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.
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.
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 Joe… Just 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.
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.
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.
Slim Jim’s Top Ten of 2010
SHOOTER JENNINGS – Black Ribbons
The 70’s big classic rock – ball trippin’ – brain smokin’ – ear melting heavy tuneage of old is not dead. Shooter Jennings has created the heaviest album of 2010. In pure sonic fury, huge epicness, and massive songwriting. This isn’t Outlaw Country, This isn’t your daddy’s classic rock, this is Shooter Jennings and Hierophant (his band) racing along your brainwaves, fucking with all you thought you knew about music, and tainting what may come in the future. Take a little WHITE STRIPES, sprinkle some MUSE, add a dash of BLACK KEYS, smoke it with some Pink Floyd and dose repeatedly with Shooter himself, and you’ll get Black Ribbons. While the music will kick your ass, the lyrics will fuck with your brain, and the whole experience will make you think this whole fucked up industry could simply be saved if they’d just put out more solid music like this. This album should propel Shooter into Arenas and onto your grid faster than the clap takes hold of your sad tiny withered cock. But it seems the world would rather listen to the likes of sluts like Ke$ha, or 16 year old pubescent boys like Beiber than embrace the monster that is Shooter and Hierophant. WAKE UP people… If you haven’t experienced Black Ribbons… GO NOW. Do it here. You’ll thank me later. Oh, yes, Don’t Feed The Animals… And… FUCK YOU I’m FAMOUS. Did I mention there are 20 songs on this disc? 20! All of them will fuck with you, tie you in psychedelic knots and drip musical ecstasy semen out of your earholes. And don’t forget the indelible STEPHEN KING. Oh yeah, how could I forgot the title track Black Ribbons? It is quite simply the best Bruce Springsteen song that he never wrote.
ELEPAHNT MOUNTAIN – The Last Days of Planet Earth
Joe Altier and Slider from BRAND NEW SIN reunite to form ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN. The best Southern tinged Hard Rock album of the last year or three, and they hail from SYRACUSE, NY! If you’ve heard of BRAND NEW SIN, and have heard their first two records, then you’ll know exactly what ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN sounds like. And you’ll love it. You can spread the herd here.
THE BLACK KEYS – Brothers
Raw. Stripped. Deeper grooves than the ones fading on your wrist. Monochromed Stereophonically challenged. Bluesier than 20 quarts of Papa’s Jambalaya. More soulful than the most devout Methodist. The more I listen to this the more I want to go find all my ex’s. And slap the unloving chaos addicted shit out of them. The ultimate break up album. As it spins right now, I’m thinking it should move UP my top ten list. Fuck it. Ten Cent Pistol just reinforced the fact. And this is now my #3 best album of 2010 (As I originally wrote this, it was set at 7). You can join the Brothers here.
FILTER – The Trouble with Angels
An amazing return for FILTER. Raw, punishing, beautiful. Read my original review here.
ACCEPT – Blood of the Nations
Another reunion of sorts for ACCEPT. A new singer and a new lease on life. A great album that reminds us all why ACCEPT are Fast as a Shark. Read my original review here.
DISTRUBED – Asylum
More melodic than the past albums. More straight forward guitar solos than before. And more David Draiman. What more could you ask from a DISTURBED album? You can join the Asylum here.
SLASH – Slash
Slash gets a bunch of singers to sing on his album instead of going around singing on theirs. Great songs, great singers like Myles Kennedy (ALTER BRIDGE), Lemmy (MOTORHEAD), Ian Astbury (THE CULT), Ozzy, Chris Cornell (AUDIOSLAVE, SOUNDGARDEN), and many more. The most notable standout track and singer is Fergie (FERGIE, BLACK EYED PEAS) on the track Beautiful Dangerous. The woman should be singing balls out Rock N Roll all the time, not this pop pap shit with BEP. She has a great voice and holds her own amongst the more traditional and legendary vocalists on this album. You can get Slashed here.
AVENGED SEVENFOLD – Nightmare
Never a big A7X fan. But after seeing them this year at the Rockstar Uproar Festival with Disturbed I found a new respect for them as a live band. I figured out my problem with the band. M. Shadows has a good voice, but as he sings about dark lyrics, and leads the crowd into chants of ‘fuck you’ his voice has a rather high range to it. Making the music seem lighter and more lilting than the lyrics therefore belying the heaviness of the music. At times making it seem rather jokish or tongue in cheek. However after seeing their amazing performance live, I now get it. And can move past the vocal issue. The album is their best by far. Blazing guitars you’ve come to expect, full stream riffs crunch and chunk along getting your head and feet involved tapping along. Definitely deserving of anyone’s top ten list. You can become the Nightmare here.
EXODUS – Exhibit B: The Human Condition
EXODUS simple continues to pummel you into submission with their latest album. It is the fourth album in their return that does not fail to impress. The one drawback may simply be Rob Dukes‘ dry vocal style. But the brutal beating that you endure while listening to the album more than makes up for the lack of dimensions in his voice. Albums 6 – 10 will continue to beat the ever loving fuck out of your brain and spleen. I have no doubts about this. The band has never sounded better, tighter, or more focused than here. Which can only mean great things on the horizon for us fans. You can witness the Human Condition here.
DEATH ANGEL – Relentless Retribution
Any year is a good year when DEATH ANGEL releases a new album. The most important part of this is that the band promises to tour endlessly for this release. So that means we get more live Death Angel than ever before. And this boys and girls is a good thing. You can read my original review here.
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.