Elias Stimac Talks
with Mike Sankari of Diablo Royale
Photos Courtesy of
Hard Rock Quintet Tours NYC Club Scene and
Releases Debut C.D.
When your band gets a review
from Classic Rock Magazine that describes
you as "...balls-out Stooges-meets-Megadeth
slabbage…” you know you’ve
struck a right chord in the music industry.
The members of Diablo Royale list among their
musical influences Aerosmith, Soundgarden,
and Led Zeppelin, and now the New York City-based
quintet is filling those mighty big shoes
with a killer debut album and a high energy
Guitarists Eric Choy and
Gerard Steixner teamed up with drummer Mike
Sankari to create Diablo Royale. Lead vocalist
Adrian Barrios and bassist Jason "Sweet"
Leaf answered an ad on the internet, and together
the five talented men recorded their first
CD in a basement studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(appropriately named "The Sweatshop").
Mike Sankari stepped out
from behind his drum kit to sit down with
New York Cool and give us the lowdown on the
highlights of the band’s recent accomplishments.
Elias Stimac : Describe
your background growing up.
Mike Sankari: My parents immigrated to this
country in pursuit of the American Dream,
so my background was similar to many first-generation
Americans. I was definitely brought up with
a strong work ethic. My real focuses growing
up were martial arts, music, and school.
Now, my parents are not
very big music fans. So my introduction to
music came from my older sister, Andrea. She
got into it from movie soundtracks in the
early ‘90s like “Wayne's World.”
It started with Queen, then from there went
to Guns N' Roses. What initially got me interested
in playing the drums was seeing Lars Ulrich
from Metallica behind this huge white Tama
drum kit. I decided right then that I wanted
to do that.
Stimac : As a drummer, who are your other
Mike Sankari: Lars Ulrich and Matt Sorum from
Gun N' Roses got me started. From there, I
started listening to Brad Wilk from Rage Against
the Machine who taught me about grooves. Then,
Vinnie Paul from Pantera, who is my favorite
drummer to this day. He combines groove, chops,
and power and always serves the song perfectly.
Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater is also a huge
influence that gets me thinking out of the
box. And lastly, John Dolmayan from System
of a Down. He is just so rock solid. And reading
his interviews, has a great outlook on playing.
Stimac : How has your drumming developed over
the years, especially while playing live in
Mike Sankari: Initially, it was more mechanical.
But once I started playing with other musicians
and having the responsibility of being behind
the kit, that's when I started to push myself
more. And playing live, that's the ultimate
test for me. There are no retakes or breaks.
Just get in there and play solid, regardless
of the other distractions. Lately, I've been
working on having more stage presence. Doing
things like throwing sticks in the air or
standing up at certain points during a song.
Stimac : How did Diablo Royale come about?
Mike Sankari: Eric and I went to school together
and when I graduated, he said "Hey, do
you want to do this?" We haven't looked
back since. Diablo Royale came together in
2005 when we teamed up with Gerard. We spend
a lot of time looking for the right singer
and bass player. Not only did they have to
fit musically, but we wanted to be able to
hang out as well. Adrian and Jason fit the
bill very well. We must have auditioned over
100 people over the course of a year till
we got them. Some have said we're as much
a gang as a band, and that works for me.
Stimac : How would you describe the band in
25 words or less?
Mike Sankari: Rock ‘n' roll that will
get one hand holding a beer while the other
clenched in a fist raised high in the air.
Stimac : Talk about the band's influences,
and other bands that may have inspired your
Mike Sankari: Definitely from rock and metal.
I love seeing how the different influences
get fused together. For example, I like more
of the metal, like Pantera, Gerard is much
more into Classic Rock, like Zep. But it works.
Other bands that are cited often, Black Sabbath,
Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, Alice In Chains,
Dream Theater, Ozzy, Megadeth, System of A
Stimac: How are the songs written -- since
the whole band gets writing credit, is it
by committee or individual contributions?
Sankari: I wouldn't say by committee -- it
is not totally democratic, in the sense that
everyone votes. However, everyone can have
a say. For example, Eric had the main idea
for "Don't Mind Me." Gerard came
up with the mellow part in the second and
third verse. The same thing happened in "Remedy."
The main riff was down, and Adrian flushed
out his idea for the mellower breakdown in
the middle. That kind of thing happens all
of the time.
Stimac: Can you tell us about how the band
recorded its debut album in a basement in
Williamsburg called "The Sweatshop"?
Mike Sankari: Ahh, the Sweatshop, many fond
memories. This is a studio in Brooklyn that
is run by some great people. It's in the basement
of a warehouse type building. We started rehearsing
there when we first got together because they
had some of the cheapest rates around. We
stayed because they treat us so well. The
recording came about as we started looking
around for studios. We realized pretty quickly
that they had all of the equipment that we
needed and had done previous work in our genre
and done it well. The only thing missing was
air conditioning. That is in the works for
the next album.
Stimac : How was your recent concert at the
Mike Sankari: The gig went well. It was an
important one for us as it was our one-year
anniversary. Truth be told, the success of
this venue always surprised me -- it's in
the middle of nowhere as far as nightlife
goes. There aren't any other venues around.
But I think what keeps them going and what
keeps them great is they constantly put on
good shows with strong acts. They've established
themselves as the intimate venue for a slew
of bigger artists that stop by in NYC.
Stimac : Talk about being a band in NYC --
what makes it exciting? What makes it challenging?
Mike Sankari: The obvious challenge is that
there are so many bands here already. But
that also makes it great. It means there are
plenty of venues to play, great bands to play
with and a bunch of studios to record and
rehearse at. The fun part for me is growing
the fanbase. We're constantly meeting new
people at shows, either ours or someone else's.
Another challenge that I hear a lot about
is that people are very busy with a million
different distractions, so it's tough to build
a fanbase. I try and look at it from a positive
point of a view and enjoy the process of starting
as one of those distractions and turning it
into something memorable for someone.
Stimac : Tell us about the NYC clubs and how
you are developing an audience by playing
Mike Sankari: NYC clubs are an interesting
breed in that no two are the same. The most
successful shows for us are when we are part
of a larger event. For example, there is a
band in New York called ZO2. Every month,
they put on a show at Arlene's Grocery called
the Rock Asylum that showcases some of the
top bands from the area, Some of our best
fans have come from playing that event with
ZO2. For example, at the Asylum in July, one
of the other bands, INK, said to us, "We've
been at this for 10 years, and we've never
seen anything like that." That was a
great compliment, especially coming from them.
Regardless of where we play, we're getting
a great reaction from the crowd which is what
we live for. We played a Zeppelin tribute
show in April, and there were three guys that
came up to us after the show that said they
were just checking out the club, but decided
to stay when they heard our music. That's
the greatest thing.
Stimac : How has the internet and websites
such as MySpace changed the music industry,
in your opinion?
Mike Sankari: Everyone talks about the change
in the music business. I think that any creative
business, be it music, movies, or paintings,
is a challenging one. The way I see it is
this: A record company provides three major
functions to an artist -- Production, Distribution
and Promotion. The first two can now be done
by anyone without a record company. People
everywhere are turning out albums in home
studios and distributing them online. Granted,
the physical distribution is not as easy.
However, promotion has now become even more
important due to the increased number of albums
being released. As much as MySpace has impacted
promotion (and for the better, in my opinion),
I think the most successful musicians are
the ones that can relate with an audience
in a live setting and generate that buzz.
It seems to be the only thing that lasts.
Stimac: What are the plans for the band's
Mike Sankari: Right now, we are working on
recording a video for "Overloaded"
and another one for "Bad Luck."
As far as touring goes, we are going to be
playing shows outside of New York City. As
far as the shows we do play here, it will
be in the form of events such as the Rock
Asylum, New York Underbelly's event at Crash
Mansion every Fri night, or one of our own.
I find those shows to be very rewarding for
the bands, the venue, and most importantly,
the fans. They can pay one cover charge and
be entertained for the whole night.
Stimac : What advice do you have for aspiring
Mike Sankari: Have fun and push yourself.
Stimac: What do you like most about
Mike Sankari: That's a tough one. I'd have
to say the access to almost whatever I want,
whenever I want it.
Stimac : Is New York a good place for a band
to get its start?
Mike Sankari: I think so. It is what you make
of it. You can stand around and complain about
how hard it is because of this or that, or,
you can look at it as a challenge and step
up and do it. There are more clubs to play
than I can count and many times more bands
to play with. If we were in a small town somewhere,
maybe our crowds would be bigger, but we may
only have one or two bars to play and a handful
of other musicians around. Here, everything
is so close by and I think that is a major
For more information on Diablo Royale and
sample music clips, visit diabloroyale.net.
For full tracks, go to myspace.com/diabloroyalerock.
Elias Stimac is an entertainment
writer from New York currently based in Fort
Lauderdale, FL. You can email him feedback
or story ideas at email@example.com.