Interview with Michael Walz of Vista Falls
Earlier this month Vista Falls released a new four-song EP called “Terrified”, which is currently streaming on Youtube. At first, you intended to record five tracks but the recording sessions were cut short.
We wanted to record a full-length CD and we had many goals... good ones. My bandmate Adrian and I had serious talks about creating and opening a School of Rock to help kids learn how to play in bands. Songs six, seven, eight, and nine never happened because life and time ran out. The good thing is that we put out a five-song EP we recorded in June 2019 and through a lot of time and effort we still made things happen to release our second release "Terrified" and it came together. The four songs were recorded in December 2019. After a month or so of rehearsing and thinking, the lyrics came easy as they usually do with my songs. There was a delay with moving and lots of stuff, and unfortunately other delays with the release but it was finally released on June 9, 2020.
In 2005 a movie was released called “Rock School” about a school run by Paul Green where kids could learn to be musicians. Was this movie inspiration to you and Adrian or did you think of opening a school of rock otherwise?
Well, it was the first thing I thought of when the idea was brought up, haha. I think it was more about loving music and wanting to express it in other ways and possibly for other income, but mostly it was for fun. It also had to do with having a few beers and just brainstorming ideas. The reality was a lot of startup costs and I was quickly overwhelmed with the idea.
How long had you been writing music and lyrics before you became a musician? Do you still have older lyrics you wrote, if any?
I started playing around with drumming and finding my way around a piano. I started lyrics/poetry and singing when I was probably six or seven; mostly experimental but learning. Took a few piano lessons (I wish I didn't quit) and I began playing drums in the school band at nine or ten. I began playing guitar around twelve to fourteen and singing a lot more, also multi track recording, more piano and writing "songs". I helped form my first band Kick Axe when I was fifteen to seventeen, and we played a school dance thing at our high school. It was epic, haha. After leaving for college at eighteen I never returned, moved away and joined the heavy metal band that became Dementia. Not sure where the transition was. I would say maybe ten years of experimenting until I considered myself ok, but I had a lot to learn. I think after fifteen or twenty years I developed into the musician I am today, more well-rounded and experienced in live recording and writing.
I have a few old notebooks, one from high school even and old recordings that I could easily write down. Some are written on the back of junk mail envelopes, lol, lots of half-done songs. I just found a recording of my very first song. I write lyrics a lot, they flow pretty easily now, I have hundreds of songs that never made it off the paper.
Listening to that song and reading your early lyrics, how much work do you feel you needed to do to grow as a musician and lyricist?
There’s always room to learn and evolve as a musician; I'm far from perfect. I have fun with what I do. Being a listener and fan of rock music all my life I think I have an idea what decent and what sucks. I try not to suck; I wish I could write and do this full time as I'm sure I would accomplish way more. I am happy with where I'm at though; whether anyone else appreciates what I'm doing, that would be my call.
In what ways did your performance with Kick Axe convince you to pursue being a full time musician?
I knew before that, but that sealed. I was hooked, and shortly after I was even more focused on developing my skills to be a professional musician. I wanted to go to a music school but ended up just taking music classes in grade school, high school and college. Being out front on stage was it. That was what I wanted to do, music, music and more music.
How long has Vista Falls been an active band, and how long did it take to find musicians who were on the same page to complete the lineup? What is the band’s name supposed to represent?
Vista Falls formed in April 2019, so it’s been only a little over a year. The band is me on guitar/vocals and keyboards; also some bass; Adrian Manges on drums, bass, and lead guitar on the recordings. We have known each other a few years but it wasn't until April 2019 that we entered into a project; before that, it was just jamming for fun. I was surprised because I wasn't sure if he would like the material, but we connected and got into the idea of orchestrating our tunes and releasing them. We don't currently have permanent members for bass and lead guitar. I have a couple options but am still searching for the right fit. We were looking into that and some live shows before this world turned upside down.
The band’s name was a few different versions but was finalized in the summer of 2019 as we were working on rehearsing and recording the debut release. I have pages of ideas but I gave up; names are so hard and so many are taken already. My friend gave me the idea one day that sparked it for me. Vantage point, vision, sight. I already had Vista as an idea, I always appreciated double or even triple meanings and I use this often in my lyrics. I also had Falls in mind but it all came together perfectly for a name that really describes a lot to me. Vista Falls, to me, means you can try to have the best foresight and figure out your best vantage point and plan but you still may fail, you still may fall. It’s also somewhat of a metaphor for my life, trying and failing but not giving up and realizing that failing is still competing and being in the game. I really like the name and how it allows for many different music styles, also the mystery and dark vibe.
Tell the readers about your first EP and the songs written for it. Were any physical copies released last year or was it solely a digital release?
The first EP was released on digital format in October 2019. The five songs were an emotional dump of some lyrical ideas that had been brewing a number of years. After a divorce which turned my life upside down and some big life changes and hurdles, I wrote songs like “Sorry AF” to show my feelings, haha. “Insomnia”: it’s real, and worse with being afraid to feel love again. “Mess With You”: why do we get with the ones that drive us crazy? “Love n Sex”: all my mistakes or opportunities... “Next to You”: the one you desire and can't get over.
At the end of 2019, we began working on the next release from Vista Falls and originally wanted to record a full-length release. We had at least six songs in mind but were interrupted by situations and only three songs were recorded with one not even finished. We edited and finished the song in the studio (everything else was recorded live with some additional vocals), and the piano track that I showed Adrian that one day was recorded and edited into what you hear now as "Distance". “Save Your Heaven” was the track that brought this recording together. And the final production of the tune really brought it to life, I think. I've many people say that they can't get it out of their heads. Well, that’s the goal isn't it, haha. When I wrote “Terrified” I was really inspired by the “new” Vista Falls sound. Now I am really happy with the way it allowed Vista Falls to be not only melodic but heavy. Getting back to the first song, “Picking Up The Pieces” is just that; it’s about me trying to find some sense in everything. As I think a lot of people are, now and always. It’s a crazy world we live in, and getting crazier. I hope people take the time to slow down, care about one another, and stop on by Vista Falls once in a while.
Has “Terrified” been uploaded to other streaming sites besides Youtube? Is it strictly available for purchase in digital format or are you also planning to release it in CD format?
I would like to see a CD release soon. Currently, the download is free. A CD release is being looked into now. I just want people to hear it. The release was handled by Distrokid, a pretty awesome service. Our tunes and album are available on Amazon, Spotify, Youtube, and Tiktok and both EP are available on all formats. I update things on our Facebook page regularly; new releases, videos, and news.
Musically, “Terrified” sounds heavily influenced by alternative rock bands including Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. Alternative was mainstream in the 90s but since gave way to pop-punk and nu-metal. Did you set out to record an alternative EP or did it come about as one naturally?
No, not at all. I'm moved by the wind, the moon, and the sunrise. I wrote these songs on my steps and on my couch reflecting on the world and life. I think the combination of half of the band being teenagers in the '80s and half in the 2000s had something to do with the outcome. I love all the bands you just mentioned and idolize their amazing vocals. I think in some ways "as I've heard" maybe 90's rock is coming back; I don't know. I just wrote what I felt, we jammed it out to create what it is now, which is way more orchestrated... and I love it. So proud and glad to share this music with everyone! Peace, love, unity... and MUSIC!!
In addition to the alternative bands discussed above, you listen to Nirvana, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Nine Inch Nails. How do you and the band work those influences into their material?
Walz: It’s common ground, I guess. As you travel up and down the fretboard or piano the notes you land on are guided by your album collection. Although I had a very heavy influence when I was younger, the melodies and vocal harmonies of some of these other bands came out in my music. Although I could likely be seen putting on some old Sepultura, Hatebreed, Mudvayne or Mercyful Fate. I grew up on the “big four” and love heavy music, Adrian has played in some very heavy metal bands and I course I have my past, haha. I guess this sound is a combination of my past, music. I love heavy music, but also truly appreciate classics like “Operation Mindcrime” by Queensryche, also bands like Incubus and hard rock, I guess that’s kind of where the sound of Vista Falls came together crossing over in many directions. I am very happy with the heavier feel of "Terrified" as it reminds me of the attitude and emotional release of “Sorry AF” from the first EP.
On what formats was “Terrified” made available and how much of a response has it received?
Again it’s on Spotify, Amazon, Tiktok, and Youtube. We separately shot a video for "Love & Sex" from our last EP. Check it out on Youtube; it’s a great tune and we had a lot of fun doing it. It was our first time doing a green screen, haha (actually a red screen). We received a lot of positive responses on Facebook and Youtube for the release, but unfortunately not enough to generate any label attention. Look to our Facebook page for new updates, and I do respond to questions there. I hope to see new music or videos from Vista Falls to release sometime soon. Until then, enjoy "Terrified".
Describe the making of your “Love & Sex” video. Was it shot just by the band or did you hire professionals to work with you? What equipment was used during the filming and editing?
We did it ourselves. It was a lot of fun. It was filmed with just a decent hand cam. Some of the footage was on my phone, but the Samsung S9 has a great camera, haha. I couldn't find anything to use for a green screen other than a red sleeping bag, so we tacked that up in my dining room and recorded me singing the song to get the digital background shots. A nearby park by the river was a cool spot for the outdoor shots. It somehow really captured some of the bridge and chorus. The jam was in my house/studio rehearsal space with used to be my living room. If you look on the floor you see hundreds of pages of lyrics that were stuffed under my couch. We moved the couch out of the room to have more room to set up. Adrian decided we should use them so we threw the pages all over the floor in the room. There were two takes; one was recorded with me singing on guitar and Adrian on drums. The second was recorded with me on bass and Adrian on guitar. We attempted to fade the two together but it didn’t work that well, haha. Anyhow at the end of the video, it’s kind of weird and cool how you see all four of us leaving the screen. I live in an old Victorian home that was built in 1905 so there are some good areas for shooting. There are a few other shots in my hallway upstairs included in the video.
How long has your living room been your personal studio? What equipment have you collected since the transformation?
Since my divorce in 2016. I didn't have a lot to start with, and a lot of what I had was outdated. I use a 24 track Tascam standalone now for flexibility, I like it, but honestly, I record most of my ideas on my phone. Vista Falls was all recorded on computer and I couldn't tell you the program he used; I'm not a computer recording guy. The magic of the lounge/studio is the sound of the high ceiling, the 100+-year-old plaster walls, and the hardwood floors. I have a decent assortment of mics, drums, an Electro-Voice, and still use an old Rode condenser mic because I still love the sound. I enjoy having everything available: piano, keyboards, sequencers, multiple guitars and amps, drum kit, drum machines, recording, lights, and fog, haha.
What kind of a sound do you get from your Rode condenser microphone that you don’t get from more modern equipment? What are the differences in sound between the organic resources you have and the phone and computer you use to record?
A condenser is a good idea for vocals, no matter what you are using to record I think. You miss a lot of frequencies in vocals using a dynamic mic, even with effects. And honestly, some of the vintage old condensers are more valuable than their weight in diamonds. What you can do with the computer recording systems is untouchable, with the flexibility and remote abilities. I just personally never made that switch, I recorded on digital standalones or in studios. I'm not a big computer guy and I used to work in music retail, so I dealt with a lot of the nightmares of software that doesn't run with certain computers and latency crashes and issues. Anyhow it works great and luckily I had the option available through our band. The phone works quite well for ideas. It’s amazing how good it sounds; there is a bunch of cool recording apps out there, but not for serious stuff.
As an aside, do you know anything about the history of your Victorian home?
Not as much as I would like to. I have the original deed paperwork on the property. It's pretty awesome, dating back to 1890, written in quill pen. The land was officially sold to Morris Southard in 1904 and completed in 1905. A large home in the area, it was often used for parties, wedding, and funerals. The main stairwell was from another, much larger, house a couple of blocks away. When they decided to remove it, the stairwell was hauled over to my house on horse and wagon. 2 1/2 stories with a full attic, and no it’s clear... no ghosts, just me.
How much creative input did you and the other members of the band have in making the video? Are you satisfied with the end results or did you see room for improvement when it was completed?
We did it all. Adrian again kicked ass with a very professional job. He used some kind of video editing program and we mixed the "video tracks" just like a band mixes their bass drum guitar and vocal tracks. There was a lot of creative input in the editing of the different videos, finding the cool clips from the different takes, and blending them together. We worked side by side to piece it together. It took a while, Adrian is tireless with that kind of stuff. The editing was time-consuming but fun as we watched it come together. I would love to do another video. I have some ideas for the next; we’ll have to wait and see.
What are some of the ideas you have in mind for a new Vista Falls video? What filming equipment do you want to work with for it?
We probably would just use our same methods, though we did upgrade the recording program we used for the first and second EPs so it’s hard to predict. I have a few ideas for “Share Your Heaven”, but “Terrified” could be pretty awesome visions of this crazy world we are in. There’s nothing solid that I can define yet.
Before Vista Falls you worked in a thrash metal band for some time. Tell the readers about this band and the extent of their activity while they were together? Did this band draw from Obituary, Sepultura, and Mercyful Fate who you also cite as influential bands?
I joined a band called Syrys in 1987; soon after we changed our name to Dementia. Cursed was the first “cassette” release from 1989; we have plans to reissue on vinyl soon. We played a lot in Wisconsin, then based ourselves in Chicago where we were constant on the scene for ten years. “Recuperate from Reality” was our 1992 release on CD and Vinyl. It was put out worldwide but unfortunately, as many companies did, our company took on too much, couldn't promote our album and went under. We had a number of other demos and EPs out there. I created a Facebook page for fun in case anyone wants to learn about the band, there are some cool old pics and videos on there. The page is fairly new. I think there are a hundred or so following. There are still some old school fans, gotta love it, and also some new that are collectors into metal album covers and vintage thrash. I am one as well. Check it out on Facebook
The band split up in 1996 due to “musical differences”. Brian and Matt got a drummer and started a band called Sick. Skylar and I formed a gothic band Vault which was short-lived. We next formed Misery's Company and released two CDs of kind of an electronic rock vibe. In 2017 I was contacted by Heaven and Hell Records to do a reissue release of “Recuperate from Reality”. We discussed a three-CD box set including all recorded material. The decision of the band ended up reserving the reissue of “Cursed” be on vinyl, so the release was just a single of “Recuperate from Reality”. The booklet included some great vintage photos of the band. The CD also includes two of the best songs recorded by Dementia which were never released before. This was a big high light for me. The output and volume were greatly improved for the 1992 release, Heaven and Hell did a great job remastering! I really appreciated the opportunity of working with Jeremy; they did a great job with the whole project. We are still seeing some sales interest and promoting. It sounds awesome and the bonus tunes are a must-listen. They are on Facebook and Bandcamp at www.heavenandhellrecords.com
Were Dementia’s lyrics also based on personal experiences? Do you ever consider reforming Dementia to work on new material today, or do you strictly prefer working with Vista Falls?
All my lyrics typically have some personal influence, inspired by a feeling or a situation or a struggle. So yes, some are obvious like “Feel the Fire”, others are more subtle like “Inner Thoughts” or “Bloodloss”, which by the way is not about literally having blood loss. Many times I'm describing a common type of thing people are familiar with and weaving in related meaning to a specific event or person. It would have been really cool to reform, play one more show, or even do an online remake or new tune as many bands are doing. Unfortunately the cost to bring us all together as we are spread over the whole U.S. and don’t have a common interest in doing so left it on the table. So yes at the moment writing and rehearsing the current tunes with VF, making arrangements to release a double EP release on CD. The reissue of Dementia at least happened with two of our last recorded, maybe a couple others could still be released. And the reissue of the first recording should be out on vinyl later this year. So anyhow, I would be open to at least an online remote jam or even a new tune, I've got plenty of frustration and inspiration, haha.
Is there a label you’re planning to release the double EP on, or is the band currently seeking labels for distribution? Do you prefer releasing your material in CD or digital format?
The hope is that there will be some interest, now in digital or with the product possibly promoting the release more. I will continue to promote and hope to see more releases soon. Time will tell if anyone is going to jump on board with us.
What do you want Vista Falls to ultimately accomplish and how would you like the band to be remembered for it?
Good tunes, having fun and connecting with others musically. I always hope that the song and lyrics will connect with someone else in their life, in a similar but different way and they will hopefully be positively inspired. That is my hope; also to be remembered as a cool band with deep but melodic rock songs that make you think but also allow you to chill.