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INTERVIEW – ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN’s Joe Altier PT 2 – Pure Rock & Roll Motherfucker!

by on Jan.21, 2011, under interviews

When we last left our Hero, Mr. Altier was chomping at the bit to get out of the house and go catch his Dolphins playing. But we had just gotten to the meat of the interview. We had discussed why Slider left Brand New Sin and we were delving into his reasons for leaving/getting kicked out. And hell, we’re 30 minutes into the interview and haven’t even really talked about the new band ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN, so here you go… (If you haven’t read the first half of our interview with ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN’s frontman and former Brand New Sin frontman, click here.)

AWAY-TEAM: And that was when about the time you were on your way out (leaving/getting kicked out of Brand New Sin)?

Joe Altier: Yeah, yeah, pretty much. You know it was in ’07. It was after the Tequila (BNS’s third album) cycle had ended I think we started speaking a little bit before that, we didn’t really start striking our friendship (Joe and Slider BNS and ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN’s guitarist) back up again until that time. I didn’t really know what the hell I was going to do. I didn’t realize I was going to end up leaving Brand New Sin. I didn’t think I was leaving Brand New Sin right up until the moment of the night I walked into that room and left. In the back of my mind, how hindsight tells me, yeah there was a lot of things that was showing me that I definitely didn’t want to be in that band anymore. But I didn’t think I was not going to be in that band until January 8th of ’08. I said ok now I’m leaving after the conversation that we had that night, the argument, and the yelling at each other, and realizing that I wasn’t happy there. And they weren’t happy, so I was, ‘If you guys have a better vision of where you’re going and you’ve got plans and I’m holding you back,’ Because that’s basically what I was told was that I was holding the band back then, and I wanted time off. I had suggested time off for everybody, I think we all needed to get our heads on fucking straight you know? I have a drinking problem and a slight drug problem and we’re all broke and my father just fucking died and my life is completely upside down I need some time off! And that’s what I asked the band. I asked the band for an indefinite amount of time off, I said we can still get together and write but I don’t want to be gigging. I don’t want to be running forward, we don’t have a record label or have any tours, what’s the fucking hurry? Why don’t we just take some fucking time off? And they didn’t feel that way. They felt that they needed to move forward at a hundred miles an hour and I’m like alright well then, ‘good luck to ya! See ya later; I’m fucking out of here!’ For me to get accused of being selfish and being the one that’s holding the band back from success then you know if you really think so then I will leave. For a long time I didn’t really speak about that cuz I didn’t want to live…the emotions were very raw and I didn’t want to bad mouth anybody. But it got to a point where I was just like, ‘Now I’m ready to talk about it!’ I don’t really give a shit what they think because they’re going to have their opinions too, but I’m telling you pretty much word for word what happened in that meeting. And I told them….I started getting a laundry list of things being told to me that what I did over there, ‘on this tour you did this, and you chose to do this over that, and one of them was you chose to work a piano gig making money other than going to open up for Drowning Pool!’ And I’m just like we never got offered a Drowning Pool show so I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. ‘Well they played it in Watertown and we had an offer’ I’m like we never had an offer, if we had an offer I might have gone through with it. And on top of that until fucking Brand New Sin can fucking pay my goddamn cell phone bill and my bills then I need to take some work over some gig sometimes I’m sorry! They called me selfish, and they said that I wasn’t in for the business, and yadda yadda yadda. It was a personal attack on me at first. In my mind I was like how dare you?!?! Man, my fucking father… I just found my father fucking dead like 2 months ago and you guys are going to fucking start getting on me about this? Fuck you! Especially when two guys in the band had already fucking lost their fathers as well so they know. Then when they started accusing me of shit, I wanted to be like alright well if you want to start making a laundry list let’s start going around the room… Ok Chris (Weichmann) let me make a list, how many times you did this, how many times did you throw a temper tantrum and not fucking do something on stage? Kevin Dean How ‘bout this? How ‘bout Chuck Kahl falling over? You know I mean we could sit here and do a laundry list of things that everyone else did too you know? But at the end of the day I finally am like I’m not going to sit here and do this. Obviously you guys have a plan; obviously you want me to go, so I’m leaving. And I think 3 years later the position that I’m in compared to the position they’re in speaks volumes of what…of what’s really happened.

AWAY-TEAM: So I guess the question where I ask if you guys are still friends or friendly is irrelevant… I don’t need to ask that question.

Joe Altier: I think we are you know?

AWAY-TEAM: Are you?

Joe Altier: We talk to each other when we see each other but we’re not calling each other up ‘hey man you know wanna go hang out?’ Nah we don’t do that anymore. When we see each other we talk and we’re friendly and cordial to each other but I mean after everything we went through it’s like almost like being in a war. You know in Vietnam with somebody and then not talk to somebody but you still have a connection because you went through some pretty fucked up shit together and had that bond. But we’re friendly. Me and Kenny Dunham actually talk more than I do with anybody else in that band but Kenny’s removed from that band as well so you know I talk to him, and I mean I’m still in contact with everybody. On some levels I got to do some business shit that still involves those guys. There’s still checks that come from Century Media once in awhile so we have to speak, but you know I’ve never seen them play since I left the band, and I really got no interest to be honest with you. It’s no offense to them I just got no interest. I think if they were called fucking John Brown’s Toe or whatever I would go and be a huge fan but that’s not Brand New Sin to me.

AWAY-TEAM: Well you and I had talked about it a little bit prior to this, about how they’re not bad. I went and saw them when they were here in town and it’s not Brand New Sin. And I wish them much luck and the stuff they were doing, the new stuff for what it was, was good. But it’s not Brand New Sin. At some point you know you went from God Below to Brand New Sin because you made this major change (music style and vocalist change). Well you just had another major change your style is different, your singing is different, your singer is different, and you don’t have a Joe wannabe after Joe left so you probably shouldn’t be the same name.

Joe Altier: Right. I think that’s just them, I mean I really think that some people in that band think that they should keep riding on those things, but the true fans are… I mean there’s some fans that have stuck by and there’s always going to be fans. There’s fans from Anthrax that are still fans of John Bush and Joey Belladonna and they’re fans of both but you know there’s COC changed a million times you know from their sound and stuff like that. I really think that honestly if you wanted to ask me what my biggest guess was for why they stuck with it is because they fucking… Chris was like ‘well you know COC changed from a punk band to a punky rock band to a fucking rock band and changed singers along the way why can’t we do the same thing?’ Whatever, I mean they can call the band whatever they want.

AWAY-TEAM: No offense, but I think COC was a little bigger than Brand New Sin as they went through all their changes. They had more name recognition so they had more at stake in that name.

Joe Altier: Yeah, absolutely. But you can’t drastically change the sound of a band and expect the fans to be there. I mean I think Elephant Mountain sounds more like Brand New Sin than Brand New Sin sounds like Brand New Sin. And I’m not really trying! I think really Elephant Mountain doesn’t sound like Brand New Sin but it sounds more like Brand New Sin than Brand New Sin does today I should say.

AWAY-TEAM: Fair enough that would be more accurate.

Joe Altier: It’s cool, I don’t wish any ill will on them, and I hope that things turn around for them and stuff like that. But I see where things are going and it’s just, if that’s what’s making them happy then fucking so be it. I know I’m happy on my end and as long as they’re happy on their end and my opinion doesn’t matter you know at the end of the day.

AWAY-TEAM: So you guys went through a lot of label shit throughout that time and looking back on it now, how much do you think that actually hampered you guys and added to the stress and the issues? And how do you think it could have been avoided or could it have been avoided?

Joe Altier: You know I think it hampered quite a bit. I mean we got in and we’re pretty much playing the game, we played the fucking game! When you’re in there and you gotta play the game you gotta play by some certain rules, and some people in the band didn’t want to play by those rules. We had labels telling us different things, we wanted to call certain things, we wanted to call the record The Tequila Record, they wanted to call it Tequila. We’re like, ‘No it’s The fucking Tequila Record!’ They’re like, ‘No, Tequila!’. So it’s things like that that happen to every band and the changes between labels and the lull between the first record and the second record I really think contributed to Slider being kicked out. I think if we had if Now or Never (BNS’ first label) stayed intact or if we immediately went to Century Media (BNS’ third label) instead of going to somewhere else, cuz we had the offer to go to Century Media right away, I think Slider would have weathered that. Obviously without getting further or going through more examples it absolutely did hinder us because that lull between the two albums we lost a member and it sent us on that path that we were on, and it changed things. I just think that… I wish… I don’t wish we could change anything else because there wasn’t anything we could do. I mean everything that I got now I’m learning not to do you know? We made a lot of mistakes along the way on the way we handled our band and I think we entrusted other people to do things. Not that those people weren’t competent, I think we should just have been more involved and more educated on what we were doing, and maybe not so fucking drunk all the time how’s that sound? You know, I mean it’s cool to play rockstar and get drunk and stupid BUT

AWAY-TEAM: Well you know I was talking to Brian Fair from Shadows Fall about that and musicians are musicians for a reason. A) They’ve got talent. B) because of that talent and because of the time spent in the garage or in the bedroom practicing they didn’t study a lot in school, they’re not necessarily you know rocket scientists and they don’t study business and they never had to although maybe even as far back as the 70s they probably should have. But that’s why you have managers and accountants and agents and shit because they’re the ones that are hopefully working for you. But today starting out because you don’t have the big machine that you used to churning out these bands, labels etcetera… as a band you have to do everything! You have to be your own manager, you have to be your own accountant, you have to know how to read a contract and know what it means and fight and negotiate for what you feel you need to get out of it, and you haven’t had to do that in the past.

Joe Altier: And that’s really where I’m at now, it’s like these kids nowadays are going to have to educate themselves and not just going to be a guitar player. They’re going to have to learn how to do accounting for their band, they’re going to have to learn how to talk to merchandise companies, they’re going to become… you’re going to have a graphic designer in the band, you’re going to have someone who can engineer your record, you’re going to have a lot of things. You’re going to become a multi-faceted person, that’s how you’re going to become successful. And we don’t come from that, we just missed it by two years and we’re still learning and Shadows Fall are doing it themselves now.

AWAY-TEAM: Yes a hundred percent.

Joe Altier: I went and saw them and visited with them when they were in town and they’re old friends of mine, and it was really cool, but it was funny to watch them now than it was 6 or 7 years ago. They’re still out and they’re back out selling their own merch they’re taking turns ‘hey Matt it’s your turn to be at the merch table.’ Somebody’s taking care of merch, someone’s doing this and someone’s doing that. I mean they still have a guitar tech and they still got a tour manager and stuff like that but they’re a business now and they act that way because they know if we want to make it that’s what we have to do.

AWAY-TEAM: And it’s not so much even about making it, it’s about protecting yourself. You know it’s not about becoming the next Metallica. It’s like you said, it’s about paying my goddamn cell bill, it’s about making sure that at the end of the day we have something to show for this other than some kick ass music. We still have to pay bills, if you are smart enough to be able to control your band then you can do it, but unfortunately you are the one that has to do it now.

Joe Altier: Yeah you know and that’s really what I kind of did the past two and half years educating myself. I got away from the business, and I kinda fell back in love with music and playing covers and found myself again and figured out what I wanted to do. I don’t have to sell, I mean do I want to sell a million records, fuck yeah that’d be cool! But if I could sell 20,000 records of my solo record 20,000 records of Elephant Mountain and do it on my own, play some shows here and there, I’ll make a good living. I’m making a good living now and I’m not even selling 20,000 records. And I’m investing my own money so I don’t have anybody to yell at other than myself if something doesn’t work. I don’t go to the label, ‘Oh my god you motherfucker! You cut me off from tour support! You did this you did that.’ I use Just JoeJust Joe playing covers is how I fund my record label Just Joe. It’s a help fund as part of the funding of Elephant Mountain. I help with that, it’s completely how I fund my solo shit. So you know some people like ‘well you know don’t you want to…’ I don’t want to play covers but it’s how I fund things because it’s easy, because I get to go play for 3 or 4 hours and I have another 20-21 more hours in the day to do my other shit….for now. It’s not where I’m going to be 4 or 5 years from now playing piano bars.

AWAY-TEAM: And thank you Neil Diamond for Sweet Caroline, you’re paying my bills!

Joe Altier: I don’t mind it and if that’s really where my life ends up and I just end up selling a couple thousand records and I’m still traveling around the United States playing in piano bars and playing it, that isn’t even so bad. That ain’t even a bad backup plan in my mind. So I think I’ve set myself up for a really good life in this business whether it’s gonna be all originals or small covers or more covers and then some originals. Either way I’m happy, I’m playing music, I’m still traveling, on a much smaller level, but I’m still traveling so I’m happy dude, completely happy.

AWAY-TEAM: Very cool. I have this song from a band and I won’t mention the band (Brand New Sin) but they covered Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd and it blows Shinedown’s version out of the water. Why was it recorded and why was it never released?

Joe Altier: It was recorded because the second label we were on… instead of Now or Never we were on Barter Records which was a Sony imprint. They asked us to start doing some covers cuz they figured well maybe we’ll release a single of a cover, of you guys doing a cover in order to launch you guys. Van Halen did it; I mean a laundry list of people who ended up getting careers after they did a cover song… I mean Shinedown… that’s really what broke Shinedown. So me and Slider had always played around with it and we’re like alright let’s record it. It’s a much simpler version, no pun intended, but there’s two verses missing and we did it as a demo to show the label what we could do. We’re like alright let’s do this, we’ll shorten it down a bit one chorus, one solo, out. We don’t need to record the whole song, why do that if it’s only a demo. So we did it, we did it real quick, we sent it to them. And they basically said ‘we don’t know if this would really work, we don’t know if this is tangible, we don’t know if people remember who what song this is.’ And six months later fucking Shinedown sells a million records because of Simple Man and now I mean it really jump started their career and everybody knew who Shinedown was and then all of a sudden they re-released the singles that happened before Simple Man Fly From The Inside and 45 and then it was dude it was really a catalyst! If anyone would argue with me differently I would call them stupid. Simple Man was everything for that band. I mean I don’t know maybe it wouldn’t have worked for us at all, maybe it was Shinedown’s moment, but it would be interesting to see what do you think Shinedown would have done it if we went for a full radio campaign? If we fucking released it before they did? I don’t know man I don’t know. But that’s why we recorded it and we recorded a few other covers at that time we actually recorded Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell which I’ll have to send you sometime too.

AWAY-TEAM: Yeah cuz my girl would dig the hell outta that, I could see you doing Billy Idol.

Joe Altier: It kinda got shelved and then we went through this whole process with that label and we just kinda went nowhere and then we ended up with Century Media a year and a half later so that was why it was recorded and why it was never released they didn’t think it was gonna work. ‘Oops

AWAY-TEAM: Did you go back to them and say, ‘Ummm….’

Joe Altier: Absolutely like. ‘Jesus man way to go!!!’

AWAY-TEAM: So who are your musical influences or is that what Just Joe is? Is Just Joe where you sing… or is it kind of an example of your musical influences?

Joe Altier: Yeah I take… it’s everything… I do 1200 songs, just about 600 of them I don’t ever want to play, but I do because I just got to do it. And there’s about 600 I really love. My interest in musical influences go from Otis Redding all the way to Metallica. I mean if I made a list my biggest influences it’s fucking mindboggling, right now I’m listening to Zac Brown Band and I love it so. But it kinda encompasses a lot of things and a lot of genres: Skynyrd, Metallica, Pantera, The Eagles, are probably some of the biggest ones and Social Distortion.

AWAY-TEAM: So how did Elephant Mountain come about? How did you and…you and Slider obviously apparently started talking again…

Joe Altier: Yeah, we started talking again. We talked about writing some songs together and then my guitar player John suggested. ‘You and Slider and me and Luke (our drummer) should get a bass player and we should just jam together.’ So it kind of organically came from me and Slider talking about writing together to John forcing us to kind of jam together. And on a cold night in January of ’09 we got together and we started jamming and in a nutshell that’s how Elephant Mountain was born. We got a buddy of ours from Cortland to play bass and then we ended up getting a B3 player a year later in January of this year and voila here we are here’s Elephant Mountain.

AWAY-TEAM: So you have a full-time B3 player?

Joe Altier: Yes he’s in the band. He’s a grandfather he’s 55 fucking years old! He’s been around for years. He played in a band called Bloodline that was signed to Columbia which was Joe Banamassa and yeah it was just a bunch of guys that were all bloodlines of guys from the Allman Brothers and The Doors and everything else. Lou is the B3 player of that band. He’s had a history of being in bands in Syracuse and nationally for years.

AWAY-TEAM: So who is Joe Banamassa a bloodline of?

Joe Altier: Joe Banamassa senior… nobody famous (laughs)…he’s a wicked guitar player.

AWAY-TEAM: Oh yeah I know who he is, I’ve seen him a few times, I just… cuz you were talking about being bloodline of stuff and I was trying to figure out who the hell he belonged to.

Joe Altier: He was just a wicked guitar player as a young kid and he’s from Syracuse area he grew up around here.

AWAY-TEAM: Oh I didn’t know that.

Joe Altier: Yeah he’s a local cat, that’s how Lou ended up in the band because Lou played in his solo band so…

AWAY-TEAM: So for those that don’t know Brand New Sin and don’t know Elephant Mountain how would you describe your sound?

Joe Altier: Pure rock ‘n roll motherfucker! That is the best way man! I mean I think we sound like a lot of different things, and I just think we sound like just straight up rock ‘n roll a very classic style. I think Brand New Sin was a very classic style of rock ‘n roll and metal and I really think that Elephant Mountain is a real classic style of rock ‘n roll I think we sound like a band that should have been around in like 1977 more than 2010 but we have a twist obviously with my vocals. I think that’s the best way to describe our sound it’s just rock ‘n roll, no frills.

AWAY-TEAM: You just released The Last Days of Planet Earth which is the first album for Elephant Mountain and how can people find it?

Joe Altier: So since we don’t have our proper website built yet you can find us on Facebook and that will lead you to CDBaby and you can find all our stuff on CDBaby. iTunes. And eventually we’ll have our own, we’ll have our website built it’s actually in the process right now. That’s the best way to find us is on Facebook and then we actually have a MySpace page you can find us on there and then both of those places will link you to how to buy the record. You can actually buy it physically or you can download it for real cheap. The actual physical CD is a little bit more because of shipping and everything else but you can get the download for like 8 bucks 8 or 9 bucks and if you actually find me in person or you’re in Syracuse you can buy it for 8 bucks.

Damn, we talked forever! There you have it. No holds barred. You want the straight shit, you go to Joe and ask a question, and the straight shit is what he is going to give you.
My thanks to Joe Altier for taking time out of a Dolphins game to talk for 90 minutes to me about EVERYTHING.
You know that ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN’s The Last Days of Planet Earth was in my top 10 of 2010. So go here, or here, or here to get yourself a copy of it. You’ll thank me for it later.
And my thanks to Melissa Dolak who went above and beyond editing and transcribing the interview from hell.

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FIRE & OZZ- A Conversation with GUS G.

by on Nov.24, 2010, under interviews

When Ozzy Osbourne parted ways with long time guitarist Zakk Wylde in early 2009, many people thought he was losing it.  When he replaced him with a relative unknown, people thought he’d pulled a page from his Diary of a Madman.  The key word here is “relative” unknown;  you see, Gus G. had already forged a name for himself within the inner circles of rock via his band Firewind.  In fact, what most of those doubters didn’t realize is that Gus was already well on his way to being considered one of the great guitarists of our time, not only by his fellow axemen, but also garnering the distinction of being named one of the Top 3 Guitarists in the World by Japanese magazine Burrn!  Approximately a year and a half later Gus G. is out “burning” up the stage every night with The Prince of Darkness, and did I mention he’s a comic book hero too?  Here’s how it all went down when I had Q&A with the man destined to become a living legend…

AWAY-TEAM:  Congratulations on the release of the new Firewind album, “Days of Defiance”, which by the way is a fantastic album…

GUS G.:  Thank you very much!

AWAY-TEAM:  …and also on being named the new guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne

GUS G.:  Thank you very much. Thanks.

AWAY-TEAM:  …we’ll talk some more about that, but first I want to talk a little about Firewind.  I’ve described your sound with Firewind as sort of a “melodic speed metal”, that harkens back to the days of the great 80′s metal bands.  If you had to describe Firewind’s sound to someone who has never heard you before, how would you describe it?

GUS G.:  I would say it’s melodic heavy metal, yeah.  Ya know people like to put tags on music, like I know for example we’ve been tagged as a power metal band, and that’s not the case.  We almost feel like it’s a bad thing to be called a power metal band these days, because it’s not fashionable.  But I’m thinking we are not even power metal,  just because we sound “European” or we have fast double bass on some of our songs, that doesn’t mean anything.  I think it’s just, our roots come from traditional rock or heavy metal, like you said from the 80′s and the 70′s.  We’re just like a traditional heavy metal band, but with modern elements.

AWAY-TEAM:  There were a few influences that were highly discernable on the album.  For example, there seemed to be a lot of Iron Maiden in songs like “Chariot” and “SKG”, and a great deal of Scorpions sound in the track “Broken”.  Who were your strongest musical influences growing up?

GUS G.:  Well, you’ve actually named two of them.  I mean, um, we’re all big Maiden fans, and you can tell that on a song like “Chariot”.  I love the ballads that the Scorpions made, and I guess it’s natural for me to write a bit in that vain as well.  So some of the stuff I do will remind you a bit of early Scorpions.  Uh, you know, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, all of the great bands of the 70′s and 80′s really.  Thin Lizzy.  These are the bands that we really look up to.

AWAY-TEAM:  So what was the first song or album that you heard that made you pick up a guitar and start playing?

GUS G.:  Actually it was Peter Frampton, the album Frampton Comes Alive.  My dad had the album at home, and he was playing it, and when I heard him do the talk box thing in the song “Do You Feel Like I Do” I was like “Wow, the guitar sounds like a robot”.  So then I wanted to play the guitar.  I must’ve been about 9 years old or so, and that’s when I asked my dad to get me a guitar.  He got me a guitar and about a year later I started taking lessons.

AWAY-TEAM:  Earlier this year you guys (Firewind) were featured in an issue of the Eternal Descent comic book series.  Comic book artists often take artistic liberties when drawing a real life person into a fictional world.  What, if anything, would you change about your character in the comic book if you were the artist?

GUS G.:  Oh I don’t know, my imagination is not that wild to be honest. (laughs)  So I can’t see myself in a comic book, so I left that up to the artist who’s a really talented young guy Llexi Leon.  He made it super cool man, we all had super powers.  I think mine, because I have a flame tattoo on my right hand, he turned that into a super power so whenever I would get pissed off or anything my hand would go on fire, and my guitar as well. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)

GUS G.:  And I would just burn the fuck out of people or something.  So that was pretty cool.  Plus he made me a little bit more muscular which was cool. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs) So let’s talk a little bit about the Ozzy gig.  How did you actually land the job?

GUS G.:  It was a year and a half ago, when his management sent me an email asking me if I’d be interested in the gig, and if I’d go out and audition.  And that’s how it happened.

AWAY-TEAM:  So you actually had to audition for him?  What songs did you have to play?

GUS G.:  Um, ya know, a bunch of his classic songs like “Bark at the Moon”, “Crazy Train”, “I Don’t Know”, “Suicide Solution”, “I Don’t Wanna Change the World”, “Paranoid”, stuff like that, ya know.  We went in there and did about six or seven songs.

AWAY-TEAM:  So now, you’ve gotten the job, and you come in during the middle of the recording of the Scream album; for someone like yourself who’s used to having a large amount of control over what goes into an album, what was the creative process like?  Did they give you as much freedom as you’re used to? Or did they just say ‘Here you go, play it like this.’?

GUS G.:  No, they didn’t tell me how to play really.  They told me “Do what you gotta do as a guitar player.  We need alot of your guitar in there.”  Because when I walked in all the songs were already written of course, but the guitar work had been done by Kevin Churko the producer, who is not really a guitar player so it sounded a little bit weird.  Ya know what I mean?  Like very processed and stuff.  So they were like “Make it as real sounding, and as heavy as possible.  Just do what you do.  We want Gus on there.”  So like I said, while alot of these songs were not my songs, I thought it was very challenging to be involved in a different project for once.  And try to make my mark as a guitar player on songs that I didn’t write.  And secondly, it was cooler than ever because I got to play on an Ozzy Osbourne album.

AWAY-TEAM:  With that being said, you’re following in the footsteps of some legendary guitarists in guys like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, and Zakk Wylde.  Those guys all had their own unique sound, when your playing their songs do you try to put your own stamp on them? Or is it more like, those guys were so good it’d be sacrilege to change their sound?

GUS G.:  Well, as a fan I don’t like to change stuff they did.  Because we’re not just talking about anybody’s song, this is the bible of heavy metal man.  This is what shaped the sound of hard rock and heavy metal for all the rest of us to follow.  So it’s not like I’m gonna go in and do my own version of “Crazy Train” or my own version of “Paranoid”, ya know.  That’s not gonna happen.  But you know, Ozzy and Black Sabbath songs, these songs came from jams mainly, and there’s always a little room for the guitar player to do his own little fills and tricks here and there.  I definitely do my own thing, but without really interfering with the song composition if you know what I mean.

AWAY-TEAM:  Zakk Wylde  has been highly complimentary of you, in the media especially.  Have you had a chance to meet or talk with him yet?

GUS G.:  No.  I never got to meet him, and I would really like to.  I really want to thank him for saying all of these great things about me, because it means alot to me.  I mean Zakk Wylde is an icon, and someone I always looked up to growing up.  He was one of my guitar heroes, and just to hear a guy like that saying all those great things about me is amazing.  It’s awesome, and I really appreciate all of his support.  He’s really cool with me about that.  He’s really given me the platform I need to go out there and do my thing.  He’s been very nice, and I’ve always had the best thoughts about Zakk, ya know.

AWAY-TEAM:  That’s really cool to hear.  Now, your first show with Ozzy was last year at Blizzcon; what was the moment you stepped back and realized “Holy shit! I’m really Ozzy’s guitarist!”?

GUS G.:  (laughs) Yeah, that was definitely the gig where I was thinking about all of that.  Even the rehearsal, everyday I was like “What the fuck? Where am I?” And that didn’t really end after Blizzcon, it still goes through my mind every other day.  I’m like “Wow! Look how things turned out!”  This is not something you can expect to really happen in life.  It’s beyond any biggest honor a guitar player can have in heavy metal and hard rock.  I mean, I was happy I was playing with my band, and when this came along I was like “Wow! Really???”  When they called me for the audition I went in there and was like “I’ve got nothing to lose.  At least I can jam with ’em and it’s a story I can tell my children one day.”  But who would’ve ever thought that I would be in his band, and working with Ozzy for over a year now.

AWAY-TEAM:  You mentioned being a fan, as a fan what was your all-time favorite Ozzy or Sabbath song?

GUS G.:  You know, that is a problem actually, because he has so many great songs, I just love ‘em all man.  I love doing the Ozzy stuff on stage, I love doing the Sabbath stuff.  He has so many great songs on all of his albums.  I mean, I love the Diary of a Madman stuff, I love the stuff from The Ultimate Sin that we’re doing.  There’s more songs that I love that we’re not even doing, ya know.  We’re playing two and a half hour sets every night, and to fit it all in we need at least four to four and a half hours to fit all of this material in there.  He has so many classic songs that you just can’t possibly fit in everything.

AWAY-TEAM:  So what was the most challenging song to learn?

GUS G.:  Uh, I don’t know.  You know all of his guitar players had some very interesting stuff in there.  I really cannot seperate one guy from another because everybody was unique in their own way.  Like Jake E. Lee, he was special, he was doing all these weird chords and playing around with harmonics and stuff.  Randy, he had all this classical influence and mixed it with heavy rock stuff, and it’s also very interesting to play that stuff.  And of course Zakk, his technique was at another level.  And then you’ve got Tony Iommi, who’s super, super heavy and bluesy and just plays freeform.  So you really need to be a well rounded guitar player to play all these different styles.  But for me it’s really a natural thing, because those are the kind of guitar players I grew up listening to.  I come from that school of guitar, ya know?

AWAY-TEAM:  With the extensive touring schedule you have planned with Ozzy, Firewind  has sort of taken a back seat for now.  Do you foresee yourself pulling the same type of double duty with Firewind on future Ozzfest’s as Zakk did with Black Label Society?

GUS G.:  You know, in a festival, I could see it happening in a festival.  We just confirmed a festival for the summer in France, called Hellfest and we’re headlining with Ozzy and Firewind is also gonna be on the bill.  So that’s gonna be the first double duty gig for me.  I wouldn’t really go out and do it if it was like an arena tour, or a headline tour with Ozzy because I wouldn’t really want to compromise the tour by being tired or anything, playing back to back.  But in some sort of situation where I play with Firewind, and then I get a few hours to rest and go play with Ozzy, I would love to do that.  What we’re doing with Firewind right now is, we’re doing our gigs in between the Ozzy tours.  Because we have a few months off here and there from the touring; and actually the reason we’re not doing that many gigs with Firewind is we’re covering alot of ground by doing alot of special gigs.  Covering alot of major territory, we were just on the East Coast a couple of weeks ago.  We did New York, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Virginia…and we’re gonna go to Japan in Januray, we’re gonna go to England.  So we’re covering alot of ground even though we’re not doing 150 dates or something.

AWAY-TEAM:  That actually kinda answers my next question.  How do you plan to balance and be able to put your heart and soul into both projects?

GUS G.:  I guess I just answered that, didn’t I? (laughs)  Obviously Firewind has a new album as well, and I would want to promote that too.  You know with Firewind we’ve been touring extensively for the last four years or so, and we’ve played like every fucking club on earth.  So we thought this was an opportunity for us to do special gigs, in bigger cities, in bigger venues and be able to promote those gigs better.  So actually the fact that I’m so busy with Ozzy has actually worked in our favor, because we were able to better handle our promotion, and better handle the gigs that we are doing.  It makes it more special both for us, and for our fans.

AWAY-TEAM:  Slash is going to be joining you in January for the second leg of the tour.  Can we expect to see you guys on stage together at all?  Maybe doing the song Ozzy recorded with him for his album? Or just a good old fashioned guitar battle?

GUS G.:  Well, I don’t know Slash personally.  I’m looking forward to meeting him.  I hear from everybody that he’s the sweetest guy, and I’m a big fan of his as well.  I grew up with Guns n Roses, and I love his new solo album.  I will definitely be on the side of the stage watching him as a fan, I don’t know if I’m gonna get to jam with him, but I’m definitely gonna be there to watch the show.

AWAY-TEAM:  I read in Rolling Stone that this tour could include full performances of the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman albums, in honor of their 30th anniversary.  Is there any truth to that?

GUS G.:  No.  It’s rumor.  We haven’t rehearsed a full album to be honest.  I don’t know if something’s gonna change before the tour starts, and we’re gonna go into rehearsals and play alot.  But nothing like that, that I’ve heard of right now.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well Gus, thank you so much for your time.  It’s been a great honor to speak with you. 

GUS G.:  Thanks man.

AWAY-TEAM:  Good luck with the new album, and the tour, and I look forward to seeing you when you make your way to Florida in February.

GUS G.:  Yeah man, I’m looking forward to it, we’re doing three shows there.  I actually have some family down there, my uncle lives in Miami, so I’m looking forward to coming back to Florida, I haven’t been there in years.

AWAY-TEAM:  Excellent, I’m looking forward to it as well.

GUS G.:  See you there.

For more Firewind, including tour dates and to purchase music, visit http://www.firewind.gr/

For more Ozzy Osbourne, including tour dates and to purchase music, visit http://www.ozzy.com/us/home

Special thanks to Gus G. for so graciously giving me his time, and to Josh Eldridge at Century Media for making it all happen.

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INTERVIEW – ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN’s Joe Altier: Just Joe

by on Nov.22, 2010, under interviews, photos

Joe Altier may best be known as the lead singer for Syracuse, New York’s Brand New Sin. But that’s history now. Today Joe is fronting Elephant Mountain, a band he and Slider (Brian Azzoto) from Brand New Sin started together recently. He also pays his bills by traveling around in an old New York State Prison bus with his keyboards as Just Joe, his version of a modern day piano man and his solo project. Elephant Mountain recently self released their debut disc The Last Days Of Planet Earth. If you’ve ever heard Brand New Sin’s self titled debut album or their second album Recipe For Disaster and longed for that sound again, it is right here! The main songwriting team from those two albums have reunited and delivered The Last Days Of Planet Earth. Joe and I sat down on a Sunday morning and caught each other up on what we’ve both been doing the past three years, we also spent over an hour talking about how he came to be in Brand New Sin, why Slider was kicked out, why he himself left, what Elephant Mountain means to him, and how a band makes a name without a label in today’s social networking environment. Joe pulls no punches when talking about Brand New Sin, his highs and lows in the band and how you can earn a living singing Elton John covers in between your own original work. Oh, and let’s not forget the 60 year old groupies too! We talked so long and covered so many things that I have cut this interview into two pieces. Grab a beer, throw on some Elephant Mountain and get to know Just Joe

AWAY-TEAM: How do you get out, how you connect with the fans, how you get your product out in this day and age? Because the labels, the big ones, aren’t going to be around much longer. Everyone’s predicting three to five years maximum unless they turn around tomorrow and they change their business plan, and it doesn’t look like they’re gonna do it.

Joe Altier: They’re not, no they’re not. Dude it sounds goofy as it is man, but it really comes down to the social networking. It really comes down to Facebook and Twitter. MySpace is still relevant for bands somewhat because Facebook has yet to really have that platform for a band. I mean look, do you follow Zakk on Twitter? Zakk Wylde on Twitter? He’s a fucking freak!

AWAY-TEAM: Yes. Well actually I did and I stopped following him because…

Joe Altier: He posts every five minutes!

AWAY-TEAM: Yeah there’s that … (both laugh)

Joe Altier: The thing is being in touch with your fans. I mean I talked to my friends… let me see if I can try to answer this question without getting too far… I talked to my friends at Dirtbag Music and Dirtbag Clothing about doing merchandise. Because I’m really getting to the point where I don’t… I mean I want to DYI my shit. But there’s a point where I don’t wanna fucking literally be going to the post office every other day and mail a t-shirt or mail a CD. That’s why I had CD Baby handle it, and have them do all the distribution. And have us on iTunes and everything else. And he asked me, ‘Well you know we have a development label here. You know we’d be willing to help them (Ed note: Elephant Mountain) out and Just Joe on it’. And I’m like, ‘Well what are you going to do for me that I can’t do for myself?’ And he goes, ‘Well, we can help with distribution.’ And I’m like, ‘I have distribution. How’d you help with the distribution?’ And he goes ‘CD Baby? And you can go to iTunes.’ I go, ‘I got people ordering shit in Chile, Argentina, Germany, Finland I think that’s pretty good distribution.’ And he’s ‘Well you know we can help get your CDs out in stores’. Nobody’s got CDs in anywhere unless you go to a mom and pop store. I mean Best Buy… try to go to Best Buy and try to find the CD section because literally it’s dwindled. I mean distribution; physical distribution is useless unless you’re in a market where you know you’re going to do well. I’m gonna have a couple stores around here (Syracuse, NY) that sell it but that’s about it you know. The one thing that I’ve gotten is that like these Brand New Sin fans that kept staying around and watching me do whatever I did, and followed me on MySpace and jumped over to Facebook and all that stuff. And I’ve kept in contact with them. That was the one thing that I did when I was in Brand New Sin. I was the only one that did that MySpace page and the only one that handled the emails. I literally would spend a day or so responding to like 30, 40, 50 emails. I would answer everybody man and that went a long ways with people. Making them stay with me and waiting for something patiently to fucking come out. I think the day and age of like these massive rockstars, the Axl Roses, the Vince Neils, the rockstars that are just so untouchable. They seem mythical almost. I think really those days are gone. I think people don’t really want that shit anymore. This is the day and age when reality television and everything being at your fingertips, everybody wants something they want to feel a real connection with somebody. People want to feel like they know you a little bit. That’s where I’m feeling, where I’m rebuilding this fan base or making this fan base slowly grow. ‘Oh my god he answered me!’ or ‘he put happy birthday on my page on Facebook!’Its things like that and those things go a long ways. Then those people become very passionate about you know? And they may become very passionate about your music and everything else because they actually feel a one on one connection with you. You know sometimes I give away a little, I mean I don’t use Facebook as my diary like some people do, ‘Oh my god I woke up today, I took a shit, I brushed my teeth, I got into a fight, my boyfriend sucks’.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s what Twitter’s for…

Joe Altier: Exactly! (both laugh) But I do let go of some of my personal side, my battles with… dude I haven’t drank in almost a year, you know what I’m sayin’? Once in awhile I’ll have a glass of wine at dinner or something like that, but I don’t drink anymore. I don’t get drunk, I don’t do drugs, all that stuff’s gone!… you know and chronicle the battles of just kind of reemerging in the past 3 years of my life. I still keep some things very private, but I give away some stuff. And people gravitate towards that because they go through… they’re not just listening to the lyrics but they’re also feeling like they’re a part of that. So I’m not this unattainable mythical Rockstar that does blow and drinks like the Axl Roses do backstage. I think Ozzy Osborne blew the fucking lid off it all when he did a reality TV show. When he did that reality TV show it ruined my image of Ozzy. We’ve all thought Ozzy was the fucking devil growing up! He’s the most evil person ever on the planet. And then you realize, you finally get a glimpse into his family life, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god this guy’s an idiot like my uncle bob!’ You know?

AWAY-TEAM: Yes…

Joe Altier: And it made him real. Whether the show was real or scripted or not it brought some realism. It brought it down a notch and that’s what people want nowadays.

AWAY-TEAM: Well see I don’t know if that’s what they want but what they expect. But I’m wondering if this instant intimate access is actually a good thing for your bottom line for CD sales. Because while somebody may get off because Joe from Brand New Sin and Elephant Mountain posted ‘happy birthday’ on their Facebook page, or whatever, and that’s fucking awesome I love that band that’s cool that they would do that. Today you don’t have that hero worship; you don’t have that blind… I don’t want to say blind devotion… but that massive devotion and that almost obsession with a band that you had in the 70s 80s and into the 90s. When I finally… the first time I met Metallica that was the be all end all for me personally and the chance to finally get to meet them was just mind blowing. And I ended up sounding like fucking Tarzan when I was talking to them ‘me Jim you James ugh’. You know…

Joe Altier: That’s almost like those things are almost gone. It’s become a very nichey industry if you can create your own little niche you can do real well, but it’s like I just think a mass acceptance of… I mean it’s so overwhelming. The internet is great for a band because now everyone can hear your music. But now everyone can hear 5 million bands that all suck! So how do you find one out of 500,000 bands that don’t fucking suck?

AWAY-TEAM: But see that’s what I was getting at. Like with Metallica in the 80s and the 90s, your only access to these bands were the music and the shit they put out. You’d get RIP magazine or the Rolling Stone or Hit Parader or whatever, so you could read an interview with them. And you’d scour the magazines every month to see if that band was in it. But past that it was the music that was the your only connection. And that’s when you were selling millions and millions of albums. Or your smaller bands were selling hundreds of thousands of albums not 10,000 albums or 5,000 albums…

Joe Altier: Or a 1,000 for Christ sakes you know?

AWAY-TEAM: So I think this intimacy, or this instant access is also… you know everyone blames downloading and stealing the music and everything else…

Joe Altier: Dude I think it’s a lot of things, but its part of the much larger picture of why the industry is fucked. And I tell people that, and I don’t know how many times I’ve had the question asked of me, ‘What do you think of people stealing your music, don’t you think it’s going to be the death of the industry?’ I’m like, ’Dude, that’s maybe like 1/5 of the equation of why things are fucked!‘ You know people have always been stealing music. We used to make mix tapes; someone could go buy a fucking tape and dub. I mean dude it did happen, it was a slower process. And the Grateful Dead encouraged people stealing their fucking music since day one. The Grateful Dead never sold volumes and volumes of records man! They were a fucking band that toured and they had this huge fan base because they let people steal their fucking music forty years before anyone else was doing that shit. But getting back to what you were saying is, I don’t know if that will ever go back to that. I think the state of the world, and the future, and the way the world is now, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to that time. You and I are always going to long for that time. Bob Lefsetz, who I read all the time, Lefsetz Letter, he blogs about this shit all the time and he’s saying, ‘Do you miss those days of Aerosmith concerts and just this magical time in music?’ But it just its slowly reinventing itself and its going to take us 3 or 4 years and we’re gonna get out of this economic lull in the world, and everything is going to kinda reinvent itself. I think at this point man music has become where it always should be and it’s in the artist’s hands. It’s up to the artist 100 percent of what they want to do. But the problem is the artist’s need to fucking inform themselves and educate themselves. Because for years it was only just about the music! ‘Oh man I just got a record deal’ and then you let the record company do it, then you get a manager, and you get an agent, and you get all this other stuff, and you got a publicist, and everyone’s telling you what to do. And there’s 5,000 different ideas and then one person won’t call somebody else, and it’s like holy shit yeah you got a team but holy fuck. Someone like Century Media, they’re publicists, but they’re publicists for fucking 40 other bands! And 20 of them just put out records and 15 of them are on tour, it’s not their fault but they’re just trying to do it and they can only be, ‘Ok well this band’s hot right now put that band aside we’ll get to them next week.’ Now it’s up to the band, somebody in the band, or everybody in the band needs to take on a role. And if they do it slowly, they do it right, and they do it with thought there can be success. If someone’s getting into this business nowadays to become a huge mega rockstar and make millions of dollars they better get the fuck out! Because it was hard then, it’s even harder to do that now. it’s almost impossible to do that now. Can you make a living doing this? Yes. But you gotta kinda have your fingers on a multiple array of things. That’s why I do so many different projects and I balance all of it because sooner or later one of them’s really going to catch fire. And it will shine and everything else needs to set down. I’m going to go take care of this but we keep those other things so when this falls down I can go back and get something else to catch fire. It’s a slow go and my plan is like a five year type plan. and I told the guys in Elephant Mountain dude it’s going to be a 2 to 3 year process to see really where this band’s going to end up. Can we go on the road? No man we’ve already spent $7,000 of our own fucking money making this record. Us going on the road is just going to be fucking… we might as well be throwing fucking $100 bills out the window as we’re driving down the road! Because that’s what’s going to fucking happen. We can go out and beat the fucking street and hope that some of the Brand New Sin fans come back around, but we couldn’t headline as Brand New Sin! What makes us think that we can go out and fucking do a tour as Elephant Mountain and make it worth our while? I mean it’d be cool, I’m not saying that I don’t want to go play to 15 people that really want to see us. I mean cuz I don’t want to downgrade 15 people that do want to see us in like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Ohio or where ever. you know X city USA but I’m not in the business of going out and fucking just pissing away money, coming home and being like, ‘Well fuck! I’ve got a cell phone bill to pay.’ you know the reality of life kind of creeps in and I mean some people are like, ‘Oh well man that’s not rock n roll!’ Yeah? Well you do it motherfucker! Why don’t you leave your job for a fucking week and not make any money? Tell me how your old lady is going to fucking like that. There has to be some realism to this unfortunately. Bills have to be paid and certain things have to be done, so I’m not counting out that fact that maybe Zakk might call or somebody you know in Gov’t Mule… god you know I would love that! Someone to call and go and do a string of dates and it would cost us some money but it would be worth our while because it would come back to us, not instantly, but I think over time. If something makes sense to me then I’ll go do it but in the meantime Elephant Mountain is going to be a project man that plays about 4 or 5 shows a year maybe around the northeast and that’s it. That’s where it’s going to be now until something happens.

AWAY-TEAM: You’re also doing a solo album for Just Joe right? Of your own stuff?

Joe Altier: Yeah.

AWAY-TEAM: How does Just Joe differ from Elephant Mountain?

Joe Altier: Musically man its fucking… it’s a complete departure from everything I did with Brand New Sin and Elephant Mountain. It’s a very hard edge of me where it’s just really like singer songwriter based in the vein of Elton John and James Taylor and Pianoman and anything of those types of genre. And to be honest with you it almost comes out really country, very Zach Brown-ish almost. It’s real mellow and the style of singing is different. I mean it’s me but it’s more clean style of vocals. I’m using my voice in a totally different fashion than I did in Brand New Sin and than I do in Elephant Mountain. I think in Elephant Mountain I sing a lot differently than I did in Brand New Sin. I’m trying to finally showcase what I’ve done with my voice over the years because I think it’s really grown. I’ve grown as an artist and I’ve really learned how to use it dynamically. I’m not just literally just screaming all the goddamn time! There’s depth to it and I think Just Joe’s just gonna really take it to a whole different level.

AWAY-TEAM: Display that even further?

Joe Altier: Yeah I think it’s just gonna show some more depth to who I am as an artist. It’s real cool because now I have Elephant Mountain to get the harder edged side of me out and I have Just Joe to get this other side that I really couldn’t… it wouldn’t work really… There’s songs, a lot of songs that were written for this Just Joe record were written during the Brand New Sin days. They were Brand New Sin‘s songs that we demoed as Brand New Sin songs but never just did them cuz they were just way too far you out for Brand New Sin to do know what I’m saying? It’s so cool that I’m able to be able to be musically satisfied on every level. I can take Just Joe on the road, I have an old NY state prisoner transport bus that I bought, and that I turn all my gear around. I can grab someone to go with me or I can just get an acoustic guitar player or somebody to sing with me and I can go and I can disappear. And I can make money doing it. Now I’m starting to get people that are like ‘hey man can you play that song?’ ‘Can you play this song?’ and I don’t even have a record of it out yet. Just Joe is also something that’s going be able to… it’s going to cross age groups a lot larger, a much larger age group than what Elephant Mountain does. I mean I got older ladies… my cross section of fans that come to see me as Just Joe in New York are 12 and 13 year old kids and younger kids all the way up to ladies that are in their 60s that follow me around. I have groups of like 50 year old women that show up in bars once in awhile you know what I’m saying? So the range is much larger because it’s more accessible I guess. It’s not as nichey as Elephant Mountain. It’s cool, but I don’t see some 60 year old woman listening to Elephant Mountain, so it kinda jumps a little bit more.

AWAY-TEAM: So what was your first paying gig in music?

Joe Altier: I was gonna be a teacher, you know I was going to teach history. Then I moved gear for bands and I gave really cheap piano lessons to a few people. But I didn’t really know what the fuck I was going to do at that time in my life.

AWAY-TEAM: Oh wait, you were going to be a teacher?

Joe Altier: I was going to be a social studies teacher and coach football. That was what I went to college for. But my first paying musical gig was helping my buddy move gear around.

AWAY-TEAM: And then how did you end up in Brand New Sin?

Joe Altier: I ended up in Brand New Sin by just by default almost. I had been jamming with a few bands, sitting in my friend’s bands. I came home from college and I immersed myself in the Syracuse music scene. I had some really good friends of mine from high school who had a band. So I just started hanging out with them, and I started really getting into the scene, and then they were getting to a point where they were getting pretty big around Syracuse. I just started hanging out with them and then everyone knew I could sing so I would go up and sing with that band, and I then would go up and sing with another band. My ex-wife worked in a place that had live music and I got up and sang with a blues band. Then all of a sudden I just realized, ‘You know man, everyone’s kept coming to me and saying ‘man you need be in your own band’’. I didn’t really know what the hell I wanted to do, and the part of my brain that was, ‘No, you really need to get a real job and work for the man. You went to college and this is what you need to do, and you need to get a 9 to 5.’ I was married and you know I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I was a huge fan of God Below, which was the precursor to Brand New Sin, and then when they kicked out their singer they were trying out new guys. I get through the grapevine they wanted me to tryout or people wanted me to try out. I’m not a screamer man I’m a true singer. So if you want to want me to tryout then it had to be a rock band. ‘Well they’re changing their style a little bit so you might want to do it’. I went and grabbed the demo tape from Slider who worked the music store at the time selling guitars and shit, and he’s like ‘Here’s the music, see you in a week. See what you do with this. Go write something to it and then come back in’. They didn’t give me any guidelines they just wanted to see what I could do. I went in and the first day we did Broken Soul. Which was already written. I wrote The Oath and Desperate Times were already written. Those were two songs that I worked out while I was while I had the tape and the rest is history.

AWAY-TEAM: Now when you say it was written, were the lyrics written or the music was written and you put the lyrics to it?

Joe Altier: I put the lyrics to it. Broken Soul was the only one that was written musically, and everything else with lyrics. That song was completely written before I got in the band, it was the only song that was written for Brand New Sin specifically. I walked in and I had lyrics written for Desperate Times and for The Oath. I originally sang the words to The Oath over Broken Soul and I didn’t realize that they had lyrics or melody lines written for that. Slider said, ‘Well I like that but here’s what we did with this’. We just literally spent 6 or 7 hours together, and those 3 songs really kinda of happened right away. I kinda just flopped into it; I had no idea what the hell was going to happen after that. The bizarre thing and I guess to tie this all together is that the day that we released Elephant Mountain’s record at the CD release party was exactly 9 years to the day that I tried out for Brand New Sin.

AWAY-TEAM: Yeah I saw that on your page.

Joe Altier: It was really, and it wasn’t planned! I originally was, ‘Ok let’s do this. Let’s aim for the 17th.’ It didn’t really hit me until a week or so before the show, and I was like, ‘Holy shit!!’

AWAY-TEAM: I could be teaching a bunch of snot nosed brats right now I could be three weeks into my football season at high school…

Joe Altier: Yeah! Exactly! And it’s real bizarre that 9 years later here I am starting another chapter.

AWAY-TEAM: So what’s your best memory of being in Brand New Sin?

Joe Altier: Oh god, there’s so many man. I mean I don’t regret my time in that band. And I don’t harbor any ill will towards any of the guys. There’s things that we argued about near the end and there’s some things I’m upset about how they went, but I truly think that my time with that band… it was done, it was done and I’m at peace with that. I’m not bitter, I wish some things went differently, but hindsight is 20/20. My memories… man we don’t have enough time for all the great memories I have in that band! When we were clicking it was some magical shit man. When we were all on the same page it was some magical shit. Not just musically, but when we were out on the road and the brotherhood and everything else that was a part of being in that band. I’m trying to think of what my best memory… I think two memories that really, really made it… one of them was the first time that we toured with Zakk Wylde and we were in Clinton, Iowa. It was the first Black Label Society tour in September of 2002. And this place is in the middle of fucking nowhere, we met Zakk earlier on in the day, but he was really quick and short with us. We started playing and we all looked over at one point and Zakk is literally standing right on the side of the stage with a smile on his face. That struck a friendship with Zakk which is… I think everybody in our band was influenced by Zakk on every level as a guitar player. And especially me as a singer and a songwriter. I think that was really something cool for all of us, and especially for me because even to this day Zakk just has a massive influence on everything I do. Because he does that stuff he has the Black Label thing but he does this really quiet piano based side of things almost with Pride and Glory and Book of Shadows. I think my second favorite memory of Brand New Sin was when we finally got like the adoration in Syracuse and we played the radio festival KROQ. It was after 5 years of being in this band and never really getting… I mean we had hometown love but not like from that level of radio and newspapers and everything else. We played in front of 15,000 people that day and anybody will tell you the crowd went craziest was during our set and Drowning Pool’s ‘Bodies’ just because of the song not because of the whole set. I mean that was just like a crowning achievement out of everything that we did in that band for those 5 years. I think we just let it all hang out on stage the five of us that day. I just I watch those videos of being in front of a crowd that large and people singing and I had them in the palm of my… I mean we WE had them in the palm of our hands to do whatever they wanted. So I think those are like I mean without just going on and all the drunken fucking crazy fucking stories that happened. But those are the two that really stick out in my mind that were just like, ‘This is cool! This is cool, and this is why I’m in this fucking business.’

AWAY-TEAM: Right! Yeah, I don’t have any of those drunken Brand New Sin stories I’ve never been a part of those or heard of those…(both of us laugh)

Joe Altier: Yeah I’m sure you don’t man! It’s a shame you really should… (more laughing)

AWAY-TEAM: So um let’s see here you talked about Slider, Brian, and you and he are now in Elephant Mountain together and were in Brand New Sin together. He left after the first album when things really seemed to be breaking for you guys, and you went to the next level you went to a bigger label etcetera, and then all of a sudden Slider left, why did he leave?

Joe Altier: He didn’t leave on his own, we kicked him out.

AWAY-TEAM: Oh really?!

Joe Altier: Yeah we kicked him out. It wasn’t something that we particularly wanted to do. Personally I was the last one holding on in the band. I mean we kinda grew apart as a band. There was a distance between us and it was really weird because it kinda what mimicked what happened with me during the end of Brand New Sin for me. We had really not started seeing eye to eye and there was a division between 3 or 4 of the guys and then me. It was kind of the same thing that had happened with Slider. It got to a point where his ideas weren’t meshing with the other guy’s ideas, and I was holding out because I didn’t want to lose Slider. And I’ll say this now I mean I end up having to stand behind the decision. I didn’t want to but the guys were like, ‘Yeah you know, we really think we should kick Slider out. We don’t think it’s working anymore’.

AWAY-TEAM: On what level?

Joe Altier: I think a lot of levels. I think musically was just egos in the band that were people that weren’t willing to accept other people’s ideas. And that’s really what kind of happened to me, near the end I felt that I was presenting ideas and then coming back the next day and someone rewrote everything that I did. ‘You know that was good but why don’t you do this?’ It was the same way and Slider wasn’t putting up with that.

AWAY-TEAM: Well, I noticed a definite…

Joe Altier: There was a definite change in the vibe of the band and you can see it slowly change, and obviously see where it is now. The people that want to control that band have it now and you know that’s the way they sound. So you know they got exactly what they wanted to. That’s with some people, and I’m not going to say who, but you know that’s with some people and I mean the only people left in Brand New Sin are the people that were really wanting that change. So they got what they wanted, but I mean there was a friendship and there were some personality clashes, I really think to put it in layman’s terms there was just people’s egos were kinda getting in the way. And they realized that, and the thing was I think some of them were almost jealous of the relationship that me and Slider had musically. I don’t really know, there are just some things that me and Slider did. And when he left, I really lost a key person to help me singing wise because Slider is a singer as well, and that’s not to say that the other guys in the band aren’t singers too, but he’s a singer. I mean he comes from that mentality not just from the riff mentality of let’s add some words later. I kinda lost somebody that I could really lean into not that I couldn’t lean into Kris Wiechmann, or Kenny Dunham and all that, but it wasn’t the same. It definitely wasn’t the same and I think it showed. I mean I’m proud of those records but…

AWAY-TEAM: Oh it absolutely showed.

Joe Altier: But now that it’s back to me and Slider, you can really see. I think it’s evident; I don’t really have to go into too much depth, because I think the music can speak for itself! The Elephant Mountain stuff, the first Brand New Sin record, and then you can compare it to the other stuff that we did. There was some stuff that was on Recipe For Disaster that was very Slider influenced, that was left over, and it kinda showed. But I think by the time we got to Tequila, that was the 5 of us; there was no more 6 members and leftovers at that point. And I think that’s really where it was, and I was happy with Tequila somewhat but I really can’t listen to that record. Because there’s some things I just won’t really… it’s a really dark record and I like the way that it flows together, but I mean vocally I just wasn’t at the top of my game at that time. I was going through… I was drinking way too much and I’d damaged my vocal chords. I wasn’t 100% going into that vocal performance. Going into that record there’s some things, and that was really kind of the beginning of the end of why I was eventually going to leave the band. But Slider got kicked out plain and simple. The answer to that question he got kicked out and it wasn’t on the best of terms, and we didn’t talk for a very long time. It was 4 years probably that went by before we spoke. It was it was probably, no it was 3 years almost. Three years to the day before Slider and I started speaking again.

So there it is… in Part Two we discuss Joe‘s reasons for leaving Brand New Sin and delve more into Elephant Mountain‘s sound. Joe pulls no punches as you can see here. For now you can go pick up ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN‘s CD The Last Days Of Planet Earth here, or download it on iTunes.

My thanks to Joe for taking time out of his ridiculous schedule to do the interview and to Melissa Dolak for her patience in transcribing a huge gabfest like this for me.

Go pick up The Last Days Of Planet Earth, you’ll thank me later.


For more ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN click here or here.

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SEVENDUST’S Morgan Rose- “I’m in a great place right now.”

by on Nov.06, 2010, under interviews

Of the many bands I’ve followed over the last two decades, only a handful have had a strong staying power in my musical library…one such band is Atlanta based powerhouse Sevendust.  When I first saw Sevendust, back on a cold winter night twelve years ago at the Webster Theater in Hartford, CT, I knew they were going somewhere.  Never did I dream that I would be seeing them grace the stage at Woodstock ’99, let alone have the chance to interview the backbone of the band, iconic drumming idol Morgan Rose.  While Woodstock was 1999′s biggest concert event… flash forward to 2010, the year in which I finally got to chat with rock’s biggest drummer on a stop of rock’s biggest tour… the Carnival of Madness.  Eight albums, one rockstar wife, and one Playmate of the Month wife later, there were many questions to be answered.  How does one get the answers to twelve years worth of questions into twelve minutes worth of conversation?  Sit back, crack open a cold one, and find out.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well Morgan, congratulations on the tour, and the album Cold Day Memory, which I think is destined to become a classic in the Sevendust catalog.

MORGAN ROSE:  I appreciate it man.

AWAY-TEAM:  I’m really impressed with it.  Now, with Cold Day Memory you kinda seem to have gotten back to the core Sevendust sound.  Do you attribute that to the chemistry of having a guy like Clint Lowery back in the fold?

MORGAN ROSE:  Oh yeah, 100 percent.  Ya know, we did three records without him, and we missed him.  You know that’s like bringing in that fifth element, ya know.  I mean, the sound of our band was always the heavy riffs, the melodic choruses, and the three different voices.  Really, to be honest, the last time we really had a decent amount of power on a record was Animosity, because we were dictated to during Seasons alot, so it still sounded like us, but we were told what to do.  So we had to kinda groove our direction that way, and we like that record, but Animosity was really the last time that all five of us had the power to be able to do exactly what we wanted, so this was the first time since then, and I think that it showed for sure.

MORGAN ROSE:  For sure.  Ya know, being a fan first and foremost, you can really see that you guys are clicking on all cylinders again.

MORGAN ROSE:  Yeah, definitely.  We’re excited.  We’re really happy to get him back, and get our little family back together, and get in the studio.  Because, you know, we did a lot of touring before we were able to get in there with him, so…it was nice to get back in the studio.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now, that album was actually released on your own label 7 Bros.  How did 7 Bros. come about?  Was it kinda the product of “We’ve been fucked over by TVT, we’ve been fucked over by Winedark, we KNOW we’re not gonna fuck ourselves over”? I mean, how did that come around?

MORGAN ROSE:  Uh… Yeah, it was kind of a partnership thing we did through Warner Music, ya know for the first time we were gonna get the real distribution through WEA.  We were gonna have the machine through Warner to borrow people to work for us, and help us out.  So, even though it’s our own label, and considered an indie, we’ve got the resources all around us, and you add our management In De Goot into the fold, all of a sudden… you’ve got a massive machine at radio with In De Goot; you know Bill McGathy has the been the godfather of radio for a very long time.  The combination put us in a position where we felt we had enough behind us to be able to pull this off on our own.

AWAY-TEAM:  You’re widely considered to be one of the best drummers of all-time…

MORGAN ROSE:  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  truthfully, you see it everywhere, it is what it is, right?

MORGAN ROSE:  That’s crazy.  I’m totally flattered that people think that.

AWAY-TEAM:  The most amazing thing to me, is that it’s hard enough to play at the level that you do, but to sing at the same time?  That just blows my mind.  I mean guys like you, and Phil Collins always amazed me because he had such a great voice, but could play the shit out of the drums at the same time.  I’ve always wondered, how do you manage to keep your voice holding one note, and your hands and feet holding another?

MORGAN ROSE:  I don’t know.  I mean it all really started years ago… I’d be writing parts for other people to do and practice, I’d come up with these parts for other people to sing, and they’d be like “Well why don’t you just sing it?”  And I’m like “I don’t wanna be hindered with a microphone back here”, of course the stupid headset came into play, and that was like, that’ll be so you don’t have to move a mic around.  As embarassing as that thing might be, I was glad when Tommy Lee wore it, because it opened the door so I would feel a little less embarassed.  Ya know, it is what it is.  It was one of those things where I developed some ideas, doing something in a certain voice, and everyone just told me they wanted me to do it.  In one way, I wish I never would’ve brought it up, in another way it helped define our sound a bit having that extra voice.

AWAY-TEAM:  You say, in one way you wish you never did it.  Is it because it’s just kind of a burden as your trying to play?

MORGAN ROSE:  Uh… it’s not hard to do, I think it’s probably more that I’m just completely combustive back there.  Ya know I’d like to just lose my mind, and I do the best that I can, but ya know that things in my way and…I mean I’ve gotta do all kinds of prep work to make sure that thing doesn’t fly off.  So I use a mic that’s not really a state of the art microphone, just because it’s the only one that’ll stay on my head the way that I play.  So I’ve got a mic that’s not really the highest quality, just because I wanna make sure I can play the way that I want to play.  But at the same time, that voice lends itself to distortion, so if the mic breaks up a little bit it kinda adds to the sound live.

AWAY-TEAM:  Does having Clint back in the fold lift some of that vocal burden from you?

MORGAN ROSE:  Uh, yeah, ya know the harmony stuff was always left up to him.  When he was gone Vinny and John took over that area.  So it’s not so much of a change as far as how much I’m doing, but on this record, ya know Clint has quite a heavy voice of his own, so he took a little bit of the grunt, or some of that work from me, so I don’t have to worry about doing as much.  So yeah, it’s helped out in lightening the workload on me a little bit.

AWAY-TEAM:  You guys have been out touring and playing for a long time.  I remember the first time I saw you guys, back in ’98, at a little club called the Webster Theater in Hartford, you were there with Godsmack, Kid Rock, and I think One Minute Silence, and Second Coming.  You’ve come a long way from that thus far, in fact I even saw you guys play at Woodstock ’99.  So what’s been the absolute highlight of your career so far?

MORGAN ROSE:  I mean, ya know when we went over and played for the troops, that was a big highlight for us.  We played for some big crowds, and we played for some small ones, but overall to think that we’re just “five little rednecks from Georgia” that twelve years later, actually twelve years signed, but fifteen years later these kids that grew up playing a little bar in Atlanta called The Rec Room in front of fifty to a hundred people are now being invited to go and play for the men and women who protect our country, and to be personally invited to do that was just an honor.  Not a lot of people get to do things like that, so we felt very blessed, and it made us feel amazing inside.  We’ve had so many opportunities to do, ya know, Woodstock and some of the tours that we’ve done, they’ve been great, they’ve been highlights, but to do something like that.  It just sets itself apart.

AWAY-TEAM:  It’s good to see people giving back to those guys. 

MORGAN ROSE:  Oh Yeah!

AWAY-TEAM:   You mentioned Tommy Lee earlier, Tommy has a tremendous amount of respect for you.  You actually got to fill in for him a few times, how was that experience?  I mean it’s fucking Motley Crue, was it intimidating? Was it exciting?  How’d that all pan out?

MORGAN ROSE:  It was terrifying, because I got the call to do that just a few hours before I actually hit the stage.  I mean, I got the call and in two hours I was at the airport getting on a plane that I barely made, to Cincinnati, to get to the venue, and in another two hours I was on stage.  And I didn’t know how to play any of the songs, I mean it was nerve-wracking to say the least.  But he’s one of my best friends, and I love him dearly, and for him to call me and have me fill in for him in a pinch was definitely an honor.  And to be able to, I can put that in my memory bank, and in my book of accomplishments.  I mean Nikki Sixx actually put out a press release, that said “As of now Motley Crue’s a five man band”, and I was like “WOW” that was cool.

AWAY-TEAM:  You’ve had some dark times in the past few years.  You admittedly were not in it mentally, but you’ve pulled through and seem to have a renewed vigor.  You’ve just put out one of your best albums to date, where’s Morgan Rose at now? And what’s the plan after Sevendust?

MORGAN ROSE:  I’m in a great place right now.  I’ve got a great girlfriend that…I think that, short of doing this for a living and some of the damage that it does to you out here, ya know it is sort of a fantasy world, I mean everything that we do out here is so far from reality sometimes, that you get home and you gotta learn how to be a human being again.  And we spend so much time on the road, that sometimes your decision making on the people that you’re with can be a little clouded.  I’ve got two great kids, out of the people that I’ve made the decision to be with prior to my current girlfriend… and there was a lot of quick decisions that were made without really knowing each other well enough.  And then with those situations, I’ve lived and learned and we’re taking it at the right pace I think.  I’ve got a great girl, and I’ve got great kids, and I get along with both the exes just fine, so… I’m in a much better place now than I’ve been in, god ya know, maybe ever.

AWAY-TEAM:  That’s about all that you can ask for, to get along with the exes. (laughs)

MORGAN ROSE:  Yeah.  And as far as after Sevendust, I don’t know.  It occupies so much of your time, ya know Clint works endlessly on trying to create music for this band, or for somebody else or, that’s his outlet to be able to stay consistently working on music.  You know he’s gonna have a baby soon, and that’ll probably slow him down, and he knows it.  It’s something that I think about, but I’m still thinking that we got this thing on the track right now for a while to come, ya know, our bodies are not breaking down as quick as I thought they would.  Ya know, fifteen years of playing together, and thirteen years on the road, you’d figure that the bodies would break down quicker than they have, and “knock on wood” we’re doing pretty good.

AWAY-TEAM:  So, no plans on being a pro craps player? Because I hear you guys are getting a bit of practice.

MORGAN ROSE:  (laughs) Oh we’re doing… we play cee-lo back there.

AWAY-TEAM:  Lewis (Cosby of the band 10 years) was telling me that. (laughs)

MORGAN ROSE:  Oh yeah man.  That’s our little getaway.  I mean, after doing this for so long, it’s like you’ll find anything to spice up the situation, and that’s fun and you might walk away with a few bucks as well.

AWAY-TEAM:  You have a clothing company called Alien Freak Wear.  How did that get started?  And I understand a portion of the proceeds go to charity?

MORGAN ROSE:  Yeah.  And that thing totally got started, actually the brains behind the whole thing was my first wife (former Coal Chamber bassist Rayna Foss).  I was doing a signing one day, and I signed that little alien face, and I started signing that on all my autographs because people wanted me to do it, and it sort of became my logo.  She said you should put it on a t-shirt and sell it, and I was like “I don’t know who would buy it”.  She told me “You’d be surprised, you’ve got a pretty loyal group of people that follow your band and it wouldn’t be that tough, and we could do something for the kids, and for charity…”  I though it couldn’t hurt, and we’ll do it just to see what happens, and it did really well.  And then I went through a divorce, and we shut it down.  Then I got re-married (to former Playmate Teri Harrison), she said “You should do that again”, and I did it again, and I got a divorce, and I shut it down…and then ya know, it started up again, and it’s doing real well now.

AWAY-TEAM:  Is there any particular charity that goes to?  Or is it just kinda spread out?

MORGAN ROSE:  Uh, well we’ve changed it a few times.  Give a little bit out here, a little bit out there.  The Children’s Shelter of Atlanta, is one of the ones that we like dealing with alot.

AWAY-TEAM:  In a movie about your life, who plays you?

MORGAN ROSE:  Probably uh, Screech.  (laughs) No…

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)

MORGAN ROSE:  God, I don’t know.  Probably Screech!  (laughs)  That’s probably closer to how things have been going, I think I made out better, hopefully, than Screech, but early on I think I was probably Screech.

AWAY-TEAM:  Being the second band out on this tour, and coming out so early, as opposed to what you’re used to in being a headliner, how does that change your daily routine?  And is it a welcome change?

MORGAN ROSE:  Yeah, I mean it’s cool, it’s a short set.  We’re in and out, so we usually don’t stay up until four or five anymore, because when you finish a show at midnight it takes a while to wind down.  Here, we’re off by seven, and ready to go to bed by midnight.  So a little more rest, and we love all the guys out on the tour, so we have a good time with ‘em, so it’s really easy actually.

 AWAY-TEAM:  So with a short set like that, how do you choose a set list?  And aside from the new stuff, is there an old Sevendust staple that must be played every night?

MORGAN ROSE:  Uh, yeah, “Face to Face” gets played every night no matter what.  That’s the one song that never leaves.  But like “Black” is in and out, “Denial” is in and out, “Praise” is in there every night too.

AWAY-TEAM:  I think my all time favorite is “Wired”

MORGAN ROSE:  Yeah, we haven’t played that one in a while!

AWAY-TEAM:  I know!  So aside from the travel, and missing your family and girlfriend, what’s the hardest part of being on the road?

MORGAN ROSE:  Eating.  Eating the right stuff!

AWAY-TEAM:  I hear that. (laughs)   Ten words or less, describe the Carnival of Madness.

MORGAN ROSE:  A lot of dice, a lot of drinking, a lot of sleep!

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs) Well hey Morgan, thanks for your time, it’s been an honor.

MORGAN ROSE:  Thank you, I really appreciate it.

AWAY-TEAM:  Hopefully we’ll talk again soon in the near future.

MORGAN ROSE:  Sounds good, man.  Talk to you soon.

You can catch Sevendust on this fall’s Hard Drive Live Tour with special guests 10 Years and Since October

For more info, including tour dates and to purchase music, visit http://www.sevendust.com/  For more info on Morgan Rose and Alien Freak Wear visit http://www.alienfreakwear.com/

Special thanks go to Morgan Rose for so graciously giving me his time, and Julie Lichtenstein at SKH Music and Amanda Cagan at ABC PR for making it all happen.

Band photos courtesy of Jeremy Adamo.  Individual photo courtesy of Marcy Royce.

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HOWARD JONES – Things Can Only Get Better!

by on Oct.04, 2010, under interviews

HOWARD JONES
T
hings Can Only Get Better…and They Have!
By: Jen Conrad

 

Anyone who lived in the 80s, knows Howard Jones’ music. You may not realize it…but you do! Remember “No One is To Blame” or “Things Can Only Get Better” or “Life In One Day”? Well, that’s Howard Jones! I guarantee you that if you check out the Howard Jones section at your local CD store, you’ll recognize his tunes. A wonderfully poignant songwriter, HoJo has never been given the credit that he deserves in the industry. Perhaps he was bigger than the era or perhaps he was ahead of his time, but his music will live on as an important part of the 80s. But today, Howard Jones is back with his first album in a few years and boy, what an album!  Howard Jones is an artist in the truest sense of the word…a sensitive, emotive, soft-spoken man who is appreciative of his fans and of his success so far.  HoJo’s new album, Ordinary Heroes, is his most heartfelt, emotional album to date. Full of life experiences, heart-wrenching situations, and positivity in the face of adversity, Ordinary Heroes is an album that should not be missed! On the heels of the release of Ordinary Heroes, I had the opportunity to talk with Howard about his new album. Meet Howard Jones!

Jen: It’s wonderful to meet you and have a chance to talk with you!
Howard: Oh, thank you…and you as well!

Jen: You just have had an album named Ordinary Heroes released in the States. This is being touted as your “most personal album to date.”  Can you tell us why the album is so personal to you?
Howard: The album has two sort of main themes to it.  There are some sort of very personal things to it that happen to be very heartfelt things.  A song called “You Knew Us So Well” is all about a friend of mine who took his own life. He was a member of my band, so he was a very dearly loved and close friend.  I’ve very rarely written a song that was so from the heart as that one.  Then another song called “Soon You’ll Go” is about my daughter leaving home to go to college in America…songs that basically when you are writing them, a lot of tears are shed!  There are others…somewhat straight ahead and about having courage to overcome obstacles and knowing that you have the strength in you to deal with any situation that comes around…and you can turn it around and you can make it a positive experience, whatever it is. Those two themes are running through every song, really.  That’s why people are saying it’s the most intimate, personal album to date…

Jen: Well, I’m sure that we’ll shed tears along with you. So thanks for that, Howard! (both laugh)
Like you mentioned, the album is very focused on storytelling…about people you’ve met and things you’ve gone through. You have said that you really focused on the lyrics and getting your story across on this album.  How was that different that anything you’ve previously done?
Howard: I’ve always been a lyrics person…that’s the thing that I care about most.  If I wasn’t a musician, I would be in one of the other arts so I could get the ideas across.  I’m fortunate to be a musician, but I would be happy with any other form of expression…but lyrics always come first, even in the beginning. So really, this is just me getting older…I’ve been at it a long time, so hopefully I’ve learned a few things along the way that I can really get these ideas over in a meaningful way…

Jen: As a fan from way back, the lyrics are what I love about your music. You were focused on the lyrics, and as a complement, the music is more stripped down so it wouldn’t detract from the lyrics…how did you achieve that?
Howard: Yeah! Well, the approach I had was to keep it simple…the piano part, drum part, guitar part, bass part, the string quartet and then a lead vocal and one backing vocal. I stuck to that plot pretty much exclusively…except for one track. That way, there’s no big production thing going on…no huge keyboard sounds coming in the middle.  It’s straightforwardly presented…honestly presented and that seemed to go well with what the songs are about.

Jen: As you were recording, you recorded in a studio, you recorded at home, and you went to Wales to work with a choir. Tell us about that..
Howard: That’s the exception where I actually broke my rule! (laughs) I recorded the song, “Soon You’ll be Gone,” with the cello and the vocal. I could just hear a Welsh male-voice choir coming in the third verse…it just wouldn’t get out of my mind!  I just did what everyone else does and I got on the internet, found the website and got a number from this choir I’d heard as a child…and in fact I’d seen them as a child performing.  I phoned them up and said, “Would you sing on my song?  Can I come down and meet you and would you consider singing on this song?”  So I played the song for them down there and sort of gave a presentation to them!  (laughs) This is a world famous Welsh choice that doesn’t take any prisoners…they’re really well respected in the whole world…

Jen: But you’re the world- renown Howard Jones…
Howard: (laughs) Yeah, that might be something for other people but for me, I’m just Howard Jones!  (laughs) I stood in front of them and asked them if they would be involved and they really, genuinely wanted to be involved.  This song is about a daughter leaving home…they’ve been through that and they’ve felt that. During the recording, the men with tears streaming down their faces singing this song…it was incredible!  It was a wonderful experience!

Jen: All of these songs are personal to you, so do you have a favorite to perform or one that has special meaning? Obviously your daughter would have special meaning…Howard: Yes that one…it’s really difficult to get through that one when I play it. I do one of the songs called “Straight Ahead”…I’m the musical director of a choir and I work with them once a month. We sing that song and I always said to them, “That’s the best version!  It’s like 60 people singing it all together…so that’s one of my absolute favorites!

Jen: How will you be supporting the album in the States?
Howard: I’m doing a 12 day tour in the UK in September. Duncan Sheik, my really good friend, is joining me on that tour. Once we start doing it, I’m going to talk to him about possibly us doing something together in the States, because it would be a lovely combination, actually. So we’ll probably try to plan something for next year.

Jen: That would be great!  Now, a couple of questions about your pop hits from the 80s…your 80s hits are timeless, even today.  Do you have a favorite song from your past?
Howard: It’s always great for me when I play “No One is to Blame” when I’m in the States!  Everyone knows it! Even if they don’t know that it’s me who sang that song, they know the song. It’s such a wonderful thing!  Wherever I go, anywhere in America, everyone knows that song!  It feels like that in a small way, I’ve become a little part of American culture and I feel very proud of that!

Jen: Everyone knows that song, it is amazing!  You’re right, though, people may not know who sing it, but they sure know the song!
Howard: Yeah, that’s right!  That interests me that people love the song and they don’t necessarily know that it’s me…it’s quite pure in a way! (laughs)

Jen: I saw you several years back with Human League and Culture Club…it was so nice to get to see you again!
Howard: I’d love to do one of those tours again, but it’s quite hard to get them together. I’m doing a lot of gigs over here with Boy George, Human League and ABC. It’s thriving over here but we can’t seem to get it together to come to America…

Jen: Those testy Americans… (laughs)
Howard: No, it’s not the Americans…it’s probably…I don’t know what it is… (laughs)

Jen: Can you tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Howard: Ummmmm, I don’t know that you’d be surprised, but I’m a big fan of Formula One motor racing which, I suppose, is a bit surprising for me!  I’ve been to quite a few races.  I’ve never had the need to get in the car and do any racing, but I do enjoy watching the teams and the cars.

Jen:  That is a little surprising, I guess!  Is there a person you’d most love to meet?
Howard: I’d love to meet Nelson Mandela. I would love to meet him…I think he’s an amazing man!  I’d love to pay my respects to him.

Jen: Is there a new band or new artist that you are interested in or enjoy their music?
Howard: I’m a huge fan of an artist called Laura Marling!  She’s a young, new folk artist in the UK and she is amazing!

Jen: Finally, what would you like to say to your fans?
Howard: I always like to say thank you for supporting me for all of these years.  I can’t do what I do without you and thank you for sticking with me!  It’s great to be doing this together. I can’t do it without them. It’s great having this long legacy together!

Jen: Howard, thank you so much for your time…
Howard: Thank you very much, Jen!  It’s very nice to meet you also!

What an awesome man! So now, be sure to check out Ordinary Heroes! This album will definitely be on my Best of 2010 List! And while you’re at it, check out Howard’s back catalog of music! You won’t be sorry!

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SHINEDOWN’S Zach Myers-”Bands that use 45 minutes of their 2 hour set to talk politics should be shot!”

by on Sep.18, 2010, under interviews

Atlantic recording artists Shinedown formed in Jacksonville, FL in 2001.  Since then, they have released three albums full of countless hits, such as “Fly from the Inside”, “45″, ”Save Me”, and more recently “Devour”, “The Crow and the Butterfly”, and who could forget their brilliant cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Simple Man”.  All the while they have been touring their asses off, and playing in front of packed houses, and surprisingly enough none of them have included me.  I don’t know how it came to be that I never had the chance to get out and see these guys, but I can’t believe what great shows I’ve missed.  That being said, it should come as no surprise that when the opportunity arose to interview guitarist Zach Myers at a stop on this summer’s Carnival of Madness tour, I jumped at the chance.  Here’s how it all went down as Zach and I talked about everything from the tour, to Ozzy, to oil spills.

AWAY-TEAM:  First off, I’d like to congratulate you on the tour, and the success of the fifth single off “The Sound of Madness” , “The Crow and the Butterfly”.  I saw that it just hit number one on the Active Rock charts, and it’s poised to do the same on the Mainstream Rock chart.

ZACH MYERS:  Thanks.  That’s five number ones on this record, we’re so very blessed, and we’re really excited.  And now we just found out they’re gonna release one more single, so we’re gonna go for six.

AWAY-TEAM:  Can you tell me what that’s gonna be?

ZACH MYERS:  I think it’s gonna be “Breaking Inside”, but I’m not sure.  I can’t confirm that, but I think that’s what it is.

AWAY-TEAM:  So six singles AND you’re gonna knock Ozzy off the top spot.  That’s pretty cool.

ZACH MYERS:  Yeah.  We did already, actually, on Active Rock.  Sorry Ozzy.

AWAY-TEAM: (laughs)  Back to the tour, you guys have assembled a killer lineup, how did this all happen?

ZACH MYERS:  The idea came up…Brent (frontman Brent Smith) wanted to do a festival tour, our manager also wanted to do a festival tour, our manager manages all of these bands.  So it was pretty easy to put together, ya know what I mean, it was all in house.  It was cool man.  It was something that we asked all these bands, we picked the bands.  It was a fun idea, when we put it all together, and ya know the best thing about the summer is festivals.  And these are all bands that would be on a festival anyway, so we went to every single one of them and said “Why don’t we put on a festival.  Our own festival, and travel around”  The backstage vibe is way cooler like that.  Festivals are just like class reunions, you get together and see all your friends again, so why not have that for a couple months.  So it was a very easy idea to put together.  It was a no-brainer.

AWAY-TEAM:  You mentioned that you thought summer festivals were fun.  Is this something that you plan to do annually? 

ZACH MYERS:  It is gonna be an annual thing.  But it’s gonna be almost like when Limp Bizkit did the uh…

AWAY-TEAM: Family Values?

ZACH MYERS:  Yeah.  We’re not gonna be on it every year.  I know that we probably won’t be on it next year, but the following year we’ll probably do it. 

AWAY-TEAM:  So kinda “One on, one off”?

ZACH MYERS:   Yeah.  But it will be an annual thing.  The Carnival will be an annual event, but who headlines will be different from year to year.

AWAY-TEAM:  With Ozzfest kinda winding it’s way down, it seems like the perfect replacement.

ZACH MYERS:  Yeah, and you never know, maybe we could move it to like two or three stages.  We would all love that.

AWAY-TEAM:  That’d be great.  In ten words or less, what can a fan expect to see at the Carnival of Madness?

ZACH MYERS:  Madness.  It’s a carnival. (laughs) Um.  Loud. (pauses) Five of the greatest live shows you’ve ever seen.

AWAY-TEAM:  You guys had a Live DVD that was scrapped back in 2007.  Any chance we’ll get a Live DVD/Album from this tour?

ZACH MYERS:  I can tell you that we’re gonna record a couple shows.  DVD’s are so hard pressed now with labels, because they don’t really make any money off of them.  They put money into them but they really, no matter how many you sell of them, it’s not like the old days where when you sell a concert DVD, you can’t really sell a million copies of one.  Ya know what I mean? I couldn’t tell you the last person who did that in the last ten years, so.  We actually talked about doing it ourselves, and funding it ourselves.  This is way too cool of a show to not put out a DVD of some sort.  If there’s not a DVD, after this we’re doing an acoustic tour and we’re definitely gonna film alot of that, so…

AWAY-TEAM:  Now, five singles off “The Sound of Madness”, you said you’re ready to release a sixth, it’s been about three years when can we expect to see a new Shinedown studio album?

ZACH MYERS:  Umm. At the earliest, I would say at the end of 2011.  At the very earliest.  We’re gonna take October off, and go write in L.A.  We’ve been writing alot anyway, we wrote the Alice in Wonderland song (“Her Name is Alice”), we’ve written “Diamond Eyes” for The Expendables.  But yeah, we’re gonna go write in October, then we’re gonna go do this acoustic tour, and then I think we’re gonna wind it down in about mid-December.  Kinda take a break, take about a month or two off, and then start it all back over again.

AWAY-TEAM:  You guys recently joined the ever growing list of bands that are boycotting BP Petroleum

ZACH MYERS:  I don’t know where this is coming from. 

AWAY-TEAM:  Not true?

ZACH MYERS:  No.  We’ve been asked that like five times.  I don’t know where… I disagree with it, I think it’s completely fucked.  We all live in the south, so ya know that’s our home…Do I get gas at BP when I’m home? No.

AWAY-TEAM:  So I guess the question still does apply.  If you had the podium at a BP board meeting, what would you say to them?

ZACH MYERS:  What can you say?  Who’s fault is it?  It’s really not their fault.  In all honesty, it’s not their fault when something like that happens.  It’s a natural disaster, they didn’t pop the cap off the thing.  But it is their fault for not fixing it sooner, or not having a plan in place.  They really, if they would’ve kept their mouths shut, then it would’ve been fine.  But this guy kept going on and saying things like “There’s more shrimp in Louisiana”.  This guy’s an idiot, ya know what I mean?  He’s put his foot in his mouth so many times.  When you’re the head of a company and you have to have security to escort you back to Europe so people don’t kill you, it’s because you’ve opened your mouth too much.  But no, as a band we can’t get involved in that.  It’s not our place, we’re not a political band.  The most political we’ve ever been is “Devour” and that’s just us talking about what WE saw when WE were in Iraq.  But other than that, we’re not a political band, it’s not our business.  Eric (bassist Eric Bass) and I are very political as people, but we don’t bring that into the band.  You don’t talk about politics, and you don’t talk about religion, that’s just something that you don’t do. 

AWAY-TEAM:  This is your work.  You don’t talk politics at work.

ZACH MYERS:  Yeah, and bands that use 45 minutes of their 2 hour set to talk about politics should be shot!  I’m sorry, it’s people that pay to hear you bitch? So what? No one cares!  U2 is one of my favorite bands of all time, and yeah Bono will slip things in here and there, but he doesn’t take half an hour.  And that’s the thing about it, it’s finding that line, ya know.  Some bands don’t do that.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well thanks, man.  I’m looking forward to the show tonight, and thanks for your time.  Have a good show.

ZACH MYERS:  Thank you very much.  We’ll do our best.  This is only our third show of the tour, so we’ll see how it goes.

AWAY-TEAM: Just warming up.

ZACH MYERS:  Just warming up, and my whole body hurts already. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  Well, hey Zach thanks alot.  It’s been a pleasure.

ZACH MYERS:  Thanks.  I appreciate it.

For more Shinedown, including Tour Dates and to purchase their music visit http://www.shinedown.com/

Special thanks to Zach Myers for so graciously giving me his time, and to Julie Lichtenstein at SKH Music for making it all happen.

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DEATH ANGEL’s TED AGUILAR ‘More to Conquer, Relentless Touring!’ an interview

by on Aug.30, 2010, under interviews

The Bay Area Thrash Scene of the early 80’s has been well documented. The most successful metal band of all time, Metallica, helped define it’s sound, and give San Francisco it’s second major music ‘scene’ (the first being the flower power, hippy, acid rock scene of the 60’s). Bands like Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Possessed, Heathen, and Vio-lence where at the forefront of the new scene.
Death Angel released three albums to much critical acclaim and built a very strong following. With the release of ACT III the band seemed poised to jump from a well known underground band to commercial success, but a bus accident at the beginning of the tour cycle sidelined the band with injuries, and they eventually separated in 1991. Fast forward ten years to Thrash Of The Titans a benefit for Chuck Billy, the singer of Testament, who was diagnosed with throat cancer. Many of the ‘old school’ Bay Area Thrash bands united and reunited for this epic event and cause. Death Angel was reborn with a new guitarist and due in part to the crowd response, and the persistence of a record label, Nuclear Blast, the band decided to hit the road and actually record an album. The last 9 years has seen three new albums, several successful tours, and a resurgence of the Bay Area old school Thrash Scene.
Ted Aguilar has been with Death Angel now since the Thrash Of The Titans show in 2001. And while the band was on tour with Soilwork this summer, I chatted with Ted Aguilar after their Raleigh, North Carolina show (and heated Galaga video game match!) about Death Angel, a proposed tour of China, the first ever ‘metal’ themed cruise ship, the soon to be released Relentless Retribution (September 14th on Nuclear Blast), what it feels like to be starring three years of non stop touring straight in the face, and how he was able to take the stage at Thrash of the Titans after only two rehearsals with the band (‘fuckin’ nervous man, fuckin’ nervous!’ was his response)

AWAY TEAM: This is ‘Slim’ Jim Keller with Awayteam.com and I’m sitting here with Ted Aguilar from Death Angel. I want to thank you very much for taking time out again for this interview. Congratulations on the soon to be released 6th studio album from Death Angel entitled Relentless Retribution.

TED AGUILAR: Yes!

AWAY TEAM: So how long have you been with Death Angel?

TED AGUILAR: Nine years now this is my 3rd album with them.

AWAY TEAM: Ok so when they reformed…

TED AGUILAR: Yeah I’ve been with them since Thrash of the Titans.

AWAY TEAM: What brought you on board to Death Angel? They reformed for the benefit for Chuck Billy called the Thrash of the Titans and it was the first time that they’d gotten together in eleven years to perform and so how did you end up in the band?

TED AGUILAR: Actually, I’ve known the guys for a long time even back in the 80’s. I’d been to majority of all their hometown shows from Ultra-Violence until Act III. And when the band started to reform I guess everyone was into it except Gus (Pepa) the other rhythm guitar player. And I mean he just wasn’t into it, he was in the Philippines at the time he just basically checked out of music, well heavy music in general. I’d known Rob (Cavestany), and Rob gave me a call and said, ‘Hey man you want to do it? Gus can’t do it.’ and at first I was like, ‘Are you SURE?’ I don’t wanna step on anybody’s toes since Death Angel was more of a family unit. He goes, ‘Nope Gus can’t do it.’ So in 2 rehearsals I had to learn all the songs on my own and you know I jammed out with some individuals just to kinda get some ideas of the structures of the song. We did 2 rehearsals like 2 days before Thrash of the Titans and boom did the show. It was fun man. I was nervous as a motherfucker though I’ll tell you! But it was fun.

AWAY TEAM: Kind of a big stage to take on for your first with only 2 rehearsals under your belt

TED AGUILAR: Two rehearsals and its Death Angel’s first gig in 11 years! You gotta be on your game! I was nervous as a motherfucker. These guys know the songs inside out I mean they grew up writing it so it was like second nature to them.

AWAY TEAM: So what were you doing before you got the call?

TED AGUILAR: I just played in a couple local bands nothing really big, just jamming around with friends and local bands just played around the Bay Area. And my band played with Rob and Mark’s (Osegueda) band Swarm at the time. We did a few local gigs together and that’s how I guess I got the gig. They never actually told me I was in the band they go ‘You wanna jam?’ and 9 years later here I am today man!

AWAY TEAM: Still waiting to sign the contract right!

TED AGUILAR: I’m still waiting! I didn’t even get a handshake! Put it that way.

AWAY TEAM: So your first album with Death Angel was Art of Dying. What was it at that show or shortly after that they decided or you all decided you should reform properly and actually do something with this?

TED AGUILAR: Well that show was supposed to be a one-off. I mean from what the guys told me Death Angel wasn’t meant to reform, they were just done. They went out on a high note of Act III and they started doing other various projects as The Organization, Swarm, Silver Circus and Big Shrimp and all that stuff. Right after we did Thrash of the Titans… I loved it, and the rest of the guys just felt the overwhelmingness of the crowd. Just very into the band. We didn’t realize how much Death Angel was missed. So after that show there was other offers coming about and I guess we decided let’s just do one more round of touring put out a live album and that’s it, call it a day. But as soon as we went to Europe the crowd was just amazing! The first time we went there we headlined the F&R in 2002 July of 2002 I believe then we did the Dynamo Festival and those shows are just like, ‘Holy Shit!’ I mean metal is big in Europe and again we didn’t realize how much fans around the world missed Death Angel. And we did that and went back out on the road again we got this offer to do two weeks in Europe on a festival with Testament. Nuclear Blast started coming around offering us you know… they wanted to sign us without even hearing new songs! They just loved the band, loved the legacy, ‘we’ll sign you!’ So from there on we just said well let’s give it a shot we did and we released Art Of Dying, we released Killing Season, now we’re going to release Relentless Retribution and it’s been a great ride and we still got more to conquer! More to conquer!

AWAY TEAM: Well you’re currently on tour with Soilwork, Swashbuckle and Mutiny Within; I saw maybe 5 dates left after tonight, what’s next?

TED AGUILAR: After this we’re going to go home and kinda hang out with family real quick. Just hang out and chill, then the album comes out as you know September 14th, everyone go out and get it!

AWAY TEAM: On Nuclear Blast. Find it on Nuclear Blast; pre-order it now you get a T-shirt with it…

TED AGUILAR: There you go! And there’s gonna be there’s a limited DVD too. It’s the making of the record which I kinda filmed, directed, and produced the whole thing. I had someone else edit it. It’s the making of the record from the first riff all the way until the last riff and into the recording studio and whatnot. And September we’re going to do the Mezcal Metalfest the last week of September with Twisted Sister, Destruction, God Forbid, and Obituary. Then in October we’re going to South America for the first time which we’re really excited about then we come back in November. December we’re going out to Europe with Kreator, Exodus, and Suicidal Angels and that’s going to be a thrash fest festival across Europe! Come back for the holidays then in the new year we pick up at that 70,000 ton metal cruise we’re doing with Testament, Forbidden, Exodus, Fear Factory, Uli Roth, Trouble, Swashbuckle, so many bands! Then right after that we start our headlining U.S. tour and who knows what’s going to come after that. I know next summer we still have to do the major European festivals so relentless touring, relentless touring.

AWAY TEAM: So springtime we should see you back in the States then on the road…

TED AGUILAR: Around springtime yeah around there.

AWAY TEAM: Early summer before the European festivals kick in?

TED AGUILAR: Yeah then go back to Europe for the summer festivals then maybe come back in the fall too. Relentless touring! Who knows? But that’s the plan.

AWAY TEAM: On this album you have two new musicians (Damien Sissom – bass, Will Carroll – drums) on it, has that changed how you guys write?

TED AGUILAR: Well it definitely changed this time around because we have a new rhythm section. Andy Galeon and Dennis Pepa are no longer with the band due to personal and family obligations. They couldn’t go out on tour basically so we got a new rhythm section and when we got them, before we even started writing a record, we went out on tour with them. Just played the old songs and we noticed they have a thrashier element. So it was kinda good to go out on the road with them and play some of the old songs and get a feel of what’s going on. I’ve known Damien and Will for awhile, I’ve played with them, so I know what their vibe is about. But it was good in a sense for Rob and Mark because it’s probably the first time in Death Angel history they got to jam with somebody who are not family, somebody totally new. So when we came to writing the album Rob kinda knew what styles Will played, he knew Will’s a thrash drummer, basically like full on thrash drummer, Damien’s a thrash bass player but with a sense of like, ala Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, all those great players. So Rob wrote accordingly to that. The band’s been through a lot of ups and downs in the past couple of years losing members and a lot of personal things going on internally and externally. So all that influence and jamming with new people helped create this record which is the most aggressive and thrashiest record since Ultra-Violence. You know a lot of double bass a lot of fast parts and it feels like a new band. When you listen to the record, for us, it seemed like a new band getting its first record deal, excited! Just going out there again you know? It’s kinda like they helped bring that excitement back which was kinda tapering off with Dan and Andy because they just weren’t into it any more. You can’t really force anybody to be into something when they’re not. And it was really hard for the band because those guys had been with the band since the inception and a lot of fans are like, ‘Oh man! What’re they gonna do?’ But this album’s going to really prove that Death Angel can go on and we’re happy about that.

AWAY TEAM: That’s one thing I’d noticed with the Art of Dying and Killing Season. Act III to most fans out there was the ‘be all end allDeath Angel album and it was probably the most diverse out of the three original albums, very funky, a lot of different styles woven through the basic Bay Area Thrash sound and with the Art of Dying & Killing Season and what little bit I’ve heard of Relentless Retribution it’s like you have gone more towards the straightforward thrash. Is that more angry or just…

TED AGUILAR: It’s a combination of things. I mean it was intentionally to do that and two it was like I said we’d gone through a lot in the past couple of years so all that vibe went into that, and Rob being the sole the chief writer on this one. Art of Dying was good you know it got our feet wet with the band discovering themselves again because it’d been a long time. Killing Season was a great record where everyone like pretty much honed in, but then again, like I’d said in the past couple of years there was tension within the band of collaborating. I mean collaboration is good sometimes you know and it works well when it works well and the past couple of years with everyone it was hard in a sense. And when everyone collaborated it made Death Angel, but this one was more Rob wrote everything. I mean he had the ideas, he had the thing, there was no fighting, there was no pushing and pulling. It wasn’t like, ‘No this has to be that way!’ ‘No this is that way!Rob had so much ideas, and so much to let out, that with our new rhythm section and we heard what Rob was writing and we’d go, ‘that’s it!’ You know he was feeling it, he had all this vibe and ideas, we just ran with it. It was easier for Rob to write. There was no pushing and pulling, he had everything, we just added to what he did. It’s like I said being a band, being in a first band, someone forms a band, ‘I got all these songs let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it!’ And when it came to the lyrics, Mark wrote the majority of the lyrics. There’s 12 songs on the record. Mark wrote 9 of them and Rob wrote the other 3 and it’s a heartfelt record. Mark finally got to release. Mark had a lot… you know we all went through a lot of stuff. We were all able to release, and that’s why the record’s more thrashy, more aggressive. It was purposely done that way. Along with the fact of what we went through, so we’re stoked about it. We’re just stoked. And it still has Death Angel elements in there. It doesn’t have the sing-along’s like some stuff on Act III, but there’s melody. It’s just aggressive melody. Who knows how well this album does. We could go on the road even longer. That’s something we want to do. It’s something a proper band should do. And that’s something we never got to do with Art of Dying and Killing Season. Due to the fact that a couple of the guys in the band either didn’t want to tour… we get booked a tour and go ‘I can do that first half but not the second half’ it’s like we gotta do it all! But now that those roadblocks are not there we are able to just tour and we need to tour to promote the record and to get in people’s faces. A lot of people want to see us live and they don’t want to wait 4 years for us to come by. So we want to keep comin’ and coming around.

AWAY TEAM: Yeah I’m getting tired of driving 5 hours to see you guys!

TED AGUILAR: Yes yes yes! We want to keep touring a lot so we can hit other markets where people don’t have to travel to. We’re hitting these markets where people have to travel because we haven’t come around a lot. The more we come around we can hit other territories. The word gets out ‘hey come over here instead of over there’. Cool. You know maybe hit your town so you don’t have to drive!

AWAY TEAM: So you’re doing South America and with the European festivals you’re hitting a lot of Europe, what is probably like the one market or the one place you guys haven’t played that you want to?

TED AGUILAR: Oh South America, one. Central America, probably want to go to Africa. I’ve heard they have shows in Africa. Morocco, Sepultura just did Morocco, they had a couple festivals in like Dubai. We’ve done the Philippines which is great awesome and …

AWAY TEAM: How are you guys accepted there?

TED AGUILAR: Great!

AWAY TEAM: I think you and Journey ‘cuz of their new lead singer…

TED AGUILAR: Yeah yeah!

AWAY TEAM: You guys are pretty much the favored children of the Philippines.

TED AGUILAR: Pretty much yeah! Well Journey more than us! We were accepted really well and the fans were awesome the people there were awesome. We want to go back to Japan, we’ve been to Japan, but I know there’s other territories. There’s talks of Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and you know Hawaii… There’s so many places, it’s just trying to get out there. It is hard but we’ll play everywhere where it’s feasible. If we can get out there without losing it, losing our asses, we’ll play! We’ll definitely play.

AWAY TEAM: In the age of downloading, you guys unfortunately don’t make a lot money anymore on the actual album sales. Labels and no offense to Nuclear Blast and some other great labels out there but the big labels we’ll say are slowly but surely crumbling. And if they don’t change their business model then they’re not going to exist in the next few years. Can you still exist and can you make a good living doing this full time?

TED AGUILAR: If you play your cards right!

AWAY TEAM: It’s about being in your blood and wanting to play. That’s one thing. But being able to survive in today’s market…

TED AGUILAR: A lot of bands seem to do it, I mean a lot of younger bands. Thing is to tour one, merchandise of course, you can download music but you can’t download a shirt. And we get people go ‘oh I’ve seen your YouTube performances’ great! And they come out to see us. Yeah you can see it on YouTube, but it’s not the same as going to a live show. Downloading does hurt and I’ve talked to people in bands and labels, it hurts but you gotta embrace the internet. I see it as touring, your merchandise, and just playing your cards right, and just embracing the internet. Don’t kind of shun it, it’s there, it’s not going away. The days of making money off platinum records seems to be over. Not even pop artists sell as much as they used to but…

AWAY TEAM: Which is good actually!

TED AGUILAR: Well in a sense, but for bands like us we gotta go out and tour. And the live show’s where people really see us. And the more we tour the more merch you sell or whatever and just gotta keep going. Putting out records cause the diehards will buy the records and in this day and age you got people like me and you who still buy records. The newer generations don’t seem to, a lot of the hardcore scene people kinda like download, but a lot of metal kids that I talk to, that I meet, have bought CDs and vinyl and want to sign it. So that’s good that they’re buying it. But it’s just touring and word of mouth the old school way.

AWAY TEAM: Well, used to be when you’re starting out you lived on the road. You lived in the back of a van and you toured incessantly just to get your name out there. Now you have to tour incessantly to put money in your pocket! As you get older it really starts to wear on you more, how do you keep up the intensity? Because you guys put on a phenomenal show! Like I was telling Mark (Osegueda – singer) before we started the interview, I’ve been following this band since ’87. I’m from the Bay Area originally and there was a high school radio station KVHS that played metal, and that’s all they played! That was my introduction to Death Angel in ’87. They played the Ultra-Violence and I was hooked instantly. I’ve seen you guys live, since you got back together, I’ve seen you probably 5, 6 times. And they are just amazing shows! And the intensity on that stage whether it’s a huge room or a very small room, you guys just slay. How do you keep up that level of intensity and that energy night after night being on the road for say another 2 years now?

TED AGUILAR: One we try to stay healthy eat right on the road a lot of us exercise a lot you know

AWAY TEAM: And a lot of Galaga!

TED AGUILAR: And a lot of Galaga!! We exercise a lot, we watch what we eat basically, and we’re not excessive drinkers. We don’t do drugs, an occasional puff here and there with the guys. Who doesn’t? It’s basically just really taking care of yourself. Plus when we play the songs that we play we’re just so into it, it just makes us go crazy night after night whether it’s a small crowd or a big crowd. We throw out the energy and the crowd throws it back at us. We love to do it, we love to go out there and perform. People come to see a show we’re going to give you a show! Plus we’re from the old school, where we go to a show and fuckin’ Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, old Metallica, all those bands they put on a show. KISS for example! So we kinda like are influenced by that, but how do we do it? We just rest, exercise, and try to work out and be cautious of intake.

AWAY TEAM: Well I thank you very much it’s been a pleasure again thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule

TED AGUILAR: No problem man thank you

AWAY TEAM: Good luck with Relentless Retribution and the next 16 months on the road and hopefully we’ll see you again in Raleigh in the spring.

TED AGUILAR: Raleigh or wherever you live! Hopefully you know the more we tour, and if the record gets pretty successful which we hope… Countin’ on you guys to buy it so we can hit more than just one city per state you know? So everyone can come out, we’re into it! Hope you’re into it too. Relentless Retribution September 14th via Nuclear Blast GO BUY IT! Come see the shows!

Thank you to Ted Aguilar for the time he took out of his Galaga match to sit and talk with me, Francois for ensuring the interview happened, Charles at Nuclear Blast for setting it up, and Melissa for her great transcription services as always.

Relentless Retribution can be pre-ordered here.

For more DEATH ANGEL click here.

Photos courtesy of Barry Knain

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SKILLET – Sizzling Rock n’ Roll for the Masses

by on Aug.15, 2010, under interviews

With the enormous success of Skillet’s 2006 release, Comatose, John Cooper (lead vocals/bassist), Korey Cooper (keys/guitar/backing vocals), Ben Kasica (guitars), and Jen Ledger (drums/backing vocals) have found their voice in this industry, and have stayed with the brand of rock music that made them a success!  Swerving away from their original roots as a Christian rock band, Skillet has flourished as a mainstream active rock band!  Having toured for about a year now in support of their current release, Awake, Skillet has continued grow their fan base while firmly planting their music in the psyches of fans across the U.S. Take the lead single, “Monster”, for example. That song has found its way into the heads and ipods of pre-teen jocks, while also appealing to young grandmothers and everyone in between! What does it take to appeal to this wide range of fans? And what approach does the band take when creating their music? Well, we’re about to find out the answer to these questions from Skillet front man John Cooper.

Jen:  Your current album is called Awake…it came out August of last year.  Since your previous album, Comatose, came out, you guys have just blown up!  Tell us about this album and how you think it’s different from your previous albums.
John:  What is it about Awake that’s different?  When we did Comatose, we started trying to write songs about incidents that people can relate to.  It could be everyday issues or it could be more wide…something you’re struggling with…whatever.  And I think we did that through Awake, but the only way I’m saying it’s a little different is I think the lyrics are a little dirtier…grittier is probably a better word.  Like “Monster”…dealing with a little bit of a darker issue than probably anything we ever talked about on Comatose.  And there’s a couple love songs on the Awake album…”It’s Not Me, It’s You” and there’s another song called “Sometimes”.  Those are probably a little darker than anything we’ve dealt with, so I think that’s one of the ways it’s a little bit different.  Also, I think not only are the lyrics a little grittier, I think the music is a little grittier.  It still has the Skillet sound to it, but it’s not quite as clean as Comatose was…it’s a little bit rougher, the guitars are louder, my vocals are a little harsher, and I think that the sound of the record went along with the lyrics in that way…it feels a little edgier.

Jen:  You guys worked with Howard Benson who is a killer producer this time!  What do you think he brought to the album from a production standpoint?
John:  Well, Howard is a really smart, talented guy. He’s been in our top producer lists for quite a long time.  Howard’s great with songs, and I really needed some direction because I had probably 35 songs written for the record!  I showed him all the songs and got his feedback…what’s good…what’s not…and that’s not easy!  It isn’t easy for a producer to sit down and do that! That’s a lot of information, a lot of songs to choose from.  Of course I would ask him, “What is it you like about this and not about this other song?” I think that he helped me format a new opinion of what makes a good song…what is the thing that captures people and affects them?  Sometimes as a songwriter, you can write something that affects people and grasps their attention, but maybe you just really don’t know why it does.  As a songwriter, you tend to think all your songs are good…you don’t really have much of a thermometer, so he really brought that to the table.  Another thing that Howard really brought was Howard is known for being really good with vocals…that’s kind of his reputation in this industry.   People go, “Oh man his vocals sound amazing!”  I don’t know why, but he’s really good with vocals and I think that’s why the vocals are a little more intense on Awake than on Comatose.  He tends to like that kind of performance.  Some producers don’t like it when it’s maybe a little out there or a little too intense, and Howard really likes those performances.  I think it makes you believe it more when you hear it.  I was singing really hard when we were recording it! I knew Howard liked powerful performances so I was singing much harder than I did on Comatose, and he’d go “I think you’re singing a little hard, give it to me a little harder!” I was like, “Really?  I was giving it everything I had!”  But you know, I think that helped, so that’s probably the biggest things that he brought to the table. 

Jen: As an artist, it has to be really hard to turn over your product to some one and say, “OK, what do you think is good, what do you think is not good?”
John: Oh yeah, it’s painful!  The first day I sat down with Howard, we sat and talked for like 10 or 15 minutes. We talked about songs, and I started showing him songs and probably the fourth song I showed him, I was really excited about it, I thought, “He’s going to freak out when he hears this cause it’s a really good song!” I started the song and Howard says to me, “I’ve got be honest. That song sounds like a way to not sell records.”  As a songwriter, that’s a little tough to hear…especially when you think it’s one of the best ones you’ve written!  But you know what?  I was super glad to hear about that stuff!  I was like, “Yeah?  All right…”  I was like, “OK, I’m dealing with a guy that’s really in control, and really passionate about his opinions.  He’s going to tell you, he’s not holding anything back!” In that moment I’m thinking, “OK, we’ve got what we need to make a good record here!” 

Jen:  Your music appeals to an extremely wide variety of fans.  My 12-year-old nephew, was like, “Who are you going to interview soon?” I said, “I’m interviewing Skillet.”  He said, “Monster is awesome!”  I But then, you appeal to adults and everyone in between, so why do you think that your music touches such a wide variety of people?
John:  You know, I’ve been asking myself that same question.  I mean, once maybe twice a day I call my manager and I’m like, “Now, who is buying this record?  It’s selling really well, and I don’t know what kind of person is buying it and seeing our shows!”  It’s really weird, at shows you’ll see an 8-year-old kid that loves “Monster”, which I never would’ve thought.  But they’re there with their parents, Mom and Dad, and all of them love “Monster”, which is a big surprise!  And of course the moms like the power ballads, and then in the same show, you’ve got hard rock fan… the tattoo guys, and 25-year-old plus kids that just want to drink beer and rock and roll!  Then you’ve got an incredible amount of high school guys and girls…I don’t know, I just can’t wrap my head around whose buying the record. They say, “What’s your demographic?” and you don’t really know what it is…hard rock guys, or it’s pop, so it’s girls and guys bringing their girlfriends to the show, so it’s varying extremes about who is buying the record right now.  I did not expect for that to be the case!  If anything, I would’ve thought this would’ve been the case on our last record, because Comatose, I felt, was a little bit more a pop album than Awake.  So, you know what?  Who knows?  I’m just happy! (laughs)

Jen:  Do you have a favorite song on the album?  I know as a songwriter, it’s hard to choose… 
John:  You know what?  I do actually, and it’s a song that nobody ever expects me to say is my favorite! It’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You”.  I don’t know why, I just really like that song.  It makes me, I don’t know, it makes me happy, it makes me want to rock!  I think it’s kind of funny at the same time!  I don’t know why, I just like that song!

Jen:  Do you have any guess yet what your next single will be? 
John:  I really don’t know.  “Hero” is on the radio right now…I think it depends on how the song goes.  Because it’s not as heavy as “Monster”, if it does well for us, then we can get some alternative play on the song and what not.  I can sense that we would release “Awake and Alive” as our next single possibly. 

Jen:  Your current tour is Awake and Alive tour, so you guys started just recently, correct?  Is that right?
John:  Yeah, the bands on the tour are really good.  I’m a big fan of Red…we’ve wanted to tour together for a long time and it finally worked out!  And this new band called The Letter Black I really like.  We toured with them a little bit last year, and that’s why we had them back out.  I like their band, they’re really good people, and good sound…I’m having a great time, get to see new fans.  I think we have a lot of new fans!

Jen:  What are your plans beyond this current tour?  Do you have anything lined up yet?
John:  Well the summer is pretty packed.  We’re doing the mainstream radio shows, we’re doing festivals, and all that stuff.  So there are a lot of those going on all around the country.  We’re going to be at every coast in the next few months doing those.  That’s always really fun because there are so many people.  It’s a good way for us to get out…a bigger audience who’ve probably never seen us play…maybe only heard one song of ours, so that’s pretty cool! 

Jen:  So tell us about some influences.  What are your favorite bands or what bands influenced your music? 
John: You know, this is always a really hard question because I think what makes us a little bit unique is the fact that Skillet has like a melting pot of three decades of music.  If you listen to it, you can see there’s a real arena rock flavor of music…like Fleetwood Mac and Kansas and Styx and Journey. But at the same time, I love Metallica and Motley Crue, and that 1980s kind of metal, hard rock thing. I love that!  And then you get into the 90s, and I’m really into hard rock, you know Linkin Park and Breaking Benjamin and 3 Days Grace…these kinds of bands, you can also hear that in our music.  All of those kinds of bands are influential to our sound. 

Jen: That maybe answered your question to why you appeal to so many people!
John: Maybe so!

Jen:  I love to ask this question to bands and hopefully you’ll answer it.  Tell us the funniest or strangest quirk about each band member.
John:  Something funny about our drummer Jen…she grew up in England, moved to the states when she was 16.  England is mostly all dance music, they don’t play hard rock, so when she was going to audition for the band, she had not heard any of the songs that I asked her to play…which was from Rush and POD and Nirvana.  She didn’t know any of that!  She likes hard rock, but she doesn’t know hard rock.  People think that’s kind of funny about our drummer.  So if you catch her on her own, she’s listening to Lady GaGa.  A quirk about my wife, Korey, is that Korey is an extreme introvert.  You wouldn’t know it when you see her on stage…she just all of a sudden transforms into this crazy wild person!  But if you catch Korey in real life, she likes to read, she likes to be alone and she teaches school to our kids on the road, that’s what she’s like in actual real life.  I don’t really know what’s quirky about Dan.  Dan is good at anything he wants to do, and he started playing guitar when he was 12. He joined Skillet when he was 16, in fact he finished high school on the road with Skillet.  He would do his homework and he would turn it in via email, and that’s how he graduated high school!  So yeah, he’s one of those unusual people that can kind of do anything he wants to do.  His first love was not even playing guitar…he just was really good at it, a young prodigy kind of kid.  And he doesn’t really listen to hard rock music either.  I’ve got so many quirks, I don’t even know what my biggest one is! (laughs) I’m crazy!  I’m hyperactive, that’s probably not a big surprise, but yeah, I’m a pretty hyperactive person.  Quirks of mine…I’ve got some stuff about me…I’m really into working out and fitness and dude stuff! But I’ve still got some chick stuff about me, like I really love shopping!  I’m kind of the one that really likes to shop and dress the band and stuff like that…I don’t know what my problem is! (laughs)  I really like that kind of thing!

Jen:  Who would you most like to meet?
John:  Most in the whole world?  I guess Bono comes to mind.

Jen:  Do you have a favorite phrase that you use all the time?
John:  Ummm…favorite phrase…is really actually one of my biggest quirks! I didn’t even think about it, but I do have a phrase.  The phrase is, “The doggy likes to rock!”  I don’t really know why a few years ago I started  referring to myself in the 3rd person whenever I wanted something or whenever I felt like something.  I don’t know why I did it…but I started calling myself the doggy, so I’m like, “Oh man, the doggy’s hungry, man!” stuff like that.  Doggy’s hungry, or doggy’s tired, or now, the doggy likes to rock!  I’ll be like “Man the record sales look really good this week.  The doggy likes to rock!”   I don’t really know why, but that’s kind of my phrase!

Jen:  I know your favorite song is “It’s Not Me, It’s You”, is that the same favorite song you like to play live, or is that a different one? 
John:  My favorite song to play live is from Comatose which is “Rebirthing.”  It’s probably because that is the one that everybody has known.  Everybody knows “Monster” now, but “Rebirthing” for the last couple of years has been the song that people were waiting on and they get really loud when we play it! 

Jen:  If you weren’t a rock star, what do you think you’d be doing?
John:  Maybe working with young people in some kind of a way.  9th grade, or maybe pre-high school…I’d be working with young people.  I don’t know if it’d be doing it in a church setting…maybe as like a youth kind of leader, or after school programs…whatever it may be to help young people who are having a hard time. 

Jen:  Do you have a favorite piece of advice that you’ve been given?
John:  Yes. When I was a kid, I learned a Bible verse that probably most all church-going kids learn when they’re like 5 years old. It’s stuck with me my whole life and it’s the verse that says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be added to you.” 

Jen:  What 3 things do you have to have with you on tour?
John:  On tour, I’ve got to have my treadmill, I’ve got to have Dr. Pepper, and the third thing I’ve got to have is my wife! 

Jen:  Aww, excellent answer, John! What would you guys like to say to your fans?
John:  Come see us play!  I typically say we just appreciate our fans. We spend time doing autographs and pictures and saying hey, and we treat our fans well.  We know that they love us and they’re like, “We really drove 4 hours to see you play, and a couple months ago we drove 3 hours.”  People driving to see you play, you want them to leave having a great time and feeling better about life than when they came.  So most of all I’d like to say thanks to our fans for supporting us and we love them and if they come see us play we’re going to give them the best night we can!

Skillet is rocking festival shows all across the U.S. right now, so check their website at www.skillet.com to find one near you! The band also has a tour with Creed and theft coming up! One thing is for sure, Skillet’s live show is phenomenal! You won’t be sorry! Awake is available everywhere now!

Photo Credits: David Molnar

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PEARL ADAY Rock N Roll’s Little Immaculate White Fox – an interview

by on Aug.11, 2010, under interviews

In January Pearl Aday released her first album Little Immaculate White Fox to critical praise. No stranger to the stage Pearl started out at a young age running handkerchiefs out to her well known father Meatloaf during his performances. After spending nine years in his band as a backup singer, she then toured with Motley Crue as a ‘Crue Slut’ in 2000 where she met her now husband Scott Ian of Anthrax. Her band is none other than Mother Superior and her guitarist husband performs with her. We recently spoke about growing up the daughter of a Rockstar, why women who rock today are not necessarily Janis Joplin or Pat Benetar clones, how Rock & Roll still exists and is not simply 70’s riffs rehashed, as well as leopard print outfits and g strings. Pearl took the time to explain why she felt now is the time to release her first album, how Slipknot is not a guilty pleasure but just good music, and how difficult it can be stepping out of the shadow of the legendary Meatloaf.

AWAY TEAM: This is Slim Jim with Away-Team.com, and I am speaking with Pearl Aday. Congratulations on the release of your first album Little Immaculate White Fox. It came out in January, and how have the sales and reception for it been so far?

PEARL ADAY: Both really good considering that we’re just a tiny little baby band. But reception all around has been really great. The response we’ve been getting it’s just really been positive. People either know about me and they really love it because they’re so set already, or they’re a lot of the time pleasantly surprised because a lot of people don’t know who I am. They hear the references for Meatloaf and they hear the reference for Anthrax and they’re like ‘well it’s a girl’, and it’s ‘what is this?’ And then they hear it and they go ‘oh ok this is rock and roll and it’s good, I really dig this’ you know? And this is like usually, I’ve heard a lot too ‘this is like something that I miss and didn’t even know I missed it because it’s not around anymore’ you know what I mean? This is pretty simple; this is rock ‘n’ roll! It’s a girl kicking ass singing rock ‘n’ roll so I mean if it’s good you can’t really go wrong with that.

AWAY TEAM: Well I’d heard about you several years ago basically through following Anthrax and your husband Scott Ian (guitarist for Anthrax), and when the album came out I was looking forward to checking it out and I was very impressed. Not that I didn’t expect anything from it but it exceeded my expectations it was very good! And you’re absolutely right it’s a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll album. A lot of people I’ve heard kinda compare what they call today straightforward rock ‘n’ roll they’re kind of saying it’s a like a ‘70s rock revival and I’m like no, this is what rock ‘n’ roll is! I think people just forgot.

PEARL ADAY: Exactly! You know I’ve been getting that story of like throwback, those comments about being a throwback to the ‘70s. It’s like well, has it not been around that long? Like is that the last time you heard really like good true simple rock ‘n’ roll done like this? I guess maybe it is, but it’s kinda funny that people consider it a throwback. This is rock ‘n’ roll! This is classic you know what I mean? Classic in the sense that it never goes out of style. People seem to think that it’s like a retro thing. Not everybody, but a lot of people. I guess I get that but I don’t necessarily agree with it

AWAY TEAM: I’ve always found it amusing that straightforward male rock ‘n’ roll bands like say Jet or whatnot, they get compared to AC/DC. If you’re a straightforward male rock ‘n’ roll band oh well you’re like AC/DC. And if you’re a female fronted or female rock ‘n’ roll band, oh, well you’re Janis Joplin, or you’re Heart or you’re like Pat Benetar. But you’re not necessarily like anybody else. It doesn’t have to be that throwback. It’s new, it’s modern, its straightforward rock ‘n’ roll. Period.

PEARL ADAY: Right. Thank you!

AWAY TEAM: Absolutely! And I promise that will be the only Janis Joplin reference in the interview.

PEARL ADAY: Cool! Well I love Janis! I mean people bring up her name with mine in the same sentence all the time. And I think that she’s amazing, but I don’t think that I sound like Janis. I don’t think anyone sounds like Janis you know what I mean? It’s flattering but at the same time that’s not true. I would say that anybody, nobody, was like her before and or ever will be after her! So it’s good you and I are on the same page.

AWAY TEAM: A little quick history of yours, you are Meatloaf’s daughter. Growing up backstage, at home, and on the road did you realize who your father was? I’ve heard stories or read interviews where when you were very young you would run out in between songs on stage and change out his hankies for him or his handkerchiefs. But did you understand how big he was? Who Meatloaf was and what he had done with Bat Out of Hell?

PEARL ADAY: Well no I don’t think when I was 4 years old I was understanding the whole scope of what Bat Out of Hell had done. The sort of the walls that he had broken down, especially being a big guy, and fronting a band which is what initially gave him a lot of trouble trying to get into the business. Because they’re like you’re a big guy that sings rock opera what the hell is this? And he just kept going and going and going until it worked and it was massive. So no, when I was 4 years old of course I didn’t understand the scope of that. I don’t quite remember how I thought of it. I did understand that that was his job and that he would go to work and go up on stage and sing, and there would be packed arenas of thousands of people singing his songs and screaming for him and adoring him. So how a child gets that or how to processes that concept I don’t really remember, But I remember understanding that that was what he did, that was his job. There’s a story that my mom loves to tell when, we always had an apartment in Manhattan, we I grew up in and I went to school in Connecticut. We had a house in Connecticut and an apartment in Manhattan, we don’t anymore but growing up I did. We had a place that was right across the street from Central Park and my dad had a day off and it wasn’t a day when he was playing softball in the park cuz he used to do that a lot too. And it was like daddy-daughter day and he took me to the park right by the softball fields where there’s swings and stuff like that. We just got swarmed by fans! I’m on the swing and he’s pushing me and I remember this, I was like 5 years old I think, and he’s pushing me on the swing and then I go forward and I come back and I turn and he’s not there to push me again! But he’s signing autographs. And after that we went back the apartment and my mom asked ‘so how was the day Pearl?’ and I just went Meatloaf, Meatloaf, Meatloaf that’s all I ever hear is Meatloaf’! That was around that time of Bat Out Of Hell. And then it happened again in the 90’s, we couldn’t go anywhere without him just being swarmed. So as a little girl I don’t think I totally got that. I think that it was just like people are annoying and taking my dad away from daddy-daughter day, I didn’t totally get the autograph thing. Growing up, when I was 19 that’s when I started singing in his band. I sang in his band for 9 years so at that point I understood what was going on. But when I was real little I think it was more, ‘ok this is what dad does and people like to talk to him when we’re out.

AWAY TEAM: So at what point did the music bug bite you? At what point did you say hey either I’m good at this or this is what I really want to do?

PEARL ADAY: I don’t know, I always remember singing around the house and making little girl groups with my girlfriends and performing in the living room for everybody. We had a girl group called the Bottle Caps I remember. We would put on tutus and lip sync to Leader of the Pack, I don’t know why Leader of the Pack but that we liked that song when we were 10. In elementary middle school I was always in plays and musicals and high school I was the lead in all the musicals and in a band, and in college I was in a band. So I think it was just always just something that I was gravitating towards, always singing in the house, and writing in high school. I started writing poems and putting them to music; stuff like that. I think always I always wanted to be a singer. Always!

AWAY TEAM: You were, as you already stated, Meatloaf’s backup singer for many years and you were a backup singer for Motley Crue for awhile, so what took you so long to step out front and do your own album?

PEARL ADAY: It’s funny when people say “what took you so long?” But I think that if I tried to do this 10 years ago this wouldn’t have come out. I think that it needed to happen naturally and organically and I had to live the life that I’ve lived up to this point in order to make this music and write these lyrics. You know I had to I had to experience it first, Well I experienced a shitload my entire life, but I also had to get the experience of performing and I think build up my gut. It’s quite an intimidating thing to have a parent who is such a megastar and that is what you want to do too and sort of…

AWAY TEAM: Oh I can’t imagine! I can’t imagine trying to step out of that shadow.

PEARL ADAY: Forget about it! It’s really scary and unless…you know a different personality might have gone ‘blaahhhh here I am! I’m ready!’ but I’m sort of more like I’ll hang out until I’m ready because I don’t want to come out and do it half assed or go out and look like I don’t know what I’m doing. I want it to be the best that it’s gonna be and I think that’s what this is for right now. You know the next album that we write might be better. I don’t know. It will be different in the sense that it’ll be different songs and I’ll have lived that much longer and learned that much more through the cycle of this album, performing and finding my feet onstage as a front-person in a band which is something that I’ve become really comfortable with right now. But I still don’t know everything that there is to know. Every time I go onstage I learn something new about myself and as a performer. In terms of what you said ‘why did it take you so long’ and I don’t think… I don’t see it that way. I see it as this is happening now. This is what’s happening now it wasn’t going to happen before. I used to do some interviews with my dad through those 9 years when I was performing in his band with him and he would introduce me sometimes as ‘yeah this is my daughter the amazing singer who’s afraid to sing’ because it was true. I was comfortable in my niche being a backup singer which, don’t get me wrong, that’s an important job especially with Jim Steinman and Meatloaf songs! Those parts are not easy. Those are complicated songs. I wasn’t fronting it though, I was back there and my voice was blending in with lots of other voices with the other people who were singing on stage too. I don’t think I was ready then to step out, I needed to observe a little longer and I needed to find it in myself.

AWAY TEAM: You’ve done a few dates for the release of the album. I actually saw your performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live which is so far the only chance I’ve had to see you perform. I know your band is opening for Meatloaf on his tour starting next month. When will we see you out doing a full fledged tour on your own?

PEARL ADAY: Hopefully we’ll be able to get back out and do that again. We actually did that in the spring for a month. We went all around the U.S. doing headlining club dates. First time we ever did that in the States and that was great. So hopefully we’ll be getting to do that again soon. I’m always ready to perform whenever, wherever, because I love it so much. But I always say the money fairies have to visit us because we don’t have a machine or a record label or stuff like that. So every tour everything that we do comes from our pockets and it’s not cheap! Contrary to what most people think my dad doesn’t give me a penny. My dad is a very wealthy man but it doesn’t mean that I am you know what I mean? Definitely letting me forge my own path find my own way with this. He’s not buying me tour buses and shit like that. Actually these opening dates for him we were told no! no! no! no! no no no no no no… forever and ever and ever. Then at the last minute I got an email from him saying, ‘what are you doing from Aug 12th on?’ I’m going ‘I thought you told us no, what are you doing?’ so though we’re thrilled I mean are you kidding me? We start here in LA at the Gibson Amphitheater so you know it’s much better than the Cheyenne Saloon, it’ll be a really, really good run for us. We’re just stoked.

AWAY TEAM: How do you go from being a backup singer for Meatloaf to becoming a Nasty Habit for Motley Crue?

PEARL ADAY: You audition! (Laughs) Yeah, I auditioned. In 2000 I heard they were auditioning girls but we weren’t the Nasty Habits we were the Crue Sluts. The Nasty Habits were from the Girls, Girls, Girls tour. They were before us that was Donna and Amy. We were called the Crue Sluts from the Frank Zappa song. You know there’s a song called the Crew Sluts. Actually that’s how they would open the show before the band would come on, there would be sirens and a light show and they would play Zappa’s Crew Sluts so it was cool.

AWAY TEAM: I actually saw the Maximum Rock Tour in 2000.

PEARL ADAY: Yeah in 2000 that’s the one I was on.

AWAY TEAM: It had you and who was the other singer?

PEARL ADAY: Well where did you see it? Cuz we had one girl who started and then she quit two weeks in and we got another girl. The first girl had short dark hair and the second girl had long red hair.

AWAY TEAM: Ok, this was in Sacramento and I think it was almost halfway through the run if I’m not mistaken.

PEARL ADAY: I think Sacramento was towards the beginning.

AWAY TEAM: Was it towards the beginning? Ok.

PEARL ADAY: Yeah we started like June 25th or something up in Sacramento actually.

AWAY TEAM: Ok yeah cuz I know that Anthrax was still on the bill and unfortunately they didn’t last throughout the whole tour.

PEARL ADAY: Right, right yeah so you saw me and Marty her name was.

AWAY TEAM: Ok, and then Samantha Maloney (HOLE drummer) was doing drums at that point too for Motley Crue, so you had as much estrogen onstage as testosterone from the Motley Crue boys…

PEARL ADAY: (Laughs) I guess so! Well they always had girls. They’d never had a female drummer before, so that was super cool. Yeah I think even with those guys the testosterone definitely outweighed the estrogen!

AWAY TEAM: How did your dad handle your touring with Motley Crue? The infamous Motley Crue

PEARL ADAY: Fine! It was fine. I mean he’s a performer he understands performance and costume… and I mean we had 5 costume changes. I don’t know if you remember, there was the rubber dress and the nurse outfit, the nasty nurse, and then there was the Wild Side with the leopard and the g-string. I mean it was great, with a cat ‘o’ nine tails yeah! I think we actually came and played Gibson Amphi- it was Universal Amphitheater back then but my dad came to the show. And he was backstage beforehand and the first costume of the show was a like a blue rubber mini cop dress with a zipper down the front. And I had a long, long wig like a long blonde wig with blonde bangs and blue eye shadow from my lashes to my eyebrows. A push up bras like 3 of them and platform boots, thigh high platform boots. I walked out and I walked right up to him and he looked at me like I was a stranger. He didn’t recognize me! I went, ‘dad it’s me’ and he was like ‘WHOA’! He never expected to see me like that. And Girls, Girls, Girls when we come out up we would like walk down the catwalks and come up to the front and dance on a little platform I think I saw him peeking through his own fingers out in the audience like that yeah. He wasn’t I mean you can’t really freak out a Rockstar you know? He gets that its performance, so it’s all costume and lights and loud music.

AWAY TEAM: So you did a lot of writing for Little Immaculate White Fox with the boys from Mother Superior, which used to be Henry Rollins‘ Band or for the Rollins Band they performed with him. How’d you get connected up with them?

PEARL ADAY: Actually Scott knew them. When Scott and I first started dating I was a fan of Mother Superior and Scott happened to know them and introduced me to them. I think it was one of my birthdays and he invited them to my birthday party. I was really like just a dorky fangirl and I had a couple of drinks and I walked up to them and I said ‘hey I’m Pearl’ and they were like ‘yeah happy birthday’. After awhile of talking I said ‘hey what do you guys think about having a chick sing with you maybe a little bit?’ I don’t know what am I saying! (Laughs) They kind of like stopped and looked at each other and I was like ‘oh god what did I just say’! Then they turned around and went ‘ok’. So from that point on they’d say well we got we have a riff or melody we have song idea, so I’d go over to their… this was when they still shared an apartment Jim and Marcus. And I’d go over to their place and they’d play it for me and I’d record it and then I’d take it home and start plugging in lyrics. We’d get together after that and flesh it out but that’s pretty much how we worked with all the songs. Later Scott started getting more involved with helping with the arrangements and melody ideas and lyrics and stuff. So there are a few songs where Scott’s in on the writing credits as well. It’s a really, really great process actually because I just clicked with those guys immediately in terms of style and vibe. We were just totally on the same page when it came to all that stuff. It’s like ‘Ah that’s exactly what was in my brain!’ So it was just an organic and natural thing. I met these guys and then fell into writing with them and because it’s not easy to find a writing partner, not everybody can write together. And this just happened to be a perfect match, so it’s really good!

AWAY TEAM: How long was that writing period from the time you approached them at your birthday party until the release of the album or at least the starting of the recording of the album?

PEARL ADAY: Well it was a few years because we initially got together and got a bunch of songs and went in and recorded a demo album at Cherokee Studios here in LA. It’s actually flattened now, which is sad because it was a really cool old studio full of lots of history. But we did that and played… I got a band together I didn’t initially play with the guys from Mother Superior they just played on the demo. I played around town with those songs that we recorded. I had like a 9 piece… I had like a horn section and a B3 organ and guitars and drums and like a huge band which is kinda tough when you’re playing the Viper Room you know cuz its tiny. We sorta lived with those songs and noticed that some of them weren’t quite as good as others and some of them were pretty weak so we got rid of the shitty ones and wrote new ones. Then started rehearsing the new ones and freshening up on the older ones and called Scott (Ian) and Joe Baresi, the producer, and gave him a call and he came down to one of our rehearsals and agreed to produce the album. Which is now Little Immaculate White Fox with the exception of Broken White, and the cover of Ike & Tina’s Nutbush City Limits. Those two we tacked on at the end. Broken White was the last song that was written, that’s like the newest one and that one includes writing credit for my guitar player Anale Cult who actually wrote the last song on the album called Anything. Those were recorded at Matt Sorum’s studio and produced by our friend Jay Rustin who does The Donnas and Steel Panther. Joe Baresi did the bulk of it and then Jay did the last two. But it’s a good collaboration.

AWAY TEAM: Is your current touring band is that different from the recording band?

PEARL ADAY: Well it’s funny you say that because my recording band was Mother Superior, the drummer, the bass player and the guitar player and Scott Ian and I have been touring with a different band. Right now my bass player is Marcus Blake from Mother Superior who’s just done the last tour with us and now it’ll be Jim Wilson from Mother Superior on guitar Scott Ian on guitar and our drummer will be filling in for us because my drummer just quit on me at the last minute right before the big tour but the drummer filling in for us on these dates will be my friend Andy Hurley who actually plays with Fall Out Boy.

AWAY TEAM: What was Mother Superior doing? Henry really hasn’t done anything musically for quite awhile, have they been playing around with other people, doing their own thing because I hadn’t really heard their name until you…

PEARL ADAY: You gotta check them out! Mother Superior is a kick ass rock trio! They’re amazing! I was a huge fan of theirs. When I said I was a fan of theirs I’m a fan of Mother Superior I wasn’t talking about Rollins, even though I do like Rollins. They were only the Rollins Band for like 6 years but they’ve been going on their own. They have 12 out, 10 albums, or something like that. They’re not super well known… they’ve got a lot of fans out in Spain and France too. Look ‘em up they’re pretty kick ass! I mean they’re really kick ass! When they’re not doing their own thing they also are uh Daniel Lanois’ touring band.

AWAY TEAM: So how do you go about writing a song? Do you journal everyday, write poems, and then when your collaborators kinda get a song structure down you modify the words or the timing to fit the music? Or do they write the music around your words?

PEARL ADAY: No the music comes first. They’ll send me ideas for melodies or song ideas, the music, and then I’ll sit down and put the words in. so whatever the music is, depending on if it’s upbeat or if it’s mid tempo or slower, and I’ll just sit down with it and let the words come, ideas just come into my mind and the words just come out that way.

AWAY TEAM: And who are your influences musically?

PEARL ADAY: Aw how much time you got? For writing or for lyrics? I’m a huge; god I gotta make a list! This is when you’re a kid and someone asks you what you want for Christmas and you know everything you want and then when you get asked your mind goes blank! As far as lyrics go there are certain songs cuz not every song from a particular artist is my favorite. Of course there’s the regular… there’s Bob Dylan, there’s Joni Mitchell, who are great poets and I love their lyric style. I’ll actually sometimes sit down and if I get stuck writing lyrics I’ll sit down and listen to them because they’re so colorful and visual and they’re such storytellers, that it kind of opens up the room for you. Having writers block for me, it’s like the room’s sort of narrowing down to a pinpoint and you can’t see beyond anything. So listening to those writers or somebody else who I admire the writing style of, it opens it back up again. A friend of mine Leona Ness she’s a singer/songwriter I really admire her songwriting style. You know something like Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd! I think that is an amazing song lyrically. It’s just an amazing song but the lyrics in that are like “oh my god I wish I wrote that”!

AWAY TEAM: Which leads into my next question: What’s one song that you listen to and you’re like god if I could have written that, or I should have written that song?

PEARL ADAY: I don’t know if I have just one because they’re all special for different reasons. They’re all amazing you can’t really put one on top because there’s so much amazing stuff. But that one that would definitely be on the list maybe A Song For You Donny Hathaway, you know that one?

AWAY TEAM: It sounds familiar yes, I’d have to go back and listen to it but the name sounds familiar.

PEARL ADAY: I don’t know I’d have to get back to you on that one, that’s a tough one.

AWAY TEAM: And guilty pleasure-wise you know you being the rocker chick with the Meatloaf bloodline and the heavy metal guitarist husband… What’s your guilty pleasure that you’re listening to these days that you’re almost embarrassed to admit or people would be surprised to know?

PEARL ADAY: It’s funny, I talk with Scott and my friends every once in a while about guilty pleasures because it’s fun to ask people what their guilty pleasures are. But it’s funny what other people consider guilty pleasures to be. As far as what people would be surprised to hear me listening to? I guess because my musical tastes are all over the place so I’ll listen to Slipknot. I love Slipknot! And then I’ll put on you know Joni Mitchell Blue or something. I love them both.

AWAY TEAM: It’s quite a dichotomy, quite diverse.

PEARL ADAY: I mean somebody else asked me a question similar to that and I said that I love Slipknot, and they’re like ‘Really? You listen to Slipknot?’ Why is that weird? I don’t get it. Because I’m a girl or? Anyway so people are usually surprised to hear that I like Slipknot I don’t know why.

AWAY TEAM: Seems to me to make perfect sense having the husband you have but you know…

PEARL ADAY: Yeah well it doesn’t mean that I like everything he likes! Even though we kind of do like the same stuff, but it’s funny because when I got with Scott he introduced me to the metal world and then I introduced him to stuff that he loves now. Like Otis Redding and Donny Hathaway and stuff like that which he was aware of but I don’t think he ever really listened to it before. Now he’s really into it so it’s cool!

AWAY TEAM: Well I thank you very much for your time ah good luck on the upcoming tour and hopefully we will see you guys out on your own headlining! And help get the word out there as much as possible for a very good album Little Immaculate White Fox. I wish you all the luck and much success to you!

PEARL ADAY: Thank you, thank you and I thank you for your time because it’s really important to us to have people like you to help us spread the word so thank you back to you

AWAY TEAM: I appreciate it Pearl thank you very much!

PEARL ADAY: Cool alright have a good day!

For more PEARL click here.
To get your own copy of LITTLE IMMACULATE WHITE FOX click here.

Pearl starts her tour tomorrow August 12th. Here are her current dates:
Aug 12 2010 Gibson Amphitheatre Los Angeles, CA
Aug 15 2010 Snoqualmie Casino Snoqualmie, WA
Aug 18 2010 Humphrey’s San Diego, CA
Aug 20 2010 Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, NV
Aug 22 2010 Celebrity Theatre Phoenix, AZ
Aug 24 2010 River Spirit Casino Tulsa, OK
Aug 26 2010 House of Blues dallas, tx
Aug 28 2010 House of Blues Houston, TX
Aug 30 2010 Hard Rock Orlando, FL
Sep 1 2010 Hard Rock Hollywood, FL
Sep 4 2010 Fantasy Springs Indio, CA
Sep 5 2010 Silver Legacy Casino Reno, NV

My thanks to Pearl for taking time out of her busy schedule to do the interview, Kymm at 60 Cycle for setting it up, and Melissa Dolak for her wonderful transcription services.

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THE WESTON WORLD- A Conversation with AURORA SKY’S Toby Weston

by on Aug.01, 2010, under interviews

After wrapping up their all-star recording sessions with Grammy-winning super producer Ben Grosse, Oklahoma City’s Aurora Sky are now putting the final pieces into their sonic puzzle.  They will be holding upcoming auditions for a permanent bassist, and just this week they announced the addition of the ultra talented Toby Weston as their drummer.  Recently I had the chance to talk with their new timekeeper about everything from Morgan Rose-to-musical influences-to-Muppets.

AWAY-TEAM:  Congratulations on being named the new drummer for Aurora Sky.

TOBY WESTON:  Thanks man.  I’m pretty excited about it.

AWAY-TEAM:  You had come highly recommended by the likes of Corey Lowery (STEREOMUD/DARK NEW DAY/STUCK MOJO) and Sevendust drummer Morgan Rose.  How did you get turned on to Aurora Sky, and end up becoming the band’s newest member? What was that process like?

TOBY WESTON:  Well, after everything that happened with my last band, I had stopped in to say “Hi” to Corey, and show a friend his studio…and I’ve been friends with Corey for years, ya know I knew Morgan first, and met Corey through him.  And Corey kinda brought it up to me, and got me in touch with Craig (Aurora Sky manager Craig Stegall)  Ya know, Craig called me and we talked, and they sent me the songs and that’s pretty much all she wrote.  It was all more or less a word of mouth kind of thing, and the rest of the story we’ll see… hopefully we’ll go down in history, ya know. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  Yeah, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding you guys.  Now you mentioned that you and Morgan Rose are good friends, and you bring a lot of the same flair and energy in your playing.  When did you first start playing, and who are some of your biggest influences?

TOBY WESTON:  It’s kinda funny, when I was younger I was always “rhythmically inclined” as my mom would’ve said.  I got really big into playing drums, probably the first time I heard KORN’s “Follow the Leader”.  I wanted to do something in music, and I tried playing guitar and it just didn’t feel right.  I couldn’t get my fingers to move the right way, I mean I don’t wanna say I couldn’t do it, I can do it now but at the time being like 13 it was kinda weird.  But the real reason I started playing drums was because of David (Silveria) from KORN.  I was really big into them at the time, and watching him play live he was a badass.  But he’s not playing with them anymore.  I waited for three years to get my first drum kit.  I would play on other people’s drum kits.  I did the whole church gig for a while, and I got invited to go to this show, and it was Sevendust and… you know Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers was a huge, huge, huge influence on me.  Even to now, I still think Chad is the most talented drummer as far as playability.  I’m not trying to not give anyone else any credit…but the first time I saw Morgan Rose I was about six feet back right between Lajon (Witherspoon) and Vinnie‘s (Hornsby) rigs and I’d just never seen so much force coming out of one little dude.  And knowing him now, at the time I thought he was a lot bigger, but we’re like the same size.   And, ya know, like Shannon Larkin…when you get up on stage and play drums, you gotta be the back beat, you gotta be the guy throwing down the rhythm and stuff.  But to me the more fun you can have with it, the better.  I mean, it’s all about beating the shit out of ‘em and let’s see how crazy you can make yourself look.  To me if you go up there and look like you probably need to be in a straight jacket, that’s a good thing. (laughs)  But honestly, the biggest thing that inspired me with Morgan, and guys like Shannon Larkin (Godsmack) who in a sense is the same style drummer as Morgan, and seeing these guys not only play their drums really well, but also make it look awesome while they’re doing it…I don’t wanna be the guy up on stage, and it’s a rockin’ song, and I’m just sitting there.  That’s no fun.  Nobody wants to go and see a drummer just sit there.  I mean, even the guys that are in bands that have massive drum kits…like Lamb of God‘s drummer Chris Adler is the man, but he’s one of those guys that, just like, sits there.  He gets away with it, because you can’t really see him anyways because his drum kits so huge.  You might see the tip of a drumstick every once in a while, but you know. (laughs)  But to me if you can go up on stage, I mean Chad Smith‘s really goofy about playing drums, he looks a little like Will Ferrell I think.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)

TOBY WESTON:  He’s definitely got a twin brother in that guy! (laughs)  But you know everybody’s got their own little niche.  I can’t go and sit behind a drum kit and not hit it as hard as I can, and rock out on stage.  To me if I get off stage and I haven’t hurt myself in some form or fashion, or I don’t see blood on my drum kit and feel completely worn out, then I haven’t done my job.

AWAY-TEAM:   It’s funny you talk about that, because when I asked you about the influences, I was gonna say “No ‘Animal’ from ‘The Muppets’ “?  (laughs)

TOBY WESTON:  (laughs) Oh dude, I mean it’s funny because a lot of people have actually told me that.  They’re like “You look kinda like Animal from The Muppets“  I gotta be honest, ya know maybe a little bit, yeah.  He’s a cool little dude, ya know.  I’m not gonna lie, I gotta give it up for Jim Henson and his MuppetsKermit the Frog is the man…(laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:   And he plays a mean banjo. (laughs)

TOBY WESTON:  (laughs) I’m gonna be the guy sitting in the bus watching The Muppets right before we go on.  I gotta get amped up so I gotta watch Animal go crazy. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:   Talking about that…with the authority with which you play, how many drum heads do you burn through in an average month?  Then again, maybe we shouldn’t talk about that.  We don’t wanna scare away the sponsors.  (laughs)

TOBY WESTON: (laughs) Yeah, well, I mean realistically it just depends.  I mean I play hard, I’ve played shows for a couple of weeks at a time, I like my drums to sound as good as possible.  And I’m the type of guy, I guess I’m kinda snobby about it because when you go up on stage and perform, I want every note that I hit to sound just as consistent as what’s on the record.  If you’re not just a good drummer, but you’re consistent, then you’re doing your job right.  But drum heads man, I’ve played shows where in the first song I’ve busted out drum heads.  It just depends, because I can kill a drum head in one set, where sometimes I can kill a drum head in three sets.  It just depends.  The biggest problem that I have is drumsticks.  I’ve used drumsticks before, where one crack on the snare drum, and the drumstick just snaps in half.  And I don’t wanna talk bad about cymbals, but I’ve burned through quite a few cymbals as well.  But to me, it’s all part of the game.  But it depends, sometimes drum heads last me for a while, sometimes they don’t.  I’m not talking bad about sponsors, but it really boils down to what I get.  Not everything you get from everybody is tip top 100% shape.  And they’re not all the same, and they’re not always gonna be consistent, but.  I mean I’ve played shows where top snare heads have gone out.  In more than one case, I’ve had snare drum bottom heads just completely blow out on me.  It’s kind of weird, because I’m sitting there playing a show, and it doesn’t throw me off, but it kinda throws me for a loop for a couple seconds.  I’ll have the drum mix in my monitors, and I’ll be playing and all of a sudden the whole entire tone of my drum changes, and it’s because the bottom drum head’s blown out on me.  When I was in my old band I was going through about six pairs of sticks a week, probably more than that.  I’d say I go through about 50 drumsticks and drum heads.  I don’t like to play more than two shows without switching out the heads.  It’s all about how you play the drum.  If I’m sitting there just tapping on them and not really doing much damage to ‘em, then they can probably last me for a while.  I guess it just really depends on the show, and how I feel before I go on.  Because I kind of have this little routine that I do, and it depends on how much aggression comes out I guess.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:   (laughs)  How bad Animal was before the show?

TOBY WESTON:  (laughs)  Well, I’m not an angry person.  I don’t get mad about things very often.  I can’t say I don’t get mad, but 95% of the time, I’m like really chilled out.  I’m a really easy going guy, and I pride myself on that, because I don’t wanna be an asshole to people.  I don’t wanna be that guy, but sometimes you have to be.  All the stuff that I get upset about, or I get mad about, I won’t say anything and I just bottle it up.  And it’s almost like playing drums is like an anger management course.  It’s a good release, but it’s fun because at the same time you get to be creative with what you’re doing.

AWAY-TEAM:   Now you guys have a few label showcases coming up, starting this week.  Being just welcomed into the band a few days ago, how has the preparation and learning process been having to learn these songs on such short notice?  Have you all been able to rehearse together yet?

TOBY WESTON:  No.  We haven’t had the opportunity to rehearse yet.  It’s one of those things where, going to something like this I think the main focus is just gonna be getting used to each other.  With the songs the way that they are, they’re gonna be a lot of fun to play.  I think the trickiest part of it all is just gonna be figuring out what I need to do to make the songs look fun on my part.  I think it’s gonna be one of those things where we go and get in a room together and just start jamming.  I don’t think it’s gonna be more than the first couple times playing the songs, for us to be able to kinda move on.  I think we’re all kind of at that level where when we get in the room together, I have a good feeling about it.  I think magic’s gonna come out of it. But as far as rehearsing goes, I think that as long as I got my part done, I know those guys are on point with what they’re doing, and it’s gonna be a breeze.  We’re gonna go in there, and I think we’re gonna do really well together.

AWAY-TEAM:   Yeah I think so too.  You’re really getting yourself into a good project here.

TOBY WESTON:  Oh yeah.

AWAY-TEAM:   Well hey Toby, thanks for your time.  Congratulations again, and best of luck to you.  I’m sure we’ll be having many more of these conversations, hopefully for years to come.

TOBY WESTON:  Oh absolutely man.  I appreciate it, and thanks so much for the interview.  Hope to talk to you soon buddy.

AWAY-TEAM:  Sounds cool man.  Talk to you soon.

For more info on Aurora Sky, as well as to hear their music visit http://www.auroraskyband.com/

Thanks to Toby Weston for so graciously giving me his time, and a special thanks to the band’s manager Craig Stegall for making it all happen.

 

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Getting The Lowdown from FRAMING HANLEY’s Brandon Wootten

by on Jul.29, 2010, under interviews

July 24, 2010, Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA.

This is Marcy Royce with away-team.com speaking today with Brandon Wootten from Framing Hanley at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA.

Framing Hanley guitarist Brandon Wootten

Framing Hanley guitarist Brandon Wootten

AWAY-TEAM: Promise To Burn Has been out now for 2 months. How are sales for it and how is it being received by the fans at your shows?

BRANDON: So far the record is selling great, ya know. This tour we have noticed at the beginning when the record was fresh we noticed less fans singing along. But the more we tour the more we notice more of the fans singing along with the songs and things like that.

AWAY-TEAM: Good, good. I know I sing along with the new release too.

BRANDON: Right on!

AWAY-TEAM: For those fans who have not yet seen you guys since the new release, does your setlist contain a 50/50 balance from both cds or does it lean heavily towards Promise To Burn?

BRANDON: Right now it leans more towards Promise To Burn but we are working it out to make it more 50/50. Because we have a lot of fans that asking for the old stuff and a lot of the fans want to hear the new stuff as well. We’re just trying to accommodate everyone I guess.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s good for me too because I like The Moment and I like Promise To Burn also.

BRANDON: Which one is your favorite?

AWAY-TEAM: From Promise To Burn, it would be You Stupid Girl and Warzone.

BRANDON: Ah, right on.

AWAY-TEAM: It also has the supporting video which makes it even better. I have watched that a lot. Just to pick up on things I didn’t see before, different things in the video.

BRANDON: Oh yeah, yeah. It’s like a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing video.

AWAY-TEAM: I noticed the newer tat that Nixon has in the video.

BRANDON: Yeah, he just got his neck done. He’s crazy.

AWAY-TEAM: You have some as well.

BRANDON: Yeah, but nothing crazy like him.

AWAY-TEAM: (Laughing). How many do you have?

BRANDON: Six or seven.

AWAY-TEAM: Not bad, not bad.

BRANDON: I have more I want to get before I’m done. It’s addictive.

AWAY-TEAM: I have 4 myself and want to get one more. It is addictive. I have a memorial tat to get for my brother yet. He died a few years ago.

BRANDON: See, that’s understandable. All my tattoos mean something. My left arm is family and my right arm is music.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s cool.

BRANDON: One day when this is all said and done I’ll have a bunch of stories.

AWAY-TEAM: Like Nixon with his son’s birthday. What’s he gonna do when he has more? Go down his chest. (Laughing).

BRANDON: You know what, I guess he’s just going to find different spots for his kids. One will be on his heart, one will be on his throat.

AWAY-TEAM: So how old is everyone in the band now?

BRANDON: I’m 25, others are 24, 23,  and 21.

AWAY-TEAM: Who is 21?

BRANDON: Ryan is.

AWAY-TEAM: I have seen other interviews that are from a few years ago and just wanted to clarify how old everyone is now.

AWAY-TEAM: What are your personal favorite songs from this cd?

BRANDON: Photographs and Gasoline and Bittersweet Sundown. Those songs just kinda wrote themselves. They are good tunes.

AWAY-TEAM: What is different about this tour so far? What do you like most about touring?

BRANDON: Well, I love touring just to go out and see our fans and make sure that we put on a good show for them. We’ve noticed that this tour that the favorite thing about it is we’re playing a lot of cities we’ve played before so we’re seeing a lot of friends on the road. And we have our friends, Transmit Now, on the road and we just got off the road with The Veer Union. So those guys are like our best friends so this whole tour has just been almost like a family reunion kind of thing.

AWAY-TEAM: I saw that on another interview where someone was saying it was like a family reunion.

BRANDON: Yeah, it really is. So this tour has been really good. And we actually get to go home in a few days, get a break, and then we have another tour coming up on the west coast.

AWAY-TEAM: Then you leave for the UK.

Brandon: Yes. We leave in September.

AWAY-TEAM: What, or who, was the inspiration behind “You Stupid Girl”?

Brandon: You Stupid Girl is more just based on a relationship and when you’ve been a relationship and you feel like the other person is just dragging you down, ya know. And us being all guys You Stupid Girl is just about an ex girlfriend that was just driving a band member crazy and we were whatever, we’re done with this. The song just kinda explains itself.

AWAY-TEAM: Does she know it’s about her?

BRANDON: Ya know, I’m pretty sure she’s caught on by now.

AWAY-TEAM: Is it you or someone else?

BRANDON: It’s not me. But everyone’s got that stupid girl. Right?

AWAY-TEAM: Oh yeah. Us girls have those stupid boys too from time to time!

BRANDON: Exactly!

AWAY-TEAM: Speaking of You Stupid Girl, what does shooting a video for a song mean for your guys? What is involved with it?

BRANDON: Well, actually, You Stupid Girl was the easiest video we cut because there wasn’t any acting scenes for anyone in the band except for our singer, Nixon. So, ya know, it was pretty easy. We showed up, set up our gear, played and then left. Then we got the video edit a few weeks later. I was like, wow, that was kinda easy. But we really like cutting videos because our director Mason Dixon, who is actually a close friend of ours, so it’s like we’re always hanging out with our friends while cutting a video. Especially Lollipop in the poker scene where we are drinking, we ARE really actually drinking in the video.

AWAY-TEAM: (Laughing). No props! Real stuff.

BRANDON: No props, just real booze. Those are real 40’s.

AWAY-TEAM: I’ll have to revisit the video.

BRANDON: Yeah. They’re real 40’s, no doubt.

AWAY-TEAM: Is three weeks a quick turn-a-round for a video?

BRANDON: Sometime it depends on the director and how busy he is.

AWAY-TEAM: I had no idea how that all works.

BRANDON: Me either really.

AWAY-TEAM: With recording this cd in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, would you do it like that again? Write in Florida and record out of state?

BRANDON: I think we are going to go to an island or somewhere warm next time. (Laughing). Because we weren’t really big fans of being cooped up in the snowy mountains. It was an experience but I don’t know if we will do it again.

AWAY-TEAM: You really got the snow.

BRANDON: We might go in the summer. I think we said that we’re hoping this record will do something so we can record the next one in the middle of the summer. And actually enjoy it.

AWAY-TEAM: We got a lot of snow up here this past winter.

BRANDON: Yeah, it was a lot of snow.

AWAY-TEAM: You were up here for the December storm?

BRANDON: December and January. I almost had to stay here for Christmas because of it.

Framing Hanley guitarist Brandon Wootten

Framing Hanley guitarist Brandon Wootten

AWAY-TEAM: What were the challenges and the successes of this cd’s recording compared to recording The Moment?

BRANDON: Probably the challenge was just trying to top the first record, trying to write something better. Ya know, this record we’ve all matured a little and everyone’s been writing this record for the past couple of years. Like riffs here and there. So it’s kinda cool to piece the last few years together. I think that is really what the biggest struggle was, really trying to make a record that was going to be a success.

AWAY-TEAM: Cool!

AWAY-TEAM: Did recording far and away in Pennsylvania bring more focus and better results?

BRANDON: Yes! Getting away from our families and stuff. We really didn’t want to because we had been on the road for two years but just getting away and all we had to do was to focus on the record. So it was really nice to just really put a lot into it. Some riffs came at like, three in the morning. We would be in the studio in the middle of the night just hanging out. That’s when the best stuff seemed to happen. When you are at home you start focusing on home life than you do your record ya know. We have a job and a career out here so it’s kinda why we did it, I guess.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s good! Just an island or summertime next time.

BRANDON: Yeah, for sure. A warmer place.

AWAY-TEAM: Not like this however, it’s disgustingly hot right now here in Lancaster.

AWAY-TEAM: I’ve heard that some fans feel the new cd is a departure from the feel of your first release. Do you feel the same way?

BRANDON: It’s definitely different than our first record. But the reason that it is different is again because we all eighteen, nineteen, twenty one years old for the first record. Our age group now, is that we’ve grown up a few years now, three or four years, ya know. It’s like when writing the record we were just trying to do something to become more successful. When you grown up you really just don’t write the same songs you used to.

AWAY-TEAM: So when you were younger, were those songs maybe from when you were fifteen, sixteen.

BRANDON: Some of those songs were structured from when we were a different band even, ya know. The first record was written in a month and a half, this new record was written in three months. Over a course of time you just get a lot different, fresh ideas.

AWAY-TEAM: Was writing this cd a group effort more than individual? How many outside sources helped in the writing process?

BRANDON: Our producer that we have is like a sixth member of our band so he has a lot of help in this with ideas. The record was always a group process. It never was just one guy. It starts with one person but it ends up everyone bringing their ideas to the table and this is what bring a song to the finish. But we did hang out with a few other people for the record. It’s all listed in the record.

AWAY-TEAM: I saw some of that listed in the liner notes.

BRANDON: Ya know, these days it’s like you kinda have to step in those directions. Sometimes its who you know not what you know. So we went and worked with some different people on the record to just branch out and see if it would bring any success.

AWAY-TEAM: How does the music scene in the US differ from the UK?

BRANDON: Ya know, we’ve never toured there so we will find out. This is our first time.

AWAY-TEAM: So it’s going to be exciting then.

BRANDON: Yes, really exciting. Everyone is so stoked.

AWAY-TEAM: I’ve seen it on the website, the different places you will be visiting.

BRANDON: Yeah, we’ve actually have a few shows sold out and never stepped one foot in the country.

AWAY-TEAM: Awesome!

BRANDON: Yeah, we’re really stoked.

AWAY-TEAM: You’ve toured with many other bands including Trapt, Saving Abel, Fuel and Tantric. What are some of the band’s most memorable moments with some of those bands or any other band that I  may not have mentioned?

BRANDON: Well, with Tantric we actually shot fireworks off in our RV the first night we ever met them.

AWAY-TEAM: What happened to the RV?

BRANDON: There are little black marks and burn marks and stuff in a couple places in the RV where they blew up inside of it. And Transmit Now, on the last night of a tour we set it up one night where we set off a fire extinguisher and hung dirty magazines inside the RV, and condoms and things from their RV. At one time they were actually renting our RV so we went in and trashed our own RV that they were living in. So those probably were the most memorable ones I can think of.

AWAY-TEAM: Why did the band choose to cover Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”?

BRANDON: Ya know, we wanted to do something new for our fans at home in Nashville because we had just gone through a lineup change and all with Ryan, our guitar player. So we were trying to do something new for our hometown and we decided to do it just one time at our show, and it just kind of got a fire under it. So we did it at a few more shows after that and we went to our label and they wanted us to just record it and send it to radio and it did really well.

AWAY-TEAM: It did do very well.

BRANDON: Yeah, we were very excited.  It was definitely not something that we thought would ever happen.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s very cool.

AWAY-TEAM: Of all the advice the band received, what was the most memorable and important to you guys?

BRANDON: For me, probably from my mom. And my mom always tells me to keep my feet on the ground and my head on. So I’ve kept that one from the beginning. Every time I see my mom she always asks me if I’m keeping my feet on the ground.

AWAY-TEAM: That’s cool.

BRANDON: Yeah, my mom is a huge fan.

AWAY-TEAM: Mom’s are great. That’s why band members always say “Hi Mom!” and not dad. (Laughing).

AWAY-TEAM: What do you do for fun on your down days?

BRANDON: I like to go disc golfing.

AWAY-TEAM: Really? Cool. There is a disc golf place in Gettysburg, west of here.

BRANDON: That and walk my dog. I have a beagle and he’s cute.

AWAY-TEAM: What does he do when you are away? Does he seem to miss you a lot.

BRANDON: Yeah, he misses me. He hangs out with my girlfriend and some friends back home. He’s got it made, he’s spoiled rotten.

AWAY-TEAM: Shouldn’t they all be? (Laughing).

AWAY-TEAM: What are the top tunes in your ipod right now?

BRANDON: The new Coheed and Cambria record and actually Battle Studies by John Mayer. Those are my two records that I’ve been listening to a lot

AWAY-TEAM: Really. John Mayer fan huh?

BRANDON: Way huge difference though.

AWAY-TEAM: I was going to say. That’s why you surprised me with the John Mayer.

BRANDON: I just wanted to listen to something, just new. Stepping my game up.

AWAY-TEAM: Nothing wrong with that!

AWAY-TEAM: What are your inspirations, life inspirations?

BRANDON: Well, ya know. I have an autistic brother. He kinda keeps me motivated to keep doing what I’m doing, and enjoying it. Cause he’s not as fortunate as I am to do what I do. To actually even have the everyday life. So I’m very fortunate to have what I do have and be able to enjoy this, go out and play music around the country and see multiple countries. So I guess that’s my personal inspiration.

AWAY-TEAM: I’m sure he’s one of your biggest fans.

BRANDON: Totally!

AWAY-TEAM: What’s it like at a hometown show? Full of family and friends?

BRANDON: Ya know what, it’s super stressful. We all talk about how home shows are more stressful than any other show in the country. But it’s all because of your friends and family, you’re like, they have a lot  more expectations for you. So you go home and you’re like, I hope we rock.

AWAY-TEAM: (Laughing). I bet!

AWAY-TEAM: What musicians have influenced you?

BRANDON: Back in the day I was really influenced a lot by Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit and Adam Jones from Tool. Now these days I listen to a lot of Coheed & Cambria and Pink Floyd, those are kinda my new inspirations.

AWAY-TEAM: Pink Floyd is from my era. I’m a little older than you.

BRANDON: It’s all good. I love some Pink Floyd. If I could get the tone that David Gilmore has I’d be a legend. I don’t think I’ll ever compete with that.

AWAY-TEAM: Well, you have time to develop.

BRANDON: Yeah, I can see that. He didn’t start out with that immaculate tone either. He started off doing more drugs than we do, I’m sure.

AWAY-TEAM: What are your favorite songs to play?

BRANDON: Right now I love to play Bittersweet Sundown, Photographs and Gasoline, and Hear Me Now.

AWAY-TEAM: Are those 3 in the set tonight?

BRANDON: Yes!

AWAY-TEAM: Thank God! I love Hear Me Now!!!

AWAY-TEAM: What is the best show you ever had and why?

BRANDON: My favorite show was in Indianapolis. We played at a festival in an arena or a pavilion where you have lawn seats and regular seats and my mom actually got to come out and she was hanging out sidestage with us. And we had the crowd jumping from the front to the back. And it was just one of those things like that it was cool for my mom to kinda see what I do and be there behind me, ya know.  She never got to come up on the stage so she was excited to hang out and meet all the bands and stuff. That was one of the most memorable shows for me, I’ll never forget.

AWAY-TEAM: Your mom has been mentioned twice now. I like to hear this.

BRANDON: I’ll have to send her this link to this interview.

AWAY-TEAM: (Laughing). I’ll make sure I put mom in there a lot!

AWAY-TEAM: What do you miss the most when you are away from home?

BRANDON: I just miss my bed. And my comfy apartment that doesn’t move. Just relaxing, because when I’m home I get a lot more time to relax. And when you are out on the road its justs not the same. You never know when you’re gonna get to relax. You get it when you can so.

AWAY-TEAM: I hope you don’t get motion sickness.

BRANDON: Actually I do get motion sickness very easily. But I kinda get my ‘sea-legs’ about a week into a tour. So when I go home for an extended period of time it takes me about a three days to get back to normal. I have to sit in certain seats when we are moving. Everyone makes fun of me but I’ve got to sit facing forward or I’ll throw up everywhere.

AWAY-TEAM: I’m right there with you, I get motion sickness as well.

BRANDON: Our RV is a bumpy ride too.

AWAY-TEAM: What is your favorite food to have when you are on the road?

BRANDON: That’s a good question.

AWAY-TEAM:: If you go to a certain area of the country, is there a certain food from that area that you really like?

BRANDON: I’m trying to think if there’s a few restaurants I like. There is a few clubs that we play where we always look forward to eating at a nearby restaurant. Like Baton Rouge. There’s a place call The Varsity and the restaurant next door to it that has the most bad ass Cajun food. So that’s probably one of the places I look forward to every time we go out on the road.

AWAY-TEAM: If you were to retire today as a musician what else would you like to do?

BRANDON: Actually I do sound and production on the side when I’m at home and that’s probably what I’m going to end up doing if this doesn’t blow up.

AWAY-TEAM: Already got a back up plan.

BRANDON: Yeah, I already got a back up plan and it’s just as cool as the original one. So I do a lot of sound and production and have worked for a lot of big country artists and thing like that.

AWAY-TEAM: Like who?

BRANDON: I’ve done Jimmy Wayne, I worked a show for Cheap Trick, I’ve done a show for Lit, I’ve done a show for Joe Cocker before. I did production for four years before I came out here. I’ve met a lot of country artists and worked for a bunch of people and met all the crews.

AWAY-TEAM: So you came into this with this whole experience with some background.

BRANDON: Yeah. I’ve been in the business since I was 18, and I’m 25 now.  So it’s been seven or eight years now.

AWAY-TEAM: So you’re the veteran of the group because you 25.

BRANDON: Yeah, I’m the oldest guy and the guy with all the experience. It’s funny. They all make fun of me because I do so much.

AWAY-TEAM: So if the sound guy messes up, you know.

BRANDON: Oh totally! I bust his balls all the time.  Word.

AWAY-TEAM: Thanks so much Brandon for all your time and your patience with this interview.

BRANDON: Hey, no problem. My pleasure.

AWAY-TEAM: I wish you all the best on this tour. And have a great time in the UK.

BRANDON: Thanks. Enjoy the show tonight.

AWAY-TEAM: Oh, I will!

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SHADOWS FALL’s Brian Fair – Metal’s Dirty Hippie! – an exclusive interview

by on Jul.23, 2010, under interviews

Two time Grammy Nominees Shadows Fall has been shredding the Massachusetts’ metal and hardcore scene for the last 15 years. In 2005 they joined the Ozzfest tour and began their much deserved rise from kings of the underground to a house hold name around the world as the leader’s of the new Thrash Metal movement. Their style has been discussed and dissected ad nauseam. Are they metal? Hardcore? Post core? Metal core? Reggae metal? Hippy metal? Who cares… They rock; they’ll kick your ass given the chance. They’re touring the world in support of their latest CD Retribution, which they released on their own label Everblack Industries.
Shadows Fall is currently on the road with the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and I had the chance to sit down with their singer Brian Fair and talk about his views of the current condition of the music ‘industry‘, what the pros and cons are in having your own label inprint, the dangers of slamming a vert ramp with your skateboard after a few bowls of your favorite herb, and how it feels to be metal’s dirty hippie.

AWAY-TEAM: This is Slim Jim with Away-team.com talking with Brian Fair from Shadows Fall. So let’s see, first off you guys just kicked off the first show of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. How did that….

BRIAN FAIR: Yes indeed man. San Bernardino yesterday man, it was killer man, it was a great first show where there was none of the normal equipment break downs or things – just there were regular speed bumps. It went pretty smooth. Everything really worked out well. The show was killer, the crowd was killer! But I’m a little afraid today because since nothing went wrong yesterday we’re assuming it all happens today you know !(laughs)

AWAY-TEAM: Right yeah absolutely. So where are you today?

BRIAN FAIR: You gotta run into the gremlin somewhere. Shoreline which is a little south of San Francisco in Mountain View, California.

AWAY-TEAM: Mountain View, California I’m very familiar with it, I’m from the Bay Area originally myself.

BRIAN FAIR: Oh nice nice. I love Shoreline. It’s one of my favorite venues there is. We’ve done an Ozzfest here before so it’s good to be back. Yeah and bein’ a hippie Deadhead myself I just feel that holy ground you know.

AWAY-TEAM: So how does a hippie Deadhead become the voice of the new generation of thrash?

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah you know honestly I went to as many hardcore and metal shows growing up as I did to Dead shows and Reggae shows and stuff. So I think just kinda keeping that open mind is what’s really allowed us to really kinda push things in directions that other metal bands may not kind of approach. Or just not have the subconscious for the influences that would be there. I’m definitely the dirty metal hippie so it’s… I’m a Gemini, so I gotta have the twin side anyway you know.

AWAY-TEAM: There you go, the ‘dirty metal hippie‘ I like that! (laughs)

BRIAN FAIR: Yup! (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM: So for most people your band Shadows Fall kinda got name recognition within say the last five years. Probably Ozzfest 2005 it is kinda what opened a lot of doors for you, and you became if not a household name, the people outside of the underground really found out about you. But the reality is you guys have been around for 15 years. Your first album came out in 1997. So what do you think took so long…

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah it’s crazy!

AWAY-TEAM: You even have two Grammy nominations in the last three years!

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah it’s pretty crazy cuz you know, we started as like a small little Massachusetts metal band kinda just doin’ our own thing in a very small scene. But it really started to just kinda get back on the radar and blow up. When it seemed like a lot of bands kinda came up at the same time, us, Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and it just kinda put the U.S. metal kinda back on the map. Metal never goes away. It just may go a little bit underground, but it’s always pretty much full on happening in the scene. So it’s kinda cool that the industry started paying a little attention. I think just even towards like Ozzfest being so successful kinda just put metal in general back on the radar and then us getting in front of those audiences definitely helped.

AWAY-TEAM: So what is it about the Massachusetts area… like you said it’s you, Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed, etc, what is it about that area that’s breeding that metal hardcore theme?

BRIAN FAIR: Well you know it was just a really kind of close knit scene back in the day. Where there was a lot of small hardcore shows and the bands all knew each other and all kind of grew up playing in bands together before that. It was a very open minded scene that was the other thing. People weren’t like limiting themselves to ‘oh we only play traditional hardcore’ ‘we only play straight up death metal’, people were really experimenting melodically and I think that led to bands kind of branching out in different directions and really kinda catching a lot of people’s attention. But it is really funny cuz I mean when we all started, we, the bands, played to each other! There was no crowd you know it was just us. You’d have 10 bands on the bill and that would be 10 bands in the audience. So it’s funny now that it’s kinda like a worldwide thing where we tour Australia and Japan with Killswitch Engage or something like that. It’s just crazy to think about. So….

AWAY-TEAM: You’ve actually got a former member that’s in Killswitch and one that it’s in All That Remains and you guys did a tour together where the three bands were on the same bill or on the same tour together. How does that work backstage? Is there any kinda animosity or does the fact that you guys…

BRIAN FAIR: Aw no! Everyone’s still friends. It’s all good. Like everyone’s just friends. As all the bands were starting…that members were just kinda plucked…When your high school band would break up, you’d meet up with the other two guys. And when their band broke up; then start a new band. So we all we all toured together and played shows and everyone still hangs out. Everyone still lives in the same area pretty much where they grew up so everyone still kicks it.

AWAY-TEAM: So having that close knit familiarity when you guys do tour together, do you guys get real competitive? Does it make you turn it up a notch onstage? Not necessarily to outdo them but to you know…

BRIAN FAIR: I think in general whenever we play with good bands it just motivates you. It’s not necessarily a competition thing, but you just realize, ‘We gotta go out and crush it!‘ But metal lines in general you can’t really half step anyway. They’re gonna let you know. You gotta come out and just kill it anyway. Especially on a tour like this one with so many great bands, you gotta just do something to kinda stand out. Especially in the festival scenario where people are getting little 20 minute shots of you. You gotta make the most of your time and then leave ‘em remembering who you were. So it’s kinda like that when we go out with those bands. It’s the same way you see them go out and crush and you’re like, ‘alright, now we gotta at least hit ‘em just as hard if not harder.’

AWAY-TEAM: Absolutely! You’ve done a lot of label switching over the years. You started out with Century Media, went up to Atlantic, and your last album which was released last year, Retribution, you’ve released on your own label. Is this because there’s more freedom for you to do it how you want it, more creative control, and more monetary control? Or what are the advantages of a do-it-yourself label?

BRIAN FAIR: You know honestly it’s not necessarily the artistic control because Atlantic and Century Media… we would make the records and then play it for them when they were done. So they didn’t really have a whole lot of input that way. But what is great is by doing both the indie label thing for years and then being with Atlantic for a little while, we’ve learned a lot about what works for us as a band and the best way to promote ourselves. And took lessons from both of those experiences to kinda be able to renegotiate our Atlantic deal into a distribution deal with their parent company Warner Music. Where we took the monetary control is the biggest thing too, like budget wise, we were able to spend money in the right places and make those decisions ourselves as opposed to some major labels just want to throw a bunch of money into a video or radio. And hope it hits. With us that’s just not really the way it works. So there’d be a lot of not necessarily wasted money, but money that could’ve been directed in a better direction. So that’s what’s great now, and also there’s no more excuses. Like, ‘oh I didn’t know we were doing this, I didn’t know we were doing that.’ Everyone’s involved so you can all be on the same page and really just try and make the best decisions. But also with the music industry struggling so much, record sales dropping so drastically, it was time to make a new business model anyway instead of getting 10% royalty rate on records. On declining record sales now we at least get an 80%. So we are at least working to put money in your own pocket as opposed to the bottom you know for someone’s car payment on their Porsche.

AWAY-TEAM: Exactly and that that was basically my next question, do you think having the control of your own label will help secure you in, by most people’s estimates, 3 years the major labels will all collapse if they don’t immediately change their business model?

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah that’s the thing you know. It was all about being proactive instead of waiting to see where the chips fell as is the fallout from the downloading mess of the internet… We didn’t want to wait and see what… Cuz you could tell labels were in panic mode. We were lucky when we signed with Atlantic because things were a little more stable. And we were able to get a really good advance and sign a great deal. But those days are gone. Now it’s all 360 deals or they’re trying to take a percentage of your merch, your publishing, your touring, everything! So instead of waiting around to see what was the last of the industry, we figured we’d start our own little business model. I have a feeling that even the CD itself might be gone soon, just the way cassettes and vinyl were before. It’s better to learn as much about the business side and handle as much personally, band for band, as you can. When it gets down to that your gonna have to… if you don’t know what to do then… you know you’re just gonna be sitting there just kinda stuck in limbo so we figured we’d get ahead of the game.

AWAY-TEAM: What I think a lot of people don’t realize is… you mentioned the 360 deals. Most people think that bands make a ton of money off album sales. And in the 80s and 90s there was good money to be made there. But today, and the last 10 years if not a little more than that, your artists and your bands make their money on the road. Selling the t-shirts, selling the tickets, selling all kinds of merch. That’s where you make the most amount of your money. So now labels are doing what they’re calling the 360 deals and they’re taking a little bit of your merch, they’re taking some of your guarantees at the door and your ticket sales just so they can try to survive themselves, and like you said make their Porsche payments.

BRIAN FAIR: Yup and it’s unfortunate for a lot of younger bands. Those are the only options they are being presented with. In a young band and you’re a teenage kid and you just want to get out of the practice space and get on the road. And you think that’s your only option and it may be ok when you’re on a small level. But if you start blowing up all of a sudden you realize you’re like, ‘we’re giving these people money for nothing you know? They’re not even here selling our t-shirts yet they’re getting 10% of every one we just sold!’ It’s really an unfortunate thing; cuz like you said that really is where you make your money. You know touring, merchandising, as well as publishing! Getting yourself onto video games or movies or just random soundtracks and things like that. And as soon as you let the label start dipping into that you’re gonna really be left with nothing else. So it’s really about trying to protect your assets if you can. It’s unfortunate; I remember when we just wanted to rock, now we gotta study tax laws and stuff. It’s terrible but if you want to do it full time, it’s something you gotta really take seriously.

AWAY-TEAM: Absolutely, musicians have never as a rule been great businessmen. That’s what they have the managers for. And now unfortunately you’ve gotta be your own businessman, your own lawyer, your own manager, you’ve gotta take care of yourself because everyone’s getting a piece, or trying to.

BRIAN FAIR: Exactly that’s the other…we’ve seen enough of those Behind the Music’s to know all the things that could go wrong. So now you can’t pretend ignorance anymore. We’ve all watched what happened to Grand Funk Railroad, and all those bands on all those great VH1 Behind the Music’s so (laughs) no excuses anymore.

AWAY-TEAM: So on your label are you going to be signing other bands or is this strictly just to push Shadows Fall?

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah, right now it is just to push Shadows Fall. We wanted really to just see how things worked out. We’ve suggested to other bands to kinda look into a similar deal with the parent company and you know or the independent label group. But in the future if we thought we could help a band in a way without becoming the evil label side of it then that would be awesome. And if they could use our imprint just to help them get like a leg up that would be great. But we would want them to really be running it. It would be more, ‘here’s a platform, here’s a distribution center, now you guys gotta go out and you know run with the ball.’ Otherwise we would just be becoming a regular record label and that business model just doesn’t work. At that point you’re just a loan shark you know?

AWAY-TEAM: So to the bands that are still in the garage or the practice space … What kind of advice can you give to the garage band, they’re trying to make it, how to set themselves apart and get noticed today?

BRIAN FAIR: I would tell them to study hard and get a degree that will get ‘em a real job! (laughs) Honestly I would tell you to really, just get to the point where you just are so comfortable with your sound before you’re just throwing it out there. Really use advantage of all the free networking that’s available, whether it’s putting up songs on MySpace or just staying in touch with bands through Twitter, use all those as much – all the free outlets – as much as possible. Whether it’s YouTube or anything you know, those things weren’t available to us as a young band. We had to just go out on the road and just hand out demos physically as opposed to now, you can just give someone a little flier with all your info and they can hear your music as soon as they get home. It’s such a difference. Shit, they can probably hear it on their phone you know? Like really take advantage of all that and learn as much as you can about how the business side works. Because you’re gonna end up running it yourself at some point if it gets successful. So really, just absorb as much as you can. And also just really get out there and play as much as you can. Cuz the live show is the one thing that can never be downloaded or taken away from the band. The live performance is such a unique experience it really just where it’s all about focused energy, on going out there and kicking ass onstage!

AWAY-TEAM: Ok, enough of the business side, let’s get back to the music. Most of your albums have a cover or two on them from Pink Floyd to Dangerous Toys and even Leeway, how do you guys go about picking a cover? Are these nods to your influences or just songs you want to play putting…

BRIAN FAIR: They’re definitely always an influence you know but there’s two kinda schools we choose from there’s the bands like Leeway and the Cro-Mags that are for us kind of paying tribute to a band that helped kinda shape our sound, but they may not be known by a lot of our either younger fans, or more like not as the underground kids. So that’s where we choose to do a Leeway song or something like that. The other ones like Dangerous Toys and Bark at the Moon, those are just fun. That’s for us to enjoy the studio time and be able to just record a kick ass tune, and for me to be able to sing about werewolves or Teasin’ and Pleasin’. Like I’m never gonna say, ‘I think I got the wrong house’ you know? Like that will never fit into a Shadows Fall song. So for me it’s just a fun experience to just have a little party anthem.

AWAY-TEAM: What were your influences when you started? What made you want to sing to begin with?

BRIAN FAIR: You know I really got into early rock like KISS and Aerosmith and Black Sabbath at a pretty young age. I had a cool older brother and a cool neighbor who turned me onto a lot of good music. But then I got really into punk rock through skateboarding when I was probably like 12, 13. I was listening to Black Flag and the Sex Pistols and stuff, and that led me to going to local Boston hardcore shows and stuff. But the entire time I was going to hardcore shows I was also listening to a ton of thrash metal you know the Bay Area bands – Testament, Death Angel, Metallica as well some of the early death metal so I think that’s really where the kind of combination of sounds of just death metal and old school hardcore and the classic metal kinda all came into Shadows Fall. I think all 5 of us at least shared those kind of common backgrounds even though I was listening to a lot of reggae and jazz, whereas some of the other guys listened to a lot of glam metal and we all had our different stuff. But the common ground we shared the old school metal as well as that kinda early crossover metal hardcore stuff.

AWAY-TEAM: I’ve seen this asked of you before, and reading reviews of various CDs of yours, and when people ask me how to define your sound it’s really impossible to do. I guess it’s because of the various influences but how would you describe the Shadows Fall sound?

BRIAN FAIR: You know just call us a metal band! Because we really do take things from the entire sort of metal history, because we just grew up as fans of all types of heavy music. And you can hyphenate it a million times you can call it like neo-thrash-melodic-death-blah blah blah, and then add metal at the end, but to me it’s just its just metal.

AWAY-TEAM: Ok, fair enough. Retribution sees you guys delving into a bit heavier more aggressive tighter sound than previous efforts. Like almost more focused on a set sound for the feel of the entire album. Was this a natural progression or was it thought out and planned?

BRIAN FAIR: You know it wasn’t really planned but we knew with Threads of Life, the previous album, we definitely pushed the kind of melodic arena rock side of our sound probably as far as it could go so with this record. It was probably subconscious but we definitely started right out the gates writing really aggressive songs. Public Execution was one of the first tunes we were working on, as well as My Demise and War came about pretty early on. And that sort of set the tone where we’re like alright this is going to be a heavy fast record. And there’s still melodic moments like Picture Perfect is a very melodic song with acoustic moments and then a big chorus but overall I’d say it’s definitely probably maybe besides Of One Blood it’s probably the most aggressive record we’ve done from beginning to end.

AWAY-TEAM: I’d described it as tighter, more cohesive, more defined, and straightforward.. just balls out album.

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah there’s definitely a lot of that. We really wanted to balance all of the influences and make them cohesive. As opposed to some bands these days want to fit so much in that they’ll almost cut and paste, ‘alright here’s the death metal part, here’s the breakdown, here’s the big melodic chorus’ and they almost feel sorta just stuck together and forced. We wanted it to be if it was going to be a thrash song and fast it was going to be that way from beginning to end. There wasn’t going to be some weird left turn you know? If it was going to be a melodic hard rock song it was going to stay that way from beginning to end. And I think that’s just us getting more comfortable as song writers. I think song writing is the most difficult thing to progress and learn over time. Everyone gets better as a musician but that still doesn’t mean you can write a song.

AWAY-TEAM: So does the title Retribution reflect the music on the disc or does its meaning lie elsewhere?

BRIAN FAIR: Well you know we wanted a one word title for the first time. Something that just had an aggressive vibe to it, but also we’d kinda been off the radar for about two years between records and we kinda wanted to just stake our claim again. Let people know we were back. There’s just so much metal these days, and there’s so many bands, and it’s so easy to put a record out that we just were like…this was our sort of our coming back atcha thing. Going for the throat sort of record and we just felt like Retribution kind of fit that.

AWAY-TEAM: So how do you as a band go about writing a record? Is it collaborative musically? Do you all sit around and hammer out a song or do you take the riff tapes and piece a song together?

BRIAN FAIR: Our guitar players usually bring a very rough outline of the song or even just a few riffs, and we would just jam on them in the practice space full volume together. And I think that also led to it being an aggressive record, cuz we were actually playing a lot of it live right out of the gates. So it really led to that energy and we were thinking about how they would be onstage as opposed to just thinking of them as just studio pieces. So there and a lot of weird transitions that never would have happened if we would have just emailed back and forth MP3s. Some crazy little wacky idea would come out of nowhere while we were jamming, so I think that really helped make it a cohesive and also just a little more aggressive record. Just crankin’ it and going for it.

AWAY-TEAM: So does the music affect or influence the lyrics or does the writing of the lyrics influence the way the music is written?

BRIAN FAIR: For me, I usually wait til not necessarily the finished instrumental version, but pretty well defined. And I get a vibe from it that will affect the lyrics. If it’s a head crushing heavy song the lyrics have to reflect that. If it’s a long epic kinda song I may get more into a grand storytelling vibe. I definitely usually wait to get that from the music itself.

AWAY-TEAM: As we said before, you’re currently out on the road with some great bands on the Mayhem Festival, what would be your ultimate bill for a show?

BRIAN FAIR: You know we’ve played a festival with them before but we would love to tour with Metallica cuz that’s the one band that I grew up worshipping that we’ve never gotten to do extended time on the road with. And there’s only one Metallica man! They’re the kingpins, so that would be pretty amazing.

AWAY-TEAM: So are you guys sitting around waiting to do the opening for the Big Four then? Is that what you’re asking? To throw in your hat….

BRIAN FAIR: Oh that would be as cool as it gets! But honestly that would be a tough opening spot even to begin with. People would be like ‘yeah great we don’t care, get to the Big Four’!

AWAY-TEAM: Absolutely I can definitely see that. Which hearkens back to the old Bay Area days when if you weren’t Exodus or Metallica onstage everyone would stand with their backs to you and just wait for the band they came to see get onstage…

BRIAN FAIR: Totally it’s just like the opening band getting “Slayer” chanted at them for the entire set. It is definitely some tough spots…Those are the shows that when you do come out and win a crowd over like that, those are some of your best successes. We must have kicked ass tonight because these dudes don’t give a cr-… they don’t care about anybody!

AWAY-TEAM: So I see you guys are performing some off dates while you’re on this festival getting back into the clubs up close and personal with the audience. Everybody wants to be a rockstar, everybody wants to play in front of 60,000 people every night, but which is the better show for you? In the club in front of 300 people nose to nose and fist to fist or something like Mayhem playing for 10 20 30,000 people a night?

BRIAN FAIR: You know for me it really goes both ways. But I definitely grew up playing small, small shows and going to a lot of small, small shows. So to me that’s really probably my comfort zone. The people are there to see you and are right up there supporting and in your face. But there’s something about like… we played a festival in Columbia last week where there was 150,000 people. And just seeing that, there’s really nothing cooler you know? There’s just so much energy and it’s so overwhelming you can barely even focus on one point out in the crowd. Its just so huge and it really can go both ways, but we played a packed club show in Brazil the day before and it was insane! There was so much energy, so much sweat, kids up on the stage and that vibe it brought me back to why I started doing this to begin with. So they both really have a place in my heart but I’d probably always feel more comfortable in a club.

AWAY-TEAM: So how does that change your approach to the show? I mean if you look out from the stage and you see 150,000 people out there how do you connect with that 150,000th person?

BRIAN FAIR: You do have to change the way you do it cuz in the club show you can be standing on the barricade and getting the crowd physically involved in the show so there’s not as much of just a focal point on you. At the big festival there’s a giant security barriers so the focus is just on you, every gesture is a little bigger and you do have to remind yourself to keep connecting with the crowd cuz it is so big. You try to involve them as much as possible, cuz it is really it is a completely different animal. The crowd isn’t part of the show at those big festivals until you make them part of it. Whereas in the club there’s no escape, they’re shoved right up in your face.

AWAY-TEAM: You recently completed your first headlining tour of Canada. Where haven’t you played yet that you really want to?

BRIAN FAIR: You know after doing South America, that was a big checkmark! We went down just recently and did Columbia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. That was amazing! I can’t believe it took us almost 15 years to get down there. For now we have an offer for a festival in China that we hopefully can work out cuz that to me, the fact that we’ve already gone to the Philippines, Korea and all these places I never thought metal would take me, if we can get to China I’m like, ‘Alright now we’re just really we’re runnin’ out of places we’re going to have to play for the penguins down in Antarctica next’.

AWAY-TEAM: That would be really cool, a festival in China wow!

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah that would be amazing!

AWAY-TEAM: So how do you personally get through the monotony of a day on the road without a show?

BRIAN FAIR: That’s why we sold so many off dates. I hate downtime on the road! You usually end up at a Wal-Mart wasting money on DVDs or looking for a movie theater.

AWAY-TEAM: What’s the one thing you can’t live without on the road?

BRIAN FAIR: Let’s see, I’d probably say my pipe but I’d also include my skateboard in that too so…

AWAY-TEAM: And not necessarily in that order right?

BRIAN FAIR: Yeah yeah yeah! And I usually try to keep them separate too!

AWAY-TEAM: That’s probably smartest.

BRIAN FAIR: Choppin’ it on a vert ramp all day can be end up really ending tragically. Although it does still happen from time to time.

AWAY-TEAM: What’s your favorite song to perform live and why?

BRIAN FAIR: You know right now it’s actually been the song War which is sorta, I can’t call it a Bob Marley cover, I adapted some of the lyrics from his version of the Haile Selassie speech that he used in his song, War, but it’s just balls out like definitely the fastest Marley cover ever. And for me the crowd is just like a nonstop circle pit. So it’s a great one to just throw out there and it’s also one of those 3 minute just punch in the throat and then you’re out.

AWAY-TEAM: What’s the one song you didn’t write that you wish you did?

BRIAN FAIR: Pretty much anything on Master of Puppets!

AWAY-TEAM: And my last question for you, what’s the worst name of a band you’ve ever been in?

BRIAN FAIR: Worst name of a band I’ve ever been in? Social Violation. It was a punk rock band when I was literally like probably 12 years old. At one point my whole thing was hitting the guitar with all the distortion up with drumsticks, thinking it was some art scene noise thing. It’s like no, you just don’t know how to hold it!

AWAY-TEAM: Well Brian I appreciate it man good luck out on the road with the Mayhem Festival. You’ve got a DVD coming out ‘Madness in Manila’ next month on the 24th of August good luck with that!

BRIAN FAIR: It’s actually getting pushed back, it’s actually getting pushed back a little bit. We just found a bunch more footage that we had to include so we’re going to actually push the date back a little bit to the fall but ‘Madness in Manila’ is coming.

AWAY-TEAM: I look forward to it! I’ve seen you guys 2 or 3 times, I’ve produced a couple of shows with you and Lacuna Coil in the North Carolina area and I’m looking forward to seeing you guys August 3rd in Raleigh , NC.

BRIAN FAIR: Indeed man it’s going to be a good time! I remember those shows those were good shows! Man, that’s killer!

AWAY-TEAM: Good luck, be safe, and we’ll see you soon.

BRIAN FAIR: Indeed man thanks for spreading the word, we appreciate it!

My thanks to Natalie at Adrenaline PR for the hook up, my transcriptionist extraordinaire melissa for the 15 pages, and Brian Fair for taking the time out of a busy schedule to throw down a great interview.

For more on Shadows Fall click here.

For Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival dates click here.

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Sky’s the Limit- An Interview with Aurora Sky’s Andrew “Gambit” West

by on Jun.27, 2010, under interviews, news

What do you do when the band you founded signs a major label deal, and then suddenly breaks up?  If you’re Andrew West and Chris Shy, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and create music’s next big thing… Aurora Sky.  When Fear the Clown got signed to Columbia Records, Andrew West and Chris Shy were on top of the world, soon that world came crashing down.  From those ashes, comes Aurora Sky, ready to unleash holy hell unto the masses.  Lucky for me, I had the chance to chat with Aurora Sky‘s lead singer Andrew “Gambit” West, as they recorded at famed producer Ben Grosse‘s The Mix Room studios in Burbank, CA.  Here’s how my conversation with the world’s next great frontman went…

AWAY-TEAM:  Alright, so you guys are an unsigned band out of Oklahoma City, working with uber producer Ben Grosse (FILTER/SEVENDUST/MARILYN MANSON/BREAKING BENJAMIN/ and MANY others), Justin Walden (SEVENDUST/GODSMACK/KORN) has the programming and synth layering duties, and guys like Corey Lowery (DARK NEW DAY/STEREOMUD/SEVENDUST) on bass, and Glen Sobel (SIXX A.M./BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) on drums.  How does an unsigned band from middle America end up recording in L.A. with world renowned talent like this?

ANDREW WEST:  It came about, we were actually working with another producer that’s up and coming, out of Florida, and he was kinda taking us in a direction that is not us in the first place.  And we weren’t getting the right vibe from it, and uh, even though he’s super talented and everything it just wasn’t the vibe we were looking for.  So uh, Chris actually, we were talking about the music and the direction it’s going, and it was like “Ya know, I wanna challenge Craig (Stegall) our manager to go further and far beyond…I have a really good idea”  So you know he reaches out and challenges him to get a hold of Ben Grosse, and like with no realization that ya know it’s probably not gonna happen, or whatever.  They make contact, Ben hears the demos of Aurora Sky, and comes back with “I think there’s a great chemistry, and creativity in these guys in the way they write.  I would definitely be interested in working with them, and see what comes of it”  So that’s how it all came about, on that line of it.

AWAY-TEAM:  That’s a great endorsement.  In fact you’ve gotten ringing endorsements from the likes of Godsmack’s Shannon Larkin, and as I understand it, you guys were actually contacted by Richard Patrick of Filter.  What did he have to say?

ANDREW WEST:  Chris actually spoke with him, we had contacted different artists and bands that have previously worked with Ben just to kinda get a heads up, and get a feel for how he works and operates.  The producers, ya know, from producer to producer it’s always a little bit different, so we wanted to get an idea of what we were jumping into.  So ya know, we got to speak with him a bit, and other people like the guitarist from Simon Says…there’s a lot of people that we were just kinda e-mailing back and forth and Facebooking, and getting to chat with them and ask “How was your experience working with Ben?”  And, I mean they were all just really cool, it was really uplifting, it was just exciting to be able to talk to them, and humbling at the same time, it’s like “Wow, these people actually get back to us.”  Ya know, we’re “nobody” from Oklahoma, and they’re actually taking the time to talk to us, so that was pretty cool.  When we actually figured out a monetary arrangement for this whole recording to take place, it’s just all of a sudden like “Who do we wanna have playing drums?  Who do we wanna get that does more programming, and synth-oriented keyboard stuff?”  It’s just like, all these different artists are available who have heard our stuff, and wanted to be a part of it, so we’re really just blessed to be where we’re at right now.

AWAY-TEAM:  Says a lot about your music.  Now, you mentioned that producer to producer it’s kinda different, and you’ve previously worked with Grammy-nominee Michael Raphael, and now you’ve graduated to a Grammy Winner in Ben Grosse.  How does the recording experience this time around, differ from the first?

ANDREW WEST:  I think it’s actually a “Wow”, like an “Oh my God” moment, more than it is quite a realistic difference.  There is a huge difference in the quality that Ben does, versus someone that hasn’t been at his caliber of course, not knocking anybody, but um.  Ya know, you step into the studio with Ben Grosse, and he’s got all these great bands with great records, that you’ve been a fan of all these years, and still, presently putting out modern music that’s huge.  It’s just an “Oh my gosh” moment, like “come back to reality” and everything, but no, we suspected and expected that it was gonna be a lot more difficult, like an uncomfortable situation stepping into it.  Because we built up a great friendship, aside from the business part of it, with Michael Raphael, and we just knew what to expect from him, so it was like this is just gonna be totally different, ya know, we’re getting ready to go run with the big dogs, so.  It’s turned out to be quite a bit the same actually, originally when we were sending in our ideas of new songs to him (Ben), they were just snippets of like, a verse and a chorus, a vocal melody and guitar melody as well, and that’s it, there was no pre-chorus, there was no bridge, no finished product.  That’s how Chris and I had always been taught to write a new song, becuse it’s like don’t worry about the rest, when you get out to a place we’ll all sit in a room together and finish the rest of the song.  It’s just that those are the two important parts, if those parts right there are a slam dunk, then the rest of the songs gonna be a no-brainer.  So ya know, we started off by doing that, and we sent off the songs, and Ben‘s reply is like, we sent off like three or four different song ideas to him, and he’s like “Ya know, these are a little bit too rough for me to pick two, I can’t really tell which direction you wanna go with this.”  And we’re just looking at each other like “Oh Shit!, what do we do now?”  He was expecting entire songs, start to finish, and it was like at that moment we’re behind the eight ball.  Anyway, we just put more and more effort, and time into it, and in just a few days we were able to send finished versions, start to finish,with the bridge, and the pre-chorus that we hadn’t even written until that time.  And he fired back responses like “Yeah, I like this…or this not so much…keep working on this…”  He definitely agreed that we had some really good ideas for this album, so much that we would be prepared at this point to come on out.  A big help with that part of it, was Corey Lowery being a part of the pre-production, helping out with lyrics also, like getting the right, ya know, I write a lot of bizzare vocal stuff that makes sense to me, and means something to me, but they don’t always make sense to the general public, or anyone that’s listening.  And just helping out with the little things that make the song just that much better, so he’s been a big help.

AWAY-TEAM:  There’s a lot of buzz, currently surrounding you guys.  Do you attribute that more to, the right people are now hearing you? Or the right people, i.e.-Ben and Corey, are now working with you?

ANDREW WEST:  I think both.  I think more people are caring now.  The same people that have heard it, and passed on it just because, the general response we’ve gotten in the past was “It needs a little more bite.”  I don’t think that’s it at all, we have a style, it’s finding the right people, and the right person to believe in your style.  We started going down a pathway that wasn’t us with that other producer, and I have all the respect in the world for him, but it’s just not us.  Now we’ve found somebody that has heard our ideas, and heard the way we are, and our sound, and believes in it….and sees that, yes there is a marketable product here, and yes I can help polish this out.  Your ideas are there, your ideas are good, so I think it has everything to do with the right people being involved.  Their names are also exciting other people in the industry to be like “Let’s check this out. They’re not gonna be in on it for no reason, and be a part of something that sucks.”  So, it’s definitely been a big help that they’ve been a part of it, and luckily the songs that Chris and I write, are good enough to pique their interest.

AWAY-TEAM:  You mention that in the past they were saying “Well this is good, but it needs more bite.”  I actually have your independent release, and I personally think it’s great.  What type of adjustments have you guys made for this recording?

ANDREW WEST:  It’s taking some of the other ideas, actually one of the ideas is on the previously released stuff, and then another song is like totally left field.  It’s kinda like taking something and revamping it, I mean I can’t even tell you how many songs we’ve written over all these years, we’ve been writing music and playing for twelve years or so…it’s just taking an idea that at one time was maybe a good idea, but then music constantly evolves, so therefore you have to make those changes with it and make something that’s more modern sounding.  So if there was potential in an older song, that never got put out, or never got any kind of recognition, or never made the cut onto an album that I’d been writing years ago,  taking that idea and revamping it, making it more modern, maybe it was more appropriate for today’s music than it was ten years ago.  In a lot of cases, where we’re at right now, it’s totally a new song, there’s hardly anything, I mean I think it’s safe to say it’s a brand new song, rather than something old.  But it would always start with something that had previously been written.  They’re like “You know what, let’s take this foundation, and let’s build off of it.”, and it turns into a whole different song, but at least the idea was already started by something that was previously there, that was a good idea to start with in the first place.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now you’ve been compared before to bands like Breaking Benjamin and Crossfade.  If you had to describe your sound to our readers, how would you describe it?

ANDREW WEST:  Umm, just in conversation, when I’m talking with somebody and somebody asks me that question I respond with, a modern-rock, our manager would like us to be a part of active rock, but there’s just so many different genres that I don’t even keep up with what’s what namewise.  Ya know, it’s modern, it’s rock, but it’s got synthesizers in it, it’s got the heavy rock style.  So I like stuff with like samples, and loops, and synth parts, but still have that heavy, fucking balls to the wall, makes you wanna start throwing things around in your room.  It’s a good time to play to, it’s a good moment, it’s a good vibe.  Modern-rock with some synth oriented sounds in it, I would say.

AWAY-TEAM:  I’ve heard rumblings that you guys are already being courted by a couple of different major labels.  You and Chris were actually signed to Columbia Records with your former band Fear the Clown, is the excitement level still the same? Or is it now more “Okay, we’ve been this far before, but now we need to take it to the next level”?

ANDREW WEST:  Is it the same now? It’s very much more exciting now, with the predicament we’re in.  We’ve got great people involved in this, I’m not just talking about what’s happening right this second, but our manager Craig, for one, is somebody that has his head screwed on straighter than anybody we’ve ever met in the music industry.  There’s a lot of crooked people in this business, and right now the Aurora Sky camp has the right people in it.  Ya know, before, what we had going on was great, but there was a lot of people that were just really negative, and there was a lot of just bringing each other down.  All the negativity this time around is gone, and it’s totally looking on positive, and it’s very much more exciting this time, because we’re more mature, we’ve been down the road several times now, and I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way.  We had a lot of growing up to do, from the Fear the Clown days.  From a songwriter’s standpoint it’s very much more exciting, we’re better, and we’re just finally blossoming, I would say, to be able to be in the same category as some the bigger artists and bands.  So this part of my life, is ultimately the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of.

AWAY-TEAM:  Ya know, being down that road before, and kinda learning lessons the hard way, you’ve perservered through a lot.  Yet, you continue to try to be a rock star.  You gotta just chalk that up to desire, but what was that first album or song you heard that made you say “Come hell or high water, I’m gonna be a rock star”?

ANDREW WEST:  Ya know, I can remember when I was like 16, coming up with that idea in my head, but at that point who doesn’t wanna become one?  Who doesn’t wanna be in a band?  And so, ya know, I thought I’d just grow out of such a thing.   I was raised by, both my parents were musicians, and were highly successful in the 80′s, I mean very successful, my dad was in one of the top bands.  So I just grew up, literally as a child going to rehearsals at these clubs and bars, and stuff, and having the free reign of running around these bars, and clubs, and nightclubs, instead of having a babysitter, because that’s what they did.  To this day they still perform and everything, so I guess it’s just like I was almost predetermined to become a rock star.  But I’ve had my choices that I’ve had to make, like after Fear the Clown broke up, each of us really had to ask ourselves “Where do I go from here?  Do I continue down this road?”.  We just saw the ugliest side of it, we just really got screwed over in so many different ways, so bad that it made you ask yourself “Do we want to do this anymore? Is it worth it?”  I mean is it worth that 45 minutes to an hour worth of fame on stage, to go through all the other B.S. that comes with it?  And um, ya know, I had to get back to the real life, and get a real job.  Clocking in and out, that was a hard thing for me to come back to after playing shows on the road non-stop, and not having a real job before that.  After time and time and time, I couldn’t take it anymore.  Thank God, I found someone like Craig, because he saw my desperation, it was like at this point I should’ve moved on if I was gonna do something else with my life.  But I can’t, this is who I am, I have to do this, this is like my drug.  I have to get up on stage, and I have to perform.  I have to express myself through music, and there is nothing else out there for me.  I can’t work these business jobs, and get suited up in a tie.  More power to the people that can, but I can’t mentally do that!  I’ll fucking go crazy! It’s not who I am.  I have to be up there, and the lights come on, and it’s not for the attention.  It’s something that’s built in me, I have to do it.  It’s seriously like a personal therapy to me.  So I don’t know it’s weird.  I’ve tried other things, I’ve tried to get out of this life, and I can’t do it.  This is what I was meant to do.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well to tell you the truth, that’s extremely admirable.  I mean, you follow your dreams no matter what.  That’s awesome. 

 ANDREW WEST:  Yeah, I’ve been poor the whole time doing it. (laughs)  I don’t have a whole lot to show, as far as property and stuff.

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  You can do one of two things, you can be poor chasing your dream, or you can be a poor working man like me, so. (laughs)  Either way you don’t have shit.   (laughs)

ANDREW WEST:  (laughs)  Yeah, you’re right.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well Andrew, thanks for your time.  I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product.  Good luck choosing between all those major labels, I’m sure you guys are gonna have your pick of the litter.

ANDREW WEST:  I hope it’s that big of a deal.  I really do, it’d be nice for a change.  Thank you for your time, for having any kind of interest in this.  I do appreciate that.

AWAY-TEAM:  Like I said man, I’ve heard your stuff and I absolutely love it.  I think you guys are gonna go somewhere.

ANDREW WEST:  Awesome, awesome.  Well hopefully we’ll get to talk again soon.

AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah, I hear you like to do a little karaoke at Lani Kai, so maybe next time you make it down here…

ANDREW WEST:  (laughs hysterically)  Give me a couple of drinks and I’ll be almost good to do anything at that point.

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  I’m sure you’re gonna out battle me, but I’ll give it a try (laughs)  I’ve been known to pick up the mic after a few drinks myself.

ANDREW WEST:  Yeah, we’ll do a duet, it’ll be great.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  Alright brother, well listen, give Chris my best wishes as well.  Good luck with everything, and I’m sure, like I said when you come down here, we’ll hang out. 

ANDREW WEST:  Awesome.  Sounds good.

AWAY-TEAM:  Take it easy.  Good luck!

ANDREW WEST:  Thank you.  Bye.

AWAY-TEAM:  Bye.

Stay tuned for Aurora Sky‘s inevitable major label release, coming soon.  For more info, music, and tour dates visit http://www.reverbnation.com/aurorasky

Special thanks to Andrew “Gambit” West for so graciously giving me his time.

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TESTAMENT’s ALEX SKOLNICK on life before and after Thrash

by on Jun.24, 2010, under interviews

This interview was conducted on May 29th, 2009 in Raleigh, NC.

When you think of Bay Area Thrash, you think of four bands; Metallica, Exodus, Testament, and Death Angel. Sure there were others of that time, and many that came later. But those four bands defined Thrash Metal and the ‘Bay Area’ sound. Naturally there were none bigger than Metallica, but close on their heels has to be Testament. After 24 years, numerous lineup changes, a throat cancer scare, and a nine year period of inactivity, Testament is back with a new album Formation of Damnation featuring Chuck Billy on vocals, Eric Peterson on guitar, Alex Skolnick on guitar, Greg Christian on bass, and Paul Bostaph on drums. A new tour that is taking the bands to markets they haven’t played in 15 years or more (I caught the show in Raleigh, NC, and there was much debate as to whether Testament had actually ever played Raleigh before). And a new focus and determination to take the band higher and farther than it has ever been before. I met with Alex Skolnick right before their set at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, and talked about Testament, Trans Siberian Orchestra, the Alex Skolnick Trio and life before and after Testament. Here we go….

Away-Team: This is Jim Keller with Alex Skolnick from Testament. Once again I want to thank you for sitting down and doing this interview with us, much appreciated.

Alex: Absolutely!

Away-Team: What I’d like to do basically is start at the beginning of the band.

Alex: Okay.

Away-Team: Testament was originally started as The Legacy..

Alex: Right…

Away-Team: By Eric (Peterson) and his cousin. They had Steve Souza in the band as a vocalist who left to join Exodus before you recorded your first album. It was reported that he actually suggested Chuck (Billy) as his replacement. Why did Steve leave?

Alex: Well it was funny ‘cause he was the guy that gave us all serious talking toos about how everybody in this band has to be serious. You know when I joined the band he’s like you’re either serious, you either take this seriously or you take it somewhere else. We don’t want guys that are just in here that are just gonna leave and join some other band. Sure enough *laughs* he’s the guy that ends up leaving. But you know he left because I think he felt Exodus was going farther, faster.

Away-Team: At that time when you joined, you were a student of Joe Satriani’s Correct?

Alex: Correct.

Away-Team: And after you joined the band did you continue practicing with him, learning from him?

Alex: I studied with him for about two years. I was with him, basically for the first six months I was in the band and then he started getting really busy. He did his first solo recordings. He definitely uh got me to learn a lot more on my own than I would have otherwise.

Away-Team: So, is it kind of a prerequisite that if you’re going to be in one of the better thrash bands out of San Francisco a la Testament, Metallica; you had to learn from Joe?

Alex: Apparently!! Everybody studied with him, yeah!

Away-Team: Before the first album or during the recording of the first album you had to change your name from The Legacy because there was some jazz band apparently that had the name…

Alex: It was a hotel band…

Away-Team: A hotel band had copyrighted the name The Legacy?

Alex: Yeah. A hotel R&B band in New Orleans.

Away-Team: So the story I had heard was that the reason you changed it to Testament was because the CD artwork – everything was already done and the label didn’t want to re-do everything, so you had named the album originally Testament

Alex: That’s not true

Away-Team: That’s not true, okay, so how did you come up with Testament, then?

Alex: Billy Milano, the singer for SOD came up with the name. Ya know he was on Megaforce Records. So basically an all points bulletin went out, to find a name for the band that Megaforce had just signed. So yeah, I think the guys from Anthrax were suggesting names. Everybody at the record label suggested. We were trying to come up with names and it was Billy Milano that came up with the name Testament.

Away-Team: Did he know you guys or was it just kind of, this is a cool name they should use something like this?

Alex: We had met him, once. But I think he had come up… I feel like I had met him, like maybe when we were recording the first album, and we just, we knew we had to have a name, before the album was released, obviously and it was just one of many suggestions and it was the one, we kind of lived with it for a while and it felt the best.

Away-Team: Your current album, Formation of Damnation, to me is far and away the strongest album you guys have recorded since Practice What You Preach. It’s probably a more straightforward thrash sounding album than some of the last few albums. Was this a culmination of various writing from the last nine years or did you all sit down and write the album together as a whole band?

Alex: No, it was a combination. I think the previous album the guys did when I wasn’t with the band, The Gathering, that was the first one I felt, a lot of people felt, where Chuck and Eric sort of found a formula that works for them. So I didn’t want to really, get in the way of that formula and try to make it 1989 again. But I made a lot of suggestions with the music they were doing and I did bring in some music of my own. Some of that got used; the song F.E.A.R. is something I wrote. But it was more a combination of ideas that Chuck and Eric had had, playing around with some new stuff.

Away-Team: And Eric being the predominant songwriter, music writer for the band, now with this you’re current lineup which is the semi-reunited lineup or the original lineup with addition of Paul Bostaph is it a more of a collaborative thing now or at least going forward to looking at the next album is going to be more collaborative?

Alex: We’ll see, just kind of going to let it happen as it happens.

Away-Team: And will there be a new album?

Alex: There will eventually be, yes.

Away-Team: We mentioned the many lineup changes you guys have done over the years. You being one of them. You guys all got together in 2001 as The Legacy for the Chuck Billy cancer benefit. That show saw the best of the Bay Area thrash scene reuniting for a great cause. Bands like Exodus, Death Angel, Sadus, Vio-lence and of course you. In the last eight years or so, Exodus, Death Angel, you guys now with the Formation of Damnation, have released what many consider to be the best music of your individual and collective careers. Some amazing stuff has come out of the original Bay Area thrash scene in the last couple years. It seems that it’s alive and well again. What do you attribute the current popularity or resurrection of the Bay Area trash scene to?

Alex: Well I think part of it is it’s not as isolated as it used to be. It used to be this very isolated area of music. Pretty much limited to the Bay Area with the exception of ya know Megadeth from LA and Anthrax form New York. I think it’s now like one of many genres of very heavy metal. Ya know you have black metal, you have death metal from Florida and it all relates to thrash metal. There are all these relatives in metal. And now you’ve got some newer bands that have formed in the last ten, fifteen years that in some cases are seeing a lot of success and that’s brought a lot more awareness to the original Bay Area thrash scene. So when we first did the reunion shows it was unclear what kind of type of fan we would have. Was it just going to be Old School fans? But there are actually a lot of young fans that are keeping it alive and well.

Away-Team: Well, if you go in the venue right now; I was very surprised. ‘Cause that was one of the things I looked at as they were lining up out here. Is that they are all going to be my age or our age like a bunch of older guys standing out here but the entire crowd in there tonight has gotta be 25 or younger!

Alex: And if we depended on guys our age, the audience wouldn’t be that big. Let’s face it.

Away-Team: Yeah. Absolutely.

Alex: People get to be our age and they have jobs, families; most don’t go out to shows like they did when they were in their twenties. So it’s nice to have a combination. It’s not that we have, we haven’t lost the original fans. But we do have this big young following now. I think a lot of other bands are seeing that as well, like Exodus.

Away-Team: You had mentioned what I call, like the second wave of thrash.. 10 to 15 year old bands. Today you’ve got bands like the band on stage right now, Lazarus AD. Very, very similar to the old Bay Area thrash style. Warbringer, Municipal Waste a lot of very young bands, that seeing a lot of good response, that can be harkened right back to you guys. It’s like the third generation now. Twenty years later there’s still bands coming out and they’re not Retro, they’re not recreating the sound, but they are continuing it if nothing else and that’s got to really, for you guys to be their inspiration, it’s really got to be something.

Alex: It’s great. It’s also great because for so long we were told our music’s not going to last. It’s passing. It’s in left field. It was this outcast music that nobody predicted a future for. So there’s the answer right there. Great, new young bands that are doing it today.

Away-Team: And twenty four years later, you guys are still out here kicking ass, so it’s very cool. Going back to the formation of not damnation, but of Testament. Can you name one of your favorite memories of the mid to late eighties in the Bay Area Thrash music scene? Some of the shows from The Stone or Ruthie’s Inn or Mabuhay Gardens?

Alex: Yeah, I will say I remember one time Metallica playing at Ruthie’s unannounced, just to do a warm-up. That was great. They did a lot of, they did some punk covers. It was just a fun gig. Uh, there was also this project called Spastik Children, with Cliff Burton, James Hetfield on drums and it was like comedy like sort of South Park before South Park. Completely politically incorrect, funny, bad, badly played on purpose music.

Away-Team: God, I forgot all about Spastik Children

Alex: Yeah, some of those shows are pretty memorable.

Away-Team: With Metallica coming from L.A., basically because the L.A. scene just couldn’t handle them. The crowds didn’t get what they were trying to do, with you guys, Vio-lence, Exodus, Death Angel, were you kind of a close knit community? Was it kind of you against everybody else? Was there a lot of camaraderie there, or..?

Alex: I’d say there was camaraderie and competition simultaneously. Everybody wanted to be the best band they could and even though a lot of us we didn’t really sound alike. You always had to keep an eye out for the other bands. It’s like different football teams that are all in the same league. You want, as a whole you want to do well, but you still want to come out on top, above everybody else.

Away-Team: I understand. Your current tour, in support of the Formation of Damnation, is unique in that you guys are allowing the fans to vote, via your MySpace page, for the set list they want to hear in their given town. You have three options, The Legacy, plus hits, The New Order plus hits, or a chronicle set list, basically from start to finish of your catalogue. How did you guys come about the idea? How has it been received? And any regrets on having to keep rotating a roughly thirty song playlist on tour?

Alex: It’s worked out very easily, because overwhelmingly everybody’s voted for the Chronicle stuff, so that’s pretty much what we’ve done. And I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but it’s definitely been a very good idea and it’s just been fun to hear from the fans. And in the process they’ve not only voted on the songs, a lot of them have made suggestions a long the way. “We want to hear a chronicle, but we really want to hear this song. Why don’t you play this song?

Away-Team: And you guys are actually listening and paying attention to what they’re…

Alex: Oh absolutely.

Away-Team: Beside the main lineup changes, you guys have several label changes over the years; mainly due to simple bad luck and the labels folding on you. Did I read though that somehow you guys ended up on a gospel label prior to signing with Nuclear Blast?

Alex: Well I think what happened was we were signed to Spitfire which got bought by another label, which was a gospel label.

Away-Team: OK. And they had no interest in releasing the new Testament CD? Laughs

Alex: Oh, Exactly. I’m sure at first they thought, oh this is perfect.

Away-Team: A “New Testament” band awesome!

Alex: And then they found out what it was and then they let the band go, no problem.

Away-Team: So did Spitfire have some religious bands on their roster?

Alex: I don’t think so. I’m not sure.

Away-Team: Laughs. Alright, you are currently on Nuclear Blast and they are treating you well…

Alex: Treating us great. It’s a great partnership absolutely.

Away-Team: Good, good. When the current tour with Unearth and Lazarus AD, at least the North American leg of it is over, what are you guys’ plans? Where are you going next?

Alex: We’re off for a couple weeks, then we’re going to be in Europe for July and part of August to do a lot of festivals.

Away-Team: Do you have any plans for a follow up album and will we have to wait another nine years for it?

Alex: No, it’ll be recorded next year, most likely released, late, by late next year

Away-Team: Great! With all the side projects, from your various members, Dragonlord, you in Trans Siberian Orchestra, Chuck’s Dublin Death Patrol and your jazz trio, how do you guys find time to get together, to record and tour? And how does that affect, I mean is Testament now the priority or is it ‘we can fit in Testament around these various projects’? TSO’s a big deal, it’s a big show and you have to…

Alex: Yeah, it’s a unique situation, because I was already, I’d already been playing with TSO for several years by the time the Testament reunion happened. So it’s been pretty understood that during the months of the Winter TSO tour I’m not available. I do my best, as far as my trio and I have couple other projects I’m involved with as well, some as a producer which I can’t talk about yet. They’re…They’re gonna be

Away-Team: Then I won’t ask that question…

Alex: Pretty exciting times and projects… We’re doing an album cycle right now. So, since last year we’ve been doing an album cycle, so this, Testament has been the priority. Soon as we’re done with this album cycle I think there’s going to be a slight shift in priorities. The way this record got created was a lot of the basics were worked on while I was with TSO, I would write ideas, which I think is going to happen this next tour as well, and then I think next year, Before the album cycle, before the Testament album cycle starts, that’s going to be a good chance for me to do a lot more stuff with the Alex Skolnick Trio. But then, of course, once the Testament album cycle starts then that’s going to be the priority. It really depends on where we are in terms of the album cycle..

Away-Team: So everybody’s working together though, with all their side projects, everything kind of fits in OK and there’s no real conflict going on with it?

Alex: Yeah, I mean it’s a different thing with me, because with TSO it’s a very set tour. With Dragonlord, Eric decides, when that tours. With my Trio there are people that decide it with me, so we work to make sure that we capitalize on any available time I have to tour with them.

Away-Team: I have heard that some of your solos for Formation of Damnation were recorded while on tour with TSO and done in someone’s bathroom in New York. Is that correct?

Alex: That’s not true. I mean the part about the bathroom is not true. What basically happened was some of the solos were recorded in Albany, when TSO had some days off in 2007. The first studio that we found was a guy’s basement…

Away-Team: It was his basement, OK

Alex: Yeah. And it just, it was an awful situation. We had like 48 hours, we had two days and the goal was to do all of the solos and basically a whole day was wasted. We were getting all of this radio signal out of the amps and the guy had no idea what to do about it. So then we found a really good studio the one that we should’ve been at all along and I did half of the songs, and I did the other half as soon I was done with the TSO tour.

Away-Team: Now did you already have the solos worked out or a rough idea what you were going to do with them…

Alex: I had a couple rough ideas, but some of them I came up with on the spot….

Away-Team: ‘Cause they’re some outstanding solos.

Alex: Thank you!

Away-Team: Across the board the musicianship and the work on Formation of Damnation is actually very stellar…

Alex: I appreciate that.

Away-Team: Paul Bostaph is currently drumming for you. This his second stint in the band now. He’s played with some other great bands besides Testament. He started out with ForbiddenSlayer, Exodus and another not as well known Bay Area band, but that I’m very familiar with, Systematic. He’s kind of become known as the ‘go to’ metal drummer, almost like a journeyman. Is he now a permanent member of Testament?

Alex: It certainly feels that way. That remains to be seen. Yeah, it definitely feels that way. I know on our end there’s no thought of working with anybody else…

Away-Team: OK, so Louie’s not going to come knocking on the bus one day? Where is Louie?

Alex: Louie comes… Louie makes appearances. He’s always… He always visits us when we play. He was just on tour with us for three days…

Away-Team: Oh, really?

Alex: He doesn’t really play any more. He just likes to hang out. We like having him around. It works out well. We get him away from his job. He’s like a, a relative…

Away-Team: Is there anything you haven’t done yet, goal-wise or music-wise that you still want to? And what is it?

Alex: Yeah there’s a lot of things. Definitely, I’m close, I mean I feel like with my instrumental albums I’m able to do the music that’s in my head. Which is great! For me it’s just getting my instrumental stuff to a wider audience. And I’d like to see Testament reach a wider audience as well. The truth is, what I would really like to see is the trio playing venues like Testament’s playing; those size crowds. I’d like to see Testament playing to crowds more like TSO’s.

Away-Team: Absolutely!

Alex: I get this experience of every year playing in front of a packed arena. Sometimes twice a day! And this band has never experienced that. That kind of production, that kind of audience. We’ve had some great support slots in arenas. But I think this could be a great arena band.

Away-Team: You guys have never actually headlined arenas?

Alex: Never

Away-Team: Really. Wow, I did not realize that.

Alex: Yep!

Away-Team: There’s many bands out there today that are citing Testament as an influence, as a musician it’s got to be an ultimate compliment. How do you react to something like that? I mean, how does that make you feel?

Alex: Great! It feels great. It’s a great compliment. It’s not something you think about while you’re doing it, while you’re in the studio or playing live; about having an influence on somebody else, you just do what you do. But when you hear that, it’s amazing, ‘cause having had many influences myself, just to think that I was able to be what I saw in my favorite guitars players, other people are seeing in me, which is really, really cool.

Away-Team: Who are some of your influences?

Alex: Well, it started out with Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen, Michael Shanker. I studied their influences, Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix and then the classic Blues players. And then once I got into Jazz, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny

Away-Team: What made you pick up a guitar to begin with?

Alex: KISS.

Away-Team: Really?

Alex: Yep. I discovered KISS and wanted to play KISS songs.

Away-Team: And it was the guitar always?

Alex: It was piano, very briefly in third grade. And then I had a bad music teacher and I, I quit piano. Now I bought a piano. I still like to play, but I have no plans to play professionally.

Away-Team: We’re not going to see you in a hotel lounge somewhere tickling the ivories…

Alex: Not anytime soon!

Away-Team: Well Alex, that pretty much wraps up my questions. I do appreciate your time… I wish you much luck with the rest of the tour…

Alex: Thank you!

Away-Team: The festivals this summer, of course TSO in the winter and then at some point next year we’ll hear a little bit from the trio again.

Alex: Yeah, yeah, going to try to squeeze out a new trio album. Or at least an EP this year.

Away-Team: Great! Alright, well I appreciate it Alex, thank you very much again for your time!

Alex: No problem Jim, good to see you again.

There you have it. We got some shout outs to Cliff Burton, James Hetfield and Spastik Children, Billy Milano of MOD and SOD, and KISS! My thanks to Brian at Adrenaline PR for setting up the interview, Mark for ensuring it actually happened, Alex for jumping in last minute and rescuing the interview, and Bam Bam as always for getting me in the interviews to begin with!
If you haven’t heard Formation Of Damnation go pick it up NOW!!!! And check out Testament on the road. The show that night was nothing short of amazing. The guys played with a furiousness that belied their age, and a sense of fun and having a good time. The music and vocals were spot on, and I did not hear one person walk away from that show with a bad word.

For more information on TESTAMENT visit their site here.
For more information on Alex, and the Alex Skolnick Trio click here.

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JONNY on the Spot- A conversation with blues-rock icon JONNY LANG

by on Jun.20, 2010, under interviews

 

The first time I witnessed the phenomona that is Jonny Lang was 13 years ago at an outdoor amphitheatre in Hartford, CT.  Jonny was a mere 16 years old, and already on his way to becoming the world’s next great guitar virtuoso.  The year was 1997… now 5 albums, several tours, and a Grammy later, Jonny helps fill in the blanks of his life since then.  Kid Jonny and I spoke about the Grammy’s, God, and a certain Idol he also worships.

AWAY-TEAM:  First of all, congratulations on your new album ”Live at the Ryman” which came out on April 20thGreat album, I’ve  been listening to it quite a bit.

JONNY LANG:  Aw man, thank you.

AWAY-TEAM:  I really enjoy it.  I’ve been a fan of yours for a while.  But, I know you’ve been wanting to do a live album for a good while…why the Ryman Auditorium?  What made you choose that as the venue for your first ever live album?

JONNY LANG:  Well there’s a few reasons. Probably the main one just being, we had a good show that night, um.  And we had been recording most of our shows leading up to that, and that happened to be the one that, ya know turned out to be the best out of the ones that we had recorded, so.  But also just the fact that it’s the Ryman, it’s a historic venue, and it was such a great place to play, ya know, so I’m glad it turned out to be that particular show just because of that, ya know.

AWAY-TEAM:  So uh, one of the things people really enjoy about your work, aside from your voice, is watching you play guitar, and just kinda watching a craftsman at work.  Is there any chance we may get an accompanying DVD of this performance sometime down the road?

JONNY LANG:  You know, there was no video shot at that show, but we are looking to do a live DVD thing in the near future here so…  I’m not sure exactly when that would come out, but yeah that’s in the works.

AWAY-TEAM:  Cool. I’ll keep my eye out for that… Your current tour, it’s called “Live By Request”, has somewhat of a unique format.  Tell me about that.

JONNY LANG:  Well basically it’s just a um, we kinda had this idea that people could write in to the website, tell us which show they’re going to, and then request the songs they would like to hear for the night.  Then we tally up the number of votes for whatever songs were requested and pick the top three or four or whatever, and then do those.  Sometimes it ends up being some of the same songs we’ve been playing over the past few years, but sometimes people pick older songs, earlier back in the catalog and we’ll throw those in the set.  So it’s just kind of a fun thing to switch it up a little, ya know.

AWAY-TEAM:  Right.  So you said that you kinda tally up the votes on that, so do you get to see all of the songs?  Have you seen any really cool songs that anyone’s requested that may not particularly be your song, but you said “Wow, I’ve never really played that live before, it’d be pretty cool.”?

JONNY LANG:  Yeah, I think people are just trying to be a little funny (laughs).  They’ll put in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song like “Free Bird”

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)

JONNY LANG:  But uh, you know nothing really that out of the ordinary or strange.  No Steely Dan requests or anything like that, so.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  How about, I know you used to play a little Jimi Hendrix when you first started out.  Any of that coming back at all?

JONNY LANG:  Ya know, not really.  Um, yeah we used to do “Spanish Castle Magic”.  No, we haven’t done that in a while, but that’s a good idea, we might do that one.

AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah, I actually remember you playing that.  The first time I ever saw you play, was back in 1997, it was at what was then the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford, CT.  You were about 16 at the time, and opening up for Aerosmith, and I remember saying to myself “Man, this kid’s only 16, and not only is he opening up for one of the greatest rock bands in the world, he’s actually giving ‘em a run for their money”.  I was just blown away by your performance.  What was it like back then, when you found out your first big tour was gonna be with those guys?  Were you intimidated? Excited?

JONNY LANG:  Man, just excited. And ya know they didn’t really give us a reason to be intimidated, they were all just so nice to us.  Yeah, they were just really great guys, and it was just fun.  It was a blast.

AWAY-TEAM:  Speaking of young talent, your younger sister Jessica (Jesse Langseth) was actually a semi-finalist on Season 8 of American Idol.  Has she been coming to you for advice or help? Or is she more of a “If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it on my own” type of person?

JONNY LANG:  You know, she’s really smart. And uh, she’s very street smart too, and socially very capable.  So…she doesn’t need much help from big brother, but yeah we talk about stuff like that.  But yeah she’s got her head screwed on pretty good, so.

AWAY-TEAM:  Any chance we might see you working together in the future?

JONNY LANG:  Oh yeah.  There’s always a chance of that. Ya know, she’s um, she’s kinda I think taking a little bit of a break from the music thing at the moment.  But, it’s her passion.  It’s what she loves to do, so I’m sure she’ll be doing it for the rest of her life, on and off at least.

AWAY-TEAM:  Hey, that’s great.  She’s got the drive…..Now, back to tour mates, and collaborations.  You’ve toured and collaborated with people from all genres of music.  Ya know, from The Rolling Stones, to Buddy Guy, BB King, Sting, you’ve even played Crossroads with Eric Clapton.  And actually most recently, you played on Cyndi Lauper’s new album.  Is that correct?

JONNY LANG:  Yeah.  Yeah man, she made an incredible album.  I haven’t heard the final, I guess, version of it, but. Yeah she recorded it in Memphis, and it’s basically, ya know older soul and blues tunes, and she recorded it old school, one take-no overdubs kind of thing.  Man, she understands that music incredibly well, and is singing amazingly on it.  So I’m really excited for that record.  We’re actually doing some upcoming television shows for that record. (June 22nd and 24th, on The Howard Stern Show, and Regis and Kelly, respectively)

 AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah, I thought it was a really cool little twist for her music.  That was pretty cool.

JONNY LANG:  Yeah dude, she’s a deep, she’s a real deep person.  A true artist, ya know.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well if you could choose one person, from any genre, that you haven’t worked with, to do a collaboration with, who would it be?

JONNY LANG:  Man… It’s a tie between James Taylor and Stevie Wonder I’d say.  Those two, that would be just a dream come true.

AWAY-TEAM:  Wow, that would make for a great project.

JONNY LANG:  Yeah, they’re my favorites.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now back in 2000, you tragically lost your bassist Doug Nelson, right around that same time you kinda found your faith.  You were drinking heavily, and doing a little bit of drugs, and then thankfully found God.  Was Doug’s death ultimately what set you on that path?  Or when did you sort of hit “rock bottom” and decide it was time to turn things around?

JONNY LANG:  Man, I really didn’t have a like “rock bottom” experience per se, I was loving the partying and stuff like that.  So it was more that God just kinda stopped me in my tracks so to speak.  But, yeah you know what, Doug’s death happened a while after I kinda, I guess started my relationship with God.  It definitely affected my life, ya know he was a close friend, and a great guy, and when you lose somebody close to you it gives you a good healthy check on how important life is, and ya know, makes you realize what things are important, and what things you’re kinda just wasting your time with.  But yeah, he was a great friend, and just a great guy.

AWAY-TEAM:  The album “Turn Around”, which came out in 2006, earned you a Grammy for Best Gospel Album.  That was actually your last studio album, so when can we expect some new JONNY LANG?

JONNY LANG:  I’ve kinda started working on the next studio record, and it’s still in the trying to figure out where it’s going stage, I guess.  Stylistically, I’m trying to figure it out.  I’ve never written so many songs before, so there’s tons of songs to pick from, and uh.  It’s weird, every album cycle is different, it’s a different experience, and this one is just kinda moving slow for some reason.  Sometimes it happens right away, and sometimes it doesn’t, ya know.  I guess the main goal is to come up with something that is, you don’t wanna compromise the quality of it just to get it out there, so I try to make a good record no matter how long it takes. (laughs)

 AWAY-TEAM:  That’s important.  Now, you said that you were searching stylistically for what this new album’s gonna be like.  Should we be looking for something closer to the Gospel on “Turn Around” or closer to your roots on “Lie to Me”?

JONNY LANG:  Um, man, I really don’t know, actually.  I think it’s gonna end up being more of a fusion of like soul music and um, I guess just it’ll be more about the songwriting.  Ya know it might be more about the songs on this one, than the last one…if that makes sense.

AWAY-TEAM:  So more stress on the lyrics, as opposed to the actual musical composition?

JONNY LANG:  I think both.  But I think, it may be a little bit more intricate, as far as the musical arrangement and the lyrics go, ya know.  A little bit more of a crafted album, if that makes sense.  So, at least for me, (laughs) take a little bit more time with it.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well I’m certainly looking forward to it.  I know you’ve done a little bit of acting in the past, as well.  You were in “Blues Brothers 2000″, and an episode of “The Drew Carey Show”, that was all back in 1998.  Can we expect to see…

JONNY LANG:  (laughs)  I don’t know if it was acting.  It was more like just standing there trying to not look like an idiot. (laughing) But, yeah man. (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughing)  So you might’ve just answered my question.  So, no more acting in your future?  Is that right?

JONNY LANG:  Probably not. Man it terrifies the life out of me.  I am not a natural born actor, for sure.  It scares me.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  I mean you play in front of 20-30,000, and it’s like second nature, but I guess acting is just a whole different realm, huh?

JONNY LANG:  I guess so man.  I guess when you’re on a stage and you’re kinda far away from people, you feel like you’re kinda isolated in a weird way.  It’s not as nerve-wracking for some reason in my mind.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well, one more question…you now live in California, and your manager Greg Classen, like myself, is from Massachusetts.  Who’s gonna win Game 7 tonight Celtics or Lakers?

JONNY LANG:  (laughing) Oh boy…well, being a guy who’s from Minnesota, as far as sports go anyway, I don’t really have a team, although I do live in L.A.  Ya know, I don’t know man, it’s such a good series, I would love to see Boston win.  Just because, that particular L.A. team has had such a good record, so it’d be nice to see Boston win for a change.

AWAY-TEAM:  I knew I liked you for a reason. (laughs)

JONNY LANG:  (laughs)  Yeah dude, I think I really like Boston a bit, because they’re more of like “street ballers”.  They’re like more rough, ya know, rough around the edges. So I kinda like that, I like their style.  But who knows man, it’s gonna be a good one.  (Sadly, I was hoping for Jonny to get his wish.  And we all know what happened.  Dammit.)

AWAY-TEAM:  Well, hey man, thank you so much for your time.  It’s been a great honor to speak with you…

JONNY LANG:  Aw, thanks man.

AWAY-TEAM:  Unfortunately, this last time you came around, just recently you were here in Ft. Lauderdale, and I was unable to make it out to the show.  but I’ll certainly be there next time you pass through Florida.

JONNY LANG:  Yeah dude, if you come out man, come back and say hey.

AWAY-TEAM:  I sure will…

JONNY LANG:  Call Greg, or the label, or something, and come back  and get hooked up man.

AWAY-TEAM:  Hey, if you wanna beat up on someone on the links (Jonny had just finished up on the golf course when we spoke) too ya know I’m free there.

JONNY LANG:  Oh dude, let’s do it.  I need a golf partner man, nobody here plays golf, so I usually end up playing by myself.  So that’d be cool man.

AWAY-TEAM:  I don’t know if what I do is called golf, but I’ll sure try. (laughs)

JONNY LANG:  (laughs)  Cool man, that sounds good.

AWAY-TEAM:  Well, hey man, thanks again, and like I said, next time you’re around I’ll definitely make it a point to get together with you.  Hopefully we’ll be talking about another Grammy here.

JONNY LANG:  (laughs)  I hope so man.  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  Alright brother, well good luck tonight with the show, and with the rest of your tour, and hopefully we’ll be talking soon.

JONNY LANG:  Thank you man.  Thank you.  Take care.

AWAY-TEAM:  Take it easy.

JONNY LANG:  Bye.

For more information on Jonny Lang, such as tour dates, to request a song for one of those dates,  as well as to pick up his latest album visit http://www.jonnylang.com/

Special thanks go to Jonny Lang for so graciously giving me his time, Jonny’s manager Greg Classen for helping to coordinate things, and to Amanda Cagan at ABC PR for making this all possible.

Photos courtesy of Wayne Crans at Dead Bird Photography.

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