Tag: Dirtbag Music
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?
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.