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Elias Stimac Talks with Mike Sankari of Diablo Royale

Photos Courtesy of Diablo Royale

DIABLO ROYALE Takes Manhattan!
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 concert show.

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.

Elias Stimac : As a drummer, who are your other personal influences?

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.

Elias Stimac : How has your drumming developed over the years, especially while playing live in NYC?

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.

Elias 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.

Elias 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.

Elias Stimac : Talk about the band's influences, and other bands that may have inspired your group.

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 Down.

Elias 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.

Elias 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.

Elias Stimac : How was your recent concert at the Knitting Factory?

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.

Elias 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.

Elias Stimac : Tell us about the NYC clubs and how you are developing an audience by playing locally.

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.

Elias 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.

Elias Stimac: What are the plans for the band's future?

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.

Elias Stimac : What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Mike Sankari: Have fun and push yourself.

Elias Stimac: What do you like most about NYC?

Mike Sankari: That's a tough one. I'd have to say the access to almost whatever I want, whenever I want it.

Elias 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 advantage.

For more information on Diablo Royale and sample music clips, visit For full tracks, go to

Elias Stimac is an entertainment writer from New York currently based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. You can email him feedback or story ideas at




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