Rosedale is an alternative-rock band from Toronto whose singer and guitarist Mike Liorti recently toured southern California – including a show to benefit the homeless put on by Orange County Music League. By phone, Liorti discussed his lifelong passion for music, the challenges of touring solo as opposed to with a band, and what’s next for Rosedale.
Gary Schwind: What were some of the first cassettes that you listened and sang to?
Mike Liorti: The first two cassettes I ever got were Barenaked Ladies If I Had a Million Dollars and Michael Jackson’s Bad. I would play those beginning to end everywhere I went. As I got a little older, I started latching onto whatever my brother had. He had Green Day’s Dookie. That kind of got me into the punk rock world. He was also into Weird Al. I always paid attention to all the lyrics because they were so funny. I didn’t even know they were parody songs. I just thought this guy was awesome. Then I started to get into Nirvana and some of the hip-hop parodies Weird Al did. Basically anything I could get my hands on as a kid.
GS: It’s funny how some kids latch onto music. It seems like music has been a lifelong passion with you.
ML: Once you get to school and they show you what they’re listening to, you develop your own taste for music. It’s cool when you’re a kid and anything catchy goes. I played to a few kids last night and they were so into it. Their minds haven’t been exposed to that much music yet. It’s almost like the biggest opportunity ever to play for these kids – more than any label executive. They’re fresh. They’re going to indulge you so much more than anybody else. A lot of kids are into hardcore, which is cool. I play a lot of hardcore shows. I wondered if they’ll ever get into insane metalcore and change their tastes in music. And how does that happen? Is it an overnight thing or a gradual build on heavier music?
I think as we get older, we latch onto what we liked when we were younger and what sounds similar. My music reflects that. As I get older, my fear is that I’m not making music that is up to date with the times. I’m just making what I like and that may be something that was popular 10 years ago – whether that’s a flaw or a plus. I get a lot of compliments, “This is like what I listened to in high school. No one’s making this anymore.” That’s cool, because I don’t really like what’s being made now.
GS: As an artist, you can only make the music you want to make.
ML: Exactly. That’s my goal. I want to make music I can listen to, go to the gym, and be motivated by. I make music for myself and people who can relate. I would hate to be the guy that making stuff that is just the trend because it sounds like all the bands that are cool and popular.
GS: You normally have a full band, but you’re doing this tour solo. What are the biggest challenges between touring with a band and touring solo?
ML: There’s challenges and there are things that are easier. I guess the challenge is unloading that trailer. I have almost the same amount of gear as when I have a three- or four-piece band. It takes me two hours to set everything up, and another two hours to pack it up and load it into the trailer. Usually when I have a band, I do most of the driving. That’s another challenge – just staying awake and alive, driving eight or more hours to get to the next city.
Like I said, some of the things are a little easier – like meeting people and getting your message across as an artist. You wouldn’t think that’s a problem with a band, but I have session musicians. They’re great and they respect the message. Sometimes I’m so busy with my own stuff, the promoters and the fans tend to latch onto the other guys that don’t have much responsibility after the set. Those fans get “I’m not really even in the band. I just tour. I’m in another band.” Your message of going out there and doing what you love – everything that Rosedale stands for – is now on the backburner because I’m busy doing all these other things. The last three or four tours, I had someone doing merch or helping me with gear. It was easier to finish my show and get to the merch table and be that guy. That’s nice too – when I have a helping hand, I enjoy what a one-man set can bring to the fans. Another thing that’s a lot easier. When you’re with a band and you play a lot of these smaller venues where maybe the sound isn’t great, it’s hard to hear what the lyrics are. I notice that with a lot of bands I play with. That’s the nature of playing live. When I get up there, people are more attached to the songs rather than what the parts are. They can hear my lyrics over my laptop backtracks. Everything else going on compliments the song. It doesn’t take over. Sometimes I play big venues and I wish I had a band.
GS: For those smaller venues, do you ever do stripped-down versions of the songs?
ML: Sometimes I take out some of the backtracks and just play a long intro. Sometimes I’ll play a song with just the acoustic and avoid using the backtracks. Primarily, I like having the accompaniment. It compliments the song. I like to give the fan who hasn’t heard Rosedale – which is the majority of them on some of these west coast tours – the experience of what the CD would sound like. It’s a lot of layers and time that I put into that. I like that my show showcases all that. I think people like how much is going on in the songs.
GS: What’s next for Rosedale?
ML: I have a couple new guys learning the parts. We’re going to do a couple weeks of touring to Quebec, Montreal, Vermont. I want to get on some festivals. The goal is to keep touring this record – just trying to get it to as many people as possible. I’m always looking for opportunities with labels and agents to get us on bigger shows. In the meantime it’s just me doing everything: booking shows, booking tours. We got a placement in a movie about post-traumatic stress disorder. A lot of these Marines and veterans – basically showing all the organizations that help veterans. It’s a cool fim that my friend made. It’s going to be at some film festivals, and it comes out on Memorial Day. That should be good exposure. I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s powerful stuff. That’s exciting for me. I want to get my music in films and video games because that’s how I found out about a lot of my favorite music. I like to keep things big and cinematic. Even when I listen, I think this could work in so many epic movies.
GS: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
ML: That’s tough. I always wanted to be a hockey player. That didn’t really work out, but I got into refereeing for minor hockey. I was pretty good at it. It was a really stressful job. I don’t think I could do it for a living. Maybe refereeing. You get to travel and watch a lot of hockey. The other possibility is something in music, whether it’s a lighting tech or sound guy. I definitely like to perform.
GS: Which is tougher? Being a hockey referee or a musician?
ML: Being a musician is way more hours. Refereeing is three or four hours out of your day. At the upper levels, there’s probably a lot of meetings. As far as stress and criticism, being a referee would be tough. The oldest kids I refereed were 12 or 13 and their parents have no filter.
Rosedale’s self-titled album was released in March, and is available now on the Rosedale website.