In the Phone Booth with Stereo Mike

Stereo Mike

Stereo Mike

By: Gordie Tamayo

Fighters such as “The Road Warror” Glen Johnson are well known for their willingness to travel all over the globe as much as they are for their stellar resumes. Johnson is one of those fighters who have had more than one ‘glory day’ but none of them were handed to him. By way of Jamaica, he touched the shores of southern Florida at the age of 15 and that was the beginning of his legacy in the sweet science.

In boxing ‘almost‘ nothing comes easy. The recipient of his fair share of bad hands dealt, Johnson wasn’t always the favorite going into a bout, but many times he was when leaving. There was never any question about Johnson’s heart and that is part of the reason why at 44 years old he is still called upon by matchmakers to face world class opposition (despite being supposedly retired). During the highlight of his career in 2004, he not only won and retained his IBF title by KO’ing Roy Jones Jr. and picking up a second strap by defeating Antonio Tarver, but was also critically acclaimed as the poster child that ‘nice guys don’t always finish last‘.

How does this relate to our latest guest “In the Phone Booth“? The correlation is the mantra that greatness is within us all. To quote Shakespeare: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em”. Stereo Mike reminds us of a modern/younger version of the Glen Johnson of the music industry. Originally from Athens, Mike is an individual who has been working towards achieving greatness since the age of seven when he first laid hands on a piano. Years later, his innate talent evolved into something more ferocious; leading him to UK shores by the time he was 18 where he earned multiple degrees, engineered for some of London’s top hip hop artists and signed his first record deal as an artist.

Today, Mike teaches Production at the University of Westminster while working on his next album. From MTV nominations for Europe’s favorite act, to rubbing elbows with local legends, Mike has not lost sight of what has made him one of Greece’s most promsing talents “Hard Work. Dedication” (Thanks Floyd Mayweather Jr.).  Step “In the Phone Booth” with us as we pick Mike’s brain on the fight-game, intricacies of the production realm and what keeps him so motivated. Knuckle up.

@TheTitleFight : Mike, major props on being selected to step “In the Phone Booth. Let’s jump right into it. Your music background consists of a heavy dose of formal education once you hit your teen years. Was this also the case when you first started playing the piano at age seven and what drew you to hip hop of all genres?

@StereoMikePro : First of all, a big thanks for the selection – it is a real pleasure being “In the Phone Booth”. Yes, it all started with classical piano lessons, which led to playing keyboards in high-school bands, eventually bringing me to the worlds of synths and music production. I guess I owe my love for Hip-Hop originally to the Beastie Boys, because for me they were the band that combined Punk, Rock, Rap and Funk under an open-minded alternative aesthetic. They gave legitimacy to the idea that different styles could be combined in a meaningful way under the Hip-Hop umbrella.

 

@TheTitleFight : You are one of the most prominant names in Greek music. Do you view your role as a responsibility to carry the mantle of Greek music or just an opportunity to display the talent pool in Greece to the rest of the world?

@StereoMikePro : It is a blessing that I am able to release records in Greece whilst being located in London, because I’ve always looked at music from an international perspective. I’m grateful that my production and flow have been appreciated outside of Greece, giving me a chance to represent one of my two countries of origin, but also reach out worldwide as a producer. My responsibility however is towards music itself and doing it as best as I can.

 

@TheTitleFight : Some fighters are viewed as one dimensional in the ring. Others, like a Floyd Mayweather Jr. are able to adapt to their opponent. You appear to be multi-dimensional in your ability to cross boundaries from the production end to center stage. Is there one over the other that you prefer and if so why?

@StereoMikePro : Fronting my productions was a logical progression driven by the vision I had for the records I was making, so, I suppose, adding vocals to my musical ideas was more like adding the poetry to the music. When the first record did well, I had to go out on the road as an MC, crossing from behind the scenes to right in front of the audience. The adrenaline and experience were addictive and cross-contaminated the studio process in a positive way. It is important to have a direct connection with your fans, bringing their energy back to the creative process and packing it into future albums.

 

@TheTitleFight : Working as an engineer takes a certain skill and personality. Attention to detail, patience and the ability to work with a broad range of individuals are just a few of the qualities required. Just like in boxing, working your craft over the years can cause burnout. Has delving into other roles like being an artist helped you avoid burnout or was it just the next natural progression?

@StereoMikePro : Engineering was at first a necessity, something I decided to learn in order to afford my music maximum autonomy. I was growing up in an era where “manufactured” music was gradually winning over what I regarded as “real” music – statistically on the airwaves – and that went against my D.I.Y. mantra. My decision was not to play the game of letting a label drive my aesthetic, but to present them with the finished article. So, I became an artist, turned engineer, turned producer, to protect and fully express my vision, which has protected me from burnout, but also helped me learn a lot from other artists along the way.

 

@TheTitleFight : Like the fighter Jhonny Gonzalez, you have been in the game for a very long time and are still maintaining at a high level of performance. How are you able to keep up with all the changes in technology and trends as it relates to music?

@StereoMikePro : Music is in my life 24/7, both as somebody who makes it, but also as a fan. I think it is this ability to really enjoy music as a listener that keeps you fresh, and hungry. It is not dissimilar to a fighter who truly enjoys the ring, the game – that’s what helps maintain the passion. In terms of keeping up with music technology, teaching it really helps, while I sometimes also write for audio publications as an Apple Logic trainer.

 

@TheTitleFight : You have taken your talents and begun to pass them along to the next generation of producers/engineers etc. It reminds us of fighters like Johnathon Banks (who also started out playing piano before turning to boxing) after winning world titles, have filled the role of trainer to other world class fighters like Wladimir Klitschko. How did you go about transcending from the studio to the lecture halls?

@StereoMikePro : There is a real parallel between the discipline needed in boxing, or martial arts, and that needed for a long career in music. My hobby has always been some form of martial art (Kung Fu as a kid, Kickboxing as an adult) and it is something that has supported my creativity in surprising ways. Apart from the discipline factor, I learned to respect my teacher – or Sensei – and the process of passing on knowledge from one generation to the next. I was blessed to be given the opportunity to teach what I learned in the real world of music, back at the University of Westminster where I’d done my MA. Now I teach what I do and I do what I teach on a daily basis, next to some of my sonic gurus.

 

@TheTitleFight : In boxing, having a strong team can be the difference between being a club fighter for small change and landing televised opportunities with larger pay days and national audiences. Do you have a similar network that has helped you achieve the level of success you have attained so far?

@StereoMikePro : The parallel is generally true for music as well, but I have managed to preserve my creative and business independence as much as possible during the process. I enjoyed a short stint of harmonious management around my second album, but went independent again. It is difficult to find team players who really share your vision, but it is also tiring doing it all alone. I’m on the lookout for key collaborators to support me in the following phase of international production.

 

@TheTitleFight : Some fighters fight for fame, some for money and some for reasons that no-one other than the one lacing up a pair of gloves can understand. What motivates you to pursue a career in music?

@StereoMikePro : Really just the love of music and music-making. It is more of a biological need than a conscious decision. It’s an expressive need that just keeps growing stronger!

 

@TheTitleFight : What artists, producers or engineers do you currently follow or are influenced by?

@StereoMikePro : I love Kanye West‘s production, Just Blaze‘s beats and of course everything Dr. Dre has done. Outside of Hip-Hop, I think Trent Reznor is an absolute genius, and so is Rick Rubin. My favourite lyricists are Talib KweliQ-Tipand Nas. I saw Kendrick Lamar last year when I performed at SXSW and he blew my mind live. Young Guru mixes some of the phattest records in the game!

 

@TheTitleFight : We can only hope that more boxers have a Plan B, since fighters have a short window to make money before the ring ages them. The fact that you wear many hats must be somewhat reassuring. Having a background in engineering means that someday when you want to step away from being an artist and rocking crowds you can still be an influential player behind the scenes. Is this how you always planned it out?

@StereoMikePro : Well, although engineering came originally as a support mechanism for my art, production is definitely the future plan. You have to be realistic, knowing that you will not always be fronting, but that doesn’t mean creativity stops there. I enjoy the studio as much as the stage, if not more, and I have a huge desire to work with international artists, helping them craft unique, expressive records.

 

@TheTitleFight : Of course we have to ask you what fighters you have been keeping tabs on lately. The UK is home to some of boxing’s most die-hard loyalists. Anyone in particular stand out to you either in the UK or Stateside that you have your sights set on?

@StereoMikePro Amir Khan is a great ambassador of British Boxing and I would love to see a fight between him and Floyd Mayweather Jr, who is probably the best – and most intelligent – fighter in the world. Historically, I have been a huge fan of Ricky Hatton and was very sorry to see him retire. Frankie Gavin is another huge British talent coming from the amateur ranks and I’m keeping an eye on his future moves.

 

@TheTitleFight : Any last words or shoutouts you would like to leave readers with?

@StereoMikePro : Yes, a big thanks to TheTitleFight.com and ReverbNation for this opportunity and huge shoutouts to legendary Greek Hip-Hop band Imiskoumbria and R&B artist Helena Micy who I am currently producing. Finally, enjoy and support the music you love!

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