Originally published in Guitar World, December 2009
Mike Schleibaum of Darkest Hour sits down with Guitar World to talk about his humble beginnings.
What inspired you to play guitar?
I had just turned 14 when I saw an AC/DC video on MTV. By the end of the video, I was in love with AC/DC, and by the end of the day I was in love with guitar. It became an obsession.
What was your first guitar?
The first two guitars I played were borrowed from a neighbor. My mom was convinced I was going through a phase and didn’t want to spend money on something that was just going to sit around. But I finally saved up some money and bought my first guitar, which was a Randy Rhoads Jackson V. I was 15. It had a bolt-on neck and was probably the cheapest model they sold, though it did have a Floyd Rose, which back then was a huge deal. A month later, I had carved it all up and put in two Bill Lawrence 500 ML pickups. As soon as I got that guitar, I was playing it every minute of every day.
What was the first song you learned?
“Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” by AC/DC. I had a chord tab book, and I would just look at the chord shapes and listen to the record. It was at least a week or so before I realized I had to actually tune to the record to make it sound right. But after I figured that out, I was learning new songs all the time.
Do you remember your first gig?
My first gig with Darkest Hour was in the gym of a church that put on hardcore punk shows. We played with a bunch of other bands from Washington, D.C. Before we went on, our singer was in the bathroom, trying to memorize all the lyrics. He was afraid he would forget them onstage.
Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment?
I had one in Germany about a year or two ago. The stage is dark before we go on, but for this one show it was especially dark, and the smoke machine made it even harder to see things. I started to walk onstage, when I accidentally bumped into my guitar cab setup and sent the whole thing tumbling to the ground. When the lights came on, I was standing in the middle of the stage with my gear all over the place. I had to rush to restack the cabs in time. I have never felt more brutalized in my life.
What is your favorite piece of gear?
The white Les Paul Standard that producer Brian McTernan gave to me when we were recording our first record, The Mark of the Judas. If you see any photos or videos of us from that era, even up till 2004, I am probably playing that guitar. It was in a flood and is now retired from the stage, but there’s a little piece of my heart in that guitar.
Got any advice for young players?
Get your priorities straight. If you love music and all you want to do is jam, then make this your passion. The guitar is an amazing instrument, and playing it can be fulfilling. But if your endgame is to fuck groupies, make money or chase fame, then it’s going to end badly for you.