When you think of driving metal music and nationwide tours, you rarely equate them with fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Ari Mihalopoulos bridges the valley between these two worlds. He is the lead vocalist and guitarist for Victory Record's melodic metal band, Destrophy. But more than that, Ari is a kettlebell fanatic, school teacher, and a man who takes the phrase role model seriously.
Muscle & Strength: Before we dive into lifting I wanted to talk a little bit about your band. Could you tell us about Destrophy, how long you have been together and what you guys currently have going on?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Sure. Well, like the current lineup...we’re a band on Victory Records and I usually describe us as like, melodic metal. Some people draw comparisons to Disturbed, Sevendust, things of that nature. And this current lineup came together in about 2006 and we got signed to Victory in 2009. We released our first debut national release which is self-titled “Destrophy” and we toured behind it with some great, great bands.
Otep was our first tour. We’ve also been out with...we were lucky enough to be on the final tour for Type O Negative before their singer Peter Steele passed away. And we’ve also been out with some other bands: Bury Your Dead, Through the Eyes of the Dead, Taproot. We’ve done numerous shows with Disturbed and Korn and you know, Five Finger Death Punch and bands like that around the area.
Toured with Drowning Pool, forgot about that one. So yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing and we’re actually right now working on our second Victory Records release that’ll be out next year, early next year first quarter I think, or second quarter.
Muscle & Strength: So you guys are in the studio right now, locked indoors for...how long have you been recording?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh boy sometimes it feels like my whole life! (laughs) But it’s...with the way we record, sometimes the demo can be the final piece of music that you hear on the CD. So it’s very much an ongoing process, in other words we don’t just stop, you know, just stop the writing process and then “now it’s record time”.
It’s kind of like, everything is just moving along until you have this group of songs and then you analyze, well, “how are the recordings at this point” and you know “can they be approved?” And that’s how things go. It’s a bit more organic I would say, than you know, assembly line. But yeah I’m anxious to get out of the studio, it would be nice. And we’ve got our first show of the year I think on the 22nd just to try out some new songs, and then we’re looking at our first tour again right after the album comes out, hopefully maybe March, it would be nice.
Destrophy "The Way Of Your World" Music Video
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell us where readers can find your music? I’m looking at an Amazon download page and it looks like Destrophy has a few songs on there.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Yeah, yeah you can go to Amazon. You can go to iTunes of course, the Victory Records website, you can go to our website Destrophy.com or facebook.com/Destrophy, myspace.com/Destrophy, pretty much anything “/Destrophy” is gonna lead you around to some of our music somewhere. And there’s YouTube videos, of course.
We shot a video “The Way of Your World”, that’s our hit single that is still doing very well on like XM and Sirius, they play it on Octane channel pretty much every day so we’re very thankful for that. Got a great video for that, as well as a video for the song “Reconnect” which actually has been featured quite a bit on MTV2’s, “The Challenge” and as well as it’s the theme song for Jesse Neal who is a TNA Wrestler. He comes out to that and they blast the video on this big Jumbotron so we get a big kick outta seeing that.
Muscle & Strength: Ari, I want to talk about lifting. When people think of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle they don’t often see how health and fitness can fit in well with that. You know, they usually think about partying and late nights and getting no sleep and all that kind of stuff. Tell us what your lifting and physical fitness background is, and how you stay in shape on the road.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Sure, sure. I guess I started in high school just trying to get in shape for football, and made pretty good strength gains in like, you know, your basic bench and squats and it really helped me perform better the next year, and so I got a little bit hooked then. And I don’t drink or do drugs so it’s kind of a great way to, you know, I wouldn’t say pass the time but you know...stay strong, feel good about yourself, you know, keep yourself busy and productive.
So I trained relatively heavy but unfortunately I had a couple of injuries over the years, but the worst injury was a partial tear in my left pectoral and a full tear I think in my pec major on my right side which was a heck of a trauma. I don’t recommend it to anyone. And I had to really figure out how I’m going to keep on doing this.
I saw there was a surgery you could get that would put me down for like 6 months and we were about to get signed so I kind of said well, you know, I can still do pushups, I can still do this and that, I just needed to find an alternative way to work out and I discovered the kettlebells. And kettlebell training with the overhead press doesn’t affect my chest, the injury, at all. In fact it’s really helped my strength in pretty much every other lift.
Curls and things like that started to go up even though I wasn’t doing curls. My mile got better even though I wasn’t running a mile. Doing swings, doing presses, either doing snatches, one-legged squats with weighted kettlebell, pull-ups with the kettlebell, all sorts of things and the other great thing about it is that it’s very mobile. On the road we can throw them in the trailer and if we’re gassing up I can run out there, do a couple sets or a set and it’s...I think that the cumulative effect of the training is excellent. You don’t have to just get your full half hour workout in. You can do 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, 2 minutes here and it all helps.
Plus it’s kind of a fun thing. I mean all these other bands...quite a few bands train on the road in some way or they’ll get a June pass or something like that but you know, when they see me working out with these big balls of iron, they get curious and they come over. I’ve bonded with quite a few bands on that. I got to show Peter Steele how to do some kettlebell training, you know the Otep guys and Bury your Dead...that was our big bonding for Bury Your Dead, they all came over. That was our little nightly party.
Muscle & Strength: A lot of people don’t equate kettlebell training to...well, it’s not something that’s often talked about when developing a good physique. But I’m checking out your Facebook pictures, and I know readers of this interview are going to say “Holy crap!”
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh you know, hey that’s cool, man. My body has been...I think I put on weight kind of easily and when I started out, like an idiot I’m just doing bench presses. Bench presses you know, nothing else. And I didn't have a very “model-y” looking physique, certainly a higher percentage of body fat and just kind of a puffy look overall. But for my profession I feel that having an athletic or “toned” body as they say, it helps instill a feeling of, I don’t know, a certain confidence that comes through in my performance.
I think that the audience appreciates someone who looks like they take care of themselves, looks like they give a hoot about what they’re doing as opposed to people who are just partying and letting themselves go and they’re showing up and I guess, what type of show is that? So anyway my primary changes had to do with dieting and I guess just getting a little bit more lower body work.
Overhead pressing has been amazing; those snatches are still just traumatic to me but it’s funny how I really feel that they are, they’re useful in helping to bring the physique together. I pretty much dropped cardio just because I was sick of it and I was able to lower the body fat percentage for tour just by doing kettlebell swings, so that should tell you about how useful they are.
Muscle & Strength: I’ve had a couple friends who are involved with kettlebells and just watching them perform repetition after repetition, and seeing them dripping with sweat I have no doubt about their effectiveness.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh man, and see those are the psychos in my opinion. I haven’t done it to that extent. I tend to do more low rep stuff, pretty high intensity but short duration, typically to save my hands. Although every year I keep saying I’m gonna buy a cheap pair of cloth gloves but ...I’m still waiting! Maybe this Christmas...but yeah there are some people that can just do snatches for 15 minutes. I’ve never done that. I’ve always kept sets like 8 one-hand one-armed snatches or swings per arm and then you know, switch it up or I’ll do maybe 30 seconds of jump rope and I’ll do like 5 sets of that and that’s it. That’s all I’ve done.
At that point I’m not crippled; I can still do everything I want to do with my day but my heart rate is definitely, you know, it’s gotten up there. And my unofficial research into how to lose body fat has shown me that a good high heart rate for that short duration seems to work well for me. Where I’ve done lots of running and lots of the mid-tempo exercise routines and I haven’t had near as much success and had more injuries. Along with that I would say walking, believe it or not, getting a 30-45 minute walk every day, which is low, but it’s just spending some calories. Those have been my staples for body fat loss.
Muscle & Strength: I believe the exercise I saw my friends performing was the “Turkish getup”...
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh yeah! For shoulder stability, those things are amazing. Again, unofficially I really can’t say that all of this has helped this or that but you know, a lot of times I’ll gauge an exercise’s intensity by how hard you’re straining everywhere. I’ve had a couple people, obviously with my bench press injury now I’m always shy to recommend people do bench presses because I know what I did and I’ve heard so many stories about injuries.
But when you’re doing an exercise like that it’s like you just get this fullbody tension. Or if you’re doing a one arm dumbbell press, let’s say...there’s something about having to stabilize the wrist, your body, that to me it feels like this is more what my human machinery is meant to do. Like stabilize something as opposed to being pinned in this perfect position, and only these muscles work. That’s just instinct for me I guess.
Muscle & Strength: You mentioned you did some research on diet, and changed some things around. Tell us a little bit how you eat on the road, what an average day for you is nutrition-wise is, and if you eat differently when not touring.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Diet is a huge part of my life and when I’m on it I feel great, when I’m off it I feel terrible. It just takes a couple of those “I feel terrible” days to get you back on it. My tendency is certainly to overeat so I have to be wary of portion control. On the road it’s an issue because I don’t have...you basically live out of a van so it’s tough to deal with utensils and things like that. So my diet will typically be protein shakes, almonds, natural peanut butter.
I take a lot of supplements with me, extra fiber, certainly a lot of vitamins, multivitamins and when I can eat out, if it’s financially feasible and things like that, I’ll try to get as many vegetables as I can with as much protein as I can. Eggs, you know if I do eggs I’ll usually do 4 whites and 2 whole, that whole ratio, and chicken breast whenever I can. Fish is probably my new favorite, that’s a big staple these days I guess when I can find it.
So I try to break it up, every 3 hours is my mantra for eating and lately I have had luck. Oh, my biggest success is when I limited carbs for myself almost to a no-carb cycling and no-carb diet where it’d be like, a day of no fat and then the next day would be no carb. Protein both days or fat or carb with the option. That had really good success for me.
This last tour I experimented with a little higher carb content and found I had pure cravings, especially when I was eating like some oatmeal in the morning, some fruits, apples and then switched to the fat source at night or in the evening. I’m a big fan of doing a shot of casein, I think they call it, and a fat right before bed. I haven’t noticed any detriment to losing weight while doing that, provided the rest of the diet is solid. Yeah, yeah, I mean I even travel with a scale, if you can believe it or not, because it keeps me pretty honest.
Muscle & Strength: That’s something you don’t expect when they think of traveling around in a van on tour you know: scales and casein shakes. As far as carbs, do you limit them after a certain time of night?
Ari Mihalopoulos: I would say I try. Well unless it’s vegetables. And I’m talking green vegetables, not necessarily carrots or potatoes and things like that. But if we’re talking like spinach, lettuce, broccoli, things like that, to me it’s open season, let’s have at it. I think those things are good anytime. They’re a good fiber source and so low calorie and so good for you in any other way and you know, I will have them 3 hours before bed if I have to.
But typically I’ll try and keep it so that oatmeal or a larger, higher carb content food, still trying to keep it complex, is gonna be earlier in the day. So the oatmeal’s going to be earlier in the day. The bananas first, second, third meal, then get close to fourth meal I’ll try and turn it over to just almonds, maybe some vegetables. Pretty much like that, but no oatmeal later on. But again, I’m still experimenting with that right now but it seems to be successful.
The other big experiment that I’ve been preaching and that I’ve really had great luck with...I’ve just started incorporating deadlifts and after the workouts, well pretty much all the workouts now, I’ll do the 40 grams of sugar, 20 grams of protein type of drink, Some people do chocolate milk. I’ve tried some stuff from like Biorhythm, the Afterglow and I really like that and I swear there’s a difference in terms of recovery and so that’s primarily where I guess I get my sugar in the day when I’m being a good boy, and it gets tougher around the holidays obviously. Everybody’s got a cookie they want to share with you but you know...
Destrophy: This Is Not My Life (2007)
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask about some of the temptations you face on the road. I’m sure you’re not around perfect environments all the time. I imagine there are some people that are always trying to get you involved with this, that or the other thing. How strong are these temptations, and what do you do to battle them and stay focused?
Ari Mihalopoulos: I’m sure a lot of depends on your upbringing and how secure you are about who you are. I guess I’m very thankful for the way I was raised. I’ve always been very strong-willed and had a great sense of who I am. I haven’t needed to redefine myself in terms of someone else’s expectations so when I do things, it’s for my benefit or I don’t do it. And that’s pretty much I guess the rule that I try to adhere to and when people are around me. I think that being a good influence has been a big part of my life.
I’m actually also a teacher. I substitute teach in Iowa which is where I’m from, and just as a teacher I guess I feel a responsibility to set a certain standard of behavior. I don’t think you can tell people what to do, I don’t think you can, you know, you can train them to do better for themselves, but I think you can model behavior.
You know, if you’re successful at something, I think people are naturally going to want to see what you’re about and say “Wow, if this guy’s doing this, maybe I can do that too.” And I’m a big believer in being a good role model, just to show people that you don’t have to necessarily do this or that to be accepted, to be successful, to be popular, any of that. I think just being a respectful human being is a great thing.
Muscle & Strength: For the people reading who have never heard of kettlebells, or only have seen them listed on some website and skimmed past them, they are probably thinking right now ...I didn’t know there was an alternative to just barbells and dumbbells and working out in the weight room. Do you have an advice or tips for somebody who might want to try kettlebells out? You know, where do they start?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Definitely, definitely. Well like for me, I got like a 40-lb kettlebell from like a Play It Again Sports type of place that we have around where we’re at. But thankfully most gyms now seem to have a corner where they’ve got a kettlebell or two, and you can go to Target and they’ve got some there.
It’s kind of hard to play with them in the box but you can at least see what it’s like. I guess one of the tough things to show people is the snatch, and for the clean...how to use the kettlebell so you don’t destroy your forearm when it flips around. There’s kind of a knack to it. Once you get it it’s no big deal, but getting there can be painful. I remember messing around with trying to get the 88 pounder mastered and my first week with that, my forearms were gross looking. The band members were making fun of me for quite a bit.
There is a knack to it and keeping your hands in good shape, not super rough and torn up. There’s ways to get around all that, but even if you just use it as something to swing, I think you can get an awful lot of benefit from it. I mean, just pulling this big ball of iron and snapping your hips, it’s a very, I dunno, somewhat ballistic and intense movement that just carries over into so many other exercises.
So I guess long story short, I would check into a gym and see if you can play with them, see if you can get a trainer to say “Hey what do you do with these things?” Look up so many videos on the Internet. Well, it’s fun to look at the people that are juggling with these giant things. I think functionally check out the swing, maybe check out the snatch which is more advanced, maybe look at the presses.
The military press is just fantastic, I think, for just an overall strength builder. Don’t be afraid of them, I think they’re pretty fun. I think they’re actually pretty enjoyable and you can do some of the movements with a dumbbell. Sometimes it doesn’t work out so great but you can get the idea of it, you can practice with a dumbbell first.
Muscle & Strength: Ari I was exploring the Destrophy website a little and you mentioned Inner Light Records. You’re involved with that studio, correct?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Yes, that’s my studio in Iowa. I’m the producer and I’ll work with various bands there.
Muscle & Strength: How long has that been up and running?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh boy, that was ’99 I wanna say I opened up officially. And I’ve got all the Destrophy stuff there, and I’ve got all the national releases on there. You know, notches in the belt and still working, I’m working on some mixes for some bands right now.
Muscle & Strength: Can you share with us what the studio website address is again, Ari?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh for my studio? It’s Innerlightrecords.net. You can send an email or just check out some samples of some work I’ve done there.
Muscle & Strength: Do you guys have a name for the project you're working on now?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Not yet. That’s always a tough thing, especially when you’ve got songs that are pretty old, some of them are brand new, it’s kind of hard to find certain unifying things but I’m working on it. I’m working hard. Actually we’re picking out album art or album artists. So it’s getting to where everyone’s looking to me like, “Hey, what’s this thing gonna be called?” So I gotta get on that.
Muscle & Strength: How much involvement to you guys have with things like album art, and stuff like that?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Oh total. Total. Victory Records is great. I mean they have high standards certainly, but they really trust us. The previous album cover is something I did at home. I have an art degree from Iowa and had always been into drawing and painting so I ended up using, essentially based on a William Blake watercolor, it was depicting something like God giving...bestowing logic onto man, or the world and there was something kinda...if you look up the, you know, Wikipedia the painting, it’s William Blake “The Ancient of Days”.
There’s some really interesting history and I liked all the background and baggage that was attached to that image so that’s why we ended up using something like that. And funny enough, the figure is a tracing of me trying to squat almost Spiderman-style on this chair. I was the cheapest model I could find at that point so it worked out pretty alright.
Muscle & Strength: So how long do you think you guys will be touring this coming year?
Ari Mihalopoulos: We hope to tour the whole year if we can. We really love it on the road. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure, but for me doing the training kind of gives me that every day sense of, you know, that routine. It keeps you focused, keeps you going. It really helps keep your sanity, when you’re rocketing around the country and all sorts of hours of the day.
A different city every day, a different state every day knowing that “Well, it’s morning I gotta do my swings”, or “It’s afternoon but before sound check I gotta do my presses here.” You know afterwards sometimes I’ll be training other members of other bands so then I’ll have that. Yeah just helps to have a regimen and a routine, I think.
Muscle & Strength: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us and I want to remind everybody that your website is destrophy.com and your band songs are available for download on Amazon and other major sites across the internet. I want to ask one final question before we go: long term goals, you know, personal and band-wise, what are your goals as far as physical fitness and as far as the band Destrophy?
Ari Mihalopoulos: Well I’m so thankful to have married them together in a way that was always my original dream. There was something about preaching this odd gospel of taking care of yourself, taking care of your body, being good to yourself and singing a kinda over the top, almost operatic metal. I was inspired by some of the muscle-y front men of yesteryear in like Danzig and Henry Rollins, you know, Peter Steele certainly. You know those types of guys I was like “That’s what I wanna do. That’s the kind of figure that I want to emulate.”
And so like getting that magazine cover, that was a huge milestone for me. I would love to do another shoot. This year I wanna come in...I think I’ve put on a decent amount of muscle which is tough at, you know I’m 34, I’ll be 35 next year but those deadlifts have really changed me quite a bit. I mean that’s a whole primary muscle building exercise that I kind of skipped for about 20 years, but I really think it’s a great one so, yeah, for me my peak is hopefully very far off.
I would love to stay at a certain weight for longer this year. I tend to fluctuate up and down; I lose weight for tours and then pick it up in the off-season so to speak again and it’s not, I don’t think it’s a good policy. I’d rather stay 5, 10 pounds closer to my ideal weight and focus on looking and being a little more athletic.
And as far as music goes, we’d love to have another hit like “The Way of Your World” and hopefully get back on a really big tour. We’d love to hit overseas, Europe, I mean the music is ideal for there. So those are some short-term goals that hopefully will make the long-term ones even bigger.
Muscle & Strength: Now I’ve been avoiding pronouncing your last name this entire interview. I’m sure somebody’s wondering what your full name is.
Ari Mihalopoulos: “What is this guy’s real name?” Right...Well my full name is Aristotelis Vasilios Mihalopoulos which is a ridiculously long Greek name. My real first name is Aristotle and my last name is Mihalopolous so you know, we can thank my parents for this debacle. But it made me a good speller so it was worth it.
Muscle & Strength: I just picture your mom when she’s getting angry calling you by your full name.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Right! Yeah it made her think twice about gettin’ angry, right? All that time and effort.
Muscle & Strength: Well again I appreciate taking the time and good luck in the future. Good talking to you.
Ari Mihalopoulos: Thank you, Steve. Likewise.