There’s not much to say about Mike McCready that hasn’t already been said. Unless you’ve been in pop-culture hibernation for the last 20 years or have absolutely no interest in rock & roll, it’s likely you know of the Pearl Jam founding member/guitarist.
It’s also likely you know about his participation in the Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone) tribute band, Temple of the Dog, and his collaboration with Alice in Chains' frontman, Layne Staley, in Mad Season. But what you may not know is that for the last 10 years, McCready has also played in Flight to Mars, a band that covers longtime British metal act UFO to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
A Crohn’s and Colitis sufferer himself, McCready is currently taking Flight to Mars out of Seattle and onto the road for the first time in the band’s decade of existence. They’ll be making a stop at the Casbah on Tuesday night, and I recently had the chance to speak with the affable guitarist about it all.
Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
Mike McCready: Great, man. Thanks. Where are you in San Diego? I used to live there.
SM: We’ve moved a few miles away now, but my wife and I lived downtown for more than five years.
MM: Awesome. My dad was in the Navy, so I was there in Del Mar and La Jolla at two different times until I was about 5 years old. Then we moved up here to Seattle, but I still have a lot of fond memories of being down there.
SM: Nice. Cool you’re coming back, but kind of strange to think that Flight to Mars is celebrating its 10th year.
MM: It is weird. It’s something where we only play one show up here in Seattle every year -- for the last nine years -- so if that’s something that warrants a 10 year anniversary, I guess that’s what it is. We raised some good money last year -- it was something like $40,000 for one show. So that’s pretty crazy. And it’s pretty rad for a UFO cover band. Who knows whats going to happen on the road.
SM: I think that counts for sure. I mean, you've been doing it every year, and now it’ll be on the road. Plus, doesn’t it coincide with you going public [about you own battle with Crohn’s and colitis]?
MM: As of 10 years ago, yes. My wife, Ashley, just got tired of me complaining about it. That was the start. She just told me to go out and start talking about it with someone or find an organization that would be receptive to all the things I was talking about. And the CCFA [Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America] happened to be that organization. They were pretty small back then, but since, they’ve grown pretty significantly.
SM: Well, I think it’s a good thing to do. You have the platform. Why not use it? A lot of people don’t.
MM: Right. And that’s kind of sad to me. There’s probably a lot more people that have Crohn’s -- actors, athletes, other musicians -- but don’t talk about it. Or at least I’m not aware of it. And I wish they would, because it’s really not that big of deal. I mean, it is a big deal, but if you talk about it, it’s very healing.
SM: Right or wrong, I think if people hear about it from a musician or athlete they like, they’re more apt to do something about it.
MM: I agree. It’s the aspect of that sameness that attracts attention. And really, I probably wouldn’t get an article written about this in San Diego unless I was in my band. But if I can do something, and make any kinds of inroads to a solution, I want to be part of that.
SM: That’s awesome. But you never know. I do like me some UFO.
MM: [laughs] I’m with you. So does [Pearl Jam bandmate] Stone Gossard. We used to trade [UFO guitarist] Michael Schenker pictures when we were kids. It was a big deal. All those records were very integral to my learning as a guitar player. It got me excited about becoming a guitar player because he was so fantastic. I’m still trying to figure him out.
SM: I think for a good while, Kiss Alive II was the only record that got more play than that UFO live one in my world -- both thanks to my older next-door neighbor.
MM: I had a Kiss room. I totally understand. I would not be playing guitar had it not been for Kiss. Ace Frehley is my whole reason for playing.
SM: Now, I’ve never seen Flight to Mars play. I know it’s all UFO, but do you do things like play Flying V’s?
MM: I do. I have a white one and a black one. We have another guitar player in the band, but I’m the one who plays the Flying V’s. He plays Les Pauls. But it’s in sound more than look, where we try to recreate it as faithfully as possible.
SM: Sounds cool.
MM: We’re pretty serious about it. We’re trying to learn every chop in all of those songs. And it’s not easy. But it’s super fun. Those are fun songs to play. I do the best Schenker I can, but I’m not quite there yet. But I’m trying. I just try to shred.
SM: As more of a blues guy, it has to be fun to get your metal on.
MM: [laughs] Oh, yeah. It’s very fun to go outside of my box. I just try to play it the best I can and have fun with it. I do some of those things occasionally in Pearl Jam, but it’s a lot more freeing to do it with this band.
SM: I know you like them, but of all the bands you could have chosen to cover for Flight to Mars, why UFO?
MM: I do like them, but there are a lot of tribute bands in Seattle, and none of them are UFO. I thought that in itself was a cool reason to do it. But I just wanted to do something for kids with Crohn’s and Advocacy for Patients, and the only way I knew how to do that was through music.
SM: Where did the name come from?
MM: It’s that old ride in the Seattle Center that always had the nuts and bolts falling off of it. They had a Chewbacca head on a Darth Vader body and the Invisible Man was two dots -- it was so cheap. But I think there were a bunch of them around the country. It was just such a random thing. But I think it was there since the '40s or something. I thought it was the perfect name for the band.
SM: Other than coming to the show, how should people get involved?
MM: Look up your local chapter of the CCFA or you can go onto PearlJam.com and be a part of the tour. But there are plenty of avenues you can take.
SM: You just did the National Anthem at SafeCo Field. How was that?
MM: It was great. I brought my two Marshall stacks out there and a ’59 Strat, and I played it as Hendrix-y as possible. It was over before it started. It just goes by so quickly. I’ve done it three years in a row. People seem to like it, but I’m three for three with the Mariners losing when I play. It’s crazy.
SM: Moving forward, what’s next?
MM: I just scored a movie called Fat Kid Rules the World, directed by Matthew Lillard. That’s coming out this year, and I think we’ll be putting out a single. But I’ve been working on TV and film as much as I can. Mad Season is working on getting the rights from Sony so we can see what’s out there and hopefully remaster the record. We have between 6 and 13 songs that we recorded with everyone in the band other than Layne, and we were waiting for that to go when Layne passed. We're waiting to see if we can find someone who’s up to the caliber we’re looking for to sing on that. But that’s just in the beginning stages.
SM: I saw the Temple of the Dog stuff that happened around the Pearl Jam 20 shows. Any chance of that happening again?
MM: I’d love it. I’d love to do another record. If it happens organically and everyone’s into it, it’d be awesome. We were all around the same place the first time. And that’d have to happen again. And it was a different cause, for sure. But I’m up for it. I’d play with those guys any time.
SM: Pearl Jam have anything in the works?
MM: We’re working on a record right now. We’re about halfway done and moving forward. And we’re going to tour a bit this summer in Europe. I think we’re hoping to have it out by next year. We’re probably not doing as much as we were right before the movie came out, but we can’t stay not busy for long.