AOR Heaven NEH Records Z-Roxx Loud 1 Groove Machine Destiny Hot Tracks Target Wishing Well Perris

MIKE AQUINO / Mecca - Guitars

Well Mike, good to hook up with you. I thought I'd just ask you a few questions about the Mecca and things in general, if that's OK?
That's fine.

Fantastic. So I took down a couple of notes the other day. What I should start with is, when did you first hook up with Jim Peterik?
Oh boy. I actually hooked up with Jim through Joe Vana.

Oh, OK.
Joe Vana was… I was teaching lessons over at a store and Joe was one of my students, and he kept saying, “I've got to tell my buddy Jim about you and, you know, after a bunch of lessons and Joe and I doing basement demo tapes together in his basement, and sending them off to Jim, we finally met Jim and Jim had me play on a song on his World Stage disk and it turned into two songs, into three songs, into four, you know, and so on and so on. So, that's pretty much how I got to meet Jim, is just through Joe.

OK. So how did you hook up with Joe initially? He was just a student?
Well Joe actually lives right around the corner from one of the stores that I teach at and he walked in and he wanted to take, I think, originally it was bass lessons, and I had a spot open so he ended up taking lessons from me. It was just one of those chance things, you know.

Absolutely. As a lead singer, what kind of a bass player does he make?
Give him roots to play and he's fine, give him something intricate… I don't know, you know. But singing is definitely his main thing.
He's got a real good ear for it. He's got a real good ear for how a song should be put together. So basically that's how we got started together. He was just going, “Dude, here's these tunes, it kind of goes like this,” and he'd kind of plunk them out on guitar, you know, real like, real bad, and it was my job to take these things the way he was doing them and make them sound the way I think he wanted them to sound. So, that's kind of how we got started, you know, just doing little basement stuff of our own.

OK. And Jim ended up bringing you into Kelly Keagy as well?
Yeah, well, I met Kelly through doing the Jim Peterik and World Stage gig. Kelly was going to record some tunes… well, originally he was recording some demos over at Jim's studio for Kelly's new record, and Jim is going, “I've got just the guitarist here in Chicago to use on your demos,” and he goes, “it's one of the guys from the band,” you know, so I kind of knew Kelly from playing with Jim before I did the demos with Kelly.
And then after the demos were done, however many months later it was, we ended up laying down some final track stuff for Kelly's record, so that's how I got to know Kelly. Kelly was doing the gigs with Jim.

It's a great little family community you have there.
Yeah, it's an interesting little circle, the more people you know, the smaller it gets, that's what's really scary. Not the bigger it gets, it gets smaller, because everybody knows everybody.

The World Stage shows have become a bit of a legend though haven't they?
Yeah, they have, they've become real fun. It's not too often when a kid from Wheaton, Illinois gets to stand on stage with Don Barnes from .38 Special and Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon, you know, that doesn't happen every day. So it's really kind of cool, because I grew up on a lot of Jim's stuff that he wrote for .38 Special, those were some of the first songs that I ever like learned on the guitar in my whole life, and here I am playing the licks along with Don Barnes, and I'm like, “Wow, this is really cool!” I never thought I would ever do this. It's just funny how things work out.

That is very cool.
I wouldn't trade it for a million years. I wouldn't.

On the outset of the Mecca project, did Joe rope you into that or is that mutual…
Well that kind of started I'd say a couple of years… maybe a year and a half or so before we hooked up with Jim with all of this stuff. Joe and I were making these tapes in his basement, tunes that he wrote or things we wrote together, he'd ship them off to Jim and Jim would tell us if they were good, if they were really good, or if they were really not magic at all. And then if he's going, “I'd do this with the bridge, I'd do this with the chorus,” we'd let him do something with the chorus, so it just got to the point to where we all said, “Well, why don't we all just do a record,” <laughs> Because the whole thing started with Joe and I in the basement about a year and a half before Mecca was even thought up.
So, that's kind of how the whole thing got started. It was Joe, myself, and then we brought in another guy, Jason Deroche, who was the main writer for “Close That Gap”, and “Falling Down”. He's a friend of mine here in Chicago who's one of the best classical players around, and he grew up on a lot of Jim's stuff too. It's all kind of neat how it all fell into place.

I can remember Joe playing me demos for this stuff over the phone about 8 months ago, so that was the same time you guys were just sort of getting started.
Right. I'd say the two songs that did make it to the Mecca project that were original basement demos between Jason, Joe, and myself, were “Close That Gap” and “Falling Down”. Those were recorded in Joe's basement before we ever did a Mecca thing, before we ever thought of Mecca. So those are two songs that really kind of got the ball rolling.

So you've got the finished master disk now, what do you think?
I love it. I love it. I think it sounds really cool. Yeah, I'd be crazy to say it doesn't have... it doesn't sound like some of the '80s rock stuff - it does, I mean, look at the writers, look at the people who are playing on it. It's got all the elements of the '80s rock scene, but at the same time it sounds very new.

It does, doesn't it.
It sounds very fresh, it sounds very new, and that might just be because nobody's doing it anymore.
I mean, we try to, of course, do something along the '80s rock line, but at the same time go, "well let's not try to make this song sound like a Survivor song, or lets not make this song sound like a Toto song; how can we make these tunes sound like Mecca." So what we used to do is, we used to sit in Jim's studio, and have fun just sitting down, jamming and writing tunes. I mean that's how "Miss-Chevious" was written. We were at Jim's studio kind of writing some tunes and Jim's going, "we need a real rocker, rocker. Not like an '80s rocker, but a rocker tune," and I go, "I've had this tune for like a week or two now I just don't have any lyrics," and he's like, "well start playing it." So I start playing it, and within like 30 seconds he had a verse written. <laughs> He starts singing.

He's a machine isn't he?
He's a machine. He's like, "Give me some paper. Give me a pen. We've got to write this stuff down," you know. So Jim and Fergie finished the lyrics and that's just how a lot of this stuff was brought about, just by playing around with stuff and getting the right parts. Finding stuff that's cool that's going to make it sound a little newer. Not a complete flashback.

No. It's got a great sound. It's got a really nice modern sort of production sound, you know.
Yeah, I love it.

And it's smooth as hell too.
Uh huh, Uh huh!

What do you think about... I gather the first tune "Velocitized" is a song that never made Survivor.

How was it filling in for the intended guitar licks of Frankie Sullivan?
It was, actually, I never heard the tune. We were sitting at Jim's, and he put it on... well, he had given Joe a disk of some tunes that might work for the Mecca thing and we put it on over in Jim's kitchen, and I'm listening to it and I'm going, "this is a great tune." It's fun, it's happy, it's not in-depth about anything, it's just a fun tune.
And I sat there going, "yeah, this is cool," you know. Frankie's stuff was cool to learn how to play, you know, and about the only stuff that I didn't do that Frankie did on the record on the original demo, was I changed the solo and the solo at the end. But I tried to stay... because I love the demo so much, I tried to stay pretty close to the original feel, because it sounded so right, you know. And even if I didn't come up with the way to play the riff or something like that, if it sounds right, I'm not going to mess with it.

I just, you know, I have no business doing that <laughs>.

You did a great job; it's really a great tune.
Thank you.

What I really like about the album is, some of the slower tracks I really do like a lot, the nice sort of thought out slow guitar solo. I think you've done quite a sensational job of a few tracks there.
Great, thank you. That's always been a cool thing to be able to play on a ballad, to do the soulful guitar stuff, because I was always taught from day one from instructors or other guitar players that I listen to and read articles on, and it's completely true, you can play on a fast tune and play fast as much as you want and there's so much going on that it can hide the soul, it can hide the playing. But to be able to play on a slow tune, there's no lifejacket, there's no net to catch you; it's going by so slow or it's going by with such a power that, OK this one note has to stand out as much as like these 20 notes on this other song. It's just really cool, and Jim is really... Jim and Joe with the way that they write their ballads, they're both very passionate writers, you know, real big sound, and I grew up listening to a lot of Journey as well and Neal Schon is in my mind, as far as rock players go, the best rock guitar player to play on a ballad.

Yeah, I agree.
I mean, because he can play like four notes that just make you cry; he can play a barrage of like 20 notes that just mow you down, and it's just like, "ah man," it's just incredible.
You have to try to make that guitar sing, just like the voices are doing.

Absolutely. I think he does that exactly and I think you've done a pretty good job yourself.
Well thank you, I really appreciate that.

Yeah, I think the name Mike Aquino will soon be talked about quite in detail.
That would be very interesting <laughs>. That would be very interesting; I don't know how... good detail, or bad detail, but I guess any detail is good in any realm <laughs>.

Well when they hear these records they'll be good, I'm sure.
I sure hope so.

Have you got favorite tunes?
Favorite tunes? Wow, I wish I had a disk on me, I could tell you. Well, I think a first favorite tune that comes to my mind is "Can't Stop Love." I really like the way that starts with the acoustics and then builds into a big huge chorus and it just keeps rolling. I really like the way that song grooves. I think Shannon Forrest, the drummer, did a... I mean he didn't play any special crazy kind of beat on that tune, but he just put it so much in the pocket that it's just... it's one of my favorite tunes to drive to. I think that's why I like it so much.

Oh, this is a great driving record.
Oh yeah, it is a great driving record. I mean, you just can't help but to drive a little too fast with it, that's for sure. Let me see, any other ones, oh , "Wishing Well", I love "Wishing Well". I think Fergie's performance on the vocals were just incredible; he really sang way above what I could ever hear a person singing on that song, it was just great. The way the harmonies lock in on the chorus is just wonderful. I really dig "Miss-Chevious" because it's a little different. Its got the horn stuff, you know, it's got the '80s flavor but not like the '80s pop flavor, but more like that Aerosmith "Rag Doll" type mood, you know, real sexy, real sassy, so I really dig that song a lot. It's such a tough thing to pick, let me see if I can pick another tune on there that I can tell you would stand out, I don't know. Honey (to someone off mic) do you know any song that stands out? (background voice) OK, she likes "Velocitized" and "Miss-Chevious".

Actually, yeah, "Velocitized" does stand out well because it's just a great straight ahead rock tune that doesn't... just from the first drum hit it doesn't let up until the very end.

Yep. I guess that's the radio track.
And, I'd say if I really had to name one more tune, it would be "Close That Gap".

Isn't it awesome!?
It is a great tune.

I'll tell you what, I really like the new mix with your guitar more in the mix.
What's really cool, is that song finally sounds like a song with what they did in the mix. When they took everything out in the beginning except for the piano and the vocals and then bring the guitars in at the pre-chorus and then everything else and then at the chorus drop them all back out, it really makes the song sound great. Everyone around Chicago knows Joe Vana as a singer through Jim Peterik and the Jim Peterik shows knows Joe as this real high harmony singer and everything and no one has ever really gotten to hear him just sing in that comfortable, normal range of a vocalist. And, of course I've heard him sing in that before when we're writing tunes, and he sounds great singing lead on a tune that's right in that upper middle range and he sounds phenomenal, his vocal is just killer and I sit there... I've played that for friends and they go, "that's Joe? He sounds great singing this stuff." Yeah, I'd say that song does stick out a bit too. I mean, I could sit here and name them all, but I won't.

Yep, I know what you mean. Fantastic. Fantastic Mike, I think that's all I've got to know really.
Cool, wonderful.

That's a great little wrap-up.

Yeah, and I just presume that you'd like to be part of Mecca II if something should eventuate?
Oh sure! It would be a blast; it would be a blast. I would love to do it, and I would love to work with the same guys again. It was an absolute blast.

Fantastic. Thanks Mike.
All right Andrew.

Many personal thanks to Ron Higgins for transcribing this interview from tape for me. Appreciate it mate!