Joseph Michael Biography 2019
By Chris Dick
Joseph Michael is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, sight-reader, and record label owner currently residing in Los Angeles, California. Born on December 26, 1979 in Utica, New York, Michael presently fronts Los Angeles-based progressive dark metal outfit Witherfall, Seattle-based technical metal group Sanctuary, and Los Angeles-based thrash metal-gothic music hybrid Midnight Reign. Apart from his schedule fronting internationally recognized metal acts, Michael also privately teaches music theory and application, as well as voice, to aspiring musicians and songwriters. Privately, Michael enjoys sushi, red wine, and airport lounges. He’s related to former Black Sabbath/Rainbow/Dio singer, the legendary Ronnie James Dio and renowned Bewitched actress Agnes Moorehead.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Born Joseph Michael Furney in Utica, New York—also home to television star Dick Clark, Boston’s Tommy DeCarlo and Fran Cosmo, and famed guitar player Joe Bonamassa—Michael’s primary interest growing up was baseball. From sun up to sun down, he played “America’s Game.” At an early age, Michael was also exposed to live music—mostly country artists like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers—through his father. At home, he would jam Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and Neil Diamond on an 8-track player that he coveted. After the wearing out rock ‘n’ roll’s superstars, Michael graduated to heavy metal via his cousin, with whom he discovered King Diamond, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. King Diamond was of specific interest to Michael, as the Danish native was an exceptional vocalist and a highly visual performer. But Michael’s switch from baseball to rock ‘n’ roll/heavy metal didn’t come at the behest of his cousin. Rather, Michael saw and became enamored with guitarist Saul Hudson (better known as Slash) after seeing the Guns N' Roses video for “November Rain” on MTV. At that point, there was no turning back for Michael.
“There were guitars around the house, but I didn’t really have my own instrument,” Michael says. “My dad bought me a Cruz Strat copy from Japan. I think it was $100. In a few days, I was reading tablature. Within a week or two, I was playing the usual songs that beginners play. I remember my first band was formed after a baseball game—my father was a baseball coach. A couple of the guys there played. I ended up meeting up with those guys and formed a band called, Asylum. We played Black Sabbath songs. We were terrible. I got better at playing guitar relatively quickly. So, I kept forming bands. People would come and go. So, I started to work on music by myself. I started to put on independent shows. I was sort of a promoter. I worked with the mayor and created the Music Utica Music Festival. I still couldn’t make things happen in Utica—beyond guys doing cover bands—so I started to travel to New York City.”
Michael spent a year between Utica and New York City trying to make bands work. Midnight Reign, the band he formed while living in Upstate New York traveled with him to Los Angeles, a trip Michael made on Greyhound bus with only $19 in his pocket. Guitar came naturally to him. Singing, however, did not. It was only out of desperation did Michael start singing when he was forced to track vocals for early Midnight Reign material. He wasn’t the best singer—and he knew it—but Michael quickly found out that he enjoyed spending time singing and writing; more so than playing guitar. But unlike guitar, Michael really had to spend the time to hone in on his own vocal style and quality.
“Singing was the furthest thing from my mind,” says Michael. “If you ever find old live videos of me singing—in Midnight Reign—it’s pretty obvious that I had no idea I was going to be a singer. I had to intensely focus on singing. I was a guitarist/songwriter first and foremost. But every band or project that I was a part of was a level up opportunity for me. With voice, there were no shortcuts. It’s simply hard work. When I moved to Los Angeles, there were tons of guitar players—really good ones, in fact—but there were too few singers who could sing and had a decent look. As with most things of value in Los Angeles, voice talent is usually hidden. I will say I didn’t start mastering my voice either right up to joining White Wizzard or shortly thereafter. That’s when my voice was becoming passable. It’s funny though, I never imagined myself a singer. I kind of just fell into it.”
In the years before joining White Wizzard, Michael formed his own record label, The Hollywood Rx Records. From the ground up, he established the legal entity, the publishing company, and setup the manufacturing pipeline to release (or self-release) Midnight Reign’s debut, Never Look Back, a piece of work that Michael spent the better part of two years articulating. All the promotion was done via ads placed in print magazines like Metal Edge, a publication that had considerable reach at the time. By forming The Hollywood Rx Records, he was able to sign other artists as well. One of the label’s more notable artists, Dez Cleo, had a song, “LMFAO,” featured in the 2013 movie, Fright Night 2: New Blood.
Michael joined heavy metallers White Wizzard after meeting guitarist Will Wallner in 2012. The circumstances of his enlistment were based on an on-the-spot decision. White Wizzard needed a vocalist for their upcoming tour, a venture that, at the time, was three weeks away. Michael hadn’t heard the music, read the lyrics, or hung with the rest of the band. Risks aside, it was Michael’s first chance as a real tour. On that tour, Michael met guitarist Jake Dreyer. The duo bonded over King Diamond and other guitar geekery. In Dreyer, Michael saw a younger version of himself, a guitarist. With White Wizzard, Michael recorded and released The Devils Cut to rave reviews. But things inside the band weren’t ideal. Michael saw himself pursuing other avenues of music (with Dreyer) without the perpetual drama of White Wizzard. So, on a turbulent night on tour in England Witherfall was formed between Michael and Dreyer.
“Since the formation of Witherfall, we’ve released two full length albums and an EP on Century Media/Sony Music and have had the releases reissued in both Japan and Russia,” Michael says. “Witherfall are now writing our third album, and festivals/tours are being booked to promote A Prelude to Sorrow and Vintage. We recently signed with FSM management, the firm responsible for the career of Dream Theater and are working with APA. I joined Sanctuary on tour with Iced Earth to honor the passing of Warrel Dane. Now, I’m officially part of the Sanctuary lineup and we’re working on a new album. I’m doing my solo album as well tentatively due out 2021. I have also contributed vocally, instrumentally, and production-wise to many eclectic releases spanning many diverse genres. The last three years have been a non-stop ride of hard work and self-fulfillment. I welcome the challenges and successes to come.”
NOTABLE BANDS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Formed in 2013 by Joseph Michael, Jake Dreyer, and drummer Adam Sagan, Witherfall quickly got to work on the songwriting vision for their new band. A portmanteau of the words ‘wither’ and ‘fall,’ Witherfall was a unique name in a sea of copycats. Immediately, Michael knew he had a good name on his hands, one fans as well as search engines wouldn’t forget. Initially, the plan for Witherfall was to self-release and to make it as professional as possible. The world had enough laughably DIY artists, so Michael and Dreyer set into motion the trademark work, the manufacturing, the marketing and promotion, hiring cover artist Kristian Wåhlin (Tiamat, King Diamond), and ensuring the enlistment of Christopher “Zeuss” Harris to mix and master was a done deal. They also hired on bassist Anthony Crawford (Allan Holdsworth, Dave Weckl) to round out the lineup. Between 2013 and 2016, Witherfall worked tirelessly on songs that would comprise their debut album, Nocturnes and Requiems. The quartet had the perfect blend of talent, ambition, expectation, and quality. And, musically, Witherfall formed at the nexus of King Diamond, Nevermore, and Queen. Unfortunately, in 2015 Sagan was diagnosed with lymphoma. For a year, Michael’s friend, bandmate, and musical inspiration fought it. On December 7th, 2016, Sagan succumbed to the disease. Witherfall would forever be changed. Nocturnes and Requiems was self-released in honor of Sagan in February 2017. Not long after—on August 1st, 2017, actually—Germany-based Century Media Records signed Witherfall to a multi-album deal. As part of the deal, the label allowed the band to sell domestically, while the label had rest of world rights. Witherfall has since globally released A Prelude to Sorrow, the follow-up to Nocturnes and Requiems and the Vintage EP with Century Media Records. To support A Prelude to Sorrow, Witherfall toured Europe, Japan, and performed on the 2018 70000 Tons of Metal cruise.
Michael joined veteran technical thrashers Sanctuary in 2018 following the death of singer Warrel Dane the year before. Prior to that, Sanctuary were known for their late ‘80s and early ‘90s major label albums, Refuge Denied and Into the Mirror Black. The Seattleites then went into hibernation for 18 years. When Sanctuary reformed in 2010 to play one-off shows, they didn’t think another album was possible. In 2014, The Year the Sun Died was released to rave reviews. Sanctuary then released a compilation album, Inception, in 2017 as a stopgap release between full-lengths. While Dane was working on his second solo album, Shadow Work, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Shocked and now without their talismanic frontman, Sanctuary questioned the very notion of continuing on. But they had tour commitments. A phone call from Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer connected Michael to Sanctuary mainman Lenny Rutledge. Not long after, Michael, in deference to Dane, was on stage with Sanctuary supporting Iced Earth. The tour was a success, with longtime fans seeing the potential of Michael filling Dane’s shoes, not just for the classics but for Sanctuary’s new material. Indeed, in April 2019, Sanctuary announced that only will they be writing the follow-up to The Year the Sun Died, they’ll be writing it with Michael up front.
3. JOSEPH MICHAEL SOLO
The Joseph Michael Solo band will focus on old and new songs from Michael’s vast repertoire. The new material will feature a direction as-yet-explored by Michael, described as a cross between King Diamond and Neil Diamond. For his solo debut, Michael is more interested in the true art of songcraft. The songs will be more traditional in structure, with the vocals and hooks being the primary focus. Michael will perform all instruments, except drums, which will be an as-yet-unnamed top-line player. Also expect the Joseph Michael Solo band to feature surprise guests on all instruments. The debut album from Joseph Michael Solo band is expected in late 2021.
4. WHITE WIZZARD
White Wizzard is a Los Angeles-based heavy metal act. They have four full-length albums on internationally recognized record labels. Michael was hired as White Wizzard’s lead vocalist to replace Wyatt “Screaming Demon” Anderson in 2012. It was in White Wizzard that Michael met guitarist and songwriter Jake Dreyer. Immediately, the twosome were like brothers; the bond would eventually lead to the formation of Witherfall. With White Wizzard, Michael appeared on the group’s 2013 full-length, The Devils Cut. Michael has also has toured the United States and the United Kingdom with White Wizzard. He left the band in 2013.
CURRENT & FUTURE ENGAGEMENTS
Joseph Michael was recently honored to perform the national anthem of the United States, The Star-Spangled Banner, at a Utica Blue Sox minor league game in his hometown. This summer, Michael will also embark on a national tour with Sanctuary for their “Refuge Denied Anniversary Tour,” he’ll front Sanctuary at Europe’s largest music festivals, and, with the help of Sanctuary songwriter and guitarist Lenny Rutledge, write the follow-up to 2017’s lauded Inception. Elsewhere this summer, Michael and songwriting partner Jake Dreyer will write and complete the follow-up to Witherfall’s celebrated A Prelude to Sorrow, while also preparing, by himself, to write and complete Michael’s first-ever solo album.