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Progressive Rock Interviews

Mike Keneally

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Mike Keneally from 2016
You've had quite an impressive career to this point. Can you catch the readers on some of the highlights?
Getting the gig with Frank Zappa in late 1987 was certainly a highlight for me, a dream come true. I toured with him in the first half of 1988, and then continued working with the Zappas until 1996, mainly playing in the band Z with Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa. That year I joined Steve Vai's band and played with him until 2001. I played with the metal band Dethklok starting in 2007, and joined Joe Satriani's band in 2010. During all of this I've been doing my own albums and tours as often as possible, and have released over 30 titles of my own since 1992.
What can you tell us about your brand new album?

Scambot 2 is the continuation of the story begun in 2009 with Scambot 1. It's an epic tale about a grumpy little composer and the evil industrialist who is manipulating his personality and emotions. But it's also just an album which can be listened to and (hopefully) enjoyed without concerning yourself with the plot line. I think it's got some of my best writing and playing, and also contains fantastic performances from Kris Myers, Pete Griffin, Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Doug Lunn, Gregg Bendian, Marco Minnemann, Rick Musallam, Ben Thomas and Jesse Keneally (my daughter). The two-CD set comes with a second album called "Inkling," which is mostly instrumental and contains a lot of additional music recorded at the same time as Scambot 2. I think anyone who enjoys adventurous music would like both of these albums a lot.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Perhaps a comic strip. I love making absurd drawings, and if it weren't for music distracting me I probably would have gone in that direction. 
Who would you see as your musical influences?
The first big one was The Beatles, but when I heard Frank Zappa at age nine I realized I'd truly found "my music." Frank was the biggest influence. But other huge influences include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Emerson, Gentle Giant, Todd Rundgren, The Residents, Henry Cow, Captain Beefheart, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and a few thousand others.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I've just gotten back from the road in the US with my band Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins (that's me, Bryan Beller and Joe Travers), And that tour was fantastically fun. We'll be doing more performances in 2017. In late November I'll be going to South America with Joe Satriani, and we'll also be going to Asia in February (that'll be the end of the current touring cycle), for the last Satriani album we made, Shockwave Supernova. I just played a little bit of keyboards for the upcoming Mastodon album, and we've discussed my possibly going on the road with them. And I've got my own performances booked in LA in January, in Norway in March and in more of Europe next summer, and will be booking more of my own shows in the US for the second half of 2017. I've also been involved in writing sessions with a new band (name withheld for the moment) consisting of myself, Kris Myers from Umphrey's McGee on drums, Pete Griffin from Giraffe Tongue Orchestra on bass, Ben Thomas from Zappa Plays Zappa on vocals, guitar, horns and percussion, and Jonathan Sindelman from the Alan White Band on keyboards. We've been writing collectively (which I've never done before!) and have the goal of putting together a complete live repertoire and touring with it before we record it for posterity.
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Art rock, with loud guitars.

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

Wayne Shorter, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and Vinnie Colaiuta all spring to mind.
Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Both, for all the obvious reasons. It's great to have people spreading the word about your music, and I know that I've gotten a number of new fans as a result of file-sharing. The legal streaming services are not going away, and they're undeniably a good way for people to hear a lot of new music that they might not check out otherwise. But there's no doubt that declining album sales has negatively impacted every musician who decides to make an album. It's a simple reality of life, and everyone who makes music for a living has had to adjust their own realities to continue to survive.
In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I've always encouraged it. The nature of my own shows has always been improvisational, and every night really is different, and hopefully valid in its own way. There's no way I could capture and release every interesting thing that happens onstage at my gigs, so I'm grateful that there's been this ongoing alternative documenting of my peculiar musical journey.
If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Ha! That's a fun question, but I really prefer not to publicly vilify any other musicians, no matter how potentially deserving they might be of such.
If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Wayne Shorter, Donald Fagen, Allan Holdsworth, Percy Jones, Tommy Mars, Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Vinnie Colaiuta and me (sorry, I have got to participate in this).
If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Everyone named above, plus Radiohead.
What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I've been obsessed with the Isley Brothers Complete RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters box set. It was a gift from my friend Syd Schwartz, and I pretty much can't stop listening to it. No other music these days feels as good to me.
Have you read any good books lately?
I've been re-reading Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace and getting more out of it than the first read did. It's completely undisciplined and hugely entertaining.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Radiohead, in LA earlier this year - loved it.

Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Nope! I stand proudly behind everything I enjoy.
What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Probably having my keyboard stand begin to collapse during a televised Joe Satriani concert a couple of years ago. I continued playing with one hand while trying to fix the stand with the other, while Bryan Beller on bass was doing the exact same thing to try and help me. It made for some interesting television, but it was very hectic while it was going down.
If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
My mom and dad, and Frank Zappa. I love and miss them all a lot.
What would be on the menu?
Rigatoni pasta with sauce and meatballs.
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Happy holidays and good luck to all of us!

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 6 at
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