In the last few years there have been a couple of lineup changes in THE TURBO AC’s. One of the „new guys“ is Mike O’Donnell aka Mikey Millionaire, who has been touring with the band on the three last european tours, but has already been working with the band for much longer. We first met in Frankfurt on the 2016 tour and now again on the most recent tour in fall 2018 in Neunkirchen, where they played the „Punk for help“-Solifestival.
To reduce this exceptional artist to his part in THE TURBO AC’s would not do him any justice. Especially since his other band THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES was able to win more than one award. This alone would have been reason enough to do this entertaining interview with him.
You can read about his musical projects, other forms of art he is into and a lot of very personal setbacks and insights. Find out about an artist, who lives on his dreams with his incredible talent.
Mikey, lets start with something challenging. Whats the three words that characterize you most accurately as a person?
Mikey: Ah jeez. That`s a tough one. Two words are easy: Father. Artist. The third? I don‘t know. Restless?
Manu: Here is another tough one: Complete the sentence „Music for me is…“
Mikey: What is music to me? Man, that really is a tough one to answer, too. So many cliches instantly pop in my mind. And they`re all true, but to attempt to give an answer that isn’t maybe so cliche. Because I see 9/10 bands giving the cliche answer „music is like oxygen to me, a way to express myself, music is everthing“, that kind of thing. Not that I don’t agree with those answers, but that has been done, so I’m not going to say them. Does that make sense? I want to be challenged and I want to challenge people’s perception of honesty and the truth and simply what’s fuckin‘ cool and what’s fuckin‘ lame. For a band to not know that it’s been done and get up on a world stage and say a giant boring stock factory answer and be a giant stock factory band, I just know that’s not music to me. Sometimes when you want to know what something is, first you have to know what it’s not.
Manu: The british musicologist Nicholas Cook writes „Music is suffused with human values , with our sense of what is good or bad, right or wrong. Music doesn’t just happen, it’s what we make it and what we make of it“…
Mikey: Music is the very question. What does that mean? It means I ask myself what music is to me every day and whatever feelings that music generate in me, that`s what music is at that moment. And it could be anger, love, guilt, sadness, all of these things at different times. But what is it? I have no idea what it is.
It’s 12 notes that have some inexplicable ability to turn me into that guy at the end of Indiana Jones that melts (laughs). It washes away what was there before and replaces it with something better. Like a mind douche. And that one moment, when your hair stands up on the back of your neck, when the lights go down, when the intro music is on and your favorite band is taking the stage – even if I don’t get that feeling again for a year – that one moment just has a way of making things so clear to me in a way that nothing else does. The brain cloud goes away for a minute. It shows me something that I’ve known since I was a kid: I can do that. I should do that. I have to do that. Music is electricity in the air. It’s when someone else’s emotions resonate with yours and you shout out the words to your favorite song as if it’s your heart speaking directly to the outside world. It’s clarity. It’s introspection. It’s defining the 90% of the iceberg you’re too scared to show people.
Music to me is IGGY POP. You’re in school. You don’t know what he’s going to teach you that day, but you will get schooled. Class is in session, when he takes the stage and you’re going to feel something, even if it’s not what you expected. And you’re going to walk away with a broader understanding and acceptance of what it’s ok to be. And the music will create a strength in you to stand up and go ahead and fucking be it.
Manu: Wow, that was some badass definition! Here is another sentence for you to complete: „When I am on stage….“
Mikey: Well, I used to say „that’s not me up there, that’s some other dude“, because people would always say that I was such a different person on stage. A showman, a frontman, whatever, and in my real life I am pretty quiet and reserved. But I realized that is me up there on stage. This, down here, is the imposter. Doing music was the only thing I could ever do, where I didn’t feel like an imposter, like I just snuck in and don’t belong wherever I am. Until I had my daughter. So now there is two things I can do where I am the right guy for the job. On stage I like it when I am able to fully transform into the character. Of course, some nights you don’t get all the way there for whatever reason. In THE TURBO AC’S I am the rhythm guitarist, so I don’t necessarily get to dictate the mood of the place. But when I’m leading THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES, and I’m on, there is no one else in the world. I would like to someday be a singer that isn’t attached to a guitar. Oh man, lookout. As it is, I’ve played naked, worn nothing but duct tape on stage, blew fireballs – and lit myself on fire (laughs) – been stabbed, dove into drums, hung from ceilings, whatever. Unpredictable live shows will never be able to be replicated by ripping it from Youtube. When I am on stage I am gone.
Manu: You are involved in different musical projects. Can you tell us about them a bit and about what they mean to you?
Mikey: Ok. I play guitar in THE TURBO AC`S. It`s just now that people are getting used to seeing me in that band, especially in Europe. I`ve done three European tours with them there, but in reality I`ve been touring with them since 2001 as a fill in guy. I was young and hungry and made myself available for whatever I could. I`ve been in that family for a long time.
My other band is THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES. I think technically we got started in 2008, but I have had to put it aside so many times due to the other band, or becoming a dad, or line up changes. I started THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES because I had been in Seattle for a few years playing Rock’n’Roll Punkrock stuff and I was kind of tired of the formula. I`ve always been a songwriter before a guitarist or singer or anything else. So long story short, I got stabbed at a show in Seattle, got extremely sick after that and lost half of the blood in my body, my fiancé stole 5000$ from me, which was all I had, my band whom I had grown up with and moved out there with from Rhode Island betrayed me, stabbed me in the back and we broke up and we had an ice storm that knocked out heat and power for a long time. All of these things happened in the span of a month in January 2006.
Manu: Holy shit…
Mikey: So I moved back to Rhode Island, the tiny state on the East Coast, and decided to just do a solo album of acoustic stuff, since I had gotten way into things like BOB DYLAN and TOM WAITS and stuff at the time. As the album progressed I kept adding layers. Then, when it was done, I called it „Sleeping Dogs Lie“ and it got incredible reviews by those who heard it. So I decided to put a band together to play it live. The label that put it out turned out to basically be a scam, like a bunch of names on a website does not make a label. Lesson learned. We were a mixture of acoustic and a lot of violin and stuff. That was a snapshot in time for me. I couldn`t go back like that even if I tried. There were a few hard Rock’n’Roll songs on there too, but I found it hard to combine the genres in a cohesive way. That was a great album though, I don`t mind saying. We did one more EP on another label that folded right after we signed with them. So I`m basically still sitting on these two records that haven`t been properly released. Eventually that original line up went our different ways.
Manu: What crowds are you catering to with THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES?
Mikey: I live in Newport, Rhode Island, home oft he famous Newport Folk Fest, where BOB DYLAN famously went electric. For a few years I was trying to break into that group of people. But I couldn`t help but feel more accepted in the Punkrock/Rock’n’Roll community. I just didn`t have the right hat for the Folk scene. I mean that metaphorically and literally (laughs). And I am not really into ass kissing or any of that, which seemed much more prevalent in the world of the more mainstream music. So fast forward and I decide to go back to Rock’n’Roll. I did a kickstarter to raise 3000$ to help get the next album off the ground. I quickly went through that money in the studio. Also, the studio I was recording in basically my whole life, decided to shut its doors mid-way through that record.
Manu: Oh dear, that really sounds like a tough time followed by a lot of bad luck. What happened then?
Mikey: Shortly after, I found out I was going to be a dad. So now I’ve hit a brick wall as far as getting anything done. I decided after some time, that I’ve always wanted to be able to make the records myself without paying someone, so I spent a bunch of time building that up and learning. I always know what I want, like as a producer. But trying to translate that to an engineer can be frustrating and slow and expensive. But I’m there now. I can record music, all the instruments if I need to, completely on my own. From writing the song, to recording it, to doing the video, … I’ve learned a lot these last few years and I’ve sort of just been biding my time and learning and trying to get through life, as well as keep on doing THE TURBO AC’S.
We did two US tours this summer and a European tour and soon we’re going back out with NASHVILLE PUSSY and GUITAR WOLF. So I sort of lead several different lives, but THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES is my baby and some amazing stuff is going to drop soon. And like I said it’s mostly back to the Rock. Punkrock, Rock’n’Roll, etc., but in a way that no one else does it. I’m very wary of that stuff is great, but too many bands do the same thing. You have to have something new to offer.
“Music is electricity in the air. It’s when someone else’s emotions resonate with yours and you shout out the words to your favorite song as if it’s your heart speaking directly to the outside world.”
Manu: What would you say were your biggest musical influences in your life and why?
Mikey: I’ve always been drawn to musicians who didn’t have to pander to a crowd and go out there and smile and do something fake because it sells records. I’m much more interested in people who do what they do and the audience came to them, because they’re good. BOB DYLAN, LEMMY KILMISTER, IGGY POP, TOM WAITS, there’s only one of that person. Now maybe you can be successful by saying „I am the most like MOTÖRHEAD, so that means you’ll like me!“ That works for a lot of bands, but I think in the long run there’s a ceiling on how successful that band can really become. Like I said, I’ve always been interested in songwriting. When I was young I figured there’s a couple of ways to do this. Be great at being someone else and slug it out on the road for years and maybe fight my way to the middle. Or I could stay home, get really fucking good at figuring myself out and maybe people will see it and not forget, and I won’t have to toil in mid-level band hell for 20 years. But I found it’s more complicated than that.
I really can’t say any certain names of musicians. I’m more influenced by every day situations. I observe people, I read between the lines, I dissect. To me, that can influence the mood of a song I’m writing much more than hearing another bands version of me having that mood. My best songs write themselves in ten minutes, because I was in that place. I didn’t have to dig or force it, it just came out. Sometimes when I toil over a song for a year, it comes out like crap. Go figure.
Manu: What are your dreams and goals you want to get fulfilled and achieved in your musical career?
Mikey: I guess that changes over time. You become interested in different things, you learn your strengths and weaknesses. I would love to get THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES in the door. That usually means sneaking in when no one is looking. I don’t live in LA or New York or Nashville or Austin, where in my opinion bands go to die. I live in the woods surrounded by nothing but forests and the ocean. I think in a way it helps me evolve in my own way and not be so susceptible to trends and band wagons. It’s like I live in the Galapagos Islands and I’ve become my own species kind of. When I lived in Seattle I found that if you take ten people, all very different, all individuals, and put them in a room together for long enough, they eventually become the same person. So I left, when all of that I mentioned before happened and I was just alone in a room in the cold and dark, injured, broke, sick … with no one. That was sobering.
Manu: And what is the situation today regarding your goals and dreams?
I came back to Rhode Island and asked myself what my musical dreams actually were, because I wasn’t into playing the game of ass kissing and climbing the ladder that way. I figured out how to do everything all by myself with no help. But with all that, I need someone on the business end. I guess my musical dreams are to do this thing the way it deserves to be done. I’ve kind of been building up and hiding this tidal wave of knowledge and artistic output. So I’m here now thinking it’s about time to either go or don’t. Touring with THE TURBO AC’s has taught me the game a heck of a lot more than if I had chosen to not take that on. So my dreams musically are many. To earn a living, I am so not cut out for 9-5 day job life. To record and release records consistently and have an audience hungry to hear them, that would be cool. And it’s almost time to explode onto the scene.
Manu: Can you tell us a bit about your band mates in THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES. Who are the guys you are playing with?
Mikey: Oh man, the band kills. Long Sure Louie is one of those guys that just stands in his basement by himself and plays bass in a ball of energy, going mental for like an hour, not even knowing who’s watching. He`s great. And Sloop Hannah on the drums, I’m not kidding, he`s the best drummer there is. Perfect timing, hard hitting and his entertainment value can’t be beat. He has no shame, which I love. He and I have been a time for awhile. And Hacksaw Matt Duggan is the new guy. I’ve always wanted like a utility player that does guitar and keys and now I have one. They`re awesome.
Manu: Among other things you describe yourself as „Painter, Photographer, Glassblower, Videomaker, etc.“ You already mentioned you are an autodidact in teaching yourself stuff. Tell us a bit more about „The Art of Mikey Millionaire“
Mikey: Well, I don’t know. I’m an artist down to my cells. I think if I’m being honest, and I am, it’s a way for me to speak. To try to get someone to recognize how I feel, how I see the world. And to find other people like me. I’m a total loner. When I first started music, I just wanted to be Kurt Cobain and bang my head against the wall and have people love me and rock every night and I thought that was it. But I soon realized that it’s not that. And 99% of the people I’ve played with don’t understand how it works and they give up easy. Not many people had the passion that I did about it, so I was like „Ok, we need to get flyers done, uh, guess I’ll do it since no one else is.“ So that led me down a road of computer art, Photoshop, things like that. Once I figured out how to do, I realized it was another way of expressing myself like I do with music. And so there were tons of things that happened like that, just as a means to get the music thing rolling. Learning how to screen print, shoot video, edit video, take the band picture, build a website, play the drums and bass and guitar and piano, engineer a record and produce it, and on and on and all of this stuff.
Manu: That sounds like an enormous stockpiling of knowledge…
Mikey: Along the way I fell in love with all of these art forms and realized it wasn’t just restricted to band stuff. Learning a new painting technique can send me down a rabbit hole to somewhere else and that leads somewhere else etc. Most of the stuff just piles up in boxes in my basement or whatever. I’ve never really done it to make money. I mean, if I was money oriented I wouldn’t be an artist, right?
Manu: Right, thats unfortunately the typical fortune of the artist. I saw though, that you get a lot of positive response for your paintings and artpieces online and that you are selling some stuff at craft sales. How is that going and is there any way interested people can buy these things, for example those who live here in Germany?
Mikey: Thank you for noticing that side of me. It’s sort of new to me, to exclaim out loud that I’m a visual artist. I used to just do it for no reason, usually not finish what I started, and forget about it. I did some freelance graphic design work you can see @MikeyODesign on Instagram. I’m always willing to do something for someone if they ask me. Anyway, I became familiar with craft sales during my time as a glass blower. I did that for like 17 years. I just recently said what the heck and did my first one where I sold paintings and stuff, and I did a lot better than I thought. I’ve really never tried to push it or sell it. I have a Facebook page called “The Art of Mikey Millionaire” that I’ve never promoted or shared or invited people to. It was never really about that. I just used it as a place online to keep track of artworks. I was always a very slow detail oriented painter, who painted very small. By slow I mean I’d pick up a brush twice a year. But in the last few months I can’t stop. I forget to eat and I go to bed at 5am because I just can’t stop. I’ve found a certain rabbit hole I like. So as far as selling them, take a look at the Facebook page or my Instagram page @mrmikemusic. There’s still tons of stuff I haven’t posted, usually because I’m my own worst critic and don’t find it worthy. But I am moving toward more selling. Like I said before though, I’m good at the art end of things – the pushing and marketing and business I’m not so interested in. If someone likes something, feel free to just ask me about it. Maybe by the time you read this I’ll have my Etsy page up and my Society6.com page as well. Right now it’s the Holiday season and I cranked for the next art show, which also went well. I got my own art opening at a gallery and I will show all kinds of my art, including playing music at the opening night. I do some weird shit, man. You’re going to like it. And I use many different mediums, sometimes together. I can kind of make you whatever you want. Now, there’s people that have extensively done the art school highbrow art thing, and may be masters at that, but they may also have no imagination. My ideas and imagination are relentless. I’m constantly experimenting. My basement looks like a bomb went off. But that’s how I roll. I’d love to sell some stuff or do commissions.
Manu: When you are saying you are teaching yourself all that stuff, how exactly does that happen?
Mikey: Usually, when I want to learn about something, I become obsessed with it for a few months, just totally obsessed until I master it or at least get around. I close my eyes and I see it and can’t wait to get back to it and try whatever new idea I’m having. And then I’ll get to the base of it’s power and I’ll find something else that makes me crazy, that I have to figure out. But art is never done, just abandoned, right? So I also have a hard time going „Here… this is done“, because to me it’s never done.
But it’s very distracting also. If I’m sitting in front of my computer trying to edit music or something, I’m literally surrounded by hundreds of projects that can easily make me drift away. I’m the mad scientist, obsessive, disorganized, quiet, observer, who doesn’t really have the opportunity to be understood all that often. But I keep going, because I know, when that opportunity does arrive, it has the ability to really go. And I’m almost ready for that.
Manu: You were talking about that loner mentality you have. In another interview you also mentioned that and said „I am a loner. I live inside my head“. How does it look like inside your head?
Mikey: Ha, thats a huge question that could fill a book. I almost speak another language in my head. Like I use words that people don’t really use. I spend many hours having hypothetical arguments between myself and someone else, just in case, I guess. Words as weapons, I like to be ready. I think that’s something ingrained in me from the PTSD that was forced upon me in my early years. I worry a lot. It’s lonely in there. Imagine, the biggest part of who you are. The part you’re constantly working on and theorizing on and scheming and planning about and there’s literally nobody to share it with. I have to keep most of me to myself and it makes me kind of bitter unconsciously I think. Part of me wishes I could put my head down, go out in the field and suffer in darkness for 35 years and not ask questions. That seems to be what’s expected. „You’re not doing it right, unless you’re suffering“ it seems.
Manu: What does that mean for your everyday life?
I tend to avoid people, so they don’t rip me out of wherever I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out occassionally and I’m in love with comedy, which you would not pick up from this interview (laughs). I mean for anyone who’s really willing to take a look, you’re all invited. I have some serious knowledge, art, experience, pain, joy, comedy, music, etc to share. Not only that, I believe it’s a two way street. I also enjoy listening to others experiences. It helps me to grow and no one likes someone who only talks about themselves anyway. So tell me your story. I’ll always write back. I once wrote a letter to the guy that killed Jeffrey Dahmer. I got a five page handwritten letter back, very strange. But knowledge is a choice. Choose to learn or choose to play Candy Crush Saga or whatever people do.
Manu: When you say „Words are your weapons“, what would you say is in your opinion the most meaningful lyrics you ever wrote as a songwriter?
Mikey: I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I gave you some line in some song that I like. I tend to leave my songs somewhat open to interpretation and I’ve gotten some wild theories on what a song is about. So I’d rather leave it there. What are they for you? The most meaningful ones are probably buried in the thousands of pages of journals I keep in a box in my basement, along with thousands of flyers, paintings … my life. I do these things, I put them down and I don’t look at them again most of the time. If it sticks with me, I know it’s a good song and I should pursue it further. I guess someday my daughter can go through all this stuff and can find out who I was. Or it can just disintegrate, but I’d rather it didn’t.
“I’m an artist down to my cells. I think if I’m being honest, and I am, it’s a way for me to speak. To try to get someone to recognize how I feel, how I see the world. And to find other people like me.”
Manu: I don’t want to dig too deep into politics, but one of the most touching posts on your social media was one on your visit to the Dachau concentration camp you wrote on your last german tour. Do you want to share your thoughts on that with our readers?
Mikey: Sure. I mean, to me, it has to do with learning in general. With the internet age, knowledge is no longer for the upper class or the lucky. If you want to know something, go learn about it. It’s literally that easy. You don’t have to stand up. Everyone has a phone in their hand. Like I already said: Knowledge is a choice. Plain and simple. Any random thought that I have, I can look it up, learn about it, consume it.
Dachau was something I really wanted to do, because we don’t get many days off and sometimes we’re surrounded by so much history that just passes by and we don’t get to see it. So when I found out we had a day off, I asked about seeing some of the history of the area and our tour manager took us there. It blew my mind to be standing in the exact spot where there used to be a thousand bodies piled up and actually walk into the gas chamber and see the ovens. I think for me, it softens me. It gives me a better understanding of people, what they endure and how they press forward. Every person you meet is fighting a war you know nothing about, so try not to be a dick.
Manu: What is the hardest you had to learn, which you would like to pass on to your little daughter to prevent her from having to deal with it?
Mikey: Hmm. I find it very diffcult to balance my instinct to protect her from any harm the world has and to have her learn the hard truths that the world isn’t fair and she has to get tough, if she is going to make it, especially her generation. She’s only 3, she doesn’t realize how badly the baby boomers and the generation x’ers have screwed the place up for her. Although I see young people these days really changing socially from what we had. Mental health, bullying, stuff like that is not as buried like it used to be. The hardest lesson is that a working class hero is something to be. My parents slaved for 30 years at middle class jobs and then retired. I’m personally not sure how people do that. How do you not want for more? I think the lesson is that she either stays in school on the straight and narrow and succeeds within the system, or, if she’s going to try to be like me and be her own person, then she has to go hard, she has to go early and she has to not question herself. I had support, but I never had encouragement.
Manu: What is the difference in your opinion?
Mikey: By support I mean that my loved ones came to accept somewhat that this is what I am. They tried to help me out of a jam if they could, but a side order of guilt always comes with it. I went on my first tour 17 years ago and to this day my mother says „I don’t want you to go on tour anymore“. I can’t believe the knife in the heart that is and the fact that she doesn’t even realize how what that does to me, it is just a second knife. So I will not only support but I will encourage my daughter. I will help her. I will teach her. I will learn about what she is into, so I can better help her succeed at it. It is a hard thing to know that you have to feel guilty every time you do something you love.
Manu: You already talked about it a bit: What are your next plans?
Mikey: I already mentioned the upcoming TURBO AC’S tour with NASHVILLE PUSSY and GUITAR WOLF in a few months. In the meantime I’ve been doing some art shows and getting more into that. I’m recording new SKINNY MILLIONAIRES and am in the midst of creating the video for our first new single off of our first release in five years. We’re very different now. The „Skinnies“ started because I was sick of playing the same three punk chords. Like I said I was interested in songwriting, so when I returned from Seattle without a band I began recording an acoustic album that just kind of kept building, until I realized I had to play it live. I found the combination of the songs I was doing, along with an amazing violin player I found was really special. I also wrangled up my friend John McCauley from DEERTICK, who’s currently playing the part of Kurt Cobain at NIRVANA reunions, to do some vocals here and there on that first album „Sleeping Dogs Lie“. He loved it. I think that album might see a re-issue if I can find the right people and angle to do it. But over time I drifted back towards the more hard Punk-/Rock’n’Roll sounds, but in my own way. It’s kind of like BOB DYLAN meets QUEENS OF THE STONEAGE (laughs) or THE DWARVES meets JACK WHITE is another comparison I’ve gotten.
Manu: That sounds like an interesting mixture
Mikey: I’m very lyrical sometimes, I would like to eventually do a solo album as well. And I’m telling you I have the stories to write a great book, which I will do someday. The one problem is that for it to be good I have to tell the brutal truth about some things, which I’m not sure if I can do yet (laughs). I have tons of plans, but I need to get some business straightened out first, which I loathe, so I need to get myself surrounded by an encouraging team that’s ready to die (laughs).
I also work with developmentally disabled people in a program specifically art-based. Meaning we have a music room to rock, we have paint, we have tons of art supplies. I find it very rewarding to teach and help people advocate for themselves and just do any kind of art. I think I was a therapist in another life. I’m easy to talk to, I think.
Manu: I second that! Mikey, thank you very much for your time and deep insights
Mikey: Anytime. Thank you guys for having me. Feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram about any at that you see that you might like, or commissions that you want done. And also keep your ears and eyes open for THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES. We have some big plans this year and we’d like as many options as possible as far as labels and all that stuff. It’s time for really fucking good Rock’n’Roll. Ok, I have to get back to the sub basement at Millionaire Manor.
(Pictures: Mikey Millionaire)