Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
The origins of the Sacramento, California based thrash / industrial metal band FALLEN MAN reach back to the then-advancing turn of the millennium, the mid-Nineties.
For 25 years, the band has been a pet project of its founder and main driving force, guitarist and vocalist Michael Joseph. He was joined by fellow co-conspirators Rich Recker (bass) and Brandon Fuller (drums) for many of the years since FALLEN MAN‘s first release, ‘Blink‘, arrived in 2001. Since then, this rhythm section has collaborated with Michael on nearly each album release to some extent, along with a lengthy roster of other musicians.
The music of FALLEN MAN is an amalgamation of a variety of genres and styles, from industrial metal and thrash, to punk, classic metal, and more. The lyrical subjects of that music are also geared more toward presenting ideas derived from a socio-political consciousness, as opposed to those from many of the band’s peers.
Having been an online comrade and friend of Michael Joseph‘s for several years now, I figured it was time we had a music-oriented conversation. Not just that, as we are toss in a world-première of a new video from FALLEN MAN, the clip for their reinterpretation of the W.A.S.P. classic “Widowmaker” from their latest release, the spectacular ‘Evil Deeds‘ album. But first, let’s talk to the upstanding man behind FALLEN MAN…
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: We have a lot of ground to cover but let’s start at the start… where do the origins of Fallen Man begin? What is your own musical background prior to the band?
Michael: I came up with the name Fallen Man in 1993 after watching an MTV VJ at the time, Kennedy, interview a band (not sure who they were) and she asked something like, “What are you like the Fallen Man?“. I had just left a band (Imagine UP) that I had been playing with for most of my college life. That was a very talented group that wanted to stay local, and I was set on moving back home to the Bay Area so, at that point, I went into the studio with my drummer from high School and recorded some tracks under the Fallen Man banner.
As for my musical background… I’d been playing trumpet for years and at one point got braces which totally sent me down to the lowest chair you could get (laughs)! I couldn’t hit any notes anymore, plus the trumpet flat-out sucks! As a fan of Mötley Crüe and Van Halen, I picked up the guitar and that became my instrument of choice. From there, I taught myself and started jamming almost daily with a drummer friend of mine at his house.
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What was the defining event that led to your pursuing music (i.e. an album, concert, etc.), and who would you cite as some of your own personal influences?
Michael: When I was really young my parents used to go to these timeshare things, ones that if you stayed for the day, you’d get free stuff. On one occasion my parents got an FM/AM Walk-Man with headphones. Now this may sound silly to the kids of today, but that was my first experience with STEREO! That was a mind-blowing moment and FM Radio in Stereo is still one of the best ways to listen to music, uncompressed, etc.
It was soon after that I had a friend whose older brother played us some Van Halen and that started the bug. By Junior High School, Mötley Crüe’s ‘Shout At The Devil‘ was blasting from my boombox while my love for metal got stronger. Slayer and W.A.S.P came soon after, while at the same time, I was listening to a station called Live 105 which was modern rock, playing bands like Depeche Mode and Gene Loves Jezebel, along with dance mixes on Saturday nights. That combination led me to really get into two distinct genres – metal and 80’s dance / industrial with all the cool samples etc.
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Since the early 2000s, Fallen Man has issued at least 10 full-length studio albums and at least 2 EPs and has done so independently, devoid of label backing. Was this done by design, you all foregoing labels and such, and for what reason (depending on the answer)?
Michael: No one would sign a band like Fallen Man! However, with the advent of MP3.com and Myspace, the internet seemed to be the wild frontier… and since I wasn’t gigging, and didn’t have a full backing band, it wasn’t worth chasing down a label etc. Too old, too ugly, too raw… too politically incorrect, you name it! This allowed a certain freedom though, such that allowed me to write whatever, and however, I wanted.
I would love to have someone on a label come up to me and say “I believe in your music”, though it actually makes me feel better as a person and as a musician when I hear from actual fans – how much a song moved them, or gave them enjoyment. I still have a dream of doing one huge concert, one great live show! Getting Rich [Recker], Carl [Ciadella], a guitar player, etc… all together to put on one kick ass show. I’ll probably rent a place… fog, lasers, movie screens, dancing goth girls… and give away tickets! 🙂
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Fallen Man seems to embody a true DIY ethic at all levels really… do you agree with this? And what would you say are the pros and/or cons to this approach?
Michael: Yes it really is a DIY event. Now, I do have a lot of help from Rich, my bass player, as he designs most of the covers, listens to all the final mixes and keeps me in tune and in time. As far as videos and recording, I produce pretty much everything, along with my long time engineer, Joe Johnston from the Pus Cavern Studio in Sacramento. I’ve been going to his studio for 13 years, at least.
The cons are it can get stale or stagnant, though I have started to work with other musicians and artists, etc., globally. My latest CD, ‘Evil Deeds‘, all the drum tracks were done by a guy (Constantine Taylor) over in Greece who plays like he was in the room with us. I enjoy having folks do remixes and alternate versions, as well.
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: You’ve already mentioned them of course, but bassist Rich Recker and drummer Brandon Fuller have accompanied you on this journey over the years… what do they bring to the table ultimately? Have there been any other folks that have entered the Fallen Man inner circle, so to speak – and if so, who and in what capacity?
Michael: I’ve been working with Rich for years! We were college roommates in the early 90’s then life got in the way and we didn’t talk for a few years. Fast forward to the early 2000’s and we started to work together again. Brandon was a great drummer I met here in Sacramento and we played together for years, just practice and recording. He got a good gig with a gigging band and eventually moved up to the Pacific Northwest.
My buddy Carl Ciadella in Las Vegas, and Scott Smallwood, a drummer who worked with Rich a lot, have both contributed to quite a few tracks over the years. I found this incredible guitar player for hire, MR. X, that does most of the amazing solos you hear on the last 5 album releases. He has been a seriously huge blessing to the overall sound of Fallen Man. He’s incredible and fast!
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Speaking of playing with others, if you could work with anyone living in the musical realm today, who would it be and why them?
Michael: Well I really wanted to do a song with Bruce Corbitt of Rigor Mortis / Warbeast but, sadly, he recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. His unique vocal style, along with the use of delay, was an inspiration for my own vocals. I have done two W.A.S.P. covers so far – “L.O.V.E. Machine” and “Widowmaker” – and out of respect, the solos are not the same as the original songs. I would love to have Chris Holmes do a guest solo for me someday, and as far as a producer or engineer goes, I would love to do a single with Flemming Rasmussen [Metallica, Morbid Angel, Artillery, Blind Guardian]… I’d head right over to Europe and record a song with him in a minute!
Since Michael mentioned it, let’s unveil this interview’s exclusive video premiere from FALLEN MAN, their version of W.A.S.P.’s “Widowmaker“!
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Fallen Man definitely qualifies as industrial metal, in my opinion, but how would you classify the band’s music? Do you listen to a lot of industrial metal in general and if so, who? And what non-industrial type bands or music are you a fan of?
Michael: I think Fallen Man has three distinct variations… that in some shape or form come out in the music: One would be industrial / dance, with samples and throbbing synth lines, drums. Two, straight up metal, and three, crossover or punk… ala acts like Uncle Slam, S.O.D. / M.O.D., Carnivore. So, on any given release you will hear all three of these influences.
I listen to so many bands! I guess some bands I’ve been listening to lately are Parasite Inc. and Suicidal Angels, along with bands like Blutengel, which are like darkwave.
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: The subject matter addressed by Fallen Man falls quite heavily in the realm of politics, societal issues – so, is it safe to assume you find ample inspiration in the world today? Also, a lot of the band’s lyrics tout self-empowerment or self-reliance, thinking for oneself, etc. Thus, if you had to summarize the underlying message of Fallen Man, what would it be?
Michael: I do write a lot of songs about cults, like Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, for example, and a lot about oppressive religions, oppressive forms of government like Communism. Also, personally, I am anti-globalist and pro-environment, I love animals and nature. I feel like we are at war, Globalism vs. Nationalism… where it all boils down to the right of a people to decide their own fate, their own way of life.
I have friends all over the world, so I get first hand accounts of the struggles they face, whether it be in France or Venezuela. I think my overall theme is punishment for the wicked, ones like serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, those who prey on the weak. So many criminals seem to get away with their crimes these days and it can be disheartening. However, I see the good things people do everyday, whether it’s rescuing a dog, adopting a child, or donating to someone in need. These are the folks that should be our heroes, not the rich, out-of-touch Hollywood types or the spoiled sports athlete. I’m an American first, but I am also a citizen of the world and I want great things for all people!
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: So, is Fallen Man a recording-only band, or do you play out live? Speaking of live, what is one of your fondest memories in the live setting – be it a Fallen Man show or a show you have personally attended yourself?
Michael: We have never actually played a live show! I did plenty before Fallen Man, but never as this band, though I got close a few times, but never could get four musicians on the same page, same stage, same city. That said, I love the recording process and that fuels my desire to keep going.
As far as live shows, and I’ll be 100% honest here, I missed out on most of the best concerts… my favorite bands at their peak. Just me personally, I would rather listen to an album on my headphones than go to a live show. I watch Ratt, KISS, W.A.S.P., Van Halen on YouTube, at the peaks of each’s popularity, and marvel at the reactions of the crowd. I did see Slayer live and that was something else! The crowd rocked the speakers so much they had to postpone the show, plus there were crazy people everywhere! I was young and freaked out, it was so out there!
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Fallen Man recently released a 2CD, career-defining retrospective, ‘Legacy Of Defiance‘ – why did you feel the time was right for such a release? If someone naive to Fallen Man happens to get a hold of this set, what could they expect from hearing it?
Michael: Well, it has been 25 years since I came up with the name and recorded the first songs, so I figured it was the right time. I wanted to compile my best tracks and pay tribute to all the players that had helped me along the way. As I was working on the CDs, I found out a drummer and school mate, Rene Cabarello, had passed. I just randomly looked him up and found out he was gone. That was a focal point in getting everything together to celebrate our 25 years, and to remember those who had contributed to things along the way.
For someone just picking it up… I hope they go “WOW..where has this band been hiding all this time!” 🙂
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What type of non-musical things do you enjoy doing in your private life?
Michael: I’m really into collecting, I spend a lot of time at antique malls, estate sales, Goodwills, and am always looking for rare items like Super 8mm cameras, posters, CDs, etc. I also do a lot of photography and video work just for fun and family.
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What looms on the horizon for Fallen Man, as far as plans, projects, or what have you, in the rest of 2019 or beyond?
Michael: I’m working on a release called ‘Bag Of Bones‘, a rarities collection with a few cover tracks, some old tracks and some remixes… along with the continued promotion of ‘Evil Deeds‘!
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: I have a tradition of closing with an open floor, leaving the final word with the interviewee… YOU in this case! Anything you would like to say, state, share, rant, or whatever, this is all you… have at it!
Michael: Well first off thank you and Riff Relevant for doing this interview and listening to my story. We live in a wild time where people still love music, yet it’s so hard to sift through and find bands we truly enjoy. I just hope more and more folks discover Fallen Man as we continue to drag ourselves out of the underground and into the spotlight!!! 🙂
RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: You are most welcome, brother and it is indeed our pleasure to speak with you and throw a spotlight on such a long-running, underground entity like FALLEN MAN, a band that has persevered almost solely on their own strength and determination!
With that, we bring a close to our insightful exchange with FALLEN MAN‘s Michael Joseph, we hope you have enjoyed it, plus their new video, and will actively continue to support independent music.