“One of my earliest and fondest memories that my mom seems to bring up quite often is when George Michael had his song 'Faith.'…I would actually wear the leather coat, stand against the wall, play the acoustic guitar with the jeans, cowboy boots, sunglasses – the whole spiel,” Destination West singer Mike Baresse recalled during an interview with The Weekender.
“I was always singing and doing impersonations growing up. My mother always said it's funny how back then I did the George Michael version, and then, years later, she heard me screaming the Limp Bizkit version of 'Faith.' I guess it all sort of came full circle.”
The 29-year-old Scranton native's life has indeed circled around music, particularly when he formed Destination West with fellow West Sider Mickey Barrett on drums, becoming a staple of local clubs, bars, and casinos. Now joined by Steve Walski on guitar and Bob Hallock on bass, the heavy metal group is celebrating its 10th anniversary at The V Spot (906 Providence Rd., Scranton), giving Baresse a chance to reflect on a decade doing what he loves.
The band began with a Southern California vibe similar to Sublime or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but harder influences started shining through, particularly on albums like “In the Name of Chaos” in 2007 and “Abandon All Reason” in 2010.
“I think initially Nick and myself wanted to take over the world, and secretly, we still do,” Baresse said of the band's origins with a laugh.
“It is no secret, but I think we have the same mentalities we had then. We do want to have fun, and we are having fun. It was about partying and girls – that's part of the scene – but now we're adults. I've got a family, I have kids, I'm married; we have responsibilities, but we still have fun with what we're doing. It's definitely an escape. It's definitely the same feeling we got when we initially said, 'Let's play live.'
“I never started the band for just s—ts and giggles. I always wanted to take it as far as possible… Even now, at the 10 year marker, we're like, 'Let's just see what happens.'”
That ambitious energy hasn't aged a bit, invigorated by the current lineup.
“Nick and I are probably the primary writers in the band, although Steve and now even Bob are starting to chime in. Nick and I usually put our heads together; it could be about two different topics, sometimes the same,” he explained, though they always end up on the same page ultimately.
“With my guitar riffs, I just try to write uplifting, heavy riffs. That's the direction we're headed – heavy, crunchy, loud guitars. And lyrically, I try to write from the heart, and I usually do write from the heart, but sometimes I want to write songs that are relatable amongst our friends, family, fans – just rock 'n' roll.”
One of the secrets to their ever-growing popularity is their ability to play a variety of cover songs, from Alice In Chains to System of a Down to AC/DC to Neil Young, choosing “bar-friendly music” while sticking to the roots they're influenced by.
“One of my favorites is Aerosmith's 'Cryin'' because I love Steven Tyler and it's a challenge for me to sing that song every time, the way he screams and the notes he can hit – girls love it, couples love it, guys love it. Even if they're metalheads, they're singing every single word to Aerosmith's 'Cryin.'' And my all-time favorite is our rendition of Robert Tepper's 'No Easy Way Out' from 'Rocky IV,' where he's driving the Corvette. We put a lot of energy into that song,” he emphasized.
“We keep it pretty close, though we amp it up a little. We scream in the one part, but it definitely brings the most energy to our set. I might even do some jumping jacks, drop down and do a couple push-ups – every guy and girl in the crowd is just screaming, 'There's no easy way out!' every time we play it.”
Then they introduce their original tunes “the right way,” by slipping them in between songs the crowd already knows.
“We'll go from Avenged Sevenfold into one of our songs and then into Rage Against the Machine and just say the one before was an original, and people don't even realize it. Some people are in there banging their heads, singing the words like they know it.”
Baresse's favorite gig, “hands down,” was opening on the Monster Energy stage at Crüe Fest 2 in 2009 with Rev Theory, though another show at The Woodlands Inn in Wilkes-Barre allowed the band to party like rock stars without the expensive cleanup.
“We played with Tantric…and Saliva at The Woodlands, and that was a blast. We got backstage. We were hanging out with the bands. They were all drinking, we were drinking, and I went and the lady behind the bar said, 'What tab are you on?' I said, 'Tab? I don't know. I'm in Destination West.' She said, 'Who? I didn't hear you.' I said, 'I don't know, Tantric?' So we were all drinking shots and beers all night on Tantric's tab,” he related with a chuckle.
“It was legendary.”
Between full nights with his band and corner bar acoustic sets in his hometown, Baresse performs an average of four nights a week or more, creating his own legendary status in the local scene.
“I do genuinely enjoy doing it… A bad day fishing is better than a good day working. You're making money, and you're doing what you love. You're having fun. If you want, you can have a couple drinks. You're always talking to people,” he noted.
“The only hard part is when you like to party and you like to have a good time, especially with a family, you've got to know when to just be there for work and not for recreation. You're in the scene all the time. You've got to know when to just show up, get home, do your thing. Everyone around you is partying, drinking, and you're like, 'Here we go again.'”
Destination West has had its share of “peaks and valleys” over the years, but it's currently hitting a new peak as they work on a fifth record and prepare to open for RED on Friday, May 31 at Brews Brothers West (75 Main St., Luzerne). The focus right now, however, is on making the 10th anniversary show one of their best yet; Baresse is even opening for himself with his side project, Unlikely Heroes.
“I'm looking forward to a great turnout. I just hope a lot of our fans from years past come out. Over the years, you lose contact with so many. I'd love to see some of our old band members there supporting us because most of them that ended up leaving band left for legit reasons. We were pretty much on good terms with everyone,” he said.
“I hope everyone has a good time and appreciates all the other acts we have on the bill. I just want everyone to have a good time and celebrate 10 years.”
Whether his future is touring the country or just continuing to rock NEPA, Baresse believes he will be happy, though he admits he wouldn't mind just one hit.
“I would like to get one, just some steady royalties coming in so when I'm older, there're still playing my song and I'm like, 'Yep, I'm still getting paid for that,'” he said.
“This is where my home is – Scranton. I had Destination West when I was 20 years old, thinking I wanted to be a California band. Life happens, but it's not to say that we still can't get out there. It's just that I have to tour and come back home.
“I just want to keep progressing, keep writing, keep getting better. I want Destination West to be legendary, whether it's worldwide or just in NEPA.”