Metal Church singer Mike Howe has been back with the band for five years now. In that time, the group has released two full length records and most recently dropped the From the Vault collection, which features new songs, b-sides and covers. His reinstatement in Metal Church was warmly welcomed and we couldn’t help but wonder what the frontman was up to during his 20 years away from heavy metal.
It’s easy to understand how certain behind the scenes issues would lead anyone to want to leave music behind, but does that itch to get onstage ever go away? Does that need for the adrenaline rush of singing in a metal band subside? It’s always a curious thing to understand how a musician can feel content walking away from a career that so many sign up for as a means of escaping a more normalized life.
But Howe’s story is exactly that as he became a hard-working family man, proud of his accomplishments as a carpenter as well as devoted husband and father of two sons.
In this interview, the singer speaks just as passionately about his time away from music as he does about his return and the enjoyment he now gets out of both facets of living.
Metal Church’s breakup in 1995 prompted your exit from music entirely. Before you made the decision, did you consider putting together another band?
When Metal Church broke up it was a very sad thing. I loved being in Metal Church and I felt that was my identity. I left primarily because of the business of music and how difficult it was navigating management, record companies and outside forces that were ruining the band and my love of music. When I quit Metal Church and went off the road, I felt damaged about music in general that I loved. I felt hurt and angry about it all.
A lot of things need to fall in line to be successful on a level where you can make a living and carry on. I was newly married two years before that and my wife had her career going on a trajectory of being a professor of psychology, so I devoted myself to supporting her and what she was doing.
I went to my first backup profession which was carpentry. I really enjoy working with wood and building things, so I followed my wife to Nashville, Tennessee where she did a post-doctorate after getting out of college at UC Riverside where she got her PhD in psychology.
We had our first son in Nashville in 1997 then two years later she moved to her first teaching job in Lexington, Kentucky. and we were there for four years. In 2002 we were pregnant with our second son and we moved to northern California where she got a job teaching at a university.
When did your interest in carpentry first start?
I always equate it back to a time in my life when I was young and my dad built a work bench in the basement of our house. It wasn’t a very good work bench and he wasn’t a talented good carpenter, but he did it. I was very fascinated that you could make things out of wood.
When I moved to California in 1984 with a band that I was in in Detroit called Snair (originally called Hellion) I hooked up with my uncle who lived there and he took care of a few of us and let us get on our feet. He knew a guy who was a contractor and carpenter in Malibu and I needed a job to help supplement the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. He taught me a lot of things and that’s basically where I learned all my skills.
Metal Church, “Dead on the Vine”
As a contractor, what did the job involve? Was it mostly remodeling or were you building things new?
When I first started, the crux of the job was remodeling. My boss, who is still a close friend to this day, was multifaceted in his talents and used all sorts of mediums and could weld and whatever. We remodeled rich people’s houses and got creative with it.
It wasn’t until I moved away from there and got back east and got into a bigger company that built houses, When I moved to Kentucky I moved to a historical renovation and preservation company that restored huge thoroughbred horse farm mansions and added on to them.
Then I became a more focused finished carpenter and did molding and things like that.
Is there anything you’ve built that stands out that you’re particularly proud of?
I like using reclaimed wood and making simple styled furniture. Living in the redwood forests there’s old growth and I really got into old growth redwood. I made my son bunk beds years ago and put some clear finish on it and it had dark purple hues that were just beautiful.
Between 1995 and 2015, did you feel your creative itch was fulfilled by carpentry?
I didn’t feel like I needed to get back to music or any other creative outlet. I had a full time job and I was raising kids, so the carpentry fulfilled that. To go back to the music business while raising a family, in my mind, would have been a selfish decision.
Metal Church, “For No Reason”
Did you get together with anyone during that 20 year period to maintain your voice and keep it active?
I didn’t have to maintain my voice because I had vocal techniques I learned through Maestro David Kyle, an amazing vocal teacher in the Seattle area that I went to back when I was in Metal Church.
I don’t think I ever lost that, but I did have some house jams with friends around here. There’s a lot of musicians and music lovers in my area.
I never sang metal again until I got back into Metal Church. My voice [as a metal singer] is only suited for Metal Church — I wouldn’t want to be in another metal band where I’m the singer. But I enjoy singing and would sing covers of blues, soul, Americana. I really enjoy powerful woman singers like Etta James and Nina Simone, so I’d sing some Etta James songs with my friends.
Are you and Amy Winehouse and Adele fan too?
Oh definitely. They’re two amazing singers. I got into their albums and wore them all out. Adele is a technically perfect singer. To me, she can sing anything. She has a different tone in her voice that sets her apart from other women singers that makes her identifiable.
As far as Amy Winehouse goes, she had that retro style and that passion — it’s rare.
What were you sons into musically as they were growing up? Did they understand the significance of your past as the singer of Metal Church?
They saw the videos and all that of what dad used to do. They probably thought, “Yeah, whatever. That’s weird.”
My sons are both different. My older son when he was younger was into Nirvana but he was also into rap. He was very diverse — he’d listen to Metallica too and some Metal Church. It wasn’t until I came back into the band that they both realized, “Whoa, he really was in a band.”
It was awesome for me because my oldest son was 18 when I came back to Metal Church and he came to shows. I took him on the first Monsters of Rock Cruise that I did and that was the greatest thing for me. I could tell he had a great time and it’s something I’ll never forget.
My younger son was 13 and he was like, “Yeah, whatever dad.” He was too cool for it.
A couple years later I took them both to the Chicago Open Air show. I got them pit passes and they looked all important!
Metal Church, “Fake Healer” — Monster of Rock Cruise (2016)
Now, here you are, five years back in Metal Church. You’ve put out two full length albums and just dropped From the Vault, which has four new songs, some b-sides from Damned If You Do and a handful of covers. I have to know — who decided to cover “Black Betty?”
[Raises hand] I’m the guilty one — that was mine. It’s hard to pick cover songs, which is why we never do it. It’s a weird concept and we’re not really into it but we decided to challenge ourselves. As I was going through my day, listening to the radio, I heard that song again by Ram Jam and I went, “Wow, I can hear Kurdt metaling out on that.” I was trying to picture a song that rock but heavier. It was fun to sing!
Metal Church, “Black Betty” (Ram Jam Cover)
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