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28 North: Guitarist Michael Lindner talks about the long road to "World on Fire"

28 North
28 North
Courtesy of 28 North

They’ve hit all the potholes and hit them hard. They’ve had to come to a skidding halt to keep from crashing into obstacles that appeared out of nowhere. For rockers 28 North, the road to success has not been a smooth one. The four-piece has for years essentially been just a three-piece; only recently did they find a bass player with the talent and commitment they were looking for. Working with what turned out to be the wrong producer 28 North had to start from scratch after recording an entire album that had to be scrapped. And a move to Los Angeles came at the cost of losing lifelong relationships, including those of a romantic nature. But the members of 28 North have endured it all with a strong faith in their music and a blue collar work ethic, inspired by the tough folks of no-nonsense Pittsburgh, their original hometown. Things have finally straightened out for the band now and quite nicely so; the new 28 North album "World on Fire" has already yielded a minor hit with first single "Call Me Up" and several other standout tunes wait in the wings for their turn. An air of success is palpable in each of the album’s songs even though many reflect the hard road the guys have traveled. We spoke (by email) with 28 North guitarist and singer Michael Lindner about the making of "World on Fire" and what it feels like to finally be rewarded for the perseverance.

28 North "World on Fire" CD cover
Courtesy of 28 North

I’m guessing that the group’s name is a reference to Pennsylvania's Highway 28 that runs through the band’s original hometown, Pittsburgh. How did that stretch of highway and/or its designation become such an inspiration?

Well considering the members of the band were all, aside from Mark, (Glinka, bass) who was in Barbados most of the 2000’s, inner city school bus drivers in Pittsburgh and constantly stuck in the infamous traffic of Pittsburgh’s most hated road, 28 North, it felt like a fitting name for the band. We are and forever will be road warriors. We thrive in the freedom of the road and the music has certainly been described as road trippin’ music, so to have a blue collar name like 28 North felt like a good call. In addition to that jazz, Tyler (Bond, drums) and I started the band at Duquesne University in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh and to get to our rehearsal spot we drove on 28 North. I remember at our very first gig, where a band name wasn’t even an option, the club owner of the Grey Goose in Pittsburgh was like “What do we call you guys?” I said “Haven’t thought about that much." He asked, “How did you get here?” and I said “28 North." The rest is as they say rock ‘n’ roll bliss. I would venture to say that we had more names than any band in history: Black Moon, Boaz, Dodging Lions, 40 Nights, 28 South, 29 North; the list goes on and on. The last piece of awesomeness that came from the name was free advertising every morning in Pittsburgh. “Traffic heavy on 28 North at the Heinz Plant” is daily gospel in the great city of Pittsburgh.

With the diversity of styles on "World on Fire" it seems like Gavin MacKillop, who has worked with a very disparate bunch of artists prior, was the perfect pick to produce the album. How did you choose hìm, and what did you learn about the recording process from him?

Well it’s an interesting story. When we moved to L.A. in late 2011 we had our pick of the litter with
producers. Not to name drop, but Jeff Saltzman (The Killers), Mike Clink (Guns n’ Roses), John Ryan (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Adam Johnson (The Fray) and David Kershenbaum (Tracy Chapman) were all proverbially chomping at the bit at (manager) Jerry Heller’s new rock act, 28 North. We were so flattered and blown away that people with such incredible resumes and musical minds wanted to work with us. We ended up working with one of them and through a series of questionable musical moves and some not-so-2OXX production calls, we were alerted by our radio team that our album was more suited for 1994 than 2014. At this point we decided to jump ship with the producer we had been working with, even though we had grown very close, and Irving Azoff’s son, Jeffrey, gave us a list of producers who he felt would fit the project. We were sitting at Jerry’s Deli in Studio City when in walked Gavin MacKillop. We were all blown away with Gavin’s resume, but at first it wasn’t the most obvious fit. Blue collar Midwest rock band meets edgy cooler-than-cool Scottish producer? Who knew he would be the man who single-handedly changed our record from a '90s throwback to a modern day competitive masterpiece. Gavin has taught us more about making records than I can even say. He deconstructed and then reconstructed everything we thought we knew about making records. Very quickly, we learned to trust him. As a lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the same band since I left high school, I was never receptive to criticism until Gavin came along. He’s taught me to laugh at the ideas that are “stupid” and not harbor them. Why have a producer involved in the project if you as the artist are just going to run the show? Well Gavin is a producer in the classical sense. He hears it and makes it so. When you’ve worked with everyone from Kitten to Echo and the Bunnymen to MxPx to Sugarcult to Miley Cyrus you learn a lot about construction of radio worthy pop music. I told him this right before we left for the road, “Gavin MacKillop, MUSIC is his instrument.”

You played the bass parts on "World on Fire" and Mark was brought in after the album was finished. Does that at all change the complexion of the album’s songs when you play them live now?

Mark came in at the perfect time. He saw the band in early 2013 and said to me on Facebook, “I want in.” He’s brought those bass parts to life; he’s made them his own. He’s always improving upon them. We spent countless hours rehearsing the album just the way we like it, and having a great bass player has been the essential element needed in finishing the recipe. The battle for the 28 North bass player has been a tale as old as time. Even with the original line-up, we were all guitarists and nobody really wanted to play bass. Then we had some personnel issues and had to replace a member and then we had a guy who wasn’t committed to the project. Then we had nobody to play bass, then we had a hired gun, then we had someone who wasn’t necessarily the right style for us musically. So to be able to say we have a great bassist like Mark Glinka who not only is one with us musically but also shared our vision for the band before even joining it, is a true blessing!

There are a couple songs on "World on Fire" that seem to be informed by classic rock groups, most obviously "Pride" which rocks like The Who. Was that song a conscious nod to the band, and what other bands from the era would you say influence your work?

Absolutely, "Pride" is a nod to The Who. When you grow up In Pittsburgh and Cleveland, classic rock is a part of your DNA. It is at every sporting event, every bar, every restaurant, every cook out, every bowling alley, and so on. Without bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Band, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, and The Rolling Stones, music wouldn’t be where it is today. It’s the brilliant minds of these musicians that really helped bring music into the forefront of pop culture. Growing up in the ‘90s was so wonderful because musically it gave everyone a chance. I was exposed on a daily basis to so much great music in my formative years, it influenced every part of my being.

"Los Angeles" talks about a move to California, which is what 28 North did a couple years ago, so I’m assuming the song is at least partially autobiographical. It seems like the city has been good to the band career and creativity-wise; are the lyrics about the broken heart and "No peace in Los Angeles" from real life? How has Shakeytown affected you and the band overall?

It is absolutely 100% autobiographical. I could take the song line for line and tell you what it mean, but you’ll have to wait for the book (and I assure you, our "Behind the Music" will give anyone a run for their money.) I would absolutely say that L.A. breathed a new life into 28 North. We met some of the most amazing, important, spectacular, inspiring and wonderful people we’ve ever known in L.A. We’ve hung out with some of our favorite musicians, actors, athletes, writers, and artists all because that’s simply what you do in L.A. There is so much to write home about in L.A., it’s a constant party. But all that excitement and progress came at a cost, absolutely. “Los Angeles” is our story. It speaks of what the heart felt while the mind and the memory were being bombarded with new experiences. It's a numbers game we're in. We entered the music business in a very strange time where music can often come second to statistics; that whole “music business” thing. We had to leave girlfriends behind, family behind, and in some cases, our own sanity was at stake. We lost a lot. We lost time, money, friends, each other, but we never lost our way. Living on top of each other in a campsite is not easy. We were willingly forced into very hard living conditions, but we knew it would be to the success of our band and I wouldn’t trade one second of that turmoil written about in “Los Angeles” for anything in the world. I’m proud of our hardships. I’m proud of our ability to stick it out and I’m proud to be in this band.

Have you picked a song from "World on Fire" to make into a video?

Yes, the video for our single “Call Me Up” was shot in January and will be finished and edited by
Pittsburgh-based director Dave Prokopec in the next few days. He’s worked with Pittsburgh royalty such as Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, and Formula412 and was a great fit for our video. In addition to Dave we’ve gotten treatments from L.A. director Carl Ball for "Surrender" and "World on Fire" and from legendary L.A. director James Fargo for "Los Angeles." It’s just a matter of getting off the road long enough to shoot them!

28 North was recently on the same bill as ZZ Top in Colorado and I know you got to hang out a bit with Billy Gibbons. What did you guys talk about? Any beard envy?

Tons of beard envy! He was the coolest guy I’ve met in all my years of touring. Luckily living in L.A. we had some mutual friends to talk about to break the ice, and got deep into conversation. We did the drums for our record at DRAC Studios off of Melrose which happens to be Matt Sorum’s (Guns n’ Roses) home studio. Billy and Matt play in Camp Freddy together which is an all-star L.A. band that we love going to see, so when I told Billy I knew Matt, he was all ears. He started telling us that the key to a great tone is high volume and low gain and what kind of pedals he recommends; gear talk. But my favorite part of the hang was the first night in Aspen we got to talking and all of a sudden blues guitarist Doyle Bramhall came blaring on the sound system at the Belly Up and Billy’s eyes closed and I realized he was a true blues guitar aficionado. He was lost in the music, and quickly and successfully asked all of us to just be quiet for a little bit and listen to the power of the blues! And I assure you, we all did. Seeing his love for music was such an inspiration. We all know some guys do it for the money, some do it for the chicks, some do it for the fame, but it was so clear in that moment that Billy Gibbons is one of us: a music guy, a lover of the blues. And damn, do we respect that. Getting nods from him throughout our time on the road together was an honor that I can’t describe. When his tour manager came up to us after sound check in Denver and said, “Billy loves you guys” that was an incredible moment that I will never forget.

You just played a gig in Arizona at the Liquid Sol Festival. How do you like playing festivals versus more intimate gigs? Did you have a particularly memorable interaction with any of the other bands at Liquid Sol?

The Liquid Sol Fest was just amazing! To share the bill with so many great bands; Blind Melon, Train, Gin Blossoms, Cracker, All American Rejects, and Tonic was such a trip. It was also great to get out of the frozen tundra we call the Midwest and rock out in the Arizona sunshine! Of course we love the rock clubs; rock music always sounds its best, in my opinion, when there are walls to trap the sound but playing outdoors is something very special as well. I got to hang with everyone that day but I think the most fun band all day was Blind Melon. Their self-titled record was the first record I ever bought. The artist that does their posters and their tattoos, Alex Kelly, happens to be one of our best friends in the world and also our artist for the “World on Fire” album artwork. We had lots to talk about and just ended up kicking it all night, getting to know each other, trading stories. We were the youngest band at the festival and it was really great to have the respect of the big guys based on our demeanor, our work ethic, and most of all, our music. We really hope to join some of them on the road this summer!

28 North spends the better part of every year touring but I see you have a few weeks off coming up. What are you most looking forward to doing during the time off the road?

It’s always great to spend time with our parents, siblings, girlfriends, friends, pets, enemies, and have time off in our respective hometowns. Tyler is spending the time off in London with his parents and siblings. Mark will be going to Cleveland to spend time with his people. Taylor (Netzler, guitarist) actually just got married to the #1 28 North fan who ever existed, so he’ll be learning how to be a man! Taylor met Kristle when we opened for Steel Panther in 2011 at the House of Blues in L.A., yada yada yada, now they’re married! In fact, they had their wedding on a friend’s boat the night before we left for tour. I’ll be going back and forth from L.A. to Pittsburgh doing radio interviews, gigs, recording sessions, gearing up for the tour, and doing soundtrack work until the next leg of the tour in early April. Very excited to go hiking with my dog Floyd and write the next 28 North record!

Let’s sorta go back to the first question, but this time talking about the band, not the highway. For new fans just now hopping on board, where’s 28 North taking them?

We expect lots of action on 28 North this year. Our single “Call Me Up” is getting added every week in a new market, which will be putting us on the road quite frequently. We are so excited on where this record has already taken us and where it will lead us in the future. We are taking you on a journey of an all-American, hardworking, musical, fun loving, gritty, passionate and driven rock 'n' roll band. We don’t use backing tracks. We write our own songs. We play our instruments and have spent our lives perfecting and honing the craft we hold so close. We live together on a tour bus 10 months out of the year. We were not formed on Craigslist; we are, in the most rock 'n' roll sense of the word, a band. But that’s just it; we want to give you the musical experience that, in many cases, is the catalyst for why we were all born! Music is society’s best way of bringing people together and that’s what we love about it. The community that exists when a great band is playing is unparalleled. 28 North is proud to be a part of that exchange. We want to write songs for you to fall in love to or break up to. We want you to come to our show and leave a more inspired, happier, better person. We want to help you through with some of the greatest universal gifts imaginable: the gift of song, the gift of memory, the gift of melody, and the gift of ROCKING THE F’ OUT!

Purchase "Call Me Up" at iTunes

Visit the official 28 North website

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