For the past 12 or so years, Mike Healy has provided a solid back beat and groove for Papadosio, the jam/funk band from Asheville, NC with a serious following. The group has risen to a significant status within their scene and have played huge venues and major festivals. In this interview from earlier this year, Drumhead’s resident photographer, Alex Kluft, talks to Mike about his influences, troubles with tendonitis, being a father, his past of practicing extreme sports and his experiences at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Interview: Alex Kluft
Photos: Keith Griner
AK: Let’s talk influences. What was it that inspired you to become a drummer?
MH: Well I’ve been a self-taught drummer since the age of two or so on. I was playing on pots and pans early on, just copying my older brother. You know, I was two years younger than him. He played drums so I just wanted to be just like him. He stopped playing later on in life and I kept going. So, my older brother was my biggest influence when I was little and then as I got a little older, I started playing in bands. From fourth grade on I’ve never not been in a band. Pretty much since fourth grade. I was really really into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine and Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. And so many 90’s groups. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam…all the best drummers ever!
AK: I have the same influences myself.
MH: Chad Smith was probably like my biggest when I was young. The Chili Peppers were my favorite for so long and the same with Dave Grohl in Nirvana. They really got me when I was little. I was just all about them; copying them all day long. Same with John Bonham. I spent a lot of time just playing along to their songs when I was little. And it definitely shaped my rock and roll sound for sure.
AK: You can’t go wrong with those influences! I’ve been lucky enough to see most of those guys live.
MH: Nice. Yeah. I’ve seen a few of the bands for sure. And seeing Pearl Jam now. You know he was the drummer in Soundgarden.
AK: Matt Cameron.
MH: You know it was pretty cool seeing him live. I liked Soundgarden first when I was younger and got into Pearl Jam later.
AK: Right. I got to see him with both. Actually, Temple of the Dog, too. That was kind of a rare thing.
MH: Yeah that was incredible. I know, I wish I saw that.
AK: Definitely a rare thing, I’ll say that. … Would you consider Papadosio to be a jam band, and who might you compare your sound too?
MH: Yeah see that’s been a thing of ours forever, like, we definitely follow the jam band community. Our first biggest influence as a jam band was probably Medeski, Martin and Wood. And then like our favorite bands ever, like Radiohead and Pink Floyd – they jam out, too.
AK: And the Chili Peppers are a big one.
MH: Yeah like they really jam out but they aren’t really a jam band, like in a Phish or Grateful Dead state of mind if you know what I mean, but they definitely get very psychedelic and weird. They take their jams on quite the journey, which is similar to how we approach some of our jams. Plus, you know when we were younger, I feel we were really influenced by Soundtribe (STS9) for sure. Out of all the jam bands I would say Umphreys [McGee] for sure.
AK: That’s what I was going to say. Umphreys. I can hear the similarities.
MH: And Lotus. They were all really good friends of ours early on. We hopped on some tours with them and, you know, did different shows here and there. But really, we’ve never like – they haven’t really influenced our sound as a band like all the 90s bands. We take so much more inspiration from Aphex Twin and Radiohead and Tool and Nine Inch Nails than any jam band.
AK: Kind of progressive…
MH: Yeah like we’re way more influenced by progressive rock and roll. That’s really where we come from so… It’s cool to be a part of the jam band festival scene community. We’re definitely really blessed that we’ve been able to carve out a following in that scene. It hasn’t been much of an influence on our sound as a band.
AK: I know as a musician a lot of physical wear and tear on your body comes with the job. I understand in your case it’s a wrist injury. Being a drummer myself, I know that’s not easy to deal with. How do you cope with an injury like that?
MH: Yeah well, it’s been quite frustrating. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever dealt with tendonitis. There are many factors that could have gone into what happened. I had a baby 16 months ago and maybe I was holding her a bunch on one side more than the other and maybe tweaked it. Going out on some shows and it started flaring up but I don’t know how it happened. I always warm up and stretch and I’ve been doing that my whole life. But maybe turning 33 and just extra stresses in life I don’t really know what happens. It just got flared up and honestly it really affected me a lot over a fall tour. I had to do the athletic tape on the wrist and had to use a lot of CBD and doing a lot of massage and acupuncture and chiropractic work and ended up going to an orthopedic doctor and physical therapy…I had to get a cortisone shot in my wrist actually, in the middle of February. And I’m still in a little bit of a recovery. And it’s not 100% yet but it’s so much better than it was in the fall. I was really stiff.
I feel like it affected some of my playing. I had to kind of lay back with my left wrist and just relax a little bit more on the shows and work a lot harder on my right wrist just to compensate for being in a little bit of pain. It’s a very new experience. I’ve never ever dealt with it before and it’s potentially a little bit of a wakeup call, too.
You know when you’re young…we were out 200 days a year for like six or seven years straight on the road. Playing way more shows than I am now. But I think when you take these long breaks and have a couple of weeks off and then you go back out for a big blast of shows, you’ve got to keep your chops up in between the shows and that’s part of being an athlete. You can’t slack so you’ve got to stay on top of it.
And I think that might have been part of it, too. I’m not really sure how it happened. It’s been a process but I’m almost done.
AK: You’ll be on the road coming up soon, too!
MH: Yeah we’ve got two shows in New Orleans and two shows in Cincinnati and it’s feeling pretty good, and yeah I’m just trying to keep stretching it out and get it ready for this April tour that’s three weeks long and be ready for Red Rocks.
It’s been… quite a journey. I definitely don’t wish it on anyone. I never ever thought I would deal with tendonitis. It’s just the most annoying little tiny thing that you don’t even realize when it happens and then you use your wrist like for everything.
AK: As a musician who started at an early age, what do you think is the most important thing for kids to learn about playing an instrument today?
MH: I think the most important thing is to have fun with it. I have a lot of friends and family members who were thrown into playing an instrument either by their parents’ choice, or they chose to play it but then they got pushed into a strict thing – and that works for some people – but it doesn’t work for all. A lot of people get pushed into strict lessons, or you know, taking a course in school and it’s really, really difficult sometimes for people to feel excited about learning every time because it can be really overwhelming for a lot of people and people don’t stick with the instrument. I have a lot of siblings who went through a bunch of different instruments, and were forced to do lessons every week even though they didn’t want to. But for me my parents really gave me a lot of freedom at a young age and I was able to have band practice at my house every weekend.
I didn’t consider anything other than playing in a band when I was young I didn’t think: “Oh I’m going to be an Instagram drummer someday, or I’m just going to really practice like crazy in my room forever and then go into jazz band and be like a clinic session musician the rest of my life.” That was never on my mind. That really works for a lot of people, but for me growing up, I just wanted to rock out with my homies.
That’s really something that I valued a lot with playing with Papadosio. Because the guys have the same kind of background. A lot of us grew up that way – forming bands and trying to figure out a whole new sound. Not just trying to replicate what other people have already done but obviously taking influences from a million places but trying to be creative and write something unique and different and new. And that’s where I feel we stand out as a band too, because we are all over the place. We don’t have just one sound. Some different bands out there, every song kind of sounds the same. They have a method and they are going for that specific sound and sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between their songs, but for our catalogue we’re just like all over the place. We do a little bit of everything.
…I guess my advice for kids is just have fun with it and don’t make it feel like a chore or something you’re forced to do. You want to enjoy it while you’re going through the process of learning. You know, just listen to your favorite bands and try to mimic them.
AK: Outside of touring, I know you enjoy action sports like mountain biking and skateboarding. Did you ever want to do any of those sports professionally when you were younger?
MH: Yeah, I definitely wanted to do skateboarding professionally for a short stint until I shattered my thumb bombing a hill. I had to wear a cast and played a bunch of shows with a full arm cast that went around my thumb and all the way up to my elbow. That totally made me reconsider a lot of things when that happens. And rolling my ankle so bad I was on crutches for two months.
AK: Oh gosh.
MH: Wow, if these things happen in like a professional career setting, you’re screwed. So I’ve cut back on skateboarding and just cruise. I try not to push it – push the limits anymore – just take it easy when I’m out skiing and biking and not trying to kill myself any more. But that was just one of those harsh realities of growing up. I’m way better at drumming than skateboarding. Like I’m not going to be pro, so why is that even a dream? It’s really fun and amazing but I’m definitely better at drumming and I enjoy music a lot more, so I kinda cut back on that, for sure. But I still go mountain biking and I still like to bust out a longboard and just cruise around, but yeah: Just taking it easy on all that stuff.
AK: I know you have one child, and another on the way. How do you balance family life and touring?
MH: I’m one of those super-blessed kids out here that has grandparents that moved to town. My wife’s parents moved to town and we’re so lucky for their support and help with watching my daughter when I’m out on the road, and my wife’s at work. When I’m home I’m holding down Daddy Day Care just crushing emails and on the phone all the time doing business stuff. But yeah I love it. I really, really enjoy my time at home obviously and it’s such a joy being here for this process. I’m very lucky I get to be home 150-plus days off a year. A lot of parents don’t get that option, to actually be there that much, even when they stay at home full time you know, they go to work 9 to 5 and don’t even see their kid. I’m grateful to spend time with my daughter.
AK: So when it comes to choosing gear, I notice you play Zildjian cymbals. How do you decide what to play?
MH: Well I’ve been pretty strict on Zildjian. I mean I played Sabian a little bit when I was younger you know, but I’ve been pretty married to Zildjian my whole life. I love the sound of Ks. Like the sweet Ks and a lot of the dark Ks. That’s my style. I love that sound…So I’ve been playing that style of cymbal for 20 years or so. This is kind of crazy to say it like that, but I’ve been stuck with Remo and Zildjian and DW pretty much for over a decade consistently. It’s hard for me to imagine playing other stuff.
I’m so used to those. I did use Remo Emperors for a long time, and then I switched to the pinstripes. And I’ve been stuck on the Ambassador snare like my whole life. But I got a nice DW kit like ten years ago and that’s my baby. That’s my touring kit. Taking it everywhere I go. That’s all I need. So amazing.
AK: If you could tour with any group, who would that be?
MH: Yeah it would be really tight to open up for Radiohead or Tool or Nine Inch Nails. Pearl Jam…
AK: Everyone you mentioned at the beginning pretty much.
MH: Yeah pretty much. Anything huge, because we’re at that point where we do decently well on our own at small theaters like in clubs and stuff and we would be at that point of having to open for a band way, way bigger, you know? It would be more interesting to us. And then a lot of smaller acts say, “Well we could headline our own show,” and we feel really lucky and grateful to be able to do that. We’ve got Red Rocks coming up here in May with Polish Ambassador in this big old tour coming up. We have a lot of cool things going on, but yeah to open up for a huge band somewhere else, that would be amazing.
AK: Speaking of Red Rocks, what was it like the first time you stepped on that stage, because obviously there’s no venue in the whole world like that. It’s one of the most scenic venues probably anywhere.
MH: It was a crazy feeling, to be honest. That venue, is quite large but it’s also got a really intimate feel. With the way it’s set up, you feel very close to the first 20 rows or so of people. Then you just keep looking up and it keeps going forever, it’s wild!
AK: It goes way up.
MH: Yeah I haven’t played any other venues that are like that where it feels really intimate at the same time. It’s really unique in that sense. But stepping on that stage for the first time, we played Red Rocks on the top stage for this global dance/EDM festival the first time we were there. So we didn’t play the actual Red Rocks stage, they built a little small stage on the top of Red Rocks. We came back the following year and opened up for Lotus and it was such a wonderful night they even had me sitting in on hand drums on a couple of Talking Heads covers.
And it was just a magical night, you know. Not only getting to open up for some friends, but it was that time of the year, September, where it was still dark out when we were opening. So that was epic like having a full nighttime light show and everything it was just pretty magical. It’s never been the same as that feeling, obviously, but you still get such an incredible feeling when you’re there, every time. It’s just, we’ve been so lucky that we’ve been able to. This will be our third time coming through for a headlining show, and we’ve gotten to open up for Umphreys twice there, as well. And this will be our third time getting to close.
AK: You’ve been there a few times.
MH: Pretty crazy. Yeah, we’re just so lucky that we’re invited to play there. Just grateful for the opportunity at the end of the day that we’re included in the whole world of music that plays at Red Rocks. Every single night of the week all summer long, that we’re just lucky to get a Saturday night. Or a Friday night. It’s like, “What? This is amazing!” We’re so blessed. Yeah there’s nothing like it.