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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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