In Effect Hardcore caught up with veteran guitar player Mike Dijan on January 27th, the day before he played sets with both Crown Of Thornz and Outburst at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, NY. Mike has been a big part of the New York Hardcore music scene for years and is considered one of the best in the game. In addition to C.O.T. and Outburst Mike has also played with hardcore bands Sai Nam, Breakdown, Show Of Force, Coldfront and Skarhead, as well as branching out with other projects like Laws Of Gravity, Kalel, Lavalette and his new one... Kings Bounty. With a resume like that it is hard to imagine Mike not having a good story or two... or three. A fellow Queens native and all around good dude. Let's see what Mike has been up to lately...
Lead Photo by: Pete Gregory. Graphics by: Bas Spierings
IE: What’s up Mike? Today is Saturday and tomorrow you are playing with both Crown Of Thornz and Outburst at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. How is your weekend going so far?
Mike: I rehearsed with Crown Of Thornz and Outburst back to back last night from like 6pm till midnight. Today I woke up late, cleaned my house, and did 90 minutes of hot Vinyasa yoga in Long Island City. Wore myself out, now I’m hungry and I’m gonna go to this joint I like called Sweet Greens in the city. They give you a big ass salad for 9 bucks. Then I am rehearsing again from 7pm to 9pm with Crown Of Thornz and then going to say what’s up to the boys at Blackthorn in Queens because 25 Ta Life with Stikman is playing there tonight.
IE: Kings Bounty is your latest band which got started in 2015. What can you tell us about them?
Mike: Last year was a little bit of a breakout year for us. We had a good run of shows. We went on tour with Korn twice. One time was on the West Coast and then we did a week with them in the Midwest in September. We opened up for that band P.O.D. in Palm Springs at a casino. So the hardcore kid has made it to the casino circuit. We spent all of last year writing new songs, we have a full albums worth of songs ready to go, and I am very happy with where it is going. I am known for doing the hardcore stuff and this is more on the heavy rock/metal tip. Everyone in the band can play really well, the singer has a ton of range, and we’ve become very good friends. It’s been a great journey.
DIJAN (ON LEFT) WITH KINGS BOUNTY 2017. PHOTO BY: ERIKA QUILES
IE: Where can people hear Kings Bounty and when can we expect the album to come out?
Mike: Right now we have a video on You Tube which is the first single we released for a song called “Denial”.
(Watch HERE) It was directed by my friend Blake Farber who did a great job and features Eric Arcee on drums who plays in the Misfits right now. We released another single on Loudwire called “Made You King”. Those are the 2 songs that we have out now. We have another 8 or 9 songs that we play live in our set and we are currently shopping ourselves to get a record deal. The album is done… it’s just a matter of connecting with a label. We have a few upcoming shows lined up on the East Coast. We are doing a weekend of shows around Saint Patty’s Day with La Coka Nostra which should be interesting since we are crossing genres and playing to different crowds. That will be Boston, New York, and Philly. Last week we opened for Nuclear Assault at St. Vitus in Brooklyn and it was amazing.
IE: Who else makes up the Kings Bounty lineup?
Mike: Our singer is known under the name Q Unique and he was previously in the group the Arsonists and he was in Rock Steady Crew which is all in the hip-hop genre and in the underground of hip-hop he is considered one of the best. Doing stuff with metal and hard rock is something brand new to him and he is very talented. He can hold a note, and his range is phenomenal. With the drummer situation it has been drummer by committee since we started. Currently Lou Medina from Breakdown and Sai Nam is playing drums for us. He did the Mid-West tour with Korn with us. When I joined the band Riggs Ross from Hatebreed and Madball was playing drums and he is the one who actually asked me to join this band. He turned me on to the whole thing. On bass we have Mike Kaufman who was in Sai Nam with me previously. He is our main guy but we have had Manny from Glassjaw and Stillsuit fill in for us as well. On guitars we have myself and Steve Licata who is from Long Island. His style is more about solos and for all the atmospheric stuff that goes on in the songs that makes them interesting. I am laying down the heavy rhythms and he does a lot of embellishments and solos. Through our whole live set, rarely are we playing the same thing. We are always playing something different from each other, harmonizing, and playing off each other. I think it makes the band pretty distinct.
IE: For you personally how does it feel to sort of break away from playing what is “expected” as a musician who is known for so many efforts within the hardcore music scene over the years?
Mike: I am really enjoying it. In terms of crowd reaction it is two different types of energy but they are both enjoyable. With a hardcore show you gauge how good the show was by how much the crowd went off. The stagediving and the chaos of it all. When we are playing a Kings Bounty show and were opening up for Korn in front of 4000 people you gauge a good show by the roar of the crowd after a song. We are brand new and playing songs that basically people don’t know. If we can get a rise or a good roar out of that many people it means they are paying attention and they are enjoying what we are doing. Musically it is very gratifying because it satisfies other musical tastes that I have.
DIJAN (WITH OUTBURST) 2018. PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
IE: Tomorrow you are again playing with Outburst who have played one off types of shows in more recent times. You are the lone person in this lineup who was not on the 7” or from what is considered their main lineup from back in the day. Logistically though you probably could not be a better fill in as you grew up with their guitarist George and drummer Joe in Astoria, Queens. Can you tell us what you recall from the early days of Outburst?
Mike: I knew George and Jo-Jo before they started the band. We grew up in the same neighborhood and we would actually be playing in the park together doing pickup football games, hanging out, listening to music on the park bench. That same bench that me and Dimi (Crown Of Thronz) did an interview with you like 20-soemthing odd years ago. That is where we hung out and where we got into listening to punk and hardcore and metal and everything else. When they had started Outburst I actually used to roadie for them when they would do East Coast trips say like to The Anthrax in Connecticut or like Reading, I would go to DC. I would go on the road with them because it was something to do. Get out of the zip code… and fun. When they threw the first bass player out of the band… Chris Bruno… I actually auditioned to take his place. I barely knew how to play because I had picked up guitar only a few months before. I sat home and learned the songs. I passed my audition but they opted to have Walter from the Gorilla Biscuits play bass for the show they had coming up. They had Mike Wells join the band after that. I have been involved with them in some way, shape or form since they began and when they did their one off show in the 90’s I would still roadie and tech for them. When Jay (old guitarist) opted not to play I actually called him and tried to get him to change his mind. I just felt like it was right for him to play but he was just not interested but still gave me his blessing to play so it made me feel good about doing it. In terms of playing the songs it is second nature to me since I knew them since I was a kid and I really enjoy playing them.
IE: There is another Outburst show now confirmed in May with Power Trip in NY which will be the third show with this lineup since late 2017. Do you see or can you see things with Outburst picking back up and maybe going beyond these one off types of shows or is that really all we can expect at this point in the bands history?
Mike: For now it is one off things. I think everyone is having fun doing it and we will do whatever is convenient for the guys to do. There are no plans of any new releases but if there are things that seem like they are fun to do and physically possible for all the band members to do we’ll do them.
IE: Back in 2012 Reaper Records put out “Crush” with your then band Sai Nam which had Justice Tripp from Trapped Under Ice on vocals. The record was well received from those who heard it but not much ever materialized as far as live shows and things sort of just faded away without much notice. What’s the story behind Sai Nam’s short run as a band?
Mike: We gave it a try to see if we would be able to get everybody in the same place to do it live but at that time Justice was really busy doing Trapped Under Ice, touring hard with that and just started doing Angel Du$t . We did a string of shows to support the release but it really wasn’t in the cards to happen at the time live. I am really proud of what we did. It just happens that it was only meant to be a studio project but at least I got to work with Justice which was a pleasant surprise in terms of us collaborating and clicking as musicians and friends… and were still good friends till this day. In terms of the release there was no press at all. It came and went quietly. There was no press or promo done for it at the time aside from throwing stickers to the bands or in mail orders for the other bands. I didn’t see any reviews for it. Regardless I am really proud of it. It was my most enjoyable hardcore recording experience I’ve ever had.
IE: Crown Of Thornz is probably the band that people identify you with the most and after a bunch of years away you played guitar recently with them at Generation Records in NYC and tomorrow will again play with them at the Saint Vitus show in Brooklyn. Why now for a reunion with these guys? How come this didn’t happen years ago?
Mike: I have not been active with the band since 1996. It came to pass that Danny (Ezec-singer) put on his Instagram that he was doing a show with the old-school lineup at Blackthorn in Queens around last Christmas and that is how I found out about it… like a few days before the show. I called up Dimi (drummer) and said fuck it, let’s do it. We did like one rehearsal and just played and it ended up being a lot of fun. Freddy Alva was doing a book signing and reading for his book about graffiti in New York Hardcore at Generation Records and asked if we could do that same line up. It was the same deal. We had one rehearsal and we had a lot of fun doing that. The show tomorrow is for Freddy’s graffiti book as well so we are sort of keeping it going in terms of the band playing and promoting Freddy’s book. As far as moving forward… there are always opportunities that pop up, there are always offers that pop up. Anything that sounds like fun to me that I am physically able to do… I am always down to do it.
IE: You said your last time with Crown Of Thornz was in 1996. Thinking back to that time period you guys played a lot of shows, were one of the most popular NYHC bands of the time and seemed like you were destined for bigger things. Do you have any regrets about Crown Of Thornz and what possibly could have been?
Mike: I have no regrets. It was just the way things transpired back then. However fast it came up, it ended just as quickly. You always wonder on where it could have went. What’s really cool about it is that whatever we did in 2 years still stands up today. A lot of younger bands that are running shit now come up to me and say that “Mentally Vexed” was really influential to them. I couldn’t ask for any better form of flattery. It turns out that the Power Trip’s, The Trapped Under Ice’s, The Turnstile’s, they are all doing something out of the box and that is what we were trying to do back then. These kids do it better than we did it. In terms of regrets, there are none.
IE: Looking back at your run as the guitarist of Breakdown it is hard to miss albums like “Plus/Minus”, “Blacklisted” and “Battle Hymns…”. When many people thought Breakdown was dead and gone you helped create some of their best songs. Around the time you joined the band there was a revolving door of band members as Jeff seemed to be constantly looking for new people to replace ones that just left. How did you end up getting into Breakdown in the first place?
Mike: I was doing a band called Show Of Force and my bass player Franklin who went on to play with Shelter and 108 was at Venus Records in NYC and saw a flyer on the wall there that said Breakdown was looking for a guitar player. He ripped the flyer off the wall so no one else would see it and gave me the phone number on it. The number was the dummer’s, Joe Farley. He was setting rehearsals up and putting everything together. I showed up at Boo Studios on 30th Street on the West Side and that is where I met the band. We had our first jam and it went very well. Really heavy and I thought it was a great fit for me. The first show I played with them was this place in Norwalk Connecticut called The Monkey Bar and we opened up for Leeway and I believe it was in late 1990.
IE: What I really like about your time with Breakdown is that you took the Breakdown sound and added some Dijan style to it but still kept the original idea and vibe that was built on their earlier stuff. You left your mark but kept everything within the realm of what Breakdown already was.
Mike: That was my intention. I never wanted to stray away from the original concept of the band. They were innovators in the late 1980’s. They just had these breakdowns that were really brutal and the rawness of the lyrics and the simplicity of the song structures is what turned me on to them. Breakdown was sort of a New York version of Negative Approach in terms of like the attitude and the simplicity of it. My writing style is more groove oriented so I implemented some of my style into the already patented formula of the band. The intention was to never stray away from the concept that was Breakdown.
IE: I probably asked you about this in a previous interview many years ago but a Breakdown show that I want to try and get documented a little better here is the one that is sometimes referred to as the Dijan backyard barbeque where Breakdown played in a backyard a few houses down from where you grew up in Astoria. What do you remember from that day?
Mike: The party was thrown by these 3 brothers. The Maloney Brothers. They lived on 18th Street around the corner from my house and they had a big yard. It was big enough to have bands play. They used to have rock bands come and play in their yard. There was this one guy in the neighborhood that would dress up like Stevie Ray Vaughn and it would be a good time and really laid back. The Maloney Brothers come up to me and are like hey you want to throw one of these hardcore shows in the yard? We can charge 5 dollars at the door and it will be all you can eat and drink. I make some calls and it ends up being Breakdown, Coldfront, No Redeeming Social Value, Down Low, Rejuvenate, and also a band called Broke that Davey Gunner was in. There was a ton of beer. The brothers got a deal on some horse meat and made horse meat burgers and told everyone that they were regular burgers. It was packed and everyone was having a good time and then they ran out of beer. As soon as they ran out of beer it started getting a little sloppy, a few fights broke out and the neighbors didn’t take too kindly to what was going on. It was a bunch of tattooed animals slam dancing in a backyard and the cops show up. They tried to shut the party down and one of the cops knew the Maloney Brothers and told them that the next door neighbor had made the call. It just so happened that the neighbor was having an AA meeting next door while we were having this party. This horsemeat, alcohol, hardcore party. When the cops left Sean Maloney knocked on the neighbor’s door and when the neighbor answered he knocked out the neighbor at his own front door. People came from all 5 boroughs for that show. People still talk about it.
IE: Moving on to more bands that you were a part of there was Coldfront and Show of Force as well. Show Of Force was one of your early bands and I don’t have much in the memory bank as far as they go. What did you guys put out and how long was the band around?
Mike: Show of Force was around from like 1988 to the end of 1990. We did two demos. One was done at Don Fury’s in I believe 1989 and in 1990 we did a demo at a place called Wild Fire in New Jersey. The band had about 13 songs in total. The original singer of the band was Nick Cirillo from Fit Of Anger and actually you gave us our name.
IE: (Totally not remembering this, I say) I did?
Mike: That’s right. We had an opportunity to hop on stage at a show that Neglect was playing out on Long Island. We didn’t have a name and I think you just blurted that name out and we called ourselves that and it just stuck. When the band did our first demo and went to play our first shows the lineup was actually myself, George from Outburst, Jay from Outburst, and Tony The Greek so there were two guys from Outburst that joined us and played a whole string of shows with us. Randy Rodriguez had joined the band and he was the main singer of the band throughout.
IE: I have heard your name brought up numerous times when people discuss the best guitar players to ever come out of the NYHC scene. How does being brought into that conversation make you feel? Do you agree with it?
Mike: I am humbled and flattered by it. In my mind I could never play as good as the guys who inspired me to play. The guys who I consider all-time greats…. I would never put myself in the same conversation as them. Anybody who was ever influenced by the way I play... it is a good feeling because the body of work I have done over the years has made an impact on someone.
IE: Who are the guitarists that you look at within the hardcore punk scene throughout the years and think they are up there as some of the best?
Mike: Glen Cummings from Ludichrist, Chuck Lenihan from the Crumbsuckers, Woody from C.O.C., Doug Holland from Kraut, AJ Novello from Leeway, Matt Henderson for his sound and just being a complete package. (Long pause follows) I am missing someone big…. Definitely Dr. Know from the Bad Brains. Those guys were influential stylistically but the one guitar player where I actually applied to my writing style from being like a toddler is Jimmy Page. I’d say between Jimmy Page, Dr. Know and David Gilmore, those are the 3 that I would say in terms of riffing, and stylizing the songs and really paying attention to the song structure… it would be those 3.
IE: We did a short interview with you not too long ago about your occupation and within that article we talked a little about your dedication to good nutrition and how it can impact your life. How old were you when you made a life style change and started to become more aware about the foods you were eating? Who was the person that influenced you the most with it as well?
Mike: I was 34 years old when I made my diet change. I had been very sick at the time and really abusing my body with alcohol and animal products. I was looking to the doctors to save me and all they were doing was filling me with medications and making me sicker. I reached out to John Joseph from the Cro-Mags for help because I knew he was very knowledgeable with nutrition and being fit. I always looked up to him because he was older than me and in great shape. He broke it down for me in very simplistic terms. He bluntly said, stop drinking, stop eating meat, stop doing this and that. On my birthday in I believe 2004 I went cold turkey and stopped drinking alcohol and went vegetarian the same day. Between John and AJ Novello from Leeway they kept me on the straight and narrow. It was the first 6 months where I needed a lot of help from them just to get over the hump so I wouldn’t look back. After the first 6 months I was able to educate myself enough on it where it just became a normal way of living for me.
IE: For people who just read what you said who may want to make a change for themselves where would you tell them to start?
Mike: I would say to anyone who is in dire need of help to always hit me up on social media if you have questions. I have helped a few people lose like 60 to 70 pounds by the same implementation of nutrition and exercise regiment that I learned. If I can pass that info along and help someone out and get them on the road to good health I would be glad to do it. If someone is just starting out you don’t have to dive in deep like I did. You can eliminate one bad thing and introduce a good thing into your diet. If you can eliminate red meat from your diet and find something that you would enjoy to eat that is plant based to fill up that void. In terms of exercise, start slow. Do what your body can withstand because if you go in too hard and fail at it you won’t want to take a second swipe at it. It is good to educate yourself on these things to better understand what you are putting into your body. Documentaries like “What The Health”, “Forks Over Knives”, and “The Gerson Miracle” are like must see in terms of opening the mind to what food is really supposed to be going into the body.
IE: Mike, that’s all I got, thank you for your time. You have always done really good interviews over the years. We may not be rich but with a lot of the things we have done with this music I often feel like we are in a way.
Mike: You know what? Being healthy is rich. Still being able to function and play guitar… I am going to be 50 years old next year and still being able to fucking play at that high level? I finally played a big show opening for another band that sold fucking 35 million records when I was 48 years old. To me, that’s being rich.