Five years ago, in September 2018, the album ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’ was released on an unsuspecting world. Somewhat cryptic information had been drip-feeding all summer about this boldly confounding collaborative project, with its fiercely eclectic roster of big-name guest artists.
Just how could one record bring together such a myriad of musicians who run the gamut of genres: from rock titan Robin Zander of Cheap Trick to Van Halen’s Michael Anthony, to Dug Pinnick of King’s X sharing a track with rap superstar Ice-T? Perhaps most surprising of all was the collaboration between Wayne Hussey of The Mission UK and The Cure’s Simon Gallup – long-time friends appearing together on an original song on record for the very first time, united on a brand-new track called ‘Man Of Faith’.
Interest duly piqued from this pre-release teasing out of info, I started following Beauty In Chaos on social media. After asking a throwaway question one evening about what sort of red wine was fuelling BIC maestro/curator/head honcho Michael Ciravolo and his producer and chief collaborator Michael Rozon during their late-night mixing sessions at their Saint In LA Studios (for anyone interested – the wine was Apothic Red), we wound up chatting at length about the record and Michael kindly offered me the UK exclusive first interview for the album’s release.
Even before ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’ was released, due to a lucky happenstance involving Mission producer Tim Palmer (explained in more detail below), Michael had decided to invite an array of other guest musicians, DJs and producers to reinterpret the tracks in their own style for a companion album of remixes. And so ‘Beauty Re-Envisioned’ remix record was already well underway before FBIC was unleashed into the world.
As the growing global army of dedicated Beauty In Chaos fans know, there have since been a further two albums of original songs written by Michael C, showcasing an ever-increasing “BIC family” of guest vocalists, artists and producers (2020’s ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ and 2022’s ‘Behind The Veil’); each is mirrored by its own remix album (respectively ‘Out of Chaos Comes…’ and ‘Further Behind The Veil’).
And now, to mark the fifth anniversary of the release of the double-vinyl record that started it all, Michael Ciravolo has given Jammerzine this exclusive in-depth interview looking back at ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’, with an extensive track-by-track discussion – featuring reflection and brand-new quotes from many of the guest artists involved, including Robin Zander, Wayne Hussey, Dug Pinnick, Ashton Nyte and many more…
There’s a lot to say so strap in for Part 1 of 3, where Michael Ciravolo shares his thoughts on ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’ five years on.
Vicky Carroll: Going back to where the roots of Beauty In Chaos took shape, it was at a point where you wanted to go in a different direction from where your band Human Drama was headed with writing its new album.
Michael Ciravolo: It was – that was the genesis. It sent me down this path. And looking back at it, it was the right thing. And I did finish the Human Drama album [‘Broken Songs for Broken People’], I would never walk out on something. And listening back to that record, I’m proud of what we did. But I think at the time I wanted it to be something else.
Just creatively at that point I think I wanted to step back in time – I wanted it to be more of that late 80s Human Drama. And Johnny [Indovina, Human Drama founder, songwriter and frontman, and one of Michael’s oldest friends] wanted it to move forward. Neither right, neither wrong. Listening to that album, it certainly stretched me as a player.
I was being pushed to try something more like David Gilmore – that was never my cup of tea, but it made me dive into listening some of the classic Pink Floyd stuff, which I never listened to as a kid. You didn’t listen to the New York Dolls AND ‘Dark Side of the Moon’! That was all with kids a few years older and the hippies and all. But it made me listen to it and go, ‘Wow, this dude is fucking brilliant’. So I learned from it and it did send me down on the path of doing this record.
Michael Rozon was recording my guitar stuff for the Human Drama record. Johnny would send me the tracks, I’d do the guitars and Michael was recording it, and then I’d get Johnny’s feedback: “Make it more like this, make it more like this, and don’t play there, there’s keyboards there…” And it just became frustrating.
Johnny is and was and still is probably my best friend in the world – and he did the cover for ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’, he took one picture and then he took the picture of our daughters and made it work.
VC: So it wasn’t like a complete breakdown of the relationship?
MC: No. Maybe in my head in the beginning I think I had more of a knee-jerk to it. Now I look back and I was trying to do some of these textures and things that just didn’t work with Johnny’s vision of what that record was going to be. At the end of the day, it’s his band. So yeah, looking back at it now, it probably wasn’t as dramatic as it seemed at the time. I still would have liked to have seen what we would have done, if we had taken a little bit of a step back in time and be a little heavier, be a little darker, and a little more gothic. But it is what it is. ‘Broken Songs for Broken People’ is a great record. And it made me do ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’. And five years later, it’s a record I still enjoy. So it all worked out.
VC: With Beauty In Chaos, as creator, curator and musical director you’ve ended up making so many decisions involving so many people. Was that something that you consciously wanted out of being in a band?
MC: I certainly wasn’t like, oh, I finally get to you know, sit in the king’s chair. I always look at a band as a family, as a gang – you have this goal that you’re working for and everybody takes their role in it. In either Human Drama or Gene Loves Jezebel albums, I had never been involved in anything as far as the album cover, the visual concept, the track running order, and all those things. So those were all new and exciting to me.
I’ve grown to know it’s necessary for someone to make a decision. And Beauty In Chaos takes a lot of work to pull everything together. I think I’m better at it and can do it quicker as we move forward. But, Michael Rozon was always in the background, he always pushed it from the beginning – “this is your record.”
For a short time, maybe a week, it was gonna be a solo record. And it’s like, fuck… what?! I mean, I’m not a Steve Vai or something like that, that’s going to do an instrumental record –it would have been shit! And it probably would have died on the vine after one or two attempts at it. But it turned into this.
I had seen how This Mortal Coil, way back, had become this revolving singer thing. And a friend of mine, Mark Thwaite, did a record in a similar way – a guitar player, but getting different singers. I knew I wasn’t going to be a singer. I sure didn’t want to do an instrumental record. And I guess with my position at the [Schecter] guitar company, and just having friends… I mean, those first couple of people to come in to our studio were Al Jourgensen and two or three days later Robin Zander. I mean, that’s a great start!
I remember Michael going, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” It’s almost like – do you think they will come? Meaning, you can ask people – but do you think they would do it? He and I grew up as Ministry fans. I remember telling him, “Al’s going to come in. We’re going to do ‘20th Century Boy’…” – I always thought that was probably the greatest rock and roll guitar riff ever. And I figured that would get us rolling. I had some song ideas going, and it was like “We can do that thing of, uh, not having keyboards, but having all these arpeggiated and weird guitar stuff that people don’t know what it is…” And Michael is like: “Fuck! Al’s coming!!”. And then a couple of days later, I go, “Yeah, and Robin from Cheap Trick’s coming.”
And at that point I remember thinking, I guess we can maybe make this work. And that was a cool moment.
VC: Obviously you’re a confident person because you run a big company and you’ve been in rock bands for years. So you have to have a certain confidence. But did you ever up until the point where they were actually in the studio recording with you feel like this might not work?
MC: Yeah, of course. I had no idea that people would say yes. I always try to value someone’s time. One of the beautiful things on this record is no one ever went, “So what are we going to get paid or what’s going to happen when there’s money?” or anything like that. It was just out the love of doing music. And I never took any of it for granted. And each time I still look back at that record and go, holy fuck, you know – Simon [Gallup] said yes, Wayne [Hussey] did it…
VC: There seems to be an element of, I don’t know if fate is the right word, but things work out for a reason?
MC: It just it lined up and, you know, it kind of blossomed – it went from solo record to an album then to a double album. I mean, I look back in that that’s like 14 songs on that record…
VC: That’s a lot of work…
MC: Yes, a lot of work. It kind of came together in its stages. And then I think we managed to put the puzzle together in a cohesive manner. And I did toil over how to unfold this, how does this work? As stuff was recorded over the space of a year. The songs, if you just listen to them musically, are kind of different. And then when you throw in… 14 songs would have been 10 different singers because Ashton [Nyte] sings three and Wayne does two, Johnny does two. I mean, getting 10 singers on a record and making it not sound like K-pop ‘Hits of the 80s’ or something that’s just songs from everywhere, that was a feat.
Because it was just Michael and I doing the music, it had all these elements that stayed. But I think, besides still feeling surreal – the people that stepped up – a part that I’m proud of on that record is that it is cohesive. I think our newer records, because of the way we do them, may be a little more cohesive, but this certainly works, especially when you take it in that bite-sized chunk of a double album on vinyl.
VC: Did you have a number of tracks in mind that you wanted to record? And did you have a minimum number that was essential to do the album? Would you have put out an EP if you’d only maybe been happy with four or five songs?
MC: I always had in my head I wanted it to be a physical platter of vinyl. I remember Googling how much time fits on an album. I used to know that, but you sit there and look at a Ramones album and there’s six songs a side. I figured if we had eight songs it would work. But It’s almost like it started to be this great process, and we just didn’t stop. It just kind of rolled.
When we had 13 songs, I thought this needs to have something at the end. It needs to have that closing track. And I always like the idea of a title track of a record, you know? And that’s where I think I talked to Ashton, who had already put two songs on it. I remember us talking. And two days later, this little voice memo popped up in the text. And it was like 10 seconds, I just pressed it. And it was just him singing “Finding Beauty In Chaos, watching as the embers fall and sway…” like the first line of it. I went and sat with the guitar with the little echo-y thing and did that little opening riff of the song. And it just unfolded. And then we did that whole big feedback. And I knew that’s how this record should close. So – the record could have stopped at 13 tracks. But I just wanted to have that final close, and that little lyric thing sparked it. And… That song came together really easy and thankfully it all fit.
From listening to it this afternoon again, it does sound different in terms of both the pace and the construction of the songs on vinyl compared to listening to the CD, where it just comes at you, there’s lots of it, and it’s up and down and you’re on this flow of the different textures and feels of the songs. Whereas on vinyl you feel more curated through it I think.
VC: For each of the singers, did you send an outline of what you were looking for, or leave it entirely up to the individual to do what they wanted?
MC: Everybody who said they were gonna do it did it, and did it to their fullest. No one phoned it in. Lyrics were always really important to me. This project has been blessed with some really wonderful and talented lyricists, besides being great singers. I sent a note to each person with the track saying, “This is what we’re doing, I’ve spoken to you about it, here’s the track. If it inspires you, the record’s called ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’ and just go with that…” And I think I wrote under it something like “one person’s beauty is another person’s chaos,” just a little note, and each person I think took that to heart. I think that’s a phrase that can inspire something, you know? I don’t think I would send that to someone and they would write “rock and roll all night and party every day. I hope it did inspire something deeper.
Some of the songs have more about the songwriter’s beauty and the other has a little bit more about chaos, and some of it’s a little more mashed up, but it was very simple. And I always try to make sure the fact is known that with every singer, it is their lyrics.
VC: Were there different levels to which the singers wanted feedback from you, or gave you feedback about the tracks?
MC: It was just individual for each singer. Having a studio at his house, Wayne was doing his own recording and he had a couple of notes about trying other people doing backup vocals, he suggested that on ‘Man Of Faith’ and we got Johnny and Ashton to record them. Some had no notes. A few people had suggestions. Hopefully everyone that’s involved in it still looks back at it as being a cool piece of time. And something that we all could be proud of.
VC: You and Michael obviously were really good friends from before Beauty In Chaos. How did your friendship and relationship change by becoming music, writing and creative partners in a way that you hadn’t been before?
MC: Yeah, we were in a band together for a while called Drain the Doves. Tish saw an ad that they put on a billboard – that’s how long ago it was, people would put up a poster, “band seeking guitarist”. So we became friends, did some shows as Drain the Doves and I think Michael got way more into wanting to be a studio project as opposed to what it took in Los Angeles at that time to play out live. He was the singer and it could take us an hour sometimes to set-up, and he just didn’t want to do that any more. He mixed some stuff, he mixed some things on a Jezebel record, I was involved with. And life just gets in the way. With my job – Schecter, went from small to becoming a bigger guitar company, which took more time. And we grew apart a bit. But we were always really good friends. We hung out a lot more as we were recording the guitars for Human Drama’s ‘Broken Songs…’ And we just kind of fell right back into it. The same jokes that we used to laugh at still were funny. And we just picked up and rolled.
We loved [Ministry albums] ‘The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste’ and ‘Psalm 69.’ And we would listen to Ministry records when we were mixing Drain The Doves, like “How the fuck they do this…?” And when Al came over and we did ‘20th Century Boy’, I remember sitting in the studio, I was doing something on a guitar sound, and the studio doors are open, Michael and Al are just outside because they’re smoking, and they just clicked. And they’ve become really good friends. Michael’s now done several records with Al. I know he enjoys doing the Ministry records and touring with them, he’s having a blast. I’m happy that Beauty In Chaos has led to this for him. ‘Cause I think the guy is amazingly talented. And I wouldn’t do Beauty In Chaos without him. And he’s made it where it’s enjoyable. It’s beautiful, it’s a great friendship and a great working relationship.
VC: At the time, did you feel like you were doing something ambitious or did you just feel like you were kicking off writing some music that you really wanted to write, and presenting it in a way you wanted to present it?
MC: I think while we were doing it, that didn’t sink in. And later, as it got into doing the track that I love with Dug Pinnick [‘Un-Natural Disaster’], and then having Tish involved – I started going, “So now how does this work…?” Because if we were sitting at a table, you would have Wayne and Simon. And maybe Ashton and Johnny from Human Drama sitting there, they’re conversing because they’re from the same cloth. And then Dug and then, fuck, way down there, you have Ice T, Michael Anthony, Robin Zander at this table… And how do all those people come together? And then doing it, I started realizing it wasn’t that difficult.
Like, I remember Dug telling me The Mission were one of his favorite bands. And then having Robin Zander coming in and going, “What do you think Robert Smith would do on this part?” And it’s in all seriousness. And they’re all just musicians. And it kind of works.
VC: What was your measure of success with ‘Finding Beauty In Chaos’? Was it just getting songs recorded and getting it out on vinyl, was that your benchmark of success for the first album rather than X-number of sales?
MC: Yeah, it was just completing it. The success is that we did it, being proud of it, the whole package. With the album cover, friends of Tish and I’s, Greg and Sarah, their hobby was going into shoot abandoned buildings or like he’d find like a dilapidated car that was in the woods that nature was taking back. And he’d send me some of the pictures. This whole series that he did inside this building, you see some vines growing into it, and I think maybe it clicked because Tish and I had seen like some National Geographic show, a world without people or something – like this little thing where they’d show what would happen if suddenly every human was gone, how the earth would take back, with all the structures we built. And there was this picture [which formed the base image of the cover for FBIC] and it was kind of beautiful in a way. The paint was peeling and I think it just struck, you know, that was so chaotic, looked like just a mess, like a bomb went off in this thing and was just left and something clicked with the phrase “beauty in chaos”, or maybe it was “finding beauty in chaos” that clicked first.
And then I went to Johnny going, “Hey, I have this picture – and, to me, my beauty is my two daughters, Nicole and Sophia…” So the idea of putting them in that photograph – this idea of looking at an old opera house, before artists went on stage in their dressing room with the big bulbs and everything. And he saw the picture, he got the perspective, he set up a desk against a wall that would be the same perspective at what was already in the original photo.
So we set that up. And the girls reluctantly agreed to do it. We shot them individually, and Johnny placed it in the photograph of that room. That photo, even just the room without the girls in it, kind of really spurred the whole idea, the name. That was the chaos. And I just figured we’d inject our beauty into it. And that’s how that unfolded. I could not ask for a more perfect image for the album sleeve.
VC: That’s amazing. And that visual tone almost spurred a philosophy for what you’ve done with the music and the whole Beauty In Chaos project…
MC: Yeah, I think it allowed it to just be that phrase told to the artist – “finding beauty in chaos”. And then Ashton’s “there is always a light”. I think those are probably two of the most important phrases that I feel encapsulate what we try to put together.
VC: How do your family feel about Beauty In Chaos now? Obviously they love it because they agreed to get involved with it! But it now has spiraled from an idea borne out of frustration, to an after-hours project that consumes a lot of your time.
MC: Yeah, they’ve been extremely supportive. You know, there’s times I worry. But my wife’s in a band, has played music, it’s how we met. Both girls love music. They have their own lives. There’s been times like, “Dad, when you coming home?” But they’re very supportive. I think they get it now. Recently Nicole asked me if we were going to see The Cure playing live, and now Sophia has very eclectic music taste – she even made a playlist on Spotify of songs they remember we played when they were growing up and it’s The Clash, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Cure. So that showed me that with the girls’ musical education – my work is done! Tish always got it, she was always going: “You should do it, you should, you know…” She’s always pushed me to do it. But I think the part that’s the most rewarding is seeing the girls finally kind of understand it more and be proud. That’s worth more than selling a million copies.
VC: That’s lovely. I also wanted to ask about the Beauty In Chaos extended family, the fans’ responses. There is a really hardcore of people who always respond on Facebook, who have gotten to know you from conversing because of Beauty In Chaos. How do you feel about the BIC fan family and the responses that you get from people?
MC: It’s been wonderful. There are girls and guys that, like you said, respond. And I feel like I know them, even though I’ve never met them in person. I can go, they’re friends, and it’s not that fake Facebook, like, oh, I have 10,000 friends. These are people that ask intelligent questions. There’s a group of probably 20 or 30 people that I think really get what we do and have been part of it. Sandra, who lives in Paris, has made like two videos. And I think she was actually a fan of Ashton before following Beauty In Chaos. So there is that symbiotic relationship – sometimes it comes from Beauty In Chaos leading people to other artists that are on the records, and it also works in the reverse. And she’s made two videos of Ashton’s track ‘The Outside’ [from BIC album ‘The Storm Before The Calm’], for the acoustic version and the electric, that she spent her time, money and effort to make. So yeah, there’s some that really, really get it. And that’s a joy. Nick Court, from UK’s Darkness and Chaos Show, has been supportive of not only BIC, but all the artists in our BIC Family. Maren, a friend from Germany, who I met thru her love of The Mission, is in the process of doing a painting for our next album cover. I do refer to it as a big family and I’ve met some great people doing this. Your just need to weed through the psychos.. as not everyone gets a BIC Family membership!