Mick Sweda is a guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, and producer born in New York in 1960. After attending college on a drama scholarship and touring the east coast with various bands, Sweda moved to Los Angeles, where he spent time in multiple bands and projects. In 1984, he joined King Kobra, which had been signed to Capitol Records. Sweda recorded two records, READY TO STRIKE and THRILL OF LIFETIME, but left the group in 1987 to form his new band BulletBoys. The band signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1988. The band’s self-titled debut became a big success, primarily because of the song “Smooth Up In Ya,” which was a huge hit on MTV. BulletBoys recorded two more records for Warner Bros before Sweda left the band in 1993. After the split, Sweda recorded demos and did a lot of session work. He also played in several bands, including Brain Stem Babies, which also featured Jason Hook and Jeremy Spencer, who later on played with Five Finger Death Punch. In 2013, Sweda was approached by King Kobra to participate in two new King Kobra records. Sweda agreed and contributed guitars on both albums, but he didn’t want to stay in the band. The original BulletBoys announced another reunion in December 2019. This time the band lasted together until the beginning of 2022 when Sweda and drummer Jimmy D’Anda decided to leave the band again. Currently, Sweda still lives in LA with his family. He mainly works in his own Redcake Digital studio and continues to write and record with various artists. Sweda’s new band, The Hot Summers, played its debut show last August at the Monsters of the Mountain festival, and the band has just released its self-titled debut. I met a good-humored man last month in Los Angeles, and here’s a summary of our interesting chat about the past, present, and future of Mick Sweda.
We are now at the legendary Sunset Grill with Mick Sweda. Great to see you, man!
Good to see you. I’m glad we finally got to connect.
First of all, you’re best known for certain phases of your career, but before we go down there, I’d like to know what’s going on in your musician career at the moment?
Well, at the moment, we have put out my new band, The Hot Summers, and the record is now available. We are currently getting ready to go out and do some shows and get the record out there.
There are a couple of The Hot Summers songs out on YouTube.
Yeah, yeah. There are a couple of YouTube videos out, and the album is available everywhere, so yeah.
Could you introduce The Hot Summers band to me?
Oh yeah. Of course, yeah. It’s myself, Mick Sweda, with Shane Tassart, the singer. So we, at this point, don’t have a solid rhythm section, but we have some guys that we play with.
Who played the drums on the album?
Jimmy D’Anda played some of the drum tracks. A guy named Brandon Dickert played some of the other drum parts, but the rest of it was mostly me. Shane Stone did a little bit of guitar. But I play everything else, bass, keyboard, and so on.
I’ve learned from your web postings that The Hot Summers band has been in the works for a long time.
Yeah. It’s been going on for a number of years. So it dates back to maybe 2015. So it’s nice to have it all out finally.
So how much did the COVID stuff did affect the whole process?
Yeah, it had a little bit to do with it. But the band has also gone through some pauses here and there, so that had a lot to do with it. And there were a few times when I went out with BulletBoys, which interrupted the process a little bit. So we’ve taken our time with it and just wanted to make sure it was right.
So what kind of plans do you have with this band for the future?
We have plans to tour, but we have yet to set anything in stone right now. So that’s currently what we’re working on. The record came out sooner than we expected, and we needed a foundation set for its release. We just wanted to get it out on the first day of summer, which we did. So everything is kind of in process right now.
Outside of The Hot Summers, do you still have other active bands at the moment?
No, that’s it right now. It’s just The Hot Summers.
KING KOBRA TALK
Next, let’s go back to the early 80s when you moved to Los Angeles from New York. Which year was it?
I moved here from New York, Western New York, in 1981.
A couple of years later, in 1984, you joined King Kobra. How did you end up in that band?
Well, back then, I was ready to move back to the east because I had had enough of L.A. I was in a few different bands, and we weren’t doing much of anything. We’d go in a studio and record a song, and nobody would ever hear it, or we’d go to rehearse. It wasn’t playing out. So I had somehow connected with this band back in the east that was playing covers. They were doing the Scorpions, all my favorite stuff, and I thought I’d go back to the east and play that stuff. That was my plan, but I hadn’t decided whether I would do that or not. I was then working at Tower Records, and then Allen Miller, Carmine Appice’s manager, came in and asked if I was a bass player. I said, “Well, I’m not, unfortunately.” But he let Carmine know that I was a guitar player, and eventually Carmine came into Tower Records up the street. He came in, and we had a conversation. I did the audition and got the gig.
There were a lot of hard rock bands in the L.A. area at the time, and the competition must have been tough. What was King Kobra’s “master plan” to separate itself from the other bands?
I’m not sure what the master plan was, but we were hoping that the songs would be strong enough to sort of go beyond the choir because we were with the same production company the Quiet Riot was with. So that was the bar that we were faced with. But we felt that our songs were pretty strong, with whatever image we had and the musicianship. So, we felt like the package was complete, and I don’t want to go back into the whole cliché thing of, like, the record company didn’t know what to do with us, but I really feel like they didn’t. The time was really ripe. I don’t think we were too late or too early. You can argue that I suppose, but I’m not sure Capital was able to treat us in the manner they had hoped, even.
If you now listen to the early King Kobra albums, how do you feel about those nowadays?
I was almost like a guest player in the first album, READY TO STRIKE because all the songs were written, so I just played on it. I certainly would have, looking back, done things differently on that record in terms of the mix and how it came out. But when the second record, THRILL OF A LIFETIME, it was when Capital literally said, “Look, you guys got to have some hits, or you’re not going to — we can’t do anymore.” That was my wheelhouse because I’m a pop guy. I’m a power pop guy from way back. And to me, some of the songs on the first album are power pop too. So when we got to do the second record, I had more of an input, more of an influence, more of the writing, and unfortunately, Capital didn’t know what to do with that either. So even though we had some strong songs and the ability to forge ahead and improve on the first record, that didn’t happen either, so who knows? Who knows what went wrong? Again, with the passage of time, I listened to it, and it’s quite good. And it’s funny because Shane from the Hot Summers says it’s one of his favorite albums. He can’t listen to the first King Cobra record, but he was a huge fan of the second one, so that’s probably why we have such a kinship.
It is highly possible. But if we still go briefly back to the early days of King Kobra, or actually the end of it. It wasn’t long after the THRILL OF A LIFETIME album release when many things changed in the band, and the whole thing slowly fell apart. What happened at that point?
I think the band was lost at that point. Mark Free left first. I’m not even really sure why Mark did leave. I believe that he went back with an earlier band or something. It seemed he had a good reason to quit, but I think he was just fed up. And then Johnny quit shortly after that and joined W.A.S.P., So that’s when Marq Torien and Lonnie Vencent joined the band. And at that point, I could tell that Carmine was kind of floundering. He was talking to Gene Simmons about doing some of their songs, and he was looking for anything that would get us out of the rut we were in because everybody was writing songs, but he just wanted to — he wanted to attach himself to some entity that would help. And I could see that, and it wasn’t interesting to me at all. At that point, he had gone off to do something with Vanilla Fudge or one of his other bands. And I just said, “Look, I’m going to be done here. I’m going to leave. I’m going to go and do my thing.” And I asked Marq and Lonnie if they wanted to come along, and they said, “Well, this is our band. This is a big break for us. This is the biggest band we’ve ever been in, and we don’t really want to leave.” So I said, “Okay, well, enjoy, and good luck.” And I started auditioning people, and then finally they came around, and we got together, and that’s when BulletBoys started.
THE EARLY DAYS OF BULLETBOYS
You were the driving force behind the band, and isn’t it true that you also got the band a recording deal?
Well, I knew somebody from the King Kobra days, so I gave him a call and had him come down and see the band. He liked what he saw and sort of initiated much of that. So I don’t take credit for getting a record deal, but I certainly had the connection. The one connection I had worked out.
Starting a new band from scratch is never easy, but BulletBoys didn’t have to wait very long. The “Smooth Up In Ya” video became a hit song, especially on MTV (Music Television), in 1988. After all those difficult times with King Kobra, it must have been a great time for you and the band.
Well, it’s really interesting. When we released that record in September of ’88, the label said they wanted us to sit tight. They wanted the record to develop some legs, but it didn’t happen. The record was dying, and we were pretty much done. And so our manager said, “Look, these guys need to get out. They’re going to break up. They’ll never make it if they don’t go out and play.” So we got on the road with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, who, rest in peace, passed away shortly after that. But the thing I’m trying to get to is that we did the video for” Smooth Up,” then went out and did a couple of club dates, and then we opened for Cheap Trick, one of my favorite bands of all time. And I’ll never forget, we were sitting in our dressing room at this club date we were doing, and I was warming up and getting ready, and I hadn’t gone down into the club. We’ve done our sound check, and I just stayed in the dressing room. When it came time to head to the show, I came out, and the place was packed. There were people everywhere, and there was a line outside. And I remember looking around and going, “Is there somebody else playing here? Who are they here to see?” Well, what I didn’t know was that our video had hit. And after playing all these clubs with Ian Hunter to 40 or 50 people, our video made us huge. And now the club was packed, and every club you played after that was amazing. That was an amazing moment. I mean, you don’t get that much.
I remember a few other albums that only came to “life” months after their original release.
Yeah, I’m sure that’s not unique. I mean, I’m sure that’s happened to a lot of people. But it’s pretty amazing how fragile it really is because we could have gone the other way. We might not have made a second record if nobody cared about that video. It’s hard to say.
After all twists and turns, what was it like to start to work on the second BulletBoys album, FREAKSHOW, in 1991?
It was a bit of a painful process because Marq was going through some things with his voice, so it took longer to make than we wanted. And I’m not sure after, because for the first record, we toured for, I think it was 386 days, so well over a year on that first record, and we literally just had to say, “Okay, we have to start thinking about a second record now.” So there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare. We did some writing on the bus and on the road and everything, but I don’t think we were ready to go in at the very beginning. So it took longer for us to prepare and get the songs where we wanted them. And so that didn’t help us, especially at a time when the climate was changing. The musical horizon was shifting.
ZA-ZA became your last album with the band. Why did you decide to leave the group back then?
And the third album, by that time, the band was pretty fractured. So making that record was– even though I listened to it now and I think, “Wow, there’s some really good stuff on there,” and it’s a good record at the time, you have to put some distance between the things you do and your appreciation of them. So it was a difficult record to make, but ultimately, we had a good time doing it.
In 1993, there was not much room in the business for hard rock/metal bands anymore. Grunge ruled the world, and suddenly nobody seemed to care about the old stuff anymore.
Yeah. Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. When I split the band in ’93, I wanted to go in a completely different direction. I just wanted to do ambient acoustic stuff, and I was getting into what was called New Age at that point. And I really wanted– I was trying to center myself. Looking back at it, I was trying to put away all the rock and roll excess that we had been through and just trying to find some inner peace.
So you went with the flow. Did you also cut your hair short then?
Oh, yeah. That was part of the process of (laughs). In fact, it was funny because we were doing a show at the Troubadour, a couple of blocks down, and I walked [laughter] into the dressing room, and the guys in my band were like — and you could see the frowns on their faces, like, “Who is this guy in our dressing room?” I’m surprised they didn’t go, like, “Get security,” because they didn’t know. They didn’t recognize it. I just cut it. I just said, “Fuck it.” I wanted to. And I remember thinking, like, “Am I really just recognizable by my hair? Is that what defines me?” I don’t know. I’m going to find out, so. But everybody else cut their hair after that, too. So it’s fun.
Did you also wear a trendy flannel shirt?
Yeah, I did. [laughter] I did, but I never associated myself with that Northwestern America. In fact, it’s funny Alice In Chains, I know they’re a very popular band, but for me, it’s unlistenable. I can’t.
When that grunge thing started, I wouldn’t say I liked it because it ruined all my favorite bands. But later on, I enjoyed some of those bands, like Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots.
Stone Temple Pilots, I have all the records. I love those guys. I love Robert, the bass player. I love his playing. So I can listen to those guys, But yeah, it was a weird time. Like you were saying, the whole 90s, it almost seems like a vacuum to me. I mean, ultimately, when I came out of that soul-searching period, I started writing heavy rock again, and I’ve got a lot of really good stuff that nobody will ever hear, but it was a vacuum for sure.” Laughs”
MORE KING KOBRA
In 2001 you worked briefly again with Carmine Appice. He had put together a new version of King Kobra, with Kelly Keeling on vocals. You played on the band’s album HOLLYWOOD THRASH, so what’s the story behind that collaboration?
I think Carmine called me because he was the only person from King Kobra doing that. David Michael Philips didn’t want anything to do with that. Nobody else was around. So, in order to give it some legitimacy, he called me and said, “Hey, man, I’ll give you a bunch of money. Just come play a couple of songs.” So I did it because I didn’t — King Kobra has been so diluted to me. And even though I loved what we started out as a band, what it became was typical Carmine. He’s pretty shameless. (Laughs)
You played on that album but did you do something else with the band after that?
No, nothing after that. I mean, there was no benefit really to anything that happened after that, but it’s just something to do. It’s like a lot of people do now. Somebody out there is willing to give them 5,000$, 10,000$, 15 000$, 20 000$, whatever it is, to put out a record, and that person hopes they’re going to reap some benefit from it, but it’s not easy to do anymore.
About ten years later, you worked with King Kobra again and played on albums KING KORBA and KING KOBRA II featuring Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt) on vocals. How did you end up working with the band at that point?
That was when I was living out of town. I’d moved out of L.A. at that point, and I was working on my own stuff in my studio. And David called me up. He said, “Hey, man, I’d love you to come and play on this stuff.” I mean, it was as close to King Kobra as we were going to get because Mark or Marcy didn’t want anything to do with it. And I listened to the tunes. I thought they were cool.” Yeah, I’ll lay some tracks down.” I did four songs on each album, something like that. But again, I didn’t participate in the writing. With all due respect to Paul, he’s got a wonderful voice, but lyrically, he’s not my cup of tea. So I did it to chime in, help David, and give it a little extra flourish.
In 2013, King Kobra announced they would play a few concerts in Europe. You were supposed to be in the band, but something happened, and you quit just a few weeks before those shows happened. So, what happened?
Well, I don’t know about the timing. I don’t feel like I bailed on those guys because David and I were talking a lot about it, and the numbers were kind of crazy. I can’t remember if they were getting $27,000 or $17,000, but I remember doing the math, and I was going to end up going over there for a week playing Barcelona, playing– they were throwing dates in to try to cover the cost. In the end, I would have gotten less than $2,000 for that, but I can make more than that here, staying home. And that’s not including rehearsals, driving to Vegas to rehearse, and all the time. It literally would have taken two weeks out of my life, and basic math didn’t add up. So I said,” David– I was looking forward to going to Sweden. I mean, I’d love to go there, of course, who wouldn’t? But I couldn’t do it financially. It was a loss. I don’t do this for fun anyway.” And that was funny, too, because that’s how Carmine paints it, right? Like, “Well, come on, it’ll be a lot of fun. We’ll have a good time.” No, I don’t do this for fun anymore. I do it because I love it and because it makes sense.
SMOOTH UP OR NOT?
In December 2019, it was announced that the original lineup of BulletBoys would reunite again. There was a lot of hype, and it all started well, but it didn’t last long because you and drummer Jimmy D’Anda decided to leave the band in early 2022. You’ve tried to make this reunion work several times, but it seems to fail every time. What went wrong this time?
Well, anytime we get together – and we’ve tried to do reunion things over the years – we know there’s a shelf life. We know that there’s going to be a moment when everything either implodes or explodes, one or the other. And unfortunately, it happened sooner than we had all hoped. There are some pretty interesting personalities in the band. Very strong, for better or worse. So yeah, it was really unfortunate that it came to pass. I was really looking forward to going out and doing a lot of dates that summer, and we had a lot of things lined up. But it’s such that some people don’t want to deal with that sort of negativity.
It’s not hard to guess who you are talking about.
Yeah. It goes without saying. And anybody out there who knows anything about the business knows who I’m talking about.
But you’ve been in the same situation many times with those same people. Doesn’t it feel that some things will never change?
Absolutely. Everybody talks a good game, right? And everybody says they want to do this, and they want to do that. But when it comes down to it, there are some very deep foundational cracks. I’m never going to do anything with BulletBoys again. It’s just been so– I don’t know what the right word is? I suppose that it’s just tainted by all the different people that have been in it. It doesn’t even make sense for me to even think about it.
But when you decide to put your old band back together, isn’t that pretty similar to the situation if you get back together with your ex-girlfriend? You know the possible “advantages” and good sides of the thing, but at the same time, you also know the other side of things and will soon remember why you broke up earlier.
Yeah, you know what to expect. But if the sex is great, it’s hard to turn down. And that’s the thing, and that’s the thing with BulletBoys. That one hour on stage is… I love it, especially because of those songs. When we first came out, we hadn’t played together very much. We hadn’t done that many shows. So by the time we did the record and went out on the road, I was still sort of figuring out how I wanted these songs to sound. So a decade later, two decades later, I get to go back. And now, I can sort of interpret the songs the way I originally– or the way I would have, maybe, on the first record. So that’s part of the fun of it for me. And I genuinely love the guys. They’re fun to hang around with. But there’s just too much going on.
Too much drama?
Yeah, you said it! And it’s unfortunate because there was some good money coming with BulletBoys if we had stayed together. There aren’t many bands that are all original. And that was a big thing—the promoters like that. But unfortunately, It wasn’t to be. So yeah. And it’s funny, too, because every time that happens, and it’s happened a few times where I’ve had to leave the band again. It’s like, “Thank you. Now, I can clear my head. I don’t have to take the calls. I don’t have to stay up at night. I can just do something else.”
Besides doing new stuff with The Hot Summers, you’re also running your studio. Do you want to tell me something about it too?
Well, I’m kind of getting into what you might consider a post-rock thing, which is kind of instrumental, ambient, and almost film-like, cinematic kind of music. And so if I do anything outside The Hot Summers at this point, it’ll sound like that or something similar to that. So that’s what I’ve been working on in my studio, which is called Red Cake Digital.
Outside of studio work and The Hot Summer stuff, have you still been doing those different guest appearances, like playing on Whisky Go Go’s Ultimate Jam nights?
No, I haven’t been down there much. I’ve been there a couple of times, but that’s not really my thing. Nowadays, I’m just hanging out with my family and look forward to getting out with The Hot Summers. So hopefully, we’ll be doing that soon.
I would love to see The Hot Summers playing live someday, but I’m sure we’ll get back into that later. We have now gone through everything I had in my mind. Thank you for doing this interview, Mick!
Cool. Thank you, Marco. I’m glad we finally got to connect.
OFFICIAL MICK SWEDA WEBSITE
MICK SWEDA FACEBOOK PAGE
THE HOT SUMMERS WEBSITE
THE HOT SUMMERS FACEBOOK PAGE
THE HOT SUMMER PROMOTIONAL VIDEOS
BULLETBOYS MUSIC VIDEOS
KING KOBRA VIDEOS