Mike the Music Man
The music begins. The rapid tempo. The rhythmic beats of the acoustic guitars. Spanish and sultry in style. Bodies steadily gravitate toward the stage to form a crowd. The crowd begins to bounce up and down, shift side to side. Nobody is standing still. People sitting down are suddenly ending their conversations and choosing to give the band, Machin’ their full attention.
Mike Theophilos a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist joined his friend David Macias’ band, Machin’ about six months ago. Mike, however, has not always been part of someone else’s project. He has been writing music for over ten years, and recently decided he wanted to improve his listening skills, learn Machin’s songs and become more methodical with his approach to music.
David, Machin’s songwriter, vocalist and guitarist says Mike’s drive and determination challenges him.
“It really inspires me when I work with someone who is always up for a challenge and willing to push themselves because it motivates everybody around them.”
Wearing light gray Vans shoes, a dark gray cap, a bright colored button-up, collared shirt, with yellow, red and blue patterns; Mike’s fun and practical ensemble contradicts his passionate and forceful performance on stage.
He’s about five feet ten inches tall, thin and lean with dirty blonde hair. When he plays his face tightens and contorts while he takes control of what seems to be an extension of him, his guitar. It is almost painful to watch him pluck and twang with such explicit vigor.
“The vibe is energetic, spastic and makes you want to dance.” Mike says.
After the performance, sitting at the bar with a beer in his hand, he says, “I’m doing some of my songs too, but adjusted to their Latin style, which has been pretty fun because I get to take the most important part of the song, which is the structure and the chord changes and adjust them to a different style.”
“Latin, gypsy, reggae, rock,” Mike sums up Machin’ in a casual manner with little hesitation as he shows a satisfaction with his choice of words.
When they play with just two guitars and two singers, it becomes a lot more of a natural sound with all the percussion they use on the guitars. It has a very warm, natural tone to it. But when they play with a whole band, drummer, saxophonist, and bassist, he says, “it starts turning into a gypsy-rock, Latin theme, a lot harder and louder. A different intensity.”
Mike is 30 years old. Born in San Francisco, CA his family moved to Palm Springs, CA when he was three years old. He has only moved away once for a year to Los Angeles.
“It was hard for me as a musician to have freedom of expression in LA. I had to work long hours to be able to afford the rent, just to come home and not be able to play my guitar because of noise curfews.”
He explains that at least in Palm Springs the price of living is cheaper and you get to devote more time to your passion.
He comes from a Greek family of four children. His performance career began when he was about twelve years of age.
“My mom put me in theater before I had a choice,” he says. “I didn’t like theater growing up because I tied it to show tunes and I hated being in show tunes.” The first theater production he starred in was “Oliver,” playing Oliver. He also starred in “Music Man” and “Babes in Arms.”
Tina Theophilos, his mom says that, “he was very good at memorizing the lines of all his roles, usually the first to get the script down. He didn’t like investing the time in it however.”
“Being in theater even though I disliked it, is what made me realize that I wanted to create music,” Mike says.
He likes seeing people enjoy what he’s doing.
“It’s pretty fantastic when something that you enjoy doing is enjoyed by others. When they enjoy it you play so much better. It really sucks when there’s nobody in the audience, while you’re playing, cause that happens.”
When the audience is lacking, he finds, you don’t have as much intensity, you don’t play or sing as well as when there’s actually people out there giving you confidence and in return you give more back to them.
“I think that’s why I wanted to play music and write stuff because you’re making something that you like, for you. At the same time, if you do it right, people will like it just as much or more.” He says. “People see and hear what you’re doing a lot different than the way you see it and hear it, so it’s cool getting people’s feedback because sometimes you never really thought you looked like that or you sounded that way.”
When it comes to Mike considering playing with others he says, “I don’t think of it as a particular style, so it would be hard for me to say that I want to work with someone that has a certain style, if what I know how to play can apply to something somebody else is playing, yeah, I’ll play to any style.”
If it sounds good, feels good, if it’s groovy, if it makes you want to move, if it’s different and he has the ability to play over it or make it better, then he’ll add to it.
“Something that feels good and comforting,” he wants to get into the kind of style where it’s just the chords, the key the song is in, and everything is feeling really good. Instead of just playing loud, playing more dynamically using silence to your advantage and the spaces in between to your advantage, and building up to the moment and incorporating everything, “rather than just being go go go go…”
His music is quite a reflection of his personality, highly energetic, quick and active. When he’s not playing guitar or singing, he is shredding the streets on his long board.
His perfect day, he says, “in chronological order consists of, waking up with my girlfriend, coffee and breakfast, couple hours of skateboarding the hills, couple hours of music; jamming, practice, playing a show, whatever it is, some beer at some point during the day and then hanging out with my girlfriend.”
He is sitting down, as soon as he begins to discuss his goals for the future he gets up showing excitement. He could be excited to be done with the interview, perhaps because he is ready to go for a skate or continue to play his guitar.
“My main goal right now is to not rely on my ear as much as relying on guitar theory and being methodical,” he says, “on the side I want to keep jamming, having fun and playing by ear, that means making lots of mistakes, in hopes of stumbling upon new ideas. And at some point maybe start another project where everybody gets to be creative and have fun.”