A Rockstar in the Midst

By Amy Nicole Tangel

People say, ‘It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,’ and for one rocker vocalist who was diagnosed with cancer over a decade ago, there has been no stopping him from rising above and moving forward with life, music and gratitude.

Long Island native and metal rock band Holy Mother front man, Mike Tirelli, has recently reunited with the band after a 17-year-hiatus releasing their new album, ‘Face This Burn,’ and he said he is ready to get back to life from the pandemic, on the road touring and to really being able to live life again after recovering from his battle with stage three stomach cancer.

“I have definitely been fortunate. I can say that,” he said.

Holy Mother was founded by Mike and drummer, James Harris who released the self-titled debut album in 1995 with the late bassist, Randy Coven (known for working with the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai), and guitarist Spike Francis.  Today’s band includes the two founding members Mike and James, alongside new bandmate and New York native bassist, Russell Pzutto of Dee Snider’s band and former understudy for Twisted Sister bassist Mark “The Animal’ Mendoza,” and guitarist, Greg Giordano.

The band has a total of seven albums released to date with most of their early success coming from playing large festivals in Europe, including Wacken Open Air; one of the largest annual heavy metal festivals held in Germany for over 30 years, but Holy Mother has not been Mike’s only claim to fame.  His list of collaborations is extensive, and Mike said he is always writing. “I write every day,” he said.

Writing everyday is exactly how the reunion of Holy Mother organically came to be in 2020, when Mike said it occurred to him all of the new music he was writing back and forth with fellow band member James was something they really needed to put down, so he simply decided it was time to reach out to a few labels. “Face This Burn” was released last month under Massacre/AFM Records and is co-produced with Mike by, Kane Churko, renowned producer to artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Disturbed and Five Finger Death Punch.

“Every aspect of the whole album, the writing, the continuity that’s on the album; we have traditional songs-we have everything for everybody as far as fans go,” he said.

The singer/songwriter said he always loved music from a young age, but it was in his teens when he really got into playing in bands and at clubs.  Raised in a family of police officers, with his father and brothers all members of the NYPD, Mike was encouraged to take the same path, but he said his true passion was always with music.

“My father always wanted me, you know, to follow in his footsteps. My brothers did, and you know what?  It was a lot more appetizing to be into music,” he said.

Talent with Mike growing up was not just in the form of vocals, but he said he was also an athlete.  Mike said he played football and baseball, but it was baseball where he really went places and even earned a try-out with the N.Y. Yankees when he was just 18 years old.  Although it was a moment Mike said he will never forget, he said his heart wasn’t into it like it was for having a career in music.  Mike said he was grateful for the opportunity and it was an amazing feeling walking into the stadium, but he went into it with an injury and he is also a Mets fan, so he laughed it off as being for the best he didn’t join the team.

“And, I am a Met fan by the way, so if they would have signed me, I would have said, ‘No, I am going to the Mets,’” he said.

Aside from Holy Mother, Mike has been the longtime lead singer for the German rock band, Messiah’s Kiss since 2002.  Mike said he joined Messiah’s Kiss (previously known as Repression), after the band had pursued him from their interest in Holy Mother and kept sending him demos asking him to sing for the band.  He said he kept listening to what they were sending and thought to himself, they were really good and he needed a change of pace, so he joined the band. They were signed immediately and he has been with the band ever since.

“They went from a local German band to this National act,” he said. 

In the middle of it all, back in the U.S., Mike also joined the American rock band, Riot, in 2005, and toured with them for three years until he received his cancer diagnosis.  Mike was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2008 and fought courageously for two years undergoing chemotherapy and a gastrectomy; the complete removal of the stomach. 

It hasn’t been an easy process Mike said, but he is not allowing his battle with cancer to define his life. In fact, Mike was still doing his last treatments of chemo in 2009, when he joined the cast of, “Rockstar: The Tribute,” a Las Vegas rock tribute show where he played the role of David Coverdale of Whitesnake.  He said even though he wasn’t feeling one hundred percent during his time in Vegas, he was so passionate about getting out there again and because the show was well-received he said being a part of the cast was a highlight of his career. 

Mike said it’s a learning process everyday juggling how to eat enough small meals and manage his new normal dietary life, but he has worked hard to find balance and is grateful for the miracle he received; often reflecting on how his biggest vocal inspiration, Ronnie James Dio lost his own battle to the very same cancer in 2010. 

“The chemo was probably one of the hardest things I had to deal with.  That almost killed me,” he said.

Thankfully, today Mike has been living a cancer-free and full life in Patchogue, N.Y., with his wife Janet and two children for the past 12 years, and said he just lives simply.  Mike said he has been very proud to watch his 13-year-old daughter, Violet begin to grow musically singing and playing keys, and she can even be heard singing on a track of the new album. 

When Mike is not on the road, he said he has been grateful to have also supported himself and his family locally for years working at the tuxedo shop, Rico’s Clothing, in Center Moriches, N.Y., and Sidhal Industries, a janitorial supply company, based in Hempstead, N.Y.  Mike said the people at Rico’s have been like family to him and the owners at Sidhal have been a great support to Mike and his career.

While Mike said he enjoys his day to day work, music will always be number one and he cannot wait to get back out on the road.  In the meantime, “Face This Burn” has three videos out including the title track with three more on the way in the works, but for Mike he said the most important thing for Holy Mother, like every other band patiently waiting, is to get touring again.

Once things open up, it seems like Mike will be everywhere.  Not only does Mike have touring with Holy Mother on the horizon and new music in the works for Messiah’s Kiss, he also is gearing up for the local music scene to open back up as well.  On the home front, Mike can be found performing with the eight-piece band, Entourage, at weddings, parties and events around New York and singing in the Whitesnake tribute band, Almost Whitesnake.

Until live shows are fully-up and running, you can check out Holy Mother’s three new “Face This Burn” videos on YouTube, and you can also find Mike on the YouTube show, “Band Geek,” featuring Richie Castellano of Blue Oyster Cult, where Mike sings three cover songs from Whitesnake, Black Sabbath and Mr. Big.

To keep up with all things Mike Tirelli and all his musical endeavors, you can find him on Facebook @miketirellimusician and Instagram @mike_tirelli_musician.

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