Interview with MiG Ayesa
MiG Ayesa, just known in rock circles as MiG, has been toiling in Australia and the UK for years, but got a big break when he auditioned for “Rock Star: INXS” last year. He wound up making the final three and earned a lifetime of memories as well as a record deal with Universal Music. MiG’s debut album is due for release in January 2007 and we spoke with him about the record, his experiences on the show, and how he smuggled himself into Canada.
MiG: Hey Mike!
Bullz-Eye: Hey MiG. How are you doing?
M: Good man. How are you?
BE: Good. So you’ve got a solo record coming out in January?
M: That’s correct. Yeah.
BE: Is it all covers and classics or any original songs?
M: Yeah, well this is it. It’s all classic rock songs. Anything from the Rolling Stones to Green Day, so they’re all covers. But let’s not be confused – this is a concept album. The concept is basically taking these classic rock songs and re-arranging them with classical instruments, like full orchestras and acoustic instruments. It’s a classical bent on classic rock songs. It’s actually rock but with the orchestras and stuff in it. So it’s a new direction and it’s something that David Novik from Universal/DECA approached me with after seeing me on “Rock Star: INXS” and said, “I have an idea for an album.” And I talked to him about it and got really excited about this concept. We started working on it and finished it a couple of months ago. And it’s being dropped in January. So I’m very excited about it.
BE: So before that, did you have any other record deal offers?
M: Well no, not really. There was a deal pending with Sony/BMG straight after “Rock Star: INXS.” But they were so busy with the INXS record. And Marty and the Lovehammers and Jordis were also priorities at the time, because they had already signed her and they were trying work on their record. This came and it was a much stronger request from Universal to sign me. And Sony was like, “Uh, uh, uh…well, okay. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with MiG yet, so, Universal, you can take him for a while and we’ll see what happens.” I think there was so much going on after “Rock Star: INXS” that it kind of got lost. But this was the first bona fide offer. And I just grabbed it with both hands and thought it was a really wonderful idea and really dug David Novik and his concept. His ideas are phenomenal. I’m very excited about doing this whole thing. This is the kind of record that people don’t get a chance to do until they are well into their career. You’ve got to be an established artist before they let you in a room with a 45-piece orchestra, you know what I mean? You’ve got to earn your dues. And suddenly my first album I’m here, I’m recording in Abbey Road studios with these phenomenal musicians, working with the likes of Paul Buckmaster, Matthew Wilder, Rob Mathis, and phenomenal session musicians and arrangers. It’s been a dream.
BE: That’s awesome. I heard the single, and I think your voice sounds incredible.
M: Oh, thank you! Thank you very much. Was that “Baby I Love Your Way”?
M: Why, thank you! That was kind of the signature one from “Rock Star: INXS.” We had to include that because that was what David Novik saw. Actually it is a funny story about this whole thing. David Novik had never even heard of the show until his wife was a big fan of mine. And she TiVo’d the show the night that I did “Baby I Love Your Way.” And when Dave came home from work, Pamela strapped him to the sofa and said, “You sit down and watch this.” (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) That’s awesome.
M: So thanks to Pamela. The power of “mom rock” is undeniable in this day and age. And yeah, Dave went, “Bloody hell! Wow. I’ve got to talk to this guy.”
BE: Well, my next question was how has the “Rock Star” experience helped to fuel your own career? And I guess that was a big part of it right there.
M: That’s it. I mean, I was having a really great career in London. I had the best job in the world. I was playing the lead in a Queen musical called “We Will Rock You.” I was working with the likes of Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen. They were directly involved with the show and (I was) having a wonderful time thinking this was the pinnacle of my career. I always wanted to be a recording artist, and I was thinking actually seven years ago that maybe I was past my used-by date, because I had been trying so hard to become a recording artist in Australia and just wasn’t connecting with the right people. I came to the point where I thought maybe it is not going to happen for me. Suddenly I saw this opportunity to do this show and I saw there was a possibility that if I do well in this show, I could possibly get a recording deal. And that is exactly what happened. So “Rock Star: INXS,” to some great extent, has been very responsible in me getting this deal signed. At the same time, it has also been hard to work through the red tape, the bureaucracy of the whole thing. Because there are so many people involved with it that to make the record we had to get so many pieces of the puzzle in place. (Laughs) It kind of was hard. But once everyone was all on the same page, it flowed nicely. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for from the show.
BE: Do you ever stay in touch with anyone from the show?
M: Oh yeah, sure! I stay in touch with a lot of guys from the show. Ty Taylor just lives near me and Suzie McNeil is a close friend. Brandon Calhoon I speak to quite regularly. We e-mail each other all the time. We’re all kind of close. We’ve all done these little concerts together and stuff like that. It’s almost like a support group as well. We’ve got a support for each other because life after “Rock Star” can be a little bit, well, “What do we do now?”
BE: A little bit of a letdown, almost?
M: Yeah! A little bit of a letdown. It was kind of like we were the flavor of the month for a while there, and we were promised that once you get out to the show your life is going to change and blah blah blah. People come out expecting to be signed and to be working all the time and always in demand. And the reality of it is that is a totally different industry now. There’s not much money anymore in record companies. The business is slowly deteriorating, with the downloads and everything like that. There’s not that much money out there.
BE: Yeah, and a lot of times the labels don’t give the artists enough of a chance.
M: Exactly. The opportunities are getting less and less and less. I can imagine if this show was done 10 years ago, I think all 15 of us would have gotten deals. This is a totally different day and age now. I think people call each other and say, “Well what do we do now? What can I do now?” Then people ask for each other’s support, so we have to lean on each other. It’s almost like we know what we are going through. It’s been a really great thing to be able to call these people and say, “Hey, what am I doing? What’s going on?” And we e-mail each other. It’s a real good “club” we’ve got. It’s a very exclusive club, but it’s great people. I love the guys I was in “Rock Star” with. They’ve been really close.
BE: So have you watched this season (“Rock Star: Supernova”) at all?
M: Oh yeah.
BE: Do you have any comments on it, or do you agree with the judges?
M: You know, I kind of had Lukas picked from the beginning, or almost from the beginning. I thought they were so into him just by their reactions. But typically, you know, because I didn’t win last year, I wanted an Aussie to win this year. And Toby was my pick for the whole thing. I was thinking “Come on, mate. You gotta do it. I just missed out, but you got to do it. Bring this baby home.” And he finished so strongly that I thought maybe he had a chance. But he finished third, and so did I. Like two bronze medals for Australia, so we can’t complain.
BE: That’s cool.
M: But yeah. I got hooked. It’s kind of funny because I found it really hard to watch sometimes. I found myself getting all this anxiety coming back knowing what they were going through. At the same time, it’s an opportunity they all had to go through. Kind of like a painful initiation thing.
BE: Sure. So are you going on tour after the album release?
M: Yeah. That’s the plan.
BE: As a headliner or do you not know that yet?
M: Well, that would be nice. But I think that would be a bit unrealistic at this stage. It’d be nice to just remind people that I’m here, that I exist. That’s why we call the album MiG. It’s self-titled. Just to remind people, “Remember me?” So if we don’t get a headlining tour, it will be nice to be a support act for someone else.
BE: Maybe Peter Frampton?
M: Maybe Peter Frampton!
BE: Yeah, he’s got a new album out, so…
M: I know, and as a matter of fact, it’s awesome. And he’s been phenomenal because he plays on the track, and when I met him he was such a wonderful guy and so into what I was doing that we became good friends. I would love to support him; I’m a big fan. He’s an idol of mine and to be able to work with him would be awesome.
BE: So who else besides him did you get to work with artist-wise on the record?
M: On the record, well, there were plans of working with Brian May of Queen.
BE: And you’ve worked with him before, right?
M: Yeah. I have a personal relationship with Brian. He’s a good friend of mine. We e-mail each other all the time and talk on the phone. In London, I had a band, and we were working on some stuff together. On this album I do a Queen song, “Who Wants to Live Forever,” and at first he was really interested in playing guitar. I said, “Brian would you be a guest playing guitar on this track?” And he said, “MiG, I’d love to. Send it to me.” And when I sent it to him, he wrote back and said, “Dude, there is nothing else…” Well he didn’t say Dude, cuz he’s not. like, from California. (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) Right.
M: He said, “There is nothing I would add to this piece. I mean you flattered me.” His e-mail was fantastic because it said, “There is nothing I would touch of this. If I played on it, it would be too much. I think it is perfect the way it is.” And he says, “I am very proud that I wrote this song.” I mean it was a really beautiful e-mail, but at the same time it wasn’t the answer I was looking for, because I really wanted him to play on it. But he said, “Look, it doesn’t need anything. I would stuff it up if I would join in. So I just want to leave it as it is. I think it’s beautiful.” So I’ve got his mark of confidence. But apart from that, I worked with amazing musicians, anyone from J.R. Robinson on drums, from James Horan on guitar and a fantastic young bass player called Mike Valario. Also Rob Matheson on keyboards and guitar, and Sean Pelton and Zev Katz in New York, as well as some amazing orchestral musicians from London and from the Los Angeles recording scene. All these people are amazing musicians in their own right. You might not know their names, but they’re the best in their field. It was really an honor that they were coming and playing on my record. On “Who Wants to Live Forever,” we had an 18-piece choir that sang. And people that were Grammy award winning singers from the ‘70s were there. And also the new lead singer of Chicago actually said, “Oh, I want to be on this choir, too.” So he joined the ranks as well. (Laughs)
M: I’ve got this star-studded choir of 18 singing back-ups for me. And they were phenomenal.
BE: Great. Well, what kind of goals do you have for the next five years or so?
M: Well in the next five years, I want to keep making records. For a debut artist, you can’t really expect too make much money on your first album. I mean, I get it. You’ve got to play humble pie. But all I hope with this album is that it sells enough that I can do a second album and a third album. They’re going to introduce my original material, that I’ve been co-writing with great writers, into the second and third album. And hopefully by the time I get to my fourth and fifth album, it will be all my stuff and on my terms.
BE: That’s where you’re going to make your money.
M: Yeah! And apart from that, I want to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m loving this life. I really am. Like I said, seven years ago, I gave up being a recording artist. Suddenly I have this major deal with a major label into the most major market in the world. I couldn’t be more excited.
BE: So what are you listening to right now?
M: I’m listening to Continuum, actually, John Mayer.
BE: Yeah, I just got that a couple of weeks ago.
M: I just got that, too. I think he’s probably one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. His voice is incredible. His playing is incredible. His songwriting is sublime. It’s like the guy is flawless. I’d love to work with him one day. That’d be great.
BE: Do you have any funny stories from the road?"I want to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m loving this life. I really am. Seven years ago, I gave up being a recording artist. Suddenly I have this major deal with a major label into the most major market in the world. I couldn’t be more excited."
M: (Laughs). Actually, yeah! I was doing this tour of the east coast. Basically we were doing a mini tour of Boston, Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. But then I got a call from a manager while I was on the road saying, “Hey. There’s a gig waiting for you in Toronto. So after you finish from your gig in Boston, we’ll fly you up to Toronto and do the gig.” And I was thinking, “Okay, cool.” Well, three weeks later, the night before I was flying, I realized that I don’t have a passport. My passport was in L.A. but I was already on tour when this thing was created so I didn’t have my passport with me. So the guys I was with said, “Don’t worry, MiG. We’ll smuggle you in the car and drive you across the boarder. You hide in the keyboard case, we’ll drive you across the border. They don’t check passports once we get though. They won’t check the car. Then get your wife to UPS your passport in Toronto, you’ll be fine on the way back.” So that’s what I did. So for 45 minutes I actually hid in a keyboard case under all the luggage in the back of a van for 40 miles.
BE: Was it hard to breathe in there?
M: I just went to my happy place.
M: I put a straw in my mouth, I closed my eyes and I dreamed of England. You know, I was thinking, “Just get through. Please don’t arrest me. I can’t afford to be arrested.”
BE: That’s awesome.
M: And I didn’t know we had gone through the border or anything because I think they drove another 30 minutes just to piss me off. I was in the back, suffering, thinking, “Oh my God, are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And we got out to the van and they were pretending they were customs security guards and they were saying, “Hey. What’s under here? What’s under here?” And they actually had a video camera and filmed the whole thing. I almost killed them. I said, “You bastards, that’s not funny.” I don’t know if I can get arrested for that now. Well, it’s done, it’s over. I hope I don’t.
BE: Well, it makes for a good story.
M: Well hey, I had to do it, otherwise I’d miss the gig. There’s no way I’d miss a gig. The show must go on, mate! The show must go on.
BE: Absolutely. So, what are some other hobbies and interests you have outside of music?
M: Well, I’m hugely into fitness. So I try to work out every day. I’m in love with my dog. She is the love of our life at the moment until we have kids. And I’d love to go skiing this winter. I missed that last year and the year before. I used to go skiing every year. I’m big on that.
BE: Do you get much snow in England?
M: We get snow in England; we have snow in London on the streets. But it’s not good enough to ski on except for a couple of years ago when we skied down our street. But we do have snow in France and Italy and Switzerland, which are literally an hour and half plane trip away. And then skiing in the Swiss Alps…the last time I went, it was phenomenal. So I even want to give snowboarding a try because living in California was so close to Big Bear and Mammoth. So I want to give that a go this winter.
BE: Maybe we’ll see you on the X-Games or something.
M: (Laughs). Well, maybe I’ll perform at the opening ceremony, but I don’t know. I’m a bit chicken for the things that they do. You’ve heard of the Flying Tomato? I’ll be the Splattered Tomato.
BE: Do you have any final thoughts or things you want to plug on Bullz-Eye.com?
M: No, I just want to ask people to stay tuned for the album that’s coming out in January. And thank you to everyone who has sort of kept the faith and kept on asking about me. I meet all these people on the street and they tell me, “MiG! We voted for you! You should have won! You were robbed.” And to all those people I just say, “Thank you for keeping the faith and I look forward to touring very soon,” so I can thank them all in person.