sound-replaced, which I hear way too much of in metal. Some similarities between the 2 records would be the same similarities between nearly all my music, which is that to myself, a “song” is based around a melodic theme, and that theme is what I’m always looking for in my composing to build the song around, regardless of the genre.
It’s also been 9 years since your previous solo album “Tranz-Fused”. What happened in the meantime and why did it take you so long to release a new solo work?
M: Since “Tranz-Fused” was released in 2010, I wrote all the music & lyrics to “Psykerion” (Thought Chamber). Just the composing of that record was a massive undertaking, being around 60m of music, and then of course, there was the recording process. That was released in 2013. I also wrote all the music to the 2nd Darkology record, “Fated to Burn”, which was released in 2015, and then I wrote yet another Thought Chamber record (as yet unreleased), followed up by of course, the composing of “Orchestrate II”, and I’ve also written more material which may become a third neo-orchestral record. Plus on top of that, I very nearly have yet another MH solo record completed, for which my brother is starting to record drums. Also, I shot & edited a bunch of complete performance videos from the “Tranz-Fused” record and quite a few more videos from my other recordings. So, even though I haven’t released a solo record since “Tranz-Fused”, it’s been non-stop music since then.
What does the title “Rage & Restraint” declare? What’s the deepest meaning?
M: It implies the dynamics of the music: from the loudest electric playing with aggressive drumming & orchestra to the softest acoustic or nylon passages.
Who else is participating in your new solo album?
M: As well as my brother Brian Harris on drums, these orchestral players played on the record: William Stewart, Maria Grigoryeva, Jim Hurley and Mikhail Bugaev on violin & viola, Carolina T, Brandon Chung on cello, Y.K. Black - French Hor on flute
and David Ashton on oboe.
Would you prefer to have recorded “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” with a real orchestra? What would have been different according to you?
M: Virtual orchestral sounds are quite authentic nowadays, (especially choirs & string sections), so that’s a strong reason I considered doing this type of record in the first place. It’s easier to sense digital sounds on single instruments, so I loved having real violins, violas, cellos, etc. on “Orch II”. Yes it would have been great to have a full orchestra involved, but that’s something very few bands & artists can attain in an affordable way.
Where did the recordings take place and who’s in charge for the album’s mixing, mastering and production?
M: The recording took place in various home studios. I produced and mixed the record (with major help from my brother in mixing his drums), and it was mastered by Gary Long at Nomad Studio.
Do you plan to release any official video anytime soon and if yes for which track first?
M: I’m presently shooting quite a few short videos from the new record with my brother on drums and various musicians, along with some solo performance videos. I find that shooting complete songs is a huge undertaking, and not worth the time investment in the “short attention span” world we live in now. But if I do shoot a complete song, I’d do “Orchestra Pit” & “Chant of the Octagoth” together.
What are your expectations from “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint”?
M: Well, we recording artists certainly can’t expect a huge financial reward for our hard work, so it’s mostly giving listeners a quality listening experience and receiving some kind of confirmation that the music has been a positive force in their lives. Also, whether I have the chance to play with a full orchestra or not – I’ll definitely be playing some of this material live this year.
What is the news from your other bands, Darkology and Thought Chamber? I think that you’re working on a new TC album, right? Is it finished already?
M: Yes, it’s been finished for some time, but our vocalist Ted Leonard had to bow out, so we’re looking for a replacement.
Have you had any regrets since the day you started dealing with music? Do you believe that things would have turned out way better for the band if you had done some things differently back then?
M: Yes, definitely. It’s the old “if I knew then what I know now” syndrome. Probably most artists feel that way though. And if you don’t feel that way, that probably means you haven’t learned anything!
Time for our “weird questions”!!! Which music kind can’t you bear to listen to at all?
M: Country + Rap still equals crap!
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words:
M: Rockstar: Elvis…
Prog Rock: ELP…
Sci-fi: Carl Sagan…
Is there a particular book you can’t recommend enough?
M: “The Daily Adventures of Mixerman”: If any musician with any kind of sense of humor at all does not read this book, their life is not complete!
Fill in the phrase… “Neoclassical metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
M: Keith Emerson, Deep Purple, Uli Roth…
Which are the best 3 Neoclassical metal albums of all time according to you?
M: “Brain Salad Surgery” by ELP, and both “Earthquake” & “Firewind” by Uli Roth & Electric Sun.
Who is the sexiest female Rock Star of all time?
M: I always had the hots for Suzanna Hoffs of The Bangles back in the day.
Which do you consider to be the best female & male vocalist in rock history?
M: I actually don’t like picking absolute favorites, because it turns everything into a “contest”, (not to mention our faves can change from day to day) but having said that, Glenn Hughes is always up there with the very best and Janis of course changed the whole game for females (with honorable mention going out to Nikka Costa and Sass Jordan).
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
M: “Brain Salad Surgery” by ELP, because it’s a culmination of everything I love about music, starting with great cutting edge compositions, chops, and thought provoking lyrics. Ahead of its time.
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
M: Oddly enough, I’d give these advanced creatures something from centuries ago, “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, because first of all, there will never be anything quite like the power of a full orchestra, and secondly, that particular composition is simply miraculous and beyond definition.
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
M: It would be cool to travel back to the baroque or classical music era and take in some concerts!
Thank you very much Michael for taking the time to do this interview. Say anything you feel like saying before we close. Thx for the music and take care dude!
M: It has been my pleasure. Thanks to Grande Rock & anyone reading this interview and certainly anyone who has checked out my music. Music can heal the world if we let it.